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Christmas Eve [late service] December 24, 2009

Isaiah 9:2-7                                                                         

Titus 2:11-14                                                                       

Luke 2:1-20

We come to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve knowing there will be candlelight and wonderful music, poinsettias and a tree, and the reading of the Christmas gospel from St. Luke. The words of the first reading tonight, Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Messiah, are also familiar to most of us, if only from Handel’s Messiah. But I will bet that none of you, setting out for church tonight, were saying to yourself, “Oh, goody, we’re going to get to hear that passage from the Letter to Titus.” And I am almost as certain that as it was read just now you didn’t really listen to it, thinking instead about something Christmas-sy or praying that this homily would be good, or if not good at least short. Continue reading ‘Christmas Eve [late service] December 24, 2009’

Christmas Eve (late service) December 24, 2009

Isaiah 9:2-7                                                                         

Titus 2:11-14                                                                      

Luke 2:1-20

We come to midnight Mass on Christmas Eve knowing there will be candlelight and wonderful music, poinsettias and a tree, and the reading of the Christmas gospel from St. Luke. The words of the first reading tonight, Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming of Messiah, are also familiar to most of us, if only from Handel’s Messiah. But I will bet that none of you, setting out for church tonight, were saying to yourself, “Oh, goody, we’re going to get to hear that passage from the Letter to Titus.” And I am almost as certain that as it was read just now you didn’t really listen to it, thinking instead about something Christmas-sy or praying that this homily would be good, or if not good at least short. Continue reading ‘Christmas Eve (late service) December 24, 2009’

Christmas Eve [Family Service] December 24, 2009

Each Christmas Eve at our family service, Fr. McCausland reads a children’s story he has written for the occasion.

It was the Christmas that Grandpa came to live with them. Grandpa who couldn’t manage on his own anymore. Jonah and Amy called the old man Grumpus – behind his back, of course. That was because he was always grumpy and complaining. “He’s just getting adjusted,” their mother said to the children. “You be nice to him please. Especially for Christmas.”

But it kind of worked a downer on the Christmas spirit for Jonah and Amy. Especially because Grandpa said he didn’t believe in Santa Claus. “Hooey!” he said. “It’s just an advertising gimmick if you ask me. Christmas. They could just skip over it as far as I’m concerned. Especially this Santa Claus nonsense.”

“Well, I believe in Santa Claus,” Amy whispered to her brother. “And I’m going to ask Santa to take Grumpus away for Christmas.” “Or put him in a nursing home,” Jonah whispered back.

It had always been the custom for the children to set up their toy train and build a whole little village on the living room floor under the Christmas tree. At the center of the village would be the crèche, the nativity scene with Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus and everything. Of course, there weren’t trains back in Bethlehem when Jesus was born, but adding the train had been Jonah’s idea because, as he said, “Jesus was a boy, and boys like trains.” “I like trains too,” Amy had said quickly. So that had settled it.

But this Christmas, Mom decreed no train and no village. Grandpa might trip on them with his walker. “So probably there’ll be no presents under the tree Christmas morning because Grumpus might trip on them too,” Jonah pouted. “Oh, Santa will work something out,” Mom had said. “Cheer up!” But the children were not feeling cheery that Christmas Eve when they went to bed. Grumpus had put a downer on Christmas sure enough!

Maybe that’s why they were sitting together in the dark on Amy’s bed, looking out the window. They were sharing a room now, because Grumpus had taken over Jonah’s room. The flood light was on outside and it was snowing. The snow was a good sign, because at least Santa’s sleigh would have an easy time that night. It was kind of magical, staring up at the black sky with the flakes of snow swirling down out of it all white and gleaming in the light. They seemed enormous when they got close up to the window, swooping and dancing in the wind before they dropped to the ground.

“Did you know every snowflake is different?” Jonah said. “We learned that in science.” “I already knew that,” Amy said. “We had that in science too.” “You don’t even have science in your grade,” Jonah said. “Yes we do too,” Amy replied. “We have snow flake science.” “I don’t believe you,” her brother said.

“Well, if you know so much, Jonah, let’s look at a few snowflakes and see if they’re really different.” Amy was on a roll. “They’re too small to see without a magnifying glass,” Jonah answered. “Well, I’m getting my magnifying glass,” Amy said, jumping out of bed and going to the shelf where she kept her special things.

Jonah was actually getting interested in this project now, and he opened the window and very carefully scooped up a little handful of fluffy snow. He carried it over to the light on the dresser and turned it on. Amy held out her magnifying glass and the two children peered closely at the snow.

As they looked, the magnifying glass seemed to grow wider and wider, until there was no glass there any more but instead a window through which the children were looking into another world. The other world was white and wonderful, full of sparkling crystals and banks of snow like the North Pole. They could even hear music playing Christmas songs. And as they stared at this scene, suddenly some luminous white shapes came forward towards them: huge snowflakes, and each was indeed different!

The snowflakes were like lace, but made out of ice crystals. Most amazing, they were alive, with ice faces, walking on their crystal points like feet, waving other points like arms. Amy and Jonah drew back, a little afraid. But the snowflakes seemed friendly. They kept coming until they stepped gracefully through the frame of the magnifying glass into the bedroom. There were half a dozen of them, and they were about as tall as Amy and Jonah.

“Merry Christmas!” said the lead snowflake. “We’ve come to check things out for Santa Claus. See where the tree is, whether you’ve got a chimney to come down or if he has to use the door, placement of the stockings – all that stuff.” The snowflakes were looking around. One of them opened the bedroom door and they went into the hall and started downstairs.

“Our grandfather doesn’t believe in Santa Claus,” Jonah said. “Is Santa real?” “Why, of course he’s real,” said the snowflakes. “We see him all the time at the North Pole. He’s as real as you two. Real as your grandfather, I dare say.” The snowflakes and the children were down in the living room now, with the snowflakes moving about, one of them making notes on a little pad of paper. “I’m going to go and get Grumpus,” said Amy suddenly. “You can tell him Santa Claus is real!” With that she shot out of the room.

A minute later they heard coughing and growling from their grandfather’s bedroom. “What the devil is this about?” the old man was saying. “I wish the stores had never invented this infernal holiday. Can’t get a moment’s peace.” But Amy was persistent, and shortly there came the sound of Grumpus shuffling along the hall on his walker, protesting and complaining about Christmas.

When the old man reached the living room, however, he was suddenly silent. He stared at the snowflakes, glittering brightly before his old eyes. “Oh, my stars and garters!” he exclaimed. “What is this?” “We’re from the North Pole,” said the lead snowflake. “From Santa Claus,” added one of the others. “We’ve come to check things out for him so his trip delivering presents goes smoothly.”

“You don’t say,” said the old man. “So there really is a Santa Claus?” “Why, of course there is,” answered all the snowflakes together. Grandpa shook his head.“But I don’t understand how one Santa Claus gets all the way around the world visiting every house. It doesn’t seem possible. I can hardly get down the hall of one house on this walker of mine.”

“Well, you see,” said the lead snowflake, “Santa Claus has helpers. Like us, for instance. And then he enlists special deputies. The deputies are the key to the operation. Why don’t we make you one?” The old man seemed taken aback by that suggestion. “What would that involve? I’m no good at getting around, as you see. I can’t go out and climb in and out of sleighs or anything.” “Oh, you’d just be responsible for this house here,” said one of the snowflakes. “Santa would drop off the presents. You’d just be in charge of Christmas cheer.”

At that suggestion, Jonah and Amy had trouble not laughing. Grumpus in charge of Christmas cheer! But even as they exchanged glances, their hands over their mouths to keep from laughing out loud, the snowflake who had spoken was holding out a Santa Claus suit. “Put this on. It’ll make you Santa’s deputy,” the snowflake said. “But I’m old and stiff; I can’t do this,” Grumpus protested. “Yes you can,” the snowflake said reassuringly. “We’ll help you.”

With the snowflakes’ help, Grandpa struggled into the Santa Claus suit. And as he put it on, something quite magical happened. His stiffness disappeared. He could bend down, move his arms and legs freely, even stand and walk without his walker. And as he discovered these things, the old man’s mood began to change. A smile came over his face. He even did a little dance, and let out a tentative, “Ho, ho, ho!”

“You know, children,” he said, turning to Amy and Jonah, “I think we’d better put up that train set you’ve been talking about, and the toy village under the tree. And the crèche, of course. Especially the Christmas crèche. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without them, would it?” Grandpa wasn’t Grumpus any more. His tone was warm and friendly. The children showed him where the train and village things were stored in the basement, and together, with the snowflakes’ help, they set everything up. It was looking to be a very merry Christmas after all.

“Now you go off to bed, children,” Grandpa said to them. “Santa won’t drop off your presents if you’re awake. I’ll stay here to receive him, in my deputy Santa suit. I want to give him a special thank-you for the work of these snowflakes of his! Made quite the difference, they have. Why, they’ve even made a believer out of me.” So with that, Amy and Jonah went off to bed, falling asleep full of wonder about what had happened.

The next morning they were awakened by their mother screaming in the living room. “My heavens, what’s all this!” she was saying. They flew out of their room and ran into the living room. There was the Christmas tree, all lighted, with the village and the train under it, the train running in circles on its little track, whistling and tooting, the windows of the village all lit up. There was the crèche, with Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus, the angels and the shepherds, the sheep, the ox and the donkey. And there too were toys and packages in bright wrappings, left by Santa Claus.

“Why, who did all this?” their mother was saying. “Did you children get up and do it? I told you we couldn’t this year. We have to clean up all this stuff before your grandfather gets up, so he won’t trip and fall on them. And here, what are these puddles of water on the floor? Did you make these, children? Oh, Lord!”

Just at this point, as the children’s mother was really getting into high gear scolding them, down the hall from his bedroom came Grandpa. He wasn’t shuffling, or using his walker. He wasn’t grumping or scolding. His face was smiling and he even let out a hearty “Ho, ho, ho” as he walked into the room. Most amazing, he was wearing his deputy Santa Claus costume. “Merry Christmas everyone!” he said. “A very merry Christmas to all of us from Santa Claus and Jesus and Mary and Joseph, the angels the shepherds – and the snowflakes.”

“The snowflakes!” their mother said. “What do you mean, the snowflakes?” “Why, my dear, where do you think those puddles of water came from?” Grandpa said with a smile. “Snow melts when it comes inside, doesn’t it? Now let me get a towel and mop them up. Then we’ll open our presents.” He turned and gave Amy and Jonah a big wink, and put his finger to his lips to signal to them to be silent.

Their mother just stood there, shaking her head. “This is some sort of miracle,” she said. “I really don’t understand. And you, Dad, where’s your walker? You’re so . . . so different!” “Well,” Grandpa said, gently putting his arms around his daughter as Amy and Jonah hugged his waist, “I guess it’s just the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas – and last night’s snow. Anyway, let’s be thankful. God bless us all.”

Advent 4 December 20, 2009

Micah 5:2-5a                                                                      

Hebrews 10:5-10                                                                

Luke 1:39-45

I must confess to a dirty little secret: I don’t like Christmas trees very much. They’re fun when you have children, and the one we will put up this afternoon here at church will be beautiful, decorated very simply with little white lights. But mostly I’d like to leave them growing out in the forest. They’re expensive, work to put up, a mess and bother to take down, and often they seem to me symbols not of Christmas but of the excess of American consumerism. But that’s just my little grump for the holidays.

I do, however, really like Advent wreaths. I like the symbolism of the four candles, the turning of the wheel of the year, the victory of light over darkness in the coming of Jesus the Christ. And I especially like the hole in the middle of Advent wreaths. We notice it particularly with the wreath we have on the east wall behind the Altar here at Holy Cross. The hole in the middle, that empty space, is a kind of window or door opening out to the One Who Is to Come – to the mystery of God beyond us, coming to us, which this season is all about. Continue reading ‘Advent 4 December 20, 2009’

Advent 3 December 13, 2009

Zephaniah 3:14-20                                                            

Philippians 4:4-7                                                                 

Luke 3:7-18

So this is “rejoice Sunday,” gaudete Sunday, for those interested in church trivia, which isn’t many of us, thank goodness. It’s the Sunday to light the pink candle on your Advent wreath, if you have three purple ones and a pink one, which we don’t at Holy Cross. The reasons for all this need not concern us this morning. Instead, we take a look at what it might possibly mean to “rejoice in the Lord,” as the reading from Philippians says. What it might mean to live with “our hearts and minds guarded in the peace of God in Christ Jesus.” It is a dark time in the world, an anxious time for many – for all of us, if we really let ourselves think of the challenges our world faces. So “rejoicing in the Lord” and finding security in the peace of God is no easy matter.

But imagine yourself in the following situation. You are born to a poor family, poor in ways that no one in this room has ever experienced. This is Uganda, a poor nation ruled by a cruel dictator, Idi Amin, where life expectancy is short and Christians like your family are persecuted and sometimes murdered. When you and your twin sister are just two years old, your mother dies. Your father, a lay preacher in the Anglican Church, proceeds to raise you and your siblings, to see that you receive an education. This is not easy, but you and your sister become the first women in the whole continent of Africa to be ordained priest. You each marry priests, on the same day, and proceed to have children and then grandchildren.

Now you are in the United States, working as a priest with a tiny congregation of African immigrants down in Lowell. You have already founded such a congregation, which is now large and flourishing, in Waltham. Your husband and family are back in Uganda. You work to send money home to your village, to help educate street children, orphans many of them from the AIDs epidemic that is devastating Africa, to encourage them to return home and stay together with their siblings in families – families headed by children 10 and 12 years old – to keep things together in the midst of chaos. You work to raise money to buy sewing machines, tool boxes, chickens, pigs and goats, so that these families may have a livelihood. You hope to buy bicycles for every priest in your diocese, in memory of your father, who died at the age of 96. And, of course, you are working in Lowell to build up your immigrant congregation, whose members have their own struggles and their own stories of loss and privation.

I don’t know about you, but I can scarcely imagine how I would function in this situation. It makes me ashamed of all the material things I take for granted, of the minor inconveniences and challenges in my life that I complain about. More fundamentally, it makes me embarrassed for my lack of faith, the thinness of my life in Christ. I call myself a believer – what do I even begin to know, compared to this woman and her family, to those to whom they minister?

 This woman has a name; it is Mother Mary Tusuubira. Tusuubira means “hope.” I know of her through John and Fernanda Harrington, who met her 15 years ago and have kept in touch since, visiting her in her congregations in Waltham and Lowell. I hope Mother Mary can arrange to be with us at Holy Cross some day before too long, and that we can become involved in supporting her ministries.

We read a lot about how Christianity is dying in America and Europe, congregations dwindling, churches empty on Sundays. And how in Africa, it is just the opposite. Uganda is the most Anglican nation on earth now. The very persecution that Christians suffered when Mother Mary was young has given life to the Church there, proving once again the words of the second century Christian apologist Tertullian that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”

Hearing Mother Mary write or speak helps one understand the contrast between faith in western cultures like our own and faith in places like Africa. Almost every sentence Mother Mary utters refers to the Lord and his blessings. She sees God’s hand at work in everything that comes to pass. She understands her life, and the lives of her family, as a mission for Christ. She knows the Lord is with her as she faces her challenges. In a letter she wrote me, words like love, hope, embrace, care, welcome, pray, faithful, testify and build up overflow from every page.

It must have been that way with the prophet Zephaniah, rallying the people of Judah to pull their nation out of a period of moral and political decay:

Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you with his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

It must have been that way with John the Baptist, proclaiming the “good news” of the coming of a Messiah who would “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire,” bringing righteousness and justice to earth. It must have been that way with St. Paul, telling the struggling little Christian congregation in Philippi to “rejoice in the Lord always” and not to “worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

For the great revelation in all of this, my friends and fellow beneficiaries of a spoiled and comfortable life, is that true joy and peace are not about us, not about building up our success and security. The peace that passes all understanding, the peace that “will guard our hearts and minds in Christ,” is centered on God – on his justice, his judgment, his righteousness, his coming in Jesus Christ. Like the “brood of vipers” who stood on the banks of the Jordan listening to John so long ago, we are called to repent and redirect our lives so that they may be one with the life of Christ, with the life of God. In that we will know true rejoicing.

Advent 2 December 6, 2009

Baruch 5:1-9                                                                       

Philippians 1:3-11                                                              

Luke 3:1-16

I had a John the Baptist in my life. His name was Grant Gallup, and he died this past Thanksgiving evening. Grant was a priest who spent his entire active career, as he liked to say “in a fit of absent mindedness,” as vicar of a tiny African American mission in the slums on the West Side of Chicago. In retirement, he went to Managua, Nicaragua, as a representative of the Diocese of Chicago, which had a companion relationship with the Diocese of Nicaragua. There he ran Casa Ave Maria, a house of “pilgrimage and mission” or, as he would sometimes put it, a “halfway house for recovering capitalists.” Continue reading ‘Advent 2 December 6, 2009’

Christ the King November 22, 2009

2 Samuel 23:1-7                                                                 

Revelation 1:4b-8                                                                              

John 18:33-37

So a family was driving to the potluck supper here a week ago, and they were talking about what their names meant. The father, Donald, said that his name was gaelic and it meant ruler of the world. That’s not right, said his daughter; Christ is the ruler of the world.

But what does that mean, that Christ is the ruler of the world – Christ the King, as this last Sunday of the Christian Year has come to be called? Well, one of the things it means, as the gospel reading for today makes clear, is that when it comes to conflicts in values or allegiances, it is Jesus who comes first, not any of the rulers of this world. Jesus was on trial before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to find out whether he claimed to be the King of the Jews in opposition to Herod, the Roman puppet king. And you may remember from Palm Sunday that when Pilate asks the mob whether Jesus is their king, they reply that they have no king by Caesar. So the tension over who is the ruler of the world was a real one in biblical times.

It’s a real one in our times too. More real than we usually realize. Continue reading ‘Christ the King November 22, 2009’

Pentecost 24 November 15, 2009

Daniel 12:1-3                                                                      

Hebrews 10:11-25                                                              

Mark 13:1-8

Life is strewn with unfinished projects: that tractor you bought off a neighbor and have been meaning to fix up for years but is still sitting behind the shed under a blue tarp; that sweater you started knitting for your daughter years ago which she could never fit into now. I conceived a wonderful project once: to write a kind of day book prayer journal. It was inspired by a New Age book someone showed me, but mine was going to be orthodox, working with the readings for daily Morning and Evening Prayer. I even had a publisher interested in it, but they wanted me to include a lot of collects and I was more interested in stimulating people to do their own praying. So that was the excuse for laying it aside.

When I was working on it though, I had a small focus group to whom I gave the drafts – a page for each day, with brief readings and sections of psalms, then space to jot down what came to people as they prayed with the texts. There was a young mother in the focus group, the wife of a successful businessman with two young kids, living in a nice house, singing in the church choir. She told me she couldn’t use the book because all the biblical readings were so grim. Particularly the psalms; they all seemed to be written by people in deep distress. It didn’t connect with her life, which was easy and happy, or with her experience in church, singing in the choir. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 24 November 15, 2009’

Pentecost 23 November 8, 2009

               Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Arthur E. Walmsley

Bishop of Connecticut (Retired)

                           It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest,

                                 eating the bread of anxious toil;

                                for he gives sleep to his beloved. – Psalm 127:2

 I was not here on Sunday two weeks ago – not playing hooky; we were at the Deering Community Church where I preached. And so I missed hearing Kathleen Kenyon’s ministry minute. Thanks to the Holy Cross website, I have been able to read it. And I have been praying with it ever since. Kathleen talked about the fact that Holy Cross had become a place of balance in her life. In her words:

“I spent a long time trying to find my center until I looked closely one night and found it had wings and moved easily in the slightest breeze, so now I spend less time sitting and more time soaring.” She ended, “Holy Cross and the people I’ve met here at this parish have helped me rediscover those wings.”

That is a very striking image she used – the very center of her being has wings, wings which respond to the slightest movement of air. It is also a very biblical image, one especially found in the Book of Psalms. Continue reading ‘Pentecost 23 November 8, 2009’

All Saints’ Day November 1, 2009

Wisdom 3:1-9                                                                       

Revelation 21:1-6a                                                               

John 11:32-44

It’s wonderful when you suddenly receive a new insight, a new understanding or way of looking at something that’s maybe been around for a long time. I mean wonderful in the literal sense: something that causes you to be filled with wonder, to notice that this insight is a gift from outside yourself, nothing short of a revelation from God. We need to own those wonderful revelations, the small ones as well as the large. God does work in our lives!

I received such a revelation as I was working on a project to help one of our teenagers. Robert isn’t here this morning; he’s helping his grandfather put a new roof on his house. But many of you know Robert’s story. He lives just down the road. He’d never been to church, never been baptized; religious faith had never been a part of his life. But his dad, who’s raised Robert,  felt he should have some exposure to church, so for about the last year Robert has been coming here, all by himself, most Sundays. He’s been joining in worship, in the youth group activities, become an acolyte, even did an Adopt-a-Highway pick-up one Sunday – and if that’s not being part of Holy Cross, I don’t know what is.

Robert doesn’t receive Communion because he hasn’t been baptized. He and his dad want him to understand more fully what Baptism and Church membership would mean so he can decide whether he wants to receive this sacrament. So I’ve been working on a book – a little book! – that I call “Robert’s Book,” to try to communicate what I think would go into a thoughtful decision for a young man like Robert. And that’s caused me to do some thinking too.

I’m using as my structure for the book those “four B’s” that we talk about from time to time: Belonging, Behaving, Believing and Becoming.” You’ll remember: we talk about what order they should go in, and how in the Church, traditionally, believing grows out of belonging to a community and learning it’s ways – what we mean by behaving.

Behaving is an awkward word here. We use it in the four B sequence because it begins with a B. But we don’t mean behaving in the “sit up straight,” “don’t pick your nose,” “don’t pick on your little sister” sense of the word. Being a Christian is a whole lot more than being nice and polite (indeed, many of the saints weren’t either of these things!). So how to explain in “Robert’s Book” what Behaving means? That was my challenge. And  here was my revelation: we learn about Christian Behaving from the saints. Continue reading ‘All Saints’ Day November 1, 2009′