The people who walked in darkness
        have seen a great light;
    upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
        a light has shone.

Some of you may know that I like Bluegrass music, a very American expression of roots music. I couldn’t spend a Christmas without listening to Ralph Stanley’s, “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’.”

In Donna Ulisse’s Bluegrass album “All The Way To Bethlehem” you find a distinct focus on Jesus as the light of the world. In her music she walks us through the entire journey of God’s light coming into the world, from the Annunciation to the Visitation, Joseph’s dream, the journey to Bethlehem, the lack of lodging, Mary’s moment with the Baby Jesus, just she and He, the Angels’ proclamation, the star, the visit of the shepherds, and so much more. 

Tonight, all of heaven’s magnificent light broke into the world. All of God’s glory entered as a tiny sliver. That sliver came not to remain so, but to grow and spread. That light immediately began to grow and reveal Itself – from Mary, to Joseph, the shepherds, the Maji, the people of Judah and Jerusalem, the Samaritan towns, to the great sacrifice that delivers on all of God’s promises and opened all of heaven’s light to us. That light continues in the Holy Spirit who dwells in us so that we might be that light in the world. That is our charge, this day and for the ages to come.

Today we are limitless. We do not just recall the Light entering the world, we celebrate it. We proclaim it in song and in our time together in worship. We gather in our homes with friends and family around and tokens of our love for each other. We then take that light and spread it in limitless ways.

Today we recall and perhaps shed a tear or two for what was. That is ok. The next step, the next emotion and commitment must be to smile for what will be. In the end that is what this night is all about – a journey All The Way To Bethlehem – and returning with a smile for what will be, and our part in that work of light. Therefore, let your smile shine and your words as well – as we once again go forth to introduce a dark and tired world to the great light that is ours in Jesus the Lord. 

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.

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. 

I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

I wonder if the translators got it wrong? I wonder if I can say “got” in that sentence? Paul, writing to the Philippians, says he is moving toward the goal. A grammar study would tell us that “to” and “toward” are two different things. There is a key distinction. As we enter into Advent and soon the Christmas season, this is a vital distinction. Are we moving toward or to Jesus? In any sentence, “towards” means “in the direction of that person or thing”. When we use “toward,” we are not describing a destination; the destination is without certainty. Toward only describes a general direction. However, when to say “to” we have defined the destination of our journey. While our exact way of getting to that destination remains un-described, we have set our goal with certainty. We work to get to it. We focus on it. We say with confidence, that is exactly where I am going. Advent is a call to prepare for the journey to the returning and victorious Christ. We are to spend this time getting ready, fortifying ourselves for His return so we can meet Him “standing erect with our heads held high.” We are called to set our destination, and retranslate Paul’s words – I am moving to the goal, to the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. That is where I want to be. We may feel fine walking toward Jesus. We might get lucky and trip into the manger at Christmas. The problem with a lack of certainty on our part is that we may miss the mark and end up separated, unable to get to our goal. Getting close, being in the neighborhood, is not enough for Jesus. He wants more. The four weeks of Advent lead to the forty days of Christmas. Time is short. Let us then set the goal, let us be dedicated and focused on the place we need to get to. Let us walk straight to a kingdom defined life. That is the goal, the prize.

December, the quick journey through Advent to the forty day season of Christmas. We discuss the journey, as you see above. Are we heading in God’s general direction, or are we going straight to Him? It makes a difference. We are so excited about these seasons, their quiet times and their activities. Join us for our meatless vigil dinner on December 16th. Listen to what our youth have prepared. Join in and ‘green the church’ on December 23rd.

Looking for real Midnight Holy Mass? Only here in Schenectady! Blessing of wine on the Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist – yes, that too.

We wish you all the many and varied blessings of these seasons as we expectantly move to Jesus’ return.

Check out all this and more in our December 2018 Newsletter.