Looking on the Infant Jesus

Homily for December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve
Luke 2:1–20

Nativity stained glass-St. Mary Star of the Sea Duluth MN

The Nativity, stained glass, St. Mary Star of the Sea, Duluth, Minn.

In “Five Minutes That Will Make You Love Classical Music,” a New York Times piece from this past September, the Times asked eighteen different people—critics, composers, performers, conductors—which five minutes of classical music would they play to help somebody fall in love with classical music.  On the list were pieces such as the Finale from Stravinsky’s Firebird suite, the final Trio from Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, and “Liebestod,” from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, among others.

In addition to these “warhorses” that I might have expected were others that caught me by surprise.  From Ravel’s Shéhérazade was the ridiculously beautiful aria “L’indifférent.”  It’s absolutely gorgeous, with a text perhaps too racy to share from the pulpit on Christmas Eve…  Anna Clyne’s Lavender Rain, a piece for violin written after the death of her mother, is 4 ½ minutes of music so simple—an ascending and then descending scale, basically, with a few chords for color—that it shouldn’t move one to tears, but it does.  And Couperin’s Les Barricades Mystérieuses, in an arrangement for winds, is a playful series of dissonance and resolution that, again, is so simple that it shouldn’t be so beautiful, but it is. Continue reading


Gettin’ ready

Homily for Sunday, December 23, 2018
Advent 4C
Luke 1:39-55


Photograph by David Slater

His cheeks were fat—really fat!  And if my memory serves, he was wearing a pint-sized red Hawaiian shirt out of whose short sleeves protruded stubby, roly-poly arms, with dimples so deep it looked as though there were rubber bands around his wrists.  We have photos in an album somewhere of Shaw at about 6 months old at the monarch butterfly reserve just north of Santa Barbara on the California coast.  He was 54th percentile for height, but 99th for weight, and friends would jokingly ask if the Cornhuskers’ coach had called yet.  I remember butterflies alighting on him, on us, and on the eucalyptus trees.  Swarms of butterflies; thousands of butterflies!  But even then, the locals said, there were fewer than they remembered.  But I recently read an article that makes me wonder if any remain at all. Continue reading

Art of the Anti-Memoir

Homily for Sunday, December 16, 2018
Advent 3C
Philippians 4:4–7

pensive writer-Kulikov_Writer_E.N.Chirikov_1904In “The Art of Self: Autobiography in the Age of Narcissism,” an article in Harper’s Weekly in May of 1994, author William Gass skewers the genre.  Of autobiographies he says:

Welcome to the extraordinary drama of lied-about ordinary life… The autobiographer tends to do partials, to skip the dull parts and circle the pits of embarrassment…  Are there any motives… that aren’t tainted with conceit or a desire for revenge or a wish for justification?  To halo a sinner’s head?  To puff an ego already inflated past safety? Continue reading

An Ordinary, Corrupt Human Life

Homily for Sunday, December 9, 2018
Advent 2C
Malachi 3:1–4

“The Lord of hosts… is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap… he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.”

Santa-christmas-card-vintageThis past week my wife received a Christmas card on the cover of which was a stick-figure girl, crayon in hand, who has just written a letter to Santa:

Dear Santa,
I am writing to tell you that I have been naughty,
and it was worth it!
You fat, old, judgmental bastard.

Continue reading

A Window into the Life of God

Homily for Sunday, December 2, 2018
Advent 1C
I Thessalonians 3:9–13

British beehiveIn World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting—a nearly 700-page tome (about bees and beekeeping)—Eva Crane describes how through the ages humans, out of curiosity, have attempted to see into a hive.  Aristotle tried cutting a window into his hive, but the bees obscured it with propolis, a sticky resin made from buds and sap.  Pliny describes hives fitted with a semi-transparent stone that was probably mica, (and he charmingly opined, from what he could see, that bees in the hive do three things: some build, others polish, and still others make dinner).  In 1653 the Rev. William Mewe built an octagonal hive on different levels, each fitted with a small window sealed by a hinged shutter.  In 1655 the diarist John Evelyn described a transparent apiary belonging to one Dr. Wilkins of Oxford, complete with dials, little statues and vanes, though it is likely that Evelyn’s imagination got ahead of himself, as large sheets of glass were not produced in England for another few decades.  When they were, the so-called “observation hive” allowed humans to see, in a single comb bound on either side with a pane of glass, the queen in her chamber, her attendants gathered round, workers coming and going, or storing pollen, or making wax or building comb. Continue reading

Lord of our lives

Homily for Sunday, November 25, 2018
Revelation 1:4b–8
Last Sunday After Pentecost—Christ the King Sunday

Soldiers_in_trenchThis past Veterans’ Day WBUR aired a special called “Exploring the Poetry of War.”  Host Deborah Becker and guests Robert Pinsky, a poet on faculty at BU, and Brian Turner, who wrote poetry about his Army service in Iraq, discussed things like: what should be considered essential literature about war, like the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, or You Know When the Men Are Gone, by Army wife Siobhan Fallon.  They shared with each other their favorite war poems, like Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et decorum est,” or “Facing It,” by Yusef Komunyakaa.  They talked about the senselessness of war.  And they talked, too, about how it is that beautiful words could possibly go together with horrific violence.  At one point Becker asked Turner: “Why did you use poetry to describe what happens on the battlefield?”  Turner replied: Continue reading

All Things Are Possible

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
November 11, 2018
Proper 27B: The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost

1 Kings 17:8–16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24–28
Mark 12:38–44

My Friends:

Tallulah_Bankhead_1941Every time I hear this morning’s beloved Gospel narrative—commonly referred to in the tradition as “The Widow’s Mite”—I am reminded of a story, perhaps apocryphal, told about the late, great actress Tallulah Bankhead, who really was a devoted Anglican, albeit with a wicked and ironic sense of humor.  Apparently, Ms. Bankhead had just attended a high Anglican liturgy in an English cathedral, at which an Anglican bishop, all bedecked in his episcopal finery, presided.  The liturgy included the use of incense burning in a golden thurible on a long chain.  Anglican lore has it that, at the conclusion of the service, Ms Bankhead approached the bishop and, in that legendary, deep gravelly voice, said to him, “Your Grace, I love your drag, but your purse is on fire.” Continue reading