Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

It's a quiet Christmas morning which I'm cherishing before things get busy and time-lines intrude on the day. Last night's readings and carols were set off by the choir's simple line of acclamation, "The glory of the Lord shall be revealed."

There are many awaiting that glory this morning, missing family, wondering where a family member is today, or in general trying to set aside the worry of joblessness, debt, and fear. We were reminded last night to, "Fear not" but today's special space doesn't seem to last long when it comes to worry and fear.

I wish for everyone a moment of peace like I've found this morning and time to explore God's message that comes through scripture but more so through people. I trust that in our comings and goings, visits and gift-giving, the Christ child will appear in the eyes, hands, and hearts of friends and strangers. Christ the Lord is born today! Thanks be to God.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

This Day - Christmas Eve 2009

“Those Days” 12/24/09 ACOB
You know it’s the Christmas story when you hear, “In those days a decree went out. .” Using today’s language, we might say, “back in the day an executive order went out”.

The words, “In those days,” are a clue for us to settle in and listen to the story we love. Tonight we broke it up in order that we might also sing the story by inserting some of our favorite Christmas carols into the text.

I was reminded by Charles Campbell in Feasting on the Word that “In those days” tells us this story is set in chronos time, the Greek word that means chronological time with a beginning, a middle and an ending. This is the time we are used to and in which we live.

Yet this story is not about chronos time, it’s about the beginning of Kairos time, God’s time. God’s time is “shaped by the character and quality of the new event” .

Luke gives us details to locate the story of Jesus’ birth in time and place; in the history we know. Mary and Joseph lived and died in that chronos time. This story is the story of their timeline and their hectic travel schedule.
Like last weekend’s travelers, they got stuck in a town with no room left. Everyone was on the road and every spot to sleep was already taken. Only someone’s compassion led them to a stable, perhaps under someone’s home because it was obvious Mary needed to lay down. Their journey in ‘those days’ was interrupted by the pangs of birth which made ‘THIS day’ the most special day of all time.

There would be no business as usual for Mary and Joseph and it wouldn’t be a small interruption in their schedule. Jesus’ birth was the in breaking of the heavenly realm. Nothing would be the same ever again. The physical location didn’t really matter because Kairos time had come.

Kairos time challenged the Emperor’s time just as Jesus’ presence challenges the emperor’s lordship – any emperor, then or now. “In ‘those days’ life was governed by fear. Political powers play on fear to get their way. There is fear of the emperor, fear of terrorists, fear of immigrants or any one who is ‘the other’. [There’s fear of hurt, of pain, of death.] But with “THIS DAY” comes a new possibility.” (Campbell)

When we hear this beloved story we are reminded that we no longer live in ‘those days’ and we are no longer subject to those fears. We need not live according to the emperor’s decree because we have been changed by THIS DAY and this holy night’s event. We have a new Lord who has brought Kairos time to earth.

Our lives should NEVER be business as usual. We must take the angel’s message to heart and ‘fear not!’ We live in and are part of God’s new reality where worldly power doesn’t rule; - vulnerability reigns supreme – even the extreme vulnerability of a newborn. Now, because of THIS DAY, the beginning, middle and end of our lives are set within Kairos time, and we are different.

We are different because of THIS DAY. Now, WE are shaped by “the character and quality” of God’s gift. Now we have the courage to proclaim “Do not fear” and live that way too.

This night and every night we hear and share in the angels song, “Fear not, for unto us is born THIS DAY, a savior, who is Christ, the Lord.”

Reference: Charles Campbell Feasting On The Word, Barlett & Brown, eds. Homiletical (Louisville: WJK, 2009) p. 119

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Isn't is amazing how a big snow can change everything? Like so many other congregations we canceled services today. The sun was shining but everyone was snowed in or plowed in or not even plowed yet. My husband said there were car-sized mounds of snow strewn along the parkway where people had abandoned their cars. The Federal government is closed tomorrow to allow time to shovel and plow out lots and buildings. All this excitement and Christmas is this week. (Plus they are calling for a freezing mix on Christmas.)

I don't imagine shepherds had to deal with mounds of snow, just white and black sheep who might have been a bit unruly after experiencing the Glory of God and a host of angels. Big things change life very quickly and nothing looks the same on the other side.

I hope our Christmas will be a big thing (not another snow event) that will cause everything to look differently on the other side. Our whole lives are on the 'other side' of the first Christmas and everything IS different. It just takes a reminder to pull us away from the priorities of shoveling and getting out to work and the store. Big events are good things when they cause us to reexamine life.

I trust that all the earth will be blessed with God's big event as we are drawn into a day of remembering and reordering priorities on December 25.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent IV, all together now

This Sunday is a special one because in our congregation we have several people scheduled to share music and song. I was working on worship yesterday and realized that it is only slightly different than a 'normal' Sunday. We have so many gifted people who participate in worship that we've only added a couple extras for this Sunday.

The Advent commentaries have drawn me into the whole Christmas story which will be part of the service. We won't hold anything back or worry about repetition on Christmas Eve. There are too many people waiting to hear the good news again so we will tell it with story and song.

Meanwhile, there are so many things to do in my personal life regarding homes and set up and clean up at the 'old house'. But we are getting there and today may be the 'last day' for cleaning. Here's hoping that my personal turn toward Christmas will begin today. Maybe a tree will even get put up and day soon.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent Questions; Why the pink?

My thoughts for tomorrow's sermon:

Church traditions in the Advent and Christmas seasons can be a bit mysterious. Today I plan to unlock a few of the mysteries. Even calling the season Advent or Christmas makes a difference in church circles. We are in ADVENT, the ‘season’ of Christmas begins at Christmas and extends until Jan 6 which is the day of epiphany. (Epiphany is always Jan. 6 whether or not it is a Sunday. We tend to celebrate it on a Sunday near by.)

The Advent Wreath is another tradition. We are used to seeing the wreath and it’s pretty purple candles and that one odd pink candle. Why the pink candle?
You may know the answer, pink is for joy. (roses; joy of being here 1 year) Even knowing that pink is for joy, did you ever wonder how a pink candle ended up in the wreath among the purple?
• First you need to know a little more about Advent. The season of advent was modeled on the church season of Lent as a time of penitence and reflection leading up to Christmas the way Lent gives us a special time to prepare for Easter.
• In early Lenten seasons, fasting was a big part of the tradition. The church decided that since Lent holds the hint of hope since resurrection is the essence of Easter, there should be a break in the fasting and a FEAST should be celebrated.
o On that Feast day, the Pope began to give someone in the congregation a PINK ROSE.
o Later, pink vestments were worn and other things in pink became inserted into the Royal Purple of Lent.
When ADVENT began, the Pink day among the purple days was continued so we have a PINK candle in the wreath of PURPLE candles to recall the JOY of that comes at Christmas.

I can’t promise to answer all your questions today but here’s another one:
Why do we read so many passages from the Prophets, specifically why today’s text from ZEPHANIAH?

The prophetic message has always been a big part of Christmas. When people experienced Christ, they recognized him as the fulfillment of prophecy. So we return to Isaiah and Zephaniah, Micah, Jeremiah and others to hear their words predicting destruction and yet promising a reason for hope, in light of the story of Jesus’ birth.
ADVENT MAY BE THE ONLY TIME WE CAN REALLY STAND TO HEAR THE PROPHETS. “Prophets say what no one wants to hear or believe. They point in directions no one wants to look. Prophets heard God when every else concluded God was or is silent. Prophets see God when nobody else does and they feel God’s presence when everyone else is numb.
Prophets also feel God’s compassion, anger, and joy. They dream God’s dreams and utter a wak up call to us. They hope God’s hopes and announce a new future even while we are still in the bleak present. Prophets will God’s will and live it against all odds. They sing GOD’s SONG and sometimes interrupt our program with a change of tune.” Deborah Block wrote those insightful words about prophets and her message is true about Zephaniah.

Zephaniah prophesied at the time of King Josiah of Judah (2 kingdoms, north and south). King Josiah became king when he was 8 years old Some scholars believe Zephaniah prophesied in the early years of his reign when Judah’s idolatry, corruption and injustice were severe. When King Josiah was 18, the high priest found a book of LAW in the temple while it was undergoing repairs that showed them how far God’s people had strayed from God’s teaching. Josiah’s reform in 621 BCE returned Torah observance to the center of life.

Often we can’t identify with ancient Judah and Israel. It was so “long ago and far away.” Yet we can identify with corruption and injustice. I saw a movie on TV recently about modern slave trade where young women traveling alone were followed and ‘taken’ captive. They were brutalized and kept as sex slaves, a pure money-making operations for their “owners.” It is easy to see the owners and perpetrators as evil but what of the people who bought women or used women and enabled the business of slaves to be so profitable.

It doesn’t take news reading or watching for us to think that the pride, idolatry and corruption of Josiah’s time is not so different than our time. It’s just that many of us are insulated from the horror. It takes a movie or tragic news story to wake us up and realize the problem is real. When we do face the reality, we can feel helpless to do anything about it. Slave trade, starvation, medicines held from needy people because of religious differences, walls built between countries; there are so many stories of desperate people and desperate acts that we get overwhelmed by the images.
That God judges and laments the way of humanity is as real today as ever. God is not absent from the pain of rape, poverty, and killing rages. God hates it as much today as in the time of Zephaniah.
We must hear his finger-point condemnation and accept our parts in the evil of the world. We bear a sense of guilt for whatever part our silence adds to the horror or where our piece of the material chain means some child is abused in factory work. We have to accept that our preference for ignoring the stories behind our goods and products is merely a way of escaping reality, it doesn’t change that reality for people who are suffering.
There comes a time when we must realize that however innocent our behavior is, we are all accomplices in the ways of human and that we deserve the harsh judgment of the prophets. We can appreciate their longing for justice to be restores and people healed. WE TOO long for a time when wars will cease and people will stop hurting each other.
All this prophetic judgment leads us to a final question;
WHERE IS THE JOY in this 3rd Sunday of advent? Where can we look for the joy of the pink candle in the midst of the longing for wholeness, justice and peace on earth?

Joy comes for Zephaniah as he looks ahead to a remnant being preserved from the destruction that will come.
Joy comes as we realize “God comes and is WITH US, Immanuel, and God’s presence among God’s peple makes all the difference.
Joy comes from our hope, that life will not always be held captive by evil and that we will and DO glimpse moments when people act with love.

1. We know there are times when compassion rules the day
2. When giving triumphs over stealing
3. When life is more important that killing and
4. Love overcomes hate.
Our joy is rooted in the experience of the life that is born at Christmas.

In the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, is a statue about 19” high of the Virgin and Child. I read that it was purchased in 1858 in Paris and is made very simply. No one knows who made it.
When people see it they laugh. People laugh because the child is laughing. The baby Jesus is looking at you as you look at him, and HE IS LAUGHING. Joy to the world, the Lord has come.

Our joy is rooted in the Christ who is, who was, and who is to come. It’s not that we have escaped most of the horror of the world, but that the horror can be stopped each time someone experiences the God in our midst and repents, TURNS around, and lives differently. Only God can intiative that kind of redemption. Our joy is in knowing that God Rules and reaches out thru people like us to bring change.

That’s the joy we see and it’s where our hope lies. That our simple acts of kindness multiplied by God’s endless love, can make a difference. When lives are restored to right relationship with God, new life is born.

We need the PINK candle to remind us of joy even when we are experiencing the hopelessness of evil.

‘but’ if you will allow me one more question;
We might ask, is that all there is? The HOPE of joy while we wait?
Actually, there IS more.

It is the picture Zephaniah paints of God’s Joy, “God as the one who bursts into song with joy over God’s beloved: (v. 17-18) “GOD will rejoice OVER YOU with gladness, GOD will renew you in his love; GOD will exult over you with loud singing.”
This is not God at a distance but God so intentionally involved in humanity that Divine Love is birthed into a human and IT – GIVES - GOD – JOY!.

Picture the scene in pink if you will, God, laughing with us in delightful joy.

The God who knows us so well that God forgives our Unfaithfulness and our love affair with things,
God forgives our complacency and corruption,
God’ forgives all the injustice of the ages,
EVEN the execution of the gift of Jesus.

THIS God rejoices when relationship is restored between human and The Divine.
THIS God rejoices when we act with love and we allow

THIS is our wonderful God, the source of our Joy, because we are the source of God’s joy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Christmas Repeats

So how is it that one keeps finding things to say about the Christmas texts? I've not done that many advent sermons but the themes repeat so I guess the 'trick' is developing them in different ways, different stories of the stories. Creative worship should help, even if I repeat a thing or two.

Meanwhile, snow has me feeling more like Christmas among the boxes that are still piled high at the house. But oh how nice it was to drive over to the church during the heavy snow this afternoon. Very, very nice to be so close.

The move is very disorienting. I guess 22 years in one place tends to make one feel strange to move. Still, I can't help but wonder if increasing age makes the feeling worse. I see it in elderly who have to move and I'm feeling a bit of it myself. There's joyful surprises too, like finding old pictures and discovering things in the back of the closet. Then sad stuff, like the dishes that broke. And needing so many, SO MANY rolls of shelf paper.

I'm ready to watch a Christmas movie, and drink tea. But there's more to finish in the kitchen. I'm determined to get a bit more done tonight even if my ankle hurts.

Snow does seem to make things magical.