“Why did you doubt?”

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 9, 2020 – Matthew 14:22-33 – STEM-Wide Morning Prayer via Zoom

This sermon, which I preached this morning, is a slightly different version of the sermon I wrote as a contribution to this week’s installment of Sermons that Work.

Today we find Jesus’ disciples terrified on the Sea of Galilee. It’s certainly not the first time. The disciples are no strangers to this lake. Even before Jesus called them to fish for people, they fished here for fish, no doubt risking life and limb for a good catch. 

A quick look back at Matthew’s chapter eight reminds us of another traumatic experience they had not so very long ago. You may recall the story. A windstorm arises, so strong that the boat is swamped and it begins to sink.

Scared to death, the disciples yell to Jesus, who is fast asleep in the back. “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” Jesus responds calmly, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he gets up, rebukes the wind, calms the sea, and the disciples are amazed.

Today, however, it’s not the weather that frightens the disciples. They can handle being tossed about by strong winds and waves. Been there, done that.

Today they are frightened by something else entirely—an eerie figure walking toward them on the surface of the sea. “It’s a ghost!” they cry. No, Jesus assures them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Alas, these comforting words do not quite satisfy Peter, who seeks further proof of Jesus’ identity. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Jesus agrees, “C’mon, Peter.” And Peter goes. But after just a few steps, the wind startles him and he begins to sink, crying, “Lord, save me!” Of course, Jesus does save him, but he also asks him this sobering question, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Jesus’ question is a different version of the same one he asked back in chapter eight. It’s déjà vu right here in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Make no mistake, these questions are just as much for us as they were for those early disciples.

Why do we doubt? Jesus calmed a storm with his voice, fed five thousand people with only a few loaves of bread, and walked on water. In light of all this, why would Peter—or we—ever lack faith?

Well, right off the top of my head, I’d say: fear. Like the disciples, sometimes storms pop up in our lives and scare us half to death. That’s what storms do. It’s only natural for a dog to hide under the bed when he hears thunder; for a child to cling to her mother when she sees lightning; for the driver to pull over when he can no longer see the road. 

And it’s not just wind and rain storms that scare us. So do the metaphorical storms of our lives. Things like global pandemics, contentious election cycles, horrifying diagnoses, economic downturns, and relational discord can shake us to the core.

In the midst of difficult setbacks like these, it’s not uncommon for anyone to doubt their faith in God. That’s exactly what happened to Peter in today’s gospel, that’s exactly what the disciples did in chapter eight, and it’s exactly what can happen to us.

All Jesus does is ask why. Like any good teacher, he already knows the answer, but he wants us to learn it, too.

Simply put, I’d say it’s because we are human. Fear is, quite literally, instinctual. Humans are wired with a fight-or-flight response. We have this reflex for a reason. When our lives are in jeopardy or—more commonly for us today—when our identity is threatened, we are naturally inclined to react in fleeting ways.

When that happens, we tend to leave calm, rational thought behind, and we often need some assistance getting back to a more faithful frame of mind.

If you took Public Speaking in high school of college, you probably learned how important it is to engage the audience. Speakers have many tools for doing this, but perhaps the most important is the rhetorical question.

Rhetorical questions engage audience members by asking questions that get listeners thinking about their own answers. And as they do, they become personally connected to the subject in question.

This is to say, Jesus is not asking his rhetorical question, “Why did you doubt?” to shame Peter. Jesus is not in the shaming business. Instead, he uses the question to get a frightened Peter to focus on what’s most important. And in the realm of life’s storms, faith is more important than safety, or at least comes before it.

Faith is the foundation of human life, as important as food, water, and shelter. Only after faith is secured can safety add value to living. This is the message of the cross. This is the message of Jesus’ whole life. Faith is what Jesus wants Peter—and all of us—to focus on when storms come.

Jesus’ question prompts us to realize that faith is always within our reach. Even in the stormiest times of life, when we most doubt our ability to make it through, we can remain faithful to God.

It may not be easy. Staying faithful to God doesn’t simply mean going through the motions. It doesn’t mean saying the creed while thinking about a shopping list, or repeating Bible verses from memory. It means for us, just like Peter, refocusing on our commitment to faith itself.

We will not always be perfectly faithful. Doubts will creep in. The important thing is to return to a place of faith that is strengthened and sustained by a relationship with God and nurtured by participating in life in Christ.

You can return to faith by reading scripture, praying, attending worship. Each Sunday when we confess our sins, we admit that we don’t always get everything right, but we repent and recommit ourselves to walking in God’s ways once again.

Repent and recommit. This is the nature of the Christian life.

Peter is a prime example of what it means to live a life of holy imperfection. He has misunderstood before, and he will misunderstand—and even deny—again. But today we see him refocusing on faith (with a little help from Jesus, of course).

Watching Peter’s journey reminds us of our journey, a journey on which we can—and should—choose faithfulness. And a journey on which we, just like Peter, repent, recommit, and focus on a faithfulness that comes from the knowledge and love of Jesus, through whom we experience the grace of God time and time again.

Always be . . .

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 20, 2019 – Luke 18:1-8 – Trinity, Winchester

There is a series of internet memes that begin, “Always be yourself…” Maybe you’ve seen them. Perhaps the most popular is “Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.”

It’s not without warrant. Batman is really, really cool. His car is epic, his house is massive, and his butler Alfred cooks all his meals.

We love this meme because it represents innocent, child-like fantasy. Can’t you just picture a kid saying, “I’m Batman!”?

Children have an uncanny ability to imagine that they are someone else. They pretend. They make believe. They take on the role and insert themselves into a story. All it takes is a blanket fashioned as cape and ¡voila! Batman.

Kids don’t just dress up for Halloween, they become whoever they dress up as–sometimes for weeks on end! I’m not going as an astronaut, I am an astronaut. I’m not going as a princess, I am a princess. I’m not going as a pirate, I am a pirate.

We adults can’t get away with that. Perhaps that’s why the meme is so compelling. We long for those care-free days when we had the time and imagination to be somebody else. All we can do now is be our boring ol’ selves.

We must, however, have retained some of this child-like ability because use it whenever we interpret a parable.

We’ll read a parable and stick ourselves right into it. We’ll read a parable and say that we are the prodigal son whenever we wander into sin. We’ll say that we are the sheep, hapless and hopeless on life’s journey. We’ll say we are servants, needful of wise counsel and tough love. And then we’ll say that the talents are our God-given gifts, which we must not hoard but invest boldly in God’s economy. 

We do this for good reason. Parables have layers of meaning. When we encounter something complex, our instinct is often to make it simpler. However, parables are not reducible to simple, easy-to-understand analogies. 

Parables are complex because our lives are complex. Their complexity is a virtue. It is just as impossible to derive a single moral lesson from a parable as it is to apply such a moral to any given life circumstance.

We do not have to be the widow in today’s parable. Nor does her relationship with the judge have to represent our relationship with God.

In fact, it shouldn’t. The judge is unjust. He has little regard for others. But we know God is not unjust. God does not relent to our prayers out of exasperation. God does not grant our desires just to get us off his back.

Likewise, what the widow is requesting of God—justice against an opponent—is not always what we request of God. Our prayers are not merely demands for justice. They certainly might be (and perhaps they sometimes should be) but prayer is more than that.

Prayer can also be a time for giving thanks, asking for guidance, or listening quietly for what God has to say. In just a few minutes we’ll pray, as we do every week, for the mission of the church, the welfare of the world, and the sick, the dying, and the dead.

Many of us have been studying the Bible a long time. We think we know how biblical interpretation works, but sometimes we get so focused on plugging ourselves—and God—into the parables that we forget to listen for what else the Spirit might be calling our attention to.

Taking ourselves out of the story can be helpful because it forces us to ask the more complex questions. If God is not the judge, and I am not the widow, then where is God in this story? And where am I?

I hate to break it to you, but God is not a character in the parable. And neither are you. But that’s okay, because God’s the one telling the parable. And you’re the one who’s listening. We don’t have to insert ourselves—or God—in the story to find meaning in it. We can simply be ourselves and listen with a little help from the Spirit.

I really do know a guy who used to pretend to be Batman. Now that he’s an adult, he no longer runs around with a blanket around his neck. But he can still listen to what Batman’s story has to tell him.

“It might sound silly,” he admitted recently, “But Batman is my biggest role model. He overcame intense childhood trauma, he manages a super successful company, he’s extremely philanthropic, and he puts himself in harm’s way to pursue justice totally anonymously. Plus, he still finds time to work out.” 

Likewise, you can be yourself and listen to what the widow’s story has to tell you. Today that story might inspire you to pursue justice. Or it might inspire you to persist in prayer. Or it might inspire you hire a good lawyer.

This morning I wonder if it also might inspire you to persist in listening for fresh meaning in scripture. 

The Book of Common Prayer tells us that scripture contains all things necessary for salvation. I actually believe that. But there is no one way to interpret what that salvation means. Our approach to it can and should be varied and open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

That’s why we pledge in baptism to commit ourselves to continually reading and studying scripture. Because we can’t get it all the first time. Scripture always has something new to tell us, even if we’re reading a story for what feels like the millionth time.

I’m not ignorant to the fact that many of you come to Bible Study on Tuesday afternoons. Keep it up. Neither am I ignorant to the fact that many of you cannot come to Bible Study on Tuesday afternoons. This is not a guilt trip. 

It’s a reminder. There is a reason that we call Jesus the Word of God. If we listen, we can find him in the words of scripture. Whether it be in the favor of a judge who rarely does the right thing, the persistence of a widow who has nothing to lose, or the deep, deep commitment of the reader, whose faith already dwells secure. 

Show yourself to be alive

Fourth Sunday of Easter – May 12, 2019 – Acts 9:36-43 – Trinity, Winchester

During the Easter season we hear quite a bit from the book of Acts. Acts chronicles the early days of the Church, the first communities of faithful disciples, and the early apostles, like Peter and Paul, who led them. 

Speaking of, you may remember that the official name for Acts is “The Acts of the Apostles.”

An apostle is one who is “sent out.” Just as the first apostles were sent out to proclaim the resurrection, Christians continue that work today. That’s what it means to believe in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church” which we confess each Sunday in the words of the Nicene Creed. 

Our Church is apostolic because its members are sent out into the world to bear witness to the power of resurrection and to the glory of the Risen One.

In our tradition bishops are said to be apostles of the Church. As Episcopalians, our bishops (men and women, black and white, gay and straight) are living, breathing reminders of the apostolic faith.

They represent the corporate nature of our faith. Administratively, liturgically, and pastorally, they remind us that the church is bigger than our parish. Most of all, they are the chief witnesses of Jesus Christ in our communities. 

You also share in the apostolic faith because you are a witness to the living Christ, the Christ who not only was raised, but the Christ who is risen, this Jesus who is among us now.

In today’s passage we encounter a model for our Christian witness in the Apostle Peter. Yes, Peter was eventually Bishop of Rome, but before that he was just an ordinary believer, called by an itinerant Rabbi who once bid him, “Follow me.”

Tabitha, the only woman referred to as a disciple in the entire New Testament, is dead. In the wake of the tragedy, the other disciples send for Peter. He comes quickly, finds the widows of Joppa in mourning, clears the room, and kneels in prayer. After summoning Tabitha to “get up,” he “shows her to be alive.” 

The disciples send for Peter in their time of grief because he is a comfort to them, and he represents a link to Jesus. But while the disciples may view Peter as a link to Jesus, Peter doesn’t come to Joppa to bring Jesus with him. In fact, when Peter arrives, he finds the Spirit of Christ already there. 

In the fragrant oils used to wash the body; in the bitter tears the mourners shed; in the very clothes the widows wear, symbols of the love and life of their dear friend Tabitha, the Risen One is already present. 

That’s how it often is, isn’t it? In times of sorrow, when we gather at the bedside of an ailing family member or at the funeral of a loved one, God is already there. 

The vicar may come to anoint a sick parishioner, but she does not bring Christ with her, she comes to show us that Christ is already there.

The bishop may come to preside at the funeral, but he does not bring Christ with him, he comes to point to Christ where Christ always is. 

The mourners may come in droves from all around to give their condolences, but they do so not because they alone can bestow Christ. They do so because Christ calls them to where he already is. They do so to continue the work of resurrection.

Likewise, by raising Tabitha, Peter continues the work of resurrection. Peter shows us that Jesus is with us. Resurrection was not a one-time event; it is a continuing reality available to us all, even today.

As sweet as that sounds, there is always more work to be done. Just because we know that Jesus is always present, doesn’t mean everybody does. In fact, a lot of people don’t, so you need to tell them.

You are sent out to proclaim Christ. It’s your job, not to bring Jesus with you wherever you go, but to call attention to Jesus where he already is. 

That’s hard work, primarily because there are people in the world who think the Church is dead, who think God is dead. They look around and see a world torn apart by school shootings, capitalist greed, and rumors of war. They say things like, “If God is good, then God must not be around anymore.” 

I’ll admit, it seems those people have a point. Some days even the most hopeful among us are assaulted by this world’s convincing ubiquity of despair. As long as we stay silent, that’s exactly where folks are going to stay. We must not stay silent. We must not stay silent because we are Christians sent out to continue the work of resurrection.

Even in the freezing cold winter of the soul it is our duty to turn over every rock and leaf looking for life and saying “Show yourself to be alive!”

There are even those in this very community who accuse this very church—Trinity Episcopal Church—of being dead. For whatever reason some folks have it in their head that we have gone astray. 

They say that we are not real Christians. They say that we don’t believe in the Bible. They say that we associate with sinners. They say that we are trying to spread certain “agendas.” They say that we don’t care about Jesus as much as we care about politics. They say that no one even shows up here on Sunday morning. 

We know that none of that is true, but their words make it clear that we have more work to do. The good news is, we have the eternal power of the resurrection to help us do it.

Just like those early days of the church when Peter raised Tabitha from the dead, these are crucial times for our parish, and our Church, and indeed Christianity itself. It’s going to take each one of us, sharing the Good News of the resurrection, to show this town, this nation, and this world, that we go on living in spite of it all. 

Maybe that’s why God raised Tabitha from the dead. God knew that there was so much to be done that he wasn’t quite ready to spare another disciple just yet. Maybe that’s why he sent Peter to say, “Get up.” 

Maybe that’s why he sent Jesus here today to say, “Get up, and show yourself to be alive.” 

Satisfied

May 1, 2017–Feast of St. Philip and St. James–John 14:6-14

You can watch me preach this sermon by clicking here

Jesus said, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Then Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

And Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”

Translation: “How could you say that? I just told you! If you know me, then you know the father. Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”

We’ve all been let down by stupid comments and questions before. It’s nothing new to us.

“I seriously just explained this to you.”

“We just went over this.”

“It’s on. The. Syllabus.”

We’ve all been there—on both sides of it. That feeling when you raise your hand in class, you ask your question and the see the side glances and smirks.

“Um…Dr. Brosend, did we just talk about this?”

Uh, yeah, Warren. We did.”

“Oh…”

It’s a sinking, embarrassing feeling when we realize that we’ve missed something that we’re expected to know.

“Show you the father and you’ll be satisfied, huh? Have I been with you all this time, and you still don’t know me… I’ve been trying to tell you that all along!”

“Oh…”

“Don’t you remember that day on the lawn, Philip? I asked you where we were going to buy enough bread for all those people.” Ask James—I think he was there, too. You said, “It doesn’t matter, six months’ wages couldn’t even buy enough bread for all these folks. Do you remember that? Lucky for us that boy had packed a lunch. And do you remember when we left that day? The crowd was satisfied. Do you remember what I did?”

“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you don’t, then believe me because of the works themselves. Believe me because of what you’ve seen. Believe me because of what you know to be true.”

We can’t explain all of God’s works, least of all this miracle, but Philip helps us get to the point of it. It’s not entirely clear how Jesus would multiply two loaves and two fish, but what is clear is this: seeing God doesn’t have anything to do with your line of sight. No visual experience is going to get you to that place. No, it’s about a much larger truth.

It’s about our journey with Philip to recognize that we already know God through our relationship with Jesus. It’s about taking stock of how Jesus has been working in our lives.

“Lord, show us the father and we will be satisfied.”

No, don’t you get it?

We already have Jesus. We already know Jesus. To know Jesus is to know God.

And that satisfies us greatly.

Born From Above


B1DBA3A1-2D13-4894-83A4-18D8B1D7FDAFLent II—March 12, 2017—John 3:1-17

I preached this sermon at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Decatur, Alabama where I am doing my field education. I am blessed in having the opportunity to spend time with and learn from them every week. I am especially grateful for them recording my sermon which can be found by clicking here

         It’s fitting that Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. The image of darkness creates a mysterious atmosphere, especially in our Lenten setting, one that hints at a time of uncertainty, a search for meaning, and further discernment.

Nicodemus came to see Jesus for a reason. Maybe because Jesus recently took the Passover festivities by surprise, angrily driving out the moneychangers from the temple with a whip and performing miracles.

Nicodemus says, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”

Jesus responds, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

That kind of language is familiar to us; we’ve heard it all our lives. There’s a type of American revivalistic Christianity that attaches itself staunchly to this image as a way to describe the personal commitment of the believer. You have to be born again.

For many Christians, this statement implies a kind of conscious choice. “Are you saved?” is a question that implies that any Christian could make that decision for themselves.

But to Nicodemus it just sounds like a bad joke.

“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”

As Nicodemus becomes overly involved pondering the physical implications of Jesus’ statement (“one cannot enter a second time his mother’s womb”) Jesus begins to reassure him.

“Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

All of the sudden Nicodemus’ whole theological worldview has been completely upended, his spiritual world shaken.

To be born “from above” or of the “Spirit”…It’s not tangible.

It’s elusive—think of the wind in the trees.

You can’t see a gust of air, you know it only by the results of its presence. So it is with being born from the Spirit. You can’t see the Spirit itself, but if you pay attention you can see evidence of its work over time.

Jesus helps us identify the Spirit, not by giving us a strait-forward glimpse of it, but by offering an invitation for us to discern how it is at work in our lives.

Often, unless we pay really close attention, we don’t notice changes in ourselves or in the world around us until we look back and find the evidence.

We don’t see those changes occurring in ourselves each day, we only notice them when we reach for a photo album.

“Did my stomach really used to be that flat?!”

God’s creation might be evaporating right in front of our eyes. Our bodies might be subtly changing everyday. But we don’t recognize the change until we take time to look for the evidence.

Jesus invites us to see an unexpected perspective.

During this season of self-denial and repentance we are called to accept Jesus’s invitation to discern the work of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

We are called to examine ourselves and our lives so that we too might recognize the moments of grace that open our eyes to Jesus—God’s saving gift to us—sent not to condemn us but to reveal in our likeness the promise of new birth.

It’s time to take stock of that grace.

Some people are really good at it, including my friend Pam. Each time I hear from her she tells me about how God has been working in her life.

It’s almost instinctive.

She tells me about her deliverance from health struggles. She talks to me about her daughter’s new job. It really is a spiritual gift I think, to be able to recognize God at work in your life like that.

Everyone should be so lucky as to have the ability to reflect in that way.

Nicodemus first visited Jesus because he was curious about Jesus’ teachings, and his spiritual outlook ended up drastically changing from a set of well-organized beliefs once he learned about this mysterious birth by the “Spirit.”

But it didn’t stop there.

He appears again a few months later (in chapter seven of John’s gospel) during the Jewish Festival of Booths.

The chief priests and pharisees are plotting to arrest Jesus, and as they argue with the temple police about the best method for doing so, Nicodemus speaks in Jesus’ defense.

“Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”

He stands up for Jesus.

Give the man a fair hearing. It’s our custom. He at least deserves that.

And then several months later we meet Nicodemus again.

He accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to embalm Jesus’s body after it has been taken off the cross.

The scripture says, “Nicodemus came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.”

He arrives to tend to the limp and broken body of the Lord.

Give the man a proper burial. It’s our custom. He at least deserves that.

Is this the same skeptical pharisee that appeared in the middle of the night? It would seem that his first visit to Jesus had quite an affect—a lot’s happened to Nicodemus since then.

I wonder if, the day Nicodemus laid Jesus in the tomb, he thought back on that first time he met with him.

I wonder if he’d recognize himself?

I wonder if he’d recognize the Spirit’s work in his life.

I wonder if, as he laid Jesus in the tomb that day, he’d hear the wind rustle the treetops and think of a birth, his birth, from above.

Help My Unbelief!

February 20, 2017 – Mark 9:14-29 

You can watch and listen to this sermon by clicking here.

Take a trip with me back to Mark chapter six. Jesus called the disciples, “and began to send them out two by two and he give them authority over unclean spirits.”

Their confusion is understandable, then, when in chapter nine they ask, “Why could we not cast it out?” It says right there that he gave the Twelve authority over demons.

So why didn’t it work with this boy?

Jesus’s answer is revealing: “This kind can only come out through prayer.”

“Teacher,” the boy’s father calls, “I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.”

Again, Jesus’ response is revealing. “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.”

“You faithless generation!”

We don’t know how exactly he said it. We don’t have any “non-verbal” clues. It can be tempting to manufacture our own, but forget any imagined tone of voice—just look at the words.

“How much longer much I put up with you?”

“This kind can only come out through prayer.”

The disciples and the scribes had been arguing, but their arguments only point toward themselves, a natural response when we feel like we’ve got something to prove.

While attempting to defend their own efforts, they forgot that it’s really about prayer.

“If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us,” the father cries.

He’s in an impossible situation. He’s come to a group of supposedly-certified healers and they’ve not been able to do anything for his son.

His faith it’s at the breaking point. “If you can do anything, Jesus, please just do it!”

That “if” language doesn’t exactly exemplify the unblemished faith that we all strive for, but nevertheless it is the reality of our own days and nights.

Every day we stare into the faces of faithless people, and we too lose faith. In an effort to reclaim that faith we often look to ourselves. Sometimes we are as sure as we can be that we will be saved by our own efforts, that we have all the prayers, all the faith—ALL it takes.

It’s not about winning an argument in order to *prove* that we have the ability. It’s not about us.

It’s about prayer, and faith, and God.

Jesus tells each of us: you have the power to be self-aware enough to recognize that it’s not about you.

He reminds us that we still need God.

He reminds us not of the basic truth that God can do anything through us, but rather he calls to mind the complex realization that we cannot do anything without God.

We depend on a God who wants what is best for us.

Do you hear it?

Our participation in God’s glory is not limited to our inwardly-focused testimony, “I believe.”

Rather it is more fully realized in the courage of our humble refrain: O God, “Help my unbelief!”

Experiencing The Joy

December 25, 2016 – Luke 2:1-14

Thanks to the fine folks at my home parish, you can watch me preach this sermon here. The sermon starts at 7:30.

Merry Christmas!

And what a merry occasion it can be. The good news for us is, even in the silence we can experience it.

Eh, maybe music would be nice, but we’ve done that. The organist is with his family. The choir members are home watching their children rip open the packages from Santa. Members of the Alter Guild are playing with their grandchildren.

Phillips Brook’s is pretty eloquent. He wrote “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given; so God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven. No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.”

Yes. We’re fine.

We don’t always need an organ pipe blaring to broadcast the “still small voice of God.”

The truth is, try as they might, no trumpet fanfare could do such a voice justice. No organ riff could measure up to it, breaking forth in the chilly air, hay rustling beneath the tiny newborn limbs.

If you listen closely enough, you might just hear a little bit of it.

It’s much more than the voice of a baby.

I saw a woman in the grocery store this week. You’ve probably seen her, too. The woman who is pushing a cart full down the aisle and she has quite a long list in her hand, written out on the back of last month’s receipt. She looks stressed, confused even, by the time she gets to the relishes. Why do there have to be so many brands of pickles?

Another woman was pushing her cart the opposite way, she’s considerably younger, and there’s a baby in her cart.

For a moment it all just stops.

The older women locked eyes with the young child and they smiled at each other and she waved to him and he giggled and she forgot where she was or that she had a list or that the prices had gone up.

Everything was right there in that moment. It was unexpected joy. Mountains of things to buy and do, but she had to stop and make funny faces at him for a while.

It took her from that place. She’s somewhere else.

The other stuff will be there when they’re done.

Do you know anyone who has a cat or a dog? And it just comes and sits down in the lap whenever it feels like it?

My friends sometimes post pictures on Facebook: With a computer in their lap, books open on the table, and Scruffy plops himself right down, sprawls along the keyboard.

It’s annoying! Get off. I’m trying to finish these reports!

Well, maybe.

But what a joy. It alleviates something. It takes you away.

“Oh! I love this little guy!” And that love is unconditional.

The other night my mom texted—it was a group text to the whole family. It was a picture of a photograph of our dog, Winston, hanging on the refrigerator. It was from several Christmases ago, and he was all dressed up in his reindeer costume. We lost Winston earlier this year.

“Cheered me up before leaving the house today,” she wrote.

She was somewhere else, just for a moment.

My friend Richard, he’s such a character. I really love him, but we can sure get stuck in some places.

“How are you doing today Richard?”

He mutters, smiling, quoting a local author, “Oh Warren, we live in a fallen world.”

“Well, yes we do Richard.”
“Gosh, the burden of existence is just so much sometimes!”

“Yeah, Richard…I hear ya.”

It’s easy to get down in these things. It’s easy read a news headline on your phone or a glance at a ticker on the bottom of a cable news channel while you’re waiting on your oil change and you’re just done. You’ve bottomed out. I don’t know if what I’m dong in life makes sense anymore. Onerous troubles creep to mind and you become more aware of the fall than you are of any hand extended to help you up.

But tell a good joke, use a funny accent, or quote 30 Rock at just the right time, and Richard laughs so hard, just loses it. I’ve got videos on my phone to prove it. He can’t keep it together. It’s hard to breathe, you’re abs start to hurt when you laugh that hard.

It’s a joyful episode. 

For some people, their whole lives have become so predictable, their activity has become so restricted, that the day their granddaughters come into town and visit them, they finally have something wonderful to talk about instead of everyone’s aches and pains or who died this week. For just a moment, they leave all that negativity aside and focus on the joy.

If we go through life thinking only of that which we have to peel off the bottom of our shoe, we miss the dew-drenched meadow at dawn that we walked through to get it.

There’s plenty to get us down. It seems all too real. It is all too real. Then, Christmas bursts in. Christmas reminds us that joy is also real. It’s too easy to get stuck in the junk of life and forget about—or miss—the joy.

Jesus walks the same path we do during the liturgical year. He walks it with us. Through times of repentance and anguish and temptation and examination and expectation, but also times of joy—and that’s what it’s time for now.

We’ve had our Advent. We’ll get our Lent.

Let us settle in to the joy of God’s immanence. 

That’s what it’s time for now.

This joy does not impede our witnessing the occasions of suffering darkness, but it does helps us forge a Way with Him to walk.

When you walk out of the Eucharist today many things will still be the same.

The homeless man will still be standing at the bottom of the exit ramp.

The children of Aleppo will still be experiencing shock waves of relentless terror.

By any standard of American democracy the men and women who won on Nov. 8th will still be victors, and those who lost will still be losers.

But there will be one difference—you have been here—in the midst of the miracle.

You have sat here and experienced the silent joy of the incarnation.

You have met Him (in the body and the blood).

Cold. Alone. Scared. Helpless. Human. Hungry. Giggling. Remembering. Laughing. Loving.

This is a joy that transforms the moment. This is a joy so full and complete that it transports us away from our reality and into the heart of God.

A joy that knows no boundary

A love that knows no condition.

A peace that passes all understanding.

And…here’s what’s really cool—you can take all that with you when you go.