‘Twas the night of Christ’s birth,
when all thro’ the land,
there was a great chaos and a long caravan;
for everyone heard the census was here,
and went home to be counted
in spite of their fear.
The camels were nestled
all snug in their stalls,
while visions they dreamt of huge water falls;
Joseph and Mary, tired and limping along,
wondered why they so eagerly said yes to God.
When Mary said, O dear and curled up in ball,
Joseph looked up at the sky
and let out a great call.
“Enough dear God, enough already,
I said I’d be faithful,
but help me be steady.
You’ve given me too much
and no time to get ready.”
He fell to his knees,
overcome and feeling wonky,
when he saw an inn with its lights on,
and a very old donkey.
The Inn keeper could not help,
but knew they were in danger,
and offered him all that he had,
the protection of an empty manger.
More rapid than eagles
the labor pains came,
and Mary cried out
and called the angels by name:
“Come Daniel, Raziel, Remiel, and Michael,
Oh! Cherubim, oh! Serphim, Raphael, and Azazel;
Pour your blessings upon us
and all in this stall!
Keep calm! Keep calm!
Keep calm y’all!”
As the animals gathered to keep the stable warm,
the stars in the sky began to take form.
This night was like all others,
so many people thought,
but the universe knew this birth
would never be forgot:
and then in a twinkling,
the birth of a baby boy
caused the heavens
and earth to sing out in joy.
a mere man,
gazed upon the face of God
the choir of angels began to applaud:
the raucous of joy shook the heavens and hills,
so much that even the shepherds
felt the thrills.
Who knew this night,
God born to us in skin,
would be willing to hang on tree
and bear all our sin:
the birth of the Messiah
went unnoticed that night,
except for the animals
and a young couple riddled with fright.
Their baby divine,
known by nature as its Creator,
little did they know
he would hang as a traitor;
but for now they would raise him
and teach him the Law,
until he would turn that law into awe.
The stars came together
to form a bright light from on high
that caught the shepherd’s attention
when it lit up the sky:
an angel appeared to them to tell the story,
and they hurried off to share in the glory;
they crossed the terrain
at a fairly quick pace
until they came upon that place
full of grace.
They dropped to their knees
and began to sing,
the praises of this newborn King.
They knew in their hearts
that this gift of pure love
could only have come
from the God high above.
one day would notice this birth of a king,
and give thanksgiving
for all that he would bring:
come ye all who feel they are lowly
and see the face of God Most Holy.
Due to technical difficulties, the weekly sermon at Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, North Augusta could not be recorded. I have been asked to provide a written manuscript of the sermon, which was based on Matthew 22:1-14, The Parable of the Wedding Feast. Scripture passage is provided at the bottom of this post.
As a child, my family belonged to Brook-Lea Country Club in Rochester, NY, which offered a full 18-hole golf course, club house, and large pool complete with diving boards. As young children, our mom would take me and my two older brothers to the pool for swimming lessons. After our swimming lessons, the instructors would let each skill level take turns swimming in the pool. After that the life guard would blow his whistle and yell, “Free swim…all in”. Everyone jumped in the pool, some splashing around and others showing off their new strokes to parents, but all of us swimming or working to stay afloat.
This is a more contemporary version of The Parable of the Wedding Feast. The kingdom of heaven is like a “Free swim…all in”.
The king sends his slaves out to the streets and all are invited to the feast: good and bad. Free swim…ALL are invited in. But just jumping in the pool does not make us swimmers and according to this parable it does not get us into the Kingdom either. It takes learning how to swim, it takes work and practice. It takes the effort to at least put on the wedding robe. This is a parable of faith and works. You see if you just work, you will be too busy to accept the invitation, and if you merely show up you will not be the least bit prepared. You will not know that you even need a wedding robe and will just stand there in silence.
Being a Christian means creating a balance between faith, the grace and mercy that God pours into each of us, and the works that each of us are called to do through our Baptismal Covenants. We have the faith piece because that is provided unconditionally by God, but I think many of us get hung up on the works. What do I do? Where do I serve? What gifts do I have? We tend to make it so hard, when Jesus simply says, “It’s as simple as putting on a wedding robe.” We are simply called to respect the dignity of every human being.
I currently live in an apartment in Augusta and have a very basic refrigerator with no bells or whistles, not even an ice maker. I love a tall, ice cold Pepsi with dinner, so I buy a bag of ice every few weeks. Yesterday I stopped at the Circle K around the corner from the complex to grab a quick bag of ice. As I got out of my car, I noticed this man standing on the sidewalk in front of the door to the convenience store smoking a cigarette and talking to everyone who was getting gas. His clothes were torn and dirty and he had a big sack of belongs on the ground next to his feet. I would suspect he was homeless.
No one in the parking lot responded to his greetings, in fact everyone was looking down at their feet as they pumped their gas or moved about. I walked quickly past him, not making eye contact, focused on my own task at hand and honestly, very uncomfortable. I got inside and was ashamed that I had not taken the time to at least look at this man. I paid for my bag of ice and headed out to the ice cooler. God was gracious to me and offered me another chance. You see the man had moved about five feet to his left, which put him directly in front of the ice cooler. Thank you God, now I had another opportunity to speak to this man. We chatted about the upcoming cool weather, the busyness of the pumps, and the awesome Yankees! When I went to retrieve my bag of ice, he got it for me and carried it to my car.
You see as Christians, we are called to see the unseen, hear the unheard, and speak for those with no voice. We are called to respect the dignity of EVERY human being: our elderly neighbors, who cannot get around easily anymore; our coworkers, who grate on our nerves; and the strangers, who do not look like us or act like us. This is what it means to show up to the feast and put on our wedding robes. So yes, many will see and hear the homeless man, but how many will stop and answer back?
Matthew 22:1-14 (NRSV)
Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.
‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” For many are called, but few are chosen.’
On Monday, August 21st, an astronomical event will overshadow the normal events of a Monday. This country will witness Eclipse 2017. It is expected that millions of people will spend four-hour clumps of time looking up throughout the day, taking pictures, scrambling for properly-rated eclipse glasses, or monitoring its path via an electronic app. But how many of us will realize that we are witnessing the movement of our Divine Creator? How many will give thanks for this small break in the flood of chaotic political upheaval and fear that has riddled our country in the recent past?
“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10 will be alive and tangible, but how many of us will make that connection? What a gift is being offered to us on August 21st that we will be witness to the divine movement of a creator so great that millions will interrupt their daily routines, schools will change their schedules, small rural areas will be bursting with new faces and new energy. How many will be able to remove the blinders from their hearts, lift their faces to the heavens and give God the glory?
The world has become one nation riddled by fear. Fear of loss, fear of annihilation, fear of a perceived loss of control, fear of what others think, fear of “failure”, fear of lost respect, fear of what we think should be ours based on skin color, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social or economic status, the list goes on.
How ironic is it that in ancient times solar eclipses were thought to be periods of satanic power, eclipses were events to hide from in fear of the unknown; yet Eclipse 2017 will be the event that gives us the freedom and the cause to look to the heavens. As we gaze upon the heavens, how many will see the movement of the Divine and give thanks for the words of the Psalmist, “Be still and know that I am God”?