Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Tuesday, January 1, 2013


The 2008 Times Square Ball, on display at the Times Square Visitor's Center. A larger version of this ball has been used in Times Square for its New Year's ball drop since 2009. It was again dropped 1 second past midnight of 2012 to signal 2013.


(Homily of The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, in the Multi-Ethnic Midnight New Year's Eve Service at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Woodside, New York, 12/31/2012)

Tonight we watch the ending of 2012 and watch out for the beginning of the Year 2013. As we here in the Church gather to give thanks and to pray, a giant ball is being lowered in Times Square in Manhattan to signify that a new game is about to start. At the drop of the ball, over a million people in Times Square and millions more in the world viewing their television, will see the ball drop and rejoice to celebrate the calendar change with a bang or a boom. There will be sights, sounds, music, singing, dancing and merry making. Despite the calamities and the tragedies that happen in 2012, we always deem it proper to meet the new year with joy.

We here in the church are a little more subdued. We shall watch with silence and meditation. “A new year is unfolding,” says an unknown author, “like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within"  So instead of frolic and noise, we shall watch the first petal open itself and we shall take time to see the beauty within the blossom; We shall see the breaking open of the flower with the eyes of faith, with the heart of love and with the mind of hope.  .

I will frame that experience in the words of one of my favorite hymns,”O God, our Help in Ages Past. Our Hope for Years to Come. ” 

The lyrics of this hymn, written by Isaac Watts (1674-1748) were a paraphrase of Psalm 90, oftentimes known as “The Prayer of Moses,” who was the liberator of the Hebrew slaves, the  lawgiver of Israel and the bringer of the Ten Commandments. The first five books of the Old Testament of the Bible, known as the Pentateuch, are called the Books of Moses.  These first five books of the Bible are: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

It is interesting to note that Moses lived to be 120 years old. His life’s story can be divided into three chapters, each chapter is 40 years. The first chapter is headlined “Moses Thought He Was Somebody.”  Well, for forty years, he was thought to be a prince of Egypt. As a baby, he was hidden in a basket by the river Nile and was secretly adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter. He walked with kings and queens, princes and princesses. He was admired, adored and respected.

The second chapter is headlined, “Moses Found Out He Was A Nobody.” Upon witnessing a Hebrew slave being oppressed, the Hebrew in him, made him defend the slave and in the process he killed an Egyptian. It did not take long until he found out that he was not an Egyptian prince but a son of a Hebrew slave. He escaped to live in the desert of Sinai for forty years, living the life of a mountaineer and a shepherd.

The third and final chapter of Moses’ life is headlined, “Moses Learned What God Can Do to a Nobody.” From the burning bush on Mount Sinai, God called Moses and said, “Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground.” Then gave him a mission that will forever change his life and alter the course of human history. God said, “I have seen the oppression of my people; I have heard their cries and have seen their tears. Go down, Moses back to Egypt and say to the Pharoah, ‘let my people go!” After some hesitation, Moses obeyed God---and the rest is history. The Hebrew slaves of Egypt were set free and they become the nation of Israel.

So how would history divide the chapters of your own life? Of if you are writing your autobiography, how would you describe the chapters of your life story?

If you have a Hymnal, may I then invite you do join me in reading and reflecting on the hymn verse after verse.It is found on page 680 of our Episcopal Church Hymnal 1982.

1. First verse: O God our help in ages past our hope for years to come
Our shelter from the stormy blast and our eternal home.

The essence of this verse is also captured in another book in the Bible, the Book of Hebrews which says, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.” We live in a world that is constantly changing and we live a life that is full of uncertainties. Someone once said, “the only two things we are certain of, are death and taxes.” Everything else is uncertain. Everything is temporal and doomed. That is why it is comforting to know that God is permanent, that God never changes. His love remains forever and his faithfulness endures from age to age. If God has saved you in the past, then He saves you today and He will save you tomorrow. 

Many of us, sitting here today, have survived the hurricanes, the floods, the storms, the serious illnesses and everything else that came our way in 2012. So we are all survivors----because God has saved us. Let us affirm our trust in God, "our Help in ages past and our hope for years to come."

2. Second Verse: Under the shadow of thy throne, thy saints have dwelt secure
Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defense is sure.

In the world, power is the source of security. Economic power, political power, military power. Peoples and nations invoke those powers when their sense of security is threatened. Individuals also rely on the power of money to give them a sense of security; others rely on the power of their guns (like the NRA) to give them security; still others rely in the power of their connections to give them a sense of security.  

 In the prayer of Moses, our security lies in the power of God. God is called “El Shaddai” the All-Sufficient God. St. Paul said he learned to abound or to abase because God's grace is sufficient. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. because the power of the Holy Spirit within us, is greater than the power outside of this world. There was a girl in Sunday School who was asked to recite Psalm 23. She began with confidence, “The Lord is my Shepherd..” but she stopped right there. The congregation, thinking she forgot the lines, tried to give her an encouragement, saying “what else, what else?” Her own teacher also said, “What else?” The girl replied, “The Lord is my shepherd, what else do I want?” Indeed, if God is our Shepherd, what else do we want? St. Augustine wrote, "O rich man, if you haven't God; what have you got? O poor man, if you have God, what haven't you got?"

3. Third Verse: Before the hills in order stood or earth received her frame;
From everlasting thou art God, to endless years the same.

The gospel according to John speaks of Jesus as the Word ( Logos in Greek). “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was with God. He was in the beginning with God…And the Word was made flesh and lived among us”(John 1). The doctrine of incarnation says that Jesus was from the beginning, God. He did not grow up to be God. He was God from the beginning. Unlike the Buddha, He did not achieve nirvana. His divinity was not earned from his good works. His divinity was intrinsic to his nature as God, because from the beginning He was God..

In the Nicene Creed, we confess that God is everlasting and that nature of God is extended to those who lives and believes in the Son. From rising to life of Jesus, we are given the promise of eternal life. Eternity is not written in the tables of our hearts. William Faulkner, one of the early Nobel Prize Winner in Literature believed that even in the end of the world, man will never perish because man is created in the image of God. He wrote, “Even when the last ding dong of doom shall have clanged and faded, there will still be one more sound, the sound of man. Man will not simply endure, man will prevail.”

4. Fourth Verse: A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone
Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.

The Bible tells us in II Peter 3:8 “one day in the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like one day.” It simply means that God is not bound by time and space. God belongs to the 4th dimension, the dimension that is beyond time and space. It is a spiritual dimension and so it can only be understood spiritually. We live in the time spiritually apportioned by God.

For us, human beings, age is relative. I celebrated my birthday last Christmas day. I was born December 25, 1950 so I just turned 62 years old. But who is counting? My wife, Angie will celebrate her birthday on January 4. Her age, like most women’s age, is a military secret. But again, who is counting? 

Psalm 90 tells us that our lifespan is 70 years or by reason of strength 80 or more. I have known of some people who are in their past 100’s. Our former church organist was 93 years old and she had been playing the organ for over 40 years. She is still strong and energetic and was still hitting the chords like nobody I knew. It was only last year, upon the pleading of her children, that we had to retire her, because he was having some short term memory. But what a saint she is!.

But age is relative. You maybe old but young at heart; or you maybe young but old in experience. Yet in both history and scriptures, we are often judged not on the quantity of life but the quality of life.. The oldest men recorded in the Bible included Methuselah who lived to be 365 years; Enoch who has no record of death; and of course, Cain who wandered on the earth with a sign that he can not be killed. On the other hand,  Jesus Christ lived only to be 33 years but the impact of his short life touches so many generations and so many faiths.

So the wisdom from Moses was to pray, “Lord, teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Knowledge is the accumulation of information, but wisdom is the application of knowledge. May we be wise in living out the number of our days.

5. Fifth verse: Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our years away
They fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.

Someone said that the epitaph of the modern society is “hurry, worry and bury.” We seem to be always terrorized by time. We live our lives according to our Blackberries or cell phones. We get so anxious about tomorrow and we multi-task the burdens of the day. I have a friend from Seattle who came to New York to be interviewed for a job. While in Manhattan, he called me up and said, “Father Fred; I’m now in Manhattan but I think I will no longer go for job interview. I am just watching the people here in Grand Central and I got tired already.”

From human history, we have always tried to idolize speed. From the spinning wheels came the chariots, then the steamships, then automobiles, then airplanes, then jet planes that seek to break the speed barrier. Yet, no matter how much we increase our speed, we can never overtake time. We continue to find our work never fully complete, never fully accomplished. The sense of contentment always eludes us.

 But if our life is centered on God, there is indeed contentment and fulfillment. St. Paul in his letter to Timothy (2 Tim 4:7) said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I think these are the words of complete and final fulfillment.

There is always a sense of urgency in fulfilling God’s purpose for our lives. But in God’s Word, we are asked not to worry about life; not to be anxious for anything but in everything by prayer and supplication, we make our requests known to God. So why worry when you can pray?

6. The Sixth Verse: “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.
                                  Be thou, our guard while life shall last and our eternal home.”

Jesus came to give us life and have it abundantly (John 10:10). On earth, we are promised new and abundant life. This promise is beyond the material. A life lived in all its fullness is a life lived in all its paradoxes. So the one message that rings throughout this hymn is “Do not be afraid.” This is the  message of the angel to Mary when she was to become the bearer of the Messiah; this was the message of Jesus to his apostles when they were faced with a storm; this was the message of Jesus to the witnesses to his resurrection. Do not be afraid. God loves you and cares for you. His will is abundant life on earth, and in the age to come, life everlasting.

The poet T.S. Elliot said, “We should never stop exploring…and the end of our exploring is to return to where we come from, and discover the place for the first time.” The essence of our Christian life is a life of constant renewal, a constant anticipation of what God can do to us, even to a nobody like Moses.. “Once you are no people,” the apostle Peter wrote to the new Christians.  “But now you are God’s people; once you have not received mercy, now you have received mercy.” As a matter of fact, “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

 God says, “Behold, I make all things new.” “The old has passed away, the new has come.” So let us take every opportunity to make this year better than last year and to believe in our hearts that “the best is yet to be.” Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your view on New Year Seattle in your post. Really, we never forget this moment of amazing experience of New Year's Eve 2013.