Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

The Spirit Speaks in Platitudes

Monday, December 24th, 2018

Sermons can be seen as a series of cliches interspersed with anecdotes and personal reflections. This is especially true at Christmas time.

And that isn’t all bad. After all, the Christmas message is not going to be a startling revelation to most people. It’s hard to say anything new about the birth of the Christ.

And yet, thank God, the Spirit still speaks to us in the feeble words we offer at this time of year. The bright light shines, the Messiah comes to earth, the Word is made flesh and dwells among us, full of grace and truth. —J. Douglas Ousley


In the Himalayas

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Therapists refer to the holiday season as “the Himalayas.”

That is because so many of their patients encounter extreme “ups and downs” during this season. They may be positively moved one moment by the cheerful spirit of Christmas and the hopes of a new year–only to be plunged into depression as they recall the political and social conflicts of the past year.

There’s not much that can be done about these ups and downs. They come with the territory.

But we can still remember the reason for the season. If we happen to fall into a bad mood, we can remember that Christ is still incarnate in his church, and he still brings light to a dark world. Whatever we feel at the moment, we can always turn to him. —J. Douglas Ousley

Is Advent An Anachronism?

Tuesday, December 5th, 2017

As the church season of Advent begins, many clergy sermons bemoan the difficulties inherent in trying to observe a solemn and holy Advent while we are immersed in the Christmas rush.

Even more of a problem is that people are more likely to be thinking of peace and joy instead of the Last Things traditionally discussed in Advent: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Advent hymns on these themes just don’t compete with Christmas carols!

Yet the themes are not irrelevant to the world of today, where rogue nations and unpredictable leaders threaten massive conflict–where, as in Hawaii, nuclear warning systems are now in place and regularly tested.

All the more reason to worry less about how busy we are–and to think seriously about the serious questions of this and every season: Where are we going? What do we value? How will we be judged? —J. Douglas Ousley

Hopes and Fears

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

One of the historic connections Incarnation is most proud of is our relationship to perhaps the greatest clergyman of the 19th century, Phillips Brooks. One of Brooks’ brothers, Arthur was rector of Incarnation; Phillips preached his last Christmas sermon from our pulpit.

Brooks is indelibly linked with this season because he was the author of “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” When we sing that marvelous carol this Christmastime, we may pay particular attention to the words, “…the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

2016 had more than its share of global hopes and fears. And whatever we are feeling now, Brooks’ hymn reminds us that we can bring our feelings to Christ. Whatever our hopes, whatever our fears, we can bring them to the One who shares them and holds them in his heart. —J. Douglas Ousley

50 Days

Monday, January 4th, 2016

There are some Church of England parishes that keep their Christmas decorations and creche in place until February 2, the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. The thinking behind this custom is that just as we celebrate Easter with the Great Fifty Days between that feast and Pentecost, so Christmas merits its own 50-day observance.

That’s a nice thought this week as most of us return to the work grind after the holidays. At Incarnation, we will start taking the decorations down this week and will finish following the Sunday after the Epiphany (January 10), when we remember the Baptism of Jesus.

But whatever we do to observe the Incarnation of Christ, we can hardly be too grateful that God has come among us, full of grace and truth. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Light-Hearted Saint

Monday, November 30th, 2015

As Advent begins and Christmas approaches, it’s worth reminding ourselves yet again that “Santa Claus” is a folk version of a possibly-real folk Christian saint: St. Nicholas, who was known for his charity and his love of children.

It’s also worth reminding ourselves that while our Puritan founders didn’t allow Christmas to be celebrated because of its alleged frivolity, the frivolous aspects of the holiday–like visits to Santa Claus–are among the most joyous parts of the feast.

And it is a feast. The Feast of the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. A very serious holy day, true. But, at the same time, a feast to lighten the heaviest of hearts. Let us prepare our souls for the visit of the Light-Hearted Saint–and the Holy One for whom he stands. —J. Douglas Ousley

What Would Jesus Do?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Not too long ago, some Christians were wearing the letters, “WWJD.” They stood for, “What would Jesus do?”

The letters were intended to remind the wearer that, when faced with a difficult moral decision, Christians should always ask themselves what Jesus would do if he were in the same situation.

The fad has passed–and just as well. For Jesus never had to decide whether to drink and drive or whether to support hydraulic fracturing or any number of modern ethical dilemmas; the question is meaningless in those situations.

Much more important is to ask what Jesus does do. We have countless reminders of the answer to this question in the Advent and Christmas seasons when we are reminded that Jesus is a “Savior.” He has come to save us from our sins–to save us from ourselves. Jesus doesn’t save us from pain or toil or heartbreak, but he does save is from giving up in the face of pain.

“What does Jesus do?” What is Christ our Savior already doing for us? —J. Douglas Ousley