Monday, December 27, 2010

Keeping Mass in Christmass

For the first time this yea,r I didn't get invited to one single "Keep the Christ in Christmas"Facebook group.  I might have had one page suggested to me for becoming a fan, but that's it.  Starting two years ago I invited everyone who invited me to one of those groups to a "Keep the Mass in Christmass."  When we talked about the Reformation this year in liturgics, our professor pointed out that most of the people who are most vigilant about keeping the CHRIST in CHRISTmas and not saying "Happy Holidays" are the theological descendants of those people who got rid of Christmas all together (namely hyper Protestants).

The (heavily cited!) Wikipedia article says this
Following the Protestant Reformation, groups such as the Puritans strongly condemned the celebration of Christmas, considering it a Catholic invention and the "trappings of popery" or the "rags of the Beast."...Following the Parliamentarian victory over Charles I during the English Civil War, England's Puritan rulers banned Christmas in 1647...In Colonial America, the Puritans of New England shared radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. Celebration was outlawed in Boston from 1659 to 1681. The ban by the Pilgrims was revoked in 1681 by English governor Sir Edmund Andros, however it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became fashionable in the Boston region...Christmas fell out of favor in the United States after the American Revolution, when it was considered an English custom.
Washington Irving wrote short stories about Christmas, and that made it fashionable again.  The wikipedia article addresses that, too.

What I've gathered, as well, is that the people who want to KEEP CHRIST in CHRISTmas don't actually care about religious celebration, other than not wanting to feel dominated or ignored...and they prefer to dominate others.  (I'm not talking about everyone, but the most vocal people.)  I tweeted a few weeks ago that for there to be a war on Christmas happening, the music at Starbucks was awful Jesusy.  The religious celebration they want to do isn't so much celebrating, as maybe remembering that Jesus was born.  That's great, do some remembering.

But I think that another way of maintaining Christmas as a religious holiday is to celebrate it with religion.  When I've tweeted something to the effect of keeping Mass in Christmas, I've gotten the response (and I'm not the only one) to get "Isn't keeping Christ in Christmas more important?"  Well, like I said above, I haven't actually noticed an absence of Christ....and if you celebrate Mass (or some other communal celebration of the holiday, gathering around Word and preferably Sacrament) it's hard to not have Christ in Christmas.  And I'm willing to have a pretty vague and generous definition of mass, namely a gathering of the religious faithful, regardless of their tradition, to celebrate a feast day.

Thom, SFO offers the following about keeping Christ in Christmas:
Instead of inaugurating the Christmas season at Thanksgiving or Halloween, try living the mysteries of Advent. Try preparing yourself for the coming of our lowly king. Try not spending 6 months salary on gifts to impress friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors. Instead, take that money and do some real good. Try tempering the joy of the season with the stark reality that we are still in darkness.
I like it.  To it I'd add not just waiting until Christmas to celebrate, but also keeping all of Christmastide.  Twelve days instead of one is a lot more celebration!  I've also heard people say (often in response to the statement "It's only Advent!") "It's never the wrong time to celebrate Christ's birth."  Well...maybe.  As TBE says, you wouldn't sing "Jesus Christ is Risen Today" on Good Friday...and you don't say "Merry Christmas!" in July.  I don't think Christ is really absent from Christmas, not even in secular settings; certainly not absent if Christians actually celebrate (especially together) the mysteries of the Incarnation (which is not celebrating Jesus being born to die; cf John 1....and I don't think singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus is quite it, either).

If we keep the Mass in Christmass, Christ will surely follow.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Sermon: Mt. 1.18-25

Joseph P. Mathews
19 December 2010
Advent 4, A
Matthew 1.18-25
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Troy, AL

In the name of the God who was and is and is to come. Amen.

What’s going on?! Did you hear that reading?! “She had borne a son and he named him Jesus.” The baby Jesus is here already, but the vestments and hangings are blue. The bulletin inserts still say Advent on them. What’s going on? Our Roman sisters and brothers don’t get verse twenty-five. Their reading stops with Joseph taking Mary as his wife.

While yes, the baby Jesus is here in this reading, it’s clearly not the point of it. It’s one verse. At the very end. We’re not smoking the place up and wearing white and decking the aisle with poinsettias until Friday. The lessons today aren’t about celebrating Jesus’s birth itself, although they do, like most scripture passages, point to Jesus. The Jesus the point to, though, isn’t the baby Jesus in the manger. Remember, it’s still Advent, and we’ll celebrate the birth in a few days. The readings today, rather, are about God being with us. God who came among us and is with us in Spirit and Church until Christ comes in final glory. And that’s why these texts are good Advent texts.

What does it matter that Christ came among us and that God is with us? Well, we have to actually mean that God is with us, and that God came among us and will return before we can really get at god being with us. If our approach to Christ’s coming is, as a Facebook friend of mine said this week, “Christmas is just one step before Easter. The meanings of both go hand in hand. Without the birth of Jesus first, there would have been no one to die for our sins. It was all part of God's plan,” I think we’re missing what’s going on. That’s not God with us. That’s God the Son here to die to make God the Father happy, and then leave us.

As much as I love some eschatological hope, “in the fullness of time put all things in subjection under your Christ,” that’s not really God with us, either. Advent prepares us for Christ’s coming in glory when all manner of things shall be well, but the texts today want us to know that God is here with us now. Saying that we have to wait until the end of time for everything to be better, and only banking on that ignores the promise in Isaiah and what the angel tells Joseph. God is with us, and pushing God’s being with us to the end of time diminishes how we encounter God here and now.

So how do we encounter God? What does God with us mean as God is with us here and now? Look around at one another. Look around this space, look into one another’s eyes. Even turn around. At St. Paul’s Chapel, where I am doing my field education, we use An Order for Eucharist for our Sunday services, and the invitation to share the peace starts with, “Christ is among us making peace.” We, the Church, are Christ’s mystical body here on earth. United in our baptisms to Christ, we are charged with doing the work of Christ.

And we encounter Christ week by week when we ask that he be present to us in a sacred meal, in sharing bread and wine, his body and blood. But as a sacramental faith, our knowing God with us is not limited to gathering together in Church for the eucharist; I don’t think it was a mistake that Jesus did his ministry -- and told his followers to continue doing theirs -- using water, food, and drink, things that are necessary for life. Knowing Christ in the breaking of the bread is not limited to the ritual meal of the Eucharist. While other times we may not commune on his body and blood, I have certainly known Christ’s presence, through many, many meals at the Wesley or cups of coffee at Village Coffee.

When I went home with my friend Melissa during my junior year of college, she took me to a water fall near her house, and I took a lot of pictures. Water came over the side of a hill and fell thirty or more feet? I’m horrible with gauging distances. The water came over, and filled into a pool that it had made. The water splashed and overflowed as the stream continued. But it got the area around it wet as well. And as I looked at that living water, flowing with abundance, unable to be bound by earth I thought, “This is baptismal! This is like God’s grace: not limited, not bound, and alive with us today!”

We gather week by week to proclaim the Good News and to join one another in the Eucharist. But we do something else when we gather each week, too. We collectively join Christ’s priestly acts of prayer as his body. When we pray together we do our work: we pray for the church and the world, and in our assembling Christ makes his prayer to the Father. And in our assembling we make a community of people that cares for one another in faith. Not simply a social club, but a group of people gathered together with the purpose of living and seeing and sharing salvation.

And a way we make community is by sharing with one another personally the concerns that we have. We share the meal together, but we also share our lives. Last spring by the end of the term there were others at chapel praying out loud for the men of the Pike County jail. This fall when I prayed for reconciliation among members of my family I had at least five people come to me to offer comfort because I’d been praying for those members of my family since last year, though with a very different goal. Sharing personal concerns with God and the community allows barriers to be lowered and the community to care for its own.

Our passage today talks about Mary’s being found with child from the Holy Spirit. That had to have been a hard spot for Mary, and it definitely was for Joseph, but they both had faith. But we don’t always have faith. A few years ago I volunteered at a weekend Bible thing at a local church. And it was miserable. On the first night I found myself saying “Do I really believe this? I’m telling these kids this stuff, and I’m not sure right now if I believe Mary was a virgin.” I resolved that crisis, but apparently it’s a common one; when discussing what we doubt -- particularly when we’re exhausted, stressed, and sad -- a friend of mine agreed that his downward spiral crises of faith usually start at the Virgin Birth. But communities can give you faith when you just don’t have it anymore or lose it for a season. The Virgin Birth is what we believe.

When we gather as Christ’s mystical body the church -- God with us -- we profess together what we believe. And the church believes from century to century regardless of my belief from day to day. It believes in spite of me. It believes for me. It believes until I can. Christ is among as we pray for the world, and Christ is among us as we care for our neighbors. Christ is with us we come to know our neighbors and as we come to be truly known to them. God is with us in bread and wine and water at Church, and in dinner at Crowe’s or walking along the beach. God is with us here and now until Christ comes in final victory.

O come, o come Emmanuel. Amen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Prayers for Uncle Virgil

O God, who by the glorious resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ destroyed death, and brought life and immortality to light: Grant that your servant Virgil, being raised with him, may know the strength of his presence, and rejoice in his eternal glory; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our brother Virgil. We thank you for giving him to us, his family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Father of all, we pray to you for Virgil, and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Virgil. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

From The Burial of the Dead, Rite II, The Book of Common Prayer, 1979.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How the Senate Should Vote

Kyrie eleison.  Lord have mercy on all those serving the military, and all those involved in war; as we approach the coming of the Prince of Peace, may we know peace on earth.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crime Against Nature

Peeps should be chicks, MAYBE bunnies. Not snowpeople.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Song for Today: How Firm a Foundation

Not particularly inspired by the readings, per se, but Jesus not driving away anyone who comes to him made me think about this.

1. How firm a foundation, ye Saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
Who unto the Savior, who unto the Savior,
Who unto the Savior for refuge have fled?

2. In evry condition—in sickness, in health,
In povertys vale or abounding in wealth,
At home or abroad, on the land or the sea—
As thy days may demand, as thy days may demand,
As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be.

3. Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I'll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,

Upheld by my righteous, upheld by my righteous,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

(not in video)
7. The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose
I will not, I cannot, desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
Ill never, no never, Ill never, no never,
Ill never, no never, no never forsake!

Sermon Notes: John 6.35-38

A requirement of our Preaching 1 class at General is to deliver two extemporaneous homilies.  You get a passage and thirty minutes to prepare.  You decide when to use those thirty minutes, and it's on the honor system, but I think it's pretty well followed.  These are my notes from my prep work, and all of this didn't get into the sermon (a comment on that below).

  • +
  • Here we are, more of John 6.  Probably summer year B, ~6 weeks of bread of Life
  • How we read this is probably different from how our Reformed sisters and brothers read it
  • Jesus is present however we read it
  • Jesus doesn't drive away anyone who comes to him
  • No conditions on coming to God.  Difficult to say "If they do or don't do this (like support health care reform), they're not Christian."
  • But, belief should produce action; there should be an amendment of life, and that's a life-long process.
  • At the font we're incorporated into Christ, at the table we're strengthened to speak for those w/o voice for systemic change, not quick, temporary fixes
  • At the table we're strengthened to love, being nice, coming to the table (regardless of the example some primates set by not coming to the table)
  • When we feast on the Bread of Life we are filled, and we are called to the of the one who sends us.
"If you leave something out, consider that the Spirit didn't let you remember it." - Mo. Mitties

Did You Know?

Did you know that I have a tattoo?

I've had it for two years now, and yesterday's Isaiah reading from the Daily Office made me think about it and if I'd blogged it when I got it.  I got it the day after I'd been made a postulant...and it was kind of spur of the moment, I'm going to be spontaneous and break of out my routine, this is something I'd never do so I'm doing it.  Here's yesterday's text with bold for what my leg now says.

Isaiah 6:1-13 (NRSV)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.

And I said: "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I; send me!"

And he said, "Go and say to this people: 'Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.' Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed." Then I said, "How long, O Lord?" And he said: "Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate; until the LORD sends everyone far away, and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land. Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak whose stump remains standing when it is felled." The holy seed is its stump.

We Just Can't Win, Ctd.

Westboro Baptist Church says it will picket Elizabeth Edwards' funeral

Read it all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

We Just Can't Win

Yesterday I got a few flame comments on two blog entries.  Go read them here and here.  Afterward I was talking about the comment and Christianists and atheists and people who are douchy and people who are nice and loving.  I've started commenting on some more blogs.  I've been re-posting Joe.My.God's Holy Crimes lists from day to day.  And my friend said something about Westboro Baptist Church and what certain fundamentalists have done to Christianity.  If you read the comments on the Holy Crimes entries (including some follow up comments to what I've said) it's clear that people associate Christians of any stripe with, well, Christians of any stripe.

There are the people who've turned love into hate (see the above video!) and peace into making war to make peace.  And then you have the crooks.  And the people who abuse the relationships that the Church has given them in whatever manifestation it takes.  And that's what people see.  And we just can't win.  We can't have an aggressive media campaign that says "We're not like them!"  We can't get on top of the Christianity game and actively fight the Christianists to beat them into submission.

And I don't think we're supposed to.  I think that's kind of the opposite of what we're supposed to do.  The Christianists have power because they seek it, rather than resisting the temptation to have power (when really we don't at all).  As I follow Christ I know God who became man (giving up power), was born in a lowly state (not into power), had no place to lay his head (didn't acquire or seek power), and gave up his life (didn't take on power at the end).  I think the way to show what we believe it to live it.  To be friendly and love people.  And really loving people means respecting the dignity of every human being.  And seeking Christ in all persons.  That doesn't mean don't talk about our faiths; my friend Dan (from yesterday's quote of the day) and I talk about faith all the time, mostly in the form of questions, since he doesn't really identify with a faith tradition.

Instead I think we have to wait for the Lord.  And keep working for justice and doing service work and loving all people.  Really loving them...and that means not calling names, folks!  On Advent 1 the Vicar preached at St. Paul's Chapel and talked about staying awake and working to be ready for the judgment day....and that every day is judgment day.  Every day there are actions that we take where we choose to do good or not.  And I try (and fail miserably, often!) to not seek control or dominance of others.  Wait for the Lord!  Keep watch.  His day is near.

Advent Song: Wait for the Lord

Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.  Wait for the Lord, keep watch, take heart.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quote of the Day

"You're a good person and whatever it is that makes you be that way, be it religion, Madonna's entire repertoire, and/or a fantastic bf, it's ok with me so long as you don't force it on me, which you don't." - My friend Dan after having been thanked for not being an ass about my faith.

Hymn for Advent: "O God of Earth and Altar"

We sang this at morning prayer this morning.  I was partial to the second verse, but a re-reading makes me like the first as well.  I'll emphasize the parts that I particularly like.  Sorry the video is a retiring procession, but it's what I found, yeah?

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honor, and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

Hey Church: Holy Crimes

Yep, it's that time of the week again.  Go read this week's edition of Holy Crimes.  And read the comments.  Please, read the comments.  I think they say a lot about how we're perceived.  When we fail to keep one another accountable it's reflective of all of us and informs people's opinions.  And when we're silent about it that says we don't care (even if we do).  And when we run and hide from it our hearts haven't been changed and aren't being changed by the Gospel.

So, go read, read the comments, maybe leave a comment of apology or repentance.  NOT defensiveness.  There's nothing to defend here.  Being so certain of being right is what gets us into this mess.  Listen to the voice of the modern prophets.

Holy God, holy and might, holy immortal one, have mercy upon us.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Who Reads/Visits My Blog?

Here are two examples from today on Statcounter.  I'm sort of amused.


Hey Church: Holy Crimes

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” ’ - Matthew 3.1-3

Hey Church, go see what we haven't done so great at this week by reading this article.

Last week it was brought to my attention that that blog runs these very week...and I plan on reposting them every week, or at least referring us there (sooner than Thursday, at that!).  I would love if some blogs that got a lot more traffic than mine were to do the same to help with internal accountability.

I'm glad that we're being called to account, and it's not necessarily accountability based on a huge settlement agreement or lots of complaints in the same geographical area.  And even if they aren't Episcopalians or dioceses or Christians, they're people of faith violating other people.  That's not respecting the dignity of every human being, and it affects how we are perceived.

We need to repent.  Those involved in crimes against others need to repent.  But we need to repent on behalf of them, too.  We have failed to be an obedient church.  We have failed to keep our sisters and brothers accountable for their actions.  We have failed to protect the defenseless.  We have let works of darkness happen.  We have not worn the armor of light.  We've been arrogant and in denial.  God, forgive us.

Pray for the accused.  Pray for the victims.  Pray for the Church.  Pray for civil authorities....and it's time to do some acknowledging and bewailing.

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Small #Episcopal Community

I don't usually put hash tags in my blog titles.  I know that it'll catch some more hits if I do, maybe, but that's not the point of titling blogs for me.  But I think it's appropriate today since it's what someone said.  But before they said that, I sat on my floor and cackled.  

Mid-afternoon yesterday I got a tweet from a New Yorker whom I've met once before.  We ran into each other at church last fall but knew who the other our Twitter handles.  This is someone that I've followed for probably going on two years.  I have no idea how it started, but my guess is one of us did a search for Episcopal something or other.  So earlier in the day he tweets me asking about the Advent Lessons and Songs at the Seminary tonight.  I think he came last year or meant to.

Well, just before the service starts, I see that he's tweeted, "As @ would say, ADVENT HYMN SING Y'ALL!" Even pasting it I'm starting to laugh.  You see, the person who was tweeting (it's @_Barajas), to my knowledge, has never met @ErinWarde...who went to college with me and was one of my dearest friends through it and is still today.  And a statement that ends in an all caps "y'all" is right up her alley.  I retweeted it with "best tweet ever."

So yes, it's a small community.  After the service tonight I talked to Christopher for a few minutes, just briefly, about someone in New York City coming to something at my seminary while quoting someone I went to college with.  That is networking and building relationships.  Some people say that that makes Twitter superior to Facebook, but I disagree.  There are ways to meet new people and build relationships on both networks, though in different ways.  One requires far more engagement for it to work, but it's easy to do that kind of engagement on either if you don't feel like a creeper chatting to someone you don't really know (yet), but are waiting to meet you.

Who might you be waiting to meet this Advent?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hymn: Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

With musical setting that the Baby Jesus prefers:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

Collect for World AIDS Day

From the National Episcopal AIDS Coalition:

Loving God, You provide comfort and hope to those who suffer. Be present with all HIV
positive persons and their families in this and every land, that they may be
strengthened in their search for health, wholeness and abundant living, through Christ
our Companion. Amen.