A Blessing for the New Year (John O’Donohue)

The art of blessing is often neglected. The birth of a New Year calls forth the desire in us to bestow a blessing upon those we love. Several years ago, John O”Donohue, one of my favorite Irish poet’s created a New Year’s blessing for his mother entitled Beannacht-for Josie. It is a blessing of superior quality. And so, on this New Year’s Eve, may you all receive this beannacht with my added blessing for a peace-filled New Year in which the God in whom all of creation is held, might find full expression in your miraculous life! 

Beannacht John O'Donohue pastorDawn.pages

Matthew’s Nativity Story Wrapped in Exodus: John Shelby Spong

For those who are preparing to preach on Matthew 1:1-12 this coming Sunday, Jack Spong provides an important view of the context.

Epiphany Sermons

epiphany

You are the Light of the World here

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening. here 

Don’t Forget the Mystery of Our Faith here

 

Don’t Forget the Mystery of Our Faith – an Epiphany sermon

Thomas 70 pastordawnA sermon preached on the Second Sunday after Christmas – the readings for this sermon include: John 1:1-9, The Gospel of Thomas 70; Matthew 2:1-12. You can listen to the sermon here

Two cars were waiting at a stoplight.  The light turned green, but the man didn’t notice it.  A woman in the car behind him was watching traffic pass around them. The woman began pounding on her steering wheel and yelling at the man to move.  The man didn’t move. The woman started to go ballistic inside her car; she ranted and raved at the man, pounding on her steering wheel. The light turned yellow. The woman began to blow her car horn; she flipped off the man, and screamed curses at him. The man, hearing the commotion, looked up, saw the yellow light and accelerated through the intersection just as the light turned red. The woman was beside herself, screaming in frustration because she missed her chance to get through the intersection. As she is still in mid-rant she hears a tap on her window and looks up into the barrel of a gun held by a very serious looking policeman. The policeman tells her to shut off her car while keeping both hands in sight.  She complies, speechless at what is happening. After she shuts off the engine, the policeman orders her to exit her car with her hands up.  She gets out of the car and he orders her to turn and place her hands on her car. She turns, places her hands on the car roof and quickly is cuffed and hustled into the patrol car.  She is too bewildered by the chain of events to ask any questions and is driven to the police station where she is fingerprinted, photographed, searched, booked, and placed in a cell.

After a couple of hours, a policeman approaches the cell and opens the door for her.  She is escorted back to the booking desk where the original officer is waiting with her personal effects.  He hands her the bag containing her things, and says, “I’m really sorry for this mistake.  But you see, I pulled up behind your car while you were blowing your horn, flipping that guy off, and cussing a blue streak at the car in front of you, and then I noticed the  “What Would Jesus Do” and “Follow Me to Sunday School” bumper stickers, and the chrome plated Christian fish emblem on the trunk, so naturally I assumed that you had stolen the car.”

We can scoff at this, but I must tell you that one of the things I had to learn when I first began to wear a clergy collar was that I could no longer give people the finger when I was driving. If you give people the finger when you are driving, it’s not you giving that person the finger but the whole of Christian Church; people will use your outburst to condemn the hypocrisy of the entire church.

During Advent we used a question from Meister Eckhart not once but twice during each of our worship services: “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to Christ twenty centuries ago and I don’t give birth to Christ in my person and my culture and my times?” And now, in this the last day of Christmas, I find myself wondering what it actually means for Christ to be born in me or in you. Continue reading

The Journey of the Magi never happened and yet it is always happening.

Epiphany-Wise+WomenAn Epiphany Sermon, preached in 2008. I had just read “The First Christmas” by John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg. Our congregation played host to Dom Crossan a month before I wrote this sermon. So, Dom’s insights run through this effort. But the heart of this sermon beats as the result of a sermon preached by Bruce Sanguin a self-proclaimed evolutionary christian who is a United Church Minister (Canadian Memorial Church, Vancouver). I had the privilege of meeting this modern mystic while on sabbatical this summer and his compelling way of unlocking the scriptures using the wealth of the christian tradition together with the insights of modern science and psychology borders upon the poetic. This sermon was anchored by Sanguin’s words (Epiphany 2007). Sermons are a “live” event. So, this manuscript is an approximation of what was actually preached.   

Just five days before Christmas (2008), The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Doctor Rowan Williams, the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion started a firestorm.  During a BBC interview, His Grace was quoted to say that the story of the “three wise men is a legend”. The Archbishop was also heard to say that he remained unconvinced that there was indeed a star that led the legendary trio to the birth place of the Christ Child.

If that wasn’t enough to send folks off the deep-end, it has been revealed that the Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church The Most Reverend Doctor Katherine Jefferts Schori, who just happens to be the first woman elected primate in Anglican history, has fanned the flames of the fire-storm by sending out what has been judged by some to be an incendiary Christmas card.

I downloaded a copy of the offensive card, so that you could see for yourself. HerEpiphany-Wise+Women Grace’s choice of card has offended the good deacons of Ft Worth Texas who claim that their Primate’s actions defy explanation. As you can see the wise folks depicted on this image look a lot like women. Can you imagine the nerve of the first woman primate! How could she be so bold as to select such an offensive image? Leave it to straight talking Texans to set things straight: for despite the audacity of the Primate, the Texans have pledged to “stand for the traditional expression of the Faith.” Continue reading

Do You See What I See?

baby in a tree

Do you see the baby?

Some of us have followed the star, we have journeyed to Bethlehem and we have seen the ONE who comes into the world as a child. Now what? Do we see the needs of the child? Are we ready to roll up our sleeves and be about the work of ushering in the Reign of Justice that this child, any child needs in order to live in peace? I wonder? 

I still hear the echoes of Rachel’s voice weeping unconsolable in Ramah; weeping for the lost children of every town where violence, greed, madness or neglect robs the child of those things that belong to children: playful laughter, safe homes, warmth, nourishment, learning, embraces, peace….a future. 

Mystic, poet, philosopher, and theologian Howard Thurman’s poem “The Work of Christmas” comes to me as a challenge for the days, months and year ahead:

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

The Herods of this world have had their way for far too long. Let the slaughter of innocents end. We have seen the child and we know the wonders of a star-lit peace-filled night. So, let the work of Christmas begin with all of us seeking justice and making peace so that children everywhere can grow in LOVE. Shalom!

Incarnation Changes Everything – a sermon for the first Sunday after Christmas – Luke 2:8-20

God In US pastorDawnI have tried to locate the source of the parable told in this sermon about the encounter between the little boy and the old woman. But despite the many authors who claim it as their own, I suspect that its origins go back farther than I have been able to trace. The Readings for this first Sunday after Christmas offer us the parable of the Presentation of in the Temple: Psalm 42:1-3, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:8-20

You can listen to the sermon here

Go Tell It on the Mountain!!!

OdettaWhile the world hurdles toward the New Year celebrations, we linger in the Twelve Days of Christmas. I do believe that the counting begins on the first day after Christmas; which means this is only the Third Day of Christmas. That means there is still time to enjoy the music of Christmas and so, I offer up one of my favourite singers: Odetta proclaiming the Good News in her own splendid style with Go Tell it on the Mountain.

The Messiah Is Among Us!

Christ is born in youDuring these twelve days of Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Messiah, is a word the ancient Hebrews used to describe the anointed one. The one whom God would send to change the world. In Greek the word for Messiah is Christ.

My thoughts swirl around a poem written by the unknown writer of the Gospel of John in which the birth of the Christ is describe as the WORD. It’s a mysterious cosmic poem that moves our minds away from the mundane everyday ordinary stuff of life to the extra-ordinary mysteries of creation, which when you think about it is what every birth does.

Just holding a newborn in your arms and before long you’ll find yourself pondering the mysteries of this life. Who are we and where do we come from?  Why are we here? What does it all mean? These are all perfectly wonderful questions and speculating upon the many possible answers to those questions is a fascinating process. But in the end, our words will always fail us when it comes to answers. As we are speculating about the birth of this beautiful little baby, the baby is alive and among us, and needs to be fed and changed, nurtured, guided and protected.

Our speculations about the mysteries of creation are a little like our preparations for Christmas. All the preparations, the decorating, the shopping, the wrapping, the stuffing, the cooking, and the worrying, and in the end all our preparations aren’t really the point. The point is Christmas-tide is now and the guests are all around we’ve arrived and the Messiah has arrived, or not, its up to us to welcome the One who is Love in our midst, to celebrate Christmas.

The trouble is that sometimes, we are so preoccupied with the preparations, with the idea of getting it right that we forget the whole point of Christmas is the celebration itself; the gathering of the clans, the being with one another, the opportunity to be present to one another. It’s one of the reasons why I love the stories that the unknown writers of the gospels of Matthew and Luke put together.    In those familiar tales we hear a story of a couple of parents who were not at all prepared to welcome a child into the world. It’s an earthy story that brings the pungent aroma of a animal dung right into our carefully decorated living-rooms. And the Messiah that we greet in the story found in Matthew has no halo hovering over his head. The writer of Matthew makes it very clear that the Messiah comes from a very dubious pedigree, numbering a prostitute, a product of incest, an adulteress and sexual trickster among his ancestors. The Messiah’s parents were an unwed teenage girl and an unspeaking father, who wasn’t a father, and the pair of them appear to be homeless and then on the run, seeking shelter wherever they can find it.

Our romantic notions of a pretty little stable will have to wait a thousand years for St Francis to pretty up and launch us on a quest for cattle lowing, shepherds kneeling and magi bowing. Our expectations of the Messiah have become so very highfalutin, so otherworldly that I wonder if we are really prepared to welcome the Messiah among us. We hardly know what to expect from the Messiah. Are you really ready to welcome the Messiah? What do you expect?

There’s an old Jewish story, I can’t remember where I first heard or read it. I suspect I might have learned it from Scott Peck? The story is now deep in my bones. It surfaces most Christmas mornings to remind me that Christ is born in us.

Once there was a monastery with a long history of commerce and a thriving spiritual community. But as time wore on, fewer and fewer villagers visited the hallowed halls. Fewer people turned to the monastery for advice. Even the sale of their famous wines began to dwindle. The abbot began to despair for his community. “What should they do?” he wondered.

They prayed daily for guidance, but the brothers only became more dispirited. The monastery itself reflected their mood, becoming shabby and untidy. At last the Abbot, hearing that a wise Jewish rabbi was visiting, swallowed his pride and went to visit the rabbi to ask his advice. The abbot and the rabbi visited for a long time.

They talked of their respective religions, and the fickleness of human nature. The abbot explained his problem to the rabbi and asked for advice, but the Jewish sage only shook his head and smiled.

As the abbot sadly departed, the rabbi suddenly rose and shouted after him, “Ah, but take heart my friend for the Messiah lives amongst you!” All the way home the abbot pondered the rabbi’s words, “The Messiah lives amongst you.” What could he mean? Did the Messiah live in the abbey? The abbot knew all the brothers very well. Could one of them really be the Messiah? Surely he, the abbot, was not the Messiah… Was it possible?”

Upon reaching the monastery the abbot confided the rabbi’s words to another brother, who told another brother, who was overheard telling another brother. Soon the whole abbey had heard the news. “The Messiah lives amongst us!” “Who do you suppose he could be?”

As each brother speculated on who the Messiah could be, his view of his brothers began to change. Brother Louis no longer appeared simple, but rather innocent. Brother Jacques was no longer uncompromising, but rather striving for spiritual perfection.

The brothers began to treat each other with greater respect and courtesy; after all, one never knew when he might be speaking to the Messiah. And, as each brother discovered that his own words were taken seriously, the thought that he might become the Messiah would cross his humble mind. He would square his shoulders and attend his work with greater care and start acting like a Messiah.

Soon the neighboring villages began to notice the change that had come over the monastery. The brothers seemed so happy. Villagers flocked to the monastery and were energized by the spirit of the Brothers. And so the spirit grew and the monastery flourished. As each new brother was welcomed, the question arose, “Could he be the Messiah?”

Apparently the monastery still prospers today and it is often whispered both within its walls and in the surrounding towns that the Messiah lives amongst them. As you celebrate Christmas this year, remember that the Messiah lives among you.

If you are waiting for perfection, Christmas is going to be a lonely and frustrating time. If you are waiting for some future time, the wonders of this moment will pass you by. If you are expecting salvation outside yourself, you might miss your own wisdom. If you hold your loved ones to impossible standards you just might miss the Messiah who sits right next to you. I know that you’ve worked hard, and made all kinds of preparations, but today is the day it’s time to greet the Messiah, now. Don’t miss a moment of it. Enjoy. The Messiah arrives in you and right next to you! Enjoy!

Way Back When: Christmas Oranges- Christmas Eve Sermon 2014

Christmas orangeThis sermon owes much to the work of Richard Rohr whose work opens me to the LOVE who lies at the core of REALITY, the ONE we call God. The source of the story that I tell about a Christmas Eve way back when has been lost to me. I cannot remember when I first heard it. It’s power to open me to the LOVE that is God remains with me and so I treasure the story and tell it so as to open others. To open ourselves to the cosmic nature of the Christ we used different scripture readings. The readings can be found here

You can listen to the sermon here

Slow Down. Breathe. There’s Joy in the Pauses!

On this blessed Christmas Eve, I suspect many are rushing around trying to finish every last thing. This little video entitled, “The Christmas Scale” reminds me of the importance of the pauses! May you find a moment or two today to slow down, breathe and enjoy the Joy in those pauses. Happy Christmas!!!

Jian Ghomeshi, Bill Cosby, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and the Daughters of Jerusalem

Mary pregnantFlipping through Bruce Sanguin’s  collection of sermons, “The Advance of Love: Reading the Bible with an Evolutionary Heart,” I was opened to a new way of pondering the myth of the “virginity” of Mary in Sanguin’s sermon on Luke 1:26-38 entitled “The Future Calls.” 

Sanguin writes, “What about the virgin birth? Despite being a mistranslation of a passage from Isaiah that speaks of a “young woman” and not a virgin, this story has tuck. But let’s explore if at face value. One of the most subversive meanings is captured in a single line from a Bruce Cockburn Christmas song: “Mary grows a child without the help of a man.” The assumptions of patriarchy–that men are favoured ones, that all good things must happen through the male gender, that men should hold all the power, and that women are naturally subservient–are overturned in this single detail. The virgin birth has nothing to do with concern over sexual impurity. The Jewish tradition affirms the body and sexuality as a gift of God. The myth of the Virgin birth is announcing the end of an age, patriarchy, and the beginning of a new creation in Christ. To be Christian is to consent to equality. We are now certain that one of the most radical features of the early Christian church was that women enjoyed equal status with men–unheard of anywhere in the world in the first century. It too men in the church a couple of centuries to wrest control back and exclude women. But the story stands in its affirmation that the world can run just fine without the illusion of the necessity of male dominance. In this story, Spirit bypasses patriarchy in the conception and birth of a new humanity, symbolized by the birth of Christ.”

Would that Sanguin’s reading of the gospel-storyteller’s intention were true! Sadly, whatever glimmer of hope for the end of the age of patriarchy may have been present at the turn of the first century, that glimmer was extinguished over and over again in the succeeding centuries. The slim flickers of equality do continue to burn. But that we need to continue to live in hope rather than the reality of equality is born out by the recent bad news of the downfall of cherished heroes like Bill Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi. That men of such prominence in our society should have resorted to dominance over rather than equality with women, bears testament to the reality that patriarchy continues to haunt our lives together. The peace we all long for continues to be threatened by the violence of patriarchy’s firm grip upon the psyche of so many.  

While Cosby and Ghomeshi are but puny players upon the stage our media has erected to  exhibit the morays of our culture, they are indicative of our delusional insistence that we have defeated the horrors of patriarchy. In a world where young girls continue to be abducted and sold into the slavery of the sex-trade, where so-called honour-killings continue, where little girls are shot in the head for daring to seek and education and we in the West respond by wringing our hands or turning away, we should not be surprised that our celebrated heroes should believe themselves to be impervious to rebuke. 

The crimes, indeed the horrors, which have been perpetrated and continue to be inflicted as a result of the continued inequality between women and men cannot all be linked to the church’s insistence that Jesus was born of a “virgin.” But the church must confess our culpability, for our structures and theologies uphold the delusions of the deranged who continue to cling to the power that patriarchy affords them. 

So this Christmas, as the myth of Mary’s virginity continues to haunt us, listen carefully and hear the cries of the Daughters of Jerusalem as they bewail the plight of the One we call the Christ. Listen to that One who responds to their cries, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me! Weep rather for ourselves and for your children!” And when our weeping is done, let us rise up in unison and equality to tend the wounds that patriarchy has wrought upon the earth so that this Christmas the “birth of a new humanity can be symbolized by the birth of Christ.”  We can begin by remembering that Jesus of Nazareth was, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “born of a woman,” a powerful woman indeed!

Fear Not for the Progressive Grinch Who Stole Christmas Does Indeed Have a Heart – a sermon for Advent 4

GrinchThe story told in this sermon can be found in Maeve Binchy’s book of short stories “This Year it Will be Different.” As always I am indebted to those progressive grinches Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, John Shelby Spong, and Michael Morwood for their insights into the sacred. Our sermon hymn was No Obvious Angels. The readings were all from Luke 1:1-56.

You can listen to the sermon here  

The Holly and the Ivy

One of my favorite Christmas movies. Produced in England in 1952, there is no sentimentality here. The story is raw and engaging. Clergy will hear the echoes of their lives  in the frustration and doubts expressed by the Parson who is brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Richardson. This movie was censored in the United States because too many of the characters do not believe in God and say so. The ending does not resolve their unbelief. It is a brilliant snapshot of another time that reminds us that the good old days never really where. I love this film’s honest unresolved angst. Enjoy!

The Mother of Jesus: A Symbol of Judaism – Bishop John Shelby Spong

maryuniversalmarywAs we prepare to hear so much about the story of the nativity, Jack Spong’s words serve as a good reminder of the use of symbolism in the gospels. Jack points to the figure of  the mother of Jesus as an interpretive image. 

Sermons for Christmas Eve/Day

nativity 3

Click on these links for some of the sermons I have preached on Christmas Eve

Preaching Christmas Eve in the Wake of New Testament Scholarship

Shattered Angel: an Imperfect Christmas Story

Mary’s Story  (also found in Christmas Stories – just scroll down)

Living Nativity

Keeping Christmas Well

The Nativity: A Parable So Simple a Child Can Understand It

The Power of LOVE Who Lives In Us

Cheap, Small, and Plastic: a Christmas Eve Sermon for Progressive Christians

Tell Us About God. We Have Almost Forgotten

 

Tell Us About God. We Have Almost Forgotten – a Christmas Eve/Day sermon Luke 2:1-15

nativity bYou can listen to this sermon here

There’s a story that I love to tell. So many of you have heard it before. But this is the night for telling stories over and over again and because I love this story, tonight’s the night! I first heard it from a very wise seminary professor and since then I’ve heard Marcus Borg and Parker Palmer tell it. I’m not sure that this story actually happened, but I am sure that it is absolutely true!

It’s a story about a three-year-old girl who was the only child in her family. Her mom is pregnant, and this three-year-old girl is very excited about having a baby in the house. The day comes where the mother-to-be delivered, and the mom and dad go off to the hospital. A couple of days later they come home with a new baby brother. And the little girl is just delighted. But after they’ve been home for a couple of hours, the little girl tells her parents that she wants to be with the baby in the baby’s room, alone, with the door shut. She’s absolutely insistent about the door being shut.

It kind of gives her folks the willies, you know? They know she’s a good little girl, but they’ve heard about sibling rivalry and their not sure about what they should do. Then they remember that they’ve recently installed an intercom system in preparation for the arrival of the new baby, and they realize that they can let their little girl do this, and if they hear the slightest weird thing happening, they can be in there in a flash.

So they let their little girl go into the room. They close the door behind her. They race to the listening post. They hear her footsteps move across the room. They imagine her now standing over the baby’s crib, and then they hear her say to her two-day-old baby brother, “Tell me about God. I’ve almost forgotten.”

Tonight we are all that child, standing over the baby’s crib hoping against hope that the newborn baby will tell us about God; maybe because we have almost forgotten, maybe because we don’t believe, maybe because we want to believe, maybe because we’ve lost hope, maybe because we are endlessly curious, or maybe just because T’s the season! Regardless of why, here we are gazing into the crib at the newborn baby hoping that this child will tell us about God. But all we have is this story; a story so simple it sounds as if it was created for children; poor homeless refugees, far from home, in the darkness of a winter’s night, struggling to keep warm amongst the dung of a stable, a tiny baby, swaddled in what we imagine as rags and lying in a feed trough, shepherds, angels and a star in the night sky. It’s a lovely story. A story that warms our hearts, told over and over again in the darkness of so many winters as we struggle to keep our demons at bay. We’ve told it so often that we’ve forgotten why it was told in the first place. We’ve lugged so much of our own baggage into that stable that we can scarcely see the baby. We’ve heaped our expectations and longings onto the images and our need to know has demanded that the facts confirm our desires. Continue reading

Sermons for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

Click on these links to find  sermons I have preached on Advent 4

Keeping Christmas Well: a Christmas Resurrection Story

The Greatest Birth Story Ever???

The Nativity: A Parable So Simple a Child Can Understand It!

Mary and Elizabeth: Visitation or Escape 

Keeping Christmas Well: a Christmas Resurrection Story – a sermon for Advent 4B

The fourth Sunday of Advent is the perfect time to let the Scripture readings speak for themselves and use the sermon to remind the congregation that their coming Christmas celebrations are about so much more than the birth of a baby. Resurrection is afoot! For those preachers who’d like a more scholarly approach to Advent 4B you’ll find it in another sermon posted  here

The church’s season of Advent offers a sanctuary from the endless demands of preparation for the big day. Our Christmas traditions, if they are to be maintained, require a great deal in the way of preparation. But there’s one Christmas tradition that I’ve been enjoying since I was a child that requires little or no preparation save for the effort to carve out the time, when time seems to be in short supply. Somehow over the years, I’ve never missed the opportunity to watch the old black and white version of Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. There is of course only one portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge that will do.

Alistair SimIf it’s not Alistair Sim, it’s just not Scrooge.  I usually wait until Christmas Eve to watch the movie. But this year I found the time to read the book and I’ve got to say, there is much in Dickens exploration of Christmas that  I’ve been missing over the years. 

In the words of Charles Dickens:  Ebenezer Scrooge “was as cold and miserly a man as one could ever meet. “He was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”

Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation on Christmas Eve is nothing short of a miracle. Scrooge was a broken man. Broken, years before the story begins. The women he loved, Belle, broke her engagement to him one Christmas, she tells Ebenezer, “you fear the world too much. All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the mast passion, GAIN, engrosses you.”

Belle doesn’t tell us how this fear of the world developed. She doesn’t tell us what Scrooge’s nobler aspirations had been. We don’t know what made Belle fall in love with Scrooge in the first place—but we do know that whatever it is, it is gone now. As the Ghost of Christmas Past moves through Scrooge’s life we catch glimpses of what may have broken him – a distant father, the death of his much loved sister, his exposure to wealth in the first place – but we are never quite told what made Scrooge the man he is at the beginning of Dickens’ tale. All we know is that Scrooge is broken and greed and anger have possessed his very soul. Scrooge’s life was broken. While he had all of the wealth, and then some, that any person might need – he was miserable.

I used to think that A Christmas Carol was the story of Scrooge’s metamorphosis. The scene in the movie were Scrooge realizes that it is Christmas morning and that life doesn’t have to be the way it has always been and he does that wonderful dance and sings: “I don’t know anything!  I never did know anything  all on a Christmas morning!” I always thought of that wonderful dance as the culmination of Scrooge’s metamorphosis, like a butterfly bursting forth from a cocoon. But now I see it for what it really is.  It is a dance of resurrection. For Scrooge was dead. Dead and gazing at his own tombstone, when suddenly, and suddenly for me always indicates the work of the Spirit, suddenly, Scrooge realizes that what he is seeing are only the shadows of things that might be. Suddenly, Scrooge knows “that men’s deeds foreshadow certain ends. But if the deeds be departed from surely the ends will change!” Scrooge is born again and is able to declare with confidence, “I’m not the man I was.” And so, the resurrected Scrooge becomes all that God intended him to be. Scrooge’s past didn’t go away—the hurtful Christmas memory of Belle ending their engagement, all of the ill-spent years somewhere between the party at Fezziwig’s and the visit of the spirits would still be a part of Scrooge’s life, resurrection doesn’t erase the past, but transforms the future, hope becomes part of the resurrected life! And so, Scrooge reborn, becomes “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City ever knew…and it was always said of Scrooge “that he knew how to keep Christmas well!” Knew how to keep Christmas well. Keeping Christmas well is very different than celebrating Christmas. Keeping Christmas well is about resurrection; resurrection of our very selves. I always thought of that wonderful dance as the culmination of Scrooge’s metamorphosis, like a butterfly bursting forth from a cocoon. Keeping Christmas well is to forget what you have done for other people and to remember what other people have done for you. Keeping Christmas well is to see your neighbours as just as real as you are, and to try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hearts hungry for human connection, for dignity, for love and for joy. Keeping Christmas well is the realization that the only good reason for your existence is not what you are going to get out of life, but what you are going to give to life. Keeping Christmas well means closing your book of complaints against the management of the universe and looking around you for a place where you can accomplish some good. Keeping Christmas well is remembering the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old; it means not worrying so much about how much your friends love you but asking yourself whether you love, honour and care for them enough; it means stepping down from your pedestal long enough to see that you are not the centre of the universe;  it means bearing in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; trying to understand what those who live in the same home with you really want, without waiting for them to tell you; it means burying your ugly, destructive and selfish motives and nurturing your nobler ones.

Keeping Christmas well includes the realization that your generation is not the last generation; that you have received an astonishing inheritance given by God, that your very next breath of life is pure gift; that all your various abilities and capacities were knit together in your mother’s womb and you had nothing to do with this original blessing, and that the bounty planet earth offers—its beauty and majesty – are both a wondrous blessing and an awesome responsibility; it’s the realization that you have duties to perform as citizens of a free nation in a dangerous world; that matters of war and peace are not just problems for others to solve; that much, if not most, of what goes on in the space around you depends upon your choices and your actions. 

Keeping Christmas well is about being fully alive to all that life has to offer and being gracious in your responses to this amazing grace  and living into all that God created you to be. When you keep Christmas well you are willing to believe that forgiveness is the doorway to a hope-filled future; that mercy reflects God’s nature; and that love is the most powerful thing in the universes—stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death! Keeping Christmas well is living with the knowledge that there is nothing in heaven or on earth that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Scrooge’s metamorphous began, dancing and singing:  “I don’t know anything, I never did know anything, all on a Christmas morning.”  To keep Christmas well you must first realize that in the grand scheme of things you don’t know anything. For then, in humility, you can see the hope that lies in the manger. The hope of resurrection.

Scrooge knew how to keep Christmas well, may that be said of all of us. And as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us everyone!      

The Greatest Birth Story Ever??? Luke 1:26-38, a sermon for Advent 4B

blue madonna babeAs always, I am indebted to the scholarship of John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg whose book The First Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving! You can listen to the sermon here

For those looking for a different approach to Advent 4B check out the sermon posted here

Some have said that it was the most amazing birth story ever told. This birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth; God incarnate; fully divine and fully human. Not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Among the ancients, some insisted that the story Alexander the Great’s birth was the greatest story every told. 

Alexander the Great’s birth story is truly one of the greats. His was, after all the, son of a Queen and a god and a king. His mother, Olympias was a Queen, betrothed to Philip of Macedonia. The night before they were married, Queen Olympias dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all around her, and then as if by magic they were extinguished. Philip dreamed that he sealed up his Queen’s lady parts with a seal which bore the impression of a lion. The high priests who interpreted the dream warned Philip not to even entertain the idea of consummating the marriage because one wouldn’t go to the trouble of sealing up something that was empty. So Queen Olympias must already be with child, who would undoubtedly be a boy with the courage of a lion. If that wasn’t enough to put Philip off he found a serpent lying beside Queen Olympias as se slept, which was said to have abated his passion. Later the oracle of Apollo at Delphi went on to explain that this was no ordinary serpent, no this was the incarnation of the God Zeus.

The day that Alexander the Great was born, one of the seven wonders of the world burnt to the ground. The temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus was the home of the Goddess Artemis who was said to have been attending to the birth of Alexander at the time. Alexander the Great was heralded as the Son of God and Saviour of the World and as one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known, he went on to conquer a good portion of the planet. But by the time our hero was born, the glory days of the Greeks had long since passed. The Empire of Rome had replaced the Greeks as rulers of the world and they had the conquered lands to prove it. By the time our hero was born, Julius Caesar had established an Empire the likes of which the world had never seen before. Gaius Julius’ prowess on the battlefield was matched only by his cunning in the senate and together had one him the title of Caesar.  But as great and marvellous a leader as Julius Caesar may have been, history tells us that he and his wife were not blessed with children. Alas, Caesar did have a son by virtue of his dalliance with Cleopatra but that’s another story all together; suffice it to say, that that little fellow didn’t stand a chance against the one Julius would appoint as his heir. Born to Julius Caesar’s niece, little Octavian was eventually adopted as his great-uncle’s heir apparent who eventually amassed powers that far outshone his illustrious uncle’s. Continue reading