Monthly Archives: December 2022

Holy Innocents

flight-into-egyptThe Protection of Children

We read from the Prophet Jeremiah:

Thus says the Lord:

A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.

Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.   (Jeremiah 31:15)

Our children are so vulnerable on this earth, and Jesus was no exception. God risked himself and made himself vulnerable to the evil in this world. The plan of Satan is to kill, steal, and destroy. God has come that we might have life and life more abundantly (John 10:10).

Today we read about the Wisemen searching for a child born under a miraculous sign. The Christ Child they sought was more than an inconvenience to Herod. After all, the Wisemen had called the child “King of the Jews” and sought Him out to worship. This was just too much for Herod to swallow. Not understanding Judaism and the prophecy concerning the child, Herod could take no chances. His very kingdom might be threatened. He was prepared to take drastic measures to ensure his reign. Thus Joseph, the father of Jesus had to be warned about the threat against his son. From the Gospel of Matthew we read:

When the wise men had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”   (Matthew 2:13-15)

Herod was a monster. Reading from Matthew:

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.  (Matthew 2:16)

We have even more Herods today. All of our children are under threat, regardless of age. Do we not abort our children up to nine months of pregnancy and beyond, simply because they are inconvenient to us? Have our churches been willing to speak out about this, so-called, woman’s right to choose? Abortion has nothing to do with women’s rights and everything to do with child sacrifice. The Apostle Paul:

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.   (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

What could be worse? In the entertainment industry, government, and even the church, a terrible monster lurks behind the scene. It devours our children while we are looking the other way. Child trafficking, pedophilia, and even child sacrifice have been hidden, but God is now exposing them. His judgment will fall on the perpetrators. They will no longer be able to hide.

The Apostle John, on the Island of Patmos, had a vision in which God would do away with all the evil we are now experiencing:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”   (Revelation 21:1-4)

How do we live while we await the culmination of Christ’s ministry? We need to conduct ourselves in a more godly way while we are still on earth. We need to take responsibility for the care of our children. Those of us who have remained silent about the plight of our children need to repent.

When we do not care for our children, we have not cared for our Lord:

‘”Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”   (Matthew 25:45)

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Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist

saint-john-the-apostle-08Walk in the Light

When all the other disciples had deserted Jesus at the cross, John was there with Mary the mother of Jesus. He was called the disciple that Jesus loved. He wrote a Gospel which has the simplest structure and words with regard to reading level, but which contains some of the deepest understandings of the nature of God and His purposes. John was probably the only Apostle who died of old age. Reading from the Gospel of John:

Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!” So the rumor spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?”   (John 21::20-23)

John was exceptional in so many ways. His message was also exceptional. Many scholars want to write off the authenticity and validity of John’s Gospel since it seems a variance from the Synoptic Gospels. Some will say that his Book of Revelation was some sort of mystery code written only for its day. However, John cannot be ignored if we are to grasp the essence of the Christian Faith.

What is John’s message? Can we summarize what the Spirit of God was saying through his writings? Let us say that John was the messenger of Light in a dark world. Jesus is that Light and He draws us to Himself through a community of love. From John’s First Epistle:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.   (1 John 1:5-9)

For many people today Christianity is a self-help program. John teaches us that we must live in community and that we cannot have true fellowship with one another unless we are transparent. We must live in the Light of God if we are to have true fellowship. The only downside is that we will be exposed for who we really are. We are sinners. That is why we prefer the darkness of this world:

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.   (John 3:18-20)

If we understand the Gospel of John then we will not stop at the edge of the Light. We must enter into the Light. We must enter into Jesus. When we do we have this promise from him:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 John 1:8-9)

John’s teachings are the culmination of the season of Advent message and a declaration of the Christmas message that Jesus has come in the flesh. His Gospel is an invitation to live in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. Will that be our desire for Christmas this year? If so, how long can we make it last? It will last for an eternity if we remain in the Light.

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Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

First Martyr for the Faith

For those who refuse to change, the truth of God is unbearable. This has always been true and is still true today. Let us look at some examples. God sent Jeremiah to King Jehoiakim to warn the nation of impending doom if the people did not repent. This is how the people in authority responded to his prophecy:

The priests and the prophets and all the people heard Jeremiah speaking these words in the house of the LORD. And when Jeremiah had finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people, then the priests and the prophets and all the people laid hold of him, saying, “You shall die! Why have you prophesied in the name of the LORD, saying, `This house shall be like Shiloh, and this city shall be desolate, without inhabitant’?” And all the people gathered around Jeremiah in the house of the LORD.   (Jeremiah 26:7-9)

The messenger of God is rejected because the message of God is rejected.

Jesus lamented over Jerusalem:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'”   (Matthew 23:37-39)

Jesus was crucified because the Jewish leaders could not bear his message. They rejected him because they also rejected God the Father. They rejected his plan for their nation and the whole world. They wanted a different message and a different Messiah.

In today’s Epistle lesson we have the example of Stephen:

Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.   (Acts 6:8-11)

Stephen was not only a servant of the Church as a deacon, but he was also a powerful purveyor of the Gospel. The leaders could not tolerate the message of Stephen which was by the Holy Spirit. Thus they rejected Stephen. Stephen became the first martyr for the Faith. He was an innocent man full of God’s grace and power, yet he was stoned to death in the name of religion.

People have a certain concept of God. When challenged by God’s truth they often will do anything, including destroying the messenger of God, to keep from hearing and complying with his Word. How far are we willing to go today to reject the Word of God?

The Word was made flesh for us and died on the cross as payment for our sins. Are we to reject such a great salvation? Are we to reject healing? Are we to reject prophecy in our day? Some of our churches and denominations do not allow for certain manifestations of God’s power and presence because they do not allow for God’s truth. Church doctrine does not take the place of the truth in God’s Word.

Where do we stand today? Are we open to God? Are we seeking his revelation in our lives? Is his Word all important to us? If so, then we will surely be persecuted, even within the Church. When that occurs, will we still hold on to the truth at all costs?

Stephen was a man to whom the Word of God was all important to him. He was willing to die for it so that the truth might be told. Not only that, he was able to forgive the very people who were stoning him to death.

We would not have the Church today without the testimony of Stephen and many faithful martyrs for the cause of the Gospel. As in the days of Stephen, we are living in an age hostile to the Gospel, even in America. Will we step up and step out for the Gospel in our day?

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The Season of Christmas

 

adam_williams_fine_art_madonna_and_child_1250427034625Christmas is the feast of the incarnation, the feast of God becoming flesh (the Latin “in carne” means “enfleshment”). This is a uniquely Christian teaching, the Divine choosing to become one of us. God is not only Transcendent but is also wholly Immanent, Emmanuel (God-with-us). We celebrate how that was accomplished through the miraculous virgin birth of his Son.

Though Immanent, God still remains Transcendent. We must rise above ourselves to meet him fully. This can only be done through the blood of Jesus. The wonderful mystery of Emmanuel is that God is with us as we rise toward Him. Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit and dwells in our hearts. Thus an understanding of both Christmas and Easter is required to comprehend the Christian faith.

How do we celebrate the Christmas Season? The secular celebration of the Season seems to begin the day after Thanksgiving or even sooner, depending on the decisions of today’s retail market. The Season lasts until Christmas Day when all those presents many of us have dutifully bought are delivered, after which the Christmas tree is often quickly removed so that our homes can return to some sort of normalcy.

The liturgical church on the other hand celebrates the Season of Christmas differently. It begins with anticipation, as we prepare ourselves during the Season of Advent for the arrival of the Christ Child. The celebration of the Christmas Season begins with a Eucharistic celebration on Christmas Eve (called the Christ Mass in the Roman Catholic Church) from which the name Christmas is derived. The Christmas Season concludes on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, twelve days later.

During this season, we celebrate the birth of Christ into our world and into our hearts, and we reflect on the gift of salvation that is born with Jesus. The consecration of this gift is later celebrated on Resurrection Sunday, observing the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus died for us,  paying the price of our sins, so that we may be raised with him to newness of life.

The Season of Christmas gives us a time to slow down and drink in the love of God. The psalmist wrote:

O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.   (Psalm 34:8)

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