The
realization.

From that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

This is the Fifth Sunday after Christmas. As we’ve been studying, Christmas is a season focused on Jesus’ revelation. 

Jesus’ revelation came first to the shepherds – the poor, lowly, and outcasts of that territory. At the arrival of the Maji, Jesus was revealed to the nations of the world. As Jesus rose up from the waters of the Jordan at His baptism the nation of Israel came to know Him as the Son of God by the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the Father saying: “This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” The Baptizer finally saw clearly who Jesus is, recognizing Him as the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world, and he declared it.

Recalling all this, we see the many and varied ways Jesus was revealed. As we hear today, at Capernaum, there was no heavenly choir to announce Jesus’ arrival. There were no scientists from the east with precious gifts and a mighty star to follow. There was no opening of heaven, descent of a dove, or voice of the Father as at the Jordan. All Jesus had in Capernaum was His voice, His call. 

In a season focused on revelation, Jesus comes among us saying: “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus delivers His message, His gospel: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus invites us to allow Him to be revealed within us. He invites us to realize Who He is. He invites us to get up and get out into the world in response as disciples carrying His message.

Today, the Gospel recalls Jesus’ arrival in Capernaum by the sea. In Capernaum, Jesus calls the first of His disciples, Andrew, the first called, followed by Simon, aka Peter, aka Cephas, James, and John. They respond fully to the awakening in their hearts. Jesus is revealed, not by signs and wonders, but by their response to interior awakening and revelation.

At Capernaum we find a new and ever permanent call to revelation. This revelation is in Jesus’ words and our call to respond. Like all those called before us, let us allow Jesus’ life to be awakened in us in ever new and great ways. Jesus is calling! Allow His revelation to take hold. Leave the old self behind and go out as His revelation to a searching world. Today, here in Schenectady, as in Capernaum, we hear Jesus. Allow Him to be revealed in us and by our response.

The
knowing.

I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God.”

On this Fourth Sunday after Christmas we hear the testimony of John. In the gospel, John twice says: “I did not know him.

It seems odd for John to say such a thing. Afterall, John and Jesus were cousins. It is true that they lived in different towns, and transportation was hard on foot. Based on Church Tradition, John lived with his family in Ein Kerem, an eighty-mile, three-day journey on foot from Nazareth. Yet, it is highly likely they did know each other. It was common for larger Jewish family gatherings to occur, especially during festivals, as well as in pilgrimages to Jerusalem. So why would John say: “I did not know him?

Remember, that this Epiphany season is about revelation, Jesus becoming known. What John experienced following Jesus’ baptism was a deeper knowing of Who Jesus is. He was no longer the cousin I knew back when. Actually, I probably knew Him better in my mother’s womb when I leapt for joy. Now, I really get it. The Holy Spirit has helped me to see; I see Jesus in fulness according to the Spirit.

Like John, seeing and experiencing the Lord in the fullness of His being and then acting upon that knowledge is the grace of God working in us. It is the Holy Spirit inspiring us. It is also a call to look beyond mere appearance and to see each and yes, every person, as the image of Emmanuel, the image of God among and with us.

John acted on his knowledge and spoke of it to the crowd. He pointed to “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” He spoke of what happened in his life. He is literally saying that his work, there by the river, was about making Jesus known.

As the faithful, we are called to make Jesus known. I would ask that we think about this work in a slightly different way. Christians often approach those who do not know as those who do not know, in other words, uninformed. What we might miss is in the saying of: “I did not know him,” they like John already do know. They exhibit the traits of one who knows Jesus, in their goodness and love. They are created in His image. We, in our work, just need to help them see the fulness of what they already know.

Bruised and
smoldering.

a bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench

On this Third Sunday after Christmas we celebrate, recall. and honor the Baptism of the Lord.

As we honored the Lord’s revelation to the Shepherds, as we honored the Epiphany of the Lord, His revelation to the nations, so today we see the next step – His revelation to His own people at the River Jordan.

Reluctantly, John baptizes Jesus. As He comes up, out of the water: the heavens were opened for Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming upon Him. And a voice came from the heavens, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Who Jesus is is revealed by the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In the next several weeks, as we continue the forty-day celebration of Christmas, we will see Jesus revealed in other ways. The totality of Christmas is about opportunity, it is about the opportunity to see Jesus for Who and What He is and the opportunity to reveal that.

We, Jesus’ Church here locally and throughout the world, are charged to do what Peter finally figured out in Cornelius’ house – make Jesus known to everyone! 

Living Christmas is living the opportunity to reveal Jesus, to show Him forth in a world that is running in every direction, looking for – well something unknown, and of course, unable to find it. Revelation is our job opportunity. It is our call to provide the definition of that which people seek and to open the door to their finding what has been and will be eternally available – Jesus.

Confusion, uncertainty, conflict, answers that are empty and without life cannot bind up the bruised nor re-ignite the smoldering. Yet we can by taking the opportunity to reveal Jesus. What Isaiah tells us is so key, so very important. Jesus came, not to find the bruised and break them, to find the smoldering and quench them, but to bind and reignite. Jesus came to build the family of God. That, at its core, is what our baptism in His likeness is about. We too are to reveal, bind, build, and reignite like Jesus. 

In baptism we are commissioned in the mission of revelation, and in revealing to bind up and re-ignite. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, coming up out of the waters of baptism to show the way to a seeking humanity bruised and smoldering.

Bricks and
mortar.

Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience

On this Second Sunday after Christmas we reflect on and honor the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. As I reflected on this Solemnity, I just kept coming back to the term “bricks.”

The Holy Family is of course the perfect model of family. It is built with a solid foundation and perfect bricks. It is a structure fully showing what God intends when He calls us into family. This is the way it is supposed to be: father, mother, child/children. God calls us to strive for that perfection and He provides ready grace to strengthen it and fulfill all its purposes – the mutual love and support of the couple which comes first and foremost, and if intended and appropriate, the blessing of children.

Jesus came into the world as a baby, and progressed through childhood, to point to the perfect and indeed the possible. Follow Me He said – and we make every effort to do so. But sometimes we have to work with broken bricks.

Scripture does not hide the fact that God has worked through and with a lot of broken bricks. He worked with families odd, sinful, and all-to-familiar.

Cain kills his brother, the fruit of parents who tried to escape responsibility for sin. Jacob lies to his father to steal his brother’s inheritance (with his mom’s help). Jacob’s uncle duped him and practically turned him into a slave. Joseph got sold into actual slavery by his brothers and they then lied to their father. David killed to take a wife. David’s children didn’t do any better. His son Amnom was a rapist, his son Absalom tried to take his dad’s job and slept with his wives, and his son Solomon simply married everyone he wanted to sleep with. The prophet Hosea marries a prostitute who keeps running back to prostitution, Jesus’ family tree contains two prostitutes. Lots of broken bricks.

In the early church and to this day we don’t just welcome the broken bricks – that’s arrogant. Rather, we look to the broken bricks among us as family. We see that way because we too are broken bricks.

Broken bricks make the family of Christ, the Church, beautiful. God builds and He knows that broken brick makes the structure stronger. He knows this because Jesus is the mortar holding us together and making us perfect in His Father’s eyes.

A job, a career, a
calling.

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”

On this Sunday after Christmas we especially honor the humble shepherds who heard the angelic proclamation and responded.

Some historians have posited that the shepherds who were called the evening of Jesus’ birth were the very shepherds who tended the sheep used in sacrifice at the Temple.  In the modern day, the Hebron Road runs between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It is about nine kilometers, about twenty-two minutes by car from one place to the other, so we could imagine that the Temple sheep and lambs were kept in the fields along that nine kilometers, six-and-a-half-mile route. It’s not that far.

The symbolism there is pretty mighty. God calls those who cared for the Temple sacrifices, the lambs offered up for the sins of the people, to be the first to visit the Lamb of God.

Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at the Yale School of Management, established three different, defined contexts of work: job, career and calling:

A job provides you with pay and perhaps some benefits. A job is primarily about earning a paycheck. People who hold jobs are typically more invested in their lives outside of work. Work is merely the way they afford to do the things they love. They do not see their job as a place to learn, gain experience or increase connections.

A career is what you do for yourself. Career people are also working for the paycheck but are more driven to seek out opportunities for advancement. People with a career orientation tend to have a long-term vision for their future, set goals and enjoy competition with colleagues.

Those with a calling however feel a deep alignment between their vocation and who they are as a person. They feel a personal and emotional connection to their work. They are enthusiastic, have a sense of purpose and are willing to work harder and longer to make a contribution. Unsurprisingly, this group is often the most satisfied with their life’s work.

What did the shepherds have and where did they end up? It is likely that they saw their work as a job. There wasn’t much room to learn or advance. Where they ended, and where we need to end is with a calling. For they were changed by their encounter with Jesus and they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child.

Christmas Cacophony

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

I’m not sure how many of you know, but our family lives in Voorheesville. I remember moving into our house. It was a beautiful warm day and the sun was streaming through the windows. We wanted a lot of sun, and we certainly got that. The floors were soft and clean with brand new carpet, and we laid there, on the carpet in the warm sun and practically fell asleep. That is, until, the railroad.

If you know anything about Voorheesville, it is part of the main rail line between the Selkirk yards and the rest of the world. Day and night trains come barreling through this little railroad town. The whistle (or horn nowadays) and the clack of the tracks. …and we don’t live close to the tracks – but the sound carries.

Our first days in Voorheesville were a cacophony of movers, summer sounds, and trains. Day and night the trains. As the Grinch says – noise, noise, noise!!!

Webster and others describe the sorts of discordant noise around us as cacophonies. Cacophony means literally a harsh mixture of discordant sound; dissonance; a discordant and meaningless mixture of sounds. The world is a noisy place.

Here we are, on the holy night, a night of peace on earth. The old Polish Christmas Carol, Kolędy, Wśród Nocnej Ciszy might have us believe – we stand [will stand, stood] here in midnight silence, but it is not true.

At this holiest of times, let’s focus on the cacophony around us. I definitely do not mean the sound of sales and cash registers, full malls and supermarkets, people scurrying about, debates over gifts, and the ongoing voices screaming in politics and division. There is that cacophony, but like the railroad in Voorheesville, we have learned to ignore those things. They have become the background noise of life, a sort of a low background buzz we barely notice anymore. I have to concentrate to hear the train nowadays.

The cacophony we should be hearing this Christmas is different than those things. Yes, the worship of the angels. Yes, the words of scripture. But more…

Good writers and producers help us to hear the real trains running around us. The kind of Christmas cacophony we should hear; the much more important and urgent noise around us.

In Dickins Christmas Carol, Scrooge was woken by the cacophony of a friend who came in an attempt to save him. Marley came with chains rattling so that his friend might not become subject to the fate he had drawn.  Marley showed him the cacophony of hopelessness. So, let us take notice of that. Let us be that friend who breaks through the cacophony of hopelessness, despair, and resistance. Let us be that friend who will not hesitate to call another to salvation, to break through, to make a difference – for in doing so they and we will find the true peace of Christmas.

In It’s A Wonderful Life recall the night George Bailey came to despair. Do you remember the cacophony of prayer that rose up? His wife, children, friends, community rose up in prayer and those prayers came to the Throne of God. Please Lord, help my husband, my son, my daddy, my friend. Let us be part of a new cacophony of prayer for those around us whose needs may be public or often times silent. Let us give the gift of our noise – not just this Christmas night, but earnestly every day and night for in doing so they and we will find the true peace of Christmas.

The true peace of Christmas radiates from the cacophony of a manger scene – the rush to find lodging, a woman giving birth, the visit of Shepherds, the glory of the heavenly host appearing. The true peace of Christmas lives in us as we break through in prayer and action to bring the true peace of Christmas to the world. 

In
advance.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Three weeks ago, we reflected on God’s wake-up calls delivered through the prophets so we might be found awake and ready. 

Two weeks ago, we focused on God’s proclamation of His truth as revelation for us. We understand that to be part of God is to be part of His extraordinarily different way, and to live up to it. 

Last week we considered the rejoicing ready for us right now and to come upon Jesus’ return.

In a few days, this will all come together in our Christmas celebration. To prepare, God asks us to consider the depth of His love and how we live it.

We know the Spirit stirred life in the womb of a peasant girl – God’s proclamation through prophets and angels comes to reality in Mary’s womb by her loving acceptance. God is engaged in His extraordinarily different way.

Mary and Joseph betrothed, not yet married, were expected to remain chaste. Mary’s pregnancy catches Joseph by surprise, more literally he was shocked and dismayed. Joseph seeks to avoid humiliation (for him) while also fulfilling the law. He is not yet connected to God’s different way of love or His proclamation. The angel sets that straight. The angel admonishes Joseph to embrace his role and Joseph responded lovingly. Joseph then becomes model for all who encounter the message of Jesus – God’s proclamation made real in vastly different ways and to be accepted in love.

God’s realm is becoming manifest among us at the near conclusion of this Advent season. If we have taken wake-up calls and proclamation seriously, we are awake, ready, listening, prepared, and knowledgeable. God calls us to act so vastly different in advance of His son’s glorious return. We are called to be part of His necessary work at this end-time, i.e., to becoming deeply faithful to love. Love must overcome disbelief. Love must overcome labeling (imagine what people called Mary and Joseph). Love must overcome conflict and chaos, eliciting peaceful hearts. Love must overcome complacency. Jesus’ way of love must rule our heart and way to the core of our being. 

In
advance.

“Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

Two weeks ago, we reflected on God’s wake-up calls delivered through the prophets. Delivered to us too so we might be found awake and ready.

Last week, we focused on God’s proclamation of a truth, through His angels, that most would consider hard to believe. For God does things in vastly different ways. We come to realize, by faith, that God’s proclamation is God’s reality that He provided in advance so that we might have a chance to live up to His vastly different way. 

Today we consider the rejoicing in store for us, right this very moment, and to come upon Jesus’ return.

Each of these themes, wake-up calls, proclamation, and rejoicing are things given to humanity in advance of Jesus’ coming. We are reminded of them now because Advent is that time in advance of His returning. He is returning in power and might to take up those who are awake, to fulfill all His proclamation, and to gather us in rejoicing.

Isaiah tells us that the very earth, all of nature will exult, rejoice, and bloom. In his time of anticipated rejoicing, Isaiah reminded Israel to strengthen itself, to build itself up, to cast out all fear. Nothing should be upon us that would hold us down. So today, let nothing stop us from rejoicing. Let us prepare ourselves to enter singing, crowned with joy, and meeting together with gladness.

St. James clues us in: Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Do we think anyone will win who is just standing by asleep, unhappy, thinking it will never happen for them? Is just going through the motions enough? No! It is for those who are making it real, living up anticipating, and glad right here, right now, in this place, in this City, in this family.

Listen carefully again to Jesus’ very word: “Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” He has given us the best reason for rejoicing in advance of His return. He has told us, in advance, we are greater than John the Baptist. We are powerhouses of faith, strong to withstand because in advance we are awake, living up, and rejoicing.

In
advance.

Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance. And do not presume

Last week we reflected on God’s wake-up calls. God is diligent at wake-up calls. He gives us this opportunity of Advent in advance so that we may be prepared. He gave us the first coming of His Son, His life and word as model so we may live awake, active, and expectant for His return.

This week we reflect on His proclamation – proclamation of a truth people so often wish to avoid for God does things in vastly different ways.

Consider the words of Isaiah. Would anyone expect the wolf, lamb, leopard, kid, calf, and lion to live and eat together in peace, guided by a child. Would anyone expect a baby to play together with snakes. Could we believe that a day will dawn where there is no ruin or harm? That’s the thing. It sounds all so great, and fanciful, and maybe someday – but you’ve got to be kidding me. Look at the world today!

God isn’t fooling! Those pretty words from Isaiah that begin in justice for the oppressed and right judgment for the afflicted, the casting down of the wicked and ruthless are God’s design and proclamation. He has told us, His faithful, that this is the way it shall be. This is what we must endeavor to bring about. This is the Kingdom life!

Paul tells us this was: written for our instruction, endurance, and encouragement so that we might have hope. This was written down as our instruction manual so that we might break down artificial barriers and preconceived notions. Who would think that the gentiles might be co-heirs? God did. Thus we rejoice for the gift we have been given in Jesus.

Each of the characters of Christmas brought a part of God’s proclamation. The prophets gave the wake-up call. The angels exceedingly rejoiced in God’s gift of His Son, Jesus. John, the Forerunner, proclaimed the way it must be by God’s design. John came in advance. He picked up sinners (lions, leopards, wolves) so they could eat and rest together with the lambs, kids, calves, and children. Those who confessed were freed. John held out the truth to those who wanted to pretend that things wouldn’t change. Who warned you, he said. He called them to change.

God’s proclamation is God’s reality, His truth. He provided it in advance. Advent gives us the chance to live up to His vastly different way.

Peace.

Advent is here and Christmas is less than four weeks away. As we enter this season of expectation, thoughts turn to where we should be versus all the anxieties found in our daily life. As we enter this season and approach Christmas, let us consider peace. Peace is mentioned more than 429 times in the Bible. In the Bible, peace is taught as the Shalom of God. Being of God, Shalom, peace, encompasses many meanings including totality or completeness, success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being. Shalom is an ordering of life ordained by God through creation and established with God’s people in the covenant. Shalom is a place of being where chaos cannot exist. Chaos is those things we all abhor – sickness, war, social strife, any violation of the covenant and God’s law of love. As we enter Advent, let us consider the place of peace in our lives. Where are we in terms of the totality or completeness, success, fulfillment, wholeness, harmony, security and well being God desires for us? Where are we in relationship to Him and each other? Are we living His Shalom or are we enveloped by chaos? The Church presents Advent as that time to re-enter the Shalom of God. We have this short period of time, set aside – really separate – where we can retreat and pray, worship (communally in church), study (Biblical reading), fast, share (get rid of the excess we have), re-connect, and holistically enter into God’s peace. To do otherwise is to allow ourselves to slip into the abyss of chaos that is screaming around us. Jesus is inviting us into his peace. He is constantly doing that. He wants us to be prepared, settled, rested, and ready for His return, both symbolically at Christmas and in reality. As we stand before the manger, at Christmas, throughout its forty days, and thereafter, let us do so in peace.

December, Advent and the approaching Christmas season. So much going on – be part of it. We are reintroducing Candlelit Rorate Holy Masses every Wednesday in Advent at 7am. We have wafers/opłatek available for you to take home. We will bless and light the Advent wreath on December 1st, have our Vigil/Wigilia dinner on December 15th (come and partake) and the greening of the Church on December 22nd (come help decorate). We have our food and clothing collections ongoing for those in need in our local community. Of course a whole schedule of Holy Masses for Christmas, including a true Solemn Midnight Holy Mass, the blessing of wine on the Feast of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist – and so much more.

Read about all this and a reflection on generosity in our December 2019 Newsletter.