Monday, December 29, 2014

Looking Forward to January 4, 2015 -- The Magi Visit and the Aftermath

Happy New Year!

This being the first Sunday of the month we will be celebrating communion this week,  with a sung communion prayer.

The Scripture Reading this week is Matthew 2:1-23

The Sermon title is The Refugee King

Early Thoughts: How might it happen today?

A child is born, who will turn the world upside-down.  People seeking to visit and honour the child inadvertently alert the authorities to his existence.  The authorities then seek to get rid of the threat, forcing the child's family to make a hasty retreat into exile.

Seems probable.  In fact I would guess that similar things (likely involving politically active adults rather than young children) happen on a regular basis around the globe, both in democratic and non-democratic countries.  People who are deemed a threat to the established order are driven out or underground or just simply "disappeared".

Can we accept a refugee  king and saviour?

Amidst the carols and the pageants and the cuteness of Christmas we miss something.  Christmas, the Christ story in general, is revolutionary.  In both Matthew and Luke there is, if we stop to look, the signs of the revolution.  In both Matthew and Luke there are, if we care to notice, signs of the shadow that looms over the whole story.

Early in Advent I mentioned that Jesus is born into the world "just as it is".  But here is the other side.  Jesus is born to change the world.  Jesus is born to herald the coming of the Kingdom of God.  And for the Kingdom of God to burst into existence some people are going to lose, and lose a lot.

Which is why we have a refugee king and saviour.

Which is why we have the slaughter of the innocents.

Which is why there are tears mixed in with the glory of Christmas.

Herod was threatened and struck back.  And since he had no specific target (no laser guided bomb would help him here) he cast a wider net.  He did what those with power have done and continue to do throughout the ages.

Where would we stand now?  Would we wait while the soldiers rampage through the city?  Would we have to be on the run?  Would we accept the refugee "troublemaker" into our midst?

We have no way of knowing if the specific story told by Matthew in today's reading ever happened in history.  But we do know that similar things have happened and continue to happen.  What do we do about it?

Where is the refugee in our vision of the Kingdom?

Monday, December 22, 2014

Looking Forward to December 24, 2014

This Wednesday is Christmas Eve.  And we have two services.

At the first service (6:30) we will hear Linus share the Christmas story, as so many of us grew up hearing him tell it after Charlie Brown asked if anyone could tell him what Christmas was all about.  Then we will hear about A Candle for Christmas and the children (with help from their parents) will be invited to make themselves a paper bag lantern.

Our other service is at 8:00.

We will have Scripture and music, lots of music, and will close with candles and the singing of Silent night in a darkened room.  The handbells will play, there will be a duet between piano and organ, both Junior and Senior Choirs will sing.

The Scripture Readings for this service are:
  • Isaiah 9:2-7
  • Luke 2:1-20
The Christmas Reflection is called Light in the Darkness

Early Thoughts: One of the images used at Christmas is the counterpoint of light versus darkness.  Admittedly it is one the images that makes the most sense in Northern latitudes.  As the days grow short and the world gets darker we put up coloured lights and light candles and talk about the Light of the World being born.

This image is one I have been doing a lot of looking at this Advent season.  Darkness as an image is used for many things.  Many people, at some time in their lives, are afraid of the Dark.  Darkness conceals, you don't always know what lurks out in the shadows.  In both the Lord of the Rings and in Harry Potter the enemy is called the Dark Lord. And in both stories the world gets darker and darker as the story progresses--until the darkness is overcome (it gets harder and harder to watch the Harry Potter movies on our TV because they literally get so dark we can hardly see anything).  And let us be honest, there are plenty of reasons to see the world as a dark (and potentially getting darker) place in 2014.  Our news headlines have not always been the most joyful place have they?

But in the midst the dark world we have a strange star in the Scriptural sky, we have the glory of angel choirs, we have the light shining from the manger.

Undoubtedly there are hazards of the dark/light dichotomy.  It has fed into many unhelpful, unfortunate, and unloving descriptions of people.  And since darkness is part of the creation of which God says "it is good" we do it a disservice to always think of shadow and darkness as points of fear.  But it is a powerful image.  SO what does it mean to us in the here and now?

And if we are people who walk in a time of great darkness, how is light shining on us?  And might we learn something from the darkness?

Lots of possible directions for a short(ish) reflection.  Where will I end up?  SOme and find out!

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?