Monday, December 11, 2017

Hang in there; it's still Advent!

Around us, there are many signs of Christmas. Christmas carols are being played on the radio, Christmas lights and decorations are adorning many front yards, and Santa Claus has made more than one appearance at a mall near you. 

In our culture, it is already Christmas.  But in the Church, it is still the season of Advent.  Advent is a time of waiting for the coming of the Christ Child at Christmas, and also a time of expectation for the return of Jesus to the world as he promised.  We are to take this period to examine our hearts and renew our spirits, making way for Christ to enter into our lives and transform us.  This season of preparation is designed to make us more Christ-like, and to connect us more deeply to our Creator.

It is a challenge to keep Advent while others seem to be celebrating Christmas.  But hang in there!  This period of waiting is well worth it, and when Christmas actually comes, it will be even more joyful!

Happy rest of Advent!

Monday, December 4, 2017

In a baby's hand

Very soon, a special day happens that we have been looking forward to for weeks.  We are looking forward to Christmas and what we may find under the Christmas tree.  But, is that all we should be looking forward to?  How about looking forward to remembering the birth of a little baby that the world would come to know by the name of Jesus? 

The birth of a messiah or king had been foretold by many for hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth.  In the Book of Isaiah we read, “For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  In an Advent hymn, the opening words of each stanza are “Blest be the King whose coming is in the name of God!”  And in a Christmas hymn, the opening line is “Hark! the herald angels sing glory to the newborn King!” 

People were expecting a King – a ruler – someone to lead them.  And if a king, how do we expect him to be dressed?  A king would be wearing robes of many colors, probably outlined with fine furs, and a crown with many jewels.  The king would be surrounded by a court of people also dressed in their finery and acting very superior.  The king would live in a fancy home, maybe even a castle. 

Is this how the baby Jesus would be dressed when he became a man?  Is this how the shepherds and the people who lived in the town of Bethlehem would have dressed when they visited the baby, born in a stable and laid in rags in a manger? 

Ponder these words from a Carol of the Epiphany written by John Bell:

                I sought him dressed in finest clothes,
                        where money talks and status grows;
                but power and wealth he never chose:
                        it seemed he lived in poverty.

                I sought him in the safest place,
                        remote from crime and cheap disgrace;
                but safety never knew his face:
                        it seemed he lived in jeopardy.

                I sought him where the spotlights glare,
                        where crowds collect and critics stare;
                but no one know his presence there:
                        it seemed he lived in obscurity.

                Then, in the streets, we hear the word
                        that seemed, for all the world, absurd:
                that those who could no gifts afford
                        were entertaining Christ the Lord.

                And so, distinct from all we’d planned,
                        among the poorest of the land,
                we did what few might understand:
                        we touched God in a baby’s hand.

Imagine if you had been born in a stable – and if you had been wrapped in swaddling cloth – and if you had been laid in a manger.  Jesus didn’t have the finest clothes, he wasn’t born in the safest place, he didn’t seek the spotlight.  And yet, we remember him today and every day even if it isn’t Christmas Day – a baby whose hand was touched by God.  May his hand and the hand of God, through the hands of others, touch your life and the lives of those you love this holiday season and throughout the coming new year.

Bill Wilds

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thank you from the Kairos Team

As one 20-year-old at my Kairos table was wolfing down one of the 1,531 dozen cookies, he asked where they came from.  “People made them for the participants of this Kairos weekend.”  The look on his face when it began to dawn on him what people he had never met had done. The placemats that the EYC and St. Andrew’s School students made had a similar effect on the Nottoway Correctional Center residents. I heard more than one person say, “Children did this for us?” 

We never know the full impact we have on others.  The 30 participants of the Kairos weekend received a measure of love they will never forget.  That love extended to the inmates who didn’t attend the weekend – each received a bag of 8 cookies. 

St. Andrew’s contributed their fair share – thank you to all who baked.  The EYC made 20 dozen.  The choir made about 50 dozen.  Special thanks to Jamey Bacon – the total from her kitchen was about 500 cookies! 

Brad Norris (with Matt Deller and Joe DuRant)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The last Sunday of the church year

The last Sunday after Pentecost, "Christ the King" in the Roman Church, is a summation of the whole church year where Jesus is proclaimed King of kings and Lord of lords.
In the Gospel lesson the nations are assembled before Jesus, our eventual judge.  It's the one where Jesus separates us according to what we did or did not do for others - "I was hungry and you gave me food..."
The placement of this story in Matthew is interesting - it's right before Jesus endures Holy Week.  It's in a PAY ATTENTION place.
What will our eventual judgment be like?  In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus paints two drastically different scenarios.  Will the Last Judgment be like the Michelangelo painting in the Sistine Chapel, or something far more forgiving?
Stay tuned!  Keep loving!  Keep trusting!
Brad Norris, Minister of Music

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Giving thanks

Dear Friends, 

When I lived in Ashland, VA, I celebrated Holy Eucharist once a month in the women’s section of the city jail.  During those services, when we got to the Prayers of the People, I invited the women to offer aloud their own petitions, and they always had a lot to say. 

 “For the special needs and concerns of this congregation,” I would prompt, and fervent prayer would rise from all corners of the room. 

“We thank you for all the blessings of this life,” I would continue…and again prayer would break out all over the room: Thank you that I woke up this morning.  Thank you for the gift of a new day.  Thank you that I am recovering from my addiction.  Thank you for my mother.  Thank you…  Thank you…  Thank you… 

By so many measures, those women had nothing.  They were incarcerated, wearing ill-fitting clothes, crammed together with strangers, enduring loneliness and uncertainty, undergoing punishment.  They were separated from family and friends.  And yet, when given a chance to name the blessings of their lives and to give God thanks for them, they could not stop talking. 

The most grateful people I have ever met were those women incarcerated in the Richmond City Jail.  They taught me a lot about perspective and privilege and giving thanks to God always and everywhere, as we pray every Sunday in the Eucharistic Prayer. 

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let us indeed thank God for all the blessings of our lives.  I pray that our lists are long…  and loud… and an inspiration to those around us. 

Blessings to each of you, this Thanksgiving and always.