Friday, December 24, 2010


Christmas Year A 2010

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I never remember if it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve, or for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six… All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged, fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. - Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales

Like Dylan Thomas, we all have a bundle of Christmas memories, and when I plunge my hands in the snow of Christmases past out comes heading home from college around 1970.

My hair was a lot longer back then as I sat at the gate at Bradley Field with a high school friend who attended a nearby college. A young man approached us who had no shoes. He asked if he could borrow some shoes to get on board the flight since the folks at the gate would not let him on bare foot. Shows you how different things were back then! Now they make you take them off!

So I lent him a pair of sneakers out of my carry-on bag. He thanked me and headed off to the men's room. As we boarded, he was nowhere to be seen. But as we were standing in the jetway, I overheard a more corporately attired traveler say to another, "Just look at all of our 'hopes for the future' getting on this plane," drenching with sarcasm. Forty years later and on has to wonder: who has provided our country and the world God loves more hope, the corporate types or the outsiders? Of course the kid never got on the plane. I never saw those shoes again. Great scam! But I was happy for him!

Just where do we place our hope these days? For that is what Christmas demands to know. Washington? Politics? Science? Whatever passes for "progress" these days? The Arts? Young people, old people? The Economy? To quote the King of Siam, "It's a puzzlement!"

At Christmas all kinds of people return "to their own cities" just like Mary and Joseph had to that winter a long time ago. The government required it. Everyone had to be counted so that they could be taxed - so that Rome could drain the maximum amount of resources from that backwater province surrounding Jerusalem, Israel.

The times were dark back then under Rome. Just as they had been dark some 600 years earlier when Isaiah proclaimed a word of hope: "The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. Those who live in the land of deep darkness, on them light has shined." The land was under occupation back then as well - the Exile, the Babylonian captivity, call it what you may. In the 1970's it would be called a big bummer, man!

Despite the desperate nature of the situation, Isaiah declares that there is hope. It is just that hope comes from the strangest places. For those in Isaiah's time, hope arrived as a gentile messiah, Cyrus of Persia - modern-day Iran roughly. It is safe to say that no one expected that! Yet, Cyrus liberated God's people and returned them safely home.

Then one night, six hundred years later, in the back streets of Bethlehem, a light shined in the darkness - a child was born. A baby in a manger - basically a feeding trough for barn animals. The animals in the shed sacrificed breakfast so the baby could sleep. Isaiah echoed through the night in the singing of angels, the arrival of shepherds, as the child lay there in a wooden manger of hay. The child, says Isaiah, is to be called "Mighty God!"

Do we get that? This child in a manger is God - we do well to just stop and try to take that all in for a few moments. Hope arrives in the strangest of places in the most unexpected people, but now hope arrives as a baby - a tiny child. A child who would grow up to bear the weight of the whole world and all its attendant woes and darkness upon his shoulders.

I grew up believing Chicago was the "City of Big Shoulders." Nothing like his, though. All the sin, sorrow, loneliness, sadness, brokenness and desperation of the world will one day rest on the shoulders of this tiny child - the wood of the manger turns out to be the Hard Wood of the Cross. Our hope, our only hope, is a baby lying in a manger.

Note that we do not have to go looking for hope. Hope goes out of town to the margins of Israelite society to find the shepherds and announce hope is here - the hope of the world is here, and you silly, filthy shepherds are the first to know! Hope comes to find us wherever we are! The question remains, will we respond as immediately and excitedly as the shepherds did that night in Israel?

And if we do, what do we do with this hope? Many have tried many things and have just made things worse. Take the Church, for instance. We tried to impose this hope on every and all peoples - using force whenever necessary. Force is to tepid a word - violence and even torture have been employed to convince others to let this hope into their hearts. We became the Empire to which we had been the alternative. Most people, however, could sense that what we offered was false hope - untrue hope based in our own sinfulness and greed.

Yet, even up to modern times many have seen using Jesus to establish a new political order as a promising strategy. Woody Guthrie of all people wrote a song: Jesus Christ for President:
Let's have Christ our President
Let us have him for our king
Cast your vote for the Carpenter
That you call the Nazarene
The only way we can ever beat
These crooked politician men
Is to run the money changers out of the temple
Put the Carpenter in

Christmas 1940, Dietrich Bonhoffer, who died in a Nazi jail cell, wrote that it will not work this way. Jesus will not establish his government of peace by force, but only when people submit to him freely, and allow him to rule over them. Then he gives to them his wonderful peace. When Christians are torn apart by war and debate, and churches cannot come together, that is not the fault of Christ, but the fault of people who do not allow Christ to rule over them. This does not mean that the promise is not fulfilled. Peace will have no end when we allow the divine child to rule over us.If we accept the Word and sacrament, if we accept his rule over us, if we recognize the child in the manger as our Savior and Deliverer, we allow him to give us the new life of love.
- Christmas 1940, The Government upon His Shoulders, Bonhoffer, Werke, vol 8

So where do we find him, this child who is God? How do we recognize him? In 1998 I was attending a Stewardship conference in Syracuse, New York. I was leading some music in a room of about 60 people. At a table in the front of the room was a group of deaf Episcopalians. Someone was signing the proceedings for them. As we sang, Seek Ye First The Kingdom of God, they were all signing the song as we sang. One by one people behind them began to join in signing the Alleluias, until soon everyone in the room had left our world of hearing and entered into their world. Finally, the person signing for them urged them to turn around to see what was happening. The looks on their faces was the light of Christ shining into our darkness. We were no longer singing about seeking the kingdom of God, we had entered into God's kingdom, God's world, God's rule of love for God and neighbor.

It turns out more often than not, as it was for the shepherds, we need not look for hope - we need only recognize that it is already here and submit ourselves to Him to allow Him to give us a new life of love. For He is here. He is wherever there are people who are shut out of the usual structures of power. He is wherever people are lonely, in need of feeding, healing or a helping hand to reach out. He is wherever we enter into the lives of those who are hurting in this world.

God will accomplish God's purpose with us or without us. The kingdom this child brings to us this day shall remain forever, and in the end bring down all human guilt and resistance.

Whether we are there or not, it will arrive. God himself lays his plans and reaches his objectives, with us or against us. But he wants us to be with him, not by compulsion, but willingly. God with us, Immanuel. I believe that Jesus Christ, truly man, born of a Virgin, and also truly God, born of the Father in Heaven, is my Lord! - ibid.

Bonhoffer's final Christmas in 1944, a letter from a Nazi prison cell to his fiancée included this message which has become Hymn 696 in our hymnal:

Hymn 696
By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
and confidently waiting come what may,
we know that God is with us night and morning,
and never fails to greet us each new day.

Yet is this heart by its old foe tormented,
still evil days bring burdens hard to bear;
O give our frightened souls the sure salvation,
for which, O Lord, you taught us to prepare.

And when this cup you give is filled to brimming
with bitter suffering, hard to understand,
we take it thankfully and without trembling,
out of so good and so beloved a hand.

Yet when again in this same world you give us
the joy we had, the brightness of your Sun,
we shall remember all the days we lived through,
and our whole life shall then be yours alone.

Even in the darkness of prison and his pending execution, Bonhoffer embodies the hope of the Christ child, a light that shines in the darkness and which the darkness has not and cannot overcome.

Where do we see our hope? Christmas wants to know. Christmas means to show us, if only we will open our eyes and see. When we do, we know that God is with us night and morning, and never fails to greet us each new day. When we do, our whole life shall be Christ's alone. Immanuel, God with us.

Jesus, God on earth, was touched by human hands. I believe that Jesus Christ, truly man, born of Mary, and also truly God, born of the Father in Heaven, is our Lord. Together may we live out of this simple declaration of who we are and whose we are. Hope has been born and is with us night and morning. God bless us, every one!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Stir It Up

12 December/Advent 3A - Matthew 11:2-11
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Church, Baltimore, Maryland

Stir Up Thy Power, O Lord, and With Great Might Come Among Us
These are the opening words of the Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent every year. It is my favorite collect. I imagine God at one end of a long wooden-handled spoon stirring a pot of soup filled with lots of good things, keeping things moving, keeping things from settling, burning or sticking to the bottom of the pot, making sure the mix is just right to produce a nourishing, tasty and filling treat. I imagine we are the soup and all the various ingredients, each of which is necessary for the soup to both taste good and be good for us.

But I always end up asking myself: do we really want God to come among us with great might to stir things up? No one much seems to like change and things being stirred up. And yet, here we are praying for God to come with “great might” to stir things up! Sounds like change to me.

Both John and Jesus understand the consequences of doing God’s stirring up with great might: John is in prison and Jesus is on his way to the cross. Both were advocates for change. Both ended up in prison and executed.

So here we find John in prison sending his disciples to ask the important question: Are you the one we have been waiting for? Are you really the one that last week I said I was not worthy to carry your sandals? Because I have to say, I did not expect to end up in prison if you were the one who was coming to liberate us from this occupation. This was not what I expected at all. Are you the one, or is there another yet to come?

John seems to have lost hope. Now at some time or another we all know what it is like to lose hope – to hope for something that never seems to come. We wait and wait and wait and wait, but it never seems to come. Or, when it finally arrives it is not at all what we imagined, expected or wanted it to be.

When we remember times and feelings like these we begin to get some idea what John the Baptizer is feeling as he languishes in Herod’s prison by the Dead Sea. He was waiting and hoping for something really really big to stir up this world and set it right-side up again.

Now it would be easy to judge John harshly for not trusting immediately that Jesus is the One. And many of us have to admit, we look around at the world today and wonder, like John, just what has the arrival of God in Christ done for us and for the whole world?

Some days it is easy to lose hope. Especially if we are looking for a wholesale rearrangement of the way things are. Especially if we are hoping for the peoples of the world who seem hopelessly divided and hindered by sins somehow to be speedily reconciled, friendly and cooperative rather than divided, hateful and competitive.

Jesus responds to John and to us, “Go and tell what you see and hear….the blind receive sight, the deaf hear, lepers are cleansed and the dead are raised up!” Feeding, healing and reaching out to others, the real "others" - widows, orphans, resident aliens, the unclean, the blind and even the dead. This is Biblical language to describe people who have been written off or left out of the life of the community and for a variety of reasons thought to be unclean and dangerous to be around.

Go and tell what you see and hear. And what the people around Jesus see and hear are little victories over death, blindness, and loneliness. People are being restored to real life in real community. Barriers are being torn down. Prejudices are being dropped. Those who have been excluded for their entire lives are now included in the life of God’s people.

Think of the struggles just in our life time - for women, for civil rights, for gay and lesbian people, for immigrants. We live in a land where nearly all of us are immigrants - resident aliens. Few of us have ancestors who were here when the Euro-invasion began.

The big picture, suggests Jesus, is changing one life at a time. The work is not done. Jesus is still recruiting more and more people to do the work that he does and, as he promises, we will doc even greater things than he does! He wants us to be a part of his work! He needs us. God needs us. The world needs us.

And to join with Jesus we need not to lose hope. We need to be a people of hope.

So for just a moment fill in this sentence, “As Christmas approaches I hope for …..”

Maybe write it down, keep it in your purse or pocket. Hold onto your hope. Every time you touch that piece of paper, pray for your hope. Or, just think about it. Let your hope carry you through the rest of Advent and Christmas and throughout the year ahead.

Maybe we can begin to feel what John was feeling and what Jesus was feeling, hoping that God would do something, anything, even some small thing, toward setting the world right-side up again!

Jesus calls us to a life of hope and commitment: hope in what the joy of his birth really means and commitment to the ministries of feeding, healing and reaching out to others with him, through him and for him. Jesus tells us: do not lose hope. I am with you always to the end of the age. Go and tell what you see and hear! Amen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Far, Far Away Was A Man

5 December 2010/Advent 2A - Isaiah 11: 1-10/Matthew 3:1-12
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Mount Calvary Episcopal Church, Baltimore, MD
Far, Far Away Was A Man

Once upon a time, in an ancient and far away country, when there were no cities, and no towns, only small tribes and caravans of people living on the land, wandering from place to place looking for vegetation for their sheep and goats to eat, there was a mountain top.

Whenever people climbed to the top of this mountain they felt the presence of God, who would tell them to always love the One God who cares for you and loves you always; and always care for one another, especially the others, those who are poor, have no families, widows, orphans and strangers.

And the people would leave the mountain top and remember to care for others the way God cared for them.

Throughout the years people would come and go from the top of the mountain and return with the message God had given them- to love the God who loves them, and to care for one another, especially others beyond the tribe.

And when the people came back from the mountain, many placed a stone there for remembrance. In fact, many who came but had not heard God themselves also left a stone to commemorate the remarkable events and stories which they had heard about those who did.

Each placed a stone as a token, and many placed the stones together, one building upon the other, until soon a magnificent Cathedral covered the mountain top where God's presence could be found and heard. People would come to the Cathedral, and entering they would know that something important was there, and they would pay their respects, praise the name of God and ask favors of many kinds. And each one would leave a stone.

Over the years, as more and more people came and left more stones one atop the other, a great city was built around the Cathedral on the mountain, with long, winding, narrow streets, lined with homes and shops, fountains and plazas. People coming to the mountain would need to stop and ask the way to the Cathedral so as not to get lost in the back streets of the city. And each one would leave a stone.

As the years continued to roll by, and the people continued to come and leave stones, a great wall with majestic gates was built around the city. People coming to the mountain would have to find a gate they would be allowed to enter. Sometimes the gates would be open, and sometimes the gates would be closed.

For many, even in the city, the top of the mountain became difficult to find, now that it had been covered by so many many stones. The gates were crowded, the streets were crowded, winding and narrow, there was so much noise and activity both inside and all around the gates of the city that no one could hear the directions to find their way to the top of the mountain where God's presence would remind them to love the God who always loves them and to care for one another, especially the others beyond the walls of the city.

Far, far away, in a lonely and barren wilderness beyond the gates of the city, was a man. A voice, crying in the wilderness. Above the crowded streets, beyond the crowded gates, above the top of the cathedral towers, the voice could be heard. Some people, discouraged at no longer being able to find the top of the mountain could hear his voice, so loud and lonely and lovely was the cry from the wilderness.

First one, then another went beyond the gates of the city and followed the sound of that voice. They could hear it floating on the winds, they could hear it like music in the sky.

As they came upon the man lonely in the wilderness, they could make out his cry: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight his roadways, make straight his paths. Prepare ye the way of the Lord!"

Over time, more and more people came out of the city and into the wilderness, following the voice carried on the wind, until everyone, all the inhabitants inside and outside the gates of the city were there with the man lonely in the wilderness.

And the people joined in his cry, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight his roadways, make straight his paths. Prepare ye the way of the Lord!" So that more and more people everywhere could hear the voices of many being carried on the winds to the four corners of heaven and earth.

Then the man lonely in the wilderness led them to the banks of a river, and invited them to all bathe in the waters of the river. And as they bathed in the waters of the river, he said to them, "Remember. Our God also speaks to us in the life of the waters of this river. Remember what he has said: love the One God who cares for you and loves you always, and always care for one another, especially the others, those who are poor, have no families, widows, orphans and strangers. Remember, remember, remember!"

"And, Oh yes! Another one is coming who will show us all the way back to the top of the mountain. Yes, you will remember today, but soon he will show us that to find our way back into the Cathedral, we have nowhere to look and nowhere to go. For he will tell us that the Cathedral and the top of the mountain is here, in the midst of us, wherever we are as a community of his people. Together. All of us. Including the others beyond the community. Especially the others. Here in our midst, wherever we are, God's presence, God's voice, God's message does dwell. Remember, remember, remember today, but the one who shall come will show us the Way."
And so it was, the beginning of our story. And so it is today.

When you listen far above the crowds and noise, a voice can still be heard floating on the winds, beyond the gates of the city, above the tops of the highest cathedral, calling to us, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths who is more powerful than I is coming after me...He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire..."

Remember to care for others the way God cares for you. Amen.