Wednesday, December 24, 2014

One Night, One Star, One Child - By the Reverend Karen Siegfriedt, Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek

Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:1-14; John 1:1-14     Christmas Eve/B    12/24/14
By the Rev. Karen Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA

One Night, One Star, One Child, and the course of human history was changed forever. We are here tonight to celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Light that has come into the world.  But we are also here to kindle that Light in our own hearts, so that it becomes our desire to bring about justice, dignity, and peace on earth.

About 2700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah offered his people a message of hope in a world that was very dark. We heard this message in our first reading from the Bible.  And even though Isaiah looked out at a world that was corrupt, corrosive, cruel, and confusing, he could still recognize God at work in the midst of all the darkness. He proclaimed:  “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them the light has shined.” {Is. 9:2}

At that time in history, the Assyrian Empire to the north had become very strong and was systematically taking over the whole region.  Think of ISIS on steroids.  Within a few years, the northern kingdom of Israel would no longer exist while the southern kingdom would become a resident captive.  Slavery, exile, destruction, and death loomed in the shadows and the people were very afraid.  And yet in spite of all the political maneuvering that was going on, Isaiah speaks of a time in the future when there would be a king who would lift the burden from the people’s shoulders.  This king would end war because his kingdom would be defined by peace “from this time forward and forever more.”  Many centuries later, Christians began to associate this passage with the birth of Jesus, the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, the Prince of Peace. One Night, One Star, One Child; with God, all things become possible.  However, not all of Isaiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled.

*In December of 1979, “the Iranian Foreign Ministry invited three American religious leaders to celebrate Christmas with the 53 hostages being held captive in the American Embassy of Tehran. The hostage crisis had begun on November 4th of that year, and no one had any idea how long it would last. For the hostages and their families, each day was an eternity, and Christmas Day was fast approaching.  The leaders were only allowed to meet with the hostages in groups of three or four. The Rev. William Sloane Coffin of Riverside Church first met with the Marines who had been guarding the embassy. The men took turns picking carols to sing. Coffin opened a Bible to the Gospel of Luke and passed the book around, and each read portions of the Christmas story.” {* The Rt. Rev. Mariann Budde}

Then Coffin spoke to them of the first Christmas. “It was cold,” he said, “dark, dank, and lonely.  Joseph must have been tired, Mary exhausted.”  We read, ‘There was no room for them in the inn,’ but of course, there was. There was room in the inn, but no one would move over for a poor pregnant woman….It was a terrible Christmas,” Coffin said again. “But do you see what I’m getting at?  God’s love can change no place into some place, just as the love of God changes a person who feels like a nobody into a somebody.” As he said goodbye, he said, “I know this is not a happy Christmas for you. But it might well be the most meaningful.”

The prophecy of Isaiah remains unfulfilled.  On the political front, we are still a people walking in the darkness.  ISIS, the Taliban, and Boko Haram continue to perpetrate their acts of terrorism that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.  And in our own country, racism, partisanism, and violence threaten to tear apart our communities.  Darkness continues to touch our personal lives with family quarrels, hurtful comments, resentments, rebellious children, broken relationships, fear, loneliness, economic struggles, and bereavement. Where is the hope and the promise of Isaiah?

2000 years ago in an insignificant town, in an insignificant part of the world, to an insignificant couple, a baby was born during a most difficult time in history.  “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.  The light shines in the darkness and darkness did not overcome it.” {John 1}  But this light was not one of those big explosions of light that would blind those who saw it.  It was a gentle light, a modest light that would not overwhelm or coerce.  The shepherds and the wise men noticed this light but there were many others who were unable to recognize the light as coming from God.

Many people have ignored the light that had come into the world while a few have tried to extinguish the light, preferring to perpetuate the darkness.  “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God.”{John 1:12}  It is upon the shoulders of these children of God, (people like you and me), that the hope and the promise of Isaiah rest.

The “Light” in these passages of course is a metaphor that suggests the presence of God, the presence of grace, mercy, and peace.   And so each year at Christmastide, during the darkest time of year, when the days are short and the nights are long, we make a special effort to re-kindle the light through our acts of generosity, goodwill, prayer, and service to others.  We decorate our homes with candles and lights, sing Christmas carols about Christ coming among us, and we share with others our love and hospitality.  This is only a glimmer of what is possible when the children of God commit to following in the footsteps of Jesus, placing compassion at the center of their lives.

The child that was born in a manger in Bethlehem some 2000 years ago, grew up to be a man and gave all that he was and all that he had to show us the pathway to God, the pathway of righteousness and peace.  He asked certain things of his followers.  We, who claim allegiance to him tonight, are bound to listen and to follow in his light so that the promise of peace on earth can be realized.

And maybe during our lifetime, we will be able to make a significant change in the world and maybe we won’t.  But one thing is for sure:  If we walk in the Light, we are the ones who will be changed.  And if we are changed, so will the trajectory of human history. “God’s love can change no place into some place, just as the love of God changes a person who feels like a nobody into a somebody.” {W. S. Coffin}

One Night, one Star, one Child; and “the Word became flesh and lived among us and we have seen his glory, full of grace and truth.” {John 1}  Glory to God in the highest and peace to God’s people on earth!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"Red Thread Circle" starts December 18 in Pioneer

An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet, regardless of time, place or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.     
~Ancient Chinese Proverb

a new monthly gathering at

Serenity Center 
in Pioneer

Starting in December
we are creating space to gently explore Soulful Terrain
 ~ Rio Abajo Rio ~
(river beneath the river)*
*from Women Who Run With the Wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Each month the Red Thread Circle will... 
  • explore a Soul-awakening theme or topic
  • reflect & record personal insights
  • create a community of like-minded women
When we cut off our
Soulful Self we lose our vitality.
Uncover buried treasures &
bring those gems into the light.
Let them Sparkle!

Our first circle offers personal space during hectic holiday schedules.
Thurs, Dec 18th
Serenity Center
26600 Meadow Drive, Pioneer 

209-295-2003 to register 
$10 suggested donation

facilitated by Wendy Ward
support for women ready to live in alignment
with who they are and deeply desire to be
Mermaid Muse
Mermaid Muse

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sermon: Rejoice Always! By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek

Reading:  Thessalonians 5:16-24       Gaudete Sunday     Advent3/B

This year, a Christmas commercial sponsored by Wal-Mart has been aired on the television.  It has a cute jingle.  The basic message is that if we have a little bit more stuff, then it we will experience more joy this Christmas.  The ad goes like this:  “A little more tree, a little more snow, a couple more bows, another dozen cookies, a little more tinsel, a few more pair of tights, another nut cracker, another circuit breaker, another set of Legos, and a few more presents to stuff the stockings”…all this supposedly leads to a little more joy for Christmas.

Perhaps you have been influenced by such advertisements in the past and have bought bigger, better, and more interesting presents to make your children happier.  And maybe for a short time, your children or family experienced a little more happiness.  But how long did it last?  Joy is different from happiness.  While happiness depends on external circumstances, joy is based on our relationship with God.  Joy is not the absence of sorrow but the presence of God.  So when times are tough, joy can still be experienced. Joy cannot be purchased at Wal-Mart (or any other place for that matter) because it is a free gift that comes to us when we are deeply connected to the Spirit of God.  What I would like to talk about today is joy.  Joy is the mark of a Christian.  Joy is the final word in Christianity.

During the 13th century, Francis of Assisi broke with family tradition and set out on a new course to deepen his relationship with Christ by serving the poor.  On Christmas Eve, in a cave outside the town of Creccio Italy, Francis set up a live nativity scene. There in a manger on a pile of hay, he wrapped a tiny baby, with strips of cloth, warmed by the hot, steamy breath of a half dozen cows and sheep. Word went out to the people of the town and they arrived carrying torches and candles. One of the friars began celebrating Mass while Francis himself gave the sermon. What people noticed the most however, was Francis, filled with innocent delight and joy, experiencing the scene with all of his senses.  It wasn’t enough for him to simply remember a few biblical passages that acknowledged the birth of Jesus or sing a few carols.  He wanted to enter into the full experience of Christmas, becoming one with Christ as symbolized in a manger, and celebrating the good news that had come into the world.  I can imagine Francis kissing the baby, embracing the cows, rubbing his face in the fleece of the sheep, while singing praises to God for the Light that had come into the world.  Perhaps this is the way to celebrate Christmas, with joy, uniting our hearts to the heart that beats at the center of the universe.  Think about experiencing this kind of joy the next time you set up your own crèche scene.

Francis made it perfectly clear that one of the main reasons he experienced deep joy (in spite of giving up all his worldly goods) was because he walked away from the things in life that could have stolen his joy.  He could have inherited his father’s successful cloth business, living comfortably, making lots of money at the expense of others and their well-being.  But Francis wasn’t a businessman and he cared more about people than money. Unlike his father who travelled, accumulated wealth, and who searched for happiness outside himself, Francis knew at a deep level that that kind of happiness was only temporary.  And what Francis wanted was something permanent that could only come from an abiding relationship with God.  It makes us think about our own search for happiness and what is really important.  So what do you need to walk away from that is sapping your joy?  Maybe on this Gaudete Sunday it is time to take another look at our unexamined expectations, life-style habits, or ways of walking in this world that are sapping our joy.  Once we are clear about what those obstacles are, we need to walk away from them into the arms of Christ.

One of the chief barriers to joy is that we keep trying to control our lives and our destinies with little acknowledgment or embrace of a Power greater than ourselves.  Trying to over-control our lives and manufacture happiness only leads to frustration, sadness, and anger.  Francis taught that joy comes from abandoning ourselves in the hands of God.  This kind of submission to God ultimately connects us to a life that is deep and passionate.  Joy cannot be sustained by the pleasures of the world, because those pleasures are not sustainable.  They are only temporary.  Joy is sustained by seeking the abundant life that Christ offers us.  Without joy, our lives are diminished.

So where can we begin establishing a life of joy?  I think today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica can offer us some insights.  Thessalonica was a successful harbor town during the 1st century, just north of Greece.  It was the capital of the Roman Provence of Macedonia. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is the oldest writing in the New Testament.  Its underlying theme addresses how Christians are to live in expectation of Christ’s return.   It is a good question and remains relevant even today.  How should we live?  How do we remain faithful?  Are there ways to increase our joy?  Paul’s prescription is simple and direct:  “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1Thess.5)

This letter was written to a group of newly baptized Christians, living in a society that was hostile to their faith, often suffering persecution and hardship.  And yet Paul tells them to rejoice always.  What a challenge and yet what possibilities! I think rejoicing is a habit that we can learn even when times are tough.  Rejoicing begins with noticing our blessings or other people’s blessings and then giving thanks.  I have been following a friend on face book who has made it her Advent discipline to take a photo each day of God’s in-breaking into our world like a rainbow, a sunrise, a group of teenagers having a good time.  Rejoicing is easier if we remain in the present moment, savoring that moment with gratitude.  After my devotions on Saturday morning, I prepared our living room for Gaudete Sunday, strategically placing pink candles around the room.  While doing so, I noticed a rose that I had plucked before the rainstorm on Thursday.  It is a beautiful dark pink rose, opening its center to reveal what seems like hundreds of petals.  I stopped to smell the rose.  Its fragrance delighted my senses.  When was the last time you stopped to smell the roses and rejoice in what God has given you?

“Rejoice and give thanks in all circumstance” says Paul.  Gratitude is like a flashlight.  It lights up what is already there.  You don’t necessarily have anything more or different, but suddenly you can actually see what is.  And because your eyes are open to what is, you no longer take it for granted.  “If the only prayer you ever said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice.”  (Meister Eckhart) Gratitude helps us shift the focus from ½ empty to ½ full.  Giving thanks squelches that tendency to focus on what we don’t have rather than what we do have.  When we feel grateful, our receptors are wide open to receive the abundance that is available to us.  As we learn to give thanks in all circumstances, overtime it will gradually become the natural rhythm of our heart, a rhythm strong enough to hold the suffering that afflicts us.

Rejoice always…give thanks in all circumstances…pray without ceasing.  This is the three-legged stool that Paul offers the congregation in Thessalonica as a pathway to joy.  “Prayer is responding to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” (BCP 856)  Imagine if we could develop a reputation as a praying congregation, known for its commitment to pray without ceasing?

How might this transform us as well as have a significant impact on the soul of Amador County?  There are so many ways to pray throughout the day.  Sometimes we incline our mind towards joy through adoration and praise.  Sometimes our prayers reach out to loving others through the prayer of petition.  During this year’s Advent Program as well as at the vestry retreat, some of us paired up with a prayer partner, making a commitment to pray for them and their concerns over a period of time.  Many of you are devoted people of prayer who pray for those in our parish facing an illness or a loss.

Oblation is another kind of prayer that has to do with giving.  Our recent pledge drive was an opportunity for you to experience the prayer of Oblation-giving generously for the needs of the church and the world.  Some of you embrace the prayer of penitence, letting go of past hurts, forgiving others, and being contrite for things done or left undone.  And finally, for all of you who are here today, you are engaged in corporate prayer, joining together as a community of faith in Holy Communion, singing praises to God, and participating in the prayers of the people.  Any time we love others and love ourselves, we are actually praying, uniting our hearts to God who is at the center of our being.

Today is truly a time to rejoice, to pray, and to give thanks for the great gift of God’s Word made flesh who came to dwell among us and who will surely come again. This is what it means to prepare our hearts for Christmas.  This is the path to a life of joy and meaning.  So rejoice and be glad in it for the Light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.