The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Text: I Corinthians 1:18-31
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
27 January 2023
As many of you know, I teach history at the University of Central Missouri in addition to serving here at St. Mary’s. Our spring semester is in full swing, having finished up our third week already. This semester, I have the special pleasure of teaching a graduate seminar on Christian history, my area of specialty, and we get to read a lot of interesting books. Three of the books that I assigned were authored by former professors of mine from graduate school.
As I was preparing the syllabus, I decided to google one of the professors. I was saddened to learn that he had died recently. Of the three former professors whose works I assigned for the class, two have died, and one is still living, aged 93. I had almost forgotten that it has been almost twenty years since I was in school – almost a generation ago. But in my mind, I still picture my professors as they were in the classroom back then – imposing paragons of knowledge and scholarship. Some of you may have seen the movie or TV show “The Paper Chase.” Do you remember Professor Kingsfield? I had quite a few professors who resembled him.
If learning about the deaths of these beloved teachers and mentors wasn’t enough, I was further saddened to discover that very few people read their books these days; they’re considered out of fashion in the ever-changing academic landscape. This is quite sobering, especially since I’m an academic myself. These scholars were some of the most brilliant minds that I had encountered. During their careers, they made a huge impact in their fields and became famous. But now they are mostly forgotten.
Today’s Epistle reading is a powerful reflection on the nature of wisdom. It sets up a stark contrast between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we read: “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of his age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Corinthians 1:20). For Paul, wisdom presents a paradox. The wisdom of his time - the Greeks with their sophisticated philosophy and the Jews with their prodigious legal and religious scholarship – is foolishness, while what the world considers foolish – the Christian proclamation of Christ crucified, the idea of worshiping a God who died a criminal’s death - is true wisdom.
In this passage, Paul himself is a paradox. Paul was a highly educated Jew, someone who would have been called wise by others. Paul studied in Jerusalem with one of the leading teachers of the Law, Gamaliel. The product of an elite education, Paul’s brilliance and sophistication come through in his writings – and often make them difficult to understand, typical of a lot of scholars. Try the Letter to the Romans for some light reading. And, of course, Paul is the Church’s first theologian, the pioneer in systematically explaining the meaning and significance of Jesus for the Church. Yet here he is in this passage; he seems to be taking an anti-intellectual stance, dismissing the life of the mind.
Placing his comments in the broader context of his writings, Paul is not calling us to suspend our intelligence and enter a state of blissful ignorance. That would be hypocritical. What is at issue for Paul is the knowledge of God. For Paul, no matter how learned and wise we may be, we cannot know God through our own efforts. He states: “the world did not know God through wisdom” (I Corinthians 1:21). It is not through books or the exercise of our reason that we come to know God. Rather, we know God because he has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. Paul proclaims that Jesus is “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (I Corinthians 1:24). So, to know Jesus is to know God.
In looking at the history of Christianity, we have a rich and diverse depository of knowledge and wisdom. The theologians who succeeded Paul, the Church Fathers, continued the tradition of learning and scholarship, even combining Christian faith with Greek philosophy. And in the Middle Ages, Christian theologians and scholars dominated the intellectual life of Western Europe. In addition to the great thinkers, the Church also established countless schools, libraries and other centers of learning. In fact, the origins of the modern university are in the cathedral schools of the Middle Ages.
There is great value in learning. It illuminates and enriches our understanding of Christian belief and practice and helps us grow in our faith. And yet for all the book learning that we may have, even the wisdom of the Church, we will get no closer to knowing God if we do not heed the Apostle Paul’s call to experience the crucified Christ.
Yesterday was the feast day of Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Christian thinkers in history. There is an interesting story about Aquinas that reflects the paradox of wisdom that the Apostle Paul presents. The story goes that after decades of brilliant scholarship, he suddenly stopped writing in the year 1273, a year before his death. He did not write another word. He even left his masterpiece, the Summa Theologica, unfinished, though even in its unfinished form, it is a cornerstone of Roman Catholic theology. We do not know exactly why Aquinas ceased his work. He made the decision to stop writing after celebrating Mass, so we think he had a mystical experience during the service, but we don’t know for sure. When one of his friends asked him why he stopped writing, he answered: "I can write no more. All that I have hitherto written seems to me nothing but straw.” Whatever the reason may have been for Aquinas’s silence, it is clear that he believed his theological writings fall short of explaining God and Christian faith. To put it another way, he recognized that there are limits to wisdom in knowing God.
While Aquinas stopped writing, he remained faithful in his passionate devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He wrote some of the most beautiful Eucharistic hymns, many of which we use today, including Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels), O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim), and Pange Lingua (Sing, My Tongue). And if you happen to have the laminated card with the Private Prayers Before and After Mass in front of you, one of them was written by Aquinas. While Aquinas stopped trying to understand God through his scholarship and writing, he never wavered in his personal experience of the crucified Christ in the Holy Eucharist. While reason may have failed him, he found fulfillment in mystery.
So, we, too, gather this morning at the altar for Holy Eucharist to proclaim, together with Thomas Aquinas, the Apostle Paul, and all the saints past and present, Christ crucified, foolishness to the world but the wisdom of God to believers. Christ is the wisdom that reveals God to us. Christ is the wisdom that unites us with God. Christ is the wisdom that will lead us to eternal life.
 Terrence Klein, “Thomas Aquinas fell silent when he learned the truth: The mystery of God is impossible to grasp,” America Magazine: The Jesuit Review of Faith & Culture, 2 February 2022.
The Third Sunday after the Epiphany
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 22, 2023
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
When you hear this phrase out of context, it doesn’t sound like good news. Like me, many of you have been part of a Christian community that uses this phrase as a weapon. Hearing it read aloud may be disturbing, but it was indeed something our Lord said in this passage from the book of Matthew which announces the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry.
John the Baptist had just been arrested for his announcing of the kingdom of heaven and for criticizing King Herod, and in response, Jesus withdrew to Galilee. The Greek word translated here as “withdrew” connotates fleeing – it’s the same word used to describe Joseph, Mary, and Jesus fleeing to Egypt because of King Herod’s evil deeds toward the Jewish people. He flees from Nazareth to Capernaum which is on the northwest coast of the Sea of Galilee, “in the territory of Zebulun and Natphtali.” Zabulun and Natphtali were the old Assyrian names of the Israelite tribal territories in northwest Galilee from the 8th century BC when the Assyrian Empire annexed them and sent the Hebrews into exile. The use of these old names would have been striking to those in the first century – perhaps a bit like referring to Istanbul as Constantinople, or New York City as New Amsterdam. Matthew doesn’t use these old names for nostalgia’s sake, he uses them to reiterate that Jesus’s move to this part of Israel is a fulfillment of the prophecy we heard in Isaiah 9. The people who sat in darkness refers back to the Hebrews who had been exiled by the Assyrians so long ago in Isaiah’s time. They are the ones to whom God will bring the light. Now, the people who live in the same geographic area are again ruled by the Gentiles – this time, the Roman Empire. And Matthew proclaims that they are receiving that light promised so long ago in the person of Jesus.
This is the context of Jesus’s declaration, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” This is the same message that John the Baptist proclaimed to prepare the way of the Lord, but the difference is, Jesus himself is the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. John is the long-expected one who will save Israel from their enemies, he is the one who will bring the exiles home, he is the one who will give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, he is the one who will heal the sick, he is the one who will guide our feet into the way of peace.
And, even better news - this promise that the kingdom of heaven is at hand isn’t about how to escape from this world into another one, it’s about God’s reign coming “on earth as it is in heaven.” It’s not about the afterlife, it’s about the here and now.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Jesus then started walking by the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon Peter and Andrew as they were fishing. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” The text says “immediately” they left their nets and followed him. The putting down of their nets meant that they left their livelihood to follow him. When their two other brothers, James and John, decided to follow him, they left not only their nets and their boat, but their father. These disciples gave up literally everything – their means of an income, even their families.
It is the conclusion of this passage where we see the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven begin to be played out. Matthew says, “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.” The area around Galilee it was inhabited primarily by Gentiles (those who are not Jewish), meaning Jesus was not only teaching God’s chosen people who were viewed as insiders, he was proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing those who were considered outsiders.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Friends, rather than spiritual weapon, this is a beautiful promise! The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. This is good news that so many in our world need to hear, whether it’s those who are the most marginalized those without housing, or those wrongfully imprisoned, or those who are told to repent of something that is innate to their very being – or even those of us who have plenty but are struggling with mental or physical illness. Jesus himself is that great light, and he continues to proclaim “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Like Peter and Andrew, he asks us to follow him, no matter the cost. Like Peter and Andrew, he makes us “fishers of men” – Jesus gives us everything we need to invite others to follow him.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
 Working Preacher: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4366
 Michael David. Coogan, ed., The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version: with the Apocrypha: an Ecumenical Study Bible (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 980.
 Feasting 287.
Epiphany 2 – John 1:29-41
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
January 15, 2023
Last week, we heard the story of the Baptism of Jesus from St. Matthew’s perspective, and today, we heard St. John’s retelling of what he saw. Matthew described Jesus’s actual baptism in detail, but in telling the same story, John is more interested in focusing on the signs that might lead others to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. Matthew, Mark, and Luke reveal Jesus’s identity as the Messiah gradually over time, but not so with John. Right out of the gate, he begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Just before today’s passage, John the Baptist enters the scene and identifies himself as the voice crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” quoting the prophet Isaiah. He says that he is not the Messiah, and that he is not worthy to untie the thong of the sandal of the one who is coming after him. The next day, John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and responds, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” On other words, Look! This is the one I’ve been telling you about! John doesn’t describe Jesus as a royal conqueror or as a warrior – that would have made a lot of sense, as the Jews were expecting an earthly, political Messiah – he calls him the Lamb of God. Instead of an all-powerful being who would deliver God’s people in power and might, God chose to send the Messiah as a weak lamb like the one the Hebrews sacrificed each year at Passover.
From Exodus 12, we know that at the Passover, the Hebrews were to slaughter a lamb, smear some of its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses, and then eat the lamb. When God passed through the land to slay the first-born sons of the Egyptians, he would pass by the Israelites’ houses and spare their first-born sons, delivering them from death by the blood of the lamb. This is the first of several times that John links Jesus with the paschal lamb. And very early on, Christians reinterpreted Passover symbolism in light of the Eucharist. Paul says in First Corinthians, “Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore, let us keep the feast,” a phrase that many of us know from the Rite II Eucharistic liturgy in our prayer book. We also are familiar with the Agnus Dei, the traditional fraction anthem: “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world, have mercy upon us.” There’s another moment in the historic Western liturgy where Jesus is referred to as a lamb, and that is just before the priest receives communion. You all are used to me turning around and showing you the consecrated bread and wine while saying, “The gifts of God for the people of God,” a phrase that the revisers our prayer book borrowed from the East. The traditional text when the Sacrament is shown to the faithful is John the Baptist’s joyful and exciting proclamation upon seeing Jesus: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.”
John responds the same way when he sees Jesus the next day: “Behold the Lamb of God”, but this time, Andrew and Simon Peter heard him say this and decided to follow Jesus.
You’ve heard me refer to my time as a Baptist missionary in Paris, France, in my young twenties. My faith was young and fresh and full of vigor, and I felt called to say, proverbially or literally to anyone who would listen, “Behold the Lamb of God!” But I don’t recall anyone responding by choosing to follow Jesus as quickly as Andrew and Simon Peter did!
But perhaps the point isn’t looking for immediate results. After John the Baptist’s exciting proclamation, Jesus asks Simon Peter and Andrew, “What do you seek?” They ask him where he’s staying, and he says to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw and “stayed with him that day”, a Greek phrase that essentially means that they went to hang out with Jesus. It was this deep, intimate encounter with him that led Peter to confess, “We have found the Messiah.”
This is the pattern of evangelism that is an inherent and integral part of the Christian faith. In a moment, after the Eucharistic prayer, I will turn around and present to you the body and blood of Christ and say, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who taketh away the sins of the world.” Whether it be in a golden chalice or in the face of the poor, when we see Jesus, we are called to joyfully make him known to those around us in word and in deed. Thanks be to God, we aren’t responsible for how they respond. But we are called to be to them, in a sense, the “star of the east” that guided the Wise Men to where the infant redeemer was laid.
On Tuesday, I gave a tour of the church to a group of college students from Baker University taking a class called “Experiencing Sacred Spaces.” Like most tours I give, I had them walk in through the back of the parish hall. As they rounded that corner and beheld St. Mary’s in all its glory, I heard gasps and these comments “How beautiful!” “Wow – I don’t know what to say.” “I’ve never seen a Church so beautiful” and my favorite “This place is heavenly.” The arches in the architecture, the recurring fleur-de-lys symbolism, the saints depicted in the windows, the intricate vestments, the formalized ritual, the amazing gold and silver Eucharistic vessels, the heavenly music – everything here at St. Mary’s is designed to point us to the Lamb that was slain for us, the Lamb that takes away the sins of the world, the Lamb that will be made manifest to us on this altar in the bread and wine of holy communion.
Upon seeing Jesus, John the Baptist responded, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him that taketh away the sins of the world!” When the celebrant shows the consecrated bread and wine to the people with the same proclamation, the people respond with the words of the Roman Centurion in Matthew chapter 8 when he replies to Jesus’s commitment to come and heal his paralyzed servant in his home: “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my soul shall be healed.” We respond to seeing Jesus by acknowledging our unworthiness and asking him to heal us. For we are about to receive him under the “roof” of our mouths and thus welcome him into the very depths of our bodies and souls. This intimate moment when we receive communion passes quickly, with or without an emotional response on our end, and then we are dismissed with the words “God in peace to love and serve the Lord.” And the cycle begins anew. Empowered by the grace we’ve been given in the Sacrament, we go out into the world and proclaim God’s love anew to those we encounter in word and in deed.
Dear friends, don’t be afraid to talk about your faith with others, not to attempt to convert them or get them to believe all the right things, but rather as a natural outpouring of your own encounter with the risen Christ. Keep the eyes and ears of your hearts open and be on the lookout for Jesus throughout your daily lives. As you encounter him, whether it’s in a golden chalice or the face of the poor, respond with joy and excitement and proclaim as John did, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
 David Bartlett, and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008, 263.
 Keck, Leander E. The New Interpreter's Bible Commentary. Abingdon Press, 2015, 451.
 1 Cor. 5:7b-8a.
The First Sunday after the Epiphany/The Baptism of Our Lord
Text: Matthew 3:13-17
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
8 January 2023
Do you remember when you were baptized? If you were baptized as an infant, you may have photos of the event, but I can’t imagine you remembering something that happened when you were just a baby. But for those of us baptized at an older age, we have our memories. I fall in this second group. When I was born, my parents were not regular churchgoers, so I didn’t receive infant baptism. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in college that I finally received this sacrament. At the time, I was attending a nondenominational church in Ithaca, New York, Bethel Grove Bible Church. I was baptized by immersion. I put on a white shirt and white pants and was dunked by the minister, Pastor Stern, in a small cement pool at the front of the church. I’m sure some of you here were also baptized by immersion. Anyone here dunked? Others had water sprinkled or poured on you.
There are many different ways to be baptized. In the early church, the candidate stripped naked and entered a large pool at one end, went under the water and then emerged to walk out at the other end to be clothed in a new white robe – pretty dramatic. I don’t think there are any churches today that have maintained this practice of baptism in the nude.
Whatever the manner in which we are baptized, it is the same sacrament. There are seven sacraments of the Church: Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick. Of the seven, baptism is one of the two so-called Dominical Sacraments, that is, Sacraments instituted by Our Lord. The other Dominical Sacrament is Holy Communion. These are the two most distinctive practices in Christianity, common to almost all believers; they define who we are.
On today’s Gospel from Matthew, we read about the origins of baptism: “Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him” (Matthew 3:13). At this time, baptism was a form of ritual cleansing and purification in Judaism. Thus, John the Baptist preached repentance and forgiveness of sin to the people whom he baptized. But since Jesus had no sin, he was baptized to set an example for us for follow, a sign of solidarity with sinful humanity.
Likewise, when we enter into the waters of baptism, we become one with Jesus. In Romans, the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-5). In baptism, we die to our old selves and rise to new life in Jesus.
For Episcopalians, we have a list that describes what this new life entails. During the service of baptism, we make a series of vows in what we call the Baptismal Covenant. For instance, we commit to observe the doctrines of the church, receive Holy Communion, lead a life of prayer, repent when we sin, and so on.
Among these various vows in the Baptismal Covenant, one of the most difficult for me is this one: seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving my neighbor as myself (p.305). This is, of course, rooted in Christ’s command to love. At the Last Supper, he told his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). Sometimes, I wonder why Jesus had to add love to the requirements for following him. I can discipline myself to prayer and worship and an occasional good deed, but loving all persons? Loving my neighbor as myself?
When I was in graduate school, I remember a conversation I had with an undergraduate friend of mine. He was very shy and quiet. He shared with me that what really drew him to Christianity was his inability to love. Christian faith, for him, held the promise of moving and expanding his heart to love more. At the time, I thought it was a rather odd comment. But as I have gotten older, I think it is quite profound.
It's not hard to love those who love us – our family, our friends. But our love often stops there. It’s difficult to love those whom we don’t know well - and perhaps even more difficult, if not impossible, to love those whom we know too well and hate. It’s often those closest to us, with whom we live and work and play, who are the most difficult to love – the family member with whom we have been estranged, the annoying colleague at work, the mean neighbor. Think of all the things that get in the way of loving those around us: grudges, slights, biases, prejudices, greed, envy, pride. To put it another way, our ego puts up many barriers to love.
At times we may be able to fake nice for the sake of maintaining cordial relations and call it love. But I don’t think that’s what Christ is talking about. It’s much more radical. He calls us to a self-sacrificing love, putting the needs and concerns of others above our own. And he calls us to love everyone, not just our friends but strangers and enemies. Jesus not only preached this; he set the supreme example. He died on the cross to save the whole world.
Christ’s command to love lies at the heart of our faith, but I need help carrying out it out. In the Baptismal Covenant, each vow is framed in the form of a question. So, we have: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” And the response to every question is “I will, with God’s help.” I will, with God’s help. I can’t do it alone.
One of the acts of personal piety that helps me with my baptismal vows is the practice of dipping our fingers into the holy water in the font or stoup. Each time we dip our fingers into the holy water and cross ourselves, we remind ourselves of our baptism and the covenant that we made. We remember that we have died to ourselves and risen to new life in Christ.
We’ve just begun the new year, 2023, and some of us are still drawing up New Year’s Resolutions – exercising more, losing weight, getting more organized, saving money, and so on. Perhaps some of us have given up already. Or perhaps you don’t even bother anymore. But today as we celebrate the the Baptism of Our Lord, might I suggest that you add one more to your list of New Year’s Resolutions: seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself.
 Diane G. Chen, “Commentary on Matthew 3:13-17,” Working Preacher.
Feast of the Holy Name
The Rev’d Charles Everson
January 1, 2023
When we hear that a woman is pregnant, one of the first questions we ask is, “Do you have any names picked out?” Parents choose names for their children for a variety of reasons – perhaps they choose the name of a saint in the church that has been particularly meaningful to them, or maybe they choose a more modern name that exudes life and freshness and spunk.
No matter which name is chosen, it is safe to say that parents put a lot of thought and time and energy into the decision of what to name their child.
My name, Charles, was given to me by my parents primarily because it was both my grandfather’s and father’s first name. In order to distinguish me from the elder Charles’s, I was called Chuck and that nickname stuck until I was 22 years old. I had just arrived in Paris, France, to serve a two-year stint as a Baptist missionary, and my boss took me to services at St. Michael’s Anglican Church, a Church of England parish with services in English. The vicar’s name was Antony, and his wife was Claire (though we lovingly referred to her behind her back as The Queen due to her formal accent and mannerisms). I introduced myself to her by saying, “My name is Chuck.” She giggled and said, “Oh, how American!” I’ve been Charles ever since.
In 1st century Jewish Palestine, it was common to both circumcise and name boys on the eighth day after birth. We hear in today’s gospel, “After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The name “Jesus” in the Greek comes to us from the Hebrew name that we normally translate as Joshua in English. It literally means, “The Lord saves.”  From the name of Jesus comes good news: God himself has come to save us.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he quotes a popular hymn that was sung in the early church. This hymn is essentially a commentary on the name of Jesus. The first stanza speaks of Jesus starting out being in the form of God, but ultimately humbling himself by becoming human and being obedient to the point of death on a cross. In the second stanza, God exalts Jesus and gives him the name that is above every name, thereby winning the allegiance of those in heaven and on earth (and even those “under the earth”!).
In the preceding verses, Paul begins by asking the Philippians to “be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” He continues, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” He then launches into the hymn that we talked about by saying “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”
Paul frames this hymn – this commentary on the name of Jesus – by exhorting the Philippians to be of the same mind that was in Christ Jesus, to be humble, putting the interests of others before our own.
Humility is often confused with humiliation, or letting others walk all over you, but that’s not what it means. Humility is a “quality by which a person considering his own defects has a lowly opinion of himself and willingly submits himself to God and to others for God's sake.” Jesus modeled humility by emptying himself, being born in human likeness, and becoming obedient to the point of death. But humility isn’t a virtue that should be exercised only in extreme situations of life and death; it starts in the small, mundane choices of everyday life.
Saint Benedict, in his rule written to guide the lives of Benedictine monks, writes humility means that monks must submit to their superiors in all obedience for the love of God. He goes on to say, “In this obedience under difficult, unfavorable or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.” One of my bosses in my previous banking career was an overbearing tyrant who liked to micromanage and criticize everything I did. For a time, the situation was certainly unfavorable and probably unjust, but I needed this job to feed my family as Jay had gone back to school full time and wasn’t working. I was faced with a dilemma: get emotionally worked up and fester on it at the risk of blowing up at him, walk out in protest, or quietly embrace the suffering and endure the situation? Another example that comes to mind was a relatively minor issue, but no less relevant. I have an acquaintance that constantly gets on everyone’s nerves due to his overbearing conversational habits and behaviors. No one likes to spend time with him out of utter annoyance, but he asked me to have dinner with him on a holiday evening a few years ago, and I knew that he was lonely and didn’t want to spend the holiday alone. I would have much rather spent time with family or friends, but I knew that the humble and obedient response would be to forgo the festivities and spend time with him instead.
Humility is a virtue to be practiced in all areas of our lives, both individual and communal. How can you and I practice humility in our communal life here at St. Mary’s? Is there some ministry or area of need that could benefit from your time and treasure, but you’ve been ignoring the still small voice leading you in that direction? Or perhaps there’s someone in our community that you know could use a friend right now, but you haven’t yet taken that step to reach out and ask them to share a meal? How might God be calling you to practice the virtue of humility by putting the interests of other parishioners before your own interests?
How about outside of these walls? How might you put your spouse’s interests before your own, or your children, or a co-worker, or a lonely acquaintance, or those who experience racism or oppression in our society?
When the deacon or priest prepares the altar at the Offertory of the Mass, he or she pours a bit of water into the wine and prays, “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” On this the Feast of the Holy Name, let us leave this place empowered by that Great Name to practice the virtue of humility and put others’ interests before our own, and thus come to share in the divinity of Jesus, the One who has come to save us.
 F. L. Cross and Elizabeth A. Livingstone, eds., The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 872.
 Brandt Montgomery, "'What's in a Name?': A Meditation for the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus," The Living Church: Covenant, http://livingchurch.org/covenant/2017/01/01/whats-in-a-name-a-meditation-for-the-feast-of-the-holy-name-of-jesus/.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown. Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word, vol. 4 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 110.
 Arthur Devine, "Humility," CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: Humility, 1910, December 31, 2016, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07543b.htm.
 Benedict, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in Latin and English with Notes, ed. Timothy Fry, O.S.B. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1981), 197.
 Ibid 197.
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
December 24, 2022
There’s a popular way of characterizing the focus of the three historic Christian churches in the Catholic tradition. The Roman Catholic Church emphasizes Christ’s suffering and death on the cross on Good Friday, the Eastern Orthodox Church focuses on the glory of Christ’s resurrection at Easter, and Anglicanism, our own tradition, is captivated by Christmas when God took on human form and dwelt among us.
I think there is some truth to this stereotype. So great is this feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ that we pull out all the proverbial stops. From the joyful carols to the fresh flowers on the altar; [from the smell of incense to the heavenly music sung by the choir]; [from the red bows to the exquisite manger scene]; from the beautiful vestments to the poinsettias. This place exudes that formulaic “Hallmark Christmas movie” feel with its predictability and warmth and almost schmaltziness.
And yet, as we heard from St. Luke’s account, the birth of our Savior in a manager in Bethlehem was anything but a Hallmark moment.
Jesus was born during a time of intense political and societal unrest amidst the filthiness of cows and goats and sheep. The long-expected Messiah came into a world filled with fear and oppression and sin, much like our world today. God came into the world in the midst of human sin and suffering and met the Hebrew people where they were.
The angel appeared to bring the good news of great joy of the birth of the Messiah not to the important people of the day – not to the Emperor, not to the Governor, not to the Jewish religious leaders – but to the lowly shepherds. Shepherds at that time were at the bottom of the social ladder. They were seen as poor and dishonest people who grazed their flocks on other people’s lands. An example of this in our society might be a loan shark or a convicted felon. These shifty characters who probably didn’t smell so great from living out in the pastures believed the angel and immediately went to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger…the child who came to bring peace to all men and women, but especially to the poor and lowly.
The Christmas story we heard tonight was from the second chapter of Luke’s gospel. The first chapter began with an announcement by an angel of the birth of John the Baptist in the place the Jews understood to house the presence of God…the Temple. The angelic announcement of the birth of Christ that immediately follows was not in “God’s house” but in the fields. The contrast between the two couldn’t be more striking. God came into the world as a human child not in the Jewish equivalent of a place like St. Mary’s Church, but in the grittiness of human existence, ox and ass and stable and all.
Friends, this is good news of great joy, not only to the shepherds watching in their fields by night, but to all of us gathered here. Note that almost all the Christmas hymns we sing speak of Jesus’s birth in the present tense, not the past tense. “Come and behold him, born the king of angels” not ages ago, but now. Like with the shepherds, the Creator of the universe stoops down and meets us where we are in the grittiness of our lives.
And yet, as we heard St. Paul say in the epistle reading, “we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” The birth of the babe begins the process of the redemption of the world, and we rightly rejoice tonight. But we know all too well that this old world is still deeply wounded, and sin and suffering and abound. In this child born to poor parents in a remote and backward part the world, God begins that work of restoration and healing and wholeness that we have access to today. We don’t have to wait until we are in God’s presence face to face to experience it. We can receive the very same grace given to us in that manager in the waters of baptism and in the bread and wine of Holy Communion, giving us the strength we need to shine Christ’s light in our own day.
And so we pull out all of the stops for this great feast. As St. Leo the Great reminds us in his great Christmas sermon, the extraordinary birth of Christ in all of its grittiness gives us every reason, to “rejoice and be glad. There is no place for sadness among those who celebrate the birth of Life itself. For on this day, Life came to us dying creatures to take away the sting of death, and to bring the bright promise of eternal joy. No one is excluded from sharing in this great gladness. For all of us rejoice for the same reason: Jesus, the destroyer of sin and death, because he finds none of us free from condemnation, comes to set all of us free. Rejoice, O saint, for you draw nearer to your crown! Rejoice, O sinner, for your Savior offers you pardon!”
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!