Monday, December 30, 2019

December 29, 2019
Christmas Sunday
The Holy Family
(Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23)
You probably started to see the bumper stickers a month or so ago, as Advent was beginning: "Keep Christ in Christmas," “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
They are popular slogans, glimpsed on many a bumper or billboard. Certain politicians also have their own variant, as they champion legislation encouraging store clerks to say "Merry Christmas" rather than "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Holidays."
"Yes, let's enjoy Santa, Frosty the Snowman and all the other second-tier Christmas characters," is their advice. "But let's never forget the true reason for the season: the birth of Jesus Christ."
Do any of us really think, though, there's a danger of losing Jesus amidst the wrapping paper and the wreaths?
Sure, a huge, commercial holiday has just rolled over us. The retail juggernaut has little to do with the babe in the manger. But isn't his place there pretty secure, even so?
All over the country, children of church families have recently put on Christmas pageants that tell the story of the nativity. The cast of characters may vary, but always there are three individuals at the heart of the story: Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. Angels and shepherds come and go, in various numbers. Wise men may show up bearing gifts -- or, they may hold off until Epiphany. There may be an assortment of barnyard animals, either real or portrayed by kids in costume. There may even be an innkeeper to say "Sorry, no vacancy!" and slam the door.
Yet, there's one figure from the biblical narrative you'll rarely see portrayed in a children's Christmas pageant: King Herod. He's just too mean and nasty for that holy night.
It's common, on Christmas Eve, to read the story from Matthew about how wise men came to the court of King Herod, asking where they could find the child born King of the Jews. Herod, of course, was the real, live king of the Jews. But he was too crafty a politician to show his hand too soon. There was intelligence to be gathered -- and if these naïve foreigners could be enlisted as spies to lead him to this King of the Jews, so much the better.

Fortunately, the visitors from the east aren't slackers in the intelligence department. They can see right through Herod's smarmy hospitality. They return to their own country "by another way." That's where our Christmas Eve reading from Matthew typically ends.
It's only Part 1, though, of a two-part story. Nobody ever wants to read the second part on Christmas Eve, because the details are so horrific. Wise men dropping off baby presents is one thing. What comes next is rated "R" for intense violence. Not the sort of thing we want little kids to hear before heading back home to leave milk and cookies out for Santa. Visions of sugarplums could be replaced by bloody nightmares.
Herod is enraged to learn the magi have given him the slip. And so, he sends his soldiers out to commit an atrocity worthy of Hitler's SS. They are to break into every Jewish home in the region around Bethlehem, pull every male baby from the arms of their mothers and cut their little throats.
Herod was king in name only. Everyone knew that. It was the Romans who really called the shots. Herod's job was to do the imperial dirty work, subduing a rebellious colony on behalf of the emperor. That task he performed with relish.
During the course of his reign, Herod had at least nine wives and 14 children. There were probably more, but daughters' births were not always recorded. He put one of his wives, Mariamne I, on trial for adultery. Chief witness for the prosecution was Mariamne's own mother -- who, it's said, testified against her daughter only because she feared for her own life. Herod executed his wife, which led her mother to declare herself queen, charging that Herod was mentally unfit to rule. Not a wise decision on her part. Herod put her to death without a trial. Talk about a dysfunctional family!
There's more. There were two young sons remaining from Herod's marriage to Mariamne. As they grew older, the king considered them threats to his power. He sought to put them on trial for treason, but Emperor Augustus put a stop to that by ordering the sons and the father to reconcile. A few years later, Herod outmaneuvered the emperor. He sent a huge financial donation to revive the Olympic Games, something Augustus very much wanted. In exchange, the emperor allowed Herod to execute his two sons. Later, though, Augustus was heard to mutter, "I would rather be Herod's dog than Herod's son."
But that's still not all. After murdering his wife and his two sons, Herod named his eldest son, Antipater -- a child of a different mother -- the exclusive heir to the throne. But Herod never could tolerate a rival. He grew jealous of his latest crown prince. He put him on trial for treason like the others and had him executed. The emperor was so appalled that he refused to allow any of Herod's remaining sons to claim the title of king -- although three of them would eventually rule as "tetrarchs," each governing one-third of his father's realm.
Thirty-three years later, one of them, Herod Antipas, would look upon Jesus at last, as he stood before him in chains, wearing a crown of thorns.
We don't know when it was, exactly, that the magi stopped by the palace to pay their courtesy call, but it was probably during this last, turbulent year of Herod's life, the year he executed his third son. Can any of us doubt, now, that this man was capable of dispatching soldiers to kill babies?
Jesus, of course, escaped that fate. An angel of the Lord came to Joseph in a dream, warning him to take his little family and flee to Egypt. There they probably settled in the thriving Jewish quarter of Alexandria, a great center of learning. It's possible Jesus spent his early years there and learned Talmud from the distinguished rabbis of that city.
Surely some of us find it troubling that God sends an angel to rescue Jesus, but let’s those other little babies die. It's another facet of the thorny theological problem we face so often in this world: the problem of evil, the question of why a just and all-powerful God allows human suffering to take place. There's no easy answer to that philosophical question, but King Herod does seem well-suited to play the role of evil incarnate.
So, what's the takeaway?
Herod's important to the Christmas story because he helps us remember what kind of world we live in and why this world still needs a savior. Even if we all had a fine Christmas, there are plenty of neighbors on this planet whose lives are tainted with suffering -- people for whom the least of their worries is whether or not they managed to get into the Christmas spirit.
What about those hordes of desperate Syrian refugees who have swelled the population of Europe -- and the small trickle who have been so fortunate as to be resettled in the United States or Canada? A significant number of these refugees are Christians, members of some of the oldest churches in the world. They're wondering if they will ever return to the land of their ancestors -- and whether those ancient churches will ever again resound with Christian hymns. What kind of Christmas did they have this year? Need we say something about those camped out on the Mexican and USA border?
Then there are those who are afflicted by poverty here in this land. Sure, lots of our neighbors "had themselves a merry little Christmas," but a great many more find themselves far removed from the vision of perfection and peace portrayed on so many sparkly Christmas cards.
Jesus didn't come into the world to bring us a mid-winter festival of peace and contentment. He wasn't born into a placid Christmas-card scene, but rather into the sort of world where families wander homeless and corrupt tyrants rule by murder and deceit.
Jesus didn't come to offer respite from the world. He came to save it.
As for us -- his Christmas-weary disciples -- we have a role in carrying out that mission, using the spiritual gifts he's given us, along with whatever material resources we have at our disposal.
If we strive to keep Herod in Christmas, maybe it will be just a little easier to remember that mission.
Let us pray.
That the love, holiness and devotion of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph may be our source of inspiration and strength, especially during our challenges and sufferings. We pray to the Lord.
For broken families, that they may receive the care and compassion they need. We pray to the Lord.
That every person feels cared for and loved, as a child of God. We pray to the Lord.
For people all over the world who are engaged in peaceful resistance of corrupt political regimes, may they be strengthened in their work for peace and justice. We pray to the Lord.
For refugees and those seeking asylum, may they be granted safe passage and hospitable welcome in a new land. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.                  
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.    
God of truth, even in this age our lives are complicated by “Herods” and difficulties, and so, we come longing for the peace that only you can provide. We seem so often to be tossed to and fro, blown about by every wind except that of your own Holy Spirit. Be pleased to dwell here this day, to receive our worship and our praise. Linger long, and speak the truth to us in love, that we may come to the unity of faith and to the knowledge of the full stature of Christ. Holy One, we have been made by you and for you and thus, worship is our calling and our destiny. It is in worship that we rouse ourselves from the cares of this life to behold your glory, your beauty and your majesty, to contemplate your mighty power and sovereignty, to meditate on your acts of creation and re-creation, to experience the renewal of forgiveness and mercy and to express our devotion and commitment to you. Commune with us now, we pray, that our worship might be an acceptable offering to you while it realigns us with your will and purposes for our lives and our world. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

December 24, 2019
Nativity of our Lord
(“Mass at Midnight”)
(Isaiah 9:1-6; Luke 2:1-14)
What’s your favorite Christmas carol?
“Silent Night,” “Joy to the World,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “The First Noel” or maybe Charles Wesley’s, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” In fact, it’s number five with a bullet on Classic FM’s list of top Christmas songs.
Wesley’s carol, of course, is based on the lyrics sung by a choir of angels who startled some shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem. One angel has a solo part, and then comes the chorus: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Charles Wesley was John Wesley’s younger brother, and together they founded the Methodist movement – what is now know as the United Methodist Church -  in the early 18th century. John was the organizer and preacher, and while Charles preached as well, he is most famous for roughly 6,500 hymns he wrote, only a fraction of which are in most modern hymnals.
In 1739, he published Hymns and Sacred Poems, which contained this famous hymn we know a “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” But this wasn’t the original title.
In Charles Wesley’s original, the hymn begins with, “Hark! How all the welkin rings.” What in the opposite of heaven is a “welkin”?
It’s an old English word that refers to the sky, the firmament or the “vault of heaven” that contains the stars and all the heavens.
In an ancient cosmology, the welkin was like a set of crystal spheres that would ring. The first line of this carol went like this: “Hark! How all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings.”
That’s quite different than the version we sing now, which is actually the result of an unauthorized edit to Charles Wesley’s original work by his friend George Whitefield. Whitefield changed the line to read: “Hark! The herald angels sing, glory to the newborn king.” Wesley was not amused.
Wesley noted that the angels don’t “sing,” they “say.” And the glory given by the angels is to “God in the highest heaven.” Yes, the “newborn king” is God in the flesh and worthy of praise, but Wesley wanted to express the message of the angels as a sign that the whole cosmos, both heaven and earth, gave glory to God at Jesus’ birth, which is really the thrust of the biblical narrative.
God’s promised return was happening, but in a way that no one expected. God was not returning as a conquering hero, a glorious cloud-surfing warrior coming back to destroy Israel’s enemies.
No, the “sign” given to these shepherds was a leaky, burpy, dirt poor little baby, born in a barn in a nowhere town called Bethlehem. No one expected God to come into the word in this way!
A glimpse of heaven and earth coming together, as God had intended from the beginning. God was coming to dwell with his people to redeem and save them. The long-awaited Messiah, the true king, was the Lord himself, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of a tiny baby, fully human and fully divine.
God’s rescue mission was becoming a reality in a manger in Bethlehem. God and sinners reconciled. God’s messengers were heralding this great event in our lives.
Roughly a century after Wesley is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who was a celebrated writer. At the pinnacle of his career he was affected by the tragic death of his wife in 1861. The civil war in America began that same year, and the heartache of war was an additional burden for Longfellow. Two years into the war, Longfellow received word that his son had been seriously wounded during his service in the Army of the Potomac.
That year, as Longfellow sat at his desk on Christmas Day, he heard the church bells ringing in the distance. His heart, though burdened, longed for God’s help and peace. When he put pen to paper that day, he wrote the following words, lines that eventually became a beloved Advent Carol:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
    And wild and sweet
    The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
    Had rolled along
    The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
    A voice, a chime,
    A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
    And with the sound
    The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
    And made forlorn
    The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
    "For hate is strong,
    And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
    The Wrong shall fail,
    The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men."
And so, we hear these words and hymns and we gather for our Mass at Midnight. Midnight by definition is a time of darkness, the middle of the night. And yet, it is during this time that light enters the world by the birth of Christ, the Savior. Such a stark contrast is not by accident in the Gospel of Luke or in our liturgy tonight. We recall how God brings life from death, joy from sadness, and light from darkness. When we face moments of darkness in our own lives, let us recall that Christian faith that is at our core, that see birth of a child during the night watch as a profound moment of grace.
And it was 50 years ago this very night that this parish, St. Francis Liberal Catholic Church celebrated its first Mass, by the then Father Dean Bekken, who is our retired Presiding Bishop Emeritus.
So, in a manner of speaking, St. Francis was born along with the child Jesus 50 years ago. At its core, our church is a bastion for those who feel unwelcome, trodden on or merely have a different theological or philosophical viewpoint. Maybe you are far left politically or even theologically. Maybe you are the latest target by being transgendered – the latest victim of the far right conservative. Or maybe you or a family member or friend is an immigrant – another victim of the far right. Maybe you are on the free choice side of abortion or birth control. Then the other hot topic, maybe you are a victim of sexual abuse/harassment and need a new church home that you can feel comfortable with – a church, thank God, that has not had any instance of abuse by priests, though this isn’t to say our priests are perfect, because we are far from it.
We are traditional, yet radical in our own right. This will not change. We cannot, or should not, be ashamed of being “Liberal.” Just as there are Democratic and Republican factions in government representing the people, there are the similar divisions in Christianity.
We mustn’t, also, be caught in the “Imposter Syndrome.” (The Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. ‘Imposters’ suffer from chronic self-doubt and a sense of intellectual fraudulence that override any feelings of success or external proof of their competence. They seem unable to internalize their accomplishments, however successful they are in their field. High achieving, highly successful people often suffer, so imposter syndrome doesn’t equate with low self-esteem or a lack of self-confidence. In fact, some researchers have linked it with perfectionism.)
On this past December 21st, Pope Francis warned that "rigidity" in living out the Christian faith is creating a "minefield" of hatred and misunderstanding in a world where Christianity is increasingly irrelevant. Francis' message appeared aimed at conservative and traditionalist Catholics, including within the Vatican Curia, who have voiced increasing opposition to his progressive-minded papacy. Their criticisms have accelerated over the past year, amid Vatican financial and sex abuse scandals that may have predated Francis' papacy but are nevertheless coming to light now.
We, here at St. Francis and the denomination as a whole, have always been on the left side of Rome and have tried to be open to the needs of the people. Yes, we have dogma and teachings, but we also understand the human condition. We understand that one’s faith may be strong, but our minds, bodies and needs are sometimes weak. Jesus understood this with all the sinners he met while on earth. Not once did he make them feel unwelcome, though he did make the religious zealots feel like they needed change – just as Pope Francis has said to his curia.
Since Easter when I ascended to an archbishop and the primate of our humble denomination, I have been pushing that we should live in the light of the “radical love of Jesus,” and to not be afraid to be labeled as “liberal.” In the 50 years of this parish, some 2,000 years removed from the time when the Messianic babe was born in Bethlehem, we have, and will continue to, attempt to mimic this radical love of Jesus. We will always be a home for those that want intellectual freedom, but also for those who feel like their church makes them feel low and/or less welcome.
Jesus will sort out what is sin and what is not. Even when there is something our church might teach as a sin, we will always strive to NEVER make that person feel less or lower, because even the best of us have weaknesses or imperfections.
Can any of us possibly know what a person who is trangendered is going through and why they feel the way they do? Can all of us possibly know what a woman goes through prior to deciding to abort a baby – even if we feel it is wrong? Can any of us know what an immigrant is going through and thus the risks they take to get here only to find an unwelcoming border? Can we possibly know what is like to live with the shame of having been abused by a priest when they were young and thus why they have left the church and possibly even turned their back on Jesus?
Can we possibly know any of these things and myriad of other topics that are drawing people away from the church instead of in it? Can we possibly understand at all.. No, we probably can’t, but here at St. Francis, for the last 50 years, and for the next period the Good Lord choses to, we will attempt to understand and attempt to be welcoming and loving to them all. Like Pope Francis stated, the church has grown to be irrelevant, and we are by far more limber in our teachings and thus we can be relevant if we try. At some point in everyone’s life, they need the church and how we respond to that will dictate our relevancy to the world.
So, on this Nativity of our Lord, may we wish each other a Merry Christmas and a Happy Anniversary. Let us experience the birth of the Christ child in our lives by not being afraid of the “liberal” title and go out into the world and love with the radical love of Jesus – that same love he has given us this night by coming amongst us in the chaos and mayhem we call life. That non-discriminative love that looks beyond all else and see a fellow human being in front of us trying to make their place in the world just as we are.
Let Us Pray.
That as we celebrate the birth of your Son, we also celebrate your institution of this humble parish. Bless our founding pastor, Archbishop Dean Bekken who has been a faithful servant. And bless our parish, that it may be a home and beacon to Christians and Catholics needing a welcoming church. We pray to the Lord.
That as we continue our building and repairs a benefactor or benefactors will be led to our humble parish as we look to obtain the funding needed to finish the rectory and necessary repairs. We pray to the Lord.
May we all experience the radical love of Jesus on this most special feast and anniversary and learn to express it openly and generously to others. We pray to the Lord.
On this Christmas night we pray that the news of Christ’s birth enlightens our hearts and minds and fill us with love for our neighbor, particularly those in need. We pray to the Lord.                    
Just as the shepherds carried the good news that a child was born who would be a Savior for all, we pray that we too recognize our duty as Christians to also proclaim the glory of God and Christ’s message to all the world. We pray to the Lord.                      
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we remember in our prayers those, who like Mary and Joseph, are homeless this Christmas and pray that through the help, concern and generosity of those who are spared such tragedy, they may be helped out of their difficulties and experience less troubled times in the New Year. We pray to the Lord.                      
At this time of joy and celebration, we think of those in our community who have lost loved ones in the last year. May they find consolation in the goodness of the Father who sent his only Beloved Son onto this earth to show his love for us. We pray to the Lord.                      
As children enjoy the wonder of Christmas day, we pray for those children who are in suffering hunger, homelessness and terror in areas of conflict throughout the world. We pray that the peace of the Christ birth be theirs in 2020. We pray to the Lord.
We pray for all those present at our Mass today and for their families, that their Christmas holiday may be a happy and peaceful one. We pray to the Lord.
We praise and thank you, Father, for you have revealed your infinite love for us, through your son, Jesus Christ. We have sung through our Advent-waiting and have arrived at this special day of Christmas, when we remember your birth, your incarnation, the Word Becoming Flesh. Savior and Friend, remind us this day that you became one of us. You were born like us, you walked this earth like us and you have risen from the dead as we will one day rise. Emmanuel, God with Us, remind us of your presence throughout the year, as sometimes we lose sight, we forget, and we feel alone, lost and forsaken. Remind us of your birth, your life, your death and your resurrection, as we walk the journey of our own lives. Remind us that we do not walk this journey alone. In the name of Christ, the Light of the World, the Incarnate God, we pray. Amen.
Merry Christmas and God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Sunday, December 15, 2019

December 15, 2019
Gaudete Sunday
(Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; Matthew 11:2-11)
It's a classic tale: good vs. evil, the powers of darkness vs. the powers of light, the virtuous vs. the corrupt; it's ... Walt Disney's cartoon battle between the apparently befuddled old Merlin and the purple wickedness of the "marvelous mad Madam Mim"!

In case this dramatic duel has slipped your mind, or you don't have children or grandchildren the right age to force you to relive this battle on a daily video-viewing basis, let me refresh your memory. It's worth the memories, for it really is a clever clash. Merlin and Mim are fighting it out because Mim wants to eat Merlin's student, none other than the young King Arthur. Obviously, a lot is at stake. The witch and the wizard agree to certain rules before their battle, pledging among other things that neither of them will turn into a purple-spotted, fire-breathing dragon or turn invisible altogether.

But as the contest heats up, the wicked Mim cheats and turns herself into the fire-breathing dragon she had promised not to become. She explains away her duplicity by claiming she is a "plain old fire-breathing dragon," which she never promised anything about. Just as Mim is about to incinerate the hapless Merlin, he apparently disappears. Enraged, the dragon-Mim accuses Merlin of breaking their rules by becoming invisible. The magician's seemingly disembodied voice floats back to Mim and announces, "I am not gone. And I am not invisible. I am a germ."

A germ? In fact, Merlin has transformed himself into a very specific and quite potent dragon-virus, which immediately reduces the dragon-Mim into a pathetically sneezing, coughing, broken-out-into-spots, bedridden mess. Merlin triumphs by using his brains and by dramatically demonstrating that size doesn't matter.

Not long ago, a warning of another germ or virus came out on cyberspace channels:


Be on the alert for symptoms of inner HOPE, PEACE, JOY AND LOVE. The hearts of a great many have already been exposed to this virus, and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with it in epidemic proportions. This could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Some signs and symptoms of THE ADVENT VIRUS:

• An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.

• A loss of interest in judging other people.

• A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.

• A loss of interest in conflict.

• A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)

• Suddenly you will have frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.

• Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.

• Frequent attacks of smiling.

• An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.

• An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it ourselves.

Please send this warning out to all your friends. This virus can and has affected many systems. Some systems have been completely cleaned out because of it.

The Merlin virus is one we want to avoid; however, another  virus, the Messiah Virus, is one we want to catch! Have you come down with the virus yet? No? It's the church's job to infect you!

Sadly, our stern, sterile, workaday world can disinfect our dreams and desires. Too often we are "cured" of viruses with which we should remain infected all our lives.

• The soaring divorce rate shows how many of us have found ourselves "cured" of "lovesickness."

• The number of people who never notice a beautiful sunset, a glowing rainbow, a whipped-cream castle of clouds, demonstrates how many of us have managed to come out from being "under the weather."

• The populations fully inoculated against tendencies toward love, joy, compassion, empathy and vulnerability seem to be one of the devil's best health-care programs.

To nurture along this tiny, invisible, insubstantial "Advent Virus" until it can grow and spread into pandemic proportions is the mission of the church's Christmas season itself. We can't properly prepare for the arrival of Christ in our midst until we come down with this fever and try our utmost to spread it around. During this season we learn how to be "Typhoid Marys" of this Advent or Messiah Virus.

But beware: There are a lot of germs floating around out there that will try to mimic the "Advent Virus." How can Christians be sure they are infected with the real thing? How can we be sure we aren't just suffering from a disease that only imitates some of the classic symptoms of the "Advent Virus"?

Today's gospel text has John the Baptist essentially asking the same question of Jesus. How do we know you are "Are you the one who is to come?" What are the symptoms your presence elicits in my body, mind and spirit? It's little noted that earlier in Matthew's Gospel, at the start of Jesus' public ministry, John seemed more convinced of Jesus' genuine nature. In 3:14, John had hesitated to baptize Jesus with John's famous water baptism, humbly claiming that "I need to be baptized by you, and yet you are coming to me?" But time and perhaps the cold reality of Herod's prison cell had apparently cooled John's Advent fever. Now he wants to see evidence and hear proofs of Jesus' messianic ministry.

How did Jesus respond to this challenge? Jesus responds to John's disciples by providing them with a litany of symptoms, which when combined can lead to only one accurate diagnosis about Jesus' identity and the symptomology of the new messianic age. What are these signpost symptoms? The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor receive good news. Certainly would be convincing to me!

Do you want to catch the Advent Virus, but don't know how? There's at least one simple way to catch any virus: Expose yourself to the virus you want to catch.

What do parents with several young children do when the first one catches chicken pox? Attempt to protect the other children from the potent pox? No! Some, believe it or not, will place the healthy children in the same room with the infected child. They will allow them to play together, watch TV together in the hope that they, too, will catch the virus, so that this childhood disease will visit all the children at the same time.

Want to catch the Advent Virus? Expose yourself to people who have it! Search out the opportunities to revisit the meaning of Christmas, to flee manic mall madness, to mingle with those for whom the Messiah is a meaningful presence in their lives. Seek out the community of the infected and inflamed and the fervent and feverish. You'll catch the Advent Virus every time!

As an Advent Virus carrier, you will now want to spread the "infection" to others. Rather than modeling the typical consumerist attitude that floods the secular observance of this time of year, insist on spreading the Advent viral infection of joy, thoughtfulness, reflection and renewal. AKA: HOPE, PEACE, JOY AND LOVE

The Advent Virus.

The Messiah Virus.

Catch it and spread it!
Let us pray.
We pray that we, like John the Baptist, place our faith in Christ and that we commit our lives to following his message of salvation. We pray to the Lord.                      
On this Gaudete Sunday, we pray that all Christians throughout the world experience hope, peace, joy and love as we prepare for the wonderful gift of the Christ birth. We pray to the Lord.                    
We pray for our leaders in the Church, ordained and non-ordained, that they may be inspired to follow in the footsteps of John the Baptist in preparing God’s people for the coming of our Savior. We pray to the Lord.
That the victims of the mass shootings this past week in Texas and New Jersey will rest in peace eternal may the deceased rest in peace eternal; and may all those who have experienced violence in their lives, may God provide consolation through the support of caregivers as they recover from their physical and emotional wounds. May the Holy Spirit be with them all during this time of pain. We pray to the Lord.
That people will learn tolerance and respect of those of different religious views. That senseless shootings based on faith comes to an end, especially this week for anti-Semitism. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.                  
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Dear God, troubled and confused in a confusing, troubled world, we try to make sense out of the conflicting voices. We search to find one word that will make sense and give meaning to the rest. Come near, Lord. Touch our hearts and souls; enfold your life around ours; speak that one cleansing, unifying word. O God, this beautiful Advent stirs such hope in us. In this season we find light, joy, peace, hope, and love – all glimpses of the world to come. May these remaining days leading to the Nativity of your Son be sacred and holy, filled with true love for mankind. We want to see Jesus and to let him be seen by all we meet. Help us to drink in every moment, to behold the beauty and majesty, and to worship the King who was and is and is to come. Express yourself to us, in us, through us; in the name of the Christ child. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Monday, December 9, 2019

December 8, 2019
The Second Sunday of Advent
(Isaiah 11:1-10; Matthew 3:1-12)
Although The New Interpreter’s Bible says “Few texts in biblical literature are better known or loved” than Isaiah 11:1-10, it’s unlikely that this reading has left you quivering with excitement. In fact, you could argue that it’s a ridiculous exaggeration. At most, you probably simply remember as being one of the passages most often read during the Advent and/or Christmas season.
There are a few texts that are surely “better known or loved” than this obscure text in Isaiah, like say:
• Psalm 23
• The story of creation
• Moses and the parting of the Red Sea
• The Ten Commandments
• David and Bathsheba
• David and Goliath
• The story of Ruth
• The story of Jericho
• The nativity story in Luke 2
• To name a few!
So, what’s to be done with this text? People today probably don’t care that Jesus came from the stump of Jesse.
But some people care about stumps. George Kenny of Allyn, Washington, for example.  
Kenny is an artist, but to see his work, you may want to put on a pair of hiking boots. That’s because his “brush” is a chainsaw and his canvases are tree stumps and trunks.
About a year ago, Kenny spent a day at Columbia Springs, a 100-acre environmental center in Vancouver, Washington. He’d been invited by the center’s executive director to make art of some of the stumps and trunks in the site’s forest. Using his chainsaw as a carving tool, Kenny spent the day making seven chunks of dead cedar into eagles, owls, herons, salmon and other figures, all of which remain on site in the woods.
Figuratively, at least, the dead wood comes alive again.
I recall some years ago when I would go to the San Diego Zoo at Christmas time for their annual “Jungle Bells” program. They had these two talented ladies that would use chainsaws to cut gigantic blocks of ice into various animals. They would do the performances in entertaining ways and had a knack for managing to create them in such a way as to keep you guessing until nearly the end.
In the Isaiah text, there’s a dead tree stump or gigantic block of ice as well, but the prophet tells us that God is going to do some awesome art with it … messianic art.
Isaiah’s message here is basically this, that Isaiah’s words about the next king were to say, “Here’s our immediate hope,” and his words about the peaceable future were to say, “Here’s our ultimate hope.”
Congregations are not that different from the Hebrews of Isaiah’s day when it comes down to it.
• Assyria is long gone, but terrorists abound.
• The United States is not under a king, but its political system, with its vicious partisanship, can, at best, be described as gridlocked. (Although, our current president wants to be treated as a king.)
• Few people these days see government as a very effective apparatus for the common good.
• Each day, there’s more bad news. Millions of people don’t even follow the news anymore, and many who do refuse to check the news before going to bed so their sleep is not disturbed.
Our hopes are raised periodically by the promises from new and rising political stars. But then our hopes are crushed by the reality that follows elections.
Like the ancient people of Judah, we can benefit from being reminded of the ultimate hope.
After Jesus was crucified and resurrected, the Apostles read Isaiah through a new lens. They looked at the first part of this passage and saw not Ahaz’s successor, Hezekiah, who was a better man and a better king than Ahaz — although even he eventually disappointed Isaiah by becoming too friendly with the Babylonians.
No, they argued that the only one who really fulfilled this text was much further down Jesse’s line, Jesus Christ. Thus Paul, preaching to fellow Jews on one of his missionary trips, referred to their common history and said, “God made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘Then he removed him and raised up David as their king; of him he testified, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will carry out my every wish.’ From this man’s descendants God, according to his promise, has brought to Israel a savior, Jesus...” (Acts 13:22-23).
The lineage from Jesse, which is not very important to us today, was super-important to the Jews of Jesus’ day because it was a reference to Isaiah. The savior to come, Isaiah said, would be from Jesse’s line. So, as people began to suspect that Jesus was the messiah, the fact that he was “of the house and lineage of David” was huge!
Isaiah went on to say that when this new “shoot” from Jesse reigns, “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat ... They shall not harm or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord.” Clearly, this is a world quite unlike today’s world. And that’s exactly right: it’s another world altogether, another kingdom entirely.
But this is the nature of hope, isn’t it? Biblically speaking, hope, along with faith and love, make up the “big three” of Christianity. They are the things that the apostle Paul said remain, and have enduring quality, when all else fails. “And now faith, hope and love abide,” is how he put it, and he meant that when looking for the qualities that are distilled from the experience of the believing life together, these three things — faith, hope and love — are the solid footing on which to stand, even if seen only darkly as through a distorting glass.
Real hope is not some sort of wishful thinking that those with strong enough gumption muster up from some inner core. No, it is rather an ultimate belief that when all else fails, when every other support gives way, our lives remain in God’s hands.
And so we wait. And this can be difficult. I know some of you were questioning my belief in hope in 2017 and again this year in regard to the rectory. It can be quite difficult, and sometimes even the best of us flinch in hope. Let me be clear …. Being positive or negative is indeed a state of mind, however one is never truly “negative” unless he has given up hope in Christ. Regardless of negativities in regard to say our government, a particular person or situation, one can still be a positive person and even have hope. To have no hope is give up on life and the blessings God can grace us with.
Debie Thomas, director of children's and family ministries at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, California makes this point: “The Biblical pattern for God’s people is a pattern of waiting. Adam waited for a partner, Noah waited for the flood waters to recede, Abraham waited for a son, Jacob waited to marry Rachel, Hannah waited for children, the Israelites waited for deliverance… the list goes on and on. ... In my church, we ‘proclaim the mystery of faith’ every Sunday morning: ‘Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.’ We rightfully pin our hopes on that last claim, and yet, in our humanness, we grow weary of waiting.”
Like Kenny in Washington, working on his stump, it takes time before the image emerges, but in time it does.
What we see in Scripture is an emerging picture of Jesus of Nazareth, our ultimate hope.
And this hope gives a perspective from which to view the threats and worries of life. Isaiah’s words remind us that those things are never the last word. Our hope is anchored in Jesus, the living art from the stump of Jesse.
Let’s take that hope and use it to sustain ourselves when the threats and worries of life rage or stump us.
Let us pray.
In today’s Gospel we read of John the Baptist – A Voice Cries in the Wilderness, Prepare a way for the Lord, Make His paths straight. In today’s world this message is also an appeal to us. We pray that we be not silent onlookers but that we have the faith and strength to be true and active witnesses to his Word. We pray to the Lord.                
In today’s Second Reading, St Paul calls for tolerance and asks us to treat each other in the same friendly way as Christ treated us. We pray for an end to racism and the language of racism in our society. We pray to the Lord.                    
On Tuesday next, December 10th, the world celebrates International Human Rights Day. We pray for a world that will respect the God-given rights of all, especially those who suffer from hatred, discrimination, poverty and war. We pray to the Lord.                    
Tomorrow, Monday, we celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We pray that we, like Mary, listen to the word of our God and happily do his Holy Will. We pray to the Lord.                      
We pray for those who struggle with depression at this time of year. May they find comfort, love and medical support to ease their journey through their difficulties. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.                  
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Father God, how do we see for the first time a story we've read so many times? Give us new perspective. Help us not to assume we know all there is to know, but to open our hearts and minds to your Spirit and the new truth you may be teaching us today. Perhaps the truth will not be new, but a lesson we've heard and simply need to be reminded of again. Wherever it is you are leading, let us be willing to follow. Whatever it is you want to teach, let us be open to listening and obeying. We confess to you, O God, that we have fallen asleep. We often go through the motions and live our daily lives without much thought outside of ourselves. Forgive us for our shortsightedness. Forgive us for not being awake to the wonders and signs that you are doing something new in our world and in our lives. Help us to seek you in the face of others. Call us into your ways of love and justice, so that we might be fully awake, watching and waiting for your return in our world and in our lives in a new way. Help us to live in hope! We ask all these things through Christ, our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA

Monday, December 2, 2019

December 1, 2019
Advent Sunday
(Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 27:37-44)
Imagine this -- It's been a long, exhausting day filled with work, obligations, meetings, errands and responsibilities. You were up early and plowed through your "to do" list at work, then you got the kids to their activities and threw some sandwiches together to eat on the run. Eventually, you made it home only to find more chores to do. Finally, the day comes to an end, and what do you want to do? Fall into bed, relax as your eyes get heavy, and gently slip into a deep, refreshing sleep. It's Serta time!

But wait! Sound the alarm! Jesus says in our text today, "Stay awake!" Even as we struggle to keep our eyes open for one more moment, Jesus seems to scoff at sleep as he commands us to keep alert and to be ready. Jesus seems to be telling us to be "insomniac disciples." He says, "Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

Apparently, there is no rest for the weary. What is a sleep-deprived Christian supposed to do?

How are we meant to stay awake when we already live in one of the most sleep-hungry nations in the world? Our 24/7 society with its endless supply of news, social media and entertainment on-demand allows us to stay up way past our bedtimes as we enjoy games on our phones or watch endless videos on YouTube/Netflix. The lack of sleep is taking a toll. Employers in the United States complain about workers who doze off in front of their computers or who even fall asleep while operating machinery, which endangers them and everyone around them. Job performance is suffering because workers show up overtired. And now Jesus wants us to "stay awake" even longer?! How are we supposed to do that?

We could turn to Toimi Soini in Hamina, Finland who was in the Guinness Book of World Records. She stayed awake 276 hours. In 1989, The Guinness Book of World Records deleted Toimi's record and the "sleep deprivation" category from its record-keeping because of the concern that lack of sleep can cause real harm.

Two hundred and seventy-six hours is about 11-and-a-half days! Most of us are getting weary after 11-and-a-half hours. Which is a good thing, because scientists tell us that sleep is a vital component of overall good health for humans. Although scientists don't know exactly why sleep is good for us, they know why the lack of it is bad for us. Skipping sleep can lead to loss of memory, high blood pressure, obesity, slurred speech, impaired decision-making ability, and an increased risk of heart attacks. (Hmmm, I should be dead.)

So why is Jesus telling us to stay awake?

Well, okay. We know that Jesus is not literally commanding a lack of pillow time. Instead, Jesus is saying, "Wake up! Look around! Be aware!"

He wants us to not go through life like a sleepwalker, without seeing or noticing what's going on all around us. It's time for us to open not only our eyes, but also our spirits so that we can be aware of how God is moving and guiding us through our lives.

Jesus is warning against being "asleep at the switch," an expression that originated in the railroad industry. It refers to someone who has missed something important, has not noticed some critical detail or who might be placing themselves or others in danger because of a lack of attention. If an engineer dozes off while tending the switches (controls) that guide the train, it could easily cause a crash. It's vital to "stay awake."

Jesus calls us to attention with his urgent message, "Stay awake!" so that we will be ready to respond to the needs around us. We need to stay alert so that we can notice God at work in our midst. Advent is a time to wake up our spirits so that we can be aware of God's presence in our lives.

Maybe Jesus is not so much telling us to never shut our eyes as to avoid closing down our spirits. We can easily move through our day as though in a dream. We can interact with screens from morning to night while completely avoiding any interaction with another human being, not to mention the Holy One. We can be plugged into one device or another and fill our eyes and minds with news and images, never leaving room for a whisper of the Spirit or a nudge from a guiding and loving God. We can be lulled into complacency by watching endless loops of music videos or reruns of our favorite TV shows. We immerse ourselves in an ocean of blogs that invite us to click from one link to another. Minutes and even hours can go by before we realize that this was perhaps not the best use of our time. In an age when it is possible to have your eyes glued to some screen or another almost 24/7, it may be time to wake up to other possibilities.

Jesus commands us to be watchful and to expect the unexpected. Jesus talks about a God who will surprise us by coming when we're not looking or arriving in a guise that we do not expect. This powerful Advent passage reminds us to be aware that the God who came into the world as a baby so many years ago still wishes to enter our lives today. Too often we find ourselves with the innkeepers who turn away the Christ with the words, "no room." Our minds are full, our calendars are packed, our expectations are low, so we're not actively looking and seeking for the living Christ in our midst. We're too busy and our minds are too occupied; without even noticing we push Jesus away.

Advent comes with the invitation to open our hearts and minds to the arrival of the Christ. If Jesus knocks on the door of our lives, we want to be awake enough to invite him inside. Churches often get lulled into the complacency of "we have always done it that way." Are we going through life the same way? Are we actively looking for the Christ in the person that we greet at the store or on the street or even in our home? Will we be alert enough to recognize the surprising Christ who arrived not in a palace but in a tucked-away manger? How will the Christ come to us, and will we recognize him when he does? What can we do during Advent to be more intentional about welcoming the Christ into our lives?

Just as employers implore their workers to make changes in their lives so that they can be more alert during office hours, Jesus calls us to be aware of the changes we need to make in our lives.

What miracles are we missing simply because we are too distracted to notice? What blessings are we passing by because our minds are consumed with endless details? Are we blindly stumbling through our lives unaware of God's presence all around us?

Jesus is nudging our souls awake and asking us to open our eyes to what is true -- God is breaking into the world. Advent reminds us of the Emmanuel, the Good News that God is with us. Advent can be a time of increased awareness.

We aren't college students -- Jesus isn't telling us to break out the coffee, energy drinks and NoDoz so that we can pull an all-nighter. He is instead calling us and inviting us to be aware both of the needs all around us and of the presence of the living God to help us offer support to those in need. It is a call to action today – to wake up -- now instead of tomorrow. Let's not sleep our lives away but instead roll up our sleeves and answer the call to share the hope of God-with-us.

The extraordinary good news of Advent is that God chooses to be with us. God enters into our world desiring a relationship with us. The bad news is that we are often unaware of this miracle. The season of Advent can be a time when we take Jesus' call to "wake up" to heart. We can turn off our computer and tear ourselves away from email so that we can look for God in the people and the places all around us.

Here is a plan for Advent: Be ready, be awake and look for the God who promises to come to us.
Let us pray.
We are reminded by Jesus in today’s gospel that we should always be awake, for we never know when our loving Father will call us to Him. We pray, Lord, that in our busy lives we always remain alert and be prepared to listen to Your voice and carry out Your holy will. We pray to the Lord.                      
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, reminding us that preparation should begin for Christmas. We pray that our preparation be a spiritual one and that our real joy be in celebrating the coming of Christ, our Savior. We pray to the Lord.                    
As we enter into the season of Advent, we look forward in Hope to the birth of our Savior, that he, through his coming, will offer us the means of salvation and life everlasting. We pray to the Lord.                        
Lord Jesus, during Advent, in hope and confidence we pray that you grant us the wisdom, the time, energy and foresight to review how we each live our life – with our family, our friends, our community, our work and most importantly, with our God.  We pray to the Lord.                      
As we enter a new season for our Church, we pray for those who have been disillusioned through scandal, disappointment or indifference, that their relationship with our loving Savior be renewed afresh. We pray to the Lord.                      
During this Week of Witness, we pray for Christians throughout the world who continue to be attacked, displaced and murdered for their faith. We pray that they be comforted in their daily lives with Christ’s gift of courage, the grace of witness and the promise of salvation. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor and hungry, who often are neglected during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that they may be cared for and provided for throughout the year. We pray to the Lord.

For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.                  
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Merciful God, we long for and need the presence of Christ in our lives. We long for a holy visitation but confess that we are too distracted to notice when it arrives. We long for peace but confess that we will not be still long enough to greet it. We long for the joy of new babies and angelic choirs but confess that we are too frantic to stop and look and listen. Forgive us, Lord. Forgive our misplaced priorities that crowd you out of our Advent worship and our lives. Renew in us a desire for you above all else. You call us to prepare, gracious Savior -- to prepare to entertain angels, to be alert to wait and watch, to be awake for the coming of glory, to receive your presence in our lives. Send your Spirit upon us, we pray, that we might be made ready to open our hearts and lives with gladness. Fill us with the joy of anticipation and make our waiting a sweet time of communion with you. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA