Welcome Home to the MYSTERY that IS LOVE – Christmas Eve sermon

A number of years ago, back when I had only been a pastor for a couple of years, on the Sunday just before Christmas, immediately after our worship service, I travelled over to the hospital to pay a visit to a member of this church. I was all decked out in my Sunday best.

So, I very much looked the part of a pastor. Back then, I was very unsure of myself in my new role as a pastor. Nothing made me more uncomfortable than hospital visits. I felt like I was a bit of impostor. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and even though the collar around my neck often felt like it might choke the life out of me, that collar proclaimed to everyone at the hospital that I was there in my professional capacity.

I enjoyed a very pleasant visit with one of the seasoned members of this congregation, who went out of her way to ensure that we both enjoyed the visit. As I was leaving the floor, a woman beckoned me into a visitors’ lounge, ever so quietly she asked, “Could you please help me?”

I sat down beside her and listened to her story. When you’re wearing a clergy collar people presume all sorts of things about who you are. This distraught young woman presumed from my attire that I was a competent professional who could accomplish what she could not. Tearfully, she told me that her farther, from whom she’d been estranged for many years, was dying and needed a priest. She had called the Roman Catholic churches in town and none of the priests were available to come right away. The young woman explained that she was afraid that there may not be enough time to wait for a Roman Catholic priest. She asked me if I would be able to administer the Last Rites to her father. I hesitated as I considered her request.

I was frantically going over what I had been taught about the Roman Catholic practices commonly known as “the Last Rites:” Confession, Absolution, Communion, Anointing the Sick. I had been trained to do all of these as a Lutheran, but not as a Roman Catholic. The Last Rites always were intended to provide comfort to those who were dying. But for centuries, many Roman Catholics had come to believe that the dying needed to receive the Last Rites in order to assure their place in heaven. This popular misconception created all sorts of anxiety about securing the services of a priest. While I was tossing this over in my mind, the young woman, grabbed my arm and loudly asked: “Protestants do have Last Rites, don’t you?” Continue reading

Christ is Born In You – Christmas Eve sermon

christmas-eve-2016Christmas Eve sermon based on the Gospel readings from Luke 1:26-38; 1:39-55; 2:1-20. I cannot remember where I first heard the story I tell in the sermon. I suspect it is from some sermon I heard long ago because the outline is on a fading piece of foolscap in my barely legible handwriting. I did a quick search and could only discover the was a version of the story in a sermon by Janis B. Scott who does not site her source. My retelling/elaboration of the story is, I hope, a reflection of the MYSTERY that is once again born every holy night.

Listen to the sermon here

Christmas Eve reminds me that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story. So, let me tell you a story about a little boy who wanted to meet God. The adults in this little boy’s life were somewhat perplexed by the little boy’s desire and did their best to distract him with all sorts of stories about the baby in the manger. They even went so far as to promise to bring the little boy to church on Christmas Eve, where they assured him that there was a chance that there, he could speak to God. But the little boy knew in his heart of hearts that a private meeting with God would be so much better. What he really wanted was quality time with God. He remembered seeing a show on the television about God and Jesus and a bunch of stuff he didn’t understand. The show convinced the little boy that God must live somewhere very far away where there is lots and lots of sand and all the men wear dresses; except for the soldiers, who wear flappy skirts. The little boy decided that this strange land far away, was just the place to go so that he could meet God. He knew that this land must be very far away because he’d never seen it on his travels. So, the little boy decided to pack his back-pack with some food for the long journey. The fact that his Mom had just completed the shopping for their Christmas feasts meant that he had lots of wonderful things to choose from. So, into his back-pack he loaded up a few tubes of smarties, some chocolates shaped like turtles and best of all some always forbidden fruit that came in the form of cans of pop.

With his pack, full of provisions, the little boy set out on his long journey to meet God. When he’d travelled about half a mile or so, he met an old woman. The old woman was sitting on a park-bench staring at some pigeons. The little boy sat down next to the old woman and opened his back-pack. He was just about to take a drink of pop when he noticed that the old woman looked hungry, so he reached back into his pack and produced a tube of smarties, and proudly offered them to her. The old woman gratefully accepted the smarties and smiled fondly at the little boy. Her smile lit up her whole face. Her smile was so lovely that the little boy just had to see it again, so he offered her some chocolate turtles and a can of pop. Once again, the old woman’s face beamed as she smiled with delight. The little boy was overjoyed.

The two of them sat there on that bench all afternoon eating and smiling, but they never said a word. As it began to grow dark, the boy realized how very tired he was and he got up to leave, but before he’d gone more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman and gave her a big hug. That’s when the old woman gave him the biggest smile he had ever seen.

The impending darkness sent the little boy back to the safety of his own home. When he opened his front door, his Mom was surprised by the look of joy on her son’s face. She asked him, “What did you do today that made you so happy?” The little boy replied, “I had lunch with God.” And before his Mom could get in a word, he added, “You know what?  God has the most beautiful smile I’ve ever seen!”

Meanwhile, the old woman, also radiant with joy, returned to her home. Her grown son was stunned by the look of peace on her face and he asked his mother, “Mum, what did you do today that made you so happy?” The old woman replied, “I ate Smarties, and Turtles and I drank pop with God.” And before her stunned son could respond, she added, “You know, God’s much younger than I expected!”

I’ve always loved this story because it is so delightful to imagine God in the guise of a little boy or as an old woman; almost as delightful as imagining God in the guise of a baby lying in a manger, in a stable, long ago. God comes to us over and over and over again in all sorts of ways, in all sorts of shapes, in all sorts of guises. As Julian of Norwich was fond of insisting, “We are not just made by God, we are made of God.” Think about that for just a moment: We are not just made by God, we are made of God; not just you and I, but each and everyone we met is not just made by God, they are made of God. Continue reading

Christ is Born In You – Christmas Eve sermon

christmas-eve-2016Merry Christmas one and ALL!!! Here’s the Christmas Eve sermon based on the Gospel readings from Luke 1:26-38; 1:39-55; 2:1-20. I cannot remember where I first heard the story I tell in the sermon. I suspect it is from some sermon I heard long ago because the outline is on a fading piece of foolscap in my barely legible handwriting. I did a quick search and could only discover the was a version of the story in a sermon by Janis B. Scott who does not site her source. My retelling/elaboration of the story is, I hope, a reflection of the MYSTERY that is once again born on this holy night.

Listen to the sermon here

Preaching Christmas Eve in the Wake of New Testament Scholarship

the first christmasIn 2008, our little congregation played host to John Dominic Crossan who has been acclaimed as world’s most famous New Testament scholar. Crossan’s visit to our congregation began with a public lecture based on his best-selling book The First Christmas in which he and Marcus Borg provide a splendid historical outline of the development of the birth narratives. I had the dubious honour of standing before his enlightened audience on Christmas Eve to preach in the great man’s wake. What follows is the Christmas Eve sermon I preached just three weeks after Dom’s illuminating visit.

Just a few weeks ago, this congregation was privileged to play host to a man who has the reputation of being the greatest New Testament scholar in the whole world. Dom, (we get to call him “Dom” now) wrote The First Christmas with Marcus Borg who is the guy who is heralded as the world’s leading expert on Jesus and Christianity in the 21st century. During his lecture, Dom provided us with all sorts of marvellous ways to understand the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Ever since that visit, there have been folks who listened very carefully to what Dom had to say and who have been positively gleeful when they’ve asked me what I’m going to do about preaching on Christmas Eve.

I mean what could I possibly say to you after so many of you have just finished hearing from the best in the business! And then there are those of you who bought the book and you’ve read what the experts have to say about the first Christmas. Some of you weren’t able to hide the smirks when you wondered out loud just exactly how I’d go about following the eminent Dr. John Dominic Crossan. Continue reading

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

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  

Preaching Christmas Eve in the Wake of New Testament Scholarship

the first christmasIn 2008, our little congregation played host to John Dominic Crossan who has been acclaimed as world’s most famous New Testament scholar. Crossan’s visit to our congregation began with a public lecture based on his best-selling book The First Christmas in which he and Marcus Borg provide a splendid historical outline of the development of the birth narratives. I had the dubious honour of standing before his enlightened audience on Christmas Eve to preach in the great man’s wake. What follows is the Christmas Eve sermon I preached just three weeks after Dom’s illuminating visit.

Just a few weeks ago, this congregation was privileged to play host to a man who has the reputation of being the greatest New Testament scholar in the whole world. Dom, (we get to call him “Dom” now) wrote The First Christmas with Marcus Borg who is the guy who is heralded as the world’s leading expert on Jesus and Christianity in the 21st century. During his lecture, Dom provided us with all sorts of marvellous ways to understand the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Ever since that visit, there have been folks who listened very carefully to what Dom had to say and who have been positively gleeful when they’ve asked me what I’m going to do about preaching on Christmas Eve.

I mean what could I possibly say to you after so many of you have just finished hearing from the best in the business! And then there are those of you who bought the book and you’ve read what the experts have to say about the first Christmas. Some of you weren’t able to hide the smirks when you wondered out loud just exactly how I’d go about following the eminent Dr. John Dominic Crossan.

I don’t mind confessing that on several occasions since, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and wondered what on earth I’d say to you this evening. Even those of you who didn’t manage to hear Dr. Crossan; you’ve probably seen him on TV this week on one of the dozen or so, documentaries on which he appears as the expert scholar who the media turns to in order to unravel the Mysteries of the Bible or to dig up the truth about Jesus. In this the age of information, you can simply go to YOUTUBE  or to ITUNES U and download all sorts of podcasts where you’ll discover what pastors have been learning at seminaries for decades as the academic world has unlocked so many of the secrets of the ancient world in an effort to discover the real truth about what may or may not have happened so very long ago.  Ever since: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

Since the end of the first century, some 1900 years now, the story of the nativity 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 powerful 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.

Tonight the images of a stable in Bethlehem, 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. And every year this story causes our lives to shift from the routine of winter, to the marvel of this night, when 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.

You see truth is an amazing reality. Truth is never simple. And yet truth is quite simple really. At least for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. But before I tell you about the truth, let me do what I do every Christmas Eve, Let me tell you a story. It’s a true story about a story about a story.

You see, the easiest way I know to reveal the truth about a story is to tell a story that sheds light on a story. It’s the most ancient way to reveal the truth and it’s the way that Jesus used when he wanted to reveal the truth about the scriptures.

This story took place just about two weeks ago. Our Confirmation students had gathered together for our last class before the Christmas break. Their final assignment was due. Each of the students was required to tell a story that revealed something about the nature of God. They were asked to write a gospel according to them.

One by one they got up and from this very pulpit and they told their gospel stories. I asked one of the students for permission to re-tell their gospel story this evening. The student agreed on the condition that I not reveal to you who actually wrote the story. Which is perfect really because despite all our best efforts nobody can really say who actually wrote the four gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  So, here I give you the gospel as it was told by one of Holy Cross’ confirmation students and recorded, after a fashion, by me.

It was a cold and snowy night in the town of Newmarket and a homeless couple wandered the streets of Davis and Yong searching for shelter and warmth. They were a strange looking couple; a man and a very, very, very, fat woman.

They were dirty and grubby and they wore layers and layers of clothes trying to macdsxmaskeep warm. They’d been wandering for a very long time and they were very, very, very hungry.

So they trudged up to Wendy’s, hoping to get a warm meal. But when they made their way up to the counter the guy behind the counter shouted at them and said, “Get outta here!  We don’t serve fat people at Wendy’s!”

So the hungry couple headed over to Tim Horton’s, but the woman was so fat that she couldn’t fit through the door so the people told her to go away cause there was no room for fat people at Tim Hortons.

So, on they trudged up to MacDonalds and low and behold the fat woman made it through the door and the man managed to get the servers to provide them with a warm meal and just as they were settling into a booth, there appeared a great flood!

And the very, very, very, fat woman leaped up onto the table, right there in the middle of MacDonalds! And the woman began to scream and moan. Because she wasn’t just some fat homeless person, she was with child. And after a lot of screaming and moaning a baby was born in the city of Newmarket. And all the people rejoiced! For unto us a child was given, a child born in the poverty of MacDonalds. For if God came to earth today, God would come where we least expect God to be. 

The Holy Gospel as it is told by a young person of this congregation. Thanks be to God.

So, if your struggling over some of the details of the nativity story, if the experts have left you perplexed, cynical or worried, do not be afraid, for I bring you tidings of great joy. The story is true, every last word of it is true. For just like Dom so wisely revealed to us, the story of the nativity is a parable and like all parable’s it represents a truth that cannot be fully expressed in words. Like all good parables the truth is not to be found in the details, but rather in the Spirit of God that breathes life into the parable. It’s a parable about so many things, but most of all it is a parable about peace on earth giving glory to God.

Now there are many down through the ages that have tried to weave stories of peace on earth, but none so everlasting as this.  And yes some of us would have rather have had a road map or an expert to set us on the path to peace. But alas, all the experts have failed in their efforts to guide us. The truth that they impart has been rejected. So, once again we are left with this parable.  A story so simple that even a child can understand it.  A parable that depicts the truth that was experienced by those who walked and talked, loved and learned from Jesus. And the truth echoes through the centuries and the message is clear to everyone who has ears to hear.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among all people.” And we are left wondering at the power of a love great enough to triumph over death and we claim a Christmas Truth greater than any of the tradition it inspires: the truth of the mystical longing of the creature for the creator—the finite for the infinite— the human for the divine. It’s a longing that transcends culture, religion, language and custom—a longing that is represented tonight for us in the baby in the manger—the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us.

Yes, we embody the wonder of Christmas in the gifts given, the meals shared, the gathering of family and loved ones. But the greater wonder is that the God who is love incarnate comes down to be among us over and over again. Christ comes to show us how to share that love with a world in desperate need of it— to a world yearning for “peace on earth, good will among all people”.           

That shalom—that peace—that unfamiliar hush is the peace on earth I’m praying for this Christmas— the shalom that doesn’t just mean the peace that comes when we’re no longer at war but the shalom that means that all human beings live together at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of God’s wondrous creation.        

Shalom, the Hebrew word for what we might describe as “turning the human race into the human family” —the peace on earth that we, are called to be about as followers of Christ, not just at Christmas but all year long.  The truth is that peace is the only way we can truly give Glory to God.

Peace is the only way to insure that every child born into this world will have an opportunity to play, to learn and to grow. To accomplish peace on earth we will all have to go out into this Christmas night and into this New Year and put our faith into action. That means prayers and protests; speaking up and stepping out; offering whenever and wherever possible the Good News of God’s shalom and realizing the truth of the angels chorus. For we are the followers of the one whose birth they herald. Howard Thurman, a fellow follower of Christ, put it best declaring that:

            When the song of the Angel is stilled,

            When the Star in the sky is gone,

            When the kings and the 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 and sisters—

            To make music in the heart.        

            And to radiate the Light of Christ,

            every day, in every way,

            in all that we do and in all that we say.

            The work of Christmas lies before us.

So, dear friends, rejoice and be glad, for unto us a child has been born, a child who is Christ our Saviour. May Christ lead each of us as we go forth to make peace on earth and good will to all.   Amen.

Preaching Christmas Eve in the Wake of New Testament Scholarship

the first christmasIn 2008, our little congregation played host to John Dominic Crossan who has been acclaimed as world’s most famous New Testament scholar. Crossan’s visit to our congregation began with a public lecture based on his best-selling book The First Christmas in which he and Marcus Borg provide a splendid historical outline of the development of the birth narratives. I had the dubious honour of standing before his enlightened audience on Christmas Eve to preach in the great man’s wake. What follows is the Christmas Eve sermon I preached just three weeks after Dom’s illuminating visit.

Just a few weeks ago, this congregation was privileged to play host to a man who has the reputation of being the greatest New Testament scholar in the whole world. Dom, (we get to call him “Dom” now) wrote The First Christmas with Marcus Borg who is the guy who is heralded as the world’s leading expert on Jesus and Christianity in the 21st century. During his lecture, Dom provided us with all sorts of marvellous ways to understand the stories surrounding the birth of Jesus.  Ever since that visit, there have been folks who listened very carefully to what Dom had to say and who have been positively gleeful when they’ve asked me what I’m going to do about preaching on Christmas Eve.

I mean what could I possibly say to you after so many of you have just finished hearing from the best in the business! And then there are those of you who bought the book and you’ve read what the experts have to say about the first Christmas. Some of you weren’t able to hide the smirks when you wondered out loud just exactly how I’d go about following the eminent Dr. John Dominic Crossan.

I don’t mind confessing that on several occasions since, I’ve woken up in the middle of the night and wondered what on earth I’d say to you this evening. Even those of you who didn’t manage to hear Dr. Crossan; you’ve probably seen him on TV this week on one of the dozen or so, documentaries on which he appears as the expert scholar who the media turns to in order to unravel the Mysteries of the Bible or to dig up the truth about Jesus. In this the age of information, you can simply go to YOUTUBE  or to ITUNES U and download all sorts of podcasts where you’ll discover what pastors have been learning at seminaries for decades as the academic world has unlocked so many of the secrets of the ancient world in an effort to discover the real truth about what may or may not have happened so very long ago.  Ever since: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”

Since the end of the first century, some 1900 years now, the story of the nativity 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 powerful 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.

Tonight the images of a stable in Bethlehem, 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. And every year this story causes our lives to shift from the routine of winter, to the marvel of this night, when 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.

You see truth is an amazing reality. Truth is never simple. And yet truth is quite simple really. At least for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. But before I tell you about the truth, let me do what I do every Christmas Eve, Let me tell you a story. It’s a true story about a story about a story.

You see, the easiest way I know to reveal the truth about a story is to tell a story that sheds light on a story. It’s the most ancient way to reveal the truth and it’s the way that Jesus used when he wanted to reveal the truth about the scriptures.

This story took place just about two weeks ago. Our Confirmation students had gathered together for our last class before the Christmas break. Their final assignment was due. Each of the students was required to tell a story that revealed something about the nature of God. They were asked to write a gospel according to them.

One by one they got up and from this very pulpit and they told their gospel stories. I asked one of the students for permission to re-tell their gospel story this evening. The student agreed on the condition that I not reveal to you who actually wrote the story. Which is perfect really because despite all our best efforts nobody can really say who actually wrote the four gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  So, here I give you the gospel as it was told by one of Holy Cross’ confirmation students and recorded, after a fashion, by me.

It was a cold and snowy night in the town of Newmarket and a homeless couple wandered the streets of Davis and Yong searching for shelter and warmth. They were a strange looking couple; a man and a very, very, very, fat woman.

They were dirty and grubby and they wore layers and layers of clothes trying to macdsxmaskeep warm. They’d been wandering for a very long time and they were very, very, very hungry.

So they trudged up to Wendy’s, hoping to get a warm meal. But when they made their way up to the counter the guy behind the counter shouted at them and said, “Get outta here!  We don’t serve fat people at Wendy’s!”

So the hungry couple headed over to Tim Horton’s, but the woman was so fat that she couldn’t fit through the door so the people told her to go away cause there was no room for fat people at Tim Hortons.

So, on they trudged up to MacDonalds and low and behold the fat woman made it through the door and the man managed to get the servers to provide them with a warm meal and just as they were settling into a booth, there appeared a great flood!

And the very, very, very, fat woman leaped up onto the table, right there in the middle of MacDonalds! And the woman began to scream and moan. Because she wasn’t just some fat homeless person, she was with child. And after a lot of screaming and moaning a baby was born in the city of Newmarket. And all the people rejoiced! For unto us a child was given, a child born in the poverty of MacDonalds. For if God came to earth today, God would come where we least expect God to be. 

The Holy Gospel as it is told by a young person of this congregation. Thanks be to God.

So, if your struggling over some of the details of the nativity story, if the experts have left you perplexed, cynical or worried, do not be afraid, for I bring you tidings of great joy. The story is true, every last word of it is true. For just like Dom so wisely revealed to us, the story of the nativity is a parable and like all parable’s it represents a truth that cannot be fully expressed in words. Like all good parables the truth is not to be found in the details, but rather in the Spirit of God that breathes life into the parable. It’s a parable about so many things, but most of all it is a parable about peace on earth giving glory to God.

Now there are many down through the ages that have tried to weave stories of peace on earth, but none so everlasting as this.  And yes some of us would have rather have had a road map or an expert to set us on the path to peace. But alas, all the experts have failed in their efforts to guide us. The truth that they impart has been rejected. So, once again we are left with this parable.  A story so simple that even a child can understand it.  A parable that depicts the truth that was experienced by those who walked and talked, loved and learned from Jesus. And the truth echoes through the centuries and the message is clear to everyone who has ears to hear.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace, goodwill among all people.” And we are left wondering at the power of a love great enough to triumph over death and we claim a Christmas Truth greater than any of the tradition it inspires: the truth of the mystical longing of the creature for the creator—the finite for the infinite— the human for the divine. It’s a longing that transcends culture, religion, language and custom—a longing that is represented tonight for us in the baby in the manger—the sudden, amazing and incomprehensible gift of grace: a God who loved us enough to become one of us.

Yes, we embody the wonder of Christmas in the gifts given, the meals shared, the gathering of family and loved ones. But the greater wonder is that the God who is love incarnate comes down to be among us over and over again. Christ comes to show us how to share that love with a world in desperate need of it— to a world yearning for “peace on earth, good will among all people”.           

That shalom—that peace—that unfamiliar hush is the peace on earth I’m praying for this Christmas— the shalom that doesn’t just mean the peace that comes when we’re no longer at war but the shalom that means that all human beings live together at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of God’s wondrous creation.        

Shalom, the Hebrew word for what we might describe as “turning the human race into the human family” —the peace on earth that we, are called to be about as followers of Christ, not just at Christmas but all year long.  The truth is that peace is the only way we can truly give Glory to God.

Peace is the only way to insure that every child born into this world will have an opportunity to play, to learn and to grow. To accomplish peace on earth we will all have to go out into this Christmas night and into this New Year and put our faith into action. That means prayers and protests; speaking up and stepping out; offering whenever and wherever possible the Good News of God’s shalom and realizing the truth of the angels chorus. For we are the followers of the one whose birth they herald. Howard Thurman, a fellow follower of Christ, put it best declaring that:

            When the song of the Angel is stilled,

            When the Star in the sky is gone,

            When the kings and the 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 and sisters—

            To make music in the heart.        

            And to radiate the Light of Christ,

            every day, in every way,

            in all that we do and in all that we say.

            The work of Christmas lies before us.

So, dear friends, rejoice and be glad, for unto us a child has been born, a child who is Christ our Saviour. May Christ lead each of us as we go forth to make peace on earth and good will to all.   Amen.