I am going to share with you an artifact from my past with you today. It is my Christmas gift to you. First, a little background is necessary.
My first son was born in 1976, 3 years after I graduated from Seminary. I was with his mother in the delivery room as he came out into the world. My first thought, as he began to cry, was what a miracle this was! He was cleaned up and placed into my arms. I looked at him and thought, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in God, should witness a birth!”
Several years later was taking a three- day class at a Pastor’s Seminar. My memory of the content of the class is cloudy, and I couldn’t tell you what the professor from a United Methodist seminaries said those three days. But a handout he gave us at the beginning turned on the lights of Christian Faith and Tradition for me and I never forgot what it said. Mainly because I kept a copy!
It was the transcript of the ending commentary of the legendary—to those of us at the time—TV news reporter and commentator, Harry Reasoner, at the end of the broadcast of CBS’s Sixty Minutes, on Sunday, December 23rd, 1979. THAT handout, or at least a copy of it, is the “artifact” I am going to read in a moment. I have made copies of it. You can pick up a copy as you leave by either entrance, if you wish. By the way, it really is an artifact. You will see from your copy that the handout was obviously transcribed using a typewriter and “printed” with a mimeograph!
Here's the transcript of Reasoner’s commentary.
For those of you, if any, reading this from the St. Mary’s sermon archive, you will hopefully find it included with the sermon in the archive.
As I said. The lights went on. Of course, I had been schooled in the key Christian doctrine of the Incarnation. We affirm it in the words of the Nicene Creed each Sunday. “I believe in one God...and in one Lord Jesus Christ...very God of very God,...being of one substance with the Father by whom all things were made;...(Who) came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” However, all of that was still an abstraction to me, and I have never done well with abstractions.
But when I read Reasoners words, I connected them with holding my newborn son in my arms, and it came together: Once upon a time, God had made Himself vulnerable to His creatures, so vulnerable that He manifested Himself in a baby. He who created the universe and all that is in it, put Himself into the arms, and at the mercy, of flawed human creatures. I thought of holding my baby son and realized what an astounding thing had happened when one day in history, that Christians commemorate as Christmas, God came into our world as a baby! To use Reasoner’s words, “it was a dramatic shot to (my) heart!”
Harry Reasoner did not make this concept up. He was obviously grounded in the bedrock of Christian faith and Theology.
Classic, Orthodox, Historical Christianity, has always held, that the baby of Scripture named Jesus, WAS GOD—incarnate: en-fleshed: “Embodied” in human flesh and blood.
As the magnificent prologue to the Gospel of John, which is the Gospel reading for this morning, says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us”.
At this point it would be easy—or at least for me it would be easy—to wander off into the theological weeds and talk of how “the Son of God” is a different kind of “son” than any biological offspring of ours, and how “God’s Son” is different than “God the Son” and that would take us to the Trinity and . . . well, let’s not go there this Christmas morning. Let’s go back to the baby in Mary’s arms, who is also the Creator of All Things.
This baby of the Christmas story is a real baby. Helpless and vulnerable. And yet able to call attention to Himself as babies can, with howls of hunger or discomfort (“no crying he makes” is a fiction made up by a song writer). He needs to be kept warm and fed and dry and protected from the elements and from Herod by the efforts, both mundane and heroic, of Mary and Joseph. And yet they hold God.
Furthermore, the Baby represents a cosmic event that cannot be contained in a Bethlehem stable. NOT represents, but IS,
what C.S. Lewis called “The Grand Miracle,” when he wrote that “the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, which is uncreated, eternal, came into Nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing Nature up with Him.” In this baby is a full-bodied sign that God is about redeeming us, our world, our universe, from the bottom up.
Furthermore, if God could—and did—show up in our midst once upon a time as a baby laid in a manger, God can—and does—show up ANYWHERE! God showed up in the baby, in a minor country in the backwater of the Roman Empire, God the Jewish carpenter in Nazareth, God the teacher named Jesus, healing, telling stories and hanging out with people that aren’t approved by the powerful and the self-righteous, God the broken man tortured on a Roman cross, God the dead man now alive, fixing breakfast for his traumatized disciples.
And God shows up in people we know, in places that are familiar to us, in family, in friends, in co-workers, and strangers. In people we love, and in people we can’t stand.
He shows up in the bread and wine of the Mass, ordinary, mundane, pieces of Creation, that, nevertheless, hold the Creator.
He shows up in us. He shows up in you. Not always with our knowledge or permission!
And when He does, no matter what the time or circumstances, and when we recognize His presence, or point it out to another, it is Christmas.
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
24 December 2023
On this holy night, we greet the Coming of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We join his mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary, his father, Blessed Joseph, the shepherds in the manger, and the hosts of angels in the heavens in unbounded joy and excitement. The eager waiting and anticipation of the past forty days of Advent has come to an end. The Messiah is here!
In the Book of Isaiah, we read of the prophecy that foretold of the coming of the Messiah: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). The Prophet Isaiah proclaims this vision to the people of Judah in the face of a foreign threat in the eighth century B.C. The Assyrians have begun their invasion and conquest of the Kingdom of Israel and will later go on to attack the Kingdom of Judah and threaten its existence.
In the centuries the preceded the birth of Christ, the Israelites experienced countless foreign invasions and endless political and social turmoil. In their desperation, they prayed for divine intervention, a Savior who would liberate them from the conflicts that tore apart their nation. They dreamed of a Messiah who would bring peace.
In the Gospel of Luke, we find another expression of this perennial desire for peace. We read of the choir of angels who announce the birth of Jesus: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14). When Jesus was born, the Jews were suffering under the yoke of yet another foreign invader, the Romans, and social and political turbulence continued to plague the people. Jesus’ followers believed that Jesus was the Prince of Peace foretold by Isaiah, the fulfillment of the centuries-old prophesy.
Today, as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, conflict in the Holy Land continues, as war in Israel and Gaza brings death and destruction. And we also have a long, protracted war in Ukraine. These are only two of the many conflicts that afflict our world today.
Here, in the United States, we may not be in the middle of a war, but we find ourselves surrounded by our own set of conflicts: gun violence, racial tensions, political polarization and division in our national life. Then, there are the conflicts that we confront in our daily lives: road rage, bullying, office politics, church politics, broken relationships with family or friends.
Peace seems ever elusive. But, as Christians, we place our hope in the Savior born in Bethlehem today, Jesus, the Prince of Peace. And as his followers, we share in his mission of peace to this turbulent and conflict-ridden world.
There’s a song that I learned in Sunday School, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it as well. It goes like this:
Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth
The peace that was meant to be
With God as our Father
Brothers all are we
Let me walk with my brother
In perfect harmony
Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
The song was composed in 1955 by Jill Jackson-Miller and Sy Miller. By the way, Jill Jackson-Miller was born in Independence, Missouri – where I grew up. Jackson-Miller, a devout Christian, composed the song during a difficult period in her life. She had become suicidal after the failure of her first marriage, but then she discovered what she called the “life-saving joy of God’s peace.”
Our Lord Jesus offers this same peace to all of us. In the Gospel of John, Jesus promises his disciples: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give you” (John 14:27). The Apostle Paul later speaks of this peace that Jesus offers as the “peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension.” (Philippian 4:6-7). The peace of Jesus is beyond our human understanding and potential. To put it another way, it is a divine peace, God’s peace.
As Episcopalians, we are reminded of God’s peace every time we gather for Mass. Soon, we will greet each other with “Peace be with you” or “Peace of the Lord.” And when we finish our service and go out into the world, we are often dismissed with the words: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
Dear friends, what are the areas of your life where you need God’s peace? What are the ways in which you can work for peace in your community, the nation, and the world? As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Prince of Peace, may he grant you the peace in your lives that only he can grant. And may he empower you to the work of building his Kingdom of Peace on earth.
St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City
Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2023
The Rev. Larry Parrish
No nativity set ever had a figure of John the Baptist. Yet the flesh and blood original is there somewhere at the beginning of all of the Gospels, preparing the way for the appearance of Jesus. And he might not be a part of the Christmas Story as we call it, but he is a “must have” figure for Advent readings. According to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, he is the character that provides the introduction of the adult Jesus to a people that are waiting for someone to Make Israel Great Again, to restore the political kingdom that had thrived 500 years before under the great King David, and the great King Solomon.
The writers of these Gospels go into some detail about who this “forerunner” was, what he looked like and what he said. John is found preaching a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4 & Luke 3:3)) to those who gathered to hear him, and to amend their ways, telling them to “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt: 3:2) and to “Bear fruit worthy of repentance” (Matt: 3:8 & Luke 3:8). He tells them that the Messiah is coming to “gather the wheat into his granary and burn the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Hie is described as one wearing clothes made from camel hair, his pants held up with a leather belt, and dining on locusts and wild honey. (Matt: 3:4 and Mark 1:6)
Perhaps you have noticed over time that each of the four Gospels are unique, no one exactly like the other. This doesn’t invalidate them or make one more, or less, “true” than the others. It simply means that trying to describe who Jesus was and how God showed up in him takes more than one storyteller and one script.
This is especially true of the Gospel of John, from which our Gospel reading came this morning. The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, share a lot of similarities. It is why they are called the Synoptic Gospels. They “sync” with each other. The Gospel of John is quite different in style and content than these Gospels. This is true from its very beginning, as it introduces John the Baptizer.
In our Gospel reading from John today, John the Baptizer (NOT the same as John the Gospel Writer!) says nothing about repentance or doing righteous deeds; nor is described as wearing distinctive clothing and eating a distinctive diet. He doesn’t say anything about the restoration of Israel or the “Kingdom of God.” Instead, he is said to be a “witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.”
As in the other Gospels, John made quite a stir among the people he was preaching to –and baptizing--because some priests and deacons were sent from the Diocesan Office to ask him “WHO are YOU?”
Stop! This isn’t a bad paraphrase, even if I do say so myself. It makes an important point regarding reading, and interpreting, The Gospel of John. The text reads “the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem.” John the Gospel writer makes use of the term “Jews” quite often and this has caused all sorts of mischief, feeding the warped perspective of anti-Semites throughout history. Most scholars agree that John’s use of “The Jews”, in its Greek form (hoi-Ioudaioi) doesn’t refer to the ethnicity, nationality, or the religious practices of the Jewish people.” It refers instead to “the religious authorities;” i.e. those in charge of keeping order in the institutional Temple (that can just as easily be read. “The institutional Church!”) That responsibility is not damning in and of itself, unless those holding it use their religion and its structure to have and keep power for very human reasons. Unfortunately, there have been and are many instances throughout history, and in the news today, in which Christian religious authorities have indeed over-used and abused their power. Enough said. Back to John.
So, the emissaries of the religious authorities of the time asked John. “Who are you?”
“I am not the Messiah.”
“We didn’t ask you who you weren’t. Who ARE you? Are you Elijah?”
“Are you the prophet?” (Maybe a reference to Moses cf. Deuteronomy 18:15)
“Look. Whoever you are. We have to take an answer back to the people who sent us. What do you call yourself?”
John answered, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ just like the prophet Isaiah said.”
What kind of authority do you have to foretell the coming of the Messiah or the restoration of Israel?! Who ordained YOU!?
“I am not foretelling either of those things. “I simply baptize with water” and tell anyone who will listen that, ‘Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who comes after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.’”
This is what I hear: John says he is not a prophet like Isaiah, but he is a voice such as Isaiah spoke of. “A voice crying in the wilderness, making preparation for the coming of God, who already stands among you as one who you do not know.”
In John’s Gospel, God is not about the restoration of a human kingdom, but the restoration of the Cosmos, the Entire Universe, and the redeeming of all in it. What is to appear—in fact has already appeared (!)—is not a “what”, but a “Who,” the one “Who” has shown up in the midst of 1st century Palestine and continues to show up still, everywhere!
I cannot isolate this Advent text about John from the five verses that precede it, or the six verses the follow it. All together they make up the Gospel text for Christmas morning. So on this Advent morning we have a glimpse of Christmas Day: To point out some of them:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
“What has come into being in him was life and the life was the light of all people.”
“He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.”
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . .”
I don’t think that John of the Jordan knew this message in full. Whoever he was, he knew of the prophet Isaiah, so it’s a good bet that he knew the Hebrew Scriptures and the things that the people of the former kingdom of Israel longed for. But now, however, it happened, he knew that God was about to take action not to restore an earthly kingdom, but to share His life and “light” with all people—and that his mission was to point out the one who was make this message known through his own earthly body, life, and teaching. “He (John) was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.” And to do that pointing out, to testify, he had at his disposal, his voice.
St. Augustine (Or was it St. Francis?) was said to have said. “Preach the Gospel always; and, if necessary, use words.” There is some wisdom to this. Words can be cheap, and no matter how confidently we speak of our beliefs or faith, we can negate our words by actions contrary to what we say we believe. Then, too, people look to our actions to see if they might trust our words. See St. Paul, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (I Corinthians 13:1ff)
We don’t want to be noisy goings! But we don’t want to keep our mouths shut when using our voice can bring enlightenment, comfort, happiness, or even rescue. Or a warning!
There are things we know that the rest of the world can do without knowing. But there are also things we know that can bring blessing or new, and needed, perspective and understanding to others. Sometimes people need to hear wisdom or experience or knowledge or love spoken aloud.
The voice can cut and injure and destroy. But it can also build up and heal. If a touch or an action will do that, great. We don’t have to risk embarrassing ourselves! But sometimes things just need to be said, even if we can’t say them eloquently or the words are hard to form.
Remember, too, that John the Baptist’s mission is ours, too. We are asked to point out the presence of God in the midst of a sometimes dark and cynical world, and that He once entered our world in our shape and form, enjoying the best of human relationships and suffering a tortuous death because of the fears of those who represented both Empire and the religious establishment. We are to use our voices to say that God is for the vulnerable and the outcasts and those who don’t always fit the mold of what some see as a well-ordered society. We are to use our voices to denounce injustice and untruth.
And I suppose I should remind you that using your voice for the above doesn’t always get you reward points with those who like to abuse their power. John the Baptist spoke truth to power and ended up with his head on a platter!
We will get—or we already have-- our energy and courage from that which we know in our deepest beings but cannot prove: That the One who has been before the beginning of the Universe and is behind all created things, is our light and our life. A light that continues to shine in our dark Advent world, that the darkness did not, and will not, overcome. That this One is everywhere in the world, and yet unseen. That this creating energy has become flesh like us and once dwelt among us, and as Resurrected body dwells with us still. We in Him and He in us. Testify to this to others.
People need good deeds. They also need good news voices.
. . . . Can we count on yours?
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St. Mary's is a parish of the Diocese of West Missouri, The Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion.