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Old Thanksgiving, New Era Advent

November 28, 2013 Leave a comment

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As a young child, Thanksgiving meant one of several things to me.  First and foremost it meant gathering around the television to watch the parade and wait anxiously to see Santa riding in the final float with his reindeer, and later we feasted on a huge turkey dinner with pumpkin pie.  My plate was usually full of turkey and just enough of the other things to ensure I’d be getting that pumpkin pie with whipped cream for dessert.  It also meant my Dad and my uncles would be gathering to plan out the strategy for their hunting trips on Monday.  And of course it meant we would soon be taking a ride into the city to see the Christmas lights strung across the roads from street lamp to street lamp, and strolling down the sidewalks to see the magic of mechanical displays in the windows of stores such as Glosser Brothers and Penn Traffic.  Some of the toy elves would hammer and saw while others tied bows on boxes and of course Santa would be patting Rudolph on the head or wave to us as we stretched our little legs as high and tall as we could get without being picked up by Mom or Dad.

Those family gatherings, the preparations and trips were all part of a time and season where hope was attached to each snow flake that fell on the lawn wishing for a white Christmas.  The stillness of the cold nights held a certain peace that kept us youngsters from getting too rambunctious from having to play inside so much.  The TV programs of Frosty, Rudolph, and the short animations of Suzie Snowflake and Hardrock, Coco, and Joe brought joy to our little hearts as they signaled the coming of Santa – and yes, Jesus, too.  But the thing that held us together most through whatever else came along was the love of a family knit closely together by their faith in the Holy child, Jesus.  Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love; the four themes we celebrate in the coming season of Advent may have been impressed upon a child through the events of the season in his or her surroundings, but these words are made manifest in that final celebration of the birth of Christ, the first and final Word: The Word found in today’s scripture readings that hold even more reasons to be thankful.

Scripture says “let’s not stop at the reasons to be thankful.”  The stories show us how to celebrate and in each reading we find a different aspect of what Thanksgiving can mean to us.  On the surface Deuteronomy may seem like it’s giving us another law but what it’s really doing is helping us prioritize our actions.  Many people in this situation – getting a new job or new income – would take what they have made or what they have been paid and make an offering after what is left from all of their needs, wants, and desires.  What we’re told is the opposite; that a true and mature faith requires us to make our gifts to God and God’s people first and what is left is for us to live on.  The wise souls know that putting God first in all of their actions is an act of thanksgiving done not with expectations of getting something in return, but actions done with love.  In the psalm we rejoice – for God’s mercy is endless.  When we walk with God or meet with Him, wherever that may be, we need to be constantly aware that we are on Holy ground and the only action required is to openly show our gratitude.  So we come before his presence with a song.

The epistle for Thanksgiving Day almost shouts aloud by itself!  Rejoice!  Again I say, Rejoice!  There is no coincidence that the exultet which is sung at the beginning of the Easter Vigil, the chant that echoes the phrase “rejoice now all you saints and choirs of angels, and let your trumpets sound salvation” that it is the same joyful noise we make today.  We rejoice in the resurrection that leads us into Easter and Pentecost and now as we close the calendar of the church year we once again repeat the sounding joy with thanksgiving.  Surely there were times that were troubled and times where our thoughts veered off course, but they were for their own time; at this moment in time the focus of our prayers are to be filled with thanksgiving.  Whatever is placed in front of us right now should be held in the light of goodness, purity, and worthy of honorable praise.  We should be thankful for everything and rejoice for all that is good.

And finally our Gospel puts the exclamation point on Happy Thanksgiving, with the knowledge through the Word that we are always fed with bread from heaven.  Why it’s even written into the Great Thanksgiving at the Offertory:  “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”  We truly have been blessed this past year.  We’ve found strength in ourselves and support for each other.  We’ve made some errors along the way but nothing has damaged us.  For me to say that I’m grateful for all of you would be an understatement.  We’ve helped each other grow and with the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the kinship of the Holy Spirit we’ll continue to move forward.  A new era awaits us.  It could not be more fitting for it to greet us as we give thanks and celebrate the things we have, and also as we head into the Advent season of waiting and preparing for the good things to come.  So as we give thanks for the past and present, let us also rejoice with Hope in our future, Peace in our community, Joy in our souls, and Love in our hearts.  Amen.

Deacon Pete

Citations:  RCL Thanksgiving Day, Year C

Rejoice! The Light Shines On!

April 3, 2013 2 comments

Easter Vigil Homily Rev. Peter M. Gdula
Rejoice! Rejoice! Heavenly hosts and choirs of angels!
Rejoice! All the round earth!
Rejoice! Mother Church!
Rejoice! And let the trumpets shout – and the people sing praises – for darkness has been vanquished –and the proof is right here in this very church!
It may have been difficult at times to see reason for rejoicing as of late. For we’ve encountered a few challenges of our own. The penitential season of Lent can be draining enough for us. Not only have we travelled with Jesus during these 40 days through various services and programs here at St. Luke’s, mulling over the scriptures with the Prophet’s gloomy visions and the Gospel’s tales of a coming sacrifice; we’ve met in book studies on the seven last words of Christ, and meditated on the Stations of the Cross – wrestling with the meaning of Jesus’s death by putting ourselves in the shoes of those who witnessed the crucifixion.
This time has seen other challenges that might have us wondering why we should rejoice. For not only had our prayer and worship life shifted to one of penance and deepened reflection on making internal shifts of awareness, we as a church and community found ourselves meeting the demands of real life events that further challenge us to rise up from a perceived darkness in every way we can.
We might have been asking…”what more could there be?” Yet while we think we may not have a reason to rejoice, others in the world outside of this corner lot are crying out themselves, in their own darkness, in their own changes that have put them in their own sorrow and pain.
Now we could just ignore everything and try to live in a world of superficial denial. But when we ignore something, we lose the ability to react and we fail. We would fail to meet the needs of those around us who are troubled. We would fail in the baptismal covenant we just renewed to tend to the “least of these” and we would fail to discover any reason to rejoice. The darkness may be there … but it is up to us to show the light: The light that is here ready for us; the light that even death could not keep from shining. In one of the shortest Paschal Mystery homilies ever written, St. John Chrysostom proclaimed: “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory? Christ is risen and life is freed.”
Yes, we have reasons to be concerned and reasons to mourn and reasons to be sorrowful, and we must react to these situations. It is especially important during these times, to always help each other to remember the light that wishes to give us hope and to comfort us in our troubles. For just as the light is eternal and dwells on earth as well as in heaven, this light is also here, within us, within our hearts. And it is here where we find the ability to rejoice.
So I ask you to reflect on this glorious night – where Christ restored us to grace and holiness of life: That while it is wrong that we have brothers and sisters hungry and homeless; rejoice because there are people sitting among us right here in this sanctuary along with other people, organizations and churches in the world, tirelessly seeking to provide for the poor, and honoring the holiness of those lives with as much grace as possible.
I ask you to reflect on this night – where innocence is restored: That while we as a community work through the challenges we face; rejoice that we are blessed with leadership that is wise and capable, friends that comfort our souls, and a common love that unites our hearts.
I ask you to reflect on this night – where we reaffirmed our baptismal covenant; That while it seems more people are turning away from belonging to a church in order to seek God through other paths; rejoice for we have been witness to the fact that there ARE families that bring their babies like precious Isabella into our midst to be baptized, asking for our commitment to share in the responsibility of accepting their child into the body of Christ.
And I ask you to reflect on this night – where Christ rose victorious from the grave: That even as we encounter dark times in our lives and the lives of others; rejoice! Rejoice that we HAVE the light that enables us to see clearly in all situations. Rejoice that we HAVE the light that guides our compassion and care to those who need it. And rejoice that this Light – Christ – the Morning Star that knows no setting – is eternally present, eternally burning, and eternally giving His light and life to ALL creation. May the good Lord bless us and keep us in His eternal light as he lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.