Christmas: a Cacophony of Chaos!

For days now, I’ve had an ear-worm.  I suppose that it is more than fitting for a pastor to suffer from this particular ear-worm at this particular time of the year. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and it must be the struggle to get everything ready for the Holy Night that has put this particular ear-worm on an endless loop. Consider this an early Christmas gift, I won’t sing it. I’ll let you sing it in your own minds. Maybe then I can give you my ear-worm for Christmas. My ear-worm is the Christmas carol, O Holy Night. It’s not the whole Carol, just the one line of the Carol that repeats itself:   “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Over and over again, I hear: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” T’is the season for being weary! Hands up all you who are weary! Apart from the fact that there is so much to be done, the news is full not of glad-tidings but of tales of woe. Everywhere we turn, the media is doing its level best to instill fear into our hearts, rather than tidies of comfort and joy. The world is weary of worrying about the strange fellow who occupies the Whitehouse, weary of populist, authoritarian, politicians like the fellow we have up here, prancing around Queens Park; weary of begging the powers that be to do something about climate change; weary of economic inequality; weary of corporate greed, weary of catastrophic fires, tsunamis, earthquakes, stock-market crashes,  weary of war and rumors of war.

Sure, we can turn off our devices in the hope that we can avoid the bad tidings. But then, we have our own bad news to deal with, quarrelsome families, troublesome friends, sick or dying loved ones, the day to day grind of making a living, and our own personal angst and insecurities. To top it all off, if regular life isn’t wearisome enough, tomorrow is Christmas Eve. “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”

“A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.” Fall on your knees?  If I fall on my knees, I’ll never be able to get up!!! In times like these, that it is as if our lives are in a constant state of chaos.  I’ll let you in on a little secret, one of my favorite parts of Christmas is Silent Night. I positively long for Silent Night, because when we’re singing Silent Night, here at Holy Cross, my work is done.  We don’t have a Christmas Day service, unless Christmas falls on a Sunday. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, our Christmas Eve service always ends with the singing of Silent Night. We turn out all the lights, light candles and hold them high as we sing. Silent Night, holy night, all is calm…

….all is calm….all is calm…all is bright. Now there’s an ear-worm I’m happy to live with. But there’s a lot of chaos to be endured between here and Silent Night. As much as we try the sound of Christmas is not Silent Night. The sound of Christmas is far more discordant than that. Do me a favour, make some noise. I mean it. I’m going to count to three. When I get to three, I want you to create a cacophony of chaos. I want us to raise a little hell. Ready, One, two, three…………….

In order to get the true sound of Christmas, you would need to add to our cacophony, the sounds of traffic, car crashes, waves crashing, hungry children crying, poor parents weeping, homeless sisters and brothers shivering in the cold, bombs dropping, babies crying, the Earth suffering…and you will have but a taste of the sounds of chaos. Christmas, no matter how you understand Christmas, Christmas doesn’t much sound like silent night. The sound of Christmas is a cacophony of chaos. Christmas is the sound of messiness, the sound of unpredictability and confusion. So, is it any wonder that in the midst of all the chaos of living we should long for a Silent Night? The trouble is, the story of new birth is never a Silent Night. Life itself is chaotic, and if we’re waiting for the birth of Jesus to arrive in Heavenly peace, I doubt that we’ll ever understand the Christmas story. Continue reading

Like All Myths, the Stories of Jesus’ Birth are True, for Myths Only Become Untrue When they are Presented as Facts – a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

refugee-nativity-erbile

Readings from the first chapter of Luke included the stories of the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth and Mary’s radical song – The Magnificat.   Listen to the sermon here

Last night my brother Alan and I were chatting online about Christmases past. We reminisced about the Secret Sam Attaché Case he got the year I had to settle for a Chatty Cathy Doll. My Brother’s toy transformed him into a secret agent allowing him to peer around corners with a Secret Sam periscope, and take photographs, while the case was closed. Alan’s toy transformed him into a spy capable of holding his own in the world of counterespionage, while I had to settle for Chatty Cathy Doll that could only say a few words when I pulled the string on the back of her neck. We both agreed that girls’ toys sucked. That is until the following Christmas when I talked my Dad into buying me my very own microscope and my brother and I spent the holidays looking at pond scum. We would head down to the pond and fill jars with the scummiest water we could find and then head home to look at the microscopic creatures that inhabited this strange little world. While we were chatting, my brother told me about a colleague whose son died quite suddenly last year. Suddenly, without warning the nostalgia of Christmas disappeared as we contemplated the horror of losing a child. For so many families this and every year Christmas is forever transformed from the simple joys of nostalgia to the painful experience of longing for simpler, gentler times, when all Christmas had to do was jingle a bell or two to bring out the child in us. Life is a complicated mystery. Life is full of unanswerable questions. Life is filled with all sorts of experiences and emotions. Yet, every year we look to our Christmas traditions, stories and rituals to open us to the possibility of all the joy and peace that life has to offer.

I ended our chat by sharing a treasured memory of good old simpler days, when my brother Alan and I would enjoy our very own Christmas Eve tradition of watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol; the one in which Alistair Sim plays Scrooge.  So, last night, I dozed off with Alistair Sim’s Scrooge dancing in my head and singing, “I don’t know anything. I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know. All on a Christmas morning.”

No ghosts visited me in the night, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, I did dream dreams of Christmas’ long ago. You see, Scrooge wasn’t the only movie that my brother and I used to watch. Alan was particularly fond of science-fiction movies. Sometimes, when he would manage to convince me to watch one of these movies with him, I would complain after just a few minutes in, that the premise was just too unbelievable; I mean really nothing like that could ever actually happen. Alan would remind me that you don’t have to believe them; you just have to watch them, go with the story, see where it takes you.

When you really think about it, many of our best-loved stories never actually happened the way we tell them. Take Scrooge for example; does any one of us actually believe that Ebenezer was really visited by three ghosts?  We know that it is a story that never actually happened the way it has been told to us; and yet it has the power to take us somewhere, to move us as we watch the incredible transformation of old Scrooge and we too are moved to keep Christmas well. Continue reading

“God Steps Down Amid Sexual Assault Allegations” an Advent sermon on Luke 1

Listen to the Audio only here

There is a meme doing the rounds on the internet that points an accusing finger at today’s readings: It’s a joke of sorts, that begins with the headline: “God Steps Down Amid Sexual Assault Allegations” The joke continues: “God the Father, Creator of Heaven and Earth will be stepping down as Supreme Lord of the Universe amid allegations of sexual assault from Mary, the mother of his son. In a guest column of the Jerusalem Times, Mary detailed God’s grooming tactics, exploitation of power dynamics, and physical coercion that ultimately resulted in the birth of their son, Jesus.”

There is another meme that’s been going around the church for centuries. Listen, I think you may know it:  “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, (wait for it….) born of the virgin Mary, … The Apostles’ Creed…As a progressive Christian congregation…we no longer recite the Apostles’ Creed in worship… Nor do we recite the Nicene Creed…

“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human.”

In the Evangelical Lutheran Book of Worship and even in the old green Lutheran Book of Worship, the creeds are what is a “may rubric”. Open up your hymnals to page 104

“The Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed may be spoken” The word “may” indicates that the creeds don’t have to be recited, but that they “may be spoken.”  The creeds take us back centuries to a time when various factions in the church couldn’t stop arguing about the nature of Jesus’ humanity. These arguments lead to battles in which hundreds and indeed thousands and thousands of people were killed. Historically, the creeds functioned as a kind of laying down of the law, this is what you shall, no “may” about it this with what you “shall” believe. Most Lutheran churches continue to recite the creeds in worship, even though they are a “may rubric”. So, I wasn’t surprised last week, when I attended an ordination service in which our Bishop Michael presided, that I found myself being asked to recite the words of the Apostles’ creed. Nor was I surprised as the congregation around me dutifully recited the words of the Apostles’ creed, that I couldn’t for the life of me, no matter how much I would like to have simply played ball, I just couldn’t bring myself to say the words of the Apostles’ Creed as an act of worship.  There’s just something about Mary that trips me up every time I try to say the words, for I do not believe that Jesus was born of a virgin.

Jesus’ mother may have been many things, but I do not believe that Jesus’ mother was a virgin. You see, I’ve been to seminary and I have studied the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament and I know that the very best New Testament scholars in the world teach us that our English translations of the Gospels are based on the anonymous gospel storytellers’ incorrect translation of the Hebrew text found in the book of the Prophet Isaiah’s words “Behold the Lord Himself will give you a sign, a Virgin shall conceive and she shall call his name Immanuel.”

 The Hebrew word which some men chose to translate as “virgin” is more accurately translated as “young woman” or “young maiden” There is a Hebrew word for “virgin” but that word for “virgin” does not appear in the Hebrew text. Over the centuries the anonymous gospel storytellers’ inaccurate translation has been repeated so many times that Mary’s virginity is now considered “gospel” — pardon the pun. Continue reading

The Birth of Jesus Is Not Very Original, Just a Birth Story Fit For An Ancient Hero

star-eastSome have said that the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus 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. Indeed, the story of Jesus birth can’t even claim to be unique.  Some claim that Jesus’ birth story is just one of a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it’s our story; a story we tell over and over at the expense of other birth stories that are just as great. Well it’s really not all that difficult to Google  “greatest birth story ever told”, select one or two of the greats and put them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as one in a line of ancient birth stories. Allow me to demonstrate.

Among the ancients, some insisted that the story Alexander the Great’s birth was weladat-alexander-mathaf-beirut
the greatest story every told. Alexander the Great’s birth story is truly one of the greats. He 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. Continue reading

Like All Myths, the Stories of Jesus’ Birth are True for Myths Only Become Untrue When they are Presented as Facts – a sermon for the Fourth Sunday in Advent

refugee-nativity-erbile

Readings from the first chapter of Luke included the stories of the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth and Mary’s radical song – The Magnificat.   Listen to the sermon here

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  

Years ago, I struggled with most of the stuff I was reading both in the bible and about the bible. I’d been attending church every Sunday since I was 15 and I was doing my best to be a Christian. But the more I read the bible, the more I studied the stories in the bible, the more difficult it became to reconcile all of the inconsistencies. Nowhere are those inconsistencies more apparent than in the stories about the birth of Jesus. Long before I ever dreamed of going to seminary to become a pastor, I was introduced to the work of progressive scholars like Marcus Borg, Dom Crossan and Jack Spong. It was a relief to learn how to take the bible seriously without taking it literally. It was also a relief to discover that my pastor and indeed most of the pastors I knew didn’t take the bible literally. But I have to admit that Christmas in the Church just hasn’t been the same since I learned that the stories about the birth of Jesus that appear in the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke are not historical narratives. I must also confess that since we here in this community embarked upon this grand adventure together of ReThinking our Christianity, the celebration of Christmas in our worship together has become more and more of a challenge. There are days when I feel like a progressive Grinch who is determined to steal Christmas. Then there are other days when I feel like the Grinch’s little dog, who try as he might he just can’t seem to balance those reindeer antlers on his tiny little head. There are days, and some sleepless nights when I simply long for the good old days, when we could sink into the sentimentality of the season without having to delve into scholarship or worry about our evolving theology.

I miss those Advents when we all acted as though prophets foretold the birth of Jesus centuries before it happened, when we suspended disbelief and went along with the idea that angels visited Mary and Joseph, and we marveled at the fact that Mary conceived will still a virgin. It was easier when that Star guided wise guys and heavenly hosts actually visited shepherds abiding in their fields. Damn those progressive Grinches who’ve robbed us of our simple ways of celebrating the birth of Jesus

and as for those radical Grinches who have us questioning everything from the divinity of Jesus to the cosmic reality of the Christ, well I for one wish they’d leave us alone to sing our songs in peace. We Whos did just fine down here in Who-ville before those Grinches tossed all the elements of the birth stories upon their sleighs and left us here wondering what to do and how to sing. For however shall we celebrate the birth of the Son of God now that we know Mary couldn’t have been a virgin, and Matthew and Luke were the worst historians ever?

Well fear not my friends, because like all Christmas stories ours too has a happy ending. The good news is that those progressive Grinches who have stolen Christmas, do indeed have a heart after all. Even that Grinch Marcus Borg knows a thing or two about opening his heart to the wonder of the stories about Jesus birth. Yes, Borg, just like the rest of those Grinches like Spong, Crossan, and Morewood, leads us to understand that the stories of Jesus birth didn’t actually happen the way the gospel storytellers wrote them. The good news is that Borg, just like the rest of those Grinches, does have a heart big enough not to just stop with the reality that the birth stories are not history. Borg’s heart is big enough to cope with his mind’s ability to give us a better question than, “Did the birth stories happen they way they were written? When Borg encourages us to ask: “why did the gospel story-tellers tell their stories they way they told them?”

Borg’s heart leads him to remind us that the stories may not have happened exactly the way they are written, but they are absolutely true because these stories are always happening. The sacred is always being discovered in the ordinary stuff of life. Every birth is sacred because in every birth their lies among the muck and the mess of birth the reality of Divinity which lives in, with, through, and beyond each and everyone of us. The birth narratives open us to the reality of the sacred, which lies at the very heart of life; all life. Humanity is born over and over again, and over and over again comes the sacred possibility of abundant life; life in which we are capable of living deeply and loving more fully that we can possibly imagine.

In the life and teachings of Jesus people experienced this divine abundance and it opened them up to the possibilities of a world in which the reign of God who is LOVE accomplishes peace through justice. Why did the gospel storytellers write about the birth of Jesus they way they did? Could it be that the divinity embodied in the life of Jesus of Nazareth could not be killed by the worst that the Romans could conceive? The storytellers told the story of Jesus birth using the tools that they had available to them to open their contemporaries to the reality that in Jesus the sacred dimension of life was experienced in the flesh. These parables about the birth of Jesus have opened generations to the sacred Holy One in whom we live and move and have our being. When we begin to experience the more-than-literal meaning of these parables about the birth of Jesus, we are opened to the sacred in our midst in ways that only LOVE can open humans. 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

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 Birth of Jesus Is Not Very Original, Just a Birth Story Fit For An Ancient Hero

star in the eastSome have said that the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus 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. Indeed, the story of Jesus birth can’t even claim to be unique.  Some claim that Jesus’ birth story is just one of a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it’s our story; a story we tell over and over at the expense of other birth stories that are just as great. Well it’s really not all that difficult to Google  “greatest birth story ever told”, select one or two of the greats and put them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as one in a line of ancient birth stories. Allow me to demonstrate.

Among the ancients, some insisted that the story Alexander the Great’s birth was alexanderthe greatest story every told. Alexander the Great’s birth story is truly one of the greats. He 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. Continue reading