Mary – Mother of God

Luke 1:26-38

An electric anticipation fills the air as we celebrate the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. We can guess what this afternoon, evening, and tomorrow may hold; yet this morning take a deep, collective breath before plunging into Christmas. May I suggest looking to Mary, and observing (with her) how the angelic messenger of God transformed her world from the ordinary into the extraordinary? For a moment, may we too give a loving ‘Yes’ to God, and with Mary stand perplexed and pondering, “What sort of Advent greeting this may be?”

The greeting named Mary “favored one.” This title was such an existential shock to Mary she had no words in that moment. She allowed the angel to proceed with his words while humbleness took over her disposition – Again, “She pondered.” Once the angel finished his divine proclamations, revelations, and prophesies it was Mary who did not let the truth found in these statements overwhelm her. Instead of being called into Heaven, she brought Heaven to Earth with her practicality –  “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” (Didn’t see that one coming, did you angel?) It’s quite possible the angel fumbled a bit, and tried to relate, taking a different approach with his next set of sentences. Perhaps he sat down, took at deep breath, and compared Mary’s miraculous birth with her relative, Elizabeth’s. It may have been a bit of a stretch, but being a good Jewish woman, Mary might have taken the angel’s counsel of her own pregnancy, and compared it to her ancestors Sarah and Hannah. Were impossible pregnancies just something that ran in her family? Again, the answer was ‘Yes’ and in perhaps the most beautiful poetic response to any angel’s musings, Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” The scripture says that the angel simply went away (possibly relieved). The message was signed, sealed, and delivered. Mary, in that moment gave herself away to something greater than herself. She became a vessel of God – a vessel for God – a vessel to God.

Fun Fact: Mary and Pontius Pilot are the only historical persons besides Jesus who are mentioned in the Creeds of the Church. Where Pontius Pilot would later ask Jesus, “What is Truth,” not knowing that Truth was standing before him, it was Mary who held Divine Truth in her very being, birthing it into a world that desperately needed it. Perhaps this is our calling as well? Sunday after Sunday we gather here on the Lord’s Day proclaiming what we believe (credo).

“We believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son…He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate.”

What are we to do with this statement?

I think we are to ponder it in our hearts. I think we are to say ‘yes’. I think we are then called to be vessels of the truth. We are to imitate the great saint of Advent – Mary, the Mother of God. When we say Christ was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, we are reminding ourselves to purify our hearts, minds, and bodies so that God’s Spirit will be revealed through us, dare I say, birthed into being through us. Truth is able to make itself known when we say, “Let it be to me according to your word.” When we don’t do this, truth suffers under Pontius Pilate again and again and again. We hold the truth within us instead of giving it away. We allow States, Caesers, Emperors, Kings, Congress and Presidents to possess so called self-evident truths and realities, when the only reality I know of in Heaven and on Earth is Christ. Put Christ up alongside those brothers above, and they pale in comparison. They just don’t hold up. Mary knew this too. Today, choirs across the world sing her song:

He [Christ] has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

No Pontius Pilot in history has ever sung that song!

It is only by the merciful rhythm of Christ that we can even begin to dance to this music, to experience its graceful melodies, to have the eternal laugh of Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary. What God calls us into during the seasons of Advent and Christmas is none other than history itself. God invites the credo of our hearts to be made manifest in his creation: Spirit with flesh, and flesh with Spirit. When this happens, new music is made. We get to play jazz because we have learned the truth, and the truth has set us free. This is Mary’s eternal song: Playing jazz with a people named Israel, its prophets, and its future apostles all the while Christ is being brought forth, truth is being brought forth, beauty is being brought forth, goodness is being brought forth and we are caught up in the moment, caught up in the history of it all.

As the music of Advent fades, and we turn up the volume on Christmas, may God’s truth reverberate throughout history. The true song is the song of Mary. The true reality is Christ. The true vessel is the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We say, proclaim and believe these scandalous things each and every week (for some of us, each and every day). May we use the music of this season to wake us up to these gifts that we have been given so that we may share them with a worn and weary world crying out the eternal question of Pontius Pilate, “What is Truth?” God has an answer to this question. This afternoon, this evening, and for the next 12 days may we celebrate this eternal truth who has come into the world.

Maranatha. Come, Lord Jesus.


The Priority of Christ

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away”.
~Mark 13:31

A Theology of Advent
Things that are eternal – by definition – cannot pass away. Everything else does and will as Jesus reminds us today. In the opening lines of John’s Gospel, we are reminded that “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was made flesh”. The Word Made Flesh is none other than Christ, the eternal one. All things that were created were created through the Word. Put differently, all things were created through Christ. Heaven and earth were created through Christ; yet, they too will pass away. Why? Because God’s crea-tion can never be God – the Crea-tor. If we believe otherwise – that the created order is the same as God – we would be considered pagans. Instead, we are Christians, and the priority of Christ is front and center because Christ (the Word of God) will not pass away. With this beautiful theology and divine truth, we begin our journey through another season of Advent. Without this truth, we are lost in the dark – left to our faltering senses.

The Cycle of Darkness is a Cycle of Change
Darkness. This time of year there is more darkness than light. The days are short. The night is long. This too shall pass.

Change. This time of year deciduous trees shed their leaves while in the fir tree we recognize changelessness. Although these created things (i.e. light/dark; trees and their leaves) are indeed, normal; they are not eternal – so “keep awake”, says Jesus, “for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.” Isn’t that just like God; that is, to come at us suddenly? It’s been said that life happens when we are making plans. Christ coming into the world was sudden, and there were only a few who were awake enough to receive him. Christ coming into the world in the future will be similar; yet the difference is that all will see him but not all will be gathered up; therefore keep awake.

How do we keep awake? How do we acknowledge the humbling truth that heaven and earth will pass away? The appropriate response is to focus, to practice, and to live into the eternal – those eternal things that will not pass away. When we practice these eternal virtues, we awaken more and more each day. We prepare our bodies, minds, and spirits to receive the love, life, and light found in the eternal Word of God, Jesus Christ Our Lord.

So let’s stay focused on Christ today. To help us, listen to this: For centuries the Church has traditionally found the symbols of “priest”, “prophet” and “king” as appropriate archetypes for describing Christ and his priority. Bishop Robert Barron in his new book, To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age describes the various archetypes attributed to Christ like this:[1]

Christ as Priest
“The priest is the one who gives right praise. That’s the Biblical way of naming who we are. What goes wrong is that we praise the wrong things. Augustine said that too, that we end up worshipping creatures rather than the Creator. We become priests of the wrong god. From bad worship flows everything else, meaning the disintegration of the self, sin, violence, and so on.

Getting us back on track means we’re like Adam before the Fall…[Adam]’s a priest because he’s in the attitude of right worship. [One of the paintings] on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel [has] Eve [coming] forth from the side of Adam…she has her hands folded in an attitude of prayer. That’s humanity before the Fall; it knew how to worship right”.

Christ as Prophet
“Before the Fall, Adam names the animals, that is to say he catalogs them. He names them according to the Logos [Word] that God has placed in them. [Adam]’s not making up their meaning, he’s recognizing (re-cognizing, to use the term of Joseph Ratzinger). He’s thinking again what’s already been thought into them [by God], so he’s a prophet. From that prophecy, correct speech flows, the whole range of literature and science, philosophy, everything.”

Christ as King
“The idea of king is that Adam…is made to expand out. Now that Eden’s okay, let’s move out and turn the whole world into a place of right praise. What it gives you is the whole vocation of Israel. [Israel] is a priestly people, a prophetic people that knows the divine truth, and then, finally, a kingly people that will go on the march.

These vocations of priest, prophet, and king were not fully achieved until Christ, Barron argues. Barron says, [Christ], in his own person, is the place of right praise. It’s humanity turned to divinity. He’s not just the speaker of truth, he is the [Word] incarnate, so he’s prophet in the full sense. Then he’s king, because he’s going on the march to ‘Edenize’ the world, to ‘Christify’ the world. What goes wrong with us…is that we get all three of those things wrong. We worship the wrong things, we start making up our own meaning, and then we also privatize the faith. A restored focus on Christ…is the only exit strategy from those temptations.”

Re-Order Your Life around the Priority of Christ 
Advent is the season to re-order our lives – not around ourselves – but around the eternal Word of God, that is, Jesus Christ. Doing anything else in this season deprives us of re-cognizing, or thinking again on the things that are eternal. Doing anything else puts to sleep those eternal longings that are tangibly felt and experienced during the mystery of Advent. Sure, it’s dark – but the light of Christ is eternal. Sure, things are changing – but what about the changelessness of God? Sure things are scary – but fear not, for Christ is with us. These are the teachings of Advent. These are the teachings of the Church that pour forth from the Divine Word of God – Jesus Christ.

This Advent, challenge yourself to re-organize your life around the priority of Christ coming into the world, then think on the things that are eternal. Think on, and then practice love, forgiveness, humility, patience, hope, joy, gratefulness, and compassion. Practicing these virtues of the Spirit helps prepare your hearts to keep awake, even as the rest of the world has fallen asleep dreaming of the wrong gods.

[1]          This section describing Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King is a full quotation from the book, To Light a Fire on the Earth: Proclaiming the Gospel in a Secular Age, Robert Barron with John L. Allen, Jr., Image Publishing, New York, 2017, pgs. 101-102.

Crack in the Wall: Guest Blogger – Lindsay Layton

The below essay is from a parishioner at St. Julian’s Episcopal Church in Douglasville, GA where I serve as priest. I asked this parishioner, Lindsay Layton, if she would write down her thoughts and feelings after she shared these with me after service this past Sunday. Some would consider her thoughts on a crack in the church sanctuary a hindrance or barrier to worship; but what Lindsay reminds me of is that one person’s hindrance is another person’s glance towards salvation. Thank you, Lindsay, for taking the time to write, to reflect, and to remember. Enjoy. ~FB

The sanctuary of my church is very beautiful and orderly. There is a perfectly centered communion table adorned with an ornate tapestry tablecloth and symmetrically-placed candles, all surrounded by a symmetrical communion rail. Care is taken so that two fresh flower arrangements complement the colors of the tablecloth. The flowers arrive from the florist on Saturday morning, and I witness our altar guild members placing them on their symmetrical pedestals, and stepping back to enjoy the view. Because I am standing there, I am directed to move this one an inch to the left…(no that is too far) … (back the other way a half millimeter) …(rotate the arrangement another 2-1/2 degrees clockwise) … (there, that is better)!


Behold! Centered high on the wall behind this display is a large and magnificent circular window, completely filled with the cross of Christ dividing the window into four quadrant-shaped window panes, unequal but still orderly and symmetrical. There are tall and majestic trees visible through this window. As we worship we can commune with God in nature as we witness the foliage responding to the changing seasons, and as we witness dark and light as the Earth rotates on its axis.

All of this is good. Episcopalians thrive when order abounds, not only by recognizing beauty in their orderly surroundings, but in their own proper behavior during their worship services. Perhaps maybe a little bit of spontaneity to defy our rigidity! But not too much to upset the apple cart of our proper decorum! Orderliness is next to Godliness!

Alas! There is a long vertical crack in the drywall in the sanctuary of my church. This crack starts near the top edge of our large Cross-filled circular window about 8 inches to the right of center. Due to the steeply peaked ceiling, this crack is able to extend up the wall to a magnificent height. The juxtaposition of the imperfection that this crack creates in such an otherwise orderly sanctuary holds profound theological and spiritual significance for me. “I belong!” For the years I have worshipped at St. Julian’s, my eyes are drawn to this crack, and I am reminded of my own brokenness. I am also reminded of the brokenness of God, how God freely chose to be broken through incarnation because of the immensity of His love for us. And I am overwhelmingly filled with the love of God, and with tears and gratefulness!

The crack in the wall is also right of center. Being a person who tends to be left of center in most things, this crack reminds me that God is not created exclusively in my own image: that God can be found in the center and both right and left of center. This reminds me to not settle into a fundamentalist position pertaining to left-centeredness.

Oh, you humble crack! I honor your place in our sanctuary. You have done a glorious job of holding God in your crevasses, of reminding us that God is to be found in all places, low and high. God is truly in the cracks (and crackheads) of our world. Our broken world is one of sheer beauty in all of its manifestations!

I glanced through the minutes of the last vestry/business meeting. It appears that the vestry is determined to reestablish beauty and order in our sanctuary. It is deemed, dear crack, that you have got to go. My beloved crack, I will miss you! I grieve for you. I believe that you are beloved of God as well, just as God loves all creation. Being on the fringe of this church with no hope of influencing policy, I feel powerless to save you. But maybe, with God’s grace, your death could be delayed by having you fall a little lower on the priority hatchet list. That would give us more time to say good-bye to one another.


As you know, dear crack, there is much brokenness in this world and you and I both are to be about the work of Christ. Perhaps unbeknownst to you, you have lived out your life in service to Christ; I am witness to this. You remind me to live for Christ as well. And just as Christ ultimately gave his entire life for us, I have to be willing to allow you to do the same. I will remember you as long as I live. Come, Holy Spirit, that I may give my life more fully for Christ as well. The wall will be “repaired” one day soon, but I will look upon your ghost and remember.