St. James Episcopal Church, Wichita, Kansas

The Rev. Jeff H. Roper, Deacon

Come, Holy Spirit come. Come like the fire and burn, come like the wind and move, come like the water and cleanse. Convince, convert, and consecrate us until we are wholly Yours. Amen.

After spending the past four months as an English teacher, I cannot help but think right now about the subject matter of how do students learn? And how do they learn best? Most of us are familiar enough with Microsoft Teams or Zoom as we communicate and interact in a different way during this COVID pandemic. For safety precautions, we often meet remotely. We see each other’s faces through a computer and communicate with each other. I can’t help but think about the longer term consequences of communicating through the internet rather than face-to-face.

But how does God communicate to you and me? This is a question worth reflection. In the Old Testament lesson from II Samuel. God tells Nathan to tell David that the Ark of the Covenant needs to be under a roof instead of under a tent. Then, God goes on to say I will establish a house for you David through your descendants where God’s kingdom will last forever. In the gospel reading today from Luke, God sends the angel Gabriel to communicate to Mary that she will conceive a son who will be known as the Son of God, and she is to name the baby Jesus. These are just a couple of ways that God can reach us. If like me, you haven’t heard from a prophet recently or been visited by an angel, let’s ask ourselves what other ways do we have communication with God.

I recall from my studies in college, in an Advanced Composition class, that Cardinal Newman wrote an essay entitled, “What is a University?” He answered the question pretty early in his essay in the form of his thesis statement by saying that a University in its essence is where people, all sorts of different people from diverse parts of the country, come together in one place where teachers with depths of knowledge and expertise enter into a dialogue—they have discourse about a broad array of subjects. That teachers learn from the learners. Learners learn from their teachers, and learners learn from other learners as well. But if you don’t have that essential discourse between teacher and learner, you do not have a university.

I would like to apply this same principle to the church. The church consists of a people who come from a variety of backgrounds and career disciplines. Some are teachers. Others are learners. We all enter into one common place: a sanctuary or a parish/guild hall. We enter into discourse and dialogue about a whole variety of matters which concern us. We pray for each other’s needs. We get to know one another. Relationships are built. Lasting friendships are made. We learn from each other as we walk together in our faith journey.

God does work through each and every one of us no matter how we join each other—whether that be in a parking lot, a YouTube video, a radio channel, a Zoom session, or face-to-face. As a community we seek God. We praise God. We thank God for all the blessings of this life. We learn from discourse with each other what God has been doing in each of our lives.

After Mary met with the angel Gabriel, she traveled to see her cousin Elizabeth who was also with child. They connected. They needed the encouragement and support of one another and to share their stories with each other and strengthen each other’s faith. We do that in church whether that be remotely or in-person as we have discourse with each other. We also need that encouragement and support from one another.

God can reach us in numerous other ways beyond through each other. God can send us a sign. God sent a star for the three wise men to follow. God provides signs to us each and every day if we look for them.

My wife and I moved into a newer house in the past few months. We have had lots of stress with selling our old house and buying a new one. Contributing to that stress, my father had to be hospitalized with sepsis—a life or death scare for us. When we were at the heart of our stress, Vicky and I traveled early one morning back towards our house in the pitch black around 6:00am, and we witnessed a white owl sitting on the railing of a bridge. He just looked right at us. I rolled down the window, and my wife and I just looked at the white owl, and it looked at us and put us at peace. Like the wisdom of a rare owl, he seemed to say to us it is going to be ok. You are going to get through this. And we saw it as God giving us a sign to be at peace—that God continues to be with us every step of the way.

Where and how and when God and you or I have discourse during this Christmas season may be unknown right now. Christ could become manifest to us through the face of a beloved child smiling to us through a window. It could be listening to the hymn “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” in our car. It could be the smell of cinnamon, ham, or egg nog in the air which triggers in us a favorite Christmas memory. It could be unwrapping a gift from a loved one. It could be the taste of a peppermint candy cane.

God, so desperately wants to be in discourse with each one of us this Christmas season. Listen and look for God in everything you do. God wants to be in relationship with us—so much so that from the Godhead, he sent His own Son, Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, lying swaddling cloths in a humble stable—so that His Son Jesus could walk this earth, show us how to live, and then die for our sins that we may have eternal life. So let us rejoice this Christmas season: “Joy to the World. The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King!” AMEN.