Healing in the Manger of the Heart

Homily for Sunday, January 1, 2017
Holy Name
Preached at St. John’s, Newtonville

circumcision-of-jesusIn the old Prayer Book today’s feast, the Feast of the Holy Name, was called the Feast of the Circumcision.   In the Roman church the first Sunday after Christmas is usually the Feast of the Holy Family.   The three are basically the same Feast with basically the same readings that provide further occasion to drive home messages of Incarnation: Jesus is one of us, Jesus is part of God’s plan for salvation, God placed Jesus within a particular people and within a particular family.   And it’s this last that I want to talk about this morning – families. Continue reading

The Risk of Being Born

Homily for Christmas, 2016

Isaiah 9:2-7
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
Psalm 96

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A War’s Ripples: Syrians arriving on Lesbos, a Greek island, by Santi Palacios (AP)

For my homily this evening I will refer to the photos printed in the order of service on the front and back covers, and on page 11. The photos were cover photos for the New York Times in the fall of 2015.

These photos of young Syrian families help us to imagine what it might have been like for the Holy Family at the first Christmas 2,000 years ago.   As the husband attends with concern to his wife in the cover photo, so I imagine Joseph to have tended with concern to Mary as she traveled, full-term, to Bethlehem.  Maybe – as is the woman in the photo – Joseph even wrapped Mary in a blanket to keep her warm.  Like the mothers in the field care for their infants in the photo on page 11, so I imagine Mary to have been in fields with Jesus as they traveled home from Bethlehem, occasionally stopping to rest and nurse.  Like the boy on the back cover looking up to the woman helping him with a coat, so I imagine Jesus to have looked up to adults helping him when the Holy Family fled to Egypt to escape King Herod, for – like the refugee boy in the photo – he probably needed clothing, too, after his family fled suddenly in the middle of the night. Continue reading

Journey to the Father’s House

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
January 3, 2016

The Second Sunday after Christmas – Year C

Jeremiah 31:7-14
Psalm 84
Ephesians 1:3-6, 15-19a
Luke 2:41-52

My Friends:

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mikvah, a ritual pool

One of the several unique aspects of the Gospel according to Saint Luke is its two brief vignettes concerning Jesus’ so-called hidden years of childhood.  Saint Luke describes Jesus’ naming and circumcision at the Jerusalem Temple on the eighth day following his birth, along with Mary’s purification in a mikvah, a ritual pool located at the Temple’s entrance-steps.  Whenever a fully observant Jew comes into direct contact with the primordial forces of life and death, she or he must begin anew by becoming “ritually pure,” “fit for the worship of God” who is the Lord of life and death.  Having momentarily touched the sacred during childbirth, Mary undergoes a ritual bath to re-enter the profane world and to take up the mundane, the ordinary, and the daily once again.  The Conservative synagogue just down the road here on Washington Street has a mikvah for fully observant Jews in our area. Continue reading

Pray for Obscurity

Sermon for Wednesday, March 19, 2014
Feast of St. Joseph, Guardian of Our Lord

This past Monday, St. Patrick’s Day, the New York Times ran an article on the 1863 draft riots in New York City, riots in which the Irish figured prominently.  Rachel Swarns’ article challenged the long-standing narrative that the Irish and African Americans, squeezed into Manhattan’s eighth ward, were a tinderbox of mistrust and racial tensions.   She reports that in the 1870 census, just seven years after the riots, there were 80 interracial couples in the eighth ward. How could members of two competing, antagonistic minority groups have come together so often to form families?  Swarns posits a theory:

We know that economic competition can divide people.  We saw it in the 19th century when many Irish immigrants, egged on by racist politicians and employers, discriminated against blacks and viewed them as economic rivals.  But shared work can also create intimacy and understanding… and for many of these…. men and… women, it appears to have done just that… They were working together and living together and having families together.

Curious to me is that these marriages have gone almost unnoticed by historians, who focus primarily on the racial tensions of the time.   Maybe these couples’ hiddenness is due to the fact that many of them were illiterate and left no letters or diaries, or that they were too poor to have their family photographed. Maybe society’s stigma against interracial marriage effectively hushed their existences.  Yet right there in the census documents, in the spidery script of a late 19th century hand, are 80 couples with children listed as “mulatto.”

When I think of St. Joseph, whose feast day we celebrate today, I am reminded of these interracial couples in late 19th century Manhattan.  St. Joseph reminds me of these couples not only because he did an extraordinary, counter-cultural thing in marrying a woman who was pregnant and not by him, but also because – like these couples – we know almost nothing about Joseph.    Continue reading