Wednesday, December 10, 2014

He Said, She Said

A 2-voice Sermon for December 21, 2014 – Advent 4

I was excited. And a little nervous. But I was going to be married. And that is a big deal for any one. And then the world changed. And I mean changed.
There I was, minding my own business, tending to my daily chores, when suddenly there was this ...being... standing in front of me. I mean it obviously wasn't a human. But it spoke. It told me I was favoured, that God was with me. I have to admit that I was less than coherent as I replied. I mean I had no idea what was going on and it is pretty terrifying to have a being (maybe an angel???) appear and start talking to you – no matter how friendly it sounds or how nice the words.
I guess the angel, at least I am sure now it was an angel, could tell I was afraid. Because the next thing it said was “Don't be Afraid”. So I started to breathe a little bit easier. After all, who doesn't like to be told that they are in God's good books? But the angel didn't stop there. It went on to say I was going to have a baby. I think I fainted for a moment...

I had waited a long time. I wanted to be sure I could support a family before getting married. And then I was ready. So I spoke to Mary's father and we made the arrangement. Everything was going smoothly, or at least as smoothly as thing go under Roman oppression, and then...well something happened...I still don't know how best to talk about it...

After I woke up again I asked the angel to say that again. “You are going to have a baby” it said and then went on about who this baby would be. I am not sure I fully understood it all. I was still trying to work out the first part of the news.
Finally I worked up the nerve to speak. I pointed out that this couldn't possibly be right. I wasn't married yet. It was too soon for me to be pregnant. There must be some sort of mistake. I thought maybe the angel would realize this and go away. But nope. Instead it gave me a story about how God's Spirit would come upon me and then I would be pregnant with God's child. Then it repeated something about the Son –I was going to have a Son– being an heir to the throne of David.
I was still a little doubtful, so then the angel told me that my cousin Elizabeth was also pregnant, and we had all assumed she would NEVER have a baby. The next thing I knew I was agreeing and the angel left. It was only then that I began to REALLY worry. How would I tell my parents? How would we tell Joseph? What would happen to me? I knew what could happen to girls who got pregnant too soon...

So here I am, working away on my projects, and preparing for our marriage, when Mary's father appears at my door. He had a strange look on his face. He said he had something to tell me. But then he couldn't say anything, he just stood there looking, well, ashamed is the best way I could describe it. And Mary came in. She didn't say anything at first, just looked at me. Then, in a voice so quiet I could hardly hear her, she told me she was going to have a baby. Then she just stood there, waiting...
I didn't know what to say. What could I say? I mean really what were my options?
After a long moment of silence I found my voice. I couldn't respond right then, but I knew I needed to respond soon. I asked if I could have a week to think about it. Mary's father agreed and they left.
Now what was I going to do? I knew my rights under the Law. I knew what the village people would say behind my back. Mind you they would say those things no matter what I did.
Everything I had ever learned told me that the right thing to do was to call the marriage off. But could I do that to Mary?
Now I had seven days to make up my mind...

I was so scared. Joseph looked so hurt, so confused, so angry. I don't know what I expected. I just know I was afraid of what he would say. Would he yell? Would he cry? Would he take me to the center of town and publicly shame me? Would he have me stoned?
But he didn't do any of those things. He just stood there, staring at me, then looking at the floor. He asked for 2 days to decide what he would do and we left. And now I wait.
There are days when I wonder why I agreed to this madness. Why didn't I just say thanks but no thanks when the angel came. But then again did I really have a choice? And I was so certain it was the right thing to do. I could just feel that this was what God wanted for me. But if Joseph doesn't feel that too? Then what? I mean I still am sure this is meant to be. I just know that I can't raise a child, even if it is God's child, by myself. How long can a week feel like?

So by the end of the 6th day I had finally made up my mind. I did not want to hurt Mary. I had become quite fond of her after all. But everything I had ever been taught told me that I couldn't take Mary as my wife. Despite what she said, it was obvious that she had been with some other man. I mean she was pregnant! And there is really only one way for that to happen. Right? Even if it wasn't her fault, even if she had no choice I just couldn't marry her. Could I?
But really I didn't want to hurt her or cause her shame. So I decided that I would be as subtle as possible. I wouldn't denounce her in public. I wouldn't haul her out to the center of town for judgement. I would just quietly go to her father and call the wedding off. No harm done. Having made my decision I was finally able to sleep.
And what a sleep that was....
I guess it was a dream. Or at least it must have been a dream. And yet it felt very , REAL, more real than a dream usually does. In it I was visited by... someone... maybe an angel, a messenger from God. Can that be possible? Me? Getting a message from God? Apparently so.
Anyway the angel told me that Mary had been right. She was carrying God's child. And it was alright for me to marry her. There would be no shame, no dishonour in doing that. This was the child we had been waiting for for so long. This was the one who had been promised, the one people would call Emmanuel, God-with-Us, the one who would save us.
When I woke up I lay there for a long time, trying to understand. Then it all sank in. I WOULD marry Mary. We WOULD have a son. And God is at work in all of this. It all seems so odd. But now it is time. The week is over...

Here he comes. It has been such a long week. What will he say? What will he do?
Hello Joseph.

Hello Mary. I have made my decision.

You have? And that is...

We will be married. I understand now. God sent me a message. I understand all of it. Well maybe not all of it, but enough. I believe you.

O Joseph I am so happy. God promised that things would work out. God said this was the plan. Right now I need to go visit my cousin Elizabeth. But then I will come back and we will be married. And we will have a SON.

Yes Mary, and when he is born we will name him...

(Together) Jesus.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Opening Prayer for January 4

God of light, in this season of Light,
we gather together to celebrate the birth of the Light of the World.
God of light, we are drawn to your Light,
and yet wherever there is light there is shadow.
God of the nations, God of residents and aliens and refuges,
in this time of worship remind us that sometimes our stories are far more complicated than we remember.
And as we live in the complications,
allow us to see how you are present, both in the times of glory, and in the times of terror, when the outcome is in doubt.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the child just born, forced to flee to a strange land, who will one day teach his friends to pray saying...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Opening Prayer for Christmas Eve

In the beginning God said “let there be light”
God, we give thanks for light
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
God, we who have had times of darkness come in search of the light.
In the beginning was the Word...and in the Word was life and light for all people.
God, we are drawn to the light of life.
And though the light shines in the darkness,
the darkness cannot overcome it.
God of star light and angel song.
As we sing and listen and watch this night, may the Light that shines from the manger fill our hearts.
And when we leave this worship space,
may that light shine through us at Christmas and all year round. Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blue Christmas 2014 Reflections

To go with this service

The Cloud of Despair, The Candle of Hope:
My God My God, why have you forsaken me. Is there any better cry of despair? The early church put these words of despair on the lips of Jesus as they told the story of the crucifixion. Despair is real. It is part of being human. It may have various shades and intensities but we all feel despair at some time in our life.

Despair can suck the life out of us. If we sink too deep despair can convince us that there is no point trying. It disguises itself as “realism”. It tells us that the realistic viewpoint is that things won't get better. If we aren't careful despair can convince us that even God has left us, that we are indeed forsaken.

But the Gospel message counters the world's despair with God's hope. The Good News of faith reminds us that we are not alone. Those verses from Paul's letter to the Roman church are some of the best words to counter despair. They don't promise that life will be perfect. But they do promise that no matter what happens God will be with us. We will not be forsaken. And in that lies our hope.

Centuries ago, Dame Julian of Norwich shared these words that echo through time: “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of thing be well”. Julian knew that life was not even close to perfect. She knew that life was often disastrous – because she had seen many disasters. But she knew that God was there and that in the long term God's love and will would prevail. She had hope.

And now, remembering the hope shared by Paul and by Julian, we light this candle of hope, that it may shine brightly in our lives when the cloud of despair threatens to overtake us...


The Haze of Busy-ness, The Candle of Peace:
It sneaks up on us sometimes. Without thinking much about it we agree to one thing and then another, all of which are good in and of them selves. And suddenly we find that we don't have enough time to do everything we have agreed to AND all the things we want to do for ourselves AND all the things we want to do with our family. And maybe we start to feel that we are just going through the motions, just doing things to get them done, but not really enjoying them or no longer sure they are worthwhile.

And sometimes we do it on purpose. Sometimes being busy seems better than the alternative. Maybe time that isn't filled with “stuff” leaves us with time to think or feel things that are uncomfortable. Maybe being busy allows us to cope – at least for a little while.

But being that busy can't last. Our energy just can't sustain it for too long. And so eventually our bodies and souls make us stop. Then what. Are we left resentful of the things we missed out on? Are we left exhausted, not ready to deal with those things we were trying to avoid? Now what do we do?
The Psalmist gives us an answer. “Be still, and know that I am God!”. We counter the busy-ness of life (whatever the source of the busy-ness) by letting go and letting God. The peace we crave lies in trusting God, in adding stillness into our lives, and so leaving space for God to calm our souls and nerves.

As we search for peace, as we try to peer through the haze of busy-ness, we light this candle. May it's light shine through the haze, clearing our vision, acting as a beacon drawing us towards the peace of God...


The Gloom of Sorrow, The Candle of Joy:
It is a part of everybody's life at one time or another. Sorrow. Sometimes just for a moment or two, sometimes it forms a tub around us and we sit and soak, sometimes it feels like a morass from which we cannot escape, but in every life are periods of sorrow.

But to feel sorrow when we are expected to be happy is hard. When the world is in “Joy to the World” mode and joy feels far from our hearts we can feel out of step. And even if there sorrow is mixed with moments of joy there is still the shadow, the darkness that takes the brightness away. And we might wonder if this is alright.

But here is the thing. Christmas comes into the world just as it is. The Christ-child is born into a world just as it is. Not a perfect world. The birth of Christ did not suddenly make everything perfect. Jesus lives and works in a world where people are in pain and speaks to the power of God to transform the world, to bring healing to the pain. In Luke's Gospel Jesus begins his ministry with these words from Isaiah. Jesus comes to bring release to those held captive, Jesus comes to bring a garland instead of ashes, Jesus comes to bring comfort to those who mourn. Jesus comes to awaken joy in hearts made heavy with sorrow.

And so, as we await the birth of the Christ-child, as we wait for the year of God's favour, we light this candle of Joy. We trust that it will shine in the gloom of our sorrow, reminding us that joy and sorrow are both a part of our lives in the past, the present, and the future...


The Shadow of Fear, The Candle of Love:
What is the opposite of love? Is it hate? Is it anger? Is it indifference? I don't think so, Hate is not the opposite of love, it is more the shadow-side of love, love misdirected. Anger is sometimes spurred by love, it is sometimes a tool of love (and sometimes a tool of love's shadow). Indifference may be the lack of love but still is not quite its opposite. So what IS the opposite of love?

I think a therapist of mine several years ago was right. The opposite of love is fear. As evidence, I point out that scripture tells us that perfect love casts out all fear.

There are lots of things that breed fear in our lives. Grief. Uncertainty. Change. Anything that feels like a threat. And fear is a normal part of life, fear is something that can protect us, or at least spur us to take action to protect ourselves. But it can get in the way of life. If it gets too powerful fear can stop us from taking risks, from embracing the possibilities of life.

One of the most common instructions we find in Scripture is some variation of “Don't Be Afraid”. In these words from Isaiah we are told not to be afraid because God is with us, because God will strengthen and sustain us. In times of change and uncertainty, in the depths of grief, when we are sure we will be overwhelmed God is there to keep us from being washed away. The God who has loved us since before our birth keeps the water and the fire from destroying us.

And so we light this candle to drive away the shadow of fear, leaving room for the strength and power of love to fill our hearts and souls.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

For December 21, 2014 -- Advent 4

CALL TO WORSHIP
As people of love, we gather for worship.
We continue to walk the road to Bethlehem and a baby in a manger
Here we learn about Joseph and Mary, and the surprise God had for them.
Here we prepare to celebrate the birth of Christ, God's love put into flesh.
As we gather to celebrate we share the love of God with friend and stranger as we exchange words and signs of God's peace...

OPENING PRAYER
God of love,
the world cries out for love, for a love that will never let go.
God of love,
in this time together, open our eyes and hearts to see the power and possibilities of love.
God of love,
and then send us back out, refreshed and renewed, to spread love and joy, hope and peace this Christmas season.
We pray in the name of Jesus, Love Incarnate, whose birth is imminent, and who taught us to pray saying...


COMMISSIONING:
The time is near. The birth is just days away!
We enter the last stages of preparing for Christmas.
Joseph and Mary were surprised by how God chose to break into their world.
In the middle of the Christmas hustle we will keep our eyes open for God to surprise us too.
As we go out into the world of white and red and green,
we go listening for angel song, we go ready to share the Good News that a baby is born.
And may the God of Christmas Love go with you.
God Bless us, Every One. Amen.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

For December 7, 2014 -- Advent 2

(For those following the Narrative Lectionary this week we are actually using the Isaiah reading set for Advent 3)

CALL TO WORSHIP
As people of peace, we gather for worship
Here we take a few more steps along the road leading to a manger in Bethlehem
As servants who follow the Servant,
we come to sing and pray and listen, we come to be renewed in our worship together.
As those who both serve and are served, we greet our fellow servants with words and signs of God's amazing peace...

OPENING PRAYER
God of peace,
we live in a world where peace is most often noted by its absence.
God of peace,
we come to this place in search of the peace that passes understanding.
God of peace,
in our worship today remind us of the one who brings sight to the blind and releases us from our captivity.
God of peace,
fill us with peace, that we would carry peace to the world around us. Amen.

PRAYER FOR AND ASSURANCE OF GRACE
God of peace that flows through justice,
we know that justice is too often absent in our world, and so peace becomes just a word.
In this season of preparation,
help us remember that Jesus was born into a broken world, and yet proclaimed that it would be mended.
As those who follow Jesus,
help us share the light with the nations.
And for those times when we add to the broken-ness and darkness of the world,
in your grace correct us and steer us back to the path of wisdom.
...time of silent prayer...
People look East, the time is near! Love the Lord is on the way! Into this world of pain and injustice comes the Prince of Peace, the Servant who binds up the broken and proclaims the forgiving love of God. WE are forgiven, we are given sight, we are released from captivity. This is news of great joy for all people!
Glory to God in the highest! Amen.

COMMISSIONING:
As our worship ends we return to a world that is also preparing for Christmas
shopping and wrapping and baking and planning.
We return to the world where we live and serve,
pledging to share the Peace of Christ, the promise of healing justice with a hurting world.
Go with God, to share the song of the Angels “Peace on Earth and Good will to All”.
God is with us, born in our midst. Glory to God! Alleluia!

For December 14, 2014 -- Advent 3, Pageant Sunday

CALL TO WORSHIP
As people of joy, we gather together for worship.
Continuing along the road that leads to a manger in Bethlehem.
As we travel along the road we share the story.
Today we hear it from a different perspective.
But still the story fills us with joy.
And so our hearts are lifted as on the wings of eagles.
As we gather to hear the story and sing the carols, we greet each other with the Peace of Christ, whose Birth we await...

OPENING PRAYER
God of joy,
here we bring our sorrows and our fears, those things that threaten to rob our lives of joy.
God of joy,
here we lay our burdens in your hands.
God of joy,
in this time of worship play the melody of joy in our souls, that we would join the birds in song.
We pray in the name of Jesus, the child whose birth is drawing nigh, and who taught his friends to pray saying...