There will be no Weekly Word next week on December 26 because of Christmas. The next issue will reach your inbox on January 2 with exciting news about the Feast of Epiphany on January 6 and the Next 100 Years Renovation Project which begins on January 8.
Three Advent Homilies
The Wednesday Evening Advent series included Evening Prayer homilies given by lay preachers in the Chapel all on the theme of darkness and light.
Food: A Homily by Doug Oles
This time of year, most of us have ample opportunities to focus on food. Of course, everyone must eat, but this time of year we try to make the meals special. It’s the difference between grabbing sustenance and having a FEAST.
But “feasts” can pose a problem when trying to manage events on a busy holiday calendar. For some of us, parents, children, friends, business colleagues all compete for the same few days. Some of them host a feast only this time of year, so if we have a conflict and miss one, we may have to wait another year to see the host again. There can also be too many feasts in the holiday season. We worry about over-eating. We worry about getting the preparations done. When the feast comes, will we enjoy it? Or will it become merely one more chore to “get done”? Today’s lessons are about food and feasts.
Isaiah (25:6–9) prophesied that the “Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.” You’ll notice he mentions the “aged wine” twice. Isaiah describes a feast as a reward for God’s people who had waited for his salvation. It was not the minimal food needed for sustenance. It was a celebration to accompany rejoicing.
In Matthew’s Gospel (15:29–39), Jesus multiplied seven loaves and a few small fish so as to feed 4,000 people who had been following him for three days. For that crowd, the food was not a grand meal. There wasn’t even a vegan option. Jesus had already turned water into fine wine at Cana, but on this occasion, he was offering food for sustenance rather than the kind of grand banquet that Isaiah was talking about.
So we understand food both as something we need and also something that we desire and use to accompany celebrations. A feast should be a happy break from our daily labors, but it gets confusing when our daily labors become preparing food for feasts.
So putting today’s lessons together, where can we go to find food that is both sustenance and a celebratory feast? One excellent place to achieve that combination is right here, in church. At the Last Supper in Jerusalem, Jesus gave his disciples both sustenance and a Feast: the physical bread and wine, and the sacrament of His Body and Blood. It’s food for sustenance (like the loaves and fishes), and it’s also a celebration (like the banquet prophesied by Isaiah). And if we had eyes to see the power of this sacrament, we might approach the altar with much greater awe. But God sometimes wraps his power up so it leaves humans to make a choice by their free will. I think God enjoys watching us choose our food, rather than simply stuffing it down our throats.
At the risk of offering an unorthodox analogy, it’s like the reason why humans love hunting dogs more than they love fishing lures. Both bring us food, but humans, like God, take greater pleasure in seeing a loyal creature choosing to return to them; a fish-hook brings no comparable satisfaction. The lures we pull on a string, but the dogs have been bred in the hunter’s image. When we choose to partake in the Communion Feast, it offers great power, but only if we stop long enough to think about it.
This month, in 1914, exactly 100 years ago, the First World War was raging in France. Hopes for a quick victory had been dashed. Opposing armies had settled into muddy trenches, where rain and snow fell and men died. On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV wrote to the political leaders of the warring states, suggesting a temporary truce for the upcoming Christmas holiday. But the politicians and generals rejected this suggestion; after all, there was a war to be fought.
But then, amazingly, on Christmas Eve, German and British troops began singing carols, and their voices carried across No Man’s Land to their enemies. After a while, the opposing troops were singing to each other. The Germans even had a brass band (those Germans were prepared for everything). And on Christmas morning, some of the soldiers took the risk of climbing out of their trenches, calling out “Merry Christmas” in the language of their enemies.
Despite the objections of commanding officers, one thing led to another, and soldiers left their weapons and crossed No Man’s Land to shake hands with their enemies, exchanging cigarettes and plum puddings. It is reported that the English and Germans even played a game of soccer. Ultimately some of the French ultimately joined in, although they weren’t happy that the whole war was being fought on their territory.
Their exchanged food was simple, but it was truly a Feast. It’s estimated that 100,000 British and German troops participated in the Christmas ceasefire and fraternization. On some sections of the front, it continued until New Year’s Day. But it couldn’t last. For example, one young corporal in the Bavarian Reserve Infantry complained that the ceasefire was inappropriate for truly dedicated soldiers. His name was Adolf Hitler, and he would carry his anger for many more years.
In any case, the holiday ended, and the soldiers again took up their weapons; they had a job to do. The war resumed, and in later years, the troops had been conditioned to regard their enemies as inhuman, and the great Christmas ceasefire was not repeated.
Today, World War I is widely regarded as a tragedy, destroying millions of lives and toppling several great empires while generally causing more harm than good. But we can still look back to appreciate that moment of the ceasefire feast in December 1914.
Paul McCartney wrote a song about it called “Pipes of Peace.” In 2005, it was celebrated in a French film called Joyeux Noel. In 2012, an opera based on Joyeux Noel won the Pulitzer Prize for music. It was even celebrated in “Snoopy’s Christmas,” where Snoopy and the Red Baron meet for a brief moment of friendship in the midst of their epic battle.
But while we see the past so clearly, sometimes we may forget to see the opportunities for a blessed ceasefire in our own busy lives. So when we feel pressed by our jobs or our schoolwork, or even by the pressure of too many feasts, we should remember to take time to celebrate the greatest Feast, the grace of Christ and his sacrament of Bread and Wine. The communion wine meets Isaiah’s standard of being “well aged” after almost 2,000 years of Christian tradition and practice. And the communion bread will sustain us even better than the seven loaves by which Jesus fed a crowd of 4,000.
And if you’re wondering about that soccer match in December 1914, the British poet Robert Graves researched that incident and published a description in 1962. According to his research, it was a lot like this year’s World Cup in Brazil: the Germans won by one point.
Identity: A Homily by Kelly Moody
Good evening. I haven’t met all of you, my name is Kelly, and I wandered into Epiphany with my husband and 3 children about 2 years ago. What else should I tell you about who I am? Who am I is a tricky question. Here’s something about me: I love tricky questions, and the bible is full of tricky questions. Identity is the question in many pivotal conversations with God throughout the bible. “I AM WHO I AM,” God says to Moses. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples. “Who are you Lord?” Paul asks, blinded on the road. And St. Francis is said to have asked repeatedly in prayer one night, “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?”
Identity matters in all seasons, but it matters especially in this season, because we are expecting the birth of an ever-new identity for God: Immanuel, God with us. Immanuel is God’s most vulnerable self-revelation to us, and the point I hope to make tonight is that in order to identify with God as Immanuel, we too must become vulnerable about who we are. So I want to consider how we identify ourselves as we put ourselves in the way of the scripture we read tonight.
The prophecies in Isaiah are said to be directed to the kingdoms of Judah and Israel during a time of turmoil. Maybe you know what that feels like. In the face of fear, the people were employing a tactic that continues to be popular today: denial. They are described as follows in Isaiah 6: “Be ever hearing, but never understanding. Be ever seeing, but never perceiving.” In spite of these deficits, Isaiah’s job as prophet is to remind them who they really are. They are not people of their own making, doomed to kingdoms of their own making. They are the people of God, and God is coming to be with them. That sounds like good news, and indeed, the passage of Isaiah we hear tonight is a song of salvation. “They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not grow faint. It’s a song that will echo in the hearts of this same people years later when they hear someone else say, “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me and you will find rest for your souls, for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Those are the words of Immanuel, God with us, offering to yoke our identities to God’s own identity, and that sounds like good news.
But not everyone who heard Jesus say those words was a fan, at least not at first, and why is that? The words are so nice. What is it about the way Jesus identifies himself and the people with whom he identifies that is so threatening and unexpected, even offensive? Can you identify with that? If you can, you are in good company. Isaiah himself, upon meeting God in chapter 6, falls on his face and says, “Woe is me!” I’d say Joseph was offended too, initially, when his fiancé, Mary, told him what must have been an interesting story about her involvement with Immanuel. Think of the woman at the well, shocked beyond belief by Jesus initially. What about Nicodemus? What about the rich young ruler who went away sad? These people had some identity-shedding to do in order to coexist with Jesus. Actually, the only people who welcomed Jesus immediately were those who could not deny their need for what he had to offer. By nature of their circumstances, they were completely vulnerable, and they knew it. Can you identify with that?
I don’t know how you identify yourself, but if you are like me, Jesus’s offer of rest and an easy yoke sound sweet—for someone else. I pride myself on the bearing of heavy burdens, so it’s tempting to deny my need like the people of Judah, playing it safe in the kingdom of my own making, seeing but never perceiving the weariness in myself and my community that are crying out for renewed strength and rest.
But Advent is not a season of denial. It’s a season to be vulnerable. It’s a season to admit that we are weary, still in the dark about many things, and we don’t have to deny that, because in the kingdom of God, good things happen in the dark. It’s a season to lean into those dark places in ourselves and our communities, perceiving the pain that dwells there, hearing the cries for justice, and saying longingly, “Yes, come, Lord Jesus.” From that humble place, we can truly understand Jesus and remember once again why anxiously awaiting the birth of an ever-new identity of God with us really is good news to all people.
So, who are you? Does this sound like good news to you, or does it strike some other chord? Think about it. Ask some vulnerable questions in prayer: “Who are you, Lord my God, and who am I?”
Loyalty: A Homily by Kevin Mesher
“I form light and create darkness. I make weal and create woe.” This too: The God that created the heavens and formed the earth, did not create it a chaos.
I find these words from Isaiah oddly comforting this Advent. After the year I’ve had, it’s good just to be reminded that someone is actually in charge, that there is meaning, and that suffering has an end-game.
Though Advent is a time of expectancy, hope for the new light of Christ in our midst, this new light implies a darkness from which it can emerge, and while that darkness can be liturgically symbolic, it can also be all too literal. As such, it can challenge our faith, making us question God despite God’s unyielding assurances.
Tonight’s readings are full of such questions; questions about purpose and meaning, about God’s covenant during exile, and faith in God’s methods of redemption—and like the imprisoned John the Baptist—questions even about the sovereignty of the very one who’s birth we await. Which is why I want to explore with you a hopeful word that shows up in our Psalm today.
Hesed. It is a Hebrew word that connotes one of the many positive attributes of God. It appears no less than 246 times in the Jewish Testament, and although much ink has been spent in an effort to define it, a consensus among scholars has not been reached. It can translated as “faithfulness,” as in verses 10 and 11 of Psalm 85, but it equally implies the “grace,” “righteousness” and “love” of God, among others. In the NRSV translation it reads:
“Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other. Faithfulness will spring up from the ground, and righteousness will look down from the sky.”
As you can hear, these attributes ‘meet’ and ‘kiss’ and grow toward each other in an intimate dance. This dynamic interplay is meant to recall the activity of God’s ever-lasting covenant with the Israelites even while they awaited divine intersession during their Babylonian exile.
However, I resonate with another English translation; that of God’s “loyalty.” It combines enduring obligation with kindness or favor. Meditating upon a God that is loyal to humankind—loyal to me—humbles me in a very real way. Here’s why.
Last June, after a number of months of discomfort along the right side of my body and a sudden inability to write legibly, I finally decided to see a neurologist. The Doctor inquisitively poked and scratched my body with a blue toothpick and tested my reflexes. And then, after a series of basic mobility tests, she gingerly removed her gloves and with an air of certitude, looked to her notes and said, “Yep. It looks like Parkinson’s.” Winded and mute, I took a seat next to her desk. I wasn’t expecting to hear that that morning. “You weren’t expecting to hear that this morning, were you?” she echoed. And as her question hung in the air like a wet x-ray blanket, she stood, adjusted her crisp, white coat and swiftly twinkled out of the room. Turns out she was right. An MRI and DaT Scan confirmed her suspicions and, all too quickly, I was a person living with Parkinson’s Disease. At the height of summer, I was plunged into total darkness in a sudden exile from my own body and the expectations I had for my life. Perhaps you can identify.
I have since metabolized much of this news, hard won in real time, by honoring the grief process, but I would be disingenuous if I told you I was confidently expectant this season. And I would be outright lying if I told you I haven’t, at times, lost sight of that golden thread of faith, of community, that is meant to sustain and carry one through those darkest of times. Because I don’t know what the future looks like—of course, do any of us know? I have questions. Questions, I’m sad to say, that often betray a lack of faith. Like the Judean people in exile, baffled by God’s decision to bring about their salvation by means of a foreign king, I too sometimes question God’s methods of deliverance.
But Isaiah insists, God did not create a chaos. We are being brought out of our exile. We are being restored. Listen to these provocative and generative verbs from verses 9–13 of Isaiah. In them God, “forms, works, begets, gives birth, makes, creates, and arouses.” God is cast as diligent potter, as father and as mother, always active on our behalf, bringing something new to term. Will I interrupt the artisan with my questions? “Will the pot contend with the potter, or the earthenware with the hand that shapes it?” We can only trust that God is tirelessly working to bring us home. As we fumble and grope in the dark toward Bethlehem, we must trust in God’s hesed, God’s undying loyalty to us. Is Parkinson’s Disease the worst thing that can happen? No. But we are each beset with our own burdens.
This I know: that the most dazzling and radiant blooms always begin with a heap of dirt and manure. Or as the Buddhists say quite simply, “No mud, no lotus.” But these sudden blows can often set us into a spiral of doubt. Like John the Baptist in Luke 7, we too can find ourselves in a prison of expectation, second guessing God’s promises. We too, like John, inquire, “Is this the One who is to come?” In the dark of my own prison I am met with a quiet but persistent “Yes.” God remains loyal to us through all trials. And so I ask you, in those dark, midwinter nights of the soul, when questions take up residence in your heart, and your heart is in exile, will you be loyal to God?
Christmas at Epiphany
5 pm, Christmas Pageant
See and hear the story of Christmas presented and sung by our children. All children are invited to participate. Contact Elizabeth Walker to RSVP. Nursery care available from 4:30 to 6:30 pm.
8:30 pm, Musical Prelude
With full choir, soloists, harp, and flute.
9 pm, Festival Eucharist
A traditional service with the Epiphany Choir.
9 am, Holy Eucharist
Join us on Christmas morning for a Celebratory Eucharist. No childcare.
First Sunday after Christmas
8 am & 10:30 am, Congregational Lessons & Carols
During regular Sunday services on December 28, the congregation will participate in the Christmas version of Lessons and Carols. No Sunday School. Nursery care available from 10 am–noon.
Office Closed after Christmas
From December 25 to January 1, the Parish Office will be closed. We will be open on January 2. See you in the New Year!
You Are Invited to the Feast of Epiphany Groundbreaking Ceremony!
Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Join us for part or all of this festive eponymous celebration!
5:30 pm | View the Pews and Silent Auction (Chapel)
The pews in the Chapel will be auctioned off to raise money for the Youth Pilgrimage Fund. See below for more info.
6:15 pm | 1892 Evening Prayer (Chapel)
This service will use the 1892 Prayer Book, the same book that was used when our chapel opened its doors for the first time in 1911.
7:00 pm | Festival Eucharist with Epiphany Choir (Church)
8:00 pm | Groundbreaking and Reception (Courtyard)
Under tents and heat lamps, we’ll toast Epiphany’s next 100 years! Wear your heavy winter coat and rain boots!
You are invited to bring a bottle of champagne to share. You can drop it off at Christie House the weekend before, or leave it in one of the coolers in the courtyard before Evening Prayer the evening of the event.
Own a Part of Epiphany History and Support Our Youth!
On January 6 at our Feast of Epiphany Celebration, we will auction off 20 pews and the Presider’s chairs from the Chapel. The top 20 bidders will get to choose their pew or Presider’s chair in order of bid amount. You do not need to be at the celebration to win.
Starting December 21, there will be a box on campus for you to place your bid. If you are not able to bid in person, you can email your bid to Laura Sargent at firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 pm on January 6. The winners will be notified on January 7. Free local delivery for all bids over $750. All proceeds will go toward the Youth Pilgrimage Fund.
Please contact Laura with any questions.
Hospitality Volunteers Needed
We’re looking for some volunteers to help out with coffee hour after the New Year, either by providing treats or assisting with coffee on a Sunday morning. Contact Amanda to find out how you, your family, or your small group can help out by emailing her at email@example.com.
Parish Prayer List
Sunday Lectionary Corner
December 21, 2014
Fourth Sunday of Advent
2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16
Psalm 89:1–4, 19–26
Romans 16: 25–27
Luke 1: 26–38
Upcoming Events in the Life of Epiphany
December 21: +TEC Sunday Forum—The Story of Jesus, Part 2
At 9:15 am in the Great Hall, gather with The Rev. Doyt Conn to hear the story of how Jesus came to be. Part 2 will focus on how Jesus lived and why what he had to say upended the world. Read more here.
Events Down the Road
December 25: Christmas Morning Eucharist
The whole family is invited to celebrate the birth of Jesus at 9 am on Christmas Day. No childcare available.
December 28: Congregational Lessons & Carols
During regular worship services, the congregation will participate in the Christmas version of Lessons & Carols. There will be no sermon or Sunday School. Children sit with their parents; nursery care available.
January 6: The Feast of Epiphany and Groundbreaking Ceremony
Following a pew auction at 5 pm, Evening Prayer at 6:15 pm, and a Festival Eucharist at 7 pm, come toast Epiphany’s next 100 years! We’ll have a groundbreaking ceremony to kick off the renovations that begin on January 8. Read more here.
December 5–24: Double Feature at Stone Soup Theatre
Our own Desmond Conn is making his theatrical debut in Stone Soup Theatre’s production of A Child’s Christmas in Wales and The Long Christmas Dinner. Visit their website for performance and ticket information.