Readings for Sunday are here.
The Epistle for this week is from James. It is not a letter that we hear very often. James seems to be writing to counteract a belief that had grown from some of Paul's writings about grace. People took Paul's words to mean that Christians did not have to do anything. Jesus life, death and resurrection had handed them the keys to the car and that meant they did not have to learn how to drive responsibly and take care of the car. It is true as Paul says that we cannot earn grace by our deeds but it is also true that we show that we are followers of Christ and recipients of his grace by how we act towards one another. In first chapter of the letter of James:
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
Actions are the reply to John that Jesus gives. John, is in prison - having spent his whole life devoted to God and preaching the coming Messiah. In what I think is one of the most poignant moments in the Bible, John sends his followers to ask Jesus: "Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?" Have I given my life for the real thing or was I totally wrong? he seems to ask. Jesus responds by telling him to look at what is happening - "the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."
This is incarnation, the Word made flesh -- God in our midst revealed in the actions of those who follow Christ. I started a new blog this week called How beautiful...", also known as "good news walking." I wanted a place to record all the good stories of what The Episcopal Church and other churches in the Anglican Communion are doing. The secular news is all about our dramas and Christians behaving badly. Every Tuesday I put up the news for Episcopal Cafe. As I scan the internet and look at news feeds I find wonderful deeds being done by our part of the Body of Christ. Children and youth and adults living their faith by feeding the hungry, lobbying for fair laws, seeking justice, visiting prisoners, raising funds for mosquito nets for those in areas of malaria. So I decided that I would put these on my new blog. The first article is about Bishop Jenkins of Louisiana. He has become a champion for the poorest of the poor suffering in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His article this week is about the housing crisis and the lack of will to address these needs. Many in our diocese have gone to the Gulf Coast to rebuild homes. Others have given generously to Episcopal Relief and Development. These are the stories I want to highlight. There is enough bad news out there.
As I reflect on our lessons today and the wonderful song of Mary I see that all of them call us to look at the results of our faith. We can have a perfect belief system that we can preach on all day but if there is no action - it is an empty faith.
Isaiah tells of the signs of holiness on earth.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Jesus reassures John as he points out the signs of good news.
James in his letter admonishes us:
Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.
Our example is Jesus and all those in every generation who have spoken up for the poor and the marginalized of society - the widows and orphans. Rather than grumble about what others are doing or not doing we are called to live out our faith in our daily relationships with one another. Acting for the good of all whenever we have the opportunity. Mostly it will be in small ways - but for some it will come as a great leap of faith.
Today I received this letter in my email - usually I delete them but I found this one spoke to our readings - especially James.
Letter from Jesus about Christmas (slightly edited for Episcopalians)
It has come to my attention that many you are upset that folks are removing My name from the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year -- it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually the time of pagan festival. Of course, I do appreciate being remembered at any time.
How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, here's how: GET ALONG WITH EACH AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
Now, having said that let Me go on... If it bothers you that the town where you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen in your own front yard and put out your own Nativity scene. If all of My followers did that, there wouldn't be any need for a display in the town square because there would already be so many all around your community.
Stop worrying about the fact that people are calling the tree a holiday tree, instead of a Christmas tree. It was I who made ALL trees. You can remember Me any time you see ANY tree. Decorate a grapevine if you wish: I actually spoke of that one in a teaching, explaining who I am in relation to you and what each of our tasks were. If you have forgotten what I said, look up John 15: 1- 8.
If you want to give Me a present in remembrance of My birth here is my wishlist.
1. Instead of writing protest letters objecting to the way My birthday is being celebrated, write letters of love and hope to soldiers away from home. They are terribly afraid and lonely this time of year. I know, they tell Me all the time.
2. Visit someone in a nursing home. You don't have to know them personally. They just need to know that someone cares about them.
3. Instead of writing the President to complain about the wording on the White House cards this year, why don't you write and tell him that you'll be praying for him and his family this year. Then do it! It will be nice hearing from you again.
4. Instead of giving your children a lot of gifts you can't afford and they don't need, spend time with them. Tell them the story of My birth, and why I came to live with you down here. Hold them in your arms and remind them that I love them.
5. Pick someone that has hurt you in the past and forgive him or her.
6. People in your town will attempt to take their own lives this season because they feel so alone and hopeless. Since you don't know who they are, give everyone you meet a warm smile -- it could make the difference.
7. Instead of nit-picking about what retailers call this holiday, be patient with the people who work for them. Give each a warm smile and a kind word. Even if they aren't allowed to wish you a "Merry Christmas" that doesn't keep you from wishing them one.
8. If you really want to make a difference, support organizations like Episcopal Relief and Development, who are working for better lives for refugees, prisoners, people suffering from diseases that are easily curable with a small amount of money, giving tools and resources so people can support their families.
9. There are individuals and families in your town who will not only have no "Christmas" tree, but also no presents to give or receive. If you don't know them, take some food and gifts to a charity who will make the delivery for you.
10. Finally, if you want to make a statement about your belief in and loyalty to Me, then behave like a Christian. Don't do or say things that you wouldn't do or say in My presence. Remember -- When you speak badly of my children, you are speaking badly of Me; when you treat each other badly, you do the same to Me. Let people know by your words and actions that you are one of Mine.
Don't get so worked up about what you think are slights about me that occur in the material world. I am God and I can take care of Myself. I am not diminished by those things.
Instead, simply love Me and do what I have asked you to do. I'll take care of all the rest. Check out the list above and get to work; time is short. I'll help you, but the ball is now in your court. And do have a most blessed Christmas with all those whom you love.