Elevation.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior was revealed, He saved us. It was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of His own mercy

Much in the realm of Theology has been written about elevation, the ability we have, because of Jesus, God among us, to approach God and to become like Him.

In Orthodox Theology, this process is called Theosis (also referred to as deification, or divinization, or illumination). It is in essence the transformative process by which we grow into likeness to, or union with, God. Human beings – that’s us – can have real union with God and become like God in the way we love as well as in our holiness. 

Our goal is to become perfect in our love, to love as God does, through His grace and the awesomeness of His redemption. We might also call this sanctification – a process of growing godward.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote: 

He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine…

St. Paul, writing to Titus, goes on to say: God poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that by his grace we might be put right with God and come into possession of the eternal life we hope for.

Today we encounter the feeble and filthy – the Humble Shepherds stationed out in the field. Like us, God poured out His grace upon them, revealing to them this opportunity to not only go and see, but more so to become, to be elevated.

As with us, they had the choice. Literally, chill in the field or go and see. By trusting God and going, by saying yes, they came to see and understand.

Those Humble Shepherds were elevated. They became dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating with energy, joy, wisdom and love. What a great model to follow.

We have been called, and I also offer a special word in this moment to all those called in a special way to be priests and deacons of our Holy Church. Each of us must decide whether we will go and see. If we say yes, we will see and understand. Having seen and understood, we will become dazzling, radiant, immortal creatures, pulsating with energy, joy, wisdom and love.

I want that. Do you want that?

God’s grace and mercy are such that this opportunity is ever present. Elevation, illumination, becoming like unto God is a chance awaiting our yes. Let us pick it up and move forward with energy, joy, wisdom and love just as those Humble Shepherds did.

Zealous!

While they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Francine Farina friend of Joanie Caska who is also in Joanie’s writing group sent us a lovely poem for Christmas. We will publish the entire poem in our next newsletter.

The first verse of ‘Hush Don’t Cry’ captures much of what tonight is all about:

Little baby laying in the hay
Your Mother’s breast is near
A humble beginning for the
Lord of all
Hush don’t cry
Hush don’t cry

Close your eyes for a moment, or look at this manger, and see that. The baby Jesus laying in a cow’s manger filled with hay, His mother nearby, prepared to feed Him.

In the days of Jesus and in the centuries since, kings were never fed by their mothers. They did not lay in hay. They were not born in barns or caves. They were not attended by the poor and humble nor by animals. They had nursemaids and attendants. They lay on the finest woven cloth.

Isaiah tells us that “The zeal of the LORD of hosts” did this. What we see tonight is done by God with the cooperation of Mary and Joseph and the listening ears of the poor and humble. God in His very self broke into our world because of His zeal for us.

Zeal – what is it? It is focus on a mission with great energy and enthusiasm. It is singular focus. It is determination that nothing will get in the way of accomplishment. God came solely focused on us. On a mission for us.

Do not be fooled. This Jesus in the manger was not just a future teacher, or philosopher, or leader, but our zealous God Himself among us. He is why we pray, worship, kneel, and adore. He is why we listen and obey. He is why we follow the gospel path. 

Because of His zeal, the Lord of Lords, God Himself took on the flesh of humankind. He became like us. The Eternal Word came among us and took on all of the sufferings we face. He was born as we are born. He felt the cold and damp we feel. His mother hurt as all women do in the pangs of birth. 

Jesus felt and experienced the warmth of His mother Mary, nursing at her breast, finding comfort and love. He was protected by Joseph, because He, like us, was defenseless. All this because our God is zealous for us.

God is zealous for us, zealous to save us. He is zealous for our love, as Jesus would later tell us, for love toward Him with all our hearts, souls, and minds. God is passionate for us – and so He broke forth into the world to dissolve all those things which stand between Him and us, us and Him.

In God’s zealous love He resolved to replace dread with hope; fear with peace; sadness with joy; and hate or indifference with love. So here He is.

This very night, let us drink deeply of the cup of zeal as Jesus did and dedicate ourselves once again to follow Him in replacing dread with hope; fear with peace; sadness with joy; and hate or indifference with love.

May our zealous God bless you all richly this Christmas day and for your entire lives.

The following is our schedule of Holy Masses and special blessings throughout the forty days of Christmas.

  • Wednesday, December 23: Rorate Holy Mass at 7:30am.
  • Friday, December 25: Shepherd’s Solemn High Holy Mass/Pasterka at midnight
  • Friday, December 25: Holy Mass of Christmas Day at 10am.
  • Sunday, December 27: Solemnity of the Humble Shepherds. Also St. John, Apostle & Evangelist. Holy Mass with Blessing of Wine (bring a bottle or two to be blessed) at 10am.
  • Friday, January 1: Solemnity of the Circumcision. Holy Mass at 10am.
  • Saturday, January 2: Solemnity of the Holy Name of Jesus – Holy Mass at 10am. Start of our 100th Anniversary Celebrations.
  • Sunday, January 3: Feast of the Holy Family. Holy Mass at 10am.
  • Wednesday, January 6: Solemnity of the Epiphany of our Lord. Holy Mass at 7pm includes blessing of chalk, charcoal, and incense.
  • Sunday, January 10: Solemnity – Baptism of our Lord. Holy Mass at 10am.
  • Tuesday, February 2: Solemnity – Presentation of our Lord. Holy Mass at 7pm includes blessing of candles/gromnica.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.

December, Christmas, New Year’s Eve. That’s our secular calendar for December. Whether we get our calendar at the bank, the local liquor store, or online – we can find all those things. But if we happen to have picked up a Home Liturgical Calendar (there’s still a few available), we find a bridge, the start of a new Church Year with the season of Advent. Advent is about hope and expectation of a brighter future. In Advent we at once commemorate the waiting of the Jewish people for the promised Messiah and connect with our urgent expectation of His return. We are first and foremost called to look forward with hope. Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz, the Nobel prize winning author, wrote his “Trilogy” of historical novels – set in the 17th-century Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth – in the late 19th century. In this series of books (and I recommend you get the translation by W. S. Kuniczak) he points to people looking to the sky in the midst of Poland’s wars and sufferings, and declaring ’It must be the end.’ Certainly they did. Yet the world did not end in the 17th or 19th centuries. Any among the people of that time expecting the end lost the opportunity to hope forward. For us as Christians, the call is not to sit around contemplating the end, biting our nails and hoping we get to heaven, but to offer hope today, and thus to be heaven, the breaking open of the Kingdom of God, for our brothers and sisters. We all long, that cannot be helped. We have all been challenged, and especially in this year. For us, Advent longing and the challenges of the time must not be met with dour, sad, and forlorn attitudes but rather with hope filled and bright faith looking forward. Each Advent, let us look forward, not in a delusional way, but with ready faith. Let us look forward expectantly, with active faith. Let us never lose the opportunity to live and share hope. Grasp it so we may meet Jesus, the Hope of humanity.

December is here and so is our newsletter. This month we focus on looking forward with hope as we walk through the Advent Season into the new dawn of Christmas.

Read about our Advent charity programs and Pastor Jim’s Christmas greetings as well as his thankfulness on the 6th anniversary of his ordination to the Holy Priesthood. Join us for weekly Zoom calls so we can face these days Together in Faith and Love. Stop by Wednesday mornings for a Rorate Holy Mass (Holy Mass by candlelight only). Offer a Memory Cross for our Christmas trees. Get your Christmas wafers/opłatki. See our Christmas season schedule of Holy Masses. We continue planning for our 100th Anniversary, observed in 2021. There is a great reflection On Holy Communion. Want to be on the Parish Committee? Time to get your name into running.

Read about it in our December 2020 Newsletter.

When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph took Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.

This is the Sixth and final Sunday after Christmas. 

We have reflected over these weeks on the way Jesus had made Himself known to the world: To the Jewish people; To the poor and humble; To the world; and In His call to the disciples. In these weeks we have covered thirty years of Jesus’ time on earth. Today, we take a step back. 

After Jesus’ birth, He and His mother would stay confined for forty days. She was considered ritually impure because of the blood associated with birth. This time of separation concluded with a reappearance, a revelation, at the time of ritual purification.

The Holy Family goes up to the Temple, only a few miles away from Bethlehem, to perform this ceremony. We can imagine that their thoughts were on what they had to do. We know how it is when our focus is on the things we have to accomplish. Like the Holy Family, in the midst of our focus, we are taken by surprise.

The words of surprise are summed up in this statement: The child’s father and mother were amazed. A very old and holy man sings praise to God for what he has been allowed to see – the glory of Israel, the light to the Gentiles. An elderly woman goes about speaking prophecy and praising God, talking to everyone who awaited redemption.

For us Christians, each day must be a new revelation, a new offering. Each is a chance to show who we are as a people, as a family, and as Church. Each day is a new chance to take the light of Christ that is in us, as symbolized by the candles we hold, and speak to those awaiting redemption.  Each of our homes, that hold this light, needs to be a place of refuge and safety that is in some respects apart from the world. In these places we find our refuge and offer it to those we may meet.

On this day, let us consider how we might be taken by surprise by the way Jesus might appear at any moment. It may be in any encounter we might have. Let us allow ourselves to be pulled away from our focus to a new focus, the opportunity to bring Jesus’ light to those who sit in darkness. This season of revelation was our beginning. We walk out of it holding a light and making an offering to the world.

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.