December 27 – A Day to Remember John By Drinking Wine, All While Still Celebrating Jesus

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen

Not only is today a feast of our Lord, but it is also the feast of St. John. John, half of Boanerges—the Sons of Thunder (also appropriate on this day), a man who was in Jesus’ inner circle. Think about all the cool things he saw. Wine turned into water. The Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walking on water. The Transfiguration. The Last Supper. The Resurrection. Pentecost. John was the youngest of Jesus’ followers and the only one to die of natural causes.

St. Paul refers to him as a pillar of the Jerusalem Church, but did not remain there. He moved to Ephesus with Mary, Jesus’ mother, who was now in his care, where he set up his base of operations and founded several churches. (The Book of Revelation associates seven churches with him in Asia Minor.) During his time in Ephesus he wrote his Gospel account of Jesus’ life. This is a very different account from the other Gospels.

John wrote his gospel a couple decades after Matthew, Mark, and Luke. He knew of their existence, but chose to take a different approach. He’s had roughly 60 years of reflection on the events of Jesus’ life.  The approach he takes is: you now the story, but here is what it meant. John writes the best commentary of scripture for us, because he writes as an eye witness. John drives home the fact that all other religions that exist operate on the notion that we can attain God—that we can attain to the heights of God through our own efforts—but Christianity is different in that is says that the only way we can attain God is by him first coming down to us.

The thing I like most about John is his nickname—Boangeres—together with his brother James, they are the Sons of Thunder—referring to their fiery attitude. As an example of their bother attitude and zeal, when John and James saw that a village of Samaritan heathens would not receive Jesus, the brothers asked Jesus: Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” They were offended at the slight on Jesus’ authority, which they knew was great—heavenly even—but they were not so good at hearing the entire message. They were ambitious, trying to secure places of power in Jesus’ kingdom, but they lacked both subtlety and grace.

Yet Jesus called James and John to be his disciples and later to speak and act in his place after his Ascension into heaven. But prior to his departure, he gave them the grace to accomplish this mighty task. He appeared to the eleven as cowering in the corner for fear that they would be the next to be crucified, and breathed on them and gave them both the authority to speak and act in his name, and the grace to accomplish it.

Now, I’m sure that John still retained his fiery temper, in fact, I’m pretty sure this is one of the things that caused a rift in the Church that John speaks of in his letter to his community. A false teaching arose among them that claimed a false gospel—a “good” news that was opposed to the Good News of Jesus Christ. It was a gospel that did not require as much of the people as the Gospel of Christ did, so it seduced the people away. This was probably exacerbated by John’s demeanor, because who would willingly seek another gospel from the Gospel proclaimed by the man who heard it directly from Jesus and saw it with his own eyes, and was even present for Jesus’ private explanation? It must have been partly because of John’s disposition that caused others to be tempted by another gospel.

But this time, rather than seeking to call down fire upon the unbelievers, John seeks to allure them back through the love of God.

John did not mince words, just look at what he writes on Jesus’ authority to the Church in Laodicea: “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spew you from my mouth.” How many pastors of a flock today would have the nerve to say this to their congregation, even if it did come straight from the Lord? John was straight forward. But he did so with the love of God foremost on his mind. He even continues on in the letter: “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”

This is a man who knows the love of Christ and what it can accomplish. Notably, he is also the only Gospel writer to give an account of Peter’s reconciliation after the events of the night of his trial and Peter’s thrice denial. We can see in this, not only Jesus’ compassion for Peter who had to be eaten up with guilt by his denial, but also we see the redemption of the minister. This person who was so timid in the face of danger that he was even scared to tell a little girl of his association with Jesus, goes on in the Acts of the Apostles to tell whole crowds about Jesus. God took the person, with all of his frailties, and through his repentance and desire to follow, gave him the grace to accomplish the task.

The same is true with all those called by Jesus, if we are willing to follow, he gives us the grace to accomplish that to which he calls us. The story would not be as complete if it were not for John’s account of Jesus’ ministry.

It was for this witness and failure to deny it (he is a Son of Thunder) this witness of Jesus that got him exiled to Patmos, a rocky and treeless island off the western coast of modern-day Turkey used as a penal coolly at the time. At this point in his life, he was too old for his public death to be a really effective determent for the practice of Christianity. (They had tried, one tradition holds that he was first taken to Rome where they attempted to boil him in oil, but he came out unscathed. And years before this they tried to silence him by poisoning his wine, from which God delivered him.) But during his time on Patmos, he received a vision of the end of the world, which he wrote down, which we know as Revelation. Even in his old age, God had plenty of use for him.

John returned to his home in Ephesus after the Emperor who imprisoned him (probably Domitian) died. John lived there the rest of his life, where he died of natural causes. Apparently, when he died, just before he died he prayed to God, and after his prayer there appeared over him a great light at which no one could look; then he laid himself down and gave up his ghost. Immediately manna issued from his tomb and continued issuing forth. 

John left us a lasting witness, one which rounds out the revelation of Christ, both in his Gospel account and in his account of the final death of sin and the beginning of the new heaven and new earth. He gives us an understanding that God gives us the ability to do that which he calls us to do, but one that does negate who we are. And he also gives us a reason to go home and drink a glass of wine. Tradition holds that on this day, in honor of God’s deliverance of John from the poisoned wine, the church blesses wine for use on special occasions and to heal the sick. Today is one of those occasions. Go forth and remember the witness of St. John, and think of how God will use you in his service.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.



The Light at the End of the Tunnel

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

One of my girls’ favorite things to do when we are in the car this time of year is to drive around and look at Christmas lights. (I’m sure I’m not the only one.) I just read that just during this time of year, Americans use more power than some countries use in an ENTIRE year. This doesn’t surprise me at all. Especially not when we see the really cool displays that people set up just because it brings a smile to the face of others.

Light makes us happy. On the flip side, many people have been afraid of the dark at some point in their lives.  Just this morning I found my two older children in the same bed because the younger one was scared. The dark is scary. We can’t see properly in the dark. This is also the time when bad people do bad things, because our vision is so poor at night.

This dichotomy is engrained in us. Light good. Dark bad. We even find it on the first page of the bible. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and DARKNESS covered the face of the deep…And God said, ‘Let there be light and there was light. And God saw that that the LIGHT WAS GOOD.” So there it is from the beginning: light good, dark bad.

Light allows us to see for ourselves that there is nothing there to get us. But in the dark, now scary things go bump in the night. But I would like to think that this was not always so. When God first created Adam and Eve, I’m sure he after he finished walking in the cool of the evening with them, they would all sit down and admire the sunset and then the evening sky. And there was no fear because there was nothing to fear.

But then sin entered into the equation. Because of the introduction of sin and the expulsion from God’s immediate presence, now things, all of the sudden were out to get us. Not only was this from the presence of sin, preventing men from choosing the good, ala Cain. But now, nature itself was against us and the animals could and would now eat us, and because of decay, even the trees were out to get us with falling branches. Oh what a world.

This fear of the darkness can and should be equated with the fall into sin. Sin accomplishes the same things as the darkness. Sin clouds our eyes to the reality of the situation. And when the reality of the situation becomes cloudy, then pain follows as we bump into the various obstacles in our way.

But what was one of the main things that Jesus did in his ministry? He gave sight to the blind.

On the night in which he was born, shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night. I checked around a little bit, and I am not too far off base when I envision that night as a new moon. These shepherds weren’t able to see very well. I envision it as a new moon night because Isaiah tells us that the people were walking in darkness (associated with sin).

And into this world, darkened by sin, enters a light. This light was an angel of the Lord. The text tells us that the glory of the Lord shone around the band of shepherds. The way this is used here is a visible and divine radiance—light—shone all around them on what should have been a rather dark night. And so naturally they were afraid.

But the angel said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” And then the entire night sky erupted with the glory of the Lord as a multitude of the heavenly hosts appeared singing of the Glory of God.

And when they finished singing, they pointed the shepherds to the source of their joy—a little baby who entered the world that day. That little baby would one day break the source of the darkness by trampling down sin and death as he mounted the hard wood of the cross. He will remove the blinders of sin to allow us to always be able to see in the light.

A saw picture the other day of a burning match casting a shadow on the wall. The match cast a shadow on the wall, but the flame, very present in the picture, cast no shadow on the wall. This is because light is the absence of dark. It does not cast a shadow because it lights the place where the shadow should be.

This, indeed, is great news of a great joy. This is the beginning of the removal of our sin. And this is what we celebrate this evening—that God loves us so much that he sent his Son to bring us into the light. So take some time this evening. Drive around and look at all the lights. And each time you see the light, take time to thank God for the birth of Christ. In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Jediism – No Really, It’s a Real Thing

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

I read in the paper the other day that a man in Beaumont started a real-life Jedi Temple. Though lacking in force abilities, the disciples of the force believe in the ideals of the force. And admittedly for them, this is an ever-changing ideal that “transcends the scriptural stories of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other major religions.” Jediism takes a little bit of this and a little bit of that from all the various religions and smashes them together that is something that resembles a “a hodgepodge of Zen Taoist Universalism” which can be boiled down to “Be a good person.”

This is an example of what happens when the depth is taken from the Bible. The unending chasm of wisdom that can only come from God’s self-revelation through the Holy Spirit cannot be boiled down to “Be a good person.” In fact, if the Bible is boiled down to that, we have missed the point. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The Bible tells us in the Old Testament that God has an ideal for us. But with Paul we come to the conclusion that the ideal given to us in the commandments is the rule by which we determine our crookedness. And despite this crookedness, God saw fit to send his Son anyway for our redemption.

Now, compare that to our Gospel lesson today. There is a lot going on, but seriously, why do we care that John leapt in Elizabeth’s womb? Why does Luke put in all the details about Mary going to visit her cousin? Well, it’s a lot better than what he could have told us about. Mary being shamed by the people of her home town. Mary probably fleeing. Dueteronomy 22:23 – If there is a betrothed virgin, and a man meets her in the city and lies with her, then you shall bring them both out of the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones. This law is why Matthew tells us that he puts her away quietly.

Galilee is not a huge city at this time. It is not even as big as Gainesville. It had roughly 1,500 to 2,000 people. So, I checked, that is roughly the size of Muenster. So, suffice to say, everyone knew. Everyone knew she was engaged to Joseph, and Joseph knew that she was pregnant not by him. If this got out, she would be put to death. In fact, this was Joseph’s right. But he loves her—he’s heart broken, but he loves her—so he goes to the local rabbi to discuss what he should do.

They decide that since he doesn’t want to put her to death, Joseph can start the legal process of divorce, and then they can send her away—for her own safety as well. So where does Mary go? She can’t stay there, she has been banished on pain of death. So she goes to her cousin’s house, 90 miles away, in Jersualem. Why Jerusalem? Because Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was a priest, so he lived close to the Temple. (Even in Biblical times no one likes to commute.) She knows Elizabeth has the space.

Every year, three times a year, all Jews were required to come to Jerusalem for the pilgrimage festivals—Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. So image the Super bowl comes to Jerusalem 3 times a year. Inns fill up pretty quickly, so those with family in town would stay with them. Mary had been to Elizabeth’s house 3 times a year for her entire life. So she heads the 90 miles south, pregnant, with nowhere else to go.

What a downer of a story about God’s entry into the world. All humanity is destined to be saved as God, present before the foundations of the world were set, enters into history, and because he chose to do it, a young girl is shunned and faces death.

But there is more to the story. This is a happy event after all. Mary goes with all the haste of a pregnant lady into the hill country, to a town of Judah, where she is warmly greeted by Zechariah, Elizabeth, and the little baby John, six month. Why is she so warmly greeted? Because they had a pretty weird experience with John’s pregnancy as well. So Mary goes to the only people in the whole world who understand what is going on with Mary.

But why the strange details? Mary heads to Judah, a territory, or a state, not a place. John leaps in her womb, but I’m sure babies in utero often become stimulated at the sound of voices. And Elizabeth asks a weird question that seemingly blows the baby’s gyrations out of proportion. Sure they are happy, but why so many specific details that are cryptic at the same time?

As I said, there is more to the story. This is not Luke making light of a bad situation by turning the frown upside down. He is defining a bit of doctrine here with a reference to another story.

In 2 Samuel 6 David has just defeated his biggest enemy—the Philistines. And upon defeating them, brings the Ark back to Jerusalem. “And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God.” This is when the ark tipped and poor Uzzah lost his life for touching the ark. “And David was afraid of the Lord that day, and he said, ‘How can the ark of the Lord come to me?’” And he came to the house of Obed-edom because he was still too fearful to move the ark. “And the ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months.” And when he finally gained his courage and figured out how to properly show God tribute as the ark moved, “Michal the daughter of Saul looked out her window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord.”

Luke is telling the story of Mary’s visit to Elizabeth very specifically, not merely to put a nice shine on the story of her banishment, but to demonstrate that Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. David brought the Ark to Jerusalem. Mary went to Jerusalem. Elizabeth questioned why the mother of her Lord would come to her. David questioned why his Lord would come to him. Both the ark and Mary remained where they were for 3 months. Both David and John danced in the presence of the Lord.

But just so you don’t think I am making this up, it is even more clear in the Greek. When Elizabeth feels the leap of John, she is filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaims with a loud cry. This word, anaphōneō, is only used here in the New Testament, and only used 5 other times in the Greek Old Testament, each time describing exultations before the Ark. This is no mere coincidence—this is defining doctrine.

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant for she carries in her womb the same things that were carried in the old Ark of the Covenant. Hebrews 9 tells us the contents of the Ark: a golden urn containing the manna, Aaron’s Staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. In Mary’s womb are contained the Bread of Life, the High Priest of the People, and the Word of God—all this in this little peanut in her belly.

This is why Luke shines up the story. He doesn’t need to point out all the bad things that lead up to this. Those would only cloud the story, by burying the lead. God is in the details. We can read this book and look at it on the surface and simply gain the story of a historical figure who was a revolutionary in his time and gave us teachings that are still with us today.

One of my favorite stories of my favorite saints is that St. Augustine (one of the greatest thinkers ever) saw this book in his pagan days and thought it was a book for babies. “Why anyone can read it and understand it. I want the truth.” It wasn’t until he read the book with the eyes of God that he began to see the depths that come when we allow God to reveal himself through this book.

Now I love Star Wars, but being a creation of man it stands no chance of reaching the depths reached in the Bible. Star Wars couldn’t even remain consistently good for 6 movies. Beloved, I don’t want you to be good people. I want you to be redeemed people. Now that is worthy of belief.

Ponder this depth as we proceed toward Christmas: Jesus Christ knowing what it would cost him, chose to be born to save humanity, not because we deserve it because we are good people, but because we would be lost without it.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.



On Gun Control -To See What Condition My Condition Is In


In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

So I picked quite a time to start trying to make my sermons relevant to the things going on in the news. There has been a popular mass shooting ever week since I decided to do this. Now gun control (whether one is for or against it) is everywhere. No one ever posts pictures of their meals anymore because now everyone wants to make their views heard on the subject. Don’t worry, I am neither advocating that we disarm you, nor that we arm you. I am actually gun-neutral. I don’t really care. I am not a gun guy. I had one once, but it was stolen shortly after I got it.

But gun-control goes deeper than whether a person is pro-gun or anti-gun. It goes to trust. Both sides of the debate seem not to trust the other. Either the person owning the gun is going to take the gun and shoot everything around them, or the people against guns are going to come in and take your guns so that people can come in and harm you and you won’t be able to protect yourself. It boils down to trust.

I was asked recently what our stance is going to be at St. Paul’s about guns and open carry. I don’t care if you carry. I don’t care if you don’t. I learned that another church has devised a plan for who will definitely be carrying and where they will be so that they don’t shoot each other should someone come in and want to shoot up the place. I am not that into it that it consumes my mind such that I plan such things down to such degrees.

I know people who carry at the altar. That’s just not me. I trust that you are not going to shoot me and neither is some phantom person, whether that person be crazy, angry, or extremist. But there what’s more, I trust in God and his power.

I was really disheartened, though not really surprised the other day when I saw the headline on the front page of the New York Daily News: “God Isn’t Fixing This.” It was directed at the various high-ranking politicians who, rather than doing something about gun control, merely said that they were praying for the people of San Bernadino.

Now I understand what they are trying to say: “Don’t just pray about it; DO something about it.” And the people at the New York Daily News are in favor of gun control. But I believe, either way, this is not something that can be dealt with as far as the government goes because it goes much deeper than that. And I do think praying is the proper response to such things.

In Baruch, he is telling Jerusalem to trust in God. The Jews were being led off into exile, into a foreign land filled with foreign gods, after their captures destroyed the Temple and seemingly proved that God could be beaten. Because after all, the last time a world dominator came calling at Jerusalem, God turned them away himself. We read about this in 2 Kings.

Hezekiah was king in the southern kingdom of Judah and the Assyrian army was bent on taking his kingdom. They were fresh off destroying the northern kingdom of Israel. But Hezekiah learned from their defeat. At the time the prophets were telling Israel to leave their worship of false gods and return to the worship of Yahweh, but they would not listen and God used the Assyrians to teach them this lesson. But Hezekiah was a wise and good king. At 29 years old, he tore down all the idols to foreign gods. He even went into the Temple and saw that the Jews were worshipping the bronze snake Moses used in the wilderness to heal those bitten by the fiery serpents, so Hezekiah smashed the bronze serpent (whom they had named Nehustan.)

Hezekiah tried to send the Assyrians away himself. He tried to pay them not to sack the city. And this even worked for a time. But when the money ran out, they headed back to extract more—pay or burn. And in his desperation, he turned to the Lord. God answered his prayer: “Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard [from Sennacherib]…Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he will hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.”

When Sennacherib defied this and tried to take the land anyway, Hezekiah returned to the Lord to which the Lord answered: “[to Sennacherib] I know your sitting down and your going out and your coming in, and your raging against me. Because you have raged against me and your complacency has come to my ears, I will put a hook in your nose and my bit in your mouth, and I will turn you back on the way by which you came.”

And then he said to Hezekiah: “He shall not come into your city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same way he shall return, and he shall not come into this city. For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake, and for the sake of my servant David.”

And that night, the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people rose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. And as he was worshipping in the house of his god Nisroch, Adrammelch and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword.

This is what the Jews were expecting almost 150 years later—God to repel the Babylonians and establish his dominance over them. But that was not what God wanted. He all these years later, the Jews had again forgotten God. And Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. But this would not be the end of the Jews. This would be their time out. 70 years for them to think about what got them there, and how they were going to change their behavior as a result.

Baruch tells them of that glorious day when they will return, having rededicated themselves to following God. God will make their paths easy for them, every mountain and hill made low, and every valley raised up, so that they may return to him.

And it is to this that John the Baptist is referring when we hear his voice in the wilderness. God, in the coming of Jesus Christ, offers salvation, the restoration of us to his immediate presence. But we must not forget the Bapist’s cry: Repent. Turn around from paths that lead away from this path prepared for us to meet our God.

And this is where our Lord speaks to us of the recent situations. Repent and return. God has demonstrated that when this happens he will deliver us. He showed Hezekiah that he definitely has the strength to do it. He showed the Jews that he means what he says, if we are unwilling to trust in him and follow his ways, he will do deliver us from the immediate danger because we have told him that we want to do it on our own.

Why is it that Muslim extremists are able to take the world by storm—growing like some indomitable weed? Because they have conviction. Islam is growing at a rate that by 2050, the number of Muslims will equal the number of Christians in the world, if not surpass us. Why? Because they really and truly believe in their religion. And with the growth of the Muslim population, there will also grow the number of extremists. This will put us at greater risk which will cause us to want to arm ourselves, and so the cycle will repeat—because we are blind to the cause of it.

This has nothing to do with Islam or guns, and everything to do with our inability to put the blame where it belongs, on us as Christians and our lack of conviction. This is what got the Jews in trouble in the Old Testament, and it is what is getting us in trouble now. So we all need to re-dedicate ourselves to the Gospel—learning it and living it. This is the only way to truly combat the cause to which both the pro-gun and anti-gun crowds wish to fight—the human condition.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.


First, Define for Me: Who Is a Human?

Sicarii masacre


Christmas pic

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.

Thanksgiving Day, I had the family all around—we had some 24ish people at the house, all stuck inside due to the pouring rain—and, of course, my sister and I start talking both religion and politics. Seems counter-intuitive to family gatherings, but since my parents’ generation rebelled from their parents with sex, drugs, and rock and roll and their rebellion has become the norm, my generation (technically not my generation since I was born at the very tail end of Generation X apparently, but definitely my sister’s who was born at the beginning of the Millennial generation) rebels against their parents by talking religion and politics at family gatherings.

My sister likes to play Devil’s Advocate, if nothing else to make our discussions more interesting, because there is nothing so boring as a conversation where each person agrees with the other. She asks me questions about religion (because I am not nearly smart enough, nor informed enough, to ask her sciency questions)—normally on ethics and morals. She takes up the mantle of the secular humanist, and I the Church (naturally). Our debate, as of late, has brought us around to how each defines a human being.

Why? Because a human requires to be treated as a human, and not a human does not. So for instance: Is a baby in utero a human or merely a bunch of cells that will eventually become a human? At what point does that bunch of cells become a human that requires to be treated as a human? The Church says at the moment of conception because there is no point prior to that. The secular world is constantly debating such a topic. For them, the rights of the mother outweigh the rights of the thing inside her until it becomes a human—which is definitely at birth. Some cultures would even limit that to being born a male—because women are property, i.e., not fully human and therefore not subject to being treated as a human. So the debate goes, back and forth, but it all goes back to the definition of a human.

Then yesterday, this comes to more of a point with a shooting in Colorado at a Planned Parenthood. The man responsible for the shooting thought he had his heart in the right place. These Planned Parenthood people are responsible for killing baby humans, so, in his mentality, they ceased to be human themselves. So things that are not human are not held to human standards and so he could easily justify taking them out—even if they were not directly responsible for the act itself—because animals (or things) that harm human beings need to be taken down. But this is the same crime as the man accuses the Planned Parenthood people of committing. He and they both do not properly view the people involved as human.

And this reminds me of a group around the birth of Jesus called the Sicarii. As a result of the Roman census during the time of Quirinius, governor of Syria, a Jewish group lead by a man Judah the Galilean of Gamala in Gaulanitis joined with Zadok the Pharisee in opposing this census since it meant acknowledging Roman rule—which they saw as returning to the slavery of Egypt. And oppose it they did. Their mentality was: “God would come to the aid of those who would not spare themselves in the struggle.” This group freely embraced their own death due to their belief that the worse they made the world, the sooner the Messiah would come and establish God’s Kingdom.

Not only were they willing to sacrifice their own lives—even to the most horrible deaths—but they were willing to see their relatives and friends brutally tortured for their connection to these zealots. All costs of the price of refusing to accept human domination. This is all recorded in Josephus’ work called The Jewish War. In there, he feels that he did not sufficiently emphasis this group’s indifference to torture.

And anyone who did willingly submit to the census (for taxation purposes) were considered the enemies of the Sicarii. They were called Sicarii due to the curved knife that they would carry. And each time a festival was held, these Sicarii would proceed into the crowd and off various high ranking officials due to their cahooting with the Romans. But not only that, they would plunder their neighbor’s homes, and steal their cattle, or even burn their homes to the ground—all because these people had ceased to be people in the eyes of the Sicarii—they had forsaken the name Jew and taken the name Roman so now were no longer the people of God, but sojourners in the land. (They failed to read the rest of the bible where it talks of care for the sojourner. That would clog their argument with facts—so the facts are excluded for their desires.)

And ironically, this was the milieu into which the Messiah was born. Ironic because they were trying to bring about the Messiah, and come he did, but not to bring the Kingdom they wanted or expected. They wanted the Messiah read about in the Old Testament. The Son of Man who was “clothed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. He body like beryl, his face like the appearance of lightening, his eyes flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze and the sound of his voice like the sound of a multitude.” Who comes and when his foot touches the Mount of Olives causes a horrific earthquake to occur—the world trembling at the touch of its creator. The giant rock from Daniel that would smash the statue of foreign rule to pieces and grow into a giant mountain filling the whole earth.  This is what they were expecting.

But instead they got another Galilean—dealing with the same census by Quirinius that caused him to be born in the nowhere town of Bethlehem who couldn’t even find lodging in the local inns—let alone with his own family members in the town. Instead, he was born in silence in a cave that houses cattle and donkeys. Not a scene that one would expect for the king of the world.

But his entrance into the world in his birth reflects his unification with humanity on that day. “He saw his divinity as a thing not to be exploited, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus came to show us what it was to be human. And in becoming human he brought all of humanity—indeed all creation—up with him as he proceeded on with his life. He brought all humanity, each made in God’s image and reflecting his glory, to share in his divinity as he fully united himself with us.

He took away the sins of the world so that now we merely have to ask for them to be removed rather than having to pay the penalty for their removal. Now all humanity has the same opportunity to receive redemption if we would ask and turn from the ways of sin and death.

This is not the Kingdom that the Sicarii were expecting. It is both better and scarier than the one they desired to bring about by their tactics of death. Better in that it includes all people and is more powerful than any world power. Scarier because it includes all people—those we like and those we hate. This is a kingdom worth forsaking all, and being willing to die.

And it is, in fact, a kingdom for which we should be prepared to kill. But as with all things, not the killing that sees a human being as a thing to be annihilated. The killing required of this Kingdom is a killing that puts to death sin. We the old man who would enslave our world, and cause him to be born to new life.

And so we go full circle to the family gathering at Thanksgiving, back to the question I posited to my sister: “Who is a human being?” Everyone we encounter is a human being. Each person is made in God’s image. Each person has had that image marred due to the sin of Adam and Eve. Each person has been redeemed by the King. And each person is called to sacrifice their life for that kingdom, that they may be born anew to see what being truly human is. And each person redeemed is called to have that zeal of the Sicarii for the Kingdom, but redeemed in Jesus Christ and given the eyes of Christ to see them not a enemies to be put to death but as opportunities to enter into a new and redeemed life.

This is what we are preparing for this Advent. The coming of Christ at the end of time, and in celebration of his coming in his birth. We prepare the same way—by uniting ourselves with humanity and doing everything in our power to call them into his Kingdom.

In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.