Sunday, April 24, 2011

Resurrection and Homelessness: St. Demetrios Antiochian Catholic Church

I do not solicit donations on this site. However, on rare occasions I call attention to need and commend certain ministries to your prayers. This is such a time.

St. Demetrios Antiochian Catholic Church is a small Orthodox parish that intentionally located in the heart of one of the poverty pockets of inner city Knoxville some seven years ago to serve the homeless and working poor. These good men and women have been faithful in difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances, providing food, fellowship, and the Gospel to the many of the poor, alcoholic, drug addicted, and frequently incarcerated members of the community.

Among the other challenges facing such a minstry is the almost constant lack of adequate funding. The few, stable, working parishoners simply cannot bear the full financial burden and those served by the church are in no financial condition to contribute. St. Demetrios has always depended on the generosity of those in other churches or in no church at all who feel their work is important in showing Christ to a broken world. The worsening economy has taken a heavy toll on this good work, however. Contributions are fewer than in past years and are not adequate to allow St. Demtrios to fulfill its financial obligations of rent, utilities, and ministry expenses. The clergy have exhausted themselves physically and financially and the need is now severe. In a few days, the church will find itself homeless, unless significant contributions arrive.

I would like to commend this ministry to your prayers. And, if you feel led by God to make a financial contribution you may contact the bishop, Victor Mar Michael, at the following address:

St. Demetrios Antiochian Catholic Church

2001 Middlebrook Pike

Knoxville, TN 37921

The work is good, the people Godly, and the need urgent. What is needed is a moment of resurrection. As we have proclaimed many times this day:

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Hristos Voskrese

It is an old and simple tale, familiar in many forms, almost certainly apocryphal. Yet it is worth the telling again, for it is deeply true.

It is the 1920s in Communist Russia. A minor Party functionary has been dispatched to a small town to close its Orthodox church. He gathers the entire populace in the square and for hours rails against the faith, demonstrating conclusively that its doctrines are false, its miracles – particularly the Resurrection – are lies, and it canons oppressive. The Party is the way forward; to the Party belongs the future. Satisfied with his commanding performance, the official prepares to leave when the town’s old priest rises and asks to address the people. Dismissively, the official grants him two minutes – not a second more. “I will not need that long,” says the priest. “I have only two words.”

The priest mounts the podium, faces the people, crosses himself in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and in a loud voice proclaims to the crowd, “Hristos voskrese (Christ is risen)!” Hearing the words which had been proclaimed for a thousand years in all their churches, the people stand as one and shout, “Voistinu voskrese (He is risen indeed)!”

The church has been speaking this truth to power from the moment the stone rolled away from the tomb and Christ strode forward trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. Let us take our place in this long line of proclamation and confess, not only with our lips but in our lives:

Hristos voskrese.
Voistinu voskrese.

Christos anesti.
Alithos anesti.

Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Holy Saturday: Rejoice, O Adam

You, O Adam, are become unto us as Egypt,
for in you were we sold into bondage,
in you did we know a harsh taskmaster,
a stubborn and heart-hardened Pharaoh,
in you did sin bind us and death strike us down.

Your firstborn son, O Adam, was not flesh and blood, but death:
his birthright your offspring,
his inheritance Hades.
To him did we all go down and make obeisance.
To him were we all enslaved.

But God came to Horeb, O Adam,
and there appeared in the womb of the Virgin –
a bush burning but not consumed,
a womb bearing but undefiled,
holy ground on which God spoke his name in flesh and blood.

I am the God of your father –
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.
I have surely seen the oppression of my people in Egypt,
and I know their sorrows.
So I have come, O Adam; I will deliver them, O Egypt.

Behold, O Adam, the Paschal Lamb –
the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – comes to you.
Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Let my people go.
Harken not to this word, O Death, and harden your heart, O Sin,
that the Lord may strike you with the rod of his power.

Look now, O Adam; see the Lamb slain,
high and lifted up on the tree of life, blood staining doorposts and lintels.
Now is judgment come upon you, O Egypt,
now is the rod of iron shattered,
now are the chains rent asunder.

Woe to your firstborn son, O Adam,
for death has come upon death and the sea of Hades is parted
as a curtain rent from top to bottom.
A way is made through the sea, through the veil,
for all your free children are led by cloud and fire, by wind and Spirit.

Rejoice in this Passover, O Adam,
for you, too, are set free
and made in Him a land of promise.
You are not left desolate but are taken by the hand
and led forth in triumphal procession.

Rejoice in this Passover, O Adam,
for death is trampled down by death,
bondage is bound, and Hades is despoiled.
Rejoice in this Passover, O Adam, for the Lamb has paid the debt of your sin,
and by his blood delivered your faithful children.

[I commend to your reading a reflection for Holy Saturday by St. Epiphanios of Salamis posted at Full of Grace and Truth: Christ's Descent Into Hades.]

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

For They Do Not Know What They Do

32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:32-34a, NKJV).

These words of Jesus puzzle me: they do not know what they do. But surely, no matter how we try to rehabilitate him, Judas knew that he was betraying a good and holy man into the hands of evil and violent men, all for the sake of thirty pieces of silver. Surely, Pilate knew, even as he washed his hands of the whole Jesus affair, that he was signing the death warrant of an innocent man, all for the sake of political expediency. Surely, Peter knew, even before the cock crowed, that his words of denial were lies told for the sake of personal safety: he did know the man and he did know his own cowardice in that crucial moment. What then can Jesus’ words mean: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do”?

Could they mean this: that the scope and impact of sin go far beyond our ability to know and understand? Might it be that my sin – no matter how trivial it seems – further subjects all creation to futility ( cf Rom 8:19-25) and makes me complicit in earthquake, tsunami, famine, drought and all unnatural “natural disasters”? Might it be that my sin – no matter how trivial it seems – cedes spiritual territory in the Kingdom of God to the Rebel and Enemy and makes me complicit in the lies he spreads and the snares he sets, makes me complicit in the sum total of evil in the world? Might it be that my sin – no matter how trivial it seems – ripples both forward and backward in time and makes me complicit in the Holocaust and the Rwandan Genocide and in all such unspeakable acts that yet may occur? I do not know, and that is precisely the point: I do not know. God alone – the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – knows the full weight and scope and impact of my sin. And so he prayed, for me no less than for those who crucified him on that great and terrible day, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

I am a sinner; that I know. But, in the eyes of the law – really, any reasonable human law – my sins do not rise to the level of capital crimes. The death penalty is not even on the table. And yet, the cross proclaims otherwise. My sins, judged trivial by the courts of human justice and popular opinion – and, God forgive me, even by myself – caused our Lord Jesus to spread out his arms on the hard wood of the cross. My sin resulted the in capital punishment of God incarnate; I am guilty of deicide. I had no idea. I did not know. And that, again, is precisely the point. And so Jesus prayed, for me no less than for those who crucified him on that great and terrible day, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

While ignorance is no excuse, I suspect it is a great mercy. The 1928 Book of Common Prayer contains these lines in the Eucharistic prayer of confession:

ALMIGHTY God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Maker of all things, Judge of all men; We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, Which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, By thought, word, and deed, Against thy Divine Majesty, Provoking most justly thy wrath and indignation against us. We do earnestly repent, And are heartily sorry for these our misdoings; The remembrance of them is grievous unto us; The burden of them is intolerable.

If the limited knowledge we have of our sins is “grievous unto us,” if the “burden of them is intolerable,” then how could we possibly live under the weight of full knowledge? Ignorance is surely a grace-filled bliss. Thanks be to God that we do not know what we do. We need only know that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who takes away our sins committed in ignorance. Thanks be to God that our Lord Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”

As We Forgive

‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The individualization of faith is a persistent problem in Western theology – the emphasis on the personal to the neglect of the corporate. “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?” is the prime evangelical inquiry posed to each individual. There seems to be no corporate counterpart, however: “Have you, as a church, accepted Jesus Christ as your corporate Lord and Savior?” I have never heard that question, or any equivalent, asked.

Yet, scripture surely emphasizes the corporate as much as it does the individual. The narrative structure of the salvation story is corporate. God forms a family from Abraham and a people for himself and works cosmic salvation through Israel. Jesus comes preaching not personal salvation but the citizenship in the Kingdom of God. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit breathes life into individuals to form the church. The triune nature of God and of salvation history is inherently corporate.

St. Paul champions the corporate and unapologetically situates the individual within the corporate context of the church, as this extended selection from 1 Corinthians 12 shows.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it
(1 Cor 12:18-27, NRSV).

If one member suffers, all suffer together with it. Every individual action has corporate implications. Might the same hold true for sin? If one member sins, all sin together with it? I do not want to press this too far and eliminate individual responsibility, but neither do I wish to minimize the corporate effects of sin. It is simply not possible for an individual member of the body of Christ to sin without harming the entire body, without enmeshing the entire body in the consequences of that sin. Perhaps you have seen a church rent asunder by the sin of an individual, making corporate and public what was thought to be individual and private?

If sin is ultimately a corporate affair, then, forgiveness must also be corporate. If a member of the body sins against me and I refuse to forgive, then I bind that sin to the very body of which I am part. My refusal to forgive binds my brother’s sin to me and to the church of which we are both members. I cannot be forgiven if I am unwilling to forgive. Forgiveness of others is not an arbitrary prerequisite to my own forgiveness; it is the only forward into my own forgiveness. I cannot loose sin from myself by binding it to other members of the body to which I belong.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. This is not a bargain we make with God; I will forgive only so God will then forgive me. It is, rather, the very way in which God forgives. Unbinding my brother through forgiveness, looses his sin from the body and thus from me. It cannot be otherwise. In the body of Christ, nothing is purely individual – neither sin nor forgiveness. Thus, we confess our sin not only to God and not only to a priest, but to the whole body of Christ. The bidding to Confession of Sin in Morning Prayer (BCP 79) embodies this corporate aspect of confession and forgiveness:

Dearly beloved, we have come together in the presence of Almighty God our heavenly Father, to set forth his praise, to hear his holy Word, and to ask, for ourselves and on behalf of others, those things that are necessary for our life and our salvation. And so that we may prepare ourselves in heart and mind to worship him, let us kneel in silence, and with penitent and obedient hearts confess our sins, that we may obtain forgiveness by his infinite goodness and mercy. Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.

Following this bidding, we confess that we have sinned and we pray that God will have mercy on us. Through our incorporation into Christ, we become more part of one another than we can begin to imagine. Through the mercy of God, forgive this sinner please, even as I also forgive you.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sermon: 4 Lent 2011 -- Signs and Miracles

Sermon: 4 Lent 2011

(John 6:1-14)

Signs and Miracles: Abundance and Incarnation

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We now have come to the middle of our Lenten journey, a journey of prayer and fasting and almsgiving. Lent provides time and space for us to reflect on Jesus and on ourselves, on who we are and who, by God’s grace, we have yet to become. The Lenten pilgrimage is also a season of confession and repentance. And so, I will begin today with a confession of my own. I confess before God and you, my brothers and sisters, that I do not believe in miracles any longer. I once did, but I have repented of it. I mean, of course, that I do not believe in miracles as they are typically understood. In our prevailing Western culture, a miracle is a disruption of nature. A miracle is God stepping into the physical world from which he is normally absent and rarely welcome to violate the laws of nature that govern that physical world. Miracles are the creation of a people who have forgotten that God is everywhere present, filling all things. Miracles are the creation of a people who have forgotten that it is in God that we live and move and have our being. Miracles are the creation of a people who have forgotten that the sun rose this morning not because of Kepler or Newton or even because of natural law built into a clockwork universe, but because our God in his providential care spoke into the darkness once again and said, “Let there be light.” Miracles are not Christian; they are the stuff of mythology or paganism or deism, but not of Christianity. For in Christianity God is Emmanuel – God With Us – feeding the sparrows, clothing the flowers, making his sun rise on the evil and the good, and sending rain on the righteous and the unrighteous – intimately involved with every aspect of his creation. God is not absent from us. He does not need to step into the world, for his is already and always here. Christ is in our midst: he is and ever shall be.

Our faith really owns only one miracle, for truly only one miracle has occurred from the foundations of the world: the incarnation of the Word.

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. 4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14, NKJV).

The incarnation – the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us – is the only true miracle, for in the incarnation God did step into his creation from outside it. God the creator became part of his creation in a way that he was not before, and that disrupted the laws of fallen nature: the incarnate God was born of a virgin; the incarnate God was tempted in all things as we are yet without sin; the incarnate God was crucified, died, and was buried; the incarnate God rose triumphant on the third day trampling down death by death and on those in the tombs bestowing life. The incarnation is the one and only, truly Christian miracle, and everything flows from it as surely as the blood flowed from the pierced hands and feet of our God-become-flesh, as surely as the river of the water of life flows from the throne of God and of the Lamb (cf Rev 22:1).

St. John the Evangelist did not believe in miracles either, even though he saw wonder upon wonder in company with Jesus. He never uses the word “miracle” in his gospel, though some English translations impose it on him. Instead, John writes of the “signs” (semeion) that accompany Jesus’ presence. Following the changing of the water into wine at the wedding at Cana, John writes:

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him (John 2:11, NRSV).

Signs are not disruptions of nature, but are revelations of God’s presence in his creation, revelations of the glory of God in the face of Christ, given that we might believe. Signs are the inevitable result of the miracle of the incarnation, sparks scattered glowing and sizzling from the burning bush of God’s presence. If Christ is in our midst – if God is indeed among us in human form – then signs of his presence must follow.

Once John the Baptist sent two of his disciples to Jesus.

20 When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’” 21 And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight. 22 Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them (Lk 7:20-23, NKJV).

Well, of course: these are the signs that simply must follow the miracle of incarnation. When God is with us, creation is restored and men are saved and such signs point to Jesus. The signs that follow Jesus are not self-referential. They don’t point to themselves, but to something else; that is precisely what makes them signs. Signs point the way. Signs attract attention only to direct that attention to something else or to Someone else. The purpose of each healing was not merely to restore health, but to direct attention to the Healer. The purpose of each act of cleansing was not merely to restore ritual purity, but to direct attention to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The purpose of each sign was to direct attention to the miracle of the incarnation, to the miracle of God-With-Us, and to our incarnate God’s redemptive purpose among us.

One of the clearest signs of God-With-Us is abundance. When Israel left Egypt at the first Passover, they left as newly freed slaves with a slave mentality still firmly intact, a mentality of lack: lack of power, lack of freedom, lack of security, lack of rest. The grumbling into which they often lapsed during this period is a reflection of the lack they had known and of their uncertainty about Moses’ and his God’s ability to provide.

When the forces of pharaoh pursued Israel to the Red Sea, Israel cried out to Moses:

“Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? 12 Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness” (Ex 14:12b-14, NKJV).

We lack power. We lack security. But Moses replied, “The LORD will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace” (Ex 14:14, NKJV). The LORD is God-With-Us, and the sign of his presence is abundance of power and security.

On the fifteenth day of the second month of their freedom, Israel complained again against Moses and Aaron in the Wilderness of Sin:

“Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Ex 16:3b, NKJV).

We lack food – meat and bread. And the LORD rained bread from heaven – manna – and meat from the sky – quail – and everyone had enough. The LORD is God-With-Us, and the sign of his presence is abundance of food.

Finally, after forty years of unlearning the slave mentality of lack, Israel came to the land of promise, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land rich in grapes and olives and figs, a land of pasture for sheep. The LORD is God-With-Us, and the sign of his presence is abundance. When the LORD is God-With-Us, no one goes hungry; there is enough and to spare.

In this day’s Gospel another Passover is near and Israel gathers on a mountainside around the prophet – not Moses this time, but Jesus of Nazareth. They are hungry; they lack meat and bread. When Jesus proposes that his disciples feed them, Philip reminds him that they also lack money. Andrew snags a little boy’s lunch – five barley loaves and two fish – but what is that among so many? We lack food, Jesus – meat and bread – and we lack money with which to buy.

And so the stage is set for the great proclamation: God is with us, and the sign of his presence is abundance. When God is with us, no one goes hungry; there is enough and to spare.

“Make the people sit down,” is all Jesus says. Then he takes the loaves, gives thanks, and distributes them to the people, and then likewise with the fish: Jesus conducting a Eucharist of bread and meat.

John, who chronicles this event, wants us all to understand: this sign of abundance, like every other sign he documents, points to the one and only great miracle, the miracle of the incarnation – God is with us, in flesh and blood, in the person of this Galilean carpenter turned rabbi. One stands among us on this near Passover who is greater than Moses on that great, first Passover, for the one who stands among us is I Am. The one who stands among us giving us bread and fish is the same God who provided manna and quail to Israel. The one who stands among us brings such abundance that 12 basketsful of bread and fish remain – one for each tribe of Israel, one for each disciple of new Israel. Our God – this sign proclaims – is Emmanuel, the God of abundance, the God of leftovers.

Still, John presses the point; he will not let us miss the incarnation to which this sign of abundant bread points. He records a conversation between Jesus and the Jews just days later at the synagogue of Capernaum. Jesus says:

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. 50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” 52 The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:48-58, NKJV).

Manna and quail, bread and fish: these fill the belly and sustain physical life for a time. But, the bread which comes down from heaven – the body and blood of God incarnate – that fills the soul and sustains eternal life, abundant life through the incarnation. The manna and the barley loaves were signs of the miracle of the incarnation – God-With-Us. The Eucharist with its bread and wine is the sacramental sign of the miracle of the incarnation, a sign which proclaims that God is still with us. In the Eucharist Christ becomes incarnate in bread and wine and in those who eat and drink, and abundant life follows.

If Christ is in our midst – if God is indeed with us and among us – then signs of his presence will and must follow. If Christ is indeed incarnate – not just as a rabbi teaching on the hills of Galilee, but in the bread and wine on which we feast and in the lives of those who eat and drink – then abundance must be manifest. If Christ is with even two or three who gather in his name – if Christ is with the Church – then the Church must exhibit such signs of abundance that the world can no longer ignore the miracle of the incarnation and the redemptive work of Christ in restoring the cosmos. And what are these signs of abundance?

Worship – an abundance of worship – is a sign the world cannot easily ignore: “Come, let us sing to the Lord. Let us shout for joy to the Rock of our salvation” (Ps 95:1, BCP). Not just any worship will do, of course: certainly not worship from the lips when the heart is far from God, and certainly not worship as ritual or entertainment. No. True worship – worship in Spirit and truth, worship that gives right glory to our God and Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit – is worship that is unshaken by earthquake, worship that is not drowned by tsunami, worship that is unbowed before tyrants, worship that gives voice to all creation in praise that rises from the heart and pours from the lips in the first and natural language of mankind, the language heard in Eden before the fall: “Glory be to Thee, our God. Glory be to Thee.” This kind of worship is a sign to the world that indeed God is with us.

Love – an abundance of love – is a sign the world cannot easily ignore: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another,” Jesus said and says still (John 13:35, NKJV). Not just any love will do, of course, and certainly not the romance or lust or even the casual friendship that often pass for love. No. Love as a sign of the incarnation is love that feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, binds up the broken, welcomes the stranger, forgives the enemy, prays for the persecutor, and lays down its life – all at once or day by day – for the sake of those who hate. This kind of love is a sign to the world that indeed God is with us.

Grace – an abundance of grace – is a sign the world cannot easily ignore. Not just any grace will do, of course, and certainly not grace as mere gentility or courtesy. No. Grace as a sign of the incarnation is nothing less than the presence and activity of God. An experience of true grace wakens the world from its sleep and makes it cry out like Jacob at Bethel, “The Lord is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen 28:16b, LXX, The Orthodox Study Bible). Grace enters the pain of the world and stretches out its arms on the hard wood of the cross to share in, and as much as possible, to bear the pain of the world, bringing God’s presence into its darkest places. This kind of grace is a sign to the world that indeed God is with us.

Hope – an abundance of hope – is a sign the world cannot easily ignore. Not just any hope will do, of course, and certainly not hope that is barely disguised naïveté or rosy optimism. No. Hope as a sign of the incarnation is nothing less than stubborn and rock-solid eschatology – living in this present age with the certainty that Christ has already conquered every enemy and is even now putting the world to rights, living in this present age with the certainty that the last days have already dawned and the glorious consummation of all things is guaranteed, living in this present age with the proclamation always in our hearts and often on our lips:

Jesus Christ is Lord, and

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

This kind of hope is a sign to the world that indeed God is with us.

None of these are miracles; I do not believe in miracles. They are signs, and I do believe in signs of the one and only great miracle, the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ through which he conquered sin and death and reconciled man to God. And I do believe that, with Christ in our midst, signs of abundance will and must accompany the church – abundance of worship, abundance of love, abundance of hope, abundance of grace. These signs in the lives of broken but redeemed men and women and children will awaken the world to the glory, wonder, and power of the incarnation. Five barley loaves and two fish fed a hungry crowd. A little bread and wine can feed the world and restore the cosmos. It does not take miracles – just signs. Amen.