Category Archives: Sermon

Today, God is dead.

We have made it to the cross.
We began our journey on Ash Wednesday.
We have descended into the valley of Lent.
And now we are at the bottom.

We are at the foot of the cross.
High above us hangs the Messiah that we waiting and hoped for in Advent.
High above us is Jesus who called his followers from their fishing boats
and then healed the sick
and cast out demons
and taught in synagogues

High above us hangs the Christ who rode into Jerusalem a King
and the crowds shouted Hosanna, they shouted save now.
and the Christ ate with his disciples and gave them new bread and new wine.

High above us hangs the God nailed to a cross
by the same crowds who called him King,
by the best political and religious authorities of the day
by those whose power was most threatened by a God who had come close.

High above us hangs the symbol of our greatest power.

We have put God to death.

God_is_DeadToday, God is dead.

We have made it to the bottom of the valley of the shadow of death

And along the way we heard the shouts of Hosanna and crucify him come from our lips.
And along the way we felt the what it was like to hold the hammers and the nails in our hands.
And along we way we knew that the only way we could try to be God, to be our own little gods would be to use our most god like power.

Death.

God came to us.
God showed us his face.
God healed our infirmities.
God reconciled our shame
God called us out of our brokenness
God forgave of us our sin.

And all we could do was respond with death.

God_Is_Dead_by_deviantkupoGod is dead.

And creation killed God.
And humanity killed God.
And we killed God.

We are at the foot of the cross.
High above us hangs the greatest symbol of our power.
A dead God.

And little do we know.

God has come to show us, to heal us, to reconcile us, to call us, to forgive us.
God has come to receive our judgement and to take our death.

As the Messiah hangs, as the Christ hangs, as Jesus hangs, as God hangs, God is gathering us all beneath the cross.

Beneath death.

Beneath not just God’s death, but all death.
Humanity’s death
Creation’s death
All of our death.
Because death is our power.

But God has an even greater power.
God is gathering us at the foot of the cross. To show us greater power.
God is going to turn all of our death into something different.
Into something new.

God is dead.
And yet God is not ended.
And yet God is not over.
And yet God is not finished.

God is transforming death.
God is transforming us.
God is transforming everything.

cross-silhouette1God is not ended, death is ended.

God is not over. Death is over.
God is not finished. Death is finished.

We have made it to the cross.
We have come to the bottom of the valley, to the shadow of death
To the shadow of the cross.

And it is the here.

God is making all things new.
God is making us new.
God is making death into life.

High above us hangs Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ, Jesus God in flesh.
Jesus who is putting death to death.
Jesus who is God’s great power.
Jesus who is life.

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Lazarus in the Valley of Dry Bones

John 11:1-45

(Read the whole lesson here)…Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.” Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go… (Read the whole lessons here)

Sermon

ValleyofDryBones-620x3101The prophet Ezekiel said: The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 

We have have made our way through the season of Lent. 5 weeks, 5 encounters between Jesus and another aspect of the human condition. Temptation in the desert, Doubt with Nicodemus, Shame with the woman at the well, Refusal to see with the Blindman. We have journeyed through the Lenten wilderness, one where our flaws and sufferings have been put on display, where Jesus has met us with mercy.

But today, we take a turn towards Holy Week. Jesus still meets us in an aspect of the human condition, in grief. But the story foreshadows what is to come.

The prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.

We begin with Jesus staying somewhere other than where he needs to be. His friends are in trouble, Lazarus is dying. They are hoping that he can come to help. But instead, he stays. And then after a few days of waiting, Jesus announces that Lazarus is dead and then decides to go to his friends in Judea. His disciples are puzzled, but his answer to them tells us that something is about to happen. “Let us go, that we may also die with him”.

As Jesus finally makes his way to Bethany, the real drama begins to unfold. News of Lazarus death is spreading, Jesus has arrived in time to grieve and mourn, but too late help. On is way to town, Martha, Lazarus’s sister comes out and meets Jesus on the road. Martha, the busybody, the one who needs to work goes to Jesus let her grief, her frustration out. “Lord, if you had been here my brother would not have died. But now I know that God will give you whatever you ask him.” Martha’s word are accusatory. They are desperate. She is filled with grief. She utters words that could very well be our words.

“Lord, if you… than this…” We have all been where Martha is. We have all suffered loss, felt grief, felt abandoned or ignored. We have all suffered and wished for God’s intervention. We know what it is like to be Martha. To want the past to be different, to even be desperate enough to hope that it can still be changed.

drybonesThe prophet Ezekiel said: The Lord said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”

Jesus is gentle enough with Martha to let her make her accusations, to let her share her desperation. Jesus could have done something, maybe he still can.

And then Jesus answers Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”

Can we imagine hearing those words? Can we imagine the God of the universe, come in flesh, speaking to us, “Your loved one will rise again.” Can we imagine standing in front of God almighty as God declares that death is no barrier, that the powers of this world that we think are unassailable are a mere trifle to God.

Martha is too lost in her grief to really take in the moment, she doesn’t really get who is speaking to her and what Jesus is saying. She responds almost automatically,

“I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

Martha gives a formulaic response, but one also resigned to death. Martha is clinging to the promise as best she can, but she does not see the immediacy of Jesus’ statement. And still Jesus stays with her, “I am the resurrection and the life”

And the Prophet Ezekiel said: Then the Lord said to me, “Prophesy toUnknown-1 these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

The God of the universe has just declared that Lazarus will live… But we don’t get the impression that Martha has really absorbed what Jesus is saying to her.

And so Jesus continues down the road, and this time Mary, Martha’s sister comes to meet him. She accosts Jesus with the same statement that her sister gave, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

And maybe this time it is Jesus who now understands something. These two women cannot see past their grief. They can only experience the rawness of their brother’s death. They can only painfully long for their brother to be alive, they can only see the empty hole their dead brother has left in their world.

This time, Jesus simply stays with these grieving women. He doesn’t try to remind them of who he is, he doesn’t try to buoy their spirits with what he is about to do. He simply shares in their grief. He weeps with Mary. He is moved by their fragility and their weakness. Jesus knows that is about to call Lazarus out of his grave, but still the deep grief that Mary and Martha carry moves him in spirit.

We have all been here. This is the essence of what it means to be human. To know that everything around us is limited. That we only have so many days on earth, we only have so much we get to do and be and experience. And so we grieve the rest, all the things, all the people that we didn’t get enough of.

Maybe this grief is a lesson. Maybe it isn’t the disciples, or Mary or Martha who need to see God’s glory. Just maybe Lazarus hasn’t died so that we can see, but so that Jesus, so that God, can live grief in person. So God can truly understand what it means to grieve.

And when Jesus finally knows incarnate grief, knows what it is mourn like we do, Jesus makes his way to the tomb. Jesus has learned grief, but Mary, Martha, the disciples, the crowds, us, we are about to see what it is like to be God, what death really means when it stands before the creator of life itself.

Ezekiel said: So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude.

As Jesus, Mary and Martha, the disciples and the crowds stand before Lazarus’ tomb, he declares,

“Take away the stone”

And Martha protests. Martha the one who has just confessed that Jesus is the resurrection and the life, says “There will be a stench for he has been dead four days”.

Martha, stuck in her grief, is telling Jesus there will be a stench. She is speaking to God, to the One who uttered the word “Let there be…” in creation. The one whom is the Word of God made flesh.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus rarely looses his cool, but at this moment, full of grief too, Jesus snaps are Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed…” Jesus has declared that he is the Resurrection and the Life, and we are about to see what that really means.

The prophet Ezekiel said: Then he said to me, “Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, `Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken and will act,” says the Lord.

468304834_640And the stone is rolled away. And that very first promise that Jesus makes to Martha,

“Your brother with rise again”

That promise comes to fruition. Lazarus walks out of the tomb.

And we too are about to enter into Holy Week. Into a period of remembered and renewed grief. We know what is going to happen, we know that Good Friday is coming. We know that humanity is about nail Jesus, that we are about to nail God to the cross.

But we go with these words ringing in our ears,

“On the third day, he will rise again”.

And the promise rings true for also for us ,

“You will rise again”

Amen.

 

Asking Questions with Nicodemus

Preached at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on the 2nd Sunday of Lent. 

John 3:1-17

 …(Jesus said)The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?”… (Read the whole lesson here).

Sermon

Each year in Lent, St. David’s would have soup and the word before their regular Thursday Evening Prayer service. People would gather for soup and they would talk over the readings for the coming Sunday together with Father Angelo. After an hour or so, the group would gather in the sanctuary for Evening Prayer.

Heather had been an Evening prayer regular for several months. She wasn’t a member of the congregation, and she didn’t attend Sunday mornings, but she had been faithfully attending Thursday Night Evening Prayer week after week for a while. Father Angelo hoped she would come to soup and the word.

(Pause)

Last week, we began Lent like we do each year. On the first Sunday of the season we hear the story of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.

St-Nicodemus-of-the-Holy-Mountain-frescoToday, we move from Matthew’s Gospel to John’s. We step into the story with Nicodemus. He is a Pharisee who has come to see Jesus at night. Nicodemus has come to Jesus with questions. Nicodemus comes asking questions that eventually lead Jesus to utter what is perhaps the most famous verse in the whole Bible: John 3:16 is memorized and recited by Christians all over world. John 3:16 can cause us to miss the story around it because of the way it dominates our memory. Instead of this conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus, we hear that verse and imagine a shirtless, beer-gutted man holding up a sign at a football game.

Once we get past John 3:16 and when we can bring our thoughts back to Nicodemus and Jesus, we can discover a powerful encounter between two unlikely men. The conversation that Nicodemus and Jesus share contains some of the richest images of the bible. Being born again or from above by the spirit, the spirit blowing where it will like the wind, Moses lifting up the snake in the desert, for God so loved the world. These images can be so rich, that we can forget this is a conversation between Jesus and a Pharisee.

So lets step back from the conversation for a moment, and imagine the scene. It is night, Jesus is waiting in a convenient spot, maybe beside a fire. Nicodemus comes in secret to speak with Jesus. Nicodemus is on the other team from Jesus. Nicodemus is Pharisee, a member of the group trying to trap Jesus, the ones who will eventually accuse Jesus before the temple authorities chanting “Crucify him.” Nicodemus is risking a lot by bringing his questions to Jesus.  Nicodemus risks being discovered, losing his place in his community, losing all respect from his peers. And Nicodemus isn’t even sure about this Jesus guy.

(Pause)

On the second week of soup and the word at St. David’s, the group talked about the story of Nicodemus meeting Jesus at night. As people asked questions about being born again, or who will be saved and who is condemned, Heather sat in silence. Finally just before the hour was up, Heather chimed in.

“I understand Nicodemus” she started. “I mean, he has questions. He has seen things and heard stories about Jesus, but how is he supposed to know that Jesus is the real deal. How can Nicodemus be sure that Jesus really is the one? I have read the stories, I have heard the testimonies. How can I be sure Jesus really is the son of God? I think Nicodemus gets it. He wants to know his part in this, just like I do. What is my part with God. What am I supposed to do to be born again? To be saved by the Son of God?”

Father Angelo was about to answer, when the worship assistant came ringing the bell for worship. The group got up and headed up to evening prayer. Heather’s question was left hanging.

(Pause)

We can be a lot like Nicodemus when it comes to God and to faith. We want to know how things work before dive in. We are not sure we want to show our hand before we have to. Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night, in secret. And he leaves without being convinced. Sometimes it might be the same with us. We come to Jesus expecting answers, and instead we leave unconvinced.

Faith and church and God can leave us feeling like Nicodemus. As we go about our day, the world keeps us busy and preoccupied. But when the darkness settles in, the questions come. At night, we have the time to sit and wonder. Question rung through out minds lying in bed, or late at night when the television can’t hold our attention. We begin to wonder. Is God for real? Does faith make any sense? We start out unsure, but we can become uncertain. Uncertainty leads to doubt, and we become shaken, afraid, alone. What if God isn’t all that we say God is?

Nicodemus leaves the conversation unconvinced today, but farther along in John’s gospel, Nicodemus shows up again. This time he half heartedly defends Jesus to his Pharisees buddies. As the story of Jesus unfolds, Nicodemus is hanging in there, even if only at the fringe or on the margin.

And maybe, of all the things, all the familiar rich images that Jesus uses today, it is what Jesus doesn’t say that might be significant. Jesus does not condemn Nicodemus. He doesn’t expect Nicodemus to demonstrate his faith. There is no expectation that Nicodemus sign up and become an open disciple. Jesus doesn’t treat this man like the fisherman calling them from their boats. He doesn’t heal Nicodemus with an exhortation to faith. Jesus simply gives Nicodemus time and space. Jesus welcomes Nicodemus, allows him the room to ask questions, and gives him the chance to think. Jesus let’s Nicodemus watch the story unfold.

(Pause)

Throughout the rest of Lent, Heather kept coming to soup and the word. She had more questions, but none as direct as her questions about Nicodemus.

It was the Good Friday custom at St. David’s to have a prayer vigil. Members would sign up to pray at the church for an hour at a time all through the day and through the night. Father Angelo noticed that Heather had signed up for the 8PM shift.

At 8PM Good Friday, he joined her in the candle lit sanctuary, and the two sat in silence for a while. Eventually Heather looked over to him and said,

“Father Angelo, did you know that Nicodemus is the one who comes to bury Jesus after he is crucified? All the other disciples, the ones who boldly followed Jesus for years, they all hid away, afraid. But when Jesus is crucified, it is Nicodemus who comes and asks for the body. When he sees the whole story, he is finally ready to be an out in the open disciple.

“I know” said Father Angelo. “Interesting isn’t it”.

“So why couldn’t Jesus tell him to wait for the rest of the story when Nicodemus first came with his questions?”

“Jesus isn’t about giving answers, Jesus is about showing us God. Nicodemus needed to see that. Maybe you needed to that.”

“I did see it” Heather said. “I finally saw it this week, I saw Jesus today, on the cross. I finally saw the rest of the story.”

“Good” said Father Angelo. “But story isn’t over yet… everything is going to change on Sunday morning.”

(Pause)

Like Nicodemus, we can hesitate, we can be unsure about Jesus. We can wonder about God. We might prefer to keep our faith in the dark, in secret, we might leave feeling unconvinced many days. Like Nicodemus we have our questions, and we wish Jesus would just answer them, because we want to know. If we could just know if Jesus, if God is real… than the uncertainty, the fear, the loneliness might leave us.

But that is not how Jesus is with us. Jesus doesn’t come to give us answers. Jesus comes to meet us in our doubts, in our questions. Jesus meets us in the darkness, in our fears and isolation. Jesus meets us and give us space. The space to ask our questions, and the space to watch the story unfold. And Jesus tells us the good news again and again. That God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son to die on a cross for us. God gave his son so that whoever questions, whoever wonders, whoever hears the story from beginning to end, from manger to cross to empty tomb might be transformed for eternal life.

That is how Jesus is, saying what we need to hear, not saying what we don’t need to hear, and giving us the space to discover that we have been caught up by and changed by God’s great love.

Amen. 

 

Ash Wednesday – The Bell Tolls for You

A Sermon for Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6,16-21

The flashing red lights of firetrucks and ambulances at an accident scene.

A “Code Blue” announced over the intercom at a Hospital, followed by doctors and nurses rushing down hallways.

A doorbell rung late at night and a door opened to a police officer or pastor bringing bad news of a loved one.

Intrusions all of them. Harsh images that force us to see how fleeting and impermanent we are. They take away the cares and concerns of real life. The price of gas, keeping coffee appointments and promotions at work hardly seem to matter in face of these images.

And it is not out of morbid curiosity that we all slow down to drive by and gawk at that road accident. Or that all conversation stops in a hospital waiting room when all the staff rush away for a Code Blue. Or that we peer out our windows to see why there are those late night and officious looking visitors at the neighbour’s house. We don’t stare because it is fascinating. We stare because it could have been us. Deep within us, we all have the sense that if the wind blew hard enough, we might just drift away like dust in the wind.

ash-wednesdayTonight, on this night of Ashes, we are practicing. We are practicing for the moment when it will be us. “Earth to Earth, Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust” and sand in the shape of a cross will be laid on our caskets as we wait to be lowered into the grave.

This is a harsh reality that we rehearse tonight. Sin and Death are real. The palms that we waved last year on Palm Sunday have been burned to remind us of this. No matter how much attention we give to all the other goings on in life, no matter how much we care about work, family, sports, entertainment, politics, fashion, money or whatever, we are all subject to the effects of Sin and Death.

And not just sins like lying, stealing, or cheating. We are subject to Sin. To the reality that we are born into brokenness. That we are always on our way to death, from the moment we are born. We are the walking dead.

This is what the Ashes say to us. Just as ancient peoples covered their heads in sack cloths and ashes, as the ashes are placed on our foreheads, they speak of the shame of mortality that we all bear. The shame of being alienated and estranged from each other, and alienated and estranged from God. The shame of having tried to be like God in garden of Eden, and the shame of failing to be like God ever since.

But the shame that the Ashes speak to us is not only our shame. The ashes speak also of God’s shame. The shame that God willingly took on when Christ was born into our dusty flesh. The shame that God willingly endured by living with those who could not understand, those who pridefully mocked, those who maliciously persecuted and those willingly deceived. The shame that God then took to the cross, in humiliation. The shame that God took to the grave in powerlessness.

But out of the shame of the grave, God began the undoing of our own shame. God began the reversing of our mortality. God began the birthing of Life in the face of death. And while the Ashes remind us of sin and death, the cross shape in which they are placed reminds us that Sin and Death have been conquered.

The Ashes will be washed away, but the cross on each of our foreheads remains. Because that cross was placed there in Baptism. It was sealed to our dusty bodies as a permanent sign that out of death comes new life.

The Ashes mark the beginning of our journey into Lent. The beginning of God’s journey down with us into the water’s of baptism. The place where the power of death is washed away. And under the waters, we too die. We die to our shame and to our sin.

And over the next 40 days of Lent, we will be continually washed in baptismal waters, we will be made ready to dine with Jesus at the Last Supper, we will be made ready to lay at the foot cross, we will be made ready to preach the good news of an empty tomb.

But tonight, on day one, as the red lights flash for us. As the Code Blue is announced for us. As the door bell is tolled for us. As the sand is tossed on our caskets, We will confess that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

Amen. 

Share your Ash Wednesday thoughts, or Lenten Disciplines in the comments or on Facebook: The Millennial Pastor Page or on Twitter: @Parker Erik

 

The Magic of Christmas is Gone – when a child dies

*Note: On December 16th, a 16th month old girl was killed in a car accident in our community. On December 21st, our congregation held the funeral. 

HolyInnocents-Atlanta-monkimage.php_Matthew 2:13–23

Today the magic is over. The real Holiday began on Boxing Day as thousands, even millions of people across Canada spent their time worshiping at the altars of Wal-Mart, Zellers, The Bay, Sears and more.

All that magic at Christmas, is as easily returned as a faulty watch or an unwanted pair of socks. Boxing Day, or Week, or whatever the tag line is, is a sobering reminder about how quickly the world forgets Christmas and moves on to more important things.

And the reality is, being out shopping seems a lot more normal than what we are doing here. In fact, we haven’t done anything in step with the rest of the world for quite a few weeks now.

All throughout December we decorated with blue instead of reds and green. We sang Advent hymns instead of Christmas carols. And on The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord, we listened and watched as Christ was born in hotel room and visited by rejoicing Shepherds in the middle of the night. On Christmas morning, we sat down at a different meal, not turkey and mashed potatoes, but bread and wine, body and blood.

And this past week, when all the newspaper flyers and radio stations were telling us that we should be at the stores to get the big deals, we are here. We are here, listening and watching as the Holy Family escapes from real danger, and as all the other children in Bethlehem are massacred. The magic of Christmas is gone indeed.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents does not seem like an appropriate Christmas story. Or at least is isn’t a story that you can buy, wrap up and then return on boxing day. However, it does follow the real Christmas story right in step. Last Sunday, Joseph saved Mary by choosing not to stone her when he found out she was pregnant. During the week, the two traveled a long and rocky road to Bethlehem full of thieves and other perils only to then give birth in the place where animals are kept. And now, as the paranoid King Herod orders the murder of babies under the age of 2, Jesus, Mary and Joseph escape to Egypt. The drummer boy, and the reindeer, and a tree adorned with lights and tinsel are not, and never have been, a part of this story.

Side by side, Boxing week, and this scene in Jesus’ life show us a darker side of the holiday. They show us the side of greed and fear, sides of cruelty and despair. They suck all the Christmas magic out of us, and leave us empty once more. The Joy of Christmas was supposed to last a year, but it has barely stayed with us a few days.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, of all the toddlers and babies in Bethlehem,  is not an easy story to hear. It is especially poignant this year as we had to burry an infant in our community. Our hearts ache hearing about the death of children, we know, somewhere deep inside of us, that this is unbearably sad. There is no need to compare it to the tragedies of human history that have followed since King Herod gave the order. We know what the slaughter of children was like for that town of Bethlehem, because it has not stopped. Children die each day, all over the world, of hunger, war, disease and poverty. This is not just Bethlehem or Selkirk in grief and mourning, it is a whole world. A world now even more desperate for a Messiah. Jeremiah speaks of grief for us all:

A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.

Jeremiah’s words first expressed the grief of his people, the mothers of Israel, as they wept for their children who had been taken away to exile in Babylon. Then people of Bethlehem would have know the book of Jeremiah, and the story of the exile. But now they carry new meaning as they are stamped again to the hearts of the mothers of Bethlehem. And we know the stories of exile and the story of the Holy Innocents, but this year they carry new meaning as they are stamped upon our hearts. Tragedy upon tragedy. Heartbreak upon Heartbreak.

The darkness, that the Messiah was supposed to shine light into, appears to have returned.

Yet….

Yet….

Yet… Jeremiah’s words do not go unheard. The weeping of Rachel and of all the mothers of Israel is not ignored. God speaks to this suffering. God speaks to the people that Jeremiah first wrote to, God speaks to the mothers of Bethlehem and God speaks to us, to all who know tragedy, pain and loss. We hear the words of Jeremiah applied to massacre of the Holy Innocents, and applied to our tragedy. But Jeremiah doesn’t end with tragedy. Matthew only quotes tragedy, but the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem would have know what follows in the book of Jeremiah. And today, we hear this promise again:

Thus says the Lord:

Keep your voice from weeping,

and your eyes from tears;

for there is a reward for your work,

says the Lord:

they shall come back from the land of the enemy;

17 there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

your children shall come back to their own country.

17 there is hope for your future,

says the Lord:

   your children shall come back to their own country.

God has not forgotten the cries of his people, and God’s messiah, Christ has come into the world for a purpose.

The newborn Messiah does not “escape” to Egypt. Instead, the Messiah travels the path of his people. The Messiah goes down the roads that the Israelites have traveled, so that God knows their suffering.

Just as the nation of Israel fled from Pharaoh in the Exodus, so too will the Messiah follow their path to Egypt and then back to the promised land.

And just as the exiles of Jeremiah’s day returned from Babylon to Jerusalem, to the holy city, the Messiah is also on his way to Jerusalem.  Egypt and Babylon are just the beginning of the Messiah’s journey. Jesus the Messiah is preparing to take on all the suffering of his people.

As the Messiah escapes to Egypt it is really only a delay of King Herod’s order for death.  Make no mistake, the destination of Messiah, from the moment he was laid in the manger, and was worshipped by shepherds and magi, is the cross. Christ the Messiah has been on his to the land of the dead this whole time.

And surprisingly, this is the hope, this is the promise that the Lord speaks to the people of Israel. This is the promise that is beneath the star, that is born into the stable, that is a little baby in Mary’s arms. The promise that is not just a baby, but a baby who will die. But not just die, but who will rise again. But who will not just rise again, but who will bring us back from the land of the enemy, who will call us to rise from our graves too…

There will be a lot of Christmas promises that are returned and exchanged for something else this week. There will be a lot of greed and darkness, that quickly returns into the world after what is supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year. And beyond our shopping malls and box stores, there will still be guns fired, hungry children, disaster, epidemic and suffering.

And it is in to this troubled world that God come to us… God comes to us as a baby shining light into our darkness and bringing the one Christmas promise that cannot be returned or exchanged.

17 there is hope for your future, 

says the Lord:

   your children shall come back to their own country.

Christ, the Baby Messiah, born in stable, sleeping in a stable manger, has come into our world, to bring us out of the land of the enemy. To pull us from the chaos of the shopping malls, from the despair of grief and loss, from tombs where we do not belong. And Christ shall bring us back to our home, back to the love God.

This is is the promise of Christ’s coming. This is the hope that the angels proclaimed. This is the Good News of great joy that was given to the Shepherds, and that has been passed on to us this day.

Amen

 

A Story for Christmas – Part 2

John 1:1-14

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

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.

Hall Xmas crop_0_0Marlena thought about how she had wound up here. She, her husband Jim,  and her kids, David and Lizzie, were waking up in a road-side motor inn. They had been snowed in the day before when a storm had hit. They had been driving across the wintery prairies, towards her parent’s house in the next province over. Her parents were getting older and no longer able to make the trip to them for Christmas, so Marlena decided to bring Christmas to her parents. This had caused undue stress. She had been working furiously hard ahead of time. Buying presents, baking goodies, she even had the groceries for Christmas dinner in the middle seat of the van, between her and the kids. Marlena was full of anxiety this Christmas. She wanted everything to be perfect, she wanted everyone to have a wonderful time. So far there had been more grumpy moods and fights than wonderful times.

Last night they had experienced something incredible. The hotel was full of stranded travellers, and Jim and Marlena invited a young couple, Jesse and Miriam, to share their room with them because there were no vacancy. Miriam had been very pregnant and went into labour. She gave birth in the middle of night, to a baby boy, Christopher. The EMTs, led by John Shepherd, had finally made it to the hotel, but baby and mom were fine and recovering well, so they stayed at the hotel instead of braving the snowy roads to the hospital. That had been last night.

By mid-morning, David and Lizzie, Marlena and Jim’s kids, were up and as restless as ever. They were fighting again, Jim was disengaged like he had been all month. The wonder and joy of last night, had faded only to be replaced by the frazzled feeling Marlena had been experiencing all month. She was snapping at her kids ageing they misbehaved, and she had threatened to take away Christmas 3 times this morning, because it was the only thing that got them to behave.

Marlena, Jim, David and Lizzie moped around the hotel all morning, and by lunch they found themselves in the dining rooms, grumpily waiting for the storm to end. As the other hotel guests waited out the storm, they began to congregate in the dinning room too. However, the kitchen staff had long gone home to spend Christmas with their families. There were several tired and hungry travellers munching on chocolate bars and soup crackers from the vending machine. Many kids were running around wild, while parents sat impatiently looking out the window, hoping the storm would let up.

It was when Marlena’s stomach began to growl, that she remembered she had brought groceries for their Christmas trip with her! Before she had really thought it through, she stood up and announced to the whole dinning room,

“I have groceries going to waste in my room. I am going to cook Christmas dinner, you are welcome to eat with us”.

Marlena was shocked with herself. The whole room had gone silent and all she was getting in return was shocked looks from the sullen crowd… after what felt like hours, but was only a few awkward seconds, a voice from the back of the room said, “I will help, I have some food with me too”. And then all of a sudden 8 more people volunteered and off they went to front desk to get permission to use the kitchen. The hotel clerk wasn’t sure about the idea at first, but realizing that he may have a riot of hungry snowed in travellers on his hands, he agreed to allow them use of the kitchen.

The group cooked and baked all afternoon, the hotel’s stranded guests changed from being a group of weary people, to a group with purpose. They were going to make something of this day now, and they were going to do it together.

In a few hours, the dinning room had been transformed into a grand dinning hall. All the tables had been moved into one big table with over 100 chairs. There was homemade wreaths on the walls, and even one of the front lobby shrubs had been made into a Christmas tree, complete with toilet roll angel on top.

The hotel guests were all gathered around the table. David and Lizzie were sitting with Jesse, Miriam and baby Christopher. They were mesmerized by the new born, and they hovered around Miriam wanting to get a closer peak, or to let the newborn baby grab at their fingers.  Jim was floating around the room with a huge grin on his face, he had taken on the role of head waiter and was directing his group of volunteers as to where to place each dish that came out of the kitchen. All around the table, people were laughing, some were singing Christmas carols, others were telling stories of Christmases past. Even the front desk clerk had joined the table and was right in to the celebration.

Finally when the table was covered in food and everyone was ready to eat, Marlena stood up to commence the meal. She thought about praying, but she wasn’t sure if everyone would appreciate that, so instead she made a short speech.

“You never know what to expect from life, all your plans for the holidays can be thrown out the window by a little snow. But at least we won’t starve tonight and at least we won’t be kept from celebrating Christmas. So without further ado, let us..”

“Excuse me” said a voice from somewhere in the crowd. “But where I come from, its customary to read from the Christmas Gospel on Christmas Eve, so if you would permit me”. It was a little old man, and he was wearing a black shirt with a little white square at the front of the collar. Marlena nodded absently and sat down.

It was an old priest who had spoken and he pulled a bible out of his coat pocket and began to read.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

As Marlena listened to the poetic words of the Christmas story as told by John, she looked around the room. As she looked at unfamiliar faces, young and old, singles, couples and families, the familiar words took on new meaning. This Christmas was far from perfect. There was a feast on the table, but it was hardly the traditional Christmas meal. It had almost every kind of food you could imagine from turkey to pizza to curry. Gathered around the table was a group of complete strangers, not the usual family. But there was a Christmas miracle baby, and his parents, there was an inn with no more rooms. There had been guardian angels protecting the travellers, and even an Shepherd come to see the new baby. Marlena could sense that this rag tag group, was together for something bigger than they could imagine. All of them were stuck in a hotel on the side of the road during the holidays. This Christmas was far from perfect, yet it had become something special.

As Marlena saw her kids happy for the first time in weeks, her husband smiling and engaging the world around him, she felt at peace. No… this Christmas was not the perfect one she had imagined and worked so hard for, but neither were they the perfect family, perfect people needed to make Christmas perfect. Christmas was about God becoming flesh and joining with the imperfect. As she scanned the intent faces also listening to the Christmas Gospel, she realized that it was for these imperfect people and it was for imperfect her, that Christ the Lord was born in a manger. And Christ was here in the flesh, in the faces of those sitting around the table with her, family, friends, but mostly strangers, young and old.

The old priest read the last verse of the Gospel reading,

14And the Word became flesh and lived among us”.

When he finished, Marlena, along with many others around the table couldn’t help but say:

Amen.

For Part 1, see here: A Story For Christmas – Part 1

A Story for Christmas – Part 1

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

snowed-inMarlena heard shouts from behind her. She looked in her rearview mirror to asses the situation. Her oldest, David, was reaching across the back seat to his sister Lizzie, threatening to wipe his snot in her hair. David was grinning devilishly while Lizzie screamed in terror. Marlena’s husband Jim was playing with the radio. It was Christmas Eve, and the family was on their was across provinces to Marlena’s parents for Christmas. Marlena had been prepping for weeks, wanting to bring the perfect Christmas to her parents, who could no longer come to them.

“Jim, can you get them to stop it?” snapped Marlena.

“Stop fighting you guys” said a disinterested Jim without looking up.

“Whatever” sighed Marlena to Jim.

“David, Lizzie if you don’t stop fighting right now, there will be no presents for Christmas”.

Marlena hated making that threat, but lately it seemed to be the only thing that got her kids to stop.

“But mom!!!! David…”

“Enough!” shouted Marlena. “If I hear another word, I will turn this car around and we will go back home with NO CHRISTMAS!”.

The kids were instantly silent.

Jim muttered under his breath, “Sounds good to me”.

All this work for the perfect Christmas, had made the family irritable, Marlena most of all. She wanted so much to have a good time with family, but December had been full of fights and stress. As the family continued to drive in silence, the storm came upon Marlena’s family very suddenly. The dull morning sky had all of a sudden turned white with falling snow. Marlena’s anxiety shifted from being about her fighting children, to simply making it to the next town.

At noon, they pulled in at a roadside hotel, there were already many cars there and the minivan barely made it through the snow to one of few remaining parking spots. They trudged into the lobby and waited to get a room. Jim did the booking while Marlena phoned her parents.

“We won’t make it for Christmas” Marlena nearly sobbed into the phone.

But her parents didn’t seem too upset. They had been invited to the neighbours and they wouldn’t be alone on Christmas Eve. Marlena was devastated… she had worked so hard and now none of that work mattered, Christmas was ruined for everyone.

Jim had managed to book the final room in the hotel… actually it was the executive suite, but he had gotten it for the same price as the other rooms. The hotel clerk was feeling in the Christmas spirit.

When they got to their room, the kids squealed with delight as they leapt onto the beds and started jumping. Jim and Marlena dropped their bags and went to unpack the rest of the van. As they made their way through the hotel lobby, their could hear the clerk telling someone that there were no more rooms. It was a young couple and they looked defeated… “Maybe you can make it to the next town” the clerk offered, trying to be helpful. Marlena knew they wouldn’t make it out of the parking lot. She approached the couple and offered to share their room. There were two beds and a pullout couch in the executive suite, it would be crowded but they could all fit. Jim was looking skeptical, but eventually he shrugged and went back out to the minivan. Marlena showed the couple to the room, and offered them a bed. They introduced themselves as Jesse and Miriam, They were so grateful and polite, while Marlena was embarrassed by her kids who hadn’t stopped jumping on the bed. The couple offered to pay for half the room, but Marlena refused their money.

“The hotel gave us the room for the price of a regular one”, she said. “Let this be our present to you”.

As Marlena, helped them with their things, Miriam took off her heavy parka to reveal that she was pregnant. Very pregnant.

“How far along are you?” Marlena asked.

“I am due next week,” Miriam answered.

The two families spent the afternoon settling into their room.

As the group scrounged for supper at the vending machines, since the hotel kitchen was closed, they sat in the lobby and chatted about their lives, while the kids bounced off the walls. Jesse was a contractor building houses, they had been living away from home, but they were on their way back to have the baby.

The snow had not let up, and the cars in the lot were covered in snow. Afternoon turned into Christmas Evening. Marlena was staring out the window thinking about the Christmas they should be having, when Miriam grabbed her large belly. Jesse looked over and said, “Must be those false labour contractions, no need to worry”.

But the contractions were real.

A few hours later, Miriam was in bed and in full labour, with Jesse at her side. Jim was on the phone with Emergency services who said they couldn’t get an ambulance out in the storm. Marlena was helping the couple as best she could. Eventually it became clear that the ambulance was not coming, and Miriam was going to have a baby in this hotel. They readied themselves as much as they could, then it was time.

“The Baby is going to come now”. Marlena said “One more push.”

Miriam gritted her teeth and Marlena got into position. With the last push, into Malena’s hands slithered a slimy and wailing bundle of legs and arms, hands and feet. Marlena gave the baby to Miriam, who was exhausted but so happy. Jesse looked stunned. Marlena brought some water and towels to clean and then swaddle the newborn.

“Christopher” Miriam said. “His name is Christopher”. Soon mother and baby were sleeping quietly in the bed.

Jim and Jesse waited in the lobby late into the night, David and Lizzie slept on the couches. Jesse couldn’t believe he was now a father. It was Jim who spied the headlights appearing in the white out. Three big 4x4s rolled up to the front door, trucks with skulls, and flames and hunting gear. Several men poured out of the trucks, they were loud and boisterous. They looked like bikers or hunters, wearing balaclavas and carrying tools. They came to streaming into lobby, they looked like a gang out for mischief.

Jesse moved to the door, Jim could see his body tense. Jim followed, worried there would be a brawl. But the group of men quieted down. One stepped froward,

“I am an EMT the volunteer fire department, we are here for the pregnant woman. My name is John Shepherd.”

Miriam was waiting at the door of her room with the baby, she was grateful for the EMTs and firefighters to check her and the baby over. When John Shepherd and his team did their work and left, Jesse came to Jim and Marlena,

“You have been like guardian angels to us. Thank you, you saved us”. He went to sit with Miriam, the two gazed at their Christmas baby.

Jim and Marlena stood nearby watching the young couple. Jim looked at his wife,

“A full motor inn, a baby born on Christmas, an EMT named Shepherd… this has been and incredible night. This is a special baby.”

Marlena looked at her husband, and she couldn’t help but think of Mary and Joseph. And angel who announced a pregnancy to an unmarried virgin and her fiancee. The promise of a baby who would change the world. A baby just like this one, who could not lift his own head, who could not survive unless his mother kept him warm with her body heat, who could not be fed unless it was his parents who gave him food, who could not be alive unless this unlikely couple worked to keep him so. The story of angels and shepherds had never seemed so real as it did tonight.

“Look at that beautiful child” Marlena whispered as she wrapped her arms around Jim.

And together as they looked at this little child, so new to world, wiggling and gurgling like newborns do, they saw skin and hair, ears, eyes and a nose. And yet as they looked longer, they saw something more, something so much more. As they looked into this child’s eyes they could see themselves, they could see everyone that they loved, they could see the whole world. In this little helpless child, they could see the divine, they could see a great passion for all creation, they could see God in flesh — Emmanuel. Looking at Jesse and Miriam, they could see Mary and Joseph, looking at Christopher, they could see Jesus. They saw the whole world differently than it was just a moment before. A world with God in it.

As the first wisps of light began to breach the horizon with the sunrise, the two families  watched this new light come into the world. As starlight and sunlight danced across the sky, they could almost hear voices singing in the sky,

“”Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favours!”

Amen. 

For Part 2, see here: A Story for Christmas – Part 2