Monday, December 31, 2012

Looking Forward to January 6, 2013 -- Epiphany Sunday

The Scripture Readings for this week are:
  • Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14
  • Matthew 2:1-12

The Sermon isn't really a Sermon. Instead it will be a series of monologues under the title The Wise Ones Visit

 Early Thoughts: Who were they, these visitors from the East? Why did they come? What did they know? [Did they even exist?]

Matthew is really short on details in his account.  He does not even tell us how many there were!

 And so tradition has filled in the blanks.  After all, few people like a story with all sorts of details missing.

This week, drawing partly on tradition and partly on imagination, we will let three Magi tell their stories.  Stories which explain a possible logic behind the three gifts Matthew tells us about.

And yes there is a possibility that Matthew made up the story completely.  But we will save that line of discussion for another year...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Looking Forward to December 24, 2012 -- Christmas Eve

The Scripture Readings for this service are:
Isaiah 9:2-7 (which will form the backbone of the Call to Worship)
Luke 2:1-20

The Reflection is called What is Born for you tonight?

Early Thoughts:   Why do we celebrate Christmas every year?  Is it a great big birthday party?  Or is it because we believe that the Christ is born again and again, that God continues to become God-With-Us in new and surprising ways?

I say it is the latter.  I say that this (and every) year we are called once again to look and see where God is being born.  It will not likely be where or how we expect it.  But God comes again to bring hope, God comes again to push us toward peace, God comes again to reveal joy, God comes again to spread love. 

Both Isaiah and Luke make it clear that the birth we await is for the people of God, not for God. So for US a child is born.  What is being born for you this Christmas?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Looking Forward to December 23, 2012 -- Advent 4C

The Scripture reading this week is Luke 1:26-38

The Sermon title is What if She Said NO?

Early Thoughts:  What would have happened to the story then?  What if, after her discussion with the angel Mary had said "Thanks but no thanks" instead of “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”???

Ok I admit, I first came up with this title near the end of the US Election season when various candidates for federal office were making some rather stupid statements around rape and pregnancy.  And I may have been feeling a little bit confrontational.   SO what if Mary said NO and got pregnant anyway?  What would that make the story about?

6 weeks or so later I see that this may not be the best sermon to preach on December 23.  Or at least not quite as polemical as I was feeling that day.  But still I think the question bears asking, I just want to take it in a different way.  Maybe the question is more "Why did she say yes?"

IF we take it for granted that Mary COULD have said no but didn't.  What does that say about her and about God.  

Mary is an interesting character in the Scripture story.   And she is made more interesting by the layers of gender-role/gender-nature assumptions that quickly got added on top of the Scriptural story (this process probably started in the first couple of centuries of the Christian Era).  As a result tradition tells us about "Gentle Mary meek and mild", a young woman who quietly submitted to the will of God as revealed by an angel.  But I have my doubts.  To say yes meant risking social ostracism or worse.  There have always been grave social risks for young women who are pregnant "too soon", still are for that matter.  

Given that reality I think it say a lot about Mary, about her confidence in herself, about her confidence in God that she say yes.  But did she have to? 

Well that would depend on your understanding of how God interacts with God's people.  SOme would say that Mary really had no choice in the matter, that God's will overrides human will.  I understand that point of view.   It is tempting because it suggests that the other option is that human will overrides God's will.  And that can be a depressing possibility.  But I think there is another option.  

I believe God acts more through encouragement and co-operation than coercion.  So I believe that Mary COULD have said no.  But she said yes.  So this week let's explore why she made that choice....

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Newspaper Column....

It's the most WONDERFUL time of the year! So the old song goes. In the minds of many Christmas is a time of joy and happiness. Christmas is about carols, chocolates, children, and community. It involves Christmas parties and presents. It is a season when the world can pause from the everyday grind and talk about peace, hope, joy and love.

Well the truth can be somewhat different than our perceptions. For some people Christmas is anything but happy. Maybe this is the first year after a death in the family. Maybe this year one of the children isn’t coming home for the holidays. Maybe this is the first time you can't get home to be with family. Maybe there is added stress and anxiety because of your economic situation and the expectation to buy gifts. For a variety of reasons Christmas can be very difficult.

It is hard to go against the expectations around us. When people expect us to be happy and joyful it is difficult to tell them that we aren’t feeling that way. But it is important that people have a place and a chance to be honest with themselves and their family and friends about what they are feeling.

Last Sunday in our worship service I gave the congregation at St. Paul's a challenge. I work from the assumption that we all know someone for whom Christmas is difficult. And as members of a community of love we have an ethical duty to support other members of that community. So I share the challenge with all of you out there, if you know someone for whom Christmas is difficult this year, to help provide that place and opportunity to be honest about what we are feeling this Christmas. Together we can help each other cope with the ups and downs of life. I think that would be a great Christmas gift to give each other.

And now, because I think Christmas is mainly about stories, here is a story of someone who found a way to make a stranger's Christmas just a bit better:

The wind gusted, sending the fresh snow swirling around the lamp post. Miriam shivered, pulling the thin coat tighter around her chest. “Gonna be a cold one tonight,” she muttered, squinting through the darkness.

A little further down the block was the big old church. Miriam remembered going there as a child, remembered the beautiful stained glass windows. Suddenly a friendly voice boomed in her ear. “Merry Christmas! Please come and join us for worship!”

Miriam looked around, wondering who the cheerful man was talking to. Surely it couldn’t be her. Christmas Eve was a special service, someone wearing an old coat and wrapped in a hand-me-down blanket didn’t fit in with the fancy dresses and bright lights. But there was nobody else around. “Ar-are you talking to m-m-me?” she asked.

“Of course my dear,” the greeter replied. “Come in and warm up at least.” Miriam could hardly believe her ears; certainly a chance to get out of the wind was welcome. Gratefully she made her way up the old stone stairs and snuck into a pew way at the back of the sanctuary, just as the opening notes of the first hymn were being played.

As she listened to the familiar old carols Miriam couldn’t help remembering the Christmases of her childhood. Things were so much happier, so much simpler then. “What had gone wrong?” she muttered to herself. Then the pageant started. Watching Mary and Joseph get turned away from the inn Miriam felt her heart reach out to them. She knew what it meant to have nowhere to go.

After the service, Miriam started to wrap herself in the blanket again and sneak out without being seen. No luck. The greeter was right there beside her again. “Where will you sleep tonight?” he asked. Miriam said nothing, just looked away.

Finally she looked up, “I don’t know, there was no room at the shelter.”

“Well that will never do” the young man said. He paused for a moment then a smile came back to his face. “You will come to my parent’s house with me,” he said. The story we just heard reminds us that there should always be room at the inn somewhere.

It might have been a trick of the light and wind. But at that moment Miriam was sure that the greeter’s face was shining, just like the angel in the window behind her. And somewhere she heard voices singing “Hallelujah!”…

May God grant you the Merriest possible Christmas and Blessings in 2013!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

What I wrote for the DHT Christmas SEction...

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

“And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)

It is the heart of the story we tell at this time of year. The birth of a child. The birth of hope. The birth that was promised, the light in the darkness.

The original Christmas takes place in a world full of despair. This Christmas comes into a world that also knows too much despair. But still Hope is being born. Still Emmanuel, God -With-Us, is breaking into the world to bring change, to lead us into the Reign of God.

What is being born for you this year? Where is God breaking into your life?

The Congregation of St. Paul's United Church invites one and all to join us in celebrating the Birth of the Promised Child December 24 at 7:00pm.

We wish you all a Very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year.

And as Tiny Tim put it so well. God Bless Us! Every One!

I also sent two pictures for them to choose between.  THey are from the recent Nativity Scene exhibit here at St. Paul's:


Monday, December 3, 2012

Looking Ahead to December 9, 2012 -- Advent 2C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Malachi 3:1-4
  • Luke 1:68-79 (VU p.900)
  • Luke 3:7-18

The Sermon Title is Ready to be Refined? 

Early Thoughts:  Having the dross burnt away, or the impurities scrubbed out, or being threshed to separate the grain from the chaff.  Not the most helpful ways to approach God are they?

Malachi and John, like most Biblical Prophets. are speaking to people who have lost their way.  Malachi and John are trying to get people to repent, to change direction.  Malachi and John know that in order for people to get back on the right path some thing has to be changed, some part of their being (or at least their behaviour) needs to be excised/removed, the people God wants them to be needs to be removed from the excess so that their pure selves can shine through.

If we take Advent and Christmas seriously, if we seriously ask ourselves what it means for God to break into the world and call us to a new way of living then we have to ask ourselves where we might need to be refined/threshed/washed.  But there is hope in that question--far more hope than we might get from Malachi and John.

Malachi and John had a vision of how this purification thing was going to work.  They saw God coming in anger and justice to physically (and somewhat forcefully or violently) remove that which was impure.  But lo and behold God had a different plan.

Instead of a crucible burning away our impurities, or being scrubbed with fuller's soap (which would also burn the skin by the way), or being beaten with a flail, God calls us to a new life through love and grace and mercy.  In Jesus God calls us to embrace who we are meant to be and cast away that which does not fit.  God does not seek to strip it away by force.

Not that this is any easier mind you.  At times it still feels like we are in the refiner's crucible and the heat is getting uncomfortable.  But still the intention makes all the difference.  By choosing to act through love God says that we will be accepted and loved despite (and including) our impurities.  God does call us to repent, to change direction.  God will help us make that turn.  It will not be easy or comfortable.  But to be who we were created to be we have to do it. So are we willing?  As we prepare to make space in our lives for God to be born anew are we ready to be refined?