Saint James Episcopal Church
203 E. Glendale St.
P.O. Box 1374
Dillon, MT 59725
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
December 1, 2019
THE MOTHER OF OUR LORD
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
THE SEASON OF ADVENT is a wonderful time of expectation and anticipation. We are relieved to be saying goodbye to the Long Green Season, and we are beginning a new church year. But more importantly, we are turning our attention to the coming of the Savior of the World.
The Season of Advent is especially important because we focus on the preparation for that arrival, and all of the miraculous and necessary events that had to take place in order for the Holy Child to be born on Christmas Day.
Advent is a short season in the church year, just four weeks in all—roughly equal to the time it might take an extremely-pregnant woman to ride a donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.
Of course, Mary was young and healthy, and her new husband Joseph was with her every rocky step of the way; still it was a long journey for her to take entering her ninth month. She had no female companionship with her. Elizabeth had already given birth to her son John. Mary’s mother Anne was older and too frail for such a trip. So here she was, a teenage girl virtually all alone in the great wide universe.
We need to remember that this pilgrimage was a requirement of Roman law. A census was being taken of all the inhabitants of Israel. Joseph was of the house of David, so he had to return to Bethlehem to be recorded properly with his family.
I want to thank you for hearing me out.
Most of Advent is preoccupied with other Gospel matters. This week, Matthew tells of “the unexpected hour.” Next week, John the Baptist appears at the Jordan River. The Third Sunday of Advent, Jesus praises his cousin John. And the Fourth Sunday, we back up all the way to the birth of Jesus—but the story is told from the perspective of Joseph, not his mother. So I preempt our regularly-scheduled program to bring you The Mother of Our Lord.
She is Mary, and she is a wonderful young woman—strong, resourceful, full of faith, and unafraid in the presence of angels and of men. She is devout and wise beyond her years. Hers is a life of faith, and somehow she knows that her life has been set apart, made holy, for a rare and remarkable duty. She is the Theotokos, the God bearer. Hers is a singular ministry—to be accomplished only once in the history of the world, to be done only by Mary.
Mary is humble and unassuming. Here is a young woman born into poverty to a family of no means or reputation.
Her people are from the hill country of Galilee. They are shepherds and subsistence farmers. They are uneducated and own nothing. And they have lived in this part of the Promised Land for time out of mind.
Then comes an angel, seemingly out of nowhere. Gabriel appears to Mary. Luke’s Gospel says,
The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
Which must have scared her to death! Because immediately the angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” And then Gabriel tells Mary what that means, exactly.
You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
There is certainly a lot of important information included in Gabriel’s short message to Mary. First, he is an angel, for heaven’s sake! She has never seen a heavenly being, a messenger from God, and yet she accepts this on face value. Or maybe it’s because Gabriel says what angels always say, “Do not be afraid.” Have you noticed that? They always say, “Do not be afraid,” right off the bat.
Then the angel announces that God has found favor with her—and what that will mean. She is going to have a son, and she is going to name him Jesus. But there’s more, much more. Gabriel is saying that Jesus will be the Son of God, and he will inherit the throne of King David, and his will be an eternal kingdom.
This was the event that set everything in motion. And Mary answered, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”
So of course, it’s a powerful story. And we all see with clarity and appreciation that Mary is a person of character, truly a heroic young woman by any measure. But what is even more important is to see that Mary is in many ways an ordinary person. She isn’t of royal blood. She hasn’t been trained in martial arts or special skills. She doesn’t appear to be a genius or possess any supernatural powers. And yet, she is the Mother of the Lord.
This story should convince us all of the nobility of the human spirit and the courage of the human heart.
I have said many times that with God, there is always more than meets the eye. It is true.
And I will say that because of God working in you, in each of you, and in all of us, there is always more than meets the eye. And this is true as well. AMEN.
November 24, 2019
CHRIST THE KING
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT seems filled with people who are always in a hurry, always stressed out, and forever falling behind. They do not know the presence of God in their lives, or the peace that passes all understanding, or the surpassing love of Jesus Christ. These things are often scoffed at, or belittled, doubted, minimized, dismissed. And more often, they are replaced by a practice of substitution. It works like this.
They think to themselves, “My life feels empty. I should buy a new car.”
Or, “I have been so anxious and unhappy lately. I need a vacation.”
Or, “I feel so lonely and unwanted. Maybe I should a younger wife or a rich husband is just what the doctor ordered.”
But the truth is that nothing—really nothing else—can take the place of authentic religious experience. And in order to have such an authentic experience of the “holy,” first we must discover what that means.
To be “holy” means to be “other,” to be different or set apart from the ordinary. Something or someone considered holy would be set apart from ordinary life. Think of the places you have been that you would consider holy.
For me what comes to mind are Tintern Abbey, a beautiful ruin in Wales; the Falls at Yellowstone; the home of William Butler Yeats in Ireland; my family’s ancient farm in Michigan. These are places made holy, made other, set apart by the sacrifices of men and women, by the work of their hands, by the beauty of God’s creation.
This is also commonly said about churches and cathedrals in our Episcopal tradition. Their gothic architecture, stained glass windows, stone and wood, silver and brass, their quietness and the focus of light on the altar and cross and baptismal font—all of these qualities blend together to set apart a place as holy. Holiness is rare now in our world—hard to find and often misunderstood.
There was a child born into an isolated and very poor part of the world. His mother was a virgin, very young and alone in the world, when it was said that an angel visited her, to tell her that the spirit of God would come upon her, and she would bear a son who would be holy. He will be called, “Son of God,” said the angel. And he went away.
The young woman left that lonely place and traveled to the hill country where her older cousin Elizabeth lived. At once, the women knew that both were with child, and they were filled with joy!
The younger woman, whose name was Mary, said, “My heart praises the Lord; my soul is glad because of God my Savior, for he has remembered me, his lowly servant! From now on all people will call me happy, because of the great things the Mighty God has done for me. His name is holy!”
Surely you are remembering this story. Mary’s husband remained true to her. They traveled to Bethlehem for the census, and the holy Child’s birth was accompanied by signs and wonders, shepherds and angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!”
They returned to Galilee, and Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. The boy grew and became strong; he was full of wisdom, and God's blessings were upon him.
Many years passed.
John, the son of Elizabeth, was now a grown man. He was baptizing people at the Jordan River when Jesus came. When all the people had been baptized, Jesus asked his cousin John to baptize him—and he did. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my own dear Son. I am pleased with you.”
Jesus returned to Galilee, and the power of the Holy Spirit was with him. The news about him spread throughout the land. He taught in synagogues and was praised by all. But when he went to Nazareth, his hometown, he was rejected by people who had known him all his life.
For the next three years, Jesus wandered the land—teaching and healing, gathering followers and disciples, feeding the hungry, raising the dead. He cast out demons and preached to thousands of people, in cities and towns and in the countryside. He had no home, no family, no possessions, nowhere to lay his head. He taught the Good News of God’s Love and Grace. He was hated and rejected by those in power—the Pharisees, the chief priests, the Sadducees, and the Romans. Those who love power and control and authority always scorn and despise the weak, the loving, the peacemakers, the holy. Jesus was no different to them.
Jesus was the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords—and yet they did not know it. He was the Prince of Peace—and they did not care. Jesus was the Good Shepherd—and they reviled him. Jesus was the Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah—and they put him to death on a cross.
You, his followers, should be the least surprised of all. After all, Jesus is Holy. He is set apart. He is not of this world. True, he was fully flesh and blood. He was a human being as are we. He felt pain, hunger, thirst, loneliness, anguish, just as we do—and yet he was also fully divine. This was, to my mind, the only way that we might come to know God, truly know God. Otherwise, you see, God is always distant, separate, other. Jesus is Christ the King. Yes. But Jesus is also Christ our Brother. Thanks be to God. AMEN.