Merry Christmas, everybody! Welcome to Christ’s Mass!
In case you haven’t already figured it out, today is a special day for Christians. In the Episcopal calendar, it is ranked as a “principal feast” of the Church. But it’s an especially special day for this parish. You see, Christmas is the preeminent feast of the Incarnation, the saving event for which this parish is named. So in “church speak,” Christmas Day is our “feast of title.”
As is my custom, I will be focusing my sermon on the Gospel reading. To be honest, this prologue to John’s Gospel is somewhat abstract and difficult to understand. Now, if you attended Midnight Mass or a sunrise service on Christmas, you would get the much more understandable story of Jesus’ birth from Luke’s Gospel. You would hear about the infant lying in a manger and about angels from the highest heaven announcing the Messiah’s birth to a group of lowly shepherds. But if you attend the main Christmas Day service, this service, you get something completely different. You get an excerpt from a mystical poem about the doctrine of the Incarnation. (To be honest, I miss the charming stories of St. Luke, so to make it up to you, we will be singing a couple of carols about “angels from the realms of glory” and “certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.”)
Today we celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It is one of a very few feasts that are of such importance that they take precedence over a Sunday. In the appointed readings, we hear about two epiphanies. First, we hear about a very early epiphany to Moses on Mount Sinai—the prototypical mountaintop experience, you might say. Then we hear St. Peter’s brief recollection of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Finally, we hear a somewhat fuller account of the Transfiguration excerpted from Luke’s Gospel.
In that account, Jesus is transfigured on the top of Mount Tabor in the presence of the three disciples who formed his inner circle: Peter, John, and James. And these select few are granted a vision of the Uncreated Light of God, a glimpse of Jesus’ hidden glory. We are told that his face, and even his clothing, emitted a dazzling light, just as Moses’ face shone when he came down from Mount Sinai. The three disciples see Jesus talking with two famous figures from the Hebrew Bible, Moses and Elijah, with Moses representing the Law and Elijah representing the Prophets. Their appearance confirms to the three disciples that Jesus is indeed the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. He is, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah, foretold in Holy Scripture. He is, in fact, the Light of the World.
A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christopher L. Webber on March 30, 2014, at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco.
A friend of mine who lives down toward West Portal has recently written a book titled: The Election of 1864: Our Greatest Victory. And people have been puzzled by the title. Completely baffled. The election of 1864? Who was running? What difference did it make? How could it be “Our Greatest Victory”?
Well, I’m sure you all know that the Democrats that year nominated George McClellan, General George McClellan, and the Republicans nominated – wait, wait, don’t tell me – right, Abraham Lincoln. And the prospects for his election were not good. So on August 23, 1864, Lincoln wrote a memo to his Cabinet anticipating that he would lose the election. The war had been going on too long and people were tired of it. It was time to make peace; let the South go. Lincoln’s wisest advisors told him he was certain to lose.
So Lincoln wrote a secret memo sealed until after the election, saying that if he lost as expected, he would cooperate with the winning candidate to preserve the union until the new president was inaugurated, but after that the Union would certainly be dissolved. Of course, if that had happened, we would have had two countries, and slavery would have continued indefinitely. Can you imagine? Still slaves in Texas and the southern states? But if the South had gone its own way, what would have changed it? And more than that, if the country had become divided, there would have been no powerful American armies to win the First World War or the Second. Can you imagine that world? We would be living in a different world entirely.