Listening for God’s Voice

Homily preached by the Rev. James La Macchia
Trinity Parish of Newton Centre
Fourth Sunday of Advent-Year A
December 18, 2016

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

My Friends,

26-iosifflyerWhen I first prayed this morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, I was immediately struck by just how little we know about Joseph, the beloved spouse of Mary.  He is not even mentioned in the gospels according to Mark and John and, in Matthew’s and Luke’s, the two gospels with “infancy narratives,” Joseph drops out of the story entirely, well before Jesus begins his public ministry.  While all kinds of pious legends about Saint Joseph developed later in the Christian tradition, we have only these few portraits of him from the canonical gospels themselves.  This week, as I prayed these propers for today’s homily, I felt that I wanted to know more about this man who, like Mary, had acquiesced so graciously to God’s plan for the world’s redemption and salvation.  Who was he, I found myself asking in my prayer, and where did he find the astonishing equanimity to say “yes” to God’s improbable and decisive entrance once again into human experience? Continue reading

Our Core Identity

Sermon for Sunday, January 10, 2015
The Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

jbaptistEach year on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, just after Christmas, I feel a little bit like Tevya and Golde in “Fiddler on the Roof.”  Wasn’t it just yesterday that Jesus was small?  When did Jesus grow to be so tall?   Five days ago, on the twelfth day of Christmas, Jesus was an infant.  Today, Jesus is a full-fledged adult; and he is making the full-fledged adult choice of Baptism.   “Swiftly fly the years,” indeed!

The scriptures are virtually silent about Jesus’ growing-up years.  Of the years between Jesus’ infancy and adulthood, the scriptures tell us only that at age 12, on a family trip to Jerusalem, Jesus stayed behind in the Temple as his family left for home.  “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  Jesus asked when they found him. But they did not understand what He said to them.  Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth… and… increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor. 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