Category Archives: Sermon

The Resurrection of the Wedding of Cana

John 2:1-11

1 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” … (Read the whole passage)

As we begin our journey into the gospel of John, we move on from the big celebrations of Christmas, Epihany and finally the Baptism of Jesus. Today, we are back to green – ordinary time or counting time. And we hear a story with a little less drama than what took place on the banks for the Jordan. Yet, a familiar story none the less.

The wedding of Cana.

Jesus’ first miracle of his public ministry. Its a famous story about a relatively happy, generous and harmless miracle. Turning water into wine is like moving a child’s birthday party from the local public pool to the expensive and fact waterpark in town! It sure does ramp up the party, but in the end it is still swimming.

Today, John carefully mentions twice that Jesus attends this wedding celebration in Cana of Galilee. Galilee a poor province next to Jerusalem, full of thieves, bandits and gentiles. People who were ignored and forgotten by the rest of the world. And here in Cana, a small village of no consequence, Jesus is attending a wedding. A wedding party that is supposed to last 7 days, yet during which the wine runs out before its time for it to be over. And while running out of wine would be a source of shame for the wedding hosts, the father of the bride in particular, it was probably not an uncommon experience. In the subsistence world of first century Israel outside of Jerusalem, most small communities like Cana were collections of people just trying to make ends meet. If hard, back breaking work meant that you could earn enough or produce enough to buy food and shelter, pay your taxes and debts and care for you family… you were doing pretty well.

Having extras for weddings was an extravagance. So entire communities likely came together at times of celebration. If everyone contribute something, there was probably enough for a party. And the party lasted as long as the wine held up.

The wedding in Cana was probably for someone who was a relation or family friend of Jesus. Mary, his mother, is at the wedding. So are Jesus disciples… when there was a wedding in a town like Cana, everyone attended, local or foreigner.

And so with extra out of town guests, and the relative poverty of the townsfolk, it is not surprise that the wine ran out.

Mary thinks that something should be done, she tells Jesus and his response seems almost rude, “What concern is that to you and me?”. He seems to be saying, “Why should I care? Who cares about Cana in Galilee, its in the middle of nowhere! Who cares about this wedding? Does it really matter if the party ends early? Does we really need a little more wine?

For us in the 21st century, running out of food or drink at such an important celebration as a wedding is a major faux pas. Someone should fire the wedding planner or get a refund.

But we shouldn’t get too caught up on the details of the wedding or the wine.

Because we DO know what it is like to run out. To run out of time, run out of options, run out of opportunity. Run out of energy.

It isn’t wine at a wedding that run out of, but it might be money at the end of a paycheque.

We might run out of time to spend with our spouses or kids at the end of a long work day, or time to spend with grandkids at the of a short once a year visit.
We might run out of treatment options at the end of a battle with disease or illness.
We might run out of chances to fix a broken marriage or relationship or friendship.
We might run out of time to get our affairs in order or make our own decisions before the health crisis hits.

Like those wedding guests in Cana, we know very well in our world what it is like to run out, to not have enough, to be bound by limits and walls, for death to be the thing always waiting for us.

The wedding of Cana is our world, we live it every day. The wedding of Cana is not unusual because wine ran out… in fact, it is was probably like every wedding to come before it.

The wedding of Cana is not unusual except for Mary.

Because Mary knows something that no one else knows.

When she tells her son Jesus that the wine has run out, she isn’t doing it as a micro-managing mother. She is pleading with him as someone who knows that things can be different than the norm. That endings and limits and running our and death doesn’t have to be the way it is.

She knows that with Jesus the world is different because she has lived it. She has been given the death sentence of a pregnancy outside of marriage, yet her world kept on.

So when the wine runs out, maybe she is looking to Jesus for a different world. For a world where we aren’t defined by not having enough. She is pleading for a glimpse of the new creation of Messiah.

Jesus might not respond in the most kind way, but perhaps there is something in his mother’s face… the realization that his hour has indeed come. That his hour came back in the beginning. Back when the word became flesh.

So Jesus tells the servants to fills the water jars….

And the water becomes wine. Its a wonderful gift that Jesus bestows on this wedding… but the wine itself is only one part of the gift that is given. No one else seems to realize what has happened for this small and poor wedding in the middle of nowhere is that God has stepped in.

God changed the normal outcome.

God has changed the ending that we know, the ending of running out, of limits and walls, the ending of death.

And Jesus brings the wedding back to life. You could even say the wedding of Cana was the first time that Jesus raised something from the dead.

It just a foretaste, hint, a glimpse of what is to come, but the wedding sets the stage. Jesus isn’t just correcting some poor wedding planning, or taking mercy on hosts that had more guests show up than they anticipated.

Jesus is changing the normal order of the world. The order where death always wins, and Jesus creates new life where there was nothing before… just as God first created life from nothing.

And as the wedding of Cana is transformed and raised to new life… so are we.

So are we week after week.

As endings and limits and walls and deaths punctuate our lives, Jesus transforms us. Not be putting a few more dollars in back account, or longer work days, or shorter distances from loved ones, quick fixes for broken relationships, or better health and ability in the midst of aging and decline.

Jesus turns our endings, limits and death into wine week after week, Sunday after Sunday.
Jesus turns the endings of our brokenness and sin into forgiveness and mercy
Jesus turns the endings of condemnation into the good news of God’s love for this world.
Jesus turns the ending of not-enough into an abundance of bread and wine.
Jesus turns the endings of death into new life.

Jesus gives us the first miracle of the gospel of John, the wedding feast of Cana where they ran out of wine…. but a story of death and resurrection.

The first miracle which foreshadows the end… the last miracle
Miracles that both take place on the 3rd day.
And a woman named Mary being the first to find what is empty.
And empty wine jars pointing us to an empty tomb.

In the Weeding of Cana, the first miracle of the gospel of John, the Messiah, the one who changes the order of our world, the one who brings – to a world of endings, limits and death – resurrection and new life.

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“What are you looking for?” asks Jesus

John 1:35-51

35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” (Read the whole passage)

John the Baptist just won’t go away. He showed up for a couple weeks in Advent, took a break over Christmas and then showed back up today. John is again pointing to Jesus, and proclaiming the coming of the Messiah.

Now this story about John pointing out Jesus to his disciples might sound a little unusual today, because it is the day of the Baptism of Our Lord. We are hearing it because in Interlake Shared Ministry congregations we are beginning the use of the Narrative Lectionary for 3 months as way of doing something together that is a little different and that will remind us when we gather for worship that we gather not to ourselves, but together as a unified ministry across the Interlake.

Now the focus of the Narrative Lectionary for this three month period is the gospel of John… and John’s gospel has a quirk when it comes to the baptism of Jesus – John omit’s it.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all treat it a little differently, but they all tell the story. However, John tells all the little stories around the story. He talks about John the Baptist preaching at the river, he tells of the crowds coming to hear. He talks about the interactions between John and his disciples, who would eventually become Jesus’ disciples.

But there is no actual baptism… the writer of John’s gospel was writing for the early church community who was in a debate with the followers of John the Baptist about who truly was the Messiah, John or Jesus. The fact that John baptized Jesus was a little inconvenient to that conversation.

Never the less, the first readers of John’s gospel would know the story of Jesus’ baptism, and hearing these side stories, they would immediately bring that well known story of the spirit descending on Jesus and a voice from heaven declaring, “This is my son the beloved, with him I am well pleased.”

And yet, these side stories of the gospel in many ways still tell the story of baptism. They tell a story of call and transformation.

The story picks from where we left if off in Advent. John was talking with the pharisees and temple authorities about who he was, Messiah, Elijah or the prophet.

The next day John is back at the river again and Jesus walks by John and John’s disciples, John reminds all who can hear, that this is the Lamb of God, the Messiah. And so John’s two disciples decide to follow Jesus, presumably they are looking to see what this Jesus guys is all about. It isn’t long beforeJesus notices their interest. He stops, turns and asks them “What are you looking for?”. It is an open ended question.

Maybe these two disciples simply want to know what all the fuss is about or to see a show in case Jesus decides to perform a miracle. Or maybe this question has deeper meaning.  “What are you looking for?” Perhaps we should consider the asker. Jesus, the one who John has proclaimed to be the Messiah, the Lamb of God is asking. Jesus, the one who we believe to be God, the second person of the Trinity is asking. And where one person is, so the other two are also. The God and King of the universe, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit is asking, “What are you looking for?” So, what would is there to answer? Happiness and Wealth? Love and family? A Long life? Peace in a violent and sinful world? Food for starving children? Cures for cancer, AIDS, Leprosy, yellow fever and heart disease? An upgrade on your room in heaven?

The disciples don’t have any better answers than we might have… but they know they should say smoothing, something to respond, to spark the conversation. So they respond with a safe question of their own, “Where are you staying?”

We know what these two must feel like… We have just been through the season of Christmas, when most churches have at least a few visitors or strangers pass through their doors. And when those unfamiliar faces come to us, we are pretty good at asking the safe question. “So where are you from?”

It is easy, the answer is non-threatening, there is low-risk to offending someone. But it rarely has to do with coming to church.

What if we were more like Jesus the next time we see a visitor? “What are you looking for?”

Now that is a scary question to ask. That is a question with a dangerous answer. We don’t know what kind of thing a visitor might say, I am here with my relatives, I am just visiting, I am looking for a church. But they might say scary things like, I need help, I am looking for a community to belong to, I am looking for Jesus.

Even those of us who come to church every week, and sometimes even pastors, find talking to people about what they want, about what they are looking for at church a bit scary. We can be just as confused as those disciples on the riverside.

All Advent we waited for Messiah. At Christmas we rejoiced at Messiah’s coming. In Epiphany the Messiah, the Christ, God in flesh was revealed to us. But now that Messiah is here, we don’t really know what to do with him. Like the disciples, we find it hard to grasp the magnitude of the Messiah, of Christ being with us, here and now. It is one thing to wait and for guest of honour to arrive, but is another to know what to do once the dinner party is over and the guest is still hanging around.

Even more so, it hard for us to know what to do with God in our lives. Hard to know what this faith business means on Monday morning to Saturday night. What does that mean for us? What do we say? Where do we go? How do we respond?

If John the Baptist had heard the disciples answer to Jesus’ question he might have shamed them not getting it. But that is not Jesus’ way. Instead of correcting or condemning, Jesus gives a simple answer. “Come and See”.

Come and See.

Jesus gives an invitation that is more than invitation. Jesus grabs us and brings us close. Jesus pulls us into the story of Messiah, Jesus opens our eyes to the new thing that God is doing in our world, in our lives.

Jesus knows what we the disciples looking for. Jesus knows that they are not really wondering where he is staying, but are wondering about the Messiah.

And so Jesus calls them, Come and see.

And then Jesus gives them a new name, sure only Simon Peter’s is mentioned, but he is representative of the group. When he speaks, they all speak. And when he is renamed, they are all renamed.

Jesus sees them, calls them, names them and brings them to his home.

Sounds a lot like something we do for new people as they join us.

Sounds a lot like baptism.

In the waters of baptism our graciously heavenly Fathers claims us as his daughters and sons, gives us new name and welcomes us home.

Sure, we might be confused about what do to or say with people when they come to us. But the Church, the Body of Christ, God working through us, using us God’s hands and feet….

Well the church has always been good at asking new people that question that Jesus asks the disciples today, “What are you looking for?”

We ask it of those coming to the waters of baptism, and then we watch as God washes us clean – clean so that we can be seen.

And God calls us – calls us to new life out of the water.

And God names us – names us with the name Christian, one who has been washed.

And God welcomes us home – grants us a place in the Body of Christ.

Come and See.

Jesus’ words are baptismal words. John’s story is a baptismal story.

It is just this time, we don’t hear the story of Jesus’ baptism, we hear the story of our own. We hear the story of how Jesus calls the disciples, calls us, and that call changes us a the core of our being, transforming us into new people.

“What are you looking for?” Jesus already knows our answers, even if we don’t.

And Jesus has already been looking for us.

So, Come and See.

The Word Made Flesh

John 1:1-14

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (Read the whole passage)

The long awaited day is finally here.

Dec 25th is the proper feast day for the Incarnation of our Lord or as we know it: Christmas.

Now of course, most of the fuss has been made last night and in the weeks, months even, leading up to last night. And probably for many, today is finally the moment to breathe and relax… unless of course you have a turkey in the oven.

But for most that show up to worship on this morning, the reasons that you are here are likely quiet different than the crowd who came last night. Today, you might be here because this is an escape from the family chaos. Or perhaps you come because of a significant person in your life who always brought you Christmas morning, even though they are long gone. Or perhaps the opportunity to hear again the story of Christ’s coming into the world matters to you, that it matters to your faith… or maybe it is all of those things and more.

Still, there is something special about Christmas morning worship… and I think it has to do with the fact that this may be the first moment each year when we release ourselves from the burden of creating the perfect Christmas. This morning the carols can be sung, the readings read and prayers prayed without need to fill relive all the memories and magic of Christmases past and imagined.

In fact, Christmas Day morning in most churches stands in stark contrast to the experience of Christmas season that the world has been observing for a couple of months now. If we are to believe the Christmas commercials and flyers, the perfect Christmas can be achieved with a combination of spending, baking, decorating, party planning, and other preparations. Which is odd because Christmas is supposed to be a season of celebration, isn’t it? The season where we prepare and watch and wait is Advent. Yet, the preparing that so often goes on in these months before Christmas Day is an unconscious or unaware preparation. There might be tallies and lists of the number of gifts to buy and wrap, holidays parties to attend and baking to complete… but the deeper attention to what the preparations are truly for and why they are important is mostly absent.

And each year, the big day arrives and Christmas Eve is full of expectation. And instead of the wonder of the Angels announcing good news, we experience a frantic desire to recreate and relive memories and traditions of old. And we put on Christmas Eve impossible expectations that no number of traditions can truly ever meet.

So often we arrive at Christmas Eve desperately seeking something which we cannot define, a fleeting feeling only experienced in memory, but rarely in reality.

But then we come to today… with last night having met or failed to met our dreams and expectations… and Christmas Day gives us something different.

We get the Word in the beginning, light in the darkness, word made flesh.

John’s familiar words in the Christmas gospel stand in stark contrast to the way Christmas tends to go in our world.

John speaks poetic words about the Word bringing life into being, about light shining in the darkness and the darkness unable to overcome it, about a world which does not know this word and this light.

And finally John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Then that familiar story of Mary and Joseph in the stable, the shepherds and angels coming to worship, the Christ child in the manger… that story takes on a different meaning.

It is a story not found in store window fronts and crowded malls, not found in Christmas movies, not told by the commercials and flyers.

It is a story that isn’t one of a busy and frantic world searching for fulfillment in all the wrong places. It is a story that comes in the quiet and dark places, in the forgotten and sombre places.

The Christ comes into the world revealing God to only two people to begin with. Angels from heaven announcing the greatest new in all space and time, to only a handful of shepherds, people who weren’t expecting or searching for anything.

Despite our best intentions, Christmas as our world often observes it misses the point.

But Christmas according to John makes the point.

The word and the light, the Messiah, the Christ, is born into our world this day, this Christmas Day… and the Christ does not come because of our frantic preparations and searching.

The word and the light come into our darkness, into our lost and forgotten places, into the moments when we can finally breathe, when our search for something to fill our nostalgic memories results in emptiness. It comes because despite our best efforts we still need saving.

The Word becomes flesh…  the Christ takes on our bodies and our hearts, our misplaced desires and frantic searches, Jesus joins our world, a world that does not know him, and Jesus becomes the only one who can truly fill that emptiness, that seeking desire within us.

And so here we are on Christmas morning, in the moment after the chaos of the past few months has ended… at least until boxing day… and today is the moment that the Christ comes in flesh to us.

Comes in flesh to bring light and life.

Comes in flesh so that God can be known my flesh and human hearts.

Comes in flesh so that we may no longer live in darkness.

On this Christmas Day, when most all the world is busy with other things, and maybe doesn’t even know that today is the day,

Christ the Word comes, and dwells in flesh among us.

A Sermon for Christmas Eve – Holding God in her Arms

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

As Mary watched the rocky road pass by underneath her, she noticed that she could no longer  see her feet over her growing belly. Despite having having known lots of pregnant women in her short life, and seeing how big they got, it was different, very different when it was your body. She put her hand down to feel the baby within her.

And then she bounced. She was sitting in back of a fabric merchant’s donkey cart.  The folded cloths and furs she was sitting on provided some cushion, but the road was rough and the cart was stiff.

She looked over at her husband Joseph walking beside the cart. Joseph used some of the little money he had to pay for Mary’s seat, she had only been able to walk for a couple of hours before it became clear that she would not be making the trip on her own power.

Mary watched Joseph as he walked. He was tired but he easily kept pace with the cart. The days of travel behind them hadn’t slowed him down. Jospeh was preoccupied… he had a lot on his mind. This long journey, their recent wedding, Mary’s unexpected pregnancy. Mary knew that her new husband was still sorting it all out.

She was too. This was not how she thought her life would turn out. Well, the pregnancy part. She knew that she was destined for marriage and motherhood… that was her lot in life. But despite her unplanned pregnancy, announced to her in an extraordinary way, things could have been much worse. Joseph could have walked away from her, but he didn’t. But they still had this child between them… and neither knew what that was going to mean for their future.

Mary looked past Jospeh and around her. The highway that they traveled down was busy. The two of them were among the many pilgrims criss-crossing the Judean country side going to their home cities and towns to be registered. The Roman occupiers had order it, and now the whole world seemed to be in chaos with people having to travel all over.

Joseph had to return to Bethlehem from Nazareth. Af first, he wanted to make the trip alone, but Mary had insisted on coming along, despite being very pregnant. She didn’t want to have her baby without him… he was the only one who knew the whole story.

______________________________

Bethlehem was bustling full of people returning home for the census. It was a small town outside of Jerusalem, and it was here that the mighty King David had grown up. His battle with Goliath had been not too far from here. Joseph was born into the prestigious tribe of David, not that it seemed to help him much, as he still had to work as hard as any other carpenter.

Joseph and Mary were hoping to stay with Joseph’s relatives. He still had cousins here. But even as he stopped at each home of relatives that he could remember from his childhood, he could see that this plan wouldn’t work for they were already full of family coming home for the census. Joseph seemed lost. Mary suggested they try the local Inn. It wasn’t much more than someone’s home. The owner told them he was full too.

Then he saw Mary’s large belly and told the couple to wait.

He took them around back… behind this section of the city was large outcropping of rocks. There was a cave just behind the Inn, some livestock milled about the cave entrance. Joseph stopped and proudly shook his head, he wasn’t going to sleep with the animals. But Mary waddled over to a spot that looked comfortable enough in the straw and sat down, her feet hurt. She wasn’t going any further, so Joseph swallowed his pride. They would have to make due here.

It wasn’t long after falling asleep that Mary woke up to the pain of a contraction. Her clothes were wet, as her water had broken. She shook Joseph awake, he wanted to go and get the Innkeeper’s wife, but Mary wouldn’t let go of him.

So throughout the night, the two stayed together. Mary leaned against her husband for what felt like days and days. The contractions came regularly and often. Early in the morning, when the Innkeepr came to water the animals he found the two in the midst of Mary’s end stages of labour. He ran and got his wife.

She came with swaddling cloths and hot stones. The Innkeeper’s wife checked to see if Mary was ready, she told Mary it was soon time to begin pushing.

Mary was exhausted, but like so many woman before her, she found the strength when she needed it. She held on to Joseph, his body serving as pillow, arm rests and head board.

The Innkeeper’s wife told Mary that one more big push was needed.

And then, just like that a newborn baby’s cries pierced the dark night.

The squirming wiggling crying newborn came gushing into the world. The Innkeepr picked up the baby boy, looked into his eyes and smiled. She handed the baby to Mary, who was overwhelmed with joy. She received her little boy against her body, who snuggled up to her knowing right away that this was his mother.

Mary gazed at her son, this child that had part of her body for the past 9 months who was now out in the real world. She was amazed at this sight, this child now here with them. Joseph looked down over her shoulder. He was transfixed. The uncertain look on his face from their long journey was gone. Joseph looked like a proud father. The new family of three sat together, finally having a moment to relax for the first time in days.

______________________________

Joseph woke up to the sounds of voices come from over the hills. Mary and the baby slept snuggled together, the baby was now wrapped in swaddling cloths. The Innkeeper’s wife must have cleaned and wrap the baby while Mary and Joseph slept.

The voices were shepherds coming in from the fields to the animals pens. Joseph stood up to watch the shepherd and flocks in the early dawn. As the sheep crowded into the pen, a few of the shepherds came right to the cave.

Joseph wasn’t sure what they would want… maybe he and Mary would have to move. He got set to plead their case, but the shepherds stopped before coming into the cave. They simply knelt at the cave entrance… almost as if they were praying.

Joseph stood there in wonder, how did these shepherds know?

As the baby squirmed against her body, Mary woke to the voices coming near to the cave. She slowly and carefully pulled herself off of the ground. The voices were coming closer. Carefully and deliberately she made her way to the entrance… there she could see a group of shepherds kneeling in prayer. She brushed past Joseph.

As she carried the baby, out into the open night, a few of the shepherd’s gasped.

“Its true! They child is here.”

One by one the shepherds came and knelt before her and the baby. And then without another word they quietly left and following the night sky back into the fields.

As Mary watched them go, Joseph finally came out of the cave. He came and wrapped Mary and the baby in his arms. As the first signs of sun light danced across the sky, he could see the face of this little baby that his and Mary’s life had been centred around for months now.

Their son looked like any other baby they had known… even though it wasn’t his, Jospeh knew that he would be this child’s father.

But as Mary gazed into the eyes of her newborn son, she whispered his name for the first time.

“Jesus”

She looked at Jospeh,

“His name is Jesus.”

And somewhere in this wiggling gurgling creature, in those newborn eyes and ears, in his wrinkly nose and soft newborn skin… the divine was present. Just as the Angel had promised.

A baby who carried the divine in flesh. A baby who bridged the gap between creator and creation. A baby who united a world longing for salvation with the one who was sent to save. A baby who was the promise of God embodied, the promise of God fulfilled.

It was hard to fathom. When Mary looked at her son she saw just a baby in one moment, and in the next it felt like she could see all things, all creation contained in flesh.

She remembered the stories the Torah, that usually when human beings gazed upon God they died because they could not stand something so holy. And yet here she was, holding God in her arms. God who had grown and been born of her body.

A little helpless child containing God in a human body. The God of Israel, the God of all creation. The Messiah promised for generations upon generations. Here in Mary’s arms. Here in this forgotten place that hardly anyone knew was the one who had come to save the world.

Here was Jesus – God with us.

Glory to God in the highest indeed.

Mary’s story is our story

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. (Read the whole passage)

Stir up your power Lord Christ and come.

Four Candles are finally lit today, and it isn’t long until that central Christ Candle is lit. Advent, as it always, starts by talking about the end, and then giving us two weeks to hear John the Baptists’s preaching about the coming of Messiah. But isn’t until Advent 4 that we get a story the feels like it belongs to the season… or least it isn’t until this Sunday that we hear a story seems to move forward our desire to roll the calendar over to Christmas.

And with the unusual experience of Advent concluding this morning and Christmas beginning this evening, we get a true mixed experience today.

But before we can bust out the carols and presents, Advent needs to give us our last reminder of what it means to wait for Messiah, a qualifier for our celebration of Christmas.

Just in case we think the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary is a Christmas story, we are reminded today that it is an Advent story. And quite the Advent story it is. We hear this story of Gabriel and Mary and it is easy to imagine a young grade schooler wrapped in a bath robe and shawl, woodenly reading lines as she receives the news that she is pregnant. The pageant version of this story is the one we easily imagine, but certainly unlike the moment when most women find out they are pregnant.

It is easy to imagine the young virgin, meek and mild, humbly and graciously receiving the angel’s news. It is natural to picture the made for TV Christmas movie version of the story, the version where there is no doubt that whatever tension presents itself in the story everything will turn out in the end. The idyllic nativity sets confirm this. The nostalgia laced Christmas greeting cards confirm this.

And yet, the actual story was anything but idyllic.

The story of Gabriel’s annunciation is a story in the real and messy world. A story that is less made for TV movie or Christmas pageant, and more real life stuff that usually happens in the privacy of our personal lives.

When Gabriel told the young Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, it was likely not welcome news. Mary’s life plan was certainly different than this development.

In Mary’s world, women had few options. Marriage and motherhood was the ideal, a woman’s worth was in the ability of her body to give sons to her husband. Sons to carry on their father’s lineage who would also be the retirement plan for most women, someone to care for them once their husband died.

Yet, if a woman couldn’t provide children, or couldn’t reliably provide children that belong to her husband because she wasn’t virgin before marriage… well that likely meant divorce and being tossed onto the streets. Pregnancy outside of marriage meant becoming a single mother living on the streets in the best case, execution by stoning at worst.

And so as Gabriel announces this news to Mary, she is right to be much perplexed. This just about the worst thing that could happen to a young unmarried woman. Hardly the stuff we think about during the Christmas pageant. This is messy and real life. This is the kind of stuff that many of us had to deal with – life altering changes of course,

This is kind of stuff that we know all too well in life. Things that happen to us beyond our control that change the entire course of our lives. Things like job loss, death of a loved one, separation, diagnosis of an illness or unplanned pregnancy…. The most difficult life altering parts of our lives that require all we have just to keep it together.

Mary’s story is a real life story, a story about the messiness of life.

But it also the story of God finding us in the mess, in the struggle, in the realness.

Long before the angel interrupts Mary’s life plan with news of her pregnancy, Mary lived in a world where she was less of a human and more of a piece of property or livestock, where her marriage was likely arranged by her family as they were making a business deal. And of course there was the messiness of her own people and culture that was compounded by the fact that they all lived under Roman occupation.

Yet, when the Angel first greets Mary, the Angel says, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

Right from the very beginning, God does something new and unexpected with Mary. God determines her worth and value before anything else. Mary is favoured by God. Not because she is a fertile body waiting to be impregnated. Not because she will bear the Messiah. But simply because she is herself.

Greetings favoured one!

And then God gives Mary a purpose, she will be the one who will bear Messiah to the world. In a twist of irony, by choosing Mary to do the one thing that her world values her for, bear children, God takes away her cultural and social value. And instead, God imbues her with divine value. She is favoured because God has said so, and God then gives her a purpose in bearing the Messiah. God establishes her value and then gives her a purpose, opposite of the way her world works – where value is only given if one produces something considered valuable.

Right from the beginning of the story, God is at work doing something new, transforming Mary’s life in unexpected ways.

God is at work in Mary’s real story, her messy, struggled filled story.
And remarkable as Mary’s real life story is, it is not special.
Because Mary’s story is a universal story, it is our story.

God has a way of finding us in the midst of our messy, struggled filled and very real lives too.

God finds us in the middle of real life, and breaks through all the things around us that would tell us our value is based on what we can do in the world…

God breaks through all the things that would tell us we are barely more than things that can be owned and that which is less than human.
God breaks through to us, and declares that we too are favoured.
God breaks through and says that the Lord is with us.

As we gather round the font of baptism, God sends a message to us, given through divine messengers – Angels, you could say – but truly the Church, the body of Christ.

The church, through whom God speaks, to each new member among us:

You have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

And as we welcome the newly baptized among us we say:

We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share:
join us in giving thanks and praise to God
and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.

Join us in bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world, just as Mary, Mary the God bearer did.

Just as the Angel, the divine Messenger, tells Mary that she will bear a son, the son of God – that she will bear the Christ, the Christ who is the Word…

God tells us the same.

God declares that we are favoured, that we are marked with the cross.

And that God us will use to bear the word, Christ who is the word, to the whole world.

So you see, Mary’s story is not truly a pageant story or made for TV Christmas story.

It is a real story.

It is our story.

Today, as Advent takes us through the final parts of the story, the ones that lead us to Christmas, we are reminded that this is a real story. A messy story. A story more like our lives than the nostalgia so prevalent this time of year.

And it is real because it is the story of God’s breaking into our lives. Breaking into our mess in order to bring Messiah, the Word, the Son.

In order for Christ to come and take flesh among us.

So, stir up your power Lord Christ and come.

We are not Messiah

John 1:6-8,19-28

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'”  (Read the whole passage)

I am not.
No, not Elijah.
I am not the Messiah.

Three Advent statements on this 3rd Sunday of the season.

We are into the the third week of Advent, the third week of our period of waiting and watching. Of wondering and mystery about the coming of Messiah. Advent began by speaking of the end, speaking about our waiting for the Son of Man to return and bring about the great cosmic setting to right all of creation. Last week Mark introduced us to the coming of Messiah, first in the words of Isaiah who spoke to exiles longing to return home to God’s care and compassion, and then in the words of John the Baptist’s warning of the Messiah coming to offers us a swift kick in the pants!

Today, John is back again. Preaching this time to us from the gospel of John. And John has a curious conversation with the priests and levites – the temple authorities.

They want to know who he is, but the way John tells them seems roundabout, almost backwards.

John identifies himself by who he is not.

Imagine coming to a church for the first time, you might introduce yourself to the first person you meet,

“Hello, my name is Erik.”

“I am not the Pastor.”

“Okay, then what is your name, are you the usher?”

“I am not the usher.”

“Well, then who exactly are you?”

“I am the voice of one crying in the narthex, prepare the bulletins and hymnbooks.”

That would be a pretty weird interaction.

Yet, John isn’t being as strange as it may sound. In fact John is doing something we do often too. As Canadians we often identify ourselves as not being Americans. As Lutherans was have often identified ourselves as not Catholic.

So when John says he is not the Messiah and that he is not Elijah, it means he is identifying himself by who he is not. To know he is not Elijah means to know that he is not the return of the great prophet. To know that he is not the Messiah means he knows that his purpose is to point to the Messiah, to know who the Messiah will be and what the Messiah will do. John knows that he is not the Messiah, but that his identity and his purpose are tied closely to Messiah’s.

I am not.
No, not Elijah.
I am not the Messiah.

John tells the priests and the levites that he is not the Messiah. John hasn’t come to save the world.

What John demonstrates is that the priests and the levites, perhaps obviously, don’t know who the Messiah is. And they wouldn’t know the Messiah if they were to see the Messiah. But shouldn’t they know? As the religious leaders of the people who have been waiting for the signs of Messiah’s coming for generations, shouldn’t they know?

The same could be said of us. As Christians in a long line of people preaching about and waiting for Jesus to return, shouldn’t we be more clear on who the Messiah is?

And yet, because we wonder what God is doing with us and wonder when Messiah is coming, we have become unclear about who we are too. Are we communities of the faithful, gathered around the same core things that have given Christians meaning and purpose for centuries, the Word of God and the Sacraments? Or are we community centres? Social clubs? Culture clubs? Music appreciation societies? Social justice groups?

If we could be a little flashier, a little more attracting of the crowds, if the glory days of old could come again… if we could just go back to being the confident churches we once were, then we could be confident in knowing what God is up to in our world and up to with us.

But we have just as many questions as the priests and levites. Struggling under decline and aging, feeling out of place and irrelevant in our world, waiting for things to change… we have forgotten who we are, and we wouldn’t know if God was working in and through us, even if we saw it.

John the Baptist speaks with clarity and certainty about who he is not. He is not the Messiah, he is not Elijah, he is not the prophet.

And because John knows who he is not, he knows that he is not the one who will save God’s people, nor does he carry that burden.

He knows that he is not the return of Elijah, the embodiment of Israel’s greatest hopes, and he doesn’t have to live up to the impossible standard.

He knows that he is not the prophet, the one calling the people back to God, and he doesn’t need forge a new path for them.

And John knows this because God has given him an identity. John is the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’

John is a witness, a preacher, a disciple, a follower. He is not the one coming to save, but the first to admit that he needs saving.

John’s clarity is rooted in the identity that God has given to him. He is not the Messiah, but deeply connected to the Messiah… John is a witness to Messiah, a sinner forgiven by Messiah, the dead one raised by Messiah, the lost one saved by Messiah.

I am not.
No, not Elijah.
I am not the Messiah.

The identity that God has given to John, is the same identity that God has given to us.

Even as we forget and become unclear about who we are, and therefore who God is, the Messiah reminds us again and again where our identity is given.

In the waters of baptism, God names us as God’s own.

Forgiven yet sinners,
made whole yet broken,
reconciled yet estranged,
found yet lost
alive once dead,

God names us in the waters, and reminds us of who we are, week after week as we receive forgiveness and mercy.

God gives us an identity rooted in the stories told here week after week, as we proclaim anew the coming of Messiah into this world.

God joins us together as one, at the table of the Messiah, we become that which we eat, the body of Christ.

And this identity that God gives to us, allows us to know who we are not. Just as the identity that God gave to John, allowed him to clearly know who he was not.

We are not the ones called to fix everything, we are not Messiah.

We are not the ones called to restore the glory days, we are not Elijah.

We are not the ones called to point out everyone else’s flaws, we are not the prophet.

We are not.
No, not Elijah.
We are not the Messiah.

We are the baptized, God’s children made alive through water and the word.

And because the identity given to us in the waters of baptism tells us who we are, it also allows us to know and to see the Messiah coming amongst us.

The Messiah who is the one, coming to forge a new way and a new path for God’s people.

The Messiah who is the one who embodies our greatest hopes, but also who brings to fulfillment God’s hope for us.

And the Messiah who is the one coming to save. The one in whom children of God, the sinners and broken ones, the broken and estranged ones, the lost and dead ones… the Messiah in whom people waiting for light and life discover who God has named them to be.

Waiting to Prepare the Way

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (Read the whole passage)

Light two candles to watch for Messiah, let the light banish darkness… or so the song goes.

We are fully half way done the season of Advent with only two weeks to go until Christmas. Just as we begin Advent each year by hearing Jesus’ proclamation about the end of the world, the second Sunday of Advent always introduces us to John the Baptist, and his preaching in the wilderness about the coming of Messiah.

As we begin making our way through Mark’s gospel this church year, it stand in contrast to the other gospels. Unlike the start of Matthew or Luke, Mark’s telling of the incarnation – of Jesus coming into the world – is a little different than what we might expect.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

There are no angels, pregnant virgins, shepherds or mangers. There’s no Christmas pageant using Mark’s account. No shepherds in bathrobes awkwardly delivering Mark’s dialogue.

Mark gets straight to the point. Yet, there is a lot being said in the economy of Mark’s words.

The good news starts now. The good news starts with this guy named Jesus. And this guy named Jesus is the son of God.

Then to explain that statement about the good news and Jesus, Mark quotes from the prophet Isaiah. But Mark expects a lot of his readers, and when he quotes from Isaiah, he expects that the first line is enough for us to fill in the rest and get the picture. Fortunately for those of who haven’t memorized the 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah, we read the passage that Mark quotes just a few moments ago.

“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to her, that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2)

This passage from Isaiah comes at key moment for the people of Israel. The first 39 chapters told of the story of the exile into the Babylon, when the religious and royal class of Israel was forcibly removed from their home and sent to live in Babylon for generations.

Yet we come into the story precisely a the moment that everything changes. The exile has ended, and Isaiah pleads with God to be gentle with God’s weary people. They have endured a lot and need the time to recover. And now begins the story of the return of God’s people to their homeland. God is no longer the wrathful who has angrily sent the exiles away because of their sins, rather God is now the gentle saviour redeeming the tired and weary people of Israel. The exiles’ experience of God is completely transformed from this moment onwards.

And Mark quotes Isaiah expecting that we know this story well, the story of exile and return from exile. Even more so Mark expects that we will see that he is connecting Jesus to this important moment when everything changes for the Israelites.

Mark is saying, “Hey remember that moment when God changed everything by bringing the exile home? Well, this Jesus guy is changing everything too.”

And then Mark takes another left turn, keeping us on our toes only a few lines into the story, by introducing us to John the Baptist.

John, the rough around the edges desert preacher and prophet, who is attracting crowds and gaining the popularity of the people while drawing the ire of those in charge. John is quite the character dressed in camel hair, eating giant desert insects and preaching from a river.

But perhaps most jarring of all in this short passage of Mark’s, is that John is quiet opposite to Isaiah. If Isaiah is pleading to God for comfort, compassion, and tenderness for God’s weary people, John is warning of the swift kick in the pants to come if they don’t repent.

So is anyone confused by all this stuff in Mark? Good, that is the point.

Not unlike the Israelites, we might know a little something about being tired… about being weary… we might know about longing and waiting for God… for Messiah to show up, to transform our lives. It is exhausting trying to keep the faith and have hope for the future.

These days it can feel like the pressures and stresses of the world are pressing in from all sides.

Maybe it is burdens of work and family, trying to juggle more than we know we can handle and watching as things are dropped, promises unkept, people forgotten.

Maybe it is small towns and rural communities struggling to keep up as government funding is being cut, business not being able to make it anymore, schools and hospitals closing.

Maybe it’s waking up every morning wondering if nuclear war broke out overnight because of some blowhard’s tweet.

Maybe it’s the slow and steady decline of churches with aging members, fewer hands to do the work, and searching for ways to provide pastoral ministry.

Take your pick.

The list of burdens on our minds and lived out in our daily lives is long. It’s no wonder we feel weary. It’s no wonder we wait for God to show up in our lives and in the lives of our family, friends and neighbours.

Here’s the thing about Advent: when waiting for Messiah becomes about things deeper than opening the little doors on advent calendars and collecting our chocolate treat, or counting the days until Christmas, it raises questions. Questions about where this Messiah that we are waiting for is in our world. Where Messiah is in our lives.

We long for the God of Isaiah to come and show us weary people some compassion and tenderness.

We know that we need the Messiah of John the Baptist to come and give us swift kick the pants to keeps from atrophy.

But it’s the waiting… the waiting is what we cannot abide.

Because waiting has no answers until its over.

This is what John and and Isaiah have in common. They are both speaking to the waiting of God’s people. Whether they are proclaiming a tender God who brings comfort or a  powerful God who comes preaching repentance… they both are speaking to people who wait. To exiles whose waiting in exile is about to end, to Israelites waiting under oppression for Messiah.

To 21st century Christians waiting for God again this advent.

The promise is and has always been that Messiah is coming soon.

As Isaiah says:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
    and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
    and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”

Take you pick of burdens that cause us to wait,
valleys or hills and mountains,
crooked paths and rough ways,

Messiah is coming for all it.

For people who need the tender compassion of God,
for people who need the swift kick in the pants.
For people who carry the burdens of work and family,
of shrinking rural communities,
of the threat of tweet induced nuclear war,
of aging and declining churches.

Messiah is coming for all of that too.

And yes, not knowing when Messiah is coming, and having to wait is the hardest part of all.

Having to do Advent over again and again, with its questions about where God is in our world and in our lives is not easy. We want to know, how, where, when.

But the only answer is a promise, a promise that we hear every Advent again and again.

Messiah is coming.

Messiah is coming for a world in need.
Messiah is coming for people of faith who hate waiting
Messiah is coming for  you and for me.

Messiah is coming…

Soon.


  • Image credit: http://www.swordofthespirit.net/bulwark/dec08p2.htm
  • This sermon was co-written with Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker Twitter: @ReedmanParker