Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Celebrating Christmas

On Christmas Eve, we began our celebration with a Choral Eucharist offered at 5:00 p.m. In this parish, this is traditionally known as the "children's service" or "family service." The place was packed. We had to bring in folding chairs.

The homily, offered by a gifted associate, involved having all the young children gather on the pace before the altar. Together they placed the figures in the creche, with each child adding straw as they told of something they had done for someone else. The warmth expressed in their actions was symbolized by the straw that would keep the Christ child warm. It was quite moving, and not as corny as it sounds, due primarily to the ad-libs, such as when two children began to struggle over who would hold the baby Jesus. The homilist responded with, "Okay, let's not fight over Jesus. That seems to miss the whole point, don't you think?." When two brothers who were holding shepherds began to tussle a bit, peace was restored with the comment, "Are our shepherds wrestling? I must have missed that part of the story."

The choir was magnificent, as were the various musicians who offered the prelude.

At 11:00, we celebrated a Solemn High Mass. My chanting is a bit rusty, since I don't do it on a regular basis anymore, but I didn't miss any notes and have to slip into a monotone, so it wasn't a disaster. I got a parishioner who works for the fire alarm company to disable the alarm so we could use incense, so we did not have a repeat of the fiasco of the Easter Vigil, which was quite a relief. Nothing can destroy the Exsultet like a piercing siren. And nothing can be more of a distraction during the sermon than to have a fire truck pull up outside and firemen come running into the sanctuary. No such excitement during this Midnight Mass, thank God.

The parish has this beautiful red and gold cope, which has not been used much over the last twenty years. I wore it for the Liturgy of the Word, and must admit to being reluctant to change into chasuble during the offertory. A personal weakness for fine vestments, I suppose.

I preached on the theme of taking a journey, our final Advent journey, with the shepherds to Bethlehem. Along the way I encouraged folks to put down various bags they were carrying; expectations, personal grudges, false nationalism, etc. We arrived at the manger free of the burdens adults acquire during their journey through life, to greet the Christ child with the wonder and awe of the little child hidden within each one of us. That was more or less the message in summation. I'm always hesitant to post complete sermons, as I don't think a sermon can really be grasped out of the context of the specific audience for which it was written. Also, I tend to use some personal examples from the life of the parish, which if accidentally posted on the internet might break the trust I have established with these people.

Demi and I got home at 2:00 a.m. Christmas morning. I had one more Choral Eucharist at 10:00 Christmas day. A few families gathered for this much simpler celebration.

The next morning was the First Sunday after Christmas, with the rather intriguing reading from the first chapter of John. I will post a bit of that homily, as it may spark some discussion. Your understanding of what John is doing may differ from mine, and I'd be interested in hearing other approaches to this text;

...St. John is our model for evangelism, not the popular televangelists preaching fire and brimstone. St. John gives us a good lesson in his style in this morning's Gospel. He begins by telling us, "In the beginning was the Word." When John speaks of "the Word," he is talking about much more than the meaning that term has for us today. John is speaking first to his Hebrew audience, for whom the Word had a living quality. The Semitic root for word, "dabar" also meant "thing, event, or action." A word spoken was an event. Once a word had been uttered, it could not be separated from the event that it brought forth.

(Blessing of Jacob instead of Esau as an example; even though gained through trickery, it was not taken back.)

The words had been spoken, and the blessing stood.

To the Hebrew people, when God spoke, it was always a creative action. All of creation was called into existence by the Word of God; God said, let there be light, and there was light.

The Hebrew scriptures celebrate over and over again the power of God's creative action. When John starts with, "in the beginning was the Word," he brought to mind numerous memories and understandings from his Hebrew listeners.

John reached out to his own people. But this is not what earned him the title the Evangelist. He also reached out to the vast Gentile audience of his time, who were dominated by Greek thought. And here is where John's brilliance is revealed. Long before the birth of Christ, Greek philosophers had asked the question of what was permanent in our experience, a reality that seems to be constantly changing. Permanence was defined as residing in the Reason of God, referred to as the "Logos", which happens to be the Greek translation of the term "Word."

So in using the Word, the Logos, John was speaking to both the Jewish and the Greek worlds.

This is the kind of evangelism to which we are called. Those who desire to be authentic witnesses to Jesus Christ have much to learn from John. So many of us seem to have become so domesticated by the Church that we have managed to cut ourselves off from those whom we are called to reach with the good news of Jesus Christ.

(various examples of cliches that are a "turn off" to those who do not know church jargon; "Saved by the blood of the lamb," etc.)

There is no way we can enter into honest dialogue with either the Greeks or the Hebrews of today if we hide within the church, or insist on using church jargon.

We meet people where they are in life with the Gospel message. We speak their language, learn their stories, and listen to their lives. Then we respond with the message of the Gospel...
After all the Church celebrations had ended, Demi and I shared a quiet Christmas at home. I got a silver Corvette from Santa. Really! Ok, so it was a phone shaped liked a Corvette. One can always imagine and dream, right? Maybe next year it'll be full size, but make it a Mustang, please Demi my dear?


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