Tag Archives: Christmas

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.


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.

A lament for 2016 and hope for 2017

Matthew 2:13–23

16When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18“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.”

(read the whole passage)

It’s still Christmas, the 8th day. Yet, the magic of the season that we normally carry with us through New Year’s never really landed for us this year. The tragic stories of this past year kept coming at us, even on Christmas Day. More celebrity deaths, more conflict around the globe, more political messes. A fragile ceasefire is finally holding in Syria on the eve of 2017.

And so with the hopes that this year might be different, that a new and different number on the end of our dates will bring something different to the world.

So it can feel like an ominous sign when Matthew gives us the darkest of Christmas stories today, the commemoration of the Holy Innocents.

The story of the massacre of the Holy Innocents, of all the toddlers and babies in Bethlehem, is not an easy story to hear. Our hearts can ache simply hearing about the death of children, we just 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. 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 an entire community in grief and mourning, it is a whole world. A world now even more desperate for a Messiah.

Today, on the 8th Day of Christmas, Jeremiah speaks 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 the people, the mothers of Israel, as they wept for their children who had been taken away to exile in Babylon. They are words that the people of Bethlehem would have known. But they now carry new meaning as they are stamped again to the hearts of the mothers of Bethlehem. Tragedy upon tragedy. Heartbreak upon Heartbreak.

The words that have been stamped upon the heats of parents again and again through time. Last year it was the parents of Aleppo, the mothers whose babies suffer from Zika, mothers whose grief is too much to bear even when their daughter is 60 years old and has lived a life in the Hollywood spotlight.

The darkness is still lingering in our world.



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 Behtlehem and God speaks to all who know tragedy, pain and loss.

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 they have traveled and gathers his people along the way.

Just as the nation of Israel fled from Pharaoh in the Exodus, so too will the Messiah follow their path to Egypt and 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 and the Messiah becomes Israel’s journey.

As the Messiah escapes to Egypt it is truly only a delay of King Herod’s order for death.  The destination of Messiah, from the moment he laid in the manger, and was worshipped by shepherds and magi, is the cross. Christ the Messiah is going to the land of the dead.

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 in the little baby in Mary’s arms. The promise is not just a baby, but a baby that will die. But not just die, but that will rise again. But that 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.

Today is the first day of a new year, hopefully a different year after the difficulties of the last one. Matthew’s Christmas story is an ominous beginning. And while we may have hope for 2017, things look bleak. The world seems to be headed into a period of darkness, or put another away, the relative stability of past decades may be something we are leaving behind.

And still, it in to this troubled world that God comes to us… God comes to us as a baby shining light into our darkness. 

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 a stable manger, has come into our world, to bring us out of the land of the enemy. To pull us from the chaos 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.

The Christmas that 2016 needs – What to preach this Christmas

For so many people around the world 2016 has not been a good year.

Ugly politics with fascist undertones are popping up around the globe. Terrorism, refugee crisis, wars causing civilian tragedies, virus outbreak causing birth defects, climate change catastrophes, racism, sexism, bigotry, social regression, the fraying of democracy in favour of fear and division… the lists of bad things in 2016 are everywhere.

Perhaps, like me you are about to stand in the pulpit on the biggest day of your church year and you need to preach to people who you may not see for another year and to those you see nearly everyday.

Or maybe you are about to go and hear a preacher tell the good news that the angels told the shepherds about. And what you need most is for that good news of great joy to be not just a 2000-year-old story but a 2016 story.

For many wanting to preach and to hear the good news, we are going to be pushing back against a world that wants to bury its head in the Christmas sand. Deep down we know that the good news simply won’t come from nostalgia and sentimentalism.

We know that the falling snow at the end of Christmas movies won’t save us from sin and death.

We know that a bumbling hero putting on a Santa suit to “save Christmas” is no salvation at all.

We know that perfectly roasted turkey, beautifully wrapped presents, and old time Christmas favourites wafting from the radio are not the things that truly encompass the spirit of the season.

And we also know that getting all the food on the table on time, dealing with racist uncles and navigating sleeping arrangements at the in-laws are mostly harmless problems compared to the real stuff going down all over the world.

For many of us, 2016 has been the result of a long build up. Or should I say a long descent back into the same darkness that engulfed the world of 1st Century Israel, the world of Mary and Joseph. No matter what anyone claims, the stability that much of our North American world saw in the 1950s and decades following is not coming back. (Plus women, people of colour, and religious minorities will definitely not agree that this was a golden period in the first place).

So what are we left to preach for Christmas 2016? What is the good news for us?

Well, strangely the good news announced to those shepherds might be more fitting than ever in 2016.

In fact, if there is good news to be found in midst of all the darkness we have lived through this year… it is the same good news found in the darkness of the year of Messiah’s birth.

And that is:

If God can be born to a teenage mother engaged to an older man who wasn’t the father of her baby…

If God can live under oppression of puppet kings and foreign empires…

If God can be subjected to forced migration and registration simply because of ethnicity, religion or skin colour…

If God can have no place to live or sleep, no healthcare to be born with, no community to support new parents other than shepherds (the drug dealers and street gangs of the day)…

If God can be forced to flee in fear from the murderous death squads of a fearful despot, and only have pagan lands to go to…

If God can somehow after all that manage to grow up to fullfill the mission of salvation and reconciliation of all things…

Then certainly the Messiah can come to save us in all of our darkness.

No political leader, no terrorist act, no pandemic virus, no celebrity death, no climate disaster, no  refugees crisis, no cyber attack, no amount of fear or hatred or bigotry is too dark or too much for Messiah to come and save us from.

2016 has only managed to show us just how badly we need to be saved… and Christmas reminds us just what form that salvation arrives in.

So to my colleagues and kindred preachers, find the good news in the One whom we know has already come into our darkest world.

To my sisters and brothers of faith seeking good news this year, know that our world is in exactly the state that moved God action, that moved God to enter our world in the first place.

In 2016, preach that Messiah has come into our darkness, and that Christmas finally brings us some light.

And if you are really stuck, here are two sets of Christmas Sermons:

A story for Christmas Part 1
A story for Christmas Part 2

Mary and Joseph in Al Zataari
Refugees Welcome – God Sent You

What is the good news for you in 2016? Share in the comments, or on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Mary and Joseph in Al Zataari

*Part 1 of this series is found here.

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. (Read the whole passage here)



As he walked along the rough and sandy road, Yusuf looked up to see his fiancée. She was sitting in the back of a cart being pulled by a horse. She gave him a gentle smile and then closed her eyes once again to try and sleep. Every time the cart hit a bump in the road, the whole thing bounced and shook. Undoubtedly, Mara was not getting much rest. Rest that she, and the child within her womb, needed.

Mara and Yusuf had joined with the caravan of people walking south to Jordan. Mara was sitting in the cart with few elderly people, some children and another pregnant woman. The two had left everything behind, their home, their jobs, their family, their lives. Yusuf was angry at himself for having to make Mara embark on this long journey while she was pregnant. He had hoped that they could have stayed a little longer in their homes. He wanted the baby to be born in Damascus, but the bombs were dropping and the government troops had ordered everyone out. Anyone who was suspected of being a rebel was being thrown in prison or worse, and people were turning on each other, accusing friends and neighbours of rebellion in order to stay in the government’s good books.

Yusuf had told Mara that he would find them a place to hide out, where she could have the baby safely in Damascus. They would only have to stay a few weeks. But Mara had insisted they leave. She didn’t want their baby to be born into such a dangerous and chaotic world. And so here they were, traveling in winter on a hard and rocky road, from Damascus, Syria to Al Zataari, Jordan so that they could make a new life, one free from bombs and guns and soldiers. Yusuf was not happy about it, but every time Mara gave him that small smile of hers, he was relieved that she had insisted on leaving.


Zataari was bustling full of people. There were NGO workers, peacekeepers, kids running around in packs, adults visiting, people working. Zataari was the same distance from Nazareth that Bethlehem was, the home of King David. Yusuf was a coptic Christian, and the family legend was that he was a descendant of King David, not that this was something to advertise back home.

Yusuf and Mara were hoping to find some of Yusuf’s relatives already in Jordan. He  heard that his cousins had already fled Syria. But as he asked around, no one seemed to know his family, it was a long shot in a town of 80,000 refugees. Yusuf was worried that they might have to make camp on the outskirts. He only considered this as his last option, for the threat of thieves and bandits was too great, especially with Mara being almost ready to have her baby.

Finally someone who seemed to be a distant cousin offered Mara and Yusuf a room to themselves…. Well kind of… it was a tattered tent with a faded UNHCR logo on it… it looked like goats and sheep had been living there before they came. Mara and Yusuf would have to make due.


Yusuf led Mara to their temporary dwelling and they settled in. Mara didn’t seem mind, she was just grateful to sit somewhere that wasn’t bouncing down a road. Yusuf’s distant cousin had given them some food and blankets and sweaters. Not long after they had sat down to eat, Mara dropped her food and grabbed her belly. Yusuf knew what this meant, the baby was coming.

Throughout the day and well into the night, Yusuf stayed by Mara’s side. Helping her as best he could through the labour. Finally, through gritted teeth, Mara told him,

“The Baby is going to come now”. Yusuf got into position as she gave her final pushes and then all of a sudden into his hands slithered a slimy and wailing bundle of legs and arms, hands and feet. Yusuf gave the baby to Mara, it was cold and there was nothing to wrap the child in. So, Yusuf took one of the sweaters his cousin has given to him and tore it into strips. Some he dipped in water and helped Mara to clean the child and with the rest they wrapped up the baby warm and tight.

Once the baby had been cleaned and fed, Mara and the boy slept. A short time later, while it was still dark, Mara woke up and called for Yusuf to take the baby. She wanted to clean herself up from the birth. She couldn’t quite stand on her own, so Yusuf put the baby down in the nearest convenient place — a long metal bucket or trough full of straw, probably for the goats. Yusuf was so proud of Mara, she had come all this way and now given birth, he was all of a sudden overjoyed that he had not left her when he had found out that she was pregnant, and he was overjoyed that she had made them escape the dangers of home.


As Yusuf pulled Mara to her feet, they heard voices coming near their tent. At first Yusuf thought it might be his cousin coming to check in on them in the early morning, but there were several voices… several men. Yusuf peered out of the tent into the darkness and coming towards him was a group of men with weapons, with sticks and staffs, and rods and slingshots.They were boisterous, loud men… Yusuf’s anxiety grew and his heart began to pound. These men must be a gang of thieves.

“Stay in here” he told Mara and he pulled out one of the few personal items he had brought with him from Damascus, his carpenter’s hammer. He was ready to die for wife-to-be and child.

As the men got closer they quieted themselves, Yusuf was ready to fight. He put himself between the tent and the men, blocking their way. He raised his hammer above his head to signal that he would not allow anyone to come in. But the men stopped and only one came forward.

“Is he here?” the man asked excitedly. “The one the messengers told us about? The Messiah? The child in the manger? We were watching our sheep not to far from here, and were told by messengers – Angels  –  that we would find the great prophet here”. Yusuf’s jaw dropped, along with his hammer, in shock. How could anyone know that Mara had given birth already? Angels? Messiah? He turned and looked back to the tent. Mara was standing at the door, nodding her head and beckoning the young men to come forward. One by one the men came and knelt before the baby, saying prayers of thanksgiving as Mara watched on, looking totally unsurprised that these rough men had arrived. Yusuf’s head was spinning.

Finally, when the men had finished looking at the child, NO when they had finished worshipping the child, Yusuf looked to Mara who was holding a squirming Isa in her arms.

“Angels, Messiah, a baby in a manger! Our son is special isn’t he?”

Mara looked at Yusuf for a long moment. She thought about all that she had been through in the last 9 months. The visit from the angel and surprise pregnancy, the shame of being unmarried followed by Yusuf’s continued willingness to marry her, the time she had with her cousin Eliza while she gave birth to her miracle child in her old age and now the journey to Zataari. Mara was amazed at how her life had been so dramatically changed, how this baby had come into her world and changed everything. This tiny baby that could not lift his own head, who could not survive unless she kept him warm with her own body heat, who could not be fed unless it was she who gave him food, who could not be alive unless she worked to keep him so. This little child had come into her life and nothing was the same as it was.

Yet before tonight, the message from that first Angel had not seemed so real and grand. For certain she had been pregnant, but for her child to be the Messiah… well that was something she could not imagine. Yet the Shepherds had come, they told them of messenger Angels coming to the fields, telling them about the birth of her child, of this tiny little baby boy, so vulnerable to the world, of how he would be their saviour!

Returning to Yusuf’s question, was their son special?

“Come and look into his eyes Yusuf, see for yourself”, Mara finally said.

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 this little miracle in their arms, Mara and Yusuf saw the whole world differently than it was just a moment before. A miracle bigger than they could hold. A world with God in it.

As the first wisps of light began to breach the horizon with the sunrise, the little family stood at the door of their tent, watching this new light come into the world. As starlight and sunlight danced with each other across the sky, Mara could almost hear voices singing from above and she listened to the heavens.

Yusuf whispered to his son,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Amen.

6 Things Pastors Actually do Love about Christmas

It seems odd to be writing a post on Christmas Eve day, and yet as we approach what are likely the biggest services of the year, it is hard not to think about all the stress and all the preparation that has been undertaken over the past few weeks.

As a pastor, Advent and Christmas can be seasons to dread as everything ramps up, as the struggle to keep Christmas from overtaking Advent is a daily chore, as the Christmas parties, visits and extra planning fill all available time slots. Pastors work longer hours in an already busy time of year, pastors are called on to provide extra services and find ourselves at centre of the Christmas rituals of many, rituals that are often full of demands and expectations about the perfect Christmas.

I have written about my frustrations with Christmas and there are other pastors out there blogging and writing about the struggle of trying to provide the most wonderful time of year to a lot of people with high expectations.

And yet, Christmas still is a time to love. Despite all the extra work and high expectations, there are still are a few surprising things that Pastors do love about Christmas.

1 Getting to tell the real Christmas story.

For roughly 2 months before Christmas proper, the world is full of sweet Christmas carols, sentimental nativity scenes, nostalgic holiday movies that paint an idyllic version of the Christmas story: A gentle Joseph and Mary giving a painless and calm birth in the most sterile and picturesque of barns stalls, with friendly animals and shepherds. Yet, the real Christmas story is full of scandal like teenage moms, and unmarried couples having babies, and homeless immigrants squatting in the same place that animals east, sleep and empty their bowels.

2 Preaching to a full house.

Even if church is full because grandma wants the grandkids in church at least once a year, or that people have come just for Silent Night by candlelight or to see the kids dressed up like shepherds, angels and animals, seeing a full house when looking out from pulpit is just a little satisfying. Knowing that what you are about to preach is going to be heard by such a large crowd reminds us that we haven’t totally faded into obscurity.

3 Finally saying ‘Merry Christmas’ for the 12 days season.

One of my favourite things it to offer a Merry Christmas until January 5th. When you get to greet people with Merry Christmas well after New Years, it is a fun way to catch people off guard and use the opportunity to remind people just when the actual season of Christmas is. It is allows us to plan fun things like 12th night parties, complete with Christmas tree bonfires.

4 Getting a zillion cards.

While Christmas cards themselves can be a little cheesy or corny at times, the fact that many, many people take the time to write kind messages and show they are thinking of you is nice, especially considering that pastors aren’t the only busy and stressed people at Christmas.

5 The music, the decor, the festive spirit.

Sometimes church can be routine or sombre. Some Sundays just feel like the same old same old. It is nice for pastors, too, to sing those familiar carols, see the sanctuary decorated, to enjoy friends and family in this long season of darkness (for us northern hemisphere folks). Even when we try to make everyone observe Advent, when Christmas does finally roll around (Dec. 24th, not November 1st), it is a special time of year to enjoy.

6 Spending time with family.

Pastors have family and traditions too. We open our presents at certain times, cook certain meals, do certain activities with extended family. And once the Christmas Eve and Christmas day services are over with, it is nice to take some time (when usually no one at church is needing your time) to enjoy the Holy-days.

I know that sometimes I can come across like a Christmas grinch to those around me. And I know from colleagues and pastor friends, that Christmas is a super stressful time of year. And yes, there are moments when I, and I am sure others, just want it over with.

Yet, just like anyone else, Christmas is a special season for us. Even with the all the stress and extra work that comes along with being a pastor at Christmas.

Are you a Pastor with strong feelings about Christmas? Have wondered what Christmas is like for your Pastor? Share in the comments, or one the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

Do Not be Afraid – Christmas will survive Advent

Advent is my favourite season of the church year. 

In fact, I weirdly start longing for Advent sometime in September most years. I get tired of the long season of Green or Ordinary Time. Usually by Thanksgiving (celebrated the 2nd Sunday of October in Canada), I am ready for anything but more parables from the Gospels. I ready to see anything but same-old, same-old green paraments hanging from the chancel furnishings. I am ready for the deep, rich blues of advent to begin. Don’t tell anyone, but by that time of year, I sometimes even long for snow!

As a kid, Advent always bore this mysterious quality for me. The church I grew up in used to hang this huge advent wreath from the 50ft. sanctuary ceiling – like seriously, it was the size of a small kitchen table. And this elderly usher would lower it down using a pulley system during the children’s message so that we could light the appropriate number of candles. The shaky old usher often looked like he was about to let the whole thing go and the wreath would come crashing down on our heads. That was part of the fun for sure.

Yet, I also remember the little seen blue stole that the pastor wore for just a few weeks. I remember the haunting verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel that we would sing in anticipation of Messiah. I remember hearing the stories of that interesting figure “John the Baptist” and the camel’s hair clothes he wore, and the locusts or giant grass hoppers he ate. I remember the wild sermons he preached, and how the drama of his words seemed to echo in the sanctuary:

       Prepare the way of the Lord
      Make his paths straight

But the exciting images of Advent lessons didn’t end there. The best story of Advent – and one of the best of the whole year – was the story of the Angel coming to Mary. I loved hearing those fist words the angel speaks, I could imagine a young girl just going about her business in her room and suddenly somthing, someone beyond worlds appeared to her:

        Do not be afraid

Of course! Of course, the Angel would say that! Because meeting an angel would be the coolest and most terrifying thing ever!

Advent has the best stories, and they have stuck with me since being a kid. These days as a pastor, I start getting excited weeks ahead of when I have to preach them. I start letting those words of John, those words of the Angel and words of Mary percolate in my mind so that I am ready to preach them when the time comes.

Increasingly the past few years, Christmas has been creeping into Advent. Sure there have always been Christmas parties during advent, and choir/band/orchestra christmas concerts, and Christmas displays in malls. But Christmas seems to more ubiquitous than ever and before Advent even starts.

And maybe I didn’t notice it as much as kid, but it feels like the whole world is joining in the generic Christmas celebration. Almost everyone celebrates Christmas these days, whereas Christmas used to be a mostly churchy thing to do… or at least not a very big deal to non-religious folk.

And who am I to judge? If the secular world needs a cultural celebration to fend off the darkness of winter, to spread joy and cheer, to make an excuse to give and receive gifts, than great! Christians appropriated Christmas from pagan winter solstice traditions, why can’t the secular world borrow Christianity’s holy day in order turn our dark time of year into a celebratory time?

It is even interesting to watch the secular world work out how the commercial and cultural celebration works for it and I am fine with that. This year there was a movement in Canada to keep stores from putting out the Christmas displays until after Remembrance Day (Nov. 11th). Many stores start their Christmas campaign November 1st, right after the halloween campaign has been put to bed with a candy hangover.

Despite my willingness to share Christmas, the people I don’t get are the Christians who start fighting this fictitious “War on Christmas” around November 1st or 12th. Even government officials are capitalizing on this unfounded fear that the phrases “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” are going to take the Christ out of Christmas. Or that Xmas isn’t a long held Christian short hand. I think we are afraid of losing something and so we hold on more tightly.

The idea that Christians are in any way persecuted in Canada is about as absurd as saying Canadians don’t care about Hockey. But I will leave the persecution bit for another post.

What bothers me about the War on Christmas is that its real opponent seems to be Advent.

Christians seem to forget that Advent even exists. Maybe instead of being offended by Happy Holidays, we should be correcting Merry Christmas with Happy Advent.

Because here is the thing: Christmas needs Advent.

We need Advent.

Christmas without Advent is like giving birth without pregnancy. It is like opening a novel in the middle of the story. It is like skipping the first half of every movie you watch.

It is like Easter without Good Friday, or the story of the Fall in Genesis without the story of Creation and paradise, or the story of the Israelites coming to the promise land without the story of leaving Egypt.

So often we want to make Christmas about idyllic manger scenes with little drummer boys, sheep and donkeys, angels and shepherds, when Christmas is about un-wed mothers, the oppression of Empire, and the slaughter of children.

I think we want to imagine Christmas an unblemished perfect little story, because we are afraid of the darkness.

Advent reminds us Christmas is not about nostalgia and sentimentalism. It isn’t just singing Silent Night while holding a candle on Christmas Eve.

We need Advent because it tells us the whole story. It tells us the deeper story. John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary are not just cool characters in rich narrative. They are powerful symbols and reminders that we are still Advent people.

Advent reminds us that Christmas – that the birth of Messiah – is for a world still waiting in darkness, still waiting for justice, still waiting for healing. Advent tell us that Messiah isn’t just a cute baby born in a barn to poor parents. Advents tells us that Messiah is God’s answer to human darkness. God’s light sent to people living under the thumb of the Roman Empire, people living under the oppression of white privilege in Ferguson and Staten Island, people living in the systemic poverty imposed on the Indigenous people of Canada, women living under the constant threat of sexism, misogyny and sexual violence, people who practice a religion different than the empire’s being forced to celebrate holy-days that the White Christian Empire accuses them of taking away.

The symbols of Advent still draw me in just like they did as a kid. Even though I am the one putting on the blue stole, and reading the words of John the Baptist, the Angel and Mary. And even when I get crochety because Christmas music is playing in the malls in the middle of November and my Facebook feed is full of people worried that Christmas might lose Christ because someone wished them Happy Holidays, Advent reels me in.

Because I need Advent too.

I need Advent and its promise of a new world, its hope given to a world that feels hopeless too often and because of those four little lights that push away the darkness in order to make room – to make room for Messiah.

Messiah who is already here, but still on the way.

So do not be afraid.

What does Advent mean to you? How do you observe Advent? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page: The Millennial Pastor or on Twitter: @ParkerErik