Archive for January, 2005

To Know What Counts

Sunday, January 30th, 2005
Micah 6:1-8

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

Matthew 5:1-12

To be wise is to know what counts in life. On the surface, this means knowing what to value, and what values should guide life. Deeper down, knowing what counts includes knowing the way the world works, what the deep patterns of causation are, how to tell the roots from the branches, what to expect when you pursue your values and your neighbors pursue theirs, and what the prices are for commitment to what really counts.

Bach’s music is wise. Our texts this morning address three dimensions of wisdom.

The first, from Micah, is the rock bottom and is presupposed by the rest. “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Justice, kindness, humility. The Big Three. Justice is complicated, of course, and sometimes we have difficulty figuring out the just path. Micah’s point is not to simplify justice but rather to say, whatever justice is, and we do indeed know what it is in the vast majority of situations, do it. I often use the old Book of Common Prayer for morning or evening devotions, and the 1662 version begins with this sentence from Ezekiel (18:27): “When the wicked man turneth away from his wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” No excuses. No temporizing. No appeals to ambiguity or understandable weakness: just do it. That plain statement sometimes stops me with tears, until I can remember God’s mercy that helps me face what I cannot face by myself. Then I rush on to the part of the service about confession and absolution.

“Love kindness,” says Micah. The older translations often have “love mercy,” and I think a whole host of connotations are intended here that add up to what Christians have come to call love. “Love love,” is what this clause means. Do justice, but love love. To be sure, this means that we should be loving just as we should be just. In addition, however, Micah enjoins us to prize loving-kindness as the most important personal trait. One can do justice while still being hateful or indifferent. To be kind, merciful, and loving, however, is a special condition of the heart. Jesus did not invent the love ethic as something to supersede the Jewish justice ethic, as so many Christians have believed. For Micah the prophet, justice should define our behavior and loving-kindness should define our hearts.

The reason the Bible advocates justice and mercy as what count fundamentally for human life is that it takes those traits to characterize God. God is just and merciful, and demands justice and mercy from us. We might be a little wary about this anthropomorphic view of God as a just and merciful king—God is so much greater than that. Nevertheless, the God who creates a world in which standards of justice and loving-kindness measure who we are in the perspective of eternity can easily and inevitably be symbolized as just and mercifully loving. Not to do so, in fact, would be to fail to take justice and loving-kindness seriously enough to define what counts in life.

“To walk humbly with your God,” the third thing that counts, would not seem to be a divine trait to which human beings are called. Rather humility is taken to define our very relation to God. To put the point in modern terms, how are we to present ourselves in ultimate perspective? Humbly. How should we behave when ultimate matters are at hand? Not arrogantly. Not bragging about our skills or accomplishments. Not even beating our breasts and crying for forgiveness. We should simply be humble. Humility is the attitude of heart by which we should face God: otherwise we do not know what or whom we face.

Christians go so far as to say that humility, like justice and loving kindness, is indeed a trait of God. When we have failed at justice, love, and humility, God calls us back with the humility of Jesus who, as Paul put it in Philippians 2, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.” Jesus could break through to the unjust, unloving, and arrogant folks precisely because he was willing to be humble himself. Jesus showed us how to relate to God: with perfect humility. How can we keep God with us in our walk through life? By walking humbly with God.

Of course most of us are not very just, do not love kindness very far beyond the circle of our friends, and are not very humble, waffling as we do between arrogance and self-hate. Or rather, to put the point more humbly, we Christians are still only on the path to justice, love, and humility when our worst enemies are ourselves and the ways of life we have come to prize. Because we have the mind and example of Jesus Christ, and the witness of saints through the ages, there really is no excuse for us to fail at the effort of living wisely. Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, it is not beyond our reach to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Yet as Paul said in the lectionary text from 1 Corinthians that we did not read, this gospel that sets us free for justice, love, and humility is bafflingly counter-intuitive. The humility of Jesus to be crucified is a stumbling block to the Jews, Paul said, who expected the Messiah to come with shock and awe, and foolishness to the Gentiles who expected a philosopher. This is the second dimension of wisdom from our texts: our ability as Christians to be just, loving, and humble requires the special humility of faith in what God has chosen as means of grace. “God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” It is the problem of humility again. We are prone to boast instead. Yet what has God done for us? God taught us justice, love, and humility in the example of Jesus. Thank goodness, other religions than Christianity also acknowledge the wisdom of justice, loving kindness, and humility.

The third dimension of wisdom in our texts is Jesus’ own teaching of the Beatitudes. Jesus goes beyond Micah to say that the just, loving, and humble are happy. That is the basic meaning of “blessed:” happy. Happiness in this sense does not necessarily mean filled with enjoyment. Jesus means rather that people with these characters are happy in their relation with God: those who are poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, the seekers after justice, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

In worldly ways, the people whom Jesus calls blessed are probably not happy. Although people have debated for two thousand years just what Jesus had in mind by these traits, they all signal humility, a mournful sensitivity to the suffering of others, responsibility for others so that mercy might be called for, a thirst for righteousness we feel we do not have, the hard discipline of integrating and pruning one’s desires so as to have a pure heart, a willingness to sacrifice one’s interest in order to make peace, and the lonely courage to stand for righteousness in ways that draw down persecution.

During many periods of Christian history, those Jesus called blessed were regarded as wimps. Christians have not
always attended to Christian virtues. The opposite of those who are poor in spirit are those with overweening confidence in their religiosity. The opposite of those who mourn for suffering are those who dismiss suffering as collateral damage in the pursuit of their interests. The opposite of the merciful are those who believe their own righteousness excludes the righteousness of their opponents. The opposite of those who thirst for righteousness are those who declare they have it. The opposite of the pure in heart are those who deceive themselves and lie to others to accomplish confused and dark ends. The opposite of the peacemakers are those who believe their righteousness justifies unprovoked war. The opposite of those persecuted for righteousness’ sake are those who persecute for their righteousness’ sake. We have many people in our land who proudly hold opposite traits to the beatitudes, perhaps even a majority of those who call themselves Christians, all in the name of their own righteousness. Perhaps they are happy in worldly ways of aggressive pursuit of their cultural and economic interests while feeling good about themselves.

But they are not happy in the ways of presenting themselves to God as just, loving and humble. In the ultimate perspective of the great Creator of this vast unmeasured universe, whose main movements are blasts of stellar gasses, and whose islands of hospitality for life are surrounded by cold vacuum, the pomp of human arrogance and self-righteousness is a cosmic pratfall, a joke, an abomination. In ultimate perspective the only way to be happy is to walk humbly with the Creator, to do justice wherever we can, and to prize the loving-kindness that binds us together against the dark and links us to God before whom all other walks of life are foolish offense.

As we listen to Bach, I invite you to feel the lines of his music that seem to come to us from nature far beyond the human spheres and to extend forever beyond our performance, linking us in cosmic loving-kindness. I invite you to hear in his music the complexity that models the intertwining of life in which justice consists. I invite you to understand in his music the signal that the greatest of human achievements is to be humble before the face of God. This is what counts. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville

The Name of Jesus

Sunday, January 9th, 2005

Isaiah 42:1-9

Acts 10:34-43

Matthew 3:13-17

The beautiful passage from Isaiah 42 that was our Hebrew Bible text this morning is the first of four “Servant Songs,” as the scholars call them. These are songs or poems in which the nation of Israel is personified as a servant, “upheld,” “chosen,” and “delighted in” by God. The work of Israel as servant is to go for God to all the nations of the world and bring them to justice. This will not be done by force but quietly and subtly: “He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” The servant role of Israel is to “bring forth justice” among all the nations of the world. God says to servant Israel, “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from prison those who sit in darkness.” Israel should not live only for itself before God, as was the theme of the Sinai covenant with Moses. Now God says that Israel itself is given to the other nations as a covenant to bring all the world’s people to justice. Israel is to be God’s righteous servant sent to the world.

The early Christians seized upon this and the other Servant Songs to refer, not to the whole people of Israel as personified, but to the messiah, namely Jesus. Perhaps other Jewish groups identified the servant with an individual messiah, not with the nation. But the portrait in the Servant Songs seemed to fit what happened to Jesus rather than any successful kingly messiah of the sort that the others hoped for. The fourth Servant Song, at Isaiah 53, says things such as “he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity. . . . Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.” That description might well apply to poor battered Israel, as Isaiah saw the scene. But it also could be applied to Jesus, the crucified teacher of justice and peace whom the early Christians believed had redeemed them in his very humility and suffering. Jesus did not fit the description of a mighty military messiah like David at all. The early Christians looked to the Servant Songs to redefine what it means to be the messiah. It means to suffer as Jesus did to bring the rest of the world to justice, bearing “the sins of many.”

Think now of the Gospel lesson, Jesus’ baptism. John the Baptist had been preaching repentance of injustice and the immanence of God’s kingdom that would establish justice. Jesus came to John for baptism, recognizing John’s prophetic authority and committing himself in faith to the justice John preached. When Jesus came up out of the water, he had that astonishing vision: “suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased’.” That was a life-transforming religious experience, if I might use that almost trivial phrase for what Jesus went through. Doubtless he remembered the Isaiah passage, “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights,” and he then understood his mission: to bring forth justice among the nations. Perhaps it took Jesus a while to recognize the full extent of that mission. Originally he had thought it was to Israel only. But Matthew ends his gospel with Jesus commissioning the disciples to go to all nations, not Israel alone.

Paul understood the significance of Jesus to be for the salvation of the Gentiles as well as the Jews. Peter said, according to our Epistle lesson, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. . . . All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” Peter said this in a sermon addressed to Gentiles.

Now we Christians take on the name of Jesus in our own baptism. Becoming Christians, we are “of Christ.” What does this mean? Two answers are very important to this question.

The first, and least important, is that by taking on the name of Jesus Christ we enter into the cult of Jesus, the Church. By cult I don’t mean a small extremist religious group, but rather a religious community that cultivates a special way of life. We ourselves are cultivated to be better Christians through participating in our community, the Church. Included in that cultivation is believing certain things about Jesus, and celebrating the significance of his life through the festivals of the liturgical year—today is the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. Most important is the cultivation of the way of life he taught, emphasizing justice, peace, forgiveness, and love.

The second, and more important answer to the question what it means for us to bear the name of Jesus Christ is that we are God’s servants to the world to bring forth justice, as Isaiah said. Justice for us is a large notion, enriched by Jesus’ entire teaching to contain peace, mercy, forgiveness, humility, care for the poor, relief of suffering, love in all ways appropriate to people in different situations. To “believe in” Jesus does not mean only to join in the cult of Jesus. It means also and more importantly to believe in and join his servant mission. Isaiah’s servant did not live for himself but served God by extending himself to suffer for the world. Jesus did the same thing. To believe in Jesus is to live for God’s work of justice, peace, mercy, forgiveness, humility, care for the poor, relief of suffering, and love in and for all nations.

One of the main problems we Christians have is that it is so easy to live for the Church, aiming to make it flourish, rather than for the world. The purpose of the Church is to cultivate us just enough that we take on the life and work of Jesus whose name we bear. We need to hear and understand the word of God regarding justice; we need to cultivate the virtues of redeemed and sanctified people; we need to practice love of one another and develop supportive communities. Those of us in the religion business such as myself spend a lot of time trying to get the Church in such shape as to be able to cultivate these powers for the mission of justice. Yet we should know, as often we do not, that the Church does not live for itself, but for its mission, which is to the world. We should never forget the world when we devote our energies to building up the Church. The Church needs always to empty itself for the sake of the world.

Some Christians
, from the very earliest times, have thought that believing in Jesus Christ means mainly joining up as Christians. They have emphasized conversion and belonging, more than the mission to those who suffer injustice and might not belong to Christ. They are more concerned about getting people to become Christians than doing the Christian work of bringing justice to the world. I believe this is a mistaken and dangerous emphasis within Christianity.

Other Christians, including myself, have construed membership in the Church as mainly instrumental to fostering the real mission of Jesus, the suffering servant. Because so many people in other religions also pursue justice, a Christian’s true solidarity sometimes is more with them, because that is Christ’s mission however they understand it, than it is with those whose mission is mainly to get people to become Christians. Truly to believe in Jesus Christ is to be committed to his mission, and all those who are committed to justice are true believers, even if they do not use Christian language or know about Jesus Christ. They do not have to become Christians to take on Jesus’ identity as the servant of God for justice across the world.

So I am sadly suspicious of Christians who talk of conversion before emptying themselves in the pursuit of justice. It is absurd for Christians to want to convert Jews, because Jews already have Isaiah and his mission that Jesus seized for his own identity. Christian can encourage Jews to become better Jews. And is it not scandalous that some Christians now look upon the devastation in Afghanistan and Iraq first as opportunities to convert Muslims to Christianity and
only secondarily, if at all, as crying needs to bring forth justice, “to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness”?

America has brought forth vast and cruel injustice in the Middle East, attacking two nations that did not attack us, for no reasons that stand examination, destroying not only their governments, but also the infrastructures of their societies, leading to the ready threat of civil war. We treat the people who object to this unjust imperialism, and fight back, as our enemies rather than as colleagues seeking justice. We give new meaning to prisoners in dungeons and their torture, and seek to promote the people who justify such torture to higher office. And much of this evil, that Jesus would have called Satanic, is supported by Christians who seem to care more about converting others to Christianity than Christ’s mission of justice! How can the name of Jesus Christ be so perverted?!

Of course these political and ethical matters are very complex. Tribal and religious conflicts within both Afghanistan and Iraq complicate the insurgency against American occupation. Moreover, many American people support American imperial aggression inadvertently when they only want to attack gay marriage, stem cell research, or women’s rights to determine whether they will carry a child. Despite these complications and ambiguities, the Christian influence on American policy and public life should always be first and foremost to bring forth justice among all the nations, where justice means the rich panoply of conditions about which Jesus preached.

Just as the early Christians adopted and adapted Isaiah’s personification of the people of Israel as a suffering servant to understand the significance of Jesus Christ, so we need to look back
to Isaiah’s priorities for that servant to correct our understanding of the work of those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. Of course we need to foster the Church, the cult of Jesus Christ, in order to take on his mind, to cultivate the virtues necessary for the pursuit of justice, peace, humility, mercy, forgiveness, care for the poor, relief for the suffering, and love in all its forms. We need the Church for the support necessary to witness against the injustice of our own government and to provide a countervailing force for justice in other parts of the world. But we do not need the Church when it fails Christ’s mission of justice. As Jesus said in the Gospel of John, the branches of the true vine that do not bear fruit should be pruned away. Christianity that exists for its own sake is a sucker on the vine that saps the energy of the messiah and those who bear his name. We need scrupulous vigilance to root out those seductive images of salvation that make it seem a matter primarily of being on the right side, merely of joining up, only of belonging to the cult, mainly of converting from a different religious identity. Our Christian life does not truly begin until we find ourselves part of the body that carries on Christ’s mission of justice for the nations. What is the concrete meaning of salvation? It is to do justice, have mercy, and walk humbly with our God.

When Jesus rose from baptism, he saw the heavens open, God’s spirit descend like a dove, and heard God claim him as a beloved son. May we who bear the name of Jesus Christ understand that our identity as servants of justice has its roots in God, not politics, and share Jesus’ confirming vision. Amen.

The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville

Testimony to the Light

Sunday, January 2nd, 2005

Isaiah 60:1-6

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

The horrendous tragedy and suffering in South and Southeast Asia this week remind us of the true context in which religion is significant. We live in a world whose natural forces, such as the Tsunami, press ahead on a scale to which human affairs are trivial. Religion helps us understand humanity’s place in a world of such cosmic forces. Those forces also remind us that our God, their Creator, moves on a scale that dwarfs even their terrible powers of destruction and creation. As we weep for those lives drowned out, those people depleted by sickness and grief, those futures destroyed, we need to ask, who is God whose creation breaks shorelines and their peoples like a boot on an anthill? Can human beings be at home in a creation like this?

Today is the feast of the Epiphany in the liturgical calendar, which celebrates Jesus’ “appearance” to the public world. “Epiphany” means “appearance in public.” The traditional gospel text for Epiphany is the familiar story of the three Wise Men who come from the East to see Jesus as one they expect to be a king. The interesting question, of course, is just what it is that appears in Jesus. Christians have always answered that it is God that is revealed in Jesus. So what does Jesus reveal of God?

Today as we struggle to reconcile the Tsunami’s devastation with the appearance of Baby Jesus to the delightful gift-bearing Magi, I want to call to your attention three classic Christian symbols that themselves give content to the Epiphany: that God in Jesus is the Light of the world, that God in Jesus brings salvation to all people, and that God in Jesus is King of the Universe. These are large themes, but they are all necessary to grasp the religious significance of the Epiphany.

Our text from Isaiah says, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Last week I talked about the text from the beginning of the Gospel of John that says, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” In both Isaiah and John, light symbolizes understanding. But it isn’t just any old understanding. It is the understanding of the glory of God. For Isaiah, this meant something like a glory of Israel’s God that would be apparent to all the nations of the Earth, so that they would come in awe and response to worship God and receive divine judgment. The theological significance of this point in Isaiah is twofold, that the God of Israel is not merely for Israel but for all nations, and that God’s glory is something vaster and deeper than politics.

Christians took this passage to refer to Jesus as the light of the world. Now Jesus gave a new meaning to the divine light. On the one hand, according to John and others, the light of the world was the foundation of the creation of the world itself. The light reveals the Creator in the depth dimension of the world. On the other hand, the human meaning of Jesus as the light of the world is humility and faithfulness in love. Jesus was the one who showed God to be with the humble and poor, with those who would take last place and let others go first, with the losers in competition rather than with the hard-drivers. The light of the world never shone more starkly than at the crucifixion when the life of Jesus was snuffed out.

So as we cry for the dead and dying, the starving and grieving, we know that somehow in that suffering is the light of the world. In that suffering is the Creator, who is at once too glorious to be scaled to the concerns of human loss and too intimate not to be present in the stench and funeral pyres. Part of the Epiphany of Jesus is that we are graced by a cosmos beyond our imagining, and yet we are not alone.

Our text from Ephesians is a bit less metaphysical than the light of the world symbolism. Paul, or the author of Ephesians who was probably a student of Paul’s, understood the significance of Jesus to be that by his own sacrifice, both Jews and Gentiles, all the peoples of the world, now have access to God. Moreover, they have a new common way of life, based on love, with model communities of support and worship. Paul said that Christian Jews did not have to give up Jewish practice, and Christian Gentiles did not have to take on Jewish practice or give up their other religious life except in cases where it was synonymous with debauchery. Rather, the early Christians thought of the Christian Way as the promulgation of the good news, the gospel, that God saves all people, and that because of Jesus Christ all have access to God.

So the second thing revealed in the Epiphany of Jesus Christ is that we are all acceptable and need to find out how to live in the light of that acceptability. For Paul, and clearly for Jesus, the way to live before God is in communities of love and compassion. Surely this does not mean that only Christians should get together. It means that we who are only distantly affected by the water’s devastation should take the survivors as our brothers and sisters, equally loved by God, grieve with them for the losses of their families, friends, and homes, and help them to start anew. The Epiphany lesson is that Jesus died for them as well as for us, regardless of their religious beliefs and practices.

The third symbol of God in Epiphany is that Jesus was born a king. From our text, we know that King Herod feared that what would appear in Jesus is a king who would threaten his own throne. Some of you remember from last week’s gospel that Herod’s reaction was to kill all the children in and around Bethlehem two years old and under, a desperate expression of his fear of alternative royalty.

We know from what followed that Jesus was not a political pretender and never became a king in Herod’s sense. But Christians have claimed that Jesus was indeed a king in a more profound sense, a messiah in a sense not imagined by previous Jewish usage. The traditional word for this monarchy is Pantocrator, which means the Almighty Creator and Ruler of All. Images of Christ Pantocrator are common in Eastern Orthodox iconography, and the window above the altar here at Marsh Chapel is a somewhat domesticated version of this. The images are supposed to show how Jesus is at once human, and also the divine Logos. Christ Pantocrator is both the Alpha and
the Omega. However we understand the beginning of the cosmos, its Big Bang, and its ending, perhaps a re-contraction to a new Big Bang or simply a Final Dissipation of energy and order, Christ is the almighty king of that, the Cosmic King. Moreover, because God as Creator is intimately present in each thing within the flow of the cosmos, Christ Pantocrator is almighty king of that too. The Pantocrator is king of the most distant and the most intimate. Christ the King is in the death-dealing friction of techtonic plates, and also in the lost joys, the suffering, the grieving, the sickness, the hopelessness, the help, the sharing, the care, and the love in the aftermath of human disaster.

Nature’s carelessness about human life causes us to ask what place we human beings have in the cos
mos. The founding myths of Genesis suggest that the whole cosmos was made for the support of human life, and we know that this is not so. The cosmos is far older and vaster than anything imagined in biblical times, and we human beings have infinitesimal significance, products of mere chance evolution on a minor planet of a minor sun in a minor galaxy at the center of nothing. In the history of the Earth, last week’s slight slippage of the Indian techtonic plate under the plate of Southeast Asia is a tiny part of the movement that one day will put Bombay miles beneath Bangkok. How can human beings be at home in such a cosmos?

The Epiphany of Jesus reveals that the Almighty King who creates the cosmos of unimaginable span and power is the same humble God who enjoins us to seek justice, practice mercy, to help, and to love one another. For within the vast indifference of the cosmos exists the human sphere in which justice matters, mercy matters, helping others is our calling, and love is divine. Human life is full of meaning. From the intimate tasks of working and living with family and friends to the grand tasks of social justice, world peace, the cultivation of the arts, and the attainment of high civilization, life is meaningful. Its flourishing is a joy and its destruction means tragedy. Suppose our lives are short, they still are meaningful. Suppose our communities and civilizations last only a few centuries, they still are meaningful achievements. Suppose all carbon-based life forms are extinct in a few billion years, they still will have had their eons of glory. Humanly meaningful value does not lie in lasting forever. It lies in the density with which human meaning is rooted in the depths of God.

We are at home in the universe precisely because we can care for one another and share in the meanings of one another’s joys and sorrows. The vast indifference of the rest of the cosmos makes the studied care of human beings and the precious meanings of our lives all the more important. The Epiphany of Jesus Christ, Pantocrator, King of the Universe, reveals this.

I invite you, then, to squint with me in the light that reveals God’s glory so vast and cosmic that the Psalmist asks in amazement, “What is man that Thou art mindful of him?” We cannot deny the brightness of that glory by seeking to make God a domestic caretaker of the human scale of things. That same light, however, is the humble Jesus who illuminates the folds of justice, mercy, and love. I invite you also to accept Ephesians’ call to recognize that all people lie within the creative love of God and are free to approach God’s glory as redeemed sinners. Let us have no partisanship about who our brothers and sisters are, and where we all are going. I invite you finally to join the Wise Men in adoration of the Baby Jesus, helpless in the bosom of his family, nearly killed by imperial dynastic politics, finally killed by a later stage of that same imperial process. For, what that baby will teach is how to be at home as lovers of God and one another in a cosmos for which human life is wonderously strange and worthy. Come to the table where the light illumines God’s glory and our ties with all the people of God’s creation. Amen

-The Rev. Dr. Robert Cummings Neville