Monday, December 24, 2018

2018 Christmas Prayer

God who has created and is creating,
on this Christmas night we give thanks for the wonders you have created:
for sunlight shining on fresh snow,
for the excited giggles of children hanging their stockings,
for the warmth of family and friends gathered around a table,
for twinkling stars and moonshine in the crisp winter air
for all the gifts we have received that make life full.
We wait with hope for what is being created, for the wonders we have yet to see.
Creator, open our eyes to see what you are doing in our midst,
open our souls and hearts
that we would embrace the Kingdom proclaimed by the Babe in the manger.

God of hope and promise, as we sing the old songs and tell the old story,
we know that the world is not what it could be.
Too readily we see the darkness and shadows of the world.
Renew and restore our hope,
open our eyes to see the possibilities,
reveal to us the ways that people like us are choosing to make a difference,
shine light on the places where the promise of Christmas is becoming reality.

God of peace, tonight we celebrate the birth of one called Prince of Peace.
Tonight we remember angels proclaiming “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all”.
Help us be people who make peace in our own circles.
Help us push our leaders to make peace in larger circles.
Help us find peace within our own lives when we are troubled or anxious.

God of joy,
sometimes we get too busy for joy.
Sometimes we get too worried for joy.
And yet if we turn in another direction we might find it.
Reach into our hearts and souls and open the doors where we have locked joy away,
that we would be able to sing wholeheartedly “Joy to the World the Lord is come”!

God of love,
God who loves the world so much you will never give up on it,
God who in love chose to live among us as one of us,
sharing our triumphs and our failures, our joys and sorrows,
over and over you teach, encourage, command us to love.
May we truly love you, each other, and ourselves and put that love into action.

God who has come in Jesus, the Word-Made-Flesh, to reconcile and make new,
tonight we celebrate the birth of Jesus, of Emmanuel, God-With-Us.
Tonight we celebrate that in love you keep breaking into the life of the world,
into our own lives,
to bring renewal, redemption, and re-creation.
Tonight you once again proclaim the beginning of a new era,
one where the Kingdom will be real and growing in our midst.
Tonight you call us to come and see the Babe in a manger
and see in his face:
the promise of peace, the eyes of love, and our cause for joy.
As we run with the shepherds to see if the angel story is true,
may we be full of delight, of excitement, of hope for the world, hope for us.
Having seen the child, may we live as if the world,
and we as well, have been changed because of this night.

God of Christmas,
this night there are also prayers in our hearts that we can not or dare not put into words,
and so we lift them up in the silence of our hearts
...time of silent prayer...
All of these things, spoken and unspoken, hope-filled and anxious, joyous and sorrowful, we pray in the name of the baby who lies in the manger,
who we call Saviour and Messiah,
who will grow up to teach us all about what it means to live and love in the Kingdom,
and who will teach his friends to pray saying the words we now sing...

Saturday, December 22, 2018

A WEdding Sermon

M and A, now I talk to you about relationship. To be in relationship is at the heart of human experience. We all have a variety of relationships in our lives. Our earliest is that of child and parent, then maybe a sibling. Then there are other family members: grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins... As time goes on we move out into the world and develop friendships with people outside the family circle. Some of these become deep and life-long, others are just for a period of time until one or the other moves on. Each of these relationships teach us something. We learn who we are as we relate to others, we learn how to relate to others, we may even learn about who we want to be when we grow up. Both of you have relationships like these in your lives.
But then for many people there is another relationship. This is the relationship where you choose one special person with whom you will share your life more deeply than with any other. This is the relationship where we choose to make ourselves more vulnerable than any other. In this one we pledge ourselves to each other, we make vows to support each other come what may, we promise to put this relationship in a place of prime importance and grow a place where both of us can grow and blossom and shine. It is this relationship that we are here to celebrate to day.
Today as you stand in front of your family and friends you will make promises to each other. Today marks the beginning of a new part of the life you share. After today many things will be the same as they were yesterday. And one thing will be different. Your lives will be joined together, interlinked, in a stronger way. We have all come to witness this happen. We have all come to promise to support you as you grow a marriage together. We have all come to celebrate this commitment, this life you share.
Tomorrow you continue to build the relationship and life you share. On my GPS unit you can choose your destination but then you can add stopping points along the road as a “via point”. Today is one of those via points on the journey, a layover perhaps as you continue to the destination. Mind you this is a journey with no set destination, rather a series of destinations will appear along the way, just as there have already been a series of destinations to get you to this day. The journey of marriage is one where you continue to learn more about each other and yourselves as you live through what life decides to put in your path. In the process we trust and pray that your relationship will grow stronger and deeper as time goes by.
On the table behind me are 4 candles. 3 of them we have lit already, one we will light in a little bit. The words we attach to these candles can help you along the journey that will be your marriage.
HOPE – what would life be without hope? Hope is that thing that pushes us to keep trying when the road gets challenging, the hope that individual challenges are temporary and the relationship is lasting. Hope is that thing that gives us a dream, or a series of dreams, as we look to the future. M and A, may there always be hope in your marriage
PEACE – Peace can mean many things. Sometimes it means quiet or calm. Sometimes it means one side has conquered the other. In marriage we look for a different kind of peace. We look for the peace that comes, not from the total lack of conflict (because we know that doesn’t exist). The peace of marriage is based on the fact that conflict is resolved and both people win. Peace in marriage comes also when we can sit quietly with our beloved and be comforted and warmed simply by their presence. A and M, may peace be the norm in your marriage.
JOY – At this time of the year we hear a lot of talk about Joy. From a theological and practical point of view I think we get Joy wrong. For me joy is not just happiness. Joy is deeper. Joy comes from that deep place of trust and appreciation Joy in marriage comes from seeing each other and ourselves with clear eyes, flaws and all, and realize the depth of our relationship, how much we would miss without each other. A and M, in the life you share find joy in each other, produce joy for each other.
LOVE – The candle we have yet to light, possibly the most important candle we will light this afternoon., the candle of Love. None of the relationships in our lives are always easy. The deeper the connection, the greater the vulnerability there is and that makes love so much more important. In marriage we put our lives in the hands of another, on purpose, knowing that this is a risk. We are able to find the comfort to do that because there is love. If there is a magic bullet to marriage (to life in general) it is love. M and A, may the love which has lead or drawn you to this place continue to lead and draw you forward in the years to come.
A and M, you have invited us to be a part of this special day. You have invited us to add this to our celebration of Christmas Love. We thank you for the invitation. And we come to witness your commitment, to promise to support you in the life you share, and to celebrate with you today. In the Scripture passage we just heard it reminds us that a threefold cord is not easily broken. I have noticed (not being inclined or allowed to actually braid hair in my house) that if you try to braid two strands together it does not work well. But add the third strand and you add stability and strength. May God be present as the third strand in the cord that is your marriage, there to add support and strength when the others feel stretched to breaking May God bless and keep you always. Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Christmas Eve Reflection 2018

The Revolution Starts Tonight...Again

Tonight the world is changed. After tonight the world will never be the same again.

Sounds a little naive doesn’t it? I mean will the news headlines on Thursday really be all that different than they were yesterday? Probably not. But still I believe that tonight the world is changed. Why? Because I have heard the angel proclamation and because I have heard the song sung by the pregnant Mary.

Jesus is born and Jesus comes to change the world. And so, because of this night the world will never be the same again. If we are honest, which of us could say that is a bad thing?

After all, most of us have a list of things we would make happen if we had a magic wand that gave us the power to order the world as we think it ought to be. Yes I know that power would be incredibly dangerous but doesn’t it sound tempting sometimes? What would you change? What would be on your grown up Christmas List?

Long before Jesus was born the prophet Isaiah lived in a time of troubles. In his lifetime he would see Jerusalem captured and the temple destroyed. But he also saw hope: “the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. On those who dwell in a land of deep darkness light has shined...for unto us a child is born, for unto us a son is given and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God...Prince of Peace”. Years later another man preaching under the name of Isaiah would say to people in exile “A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain...Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, “Here is your God!” See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” Both Isaiah’s knew that God was going to transform the world. As people of faith we share that promise and that hope. Tonight we celebrate that hope coming to fruition. For on this night is born to us in the City of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

In the poem that Sharon read earlier the Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Bott (to use his full title, most of us just call him Richard), Moderator of the United Church of Canada sets the Christmas story against our current news and writes:
There is no Silent Night,
when a little one is ripped
from their parent's arms.
The keepers of the sheep will not hear the angels'
"Glory to God in the Highest,"
over the guns of war.
The Wise Ones
will not be able to see the star,
when the skies are filled
with the LED signs,
proclaiming, "more, More, MORE!"
The Christ-child is born,
in bus shelter,
in prison cell,
at border fence,
in shelled-out hovel.
(There Is No Silent Night by Richard Bott)
Richard’s verses show clearly the broken-ness of the world. They remind us how the priorities of the world have fallen away from the priorities of God’s Kingdom. Christmas has always come into such a world. Sure the exact details have varied over the centuries but the reality of broken-ness has not. And yet I started out by saying that tonight the world is changed. And I do believe it. Tonight the healing of a broken world begins... again.

Luke tells us that before Jesus was born Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who also happened to be pregnant. While she was there Mary uttered what is nothing less than a revolutionary manifesto. In fact, over the course of the 20th Century those verses that Pat read a few moments ago have been banned by various oppressive governments. Wouldn’t want too many people hearing about the God who “has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly” and “has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty”. Mary sings of the God who will do such things. When her son is grown and starting his ministry Luke tells us that Jesus reads these words from Scripture “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” and then followed that up by saying “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”. In Jesus the revolution proclaimed by Mary is begun. In Jesus the world is being changed and repaired, new priorities are being set. This is Good News which shall be for all people. Tonight Jesus is born and the revolution begins again, anew.

This is the power of Christmas. The power of Christmas is not in sweetly sung carols, or in candles shining in the darkness, or in carefully worded prayers. The power of Christmas is not even in families and friends gathered for parties and special meals. The power of Christmas is in the God who loves the world so much that God will not give up on us. The power of Christmas is in God breaking into the world to change it, to bring on the Kingdom of God. The power of Christmas is in God sneaking into the hearts of God’s children to change them and bring on the Kingdom of God. The power of God is to start a revolution – even if it seems to take a long time for the revolution to take effect.

This evening we have lit candles. And each candle has had a word attached. I think that each of those words ties in to the revolution the Christmas brings.
HOPE: At the beginning of any revolution there is often a lack of evidence that it things will actually change. Often it seems that the status quo will win out. Hope is what keeps us looking for signs that the change is happening. Hope is what will make the revolution keep going.
PEACE: The revolution of Christmas is kind of odd. Normally revolution means violence and killing and destruction. The change proclaimed by Mary in her song and then by Jesus in his life will come by the victory of a deep peace based in justice where all have what they need to live together in peace -- “and the wolf will lie down with the lamb”. The Kingdom is not going to be won by armed conflict (which may be why the revolution has to start again every year with so little evidence of progress). It brings true and abiding peace.
JOY: Than angels proclaimed to the shepherds on the hillside “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”. When we are reminded that God is at work in the world it fills our hearts with joy that we are not forgotten. Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
LOVE: In the poem that Susan read earlier we hear the words:
Welcome to Love, we’re no longer alone.
In joy and sorrow, to day and tomorrow,
Love will be with us. Love’s here to stay.
Sing every morning: “It’s Christmas today!”
(No Longer Alone by Miriam Therese Winter)
The work of Christ is the work of love. The work of changing the world that begins tonight is the work of love. Love is the prime motivator of Christian faith and ministry. Love is what God is about in Jesus -- “for God so loved the world that God sent God’s only begotten Son”
CHRIST: Jesus is the instigator of the revolution. Within Christian theology Jesus both announces and initiates the coming of God’s Kingdom. Jesus teaches us what it means to live as citizens of that Realm, Jesus shows up how to do it. And when we sometimes (often? usually?) have trouble remembering how we are to live Christ proclaims God’s forgiveness and reminds us ‘if at first you don’t succeed: try, try again’.

A Catholic hymn-writer named Rory Cooney wrote a hymn based on Mary’s song. The chorus says:
My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears for the day draws near,
and the world is about to turn.
(My Soul Cries Out/ Canticle of the Turning by Rory Cooney)
Every year when we hear the angels speaking to the shepherds on a hillside, every year when we visualize Mary laying her child gently in the manger, we are reminded that God is starting something new in the world. Jesus was born long ago. Jesus is born tonight. The revolution of God’s Kingdom began long ago. The revolution begins again tonight. Are we willing to join in the revolution? Or as Richard says in his poem:
Are we willing to meet the Child;
and, in meeting,
change our world?
Are we willing to change the world,
and, in changing,
meet the Child?
(There Is No Silent Night by Richard Bott)

Jesus is born! The world has begun to turn! Nothing will ever be the same again! Glory to God in the Highest! And on Earth Peace, Goodwill toward all.

May it be so. Amen.