Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Fear and Change Today -- A Christmas Reflection

Tonight is about birth. Tonight we celebrate the birth of a child in a manger, tonight we celebrate the birth of light in the darkness, tonight we celebrate the birth of hope that counters our fears.

And certainly there are plenty of fears out there. Fears about employment, fears about violence, fears for our children. Just open up any newspaper and you will see a litany of possible reasons to be afraid. If we let it, fear will fill our lives.

There is fear in our story too. The fear of a young woman, a teenager really, pregnant too soon. The fear of shepherds surprised by a bright light. The fear of peasants living under the thumb of the rich and powerful. And (hidden in the shadows of the story) the fear of the powerful that they will be replaced.

Underlying all these fears, the ones in the old story and the ones in our papers today, is change. Ask any parent and they will tell you that any birth means that life is changed, changed irreversibly. And change can be exciting and frightening at the same time. So on this night when we celebrate birth we also celebrate change and the possibility of change. And so the angel song and carols are coloured with uncertainty and fear.

What changes are happening in our lives today? As the economy sputters and struggles are we on the verge of birthing a new and different understanding of what makes for economic health? As people move around to find work what changes happen within families and communities? As our children grow up in a Canada where traditional industries are being replaced with knowledge industries do we wonder what their future will hold? US President-elect Obama ran his whole campaign on a promise of “Change we can believe in”. As we feel the labour pains of that changed world being born we squirm in fear and discomfort.

Christmas is all about birth. It isn't about the birth of a baby in a tiny town long ago and far away. Or at least not only about that birth. Christmas is about the birth of a changed world. It is about the Holy One being born in our midst here and now. Since every birth brings change, what changes does the Christmas birth bring?

The Christmas birth is the birth of light in the darkness. For many of us darkness is a symbol of fearfulness. The shadows hide the unknown. The shadows are where danger lurks. At Christmas light is born, light that overcomes all the darknesses of our lives. The Christmas birth is of a light which will help us find our way in a world of uncertainty.

The Christmas birth is God becoming, again, over and over, part of our world. Christmas is the promise that we are not alone, that God has not forsaken us. As the Holy One becomes incarnated in our lives we see new possibilities for how we can share this tiny blue ball called Earth. Christmas gives birth to the reality that the Reign of God is present among us – even if only in an infancy and needing to grow strong and large.

The Christmas birth is the birth of hope. It is said that the birth of any child is God saying that there is hope for the future. Christmas marks the birth of hope in a world that can, and will, and must, be a better place for all. The baby in the manger reminds us to care for the least and weakest among us. The Christmas birth reminds us of the incredible potential of childhood. This night hope is born again. Tonight hope is born that can face down the worst despair of a world in chaos and change.

And so in the midst of a world that is changing, as we face the reality of change which we can rarely control, in the fear of the unknown, what is the Good News of Christmas here in 2008? The Good News is the same as the angel message to Mary and to the Shepherds. Be Not Afraid! Fear Not! Great things are happening. For unto us, all of us, is born tonight hope, and love, and peace, and light. Christmas means birth. Birth means possibility and promise and potential. The angels don't tell us not to be afraid because there is nothing to fear. The angel message tells us not to be afraid because there is Good News that can bring light to the darkness, hope to those who despair, life where there is death, and love that overpowers fear.

Be not afraid. God is born among us again tonight. And may the light, promise and hope of Christmas carry you forward into this crazy world throughout the year that is to come. Joy to the World! The Lord is come! Amen.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mary's Fear -- a reading for Christmas Eve

Don't be afraid the angel said. What a laugh. Here I am minding my own business when an angel shows up and tells me I am pregnant! How else would I feel?

I mean there were so many reasons to be afraid. Once I got over the shock of an angel appearing there was the whole being pregnant before being married thing. Who was going to believe this story? I had a friend once who got pregnant at the wrong time. The best I could hope for was to be sent away quietly, and maybe find a husband who would accept me and my child. Or I could be cast out of my house and family altogether. OR even put to death. Darn right I was afraid.

But then Joseph believed me. My parents believed me. Yeah sure there are people around town who still point and whisper when I walk by. Do they think I don't see them or know what they say? But the people who needed to believe me believed me. That is all that matters.

The other thing that helped me not be afraid was visiting my cousin Elizabeth. She was so welcoming. And while I was with her I had a sense of what wonderful things could happen. God will do wonderful things through our children! And so I sang about God's justice, I sang a song of hope for all people who find themselves poor and desolate, I sang about God turning the world upside down.

But you know what? I am still afraid. Having a baby changes everything. Am I ready to be a mother? What does it mean to raise a child in this world? There are so many things that can happen. It wasn't that long ago that a town nearby was destroyed by the Romans. Will that happen here? It is so hard to live these days, not enough food, no money, always the threat of violence. I am afraid for how Jesus will cope with that. I worry about what it will do to him. And like any parent I worry what kind of a man he will be.

My world is about to change. I am about to become a mother. And I am excited, but a little afraid too.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Shepherd's Fear -- a reading for Christmas Eve

Was I afraid? You bet I was. Who wouldn't be? After all it isn't every day that the night sky is filled with angels singing!

I think we were all afraid but most of them refuse to admit it. But when that brightness filled the sky that night I know I was terrified. At first I thought there was a fire coming over the hillside but then I realized the light was up in the sky. I just fell to the ground and wouldn't look up. Who knows what might happen if I looked at that light?

Well the light didn't go away so eventually I peeked. Everyone else was huddled on the ground just like me. Even big strong Josiah, who claims that he isn't afraid of anything. Even he was cowering and whimpering in fear. And then The light spoke. “Don't be afraid”

Something about the voice gave me strength and I stood up to look more carefully at the light. As I looked closely I could see a face in the center of the light. The angel seemed to look right at me. I was still afraid but somehow it was alright now. It was a calm sort of fear, if that makes any sense.

You all know the rest of the story. How the angel told us about a baby that had been born, a baby who would be the promised Saviour, how we ran down the hill to see this baby. But it didn't stop there for me.

You see I am still afraid. All my life I have been told that we have to be careful, we have to avoid getting the Romans angry. Otherwise there will be big trouble, and people getting killed and houses burned. We struggle to survive as it is, we don't need any more trouble. But when I looked into the face of that baby I saw real power. I saw that this was a child who could bring real changes in the world. And one thing I have learned is that the people in power don't really like change – unless they control it of course.

The old stories tell us that the Promised One would change how the world works. They tell us that we will get our land back. I hope that happens. I hope things change. But I am afraid. When this little baby grows up and does what I hope he will do, what will happen? I have hope. I have hope in a new way of life where I don't have to go hungry half the time. But I am afraid of the reaction to those changes. Still it is odd, this fear and hope mixture is strangely calming. Certainly it is better than the fear and hopelessness I see all around me...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Call to Worship for January 11, 2009 -- Baptism of Jesus Sunday, Year B

The people flocked out to hear John by the river,
they must have found something there that fed them, that gave them life.
So too we continue to gather in God’s presence,
seeking to be fed, seeking new life.
The people chose to be baptised by John,
they embraced the life they had found.
We choose to grow as a baptised and baptising community,
trusting that then we will be enlivened and empowered.
Come all who hunger and thirst, now is the time to worship,
we come into God’s presence with praise and hope.
Let us pray…

For December 21, 2008 -- Be Not Afraid, Justice Shall be Done -- 4th of Advent

Just a few days now, the time is coming near.
The child will be born, and what changes he will bring!
We come in anticipation of the celebration,
we come to prepare for the new world to be born.
The birth of justice, the birth of hope, all in a baby in a manger.
We worship the God who sends him, the God of justice and peace.
Let us worship together, let us pray…

God of Christmas hope, peace, joy and love, we come into your presence with praise and anxiety.
We wonder about the world this Christmas. We worry about the unfairness and hardship we see around us.
In this Christmas season speak to our anxiety and our fear,
remind us not to be afraid. Remind us of your vision for a world of peace and justice. Awaken in us an awareness that the Spirit of the Lord is at work to bring sight to the blind and liberty to the captives.
We pray this in the name of the one who proclaimed that he would bring these things to pass, Jesus of Nazareth, who taught us to pray the words we now sing together…

Offering Prayer
God who gives us so much, our hearts are filled through your grace. At Christmas, and throughout the year, we offer of ourselves that your justice and love would be spread through the world. May we always be blessed with the knowledge that we have gifts to offer, and challenged to offer what we have. Amen.

The Spirit of the Lord is among us!
Bringing justice, chasing away our fear.
God looks favourably upon God’s people.
redeeming them, lifting the lowly, feeding the hungry.
We go out as people of God,
sharing the Good News that God is active in the world, telling all we meet that there is cause for celebration, singing songs of joy for Christ is born in our midst!
As you go to prepare for Christmas celebrations carry with you the sure knowledge that God is there to celebrate with you, to strengthen and bless you always.
Thanks be to the God of Christmas! Amen.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

For December 24, 2008 -- Christmas Eve

The time has come! The promised one is nigh!
Even now the labour pains can be felt, birth is at hand!
Tonight new hope is born. Tonight the world will be changed.
Tonight we come together to sing with angels and wonder with shepherds. Tonight we celebrate the promise of new life.
We have been called to this place in hope.
We worship the one who is born in our lives this day.

Offering Prayer
God of gifts, tomorrow morning many of us will gather around brightly decorated trees,
there we will pause to open gifts lovingly shared between family and friends.
Tonight we give these gifts to the child in the manger.
Tonight we offer our treasures and ourselves to the Prince of Peace.
May the gifts we offer here be our Christmas gift to the world.
May the gifts we offer tonight and tomorrow be signs of love and hope. May they make the light of the world shine brighter. We pray in the name of the child who is born tonight. Amen.

The child is born, the labour pains start to fade.
The shepherds and the angels have sung their songs.
We go out into the night of a world being changed.
We go out to be midwives in the birth of a new world.
Birth is a scary and exciting time,
a time of wonder and hope about what will come next.
As we go out into the world that is being born we carry with us the hope we find in the child who lies in the manger. We carry with us the songs of peace, goodwill towards all. We carry with us the promise of God to be active in the world.
May we share the hope, promise, and joy of Christmas with all we meet! Christ is born! Alleluia!