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Archive for December, 2010

Entered into this Life on November 30, 1950
Entered His Heavenly Home on December 22, 2010

One of the questions I would always ask James was, “Brother, how is it with your soul?” He would always respond, “It is well with my soul.” In our last face-to-face conversation, just days before he went to be with the Lord, I asked the same question and he responded this time, this last time on this side of eternity, “It is very well with my soul!”

It was refreshing to see a man face the end of his earthly life with such peace and courage. The Book of Homilies includes a sermon entitled “AN EXHORTATION AGAINST THE FEAR OF DEATH.” I believe it was written by ++Cranmer. This statement was true of James:

And we ought to believe that death, being slain by Christ, cannot keep any man that steadfastly trusteth in Christ under his perpetual  tyranny and subjection, but that he shall rise from death again unto glory at the last day, appointed by Almighty God, like as Christ our Head did rise again, according to God’s appointment, the third day.

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ALMIGHTY God, who hast given us thy only begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be born of a pure virgin; Grant that we being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy holy† Spirit; through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

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BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

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Advent Litany

In joyful expectation let us pray to our Savior and Redeemer saying, “Lord Jesus, come soon!”

O Wisdom, from the mouth of the Most High, you reign over all things to the ends of the earth: come and teach us how to live.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Lord, and head of the house of Israel, you appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and you  gave the law on Sinai: come with outstretched arm and ransom us.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Branch of Jesse, standing as a sign among the nations, all kings will keep silence before you and all peoples will summon you to their aid: come, set us free and delay no more.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Key of David and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open and none can shut; you shut and none can open: come and free the captives from prison.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Morning Star, splendour of the light eternal and bright Sun of righteousness: come and enlighten all who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O King of the nations, you alone can fulfil their desires: Cornerstone, you make opposing nations one: come and save the creature you fashioned from clay.
Lord Jesus, come soon!
O Emmanuel, hope of the nations and their Saviour: come and save us, Lord our God.
Lord Jesus, come soon!

Hasten, O Father, the coming of your kingdom; and grant that we your servants, who now live by faith, may with joy behold your Son at his coming in glorious majesty; even Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

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We had a wonderful Advent Vespers service and Eucharist last Friday here in Pittsboro. It was a sweet time to be with friends here in Chatham County, to proclaim the Gospel, and to duly administrate the sacrament! Glory to God!

We met in Martha’s studio. It was fun to hold such a service above the din of the local pub that was having its holiday party directly below us. Seems about right that every preacher worth his salt should grow accustomed to preaching  the Gospel over the noise of a bar!

By God’s grace our service was attended by 50 people. Many who came expressed interest in joining us in breaking new ground for the Word and Sacrament here. A good core of our launch team is forming and growing with great unity in a sincere commitment to planting a faithful Anglican parish in Chatham County. I am astounded at God’s goodness!

Here’s an excerpt from Our Story: If you’re interested in finding out more, just let me know! I’m quite excited to share.

Back in 2006, a small group of Chatham County residents who were commuting to Durham to worship at All Saints Church began gathering regularly in our Chatham County homes to share life together as friends and fellow Christians. Over time, our group grew in numbers and in our conviction that God was calling us to break new ground to plant a biblical, liturgical, eucharistically-centered
church in the Anglican tradition here, at home, in our community.

We have collectively noticed a hunger in ourselves and in our neighbors for Christian worship rooted in the traditions of the church and longings for genuine community, radical discipleship, dependent prayer, and committed mission. It is our sense that God is calling a church into being, by his grace, to directly address these needs.

Last week’s service was a first step in answering this call.

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Lottery of Life

A couple of years ago, I was talking with an old friend whom I have a great deal of respect for when he challenged me on my concept of looking at my quality of life or lack thereof as an indicator of God’s blessing in my life. He was right. Follow the logic. If the comforts, achievements, and progress in my life are all signs that God is having favor on me, then what does this say of the poor? Using that logic, the poor are not favored by God. But this is clearly not biblical, as Scripture teaches that God is always attentive to the poor – even favoring them. For example:

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. (Lev 23:22)

The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. (Psalm 146:9)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

I was reminded of all of this today when I was forwarded a link to the Save the Children site where they have launched a staggering new ad campaign entitled the Lottery of Life. It’s a powerful reminder to be careful of how we consider what we have. Indeed, let us be extremely careful in assigning God’s name to our prosperity.

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Originally posted on Jesus Creed:

Adam McHugh, author of the fine book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, has written for Patheos a reflection on Advent that deserves reading by the introverts and the extroverts, who will see Advent from a different angle.

For some people, the Advent season on the church calendar is one of the most anticipated times of the year. For some, there is no other time in which their love of God is stronger, there is no other time in which they are more aware of God’s mercy in their lives and in the world, there is no other time in which their hearts go out to others with such affection, and there is no other time in which their joy is more profound.

I am not one of those people.

For me this time of year has always been a spiritually dry time. There is a line in a Counting Crows song that says “You can see a million miles tonight, but you can’t get very far.” That is my experience during this season. Every year I anticipate it with everyone else, hoping that this year will be different. Maybe this year the earth-shattering experience of God will take place, and I’ll be able to take in the seismic joy that should result from the knowledge that God entered the course of human history to reclaim it as his own. But by December 26th, I’m left with disappointment, another year of not getting very far.

I experience a deep division within myself during Advent. My inner world stirs with longings for deep experiences of grace, for moments of pregnant silence, for times of candlelit reflections on the fullness of deity wrapped in a child. But my outer world is harassed by the rampant activity, the hurried crowds, and the consumeristic clutter of the season.

I think my personal division reflects a broader cultural division. I’m willing to suspend my cultural cynicism for a moment and speculate that at the root of American consumer Christmas is a deep-seated desire for meaning. I may be way off on this, but I suspect the decorations, the music, the saturated social calendars, the capitalistic flurry, and the caloric overload are attempts at finding something true, something significant. Hopes for discovering community and transcendence. There is a neighborhood near my own that puts on an unbelievable show of lights, music, and decorations for the weeks leading up to Christmas. Cars line up for blocks to meander through the illuminated streets and residents sit in their driveways around firepits and chat with the passersby. Aside from laying a carbon footprint likely visible from outer space, it is a powerful display of community spirit.

The problem, I think, is that our culture doesn’t know how to truly celebrate. Overconsumption and overstimulation are the only ways we know how to mark a special occasion. Even though most of us implicitly know it doesn’t work and that we’re going to wake up with a hangover, it’s all we know how to do. When there is a significant event, we commemorate it by scurrying around, spending absurd amounts of money, gathering a crowd, and turning up the volume. If we’re not weighed down by anxiety and insomnia, then it must not be a very important occasion. Our holiday “celebrations” therefore seem destined to only get bigger and bigger, because we have built up such a tolerance.

Many of us in the church live in the tension of this religious and cultural ambivalence. Our Christmas Eves are often a confusing recipe of ingredients like these: the onslaught of relatives, massive food preparation, stressful and boisterous dinners, hurrying everyone into the car, attending a hot, packed Christmas Eve worship service in which we light candles, and sing lyrics like:

Silent night, holy night
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon Virgin Mother and Child
Holy Infant so tender and mild
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

Then we rush home, hustle the kids into bed so we can finish wrapping gifts and stuffing stockings, because they’ll be up in five hours. Sleep in heavenly peace indeed.

I was originally asked to write about this topic because I have written a book about Christian introverts, those in the church who prefer a quieter, slower, more contemplative lifestyle and who, for those reasons, often find themselves on the fringes both of the culture and of Christian community. I saw a blog post recently that called January 2nd “Happy Introverts Day” because of the notorious nature of the holiday season for those of us who find social interaction tiring and sometimes stressful. But the truth is that the need for a quieter, less cluttered, more reflective Advent season is not restricted to introverts. The clatter of the holidays has caused people of all temperaments to turn from the inner places of our souls, contributing to the superficiality of our spiritual practice during this season. We need to find a new way to celebrate.

In the early centuries of the Church, celebrating Christmas was a counter-cultural activity. It’s unclear whether the church fathers chose December 25th to co-opt the already entrenched pagan festival of the Unconquered Sun, or whether the pagan holiday was established to rival the Church’s celebration of the birth of Christ. What is clear is that Christmas was a subversive event, providing an alternative to the mainstream culture’s celebration.

In our world, quiet is counter-cultural. I’m not only referring to quiet on the outside, but also quiet on the inside. In fact, it may be easier to shut out the external voices than it is to silence the internal noise. It’s often those inner voices, especially the unacknowledged ones, that compel us to fill our lives with movement and agendas and spending and eating. Our behaviors and hurry are echoes of our inner doubts about our worth. Sadly, in many ways the nature of our holiday celebrations reveal how incompletely we have embraced the actual message of Christmas.

In contrast to the dizzying nature of our cultural celebrations, the biblical narratives about Jesus’ birth speak in hushed tones about simple, unsophisticated scenes. The baby of prophecy, the King of kings, is born in a quiet town in an inconsequential region to unremarkable people and placed in a trough in a barn. Yet by the grace of God this spot becomes the center of the universe, the matrix of hope and redemption and salvation. The quiet, ordinary place becomes the beginning of the dramatic climax of the great Story. The birth of Jesus incarnates the promise that we are not alone and that we are loved beyond measure, recipients of a love that brings peace and stillness to our souls.

The birth of a child is both a time of poignant gratitude and a time of quiet anticipation. I remember how friends of mine described the day they brought their first child home from the hospital. They placed him in his crib, in the room they had been preparing for months, and watched him sleep. For hours they sat in contented silence. My friend said, “It was unlike any other moment in my life. It was the greatest moment of love we’d ever experienced, more intimate than even our wedding night. There was nothing else in the world we needed that day — we had everything.” Yet he also said that as he looked into his son’s eyes, he was full of anticipation. Who will my son be? What will he do in his life? Who will he marry? What will be his gifts, his calling? Like Mary the mother of Jesus, my friends stored up these things in their hearts and silently wondered who their child would become.

Advent is not only a season of reflection on events past. It is a season of quiet hope, as we await the second advent of our Lord Jesus, who will come and complete his reclamation project. Our celebration during this time of year is necessarily incomplete. In this season we must prepare small, quiet places in our individual souls and in our communities, still longing and waiting for the fulfillment of Jesus’ work and the rebirth of creation.

I’m still struggling with Advent, still reaching for something that I haven’t found yet. I do know that if there is any chance for deep experiences of God’s grace and love in this season, we need to open spaces for hope and attentiveness in our hearts. We can’t compel God to move, but we can clear away what distracts us from hearing his gentle voice. We can reduce the external clutter of the season by simplifying our celebration. We can slowly savor the biblical prophecies of the coming of the Messiah and the narratives about Jesus’ birth. We can devote time to silence and solitude as well as to corporate celebration. We can learn to say “no” when we find ourselves spinning from all the invitations and seasonal stimuli. We can listen to the voices of people who are not often heard over the cultural shouting — the poor, the hungry, the suffering around the world. We can prepare a quiet place for God to renew his love and rebirth his hope in us.

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