Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Christmas expectations

December 24, 2015

The shepherds returned, glorifying God for all they had seen and heard…That is how the Story of Jesus birth ends in Luke’s gospel; but what had they seen?  

First, the angel of the Lord had appeared, out of nowhere, and scared the heart out of them.  Angelic choruses, bright lights – visions that suggested an ancient prophecy had finally been set in motion.  Did they rush to town out of a desire to “See this thing that has taken place…?” – that’s how Luke descries the sudden rush to Bethlehem – still a little scared, I imagine; shaken to their boots and eager for something to break the spell of  their heavenly encounter.  Seeking people and noise and the comfort of the familiar, they stumble into town together, and find family, one of many gathered for the census, except for one important difference.  A new born baby – roughly wrapped, gently cradled – mother and baby doing fine…but there is something about this scene that brings the shepherds to a reverent rest.  

What did they expect to see?  Familiar with the prophets’ promise, that peace would be revealed with the birth of a child – that God would deliver the faithful by a daring act of solidarity –  what they expected was some show of power, certainly not a makeshift delivery room in the animal annex to the village inn.  And yet, their response was joy: praise and prayers of thanksgiving – songs of relief and a sense that, finally, all would be well.  Their reaction doesn’t match the evidence before them; yet their hopes – ancient hopes – have been confirmed.  The faith of these shepherds – men often dismissed as unworthy, outcasts and outsiders – their faith is the starting point for our Christmas celebrations every year.

Our celebrations have moved a fair distance from the simple, sincere surprise of those shepherds.  The traditions that we treasure are built on expectations that have nothing to do with the surprise and delight of finding an ancient promise sprung to life.  Our Christmas habits are lovely for the most part, but they represent promises that we make to ourselves.  The holy promise that meets is in the infant Jesus is about more than just our momentary comfort – certainly more than our material happiness.  The promise of peace, and light for those in darkness spoke to the urgent need of those few shepherds, shivering in the dark.  That promise was real enough to them that they left their flocks (their livelihood) in hope that what they had seen and heard was no hallucination.  and they saw enough in that small, sweet family scene to recognize God at work, right in front of them

What did you expect, when you come to this place on Christmas Eve?  At Christmas, hopes and expectations are unusually high.  We know the “true meaning of the season”, or so we claim, yet most people come expecting pomp and circumstance; a celebration of the gift of love that prompts us to give to one another.  But what if we came to our celebrations – to our tables and trees and family gatherings – expecting to see God at work in our midst?  Would we recognize such a sight?  would we be moved to song?  Would we run and tell the neighbourhood that God was great, and was doing something wonderful?  For that is what tonight is about, whatever else you might expect.  There is good news to be shared – news that requires us to see the whole world differently.  

Our two great festivals of faith – Christmas and Easter – are more than just calendar landmarks, they are events that change our perspective, that alter our attitudes toward friend and enemy alike.  This is the day that we recognize the God-likeness of all people, for this is the day that God took flesh and dwelt among us.  Let the joy and hope of those first messengers fill you to overflowing this Christmas season, and may our lives reflect the image of God that is in us and among us in all we do.   Merry Christmas.  Amen.

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An argument for Advent

December 13, 2015

Advent – Sunday number three; the Sunday of Joy.  Candles – check.  Tree – check.  Unreasonable sense of anticipation – check.  Presents wrapped and meal plans made.  Malls crowded and favourite Christmas music on repeat.  Nearly everywhere else, the arrival of Christmas has been acknowledged – even embraced.  So please explain, Mr Lackie, why we are still trudging around with John the Baptist? Let’s get on with Christmas!

Am I just a scrooge in a gown and stole – dragging out this ‘advent’ nonsense out of some perverted sense of superiority?  I have, after all, been rather stubborn about the need for Advent as a distinct season – certain hymns – a pattern of readings – a habit that I really believe is necessary to properly prepare us as the people of God to celebrate the birth of our Saviour.  And John the baptizer plays an important part in that preparation.

John’s is the voice that sets the stage – strengthens Jesus’ connection with the prophets of liberation – with Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah and Zephaniah, among others.  John demands repentance – and gets it – from the people who flock to the sound of his voice.  John’s abrupt and often harsh proclamation is used by Jesus as a starting point.  Jesus is a superior story-teller, and a more imaginative teacher, and he takes up John’s task after Herod throws John in jail – and the core of the message remains the same.

Today’s passage from Luke’s gospel is actually John’s shining moment; the number one sermon in John’s arsenal.  ‘Repent, you snakes, and bear fruit that proves your repentance.’   This has been his only message, but on this day, the congregation is moved to respond.  It is real repentance that causes the people to ask their questions.  “What should we do?”

You’ve convinced us, John – now help us; and John’s advice sounds…well it sounds like Jesus.  Share what you have – reach into your overflowing closets and cupboards and share the wealth of your abundance.  To the tax collector, don’t fudge the numbers; don’t take more than you are owed.  To the soldiers; don’t abuse your power.  Is this not the same message that Jesus offered, in dozens of different ways?  Love one another – enemy and friend alike; Love God and neighbour, for this is all the law.

Sure, John puts all this in the context of hellfire and damnation; the ax at the root of the tree, the unquenchable fire – but the message is consistent with the kingdom that Jesus proclaims.  Luke even calls John’s tirade “good news”.

But why do we need this, you still want to know.  Why, on the ‘Sunday of Joy’, don’t we hear some Joy, for heavens’ sake…

Let’s consider the state of our celebrations to this point: Society has pushed us to a frenzy of buying and planning – the lights are beautiful, and the music is touching, but we’ve been exposed for almost a month now.  The crowds at the mall are losing their patience.  Some retailers are running out of stock.  Tempers are short and Christmas lists are long, and no matter how often we promise ourselves that “this Christmas will be different”, collectively we continue to use the season to increase the stock value of major corporations without really adding anything useful to our own lives.  There are a few surprises – and some delight in the eyes of the very young, but what have we gained by launching Christmas in November?

In the church, however, certain stubborn souls have insisted on a sparser season of preparation – Advent.  Our readings and reflections encourage a different perspective.  We consider the coming of Christ, both as an infant and in his risen glory, as an event that frees us from all kinds of bondage, even the bondage of self-satisfied comfort and excess.  Four weeks of waiting; of careful contemplation of the consequences of committing to the kingdom of God – this is the season that prepares us to live according to the call of Christ.  And JOhn’s simple, strident advice speaks to our current situation.

What would our Christmas celebrations look like if we took John at his word?  If, rather than emptying store shelves of trinkets, we emptied our closets and cupboards for the good of those whose cupboards are always empty.  If businesses, rather than maximizing profits at the expense of workers and consumers, decided that quality and integrity was more important that constantly rising stock dividends.  What if the people entrusted with power remembered that power should serve the people; if we overturned the old playground rule of “might makes right”and sought peace and the welfare of all, without resorting to threat or violence to achieve the comfort of only a few?  That would be a different sort of December, wouldn’t it.   John and Jesus both suggest that THAT is what the kingdom of God is like.

Christmas in the church is a late addition to the list of holidays.  It is an important recognition of God’s desire to be with us, to “take flesh and live among us”, and as such Christmas offers a way to begin thinking about the Kingdom of God.  and that kingdom is so different for what we’re used to, we need time to get ready.  Time to consider the hope, the peace, the joy and love that form the foundation of that new life that Jesus offers.

Next week, our thoughts turn to love – the love of a mother for her child, soon to be born – the love of God, who takes such a chance to come in the flesh – and we still won’t have reached the point of miracle.  Patience is needed.  Preparation is important.  God has changed the rules and God’s love will change the world, and we are not yet ready.  Amen

Christmas Eve – 2012

December 24, 2012

For weeks now we have been preparing – our baking and buying, our listening and learning,

all our energy, it seems, has been bent towards this very moment.

And now, we stand on the edge of the scene we have been striving towards.

 

A manger – idyllic and pastoral.

Strangers and visitors packed together in a place suddenly made holy

by a wondrous act of God’s creative genius.

Heavenly glory has overwhelmed the ordinary business that everyone was busy with;

– a young woman has conceived and bore a son.

He has been named according to the script;

there are grazing animals and a shining star – all is as it should be.

We have arrived at our moment of Christmas perfection…

 

If only that were so.

 

Our pursuit of this glorious scene has cost us dearly

– we are socially exhausted and financially drained –

Spiritually, we often find ourselves overfed, yet under nourished;

we have taken in all the churchy “extras”

without finding any benefit to our tired souls.

We sing about Heavenly peace – the prince of Peace –

we long for the peace which passes understanding

and yet we wonder – where is our peace?

 

Our peace, friends, is found at the heart of the story we have been telling one another

over these many weeks – indeed for years and years.

For in this story of personal peace upset – of surprising news and heavenly visitors –

We learn of the strength of obedience

and of the value of faith in the face of uncertain news.

 

This story is one of promises made and kept;

the promises of men and women – to God and to one another

-and the promises of God to women and men.

This is a story where nothing is cut and dried – the natural order of things is upset –

for those who should believe are ignorant,

and the ignorant run through the streets singing God’s praises.

And it is in this upsetting of things that we can find our peace.

 

The thought of God working once again taking chaos and making something wonderful

quite frankly, gives me peace – hope – and considerable joy.

God is still at work among us, friends. The Son is born – a child is given –

in the most improbable way, God has joined the party,

and we cannot behave as if nothing has changed, because everything is changed.

Not in any orderly, regimented, strictly-by-the-calendar fashion;

that would be our preference, but God chooses another way.

 

To come as a child – to work from the bottom – to work God’s order out of our chaos –

offering peace, not for a day, or a season, but for ever and all.

 

Let us accept the peace God offers us in Jesus Christ.

The peace of a sleeping child – the peace of a night full of starry wonder –

the peace long promised has come to us this day – Alleluia – amen

Merry Christmas, one at all

December 23, 2011

There is a sacred power in every newborn.

They are full of life and curiosity, and a touch of cranky indignation,

having been transported so suddenly from the safety of the womb

into this large, mysterious place we call home.

If you have had the privilege of attending a birth,

and holding a child as they make their initial protest over their changed situation,

you will know what I mean.

There is power in this tiny being that is mysterious, and out of proportion to their size –

parents, grandparents, even medical staff (to some degree)

are held in awe of the birth event.

It never gets ‘old’ – it is never routine – and never ceases to amaze us.

A birth gives us hope that all is not lost –

that the future needs to be considered – that plans had best be made.

And that is certainly true of our celebrations of Jesus birth.

To begin with, this birth was fraught with all the sacred wonder that attends every human birth.

The promise – the joy – the awe – and the indignation –

all as it should be when a new life is welcomed in the midst of our lives.

Matthew writes of angelic visions for Joseph, and regal visitors from foreign lands.

Luke brings us Mary and her heavenly heralds and the not so regal shepherds chorus.

Both gospels make much of the sacred wonder of this particular birth –

and our faith is richer for their attention to detail.

But it is to John’s gospel I turn this morning.

Not our usual ‘babe in the manger’ –

John chooses to tell it as it has been and ‘as it will be’ –

tracing Christ’s beginnings to the very beginning –

and the opening of This gospel offers us a glimpse of the full-grown redeemer as a starting point for our celebrations –

What could be more wonderful!

For those tales of angels – those songs of praise – the royal gifts of the traveling trio –

all these things are memories applied (well after the fact)

by those who met in Jesus the truth of God’s saving grace.

We celebrate the birth of Christ by retelling these ancient memories,

and memorizing this chain of events in poem and song.

We have elevated the story of this birth above all other births in history,

by virtue of the accompanying cast of characters –

but what matters most (it seems to me)

is not HOW Christ came,

but THAT Christ came.

“The word became flesh and lived among us”,  John says, “and we have seen his glory…”

Glory that brought the heavenly host to earth.

Glory that woke the sleeping multitude, and incited a riot of joy.

Glory that revealed, well after the fact, that this birth –

so like every other birth –

marked the beginning of a life like none other.

For in Jesus we met the very principles of God;

unbounded love – unlimited compassion – an unbending sense of justice –

all directed at those who had no right to expect any favours from God.

In Jesus we find hope like no other –

hope that frees us to live out the promise that is in each of us from the moment of our birth –

the sacred potential to make something wonderful of the future.

Take strength from these celebrations –

and rejoice again in the mystery of this blessed birth

that brings us, through the infant Jesus, into the very presence of God.

Amen

Christmas +1

December 26, 2009

The build-up, as always, was difficult.

Four Sunday’s of waiting – weeks of being told “we’re not there yet”

Four weeks of the prophets, and their harsh assessment of our sorry state.

Though Christmas was breaking out all around us –

decorations and music and holiday cheer manipulate our celebrations

and try to push the “Christmas season” on us before we were ready

but we were patient, because we are different.

We were waiting to welcome, not a season, but our Saviour.

And today our patience is rewarded by an isolated story

of Jesus as a twelve year old boy, running away from his parents.

…75 or 80 miles over difficult terrain – three days of hard travel.

From Nazareth to Jerusalem – every year – without fail.

This is how they give their son an appreciation of his history – his traditions – his roots.

And how are they repaid? He gives them the slip – loses himself in the city

while Joseph and Mary search frantically among the camp.

They are one day towards home before Jesus is even missed –

that means a very frantic day just to get back to the last place he was seen (the city) –

and once there, more searching, wondering and worrying.

And where is he found? At the temple – with the elders and teachers –

not just listening (he should know his place) but conversing – talking back!

Answers that left the teachers (old venerable men) amazed!

(Whether by his nerve or his grasp of the issues…).

Mary and Joseph are not amused- “Child, why have you treated us like this…”

He doesn’t understand their problem (what 12 year old does)

their worry makes no sense to him – he believes that he has found his vocation

“This is my father’s business (my father’s house) – I must be here, busy with these pursuits…”

now his parents are dumb-struck.

What does he know – what can he know

How can a child speak so confidently of the Law, the things of God.

They had certain expectations of their son – he would learn and become familiar with the faith, with tradition – he would honour God as their people had always honoured God – indeed Luke tells us:

“the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom

and the favour of God was upon him.”

but he was growing in a way no one could imagine

here was a child who expresses a need to be about his Father’s business –

who has a sense of calling –

who has a strong desire for the things of God.

We, like Mary, Joseph and the other “adults” in the story, are unsure how to deal with this –

we have conditioned ourselves to the words of Jesus, the man – the teacher – the rabbi.

We expect to marvel at the words of mature, trained professionals,

and are quick to set aside the words, deeds and desires of those who don’t “fit the mold.” –

and that includes the adolescent Jesus.

Perhaps this brief tale is also Luke’s way of helping us understand

that God does not work according to our expectations, understandings or desires.

In spite of how everyone heard and understood the prophecy of the past,

this child – this “soon to be king” from Nazareth

will never behave according to our designs.

So how are our understandings and expectations changed now that Christ has been revealed?

Are we ready for the changes God is calling us to through this bold young man?

are we prepared to open our eyes to the unexpected,

to see that God’s business calls to everyone – whatever their age or ability?

We are entering to the season of Christmas – the celebration of the Incarnation.

God-with-us is more than just an encouraging motto –

In Jesus this phrase has become reality.

God has proved, to us and to all, that our idea of God –

high and mighty – lofty and distant –

is not the way God prefers to work.

While we sing songs and weave stories,

and do our best to keep God at a distance,

God arrives as a child –

wanders the streets of the city without an escort –

surprises and delights the ‘so-called’ God experts,

and challenges us to follow in his footsteps.

Are we ready for that?

Are we ready for the presence of the One announced by angels,

welcomed by foreign dignitaries,

pursued by jealous heads of state?

We may have lived in ignorance of his reality while the shopping season raged about us;

we may have missed the presence while we raced through our Christmas dinner,

and lounged exhausted after all the company was gone.

The cards have stopped coming and the special services have ended,

but there is no denying that the presence is certainly among us –

the presence of grace and mercy, of love and forgiveness

that signals God’s continuing engagement in our lives.

We have welcomed God into our midst again this week in the person of the Christ Child.

May we now find the courage to follow where He would lead us. Amen.