on the sixth day of Christmas (December 30, 2017), my True Love gave to me the gift of hope

Note: These prayers, one for each day of the twelve-day Christmas season, in which my True Love is God, follow the pattern of that well-known 18th century English carol with a number of the days illumined by the observances of the Church calendar.

O gracious God, on this day, repeating an annual cycle – one day’s step from the end of a calendar year and one day’s step from the next – the world equally annually (alway?) seems enshrouded in winter’s gray of indifference and intolerance, inequality and iniquity.

Yet You, O gracious God, pour Your Self into the flesh of a baby of lowest earthly estate born to an unwed mother, laid in a feeding trough for animals,(1) and, hounded by authorities seeking his death, made to be a refugee.(2)

This, Your stupendous story pregnant with expectation, this Your stupefying mystery impregnable to all opposition, bears…is the light of hope that You and Your will, Your Word of Love incarnate(3) conquer all.

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See Luke 2.1-7
(2) See Matthew 2.13
(3) John 1.14

on the fifth day of Christmas (December 29, 2017, Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury), my True Love gave to me the gift of courage

Note: These prayers, one for each day of the twelve-day Christmas season, in which my True Love is God, follow the pattern of that well-known 18th century English carol with a number of the days illumined by the observances of the Church calendar.

O gracious God, Your servant Thomas Becket, opposing the usurping lusts of King Henry II, who would make the church his vassal, a slave to the crown, was slain at the very altar of Your worship.(1)

By Your Spirit, grant unto me the courage that resists the surrender of making strifeless-peace with worldly principalities, secular or ecclesial, and, thus, vigilant, dares speak to the self-serving sins of power the truth Your unconditional love and justice.

Amen.

 

Footnote:
(1) Thomas Becket (1119-1170), Archbishop of Canterbury (1162-1170), acclaimed as a saint and martyr by the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion, engaged in conflict with King Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral on December 29, 1170.

on the fourth day of Christmas (December 28, 2017, The Holy Innocents), my True Love gave to me the gifts of sympathy and sensitivity

Note: These prayers, one for each day of the twelve-day Christmas season, in which my True Love is God, follow the pattern of that well-known 18th century English carol with a number of the days illumined by the observances of the Church calendar.

O gracious God, Herod, frightened by the fulfillment of the prophecy of the one born king of the Jews(1) and infuriated by the trickery of the magi who would give him no word of the location of the Christ Child, sent his legions to strike down all the children of Bethlehem.(2) Unto this day, innocent children suffer at the despoiling hands of human traffickers and the despotic hearts of rulers who, engaging in war, kill, maim, and make refugees of their own people.

By Your Spirit, e’er sharpen my sympathy, ne’er dull my sensitivity to suffering, yea, by the sword of Your Spirit pierce my heart to its beating, bleeding core, that I, whene’er and where’er and howe’er, alway can and will stand on the side of Your holy innocents.

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See Matthew 2.1-8
(2) See Matthew 2.13-18

on the third day of Christmas (December 27, 2017, St. John, Apostle and Evangelist), my True Love gave to me the gift of steadfastness

Note: These prayers, one for each day of the twelve-day Christmas season, in which my True Love is God, follow the pattern of that well-known 18th century English carol with a number of the days illumined by the observances of the Church calendar.

O gracious God, Your Son Jesus spake that his most-loved disciple, John, would remain until he came again.(1) So, it hath been and is that through his work as an evangelist, his word standing the test of time o’er two millennia and spanning the world-round, John hath remained a stalwart witness of the good news of Jesus ‘til that hour of his return.

By Your Spirit, may I, in my day and time, as long as You grant me breath and strength, continue to be a steadfast witness of the gospel. Amen.

 

Footnote:
(1) See John 21.20-24

on the second day of Christmas (December 26, 2017, St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr), my True Love gave to me the gift of sacrifice

Note: These prayers, one for each day of the twelve-day Christmas season, in which my True Love is God, follow the pattern of that well-known 18th century English carol with a number of the days illumined by the observances of the Church calendar.

O gracious God, Your servant Stephen, called by the first apostles to the ministry of service, proving himself imbued with Spirit-wisdom, went forth to proclaim the good news of Your Son Jesus; for the sake of which he, sharing the fate of Your Son, was slain.(1)

By Your Spirit, may I, emboldened by Stephen’s witness, holding fast to the soul of sacrifice, make no treaty with the temptations – seek no solace in the siren-songs – of comfort and convenience.

Yea, may I alway incline the ear of my heart to Your Apostle’s word: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching.”(2)

Amen.

 

Footnotes:
(1) See Acts 6.1-7.60
(2) 2 Timothy 4.1a, 2

on the first day of Christmas (December 25, 2017, Christmas Day), my True Love gave to me the gift of the blessed babe born in the Bethlehem manger

Note: These prayers, one for each day of the twelve-day Christmas season, in which my True Love is God, follow the pattern of that well-known 18th century English carol with a number of the days illumined by the observances of the Church calendar.

O gracious God, I thank You for the gift of Your Son, Jesus; Your Love enfleshed in our mortal frame to be Emmanuel, “God with us” and to reveal to us who You are and who, from the dawn of creation, You have meant us to be by making us in Your image.

By the daily nurturance of Your Spirit, may the Christ Child be born again in the womb of my soul that I may grow, day by day, I pray, into the fullness of His likeness.

Amen.

first come, first served?

a sermon, based on Luke 2.1-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, at the late-night service on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017

She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Detail of The Adoration of the Shepherds (Adorazione dei pastori) (1609), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Joseph and Mary, responding to the census decree of Emperor Augustus, journeyed from Nazareth, standing exhausted on the doorstep of a Bethlehem inn. It was full. Others had arrived ahead of them. First come, first served. But the innkeeper wasn’t heartless. He sent them to the stable. It was better than nothing. And that night Mary gave birth.

Tonight, I wonder about that innkeeper in the years that followed that night. In the years after Jesus began his public ministry. In the years when he made a name for himself, preaching, teaching, healing; some calling him “Rabbi”, others “Messiah”. I wonder if innkeeper ever wondered: “I wish I had had room in the inn.”

Tonight, I wonder about us, we who stand at the doors of our lives as innkeepers, choosing what and who we let in and keep out. The food we eat and don’t. The places we go and don’t. The people we meet and with whom we associate and don’t. The thoughts we contemplate, the feelings we embrace and don’t. The memories we entertain and don’t. The words we say, the deeds we do and don’t.

And, like Augustus, we’re emperors of the domain of our lives. Daily, we take a census. We count. Time, energy, money. Blessings and troubles. Appointments and commitments. Our days; calculating how much we can accomplish and, perhaps at times, contemplating how many we have left.

We’re innkeepers, the doors of our lives swinging both ways, letting in, keeping out and census-takers, always counting.

Tonight, I wonder if what we value, thus, allow into our lives, reflects who we are? Is there a match between what we embrace and what we embody? Harmony between what we believe and how we behave?

Ideally, yes. Yet we know sometimes it just ain’t so! Sometimes, we choose wrongly and count poorly. But in the pressured, split-second timing of daily living, we must deal with whatever or whoever comes first. Sometimes the most urgent thing is not the most important thing. Sometimes what separates the two is only a slight difference in the shade of significance. Whatever the case, though we want to make room for what matters, we must deal what’s at hand; what comes up now and next; like innkeepers following the rule of first come, first served.

Tonight, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is the meaning of Christmas. And that meaning is peace: “Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”(1) Christmas proclaims the reunion of earth and heaven, the reconciliation of what is, that is, the way we are and what is meant to be, that is, the way God created us. Peace born not only in Jesus, but also in us that every part of our lives is reunited, reconciled. That our choices of what and who we let into our lives and, yes, what and who we keep out, match who we are. That there is clarity and consistency in what we think and feel, intend and do. That we can live ever-attentive to what matters and no longer first come, first served.

 

Illustration: Detail of The Adoration of the Shepherds (Adorazione dei pastori) (1609), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571-1610)

Footnote:
(1) From the hymn, Hark, the herald angels sing; Words by Charles Wesley (1707-1788)