Saturday, December 6, 2014

Looking Forward to December 21, 2014 -- Advent 4

The Scripture Readings for this Sunday are:
  • Luke 1:26-38
  • Matthew 1:18-25
The Sermon Title is He Said She Said

Early Thoughts:  How did that discussion go?  That one between Mary and Joseph.

It is pure speculation of course.  We have no way of knowing what happened between them when the discovery of Mary's "too soon" pregnancy was made.  Luke tells us the story as Mary experiences it.  Matthew gives us an insight into what happens for Joseph.

But sometime they had to talk to each other...

Mary has a story of an angel and a conversation.  Mary can talk about her (mild) argument with the angel -- "How can this be".  She can share her feelings.  Maybe even share why she agreed -- or if she though not agreeing was an option.

Joseph has a story of a dream.  But before the dream comes his resolution to put Mary aside.  What was he feeling?  Why did he believe his dream?  Whyy did he change his mind?

What if Mary and Joseph each got to tell their story (a mixture of Scripture and imagination) and then turned to each other and talked to each other?  What might that look like?

This Sunday we are going to try and find out.
Will they find consistencies in each other's stories?  Will they have to apologize to each other?  How will they say they found out?  And where do they see God in the whole event?

Looking Forward to December 14, 2014 -- Advent 3 & Blue Christmas

There are in fact 2 worship services at St. Paul's this Sunday.

In the morning we have our Annual Sunday School Pageant, written locally, with an original song too!  This year we hear from the Birds of Bethlehem.

Then in the afternoon we have our Blue Christmas service.  This year we will be using our Advent candle themes of hope, peace, joy and love to reflect on light and darkness in this quieter service as we head toward Christmas.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Newsletter/Newspaper piece...

Since I had to prepare both a newspaper piece and a newsletter piece in the same week I thought I would double up and use the same piece for both (not lazy—efficient)

Light in the Darkness
The other day I was reading an article that described the depth of the darkness in the world today. Words like Ferguson, ISIS/ISIL, Ebola, Boko Haram filled our news this year. So did Murdered/Missing Indigenous Women in Canada and the Civil War in Syria. Some days it is difficult to be a person of hope.

So much darkness into which we need light to shine this year.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who walk in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined (Isaiah 9:2)

In some form those words have been a part of almost every Christmas Eve service I have led. Sometimes in a reading of Scripture, sometimes in a prayer, sometimes in a sermon or meditation. But they are a vital part of my understanding of Christmas. At Christmas we see a great light, a light that, as John's gospel tells us “shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5).

On November 30th, the first Sunday of Advent (the church season in which we prepare for Christmas), I started my sermon with these words: “Christmas comes into the world as it is...the Christ Child comes, not into the world as we wish it was but the world as it is”. I think we forget that. I think we get drawn into the joyous carols and the frenzied preparations and forget why Christ came. Christ came to be light in the darkness, to transform the shadows into places where God's Kingdom would grow.

In that same worship service we sang my favourite Advent hymn. It is a strange hymn for a season everybody assumes would be joyful, because it is more than a little bit melancholy. It talks about the world being “full of darkness, again there is no room” and “for the nameless millions the star will never shine” and “there will be no tomorrows for many a baby born”. And then we sing it in a minor key to make it even more sombre sounding. Why do I like such a sad song so much?

In part it is a favourite because I remember it from my childhood (as often makes things a favourite part of the Christmas season). But also because it names the reality that Christmas comes, that Christ comes, into a broken world. Just look through the news headlines and you will find plenty of evidence of the darkness in the world.

As I sit here looking back at the year that is ending it strikes me how easy it would be to give up on hope. It would be easy to decide that the darkness is stronger and decide just to live watching out for myself. But then there is Christmas. But then there is this season where coloured lights multiply like crazy on houses and streets, this time when candles become a part of our decorating, this time when we sing about Good News for all and Peace on Earth. And something starts to glow again.

That hymn I talked about earlier is not all sorrow and darkness. It also reminds us that Christ is with us, that Christ is being born again, that God's purpose will be fulfilled. That is the promise of Christmas.

Yes the world can be a terribly dark place. Yes the shadows grow long and deep (and based on the past week, terribly cold). But here in the darkest part of the year we celebrate the coming of the Light. When the nights are the longest we proclaim that the Light of the world is being born in our midst.

John tells us that the Light which was in the beginning, the Light of Creation, the Light that shines in the darkness, can not be overcome. So even when the world seems to be one shadow after another, even when despair seems more realistic than hope, when fear seems stronger than love, where joy and peace are just words – not realities, even then the light is still shining somewhere.

Where do you see the light shining this year?

This Christmas season I encourage all of us to look for the light. Often we find it in surprising places. But we only find it if we look. Sometimes the light is a faint glimmer. Sometimes it is so bright we are struck with fear and awe. But it is always there. And when we find it may we once again hear the angel's words: “Fear not! For behold I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be for all people. For unto you is born a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord”

God bless us, every one.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Looking Forward to December 7, 2014 -- Advent 2

This being the first Sunday of December we will be celebrating Communion.

The Scripture Reading this week is Isaiah 42:1-9

The Sermon title is The Servant

Early Thoughts:  Who is this servant?  And how does it tie in to Christmas preparations?

For most, if not all of church history the Christian community has interpreted the Servant songs of Isaiah as referring to Jesus, the Messiah.  It is, however, less clear what Isaiah might have meant.  He could have been sharing a messianic "job description" (although it misses distinct things that the Messiah was expected to accomplish--like the renewal of the Davidic monarchy) and so the servant is the Messiah.  Or the Servant could be the people/nation as a whole.  In English translation (both in Christian Bibles and in my copy of the Tanakh, the Jewish Bible) I personally think it reads as the Servant as a singular individual.  And as the inheritor of Christian tradition I see Christ in it quite clearly.

Which answers how this relates to Christmas.  It isn't about pregnancy and birth but it does tell us something about the one who will be born.

I think it also tells us something about the Kingdom.  Whatever else Jesus was or did, it is clear in the Gospel accounts that his primary passion, his main message was proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And so he described what the Kingdom would be like, he showed how people would live in the Kingdom.  It could be argued that everything Jesus did or said--the wise aphorisms, the parables, the healings, everything--was about the Kingdom.  And so everything that the servant does in this passage is also about building or living in the Kingdom.

In the Advent season we are not only waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth 2 millennia ago.  We are also waiting for the Kingdom to be born in our midst in 2014.  Where do we look for the servant today?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Christmas Letter from the Chair of Presbytery

Brothers and Sisters:

I write this on the Saturday before Advent begins as there is a flurry of activity in the church putting up Christmas decorations. I guess I can no longer pretend that Christmas is months away and have to start getting more prepared.

We now enter one of (if not THE) the busiest months of the year, both in the church and in the world around us. And yet a month from now the fuss will be almost over for another year, in just over a month the decorations will be put away and the turkey will be made into soup. And maybe we will all have caught our breath again.

But in amidst the bustle of gift shopping and wrapping, the baking, the special events, the worship planning can we pause to find a moment (or a series of moments) to just experience the season? Can we stop and listen for angel song and look for the light of a strange new star?

That is my hope for all of us this season. My hope is that we can shut off the busy-ness and once again feel what it is like for God to break into our world. Because without that all the coloured lights and gaily wrapped gifts and plates of baking lose their meaning (except for chocolates—chocolates always have a meaningful place in life).

So I ask you today. How is Christ being born in your midst? Where is the Light of the World shining in the shadows of your communities?

I pray that we can all be open to see the Christ-child in places that we don't expect – because that is where we most often find God. I pray that in a world full of shadows, and here I remember my favourite Advent hymn (Tomorrow Christ is Coming, #27 in Voices United) which says “The world is full of darkness, again there is no room”, we will see the light shining. The light which shines in the darkness but the darkness can not overcome is coming into the world again. Do not be afraid, for this is news of great joy for all people. A child is born. A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord.

Blessed Christmas to one and all!


Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking Forward to November 30, 2014 -- 1st Sunday of Advent

Our Advent Candle readings this year are written by Rev Martha K. Spong, a United Church of Christ minister in the US.  They can be found here (though we will be using them as all read by candlelighters instead of as congregational responses)

Our Scripture reading for the first Sunday of Advent is: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:2-4; 3:17-19

The sermon title this week is The Christmas Vision

Early Thoughts:  Advent is a time of hope.  A time of waiting.  A time of vision.  What is your vision this Advent?  What is OUR vision this Advent?

As we prepare for Christmas we are not only preparing for Jesus to be born in Bethlehem 2000+ years ago.  We are preparing for Christ to come into our world today.  We are waiting, as we are all year round, for the world to be changed, for the Kingdom of God to come into full bloom.  And when we look at our newsfeeds it seems we could honestly say "how much longer?"

But still there is the vision.  It is the vision and the hope that keep us moving forward.

There is not a lot of cause for hope in these readings.  Habakkuk lived in a land that had been, and still was devastated by warfare.  There is little to no light on the horizon.  Dawn is a LONG way off.  But still Habakkuk talks about the vision, still he exhorts folk to keep the vision in front of them, still he says it will (eventually, at the appointed time, in God's time) come to fruition.

What is the devastation we see around us?  What is the vision just over the horizon?  What do we hope for this Christmas?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Looking Forward to November 23, 2014 -- Reign of Christ Sunday, Jeremiah

This week we have two selections from Jeremiah:  Jeremiah 1:4-10; 7:1-11

The Sermon title is From the Mouths of Babes...
Early Thoughts:  Called as a child, convinced he was too young, Jeremiah goes on to challenge the understanding of the house of God....

Now there is nothing in the text to tell us how young/old Jeremiah is when he stands in the gates of the temple and gives his sermon, challenging the listeners to rethink their understanding of God.  But in conjunction with his call story it is tempting to see a teenager standing there lambasting the adults.  After all it touches a favoured saying from Isaiah "and a little child shall lead them" (Isaiah 11:6) along with Jesus saying "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:17).  And there is something attractive about the idea that children/youth are sometimes (often??) wiser than their older neighbours.

Within the Jewish Scriptures there is a variance in the idea of God's protection.  One strand holds that the Promised Land belongs to the people for ever and ever amen.  And in that stream the fact that the House of God (the temple) stands in Jerusalem gives Jerusalem special protection.  Another stream holds that the gift of the land may be revoked if the people do not live up to their part of the covenant.  If the people fail to live as God would have them live then there will be consequences.  AS do most of the Prophets, Jeremiah here stands in the latter stream.

In some ways he is in the same place as Micah from a couple of weeks ago.  Micah points out what God wants is not sacrifices of rams but justice kindness and humility.  Jeremiah points out the hypocrisy of ignoring God's desires, of worshiping other Gods, and then standing in the temple calling on God to protect the nation.

This is the last Sunday of the Church Year.  As we prepare for Advent to begin, we pause to consider how the Kingdom is closer this year than it was a year ago.  Jeremiah suggests that if we live lives of justice then we will know that God is in our midst.  So where are we along the way (because the profession of Christian faith has always been that the Kingdom is already here and yet the full bloom of the Kingdom is still coming--the Now and the Not Yet.

Referring back to Jeremiah's call experience, what needs to be pulled down and plucked out so that the Kingdom will bloom?