Keep Watch: John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading

Keep Watch: John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading

Christmas in the Ordinary – Advent 3 – Luke 1:1-38

baby in a tree

Readings Luke 1: 1-4, 5-25, 26-38 Listen to the sermon here

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

LIVING NATIVITY

blackSeveral years ago Lesley attended a small church in the suburbs.  Every year toward the end of Advent the members of this church would create a living nativity. About a week before Christmas when most people were busy getting ready for the holiday they would conscript a few volunteers to begin the preparations for the living nativity. Out on the front lawn of the church, the volunteers would slap together a few boards in the shape of a stable. Costumes would be created out of old sheets and bathrobes so that children from the congregation could be dressed up as Mary and Joseph, shepherds, angels and wise folks. Then the children would be arranged in the make-shift stable so that people passing by in their cars would be reminded of what took place in Bethlehem on the first Christmas. The church was located at a fairly busy intersection and year after year, Lesley would marvel at the fact that the living nativity had never caused an accident, as drivers strained to see a motley band of children pushing and shoving each other inside what only remotely resembled a stable.

The living nativity was the brainchild of Deedee the dreaded church organist.  Deedee was a rather severe woman, who always wanted everything to be done just so.  Deedee worked hard to plan various grand events that she felt would benefit the congregation.  But somehow, Deedee’s grand plans were always beyond the capabilities of the volunteers that she usually managed to conscript. Over the years, people in the congregation learned to hide whenever they saw Deedee coming toward them with her clipboard. If Deedee managed to corner you and your name got put onto her clipboard, you were sunk.  Once your name was on the list, you were one of Deedee volunteers.  Deedee’ s conscripts never really knew what it was they had volunteered for until they arrived for their first rehearsal.  And by then it was too late, because Deedee had never been known to let a volunteer slip through her hands.  Continue reading

Shattered Angel: an Imperfect Christmas Story

As Christmas draws near, we turn to stories to express the inexpressible. Like the Gospel writers we are at a loss to explain the activity of our God in the world and so we too resort to story telling. Families gather and the reliable old stories are told. Each year new stories are added to our treasure troves as we seek to express the inexpressible and touch the hem of our God who is love. What better way to touch and be touched by God than to tell stories of God’s love in the world? We all have treasure troves of stories of Christ taking on flesh and dwelling among us. My story took place when I was a young woman determined that my first Christmas living out in the world would be the type of Christmas that dreams are made of.

It’s a story about the quest for the perfect Christmas. When I was growing up, I always wanted Christmas to be just so. But the reality of life with all its inherent dysfunctions coupled with financial limitations meant that we just couldn’t pull off the perfect Christmas. I used to comfort myself with the notion that when I grew up things would be different. When I grew up, I’d do things better. I’d save up my money so that no one would be disappointed and there’d be enough to ensure that the house would be filled with Christmas cheer! The decorations would be perfect and no family arguments or disappointments would be allowed to ruin my dream of the perfect Christmas. I knew that just as soon as I had my own place, I’d be able to pull off the kind of Christmas that would be so full of peace and harmony that the angels wouldn’t be able to keep from singing. Continue reading

The Power of Love Who Lives In Us: a Christmas Eve Sermon

cloth nativityA sermon preached on Christmas Eve 2011 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story.[1]  Tonight, as we celebrate the greatest story every told, we also celebrate our own stories. As families gather and festivities progress we will tell our stories to one another; stories that move us to a deeper understanding of who we are; stories that in their own way compliment the greatest story ever told. Every family has them, those little stories that we love to tell one another because they remind us of our deep connections to one another or reveal a truth we treasure in one another. Christmas is a time for stories old and new, stories grand and glorious, happy and sad stories that will cause us to remember, to laugh and to cry.

So, this evening, my story, like the story of Jesus birth, begins with the stories of two pregnant women. The Jesus’ story begins with the stories of Elizabeth and Mary, two cousins who were great with child. My story begins with the news that two of my nieces Ashley and her sister Sheri Lynn, were also pregnant. Ashley was expecting her first child, Sheri Lynn her second. My niece Sheri Lynn’s little girl is my great-niece Isabella.

Isabella is just 3 years old and last month she and her mother, Sheri Lynn, travelled here from Vancouver, so that Isabella could be the flower-girl at my wedding. Before they arrived the story was already being told of Isabella’s response to the news that her Aunt Ashley was going to have a baby and that that baby was going to be a little boy. Isabella proudly announced that her Aunt Ashley’s little boy was going to be her new little brother. Well meaning adults tried to correct Isabella by gently telling her that her Aunt Ashley’s little boy would in fact be her cousin and not her brother. But Isabella insisted that he would be her brother. Various family members tried to convince Isabella that the baby her mommy was expecting would be her little brother or her little sister, but the little boy that her Aunt Ashley was expecting would be her cousin. But no matter how hard or how often they tried to explain it, Isabella went on insisting that her Aunt Ashley’s new baby would be her brother.

One day, while they were visiting, I snapped at the chance to look after Isabella while her mother did some sightseeing. I had some errands to run and it was marvellous to have a little 3 year-old along to help me. It gave me the opportunity to do some great-auntie stuff. And that’s how Isabella and I ended up in the local Christian bookstore trying to find a lightweight nativity set that she would be able to carry home with her on the airplane. I wanted her to learn to tell the greatest story ever told in her own unique way. Continue reading

The Nativity: A Parable So Simple a Child Can Understand It! – a sermon for Advent 4a

nativity drawningHistorian and spiritual philosopher, Ian Lawton describes the dilemma of those of us who seek to put a “little reason into the season” this way: “Picture the scene. Mary and Joseph are huddled together in a manger surrounded by farm animals. Joseph is drifting in and out of various dreams. Angels fly in and out of the manger singing songs and bringing earth-shattering messages. Three eastern kings gather around Mary and Joseph with gifts. Out of the window a large star can be seen in the day sky. Two sheep sit beneath the window having a conversation. One says to the other, “I don’t know why you’re being so stubborn. Let me go through this one more time. The virgin is having a baby. They’re naming him Jesus because of a dream. Angels told them that their baby would become the saviour of all humanity. Kings travelled hundreds of miles to find the place of birth like a needle in a haystack because they were led by a giant star moving through the day sky.  Now which part of this are you having trouble believing?” The Christmas story is fantastic in the literal sense of the word.  It is mostly fantasy.  Which parts of it do you have trouble believing?

You’re in good company.  This story is as unlikely as talking sheep. The laws of nature tell us that sheep don’t talk, virgins don’t have babies, stars don’t travel across the day sky and then hang like a blip over one home and angels don’t sing choruses. Even if a reliable source suggested that something happened that broke the laws of nature, you would demand evidence and there is little evidence for the details of the Christmas story outside of the Bible which has contradictory details.  All in all, the Christmas story is highly unlikely. But don’t let details get in the way of a good holiday story, right? If you’re like me, you’re torn between the desire to be true to your common sense that is skeptical and your heart that just wants to let the story be a good story.  The good news is that you can have both. You can question the literal account of the story AND you can enjoy the timeless message of the story. You can put a little reason into the season, and still take a yuletide joyride of inspired meaning. The Christmas story is mostly myth, but the message is real and powerful.”

Since the end of the first century, some 1900 years now, the Christmas story has been told. Lately the church has become a little embarrassed by the way in which this story has been told. All sorts of experts have weighed in to tell us that it could never have happened the way we all remember it. Biblical scholars, historians, theologians, bishops, pastors, professors even scientists have cast doubt on the details of the story of the nativity. But even though we know how impossible some of the details may be we cling to this power of the story.  Despite the wisdom of the experts, regardless of our doubts this story still has the power to stop us in our tracks. No other story or image is more recognizable to people the world over than the Nativity scene of the birth of Jesus. The images of an angel announcing the birth, a virgin responding in faith, a carpenter leading a woman on a donkey to a stable in Bethlehem, cumulating with Mary and Joseph gazing fondly at the baby Jesus, while the shepherds look on and the heavenly host sing their praises, these images are crystal clear to all of us. The story is part of us; it’s in our bones. Every year this story causes our lives to shift from the routine of winter, to marveling at the wonder of it all, as we enter into a sacred time, where families are drawn together, and strangers greet one another with kindness and from near and far the hope of peace on earth is a dream shared by us all.

Now, I know that somewhere in the deepest darkest recesses of our being, or for some of us, just beneath the surface of this dream, the wisdom of the experts causes a shiver to run across our spines as we wonder how the hope for peace on earth can possibly lie with such an unbelievable story. That shiver used to haunt me, until the day I recognized the power of the truth that lies in the story of the birth of Christ. It happened a few years back, when my youngest niece Sheri Lynn was about three years old. I have three nieces and over the years I’ve gained a bit of a reputation as their eccentric auntie. I can’t help myself, my love of stories and books just oozed over into my role as their auntie. And so to mark every occasion in their little lives their dear old Auntie Dawn showered them with books. Before every birthday, every Easter, and every Christmas every special occasion I could be found in the children’s section of the bookstore, scouring the shelves to find the perfect book that told the perfect story. My family used to tease me mercilessly and insist that I ought to get those little girls something they could play with. But only books were good enough for my nieces. So, you can just imagine the collection of books they have that tell the story of the Nativity. My family are not churchgoers, so on Christmas Eve I used to go to the Midnight service before heading over to my brother’s house to spend the night. Well the year that Sheri Lynn was just three, I arrived at my brother’s house at about 1:30 in the morning. My brother and his wife, my parents and my nieces were all safely tucked up in bed. On the dining room table were the remains of the milk and eating the cookies that had been left for some other visitor. I poked my head into the room where my youngest niece was sleeping. Little Sheri was snorting as little ones do when they sleep. In the glow of her nightlight I could see a rather unusual gathering on the floor by the foot of her bed. Standing upright on the floor was a large picture book opened to show a picture of an empty stable above which a star hung in the night sky. Beside the book was a doll’s cradle; inside the cradle was a naked doll covered only in a tea-towel. Sitting proudly with their legs sprayed out as if they were doing the splits were what could only be Mary and Joseph even tough they looked a lot like Barbie and Ken. Surrounding this scene were all sorts of little people, some smurfs, a few princesses all, no doubt, standing in for shepherds and angels. The most wonderful part was that all of God’s animals were there,  not just the donkey, the sheep and the cattle, but giraffes, zebras, horses, pigs, lions, tigers, turtles, alligators, elephants, hippos, bears and even an alligator and a snake. It was just as the prophet Isaiah had foretold a peaceable kingdom were all the animals lived in peace together and where the lion would eat straw with the ox and the wolf and the lamb would lie down together. The great thing about toddlers playing with animals is that in their minds all of the animals can play together. Sheri Lynn knew that the giraffe eats leaves because I saw her holding it up to the Christmas tree so that it could feast.  She knew that the horse and the cow and the sheep and the chickens lived over at the Fisher Price farm and that some of the other animals lived aboard Noah’s ark, and that snakes and alligators could be very scary indeed, but on this night all the animals played together, and all of them gathered together at the baby’s cradle to love and to warm and to care for the child, who lay naked and vulnerable before them. Sheri Lynn had created an image of the Nativity story; an image whose details weren’t exactly correct, but an image that told the truth about all our longings during this most holy season. Continue reading

Keep Watch: John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading

The Greatest Birth Story Ever?

WOMAN DOVE

 

Fourth Sunday of Advent

December 23, 2012

Listen to the sermon here

Greatest Birth Story Ever?

Keep Watch, Prepare Ye! For John the Baptist, Like Christ Has Many Disguises!

homeless-manThere was a  young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood.  It was the east end of a very large city.  Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could.  The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish.  She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.

Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters.  The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys.  Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.

Ed had been living on the streets for years.  He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot.  Ed was a wild man.  He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather.  Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.

Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived.  He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee.  They never talked much, though.  Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world.   The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets.  She didn’t know how he spent his days.

As Christmas approached the young woman became very busy with her preparations for the holiday.  This was the first year that she had more money than she needed to celebrate with.

She decorated her apartment, she bought all sorts of gifts and spent hours wrapping each one.

This year she wasn’t going to be rushed.  She wasn’t going to miss out on anything.  Christmas wasn’t going to come and go without finding her in the Christmas spirit.

That year the young woman had drawn the short straw and had to work on Christmas Eve.  So, before she left her apartment, she packed a small package of goodies for Ed.  She was delighted that she was so well prepared that she could take time for others.  But when she got to the office, Ed was no where in sight.  She asked some of the women who worked the streets if they had seen old Ed.  But no one knew where he was.

The young woman went about her duties and soon forgot all about old Ed.  She finished her work early and went off to celebrate Christmas Eve with her friends.  She had been looking forward to Christmas for weeks and was eager to celebrate.  Together, she and her friends  shared a fine Christmas goose with all the trimmings and then they went of to a candle light service.  The service was beautiful.  They really pulled out all the stops, great music, lots of activity.  The preacher even managed to keep his sermon brief.  But somehow the young woman was left feeling like there was something missing.

The next morning she celebrated with her family.  Her nieces eagerly unpacked dozens of presents and on the whole the family managed to keep their disagreements down to the minimum that year.  But the young woman felt detached, like she was just going through the motions.  Despite all the elaborate trimmings, she felt like she had missed out on her fair share of the Christmas spirit.

As she drove back to her apartment in the city she found herself wondering if this was all there was to it.  Christmas had come and gone and she didn’t feel like anything had changed at all.  By the time she had parked her car, she was feeling quite depressed.  Christmas was over and nothing much had changed.

When she got to the entrance of her apartment, she saw Ed.  She had never seen him anywhere near her apartment before and it made her more than a little nervous.  She wondered how he had found out where she lived.  Indeed, it frightened her that Ed  had taken the trouble to find her apartment.  Ed looked very agitated.

Nervously the young woman greeted Ed and asked him why he was at her doorstep.  Ed explained to her that he needed her help.  The young woman became very uneasy.  The odd cup of coffee at work was one thing, but this old man showing up on her door step was quite another.  And now he wanted something.  Ed asked the young woman if she would come with him to the park.  Caught off guard, the young woman reluctantly agreed.  When they arrived in the park,  Ed introduced the young woman to Karen.

Karen was a very scared looking teenager. She couldn’t have been more than about fourteen years old.  Ed explained to the young woman that Karen had run away from home on Christmas Eve.  He said that lots of kids ended up on the streets at this time of year and there were usually lots of unsavoury characters to meet them  when they arrived.  When Karen arrived at the city bus depot, Ed had spotted her.  From the moment she arrived, Ed had carefully watched over Karen, making sure that she came to no harm in the city.  Karen’s two days on the streets and Ed’s gentle persuasion had convinced her that she should really go back home and try to work things out with her parents.  Ed explained to the young woman that Karen needed money for a bus ticket home.

After they had called Karen’s parents and safely loaded her onto a bus, the young woman asked Ed if he would come and share a meal with her.  Ed refused the offer of a meal but agreed to share a cup of coffee with the young woman.

In the coffee shop, I took a long hard look at old Ed.  That night in the coffee shop, I looked into the eyes of a wild man.  I didn’t know it then, but I know it now, in his own way, Ed had helped me to prepare the way for Christ.  Ed was the prophet who pointed to Christ.  I had almost missed it.  Christ had come.  I was so busy looking up that I had forgotten to look around me.

Christ came to me in Karen.  “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Christ comes to us in the most unlikely of places wearing the most unlikely of faces.

Just as Advent moves us toward the remembrance of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem in the first century, it also reminds us that most of the world was preoccupied and utterly unprepared for that first Advent and many missed the whole thing.  The question is:  Will we miss the whole thing again?”  For we do not know the day or hour, no one knows.

Therefore keep awake–Christ may come suddenly and find you asleep.  So be prepared. Keep awake! Watch for we know not when Christ comes. Watch, so that you might be found whenever and wherever Christ comes. Prepare the way for Christ.