Monday, December 29, 2008
The Word is a squiggly little baby; the Word is a child whose enthusiasm cannot be contained. The Word is a messy encounter. The Word made flesh meets us in the flesh. I lament that this occasion has been so commercialized certainly because of the greed that accompanies it, but mostly because commercialization causes us to forget the grittiness, the messiness, the pain of this particular birth. John writes, he was in the world, the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him, his own people did not accept him. It amazes me how those words continue to be true today.
The Word is living and breathing. The Word is crying and laughing. The Word is. Sometimes we confuse the words on the page with The Word becoming flesh. And when we do that, we are captured by words in a time and place that makes little sense.
Remember history class. Remember memorizing the list of dates and people and battles as if that was history? I so enjoy watching the History channel because history there is stories, stories about people who lived and loved and laughed and cried. The word is not the lists of dates and places and battles, it’s not the genealogies or the history lessons. The Word is cool, clear water at the well, the Word is in the aroma of a fresh baked loaf of bread, broken and shared among friends and enemies alike, the Word is showing people how to love by telling stories of sowing seeds. The Word is in this amazing creation.
And yet, the words are important. They tell and show us the story of God’s activity in the lives of God’s people. The words show us how creation is related to the creator, how creation comes to be, and is blessed. The words show us how throughout history we have turned our backs on our creator, the author of life, and how God called us back. This is the story that we read in scripture, and what makes it true is that we know the story is alive and well today. It is the story that each one of us experiences. It is our story of creation, of blessing, of pain and suffering, of rebirth and resurrection. It is the story that shows us that hope is born again in us, that on the other side of suffering and death there is new life, because the Word became flesh to meet us in the flesh.
Today we meet the Word that becomes flesh in baptism. Today, hope is born again. Baptism is the ultimate expression of hope. These parents bring these children here today to meet the Word, and to enter the waters that at the same time give life and take life. The waters of baptism represent the power that is the Word. Our symbolic action of baptism has been reduced to pouring water, but in the early church folks were fully immersed into the water. In fact, they would walk down into the waters, be immersed three times, in the name of the father, and of the son, and of the holy spirit, each time rising from near death to gasp for the breath that gives life. Entering the waters that are the same as entering the tomb with Jesus, to walk out the other side a new creation, born again.
We pour oil on these children today, an abundance of oil. This is the oil of anointing, the oil of healing. This recalls for us the fragrant and expensive oil that anointed Jesus’ feet at the table by the woman who is nameless, and the oil that anointed Jesus’ body in death. We give to these children and their parents and godparents the light that shines in the darkness, the light that the darkness cannot overcome. We baptize because hope and grace abound. We baptize because in baptism we meet the Word made flesh in the flesh.
We baptize in this gathering so that you and I have another chance to meet the Word made flesh in the flesh. Remember when baptism was private? I sure hope there’s not many of you who do remember that. We forgot that the Word made flesh meets us in the flesh, in the flesh and blood of those who gather to experience one another, in the flesh and blood of those who gather to break bread together, in the flesh and blood of those who love one another.
Every time we baptize, we have another opportunity to renew our own baptismal promises. We have another opportunity to say, I will, with God’s help, to those practices that open our eyes and demand that we see the Word made flesh. Today, as we meet the Word in the flesh, and as we welcome these children into the household of God, and as we give thanks for the light that will not be overcome by the darkness, we pray
Alleluia! To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia!
Christmas comes and I am reminded of the Who’s in Whoville, from the Grinch story. No matter what the Grinch did, Christmas would come anyway. Because Christmas is not presents and trees and lights and cookies, Christmas is incarnation, and incarnation happens with or without the rest of it. I’ve had so many people ask me this year if I’m ready for Christmas. My status on my Facebook page says Kathy thinks she may be ready for Christmas. But it seems that this year like or unlike other years, I am completely reminded that Christmas, God’s inbreaking in our world, happens, whether or not we’re ready.
Imagine yourself living in the dark days of the oppressive rule of
But tonight we celebrate the Good News. We celebrate the light crashing into the darkness. We celebrate whether or not we are ready. This is not a celebration of sentimentality and nostalgia. It is not a celebration of wealth or power, It’s not a celebration about who is at the head of the table, who is able to give the most, the biggest, the best, gifts. Especially not this year.
Jesus has come among us. The Light has come into the world; darkness has not, is not, and shall not prevail. God’s glory is revealed! If we choose to stay awake, to pay attention, to prepare, to follow the signs.
We’ve been identifying signs of God among us all during Advent. What do those signs look like today? A child, wrapped in ordinary cloth and lying in a manger. A peasant girl, narrowly spared from being stoned to death by her village after her husband-to-be found her to be pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. An overwhelmed father, doing his best to find shelter for his family on a night when they are homeless and friendless. A gathering of shepherds, among the lowest of laborers.
You see, the signs show us that the world doesn’t have to be made perfect before it is made new. You and I do not have to be perfect before we are made new. That’s what’s so amazing about God with us. God comes to us in the midst of the chaos, in the midst of the darkness. God comes to be with us in the midst of our isolation, in the midst of the muck of the stable, and the pain of a Roman cross.
This is an extravagant love, an abundant love, poured out for each one of us as if each one of us was the only one in existence; poured out for all of us in unlimited supply. This abundant love is offered without reservation or regard for what you have and haven’t done, or how many Christmas cookies you make, or how many Christmas presents you give, or how many lights are on your house.
The prophets of the Old Testament testified to this love, but the love that God has for creation is beyond comprehension. That is why God came into our midst, to shed light on this love. You see, Jesus is more than a teacher who can help us understand the words in scripture. Jesus is the Word made flesh, living and breathing. We don’t have to have it all figured out; we experience it in by being in relationship.
God with us, God in our midst, the light that has come into the world is the power and the hope of Christmas. And this isn’t just something that has happened, or that happens to us, we are not a passive observer. This is a relationship in which we participate. You and I are part of it; we are constituents, part of a community that is the body of Christ. The Word made flesh meets us in the Flesh. We are not acted upon by a “big guy up there.”
That’s what this is all about. God came to be with us, and God comes to be with us, and God will be with us, and therefore we are invited into a relationship with God and with one another. And we don’t have to be perfect in this relationship. In fact, it is into the midst of our brokenness that God comes.
One way we express this participation is when we gather together and the Word is present in our midst, and we are re-membered in the Body and Blood of Christ, just as we are doing right now.
Another way we participate in a relationship with God is to carry the light into the world. You see, God’s work is not contained inside a church. We participate in God’s work, and are nourished and fortified to do God’s work, but most of that work takes place out there, it takes place in your work and in your play, in your school. We are to be the light that illuminates God, we are to be the light that shines on people and shows them the way to God.
It’s a new life. It’s a new world. Right here, right now, we are invited to experience the Incarnation we celebrate in Christmas by living and loving as Christ’s body in the world. That’s the light we walk in, that shines all the more brightly in the darkness that cannot overcome it. That’s the hope that sustains us, the peace that keeps us centered amidst life’s turmoil, the joy that makes eternal and abundant life present in the here and now.
Alleluia. To us a child is born: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.
Saturday, December 20, 2008
When I close my eyes and try to imagine this scene, I see Mary. Some of the artwork I have seen depicts her in a room, in beautiful blue robes, sitting demurely, while the angel floats above. Now, although these are beautiful paintings, it works a little differently in my head.
In my imagination, Mary is a very young girl, and yet very excited to be a woman, and ready to be married to Joseph. Mary is a Jewish girl; she knows well the stories of God’s activity in the life of her people. She has lived her whole life in this community of faith. Mary has lived her whole life in the community of people who believe there is a special relationship between God and them. They believe that their story, the story of this community, day in and day out, through slavery, wilderness, kingdoms, and exile, is the story of God’s working through them to accomplish the divine purposes on earth.
God is trusting God’s people to have raised Mary in the right way, to have taught her the story of faith, taught her to recognize God’s hand at work in her life. Gabriel has made the proposition. The great archangel has announced God’s purpose, the heavenly messenger has posed the question, and the girl is clearly troubled.
Mary is perplexed. Perplexed in Greek leans much more towards “to be in doubt” or “not to know how to decide or what to do.” In my imagination, this is much closer to how I see Mary responding. Mary must have been terrified. She must have doubted herself; she must have doubted her own capability to be the God bearer. Any young girl would. What must have gone through her mind?
“Not me, no way, I can’t do that. Don’t ask such a thing of me, I’m only a girl. You’ve got the wrong person. The God bearer should be royal, a person of honor, it can’t be me.”
And Gabriel responds, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Mary, you are the one. Gabriel goes on to remind Mary of the story she already knows, the story of her people, and who this son is to be. Mary wants to know how this can be, since she is so young and yet a virgin. Mary voices the question each of us has as we hear this story.
How can this be? This is unreasonable. This doesn’t make sense. Gabriel explains that the Holy Spirit will take care of it, and then gives her evidence of the possibility, her old, barren cousin Elizabeth is also pregnant, nothing will be impossible with God.
How can this be? How can Mary get pregnant by God? Is all of Christianity founded on this unreasonable possibility? I ask this question, because this question has been asked of me, by adults and children alike, by your children, by my children. I turn to one of my favorite writers, Madeleine L’Engle when I ponder these things. She writes in a book called Bright Evening Star, “It is not that in believing the story of Jesus we skip reason, but that sometimes we have to go beyond it, take leaps with our imagination, push our brains further than the normally used parts of them are used to going.” She goes on to write “I had to let go all my prejudices and demands for proof and open myself to the wonder of love. Faith is not reasonable because it wasn’t for reason, but for love that Jesus came.”
It is for love that Jesus came. And so, for love, Mary says yes. She actually says “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Mary says yes. And it is in love that we light the fourth candle on the advent wreath today.
Do you think Mary considered the implications of her yes? Of course there is the question, “What will people think?” But how does this particular baby change her, how does this particular baby change everything?
Today, I ask the question, what does Mary’s yes to the love of God, have to do with us? Mary’s active, engaged yes, empowers each of us to say yes to the possibility of God in our midst. Mary’s yes can be our yes. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary, “Hail favored one, the Lord is with you.” The Lord is with you, these are not just words spoken to Mary, these are words spoken to each of us and to all of us. Mary said yes, God waits for each of us to say yes.
The terrifying part of Gabriel’s invitation is what will happen if we say yes? What does God-bearing look like? Mary didn’t know, she risked everything when she said yes; she risked everything on the promise that God was with her. All we know is that saying yes to God changes everything and risks everything we have.
When we say yes to God, no longer are we the central character in the story. The story is about God and God’s love for us. It’s about the promise God made to Mary and God makes to us to bring us out of a life of greed and why not me, into a life that bears hope and promise. The real world is the world in which Mary said yes to God, and the world in which each of us says yes to God. It is living fully and completely, it is feeling pain and joy, it is giving and receiving, it is life, and it is death. This world is messy and confusing. A world into which God is born in a dirty barn, so that love could burst forth. It is a world in which we enter into relationships with one another, where we see each other face to face, it is a world in which how God created us is wonderful, it is a world in which we understand the sacred in each of us and treat each other as if we were all God-bearers.
“Fear not, here comes God.” We may be terrified, and reassured at the very same time that our yes brings Christ into this world. We Christians have been taught to look for the Christ in everyone we meet, to practice a radical hospitality to serve the Christ in each other, for in serving them we are serving Christ himself. What do we -- each of us -- have to offer the Christ this year? Where do we see the signs that Christ has been born among us?
Mary’s yes didn’t just happen all those years ago, Mary’s yes happens everyday you and I bear love ourselves. God is still up to something. God continues to burst forth in our lives.
Keep awake, pay attention, prepare, fear not!
Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
The way we prepare is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, giving thanks in all circumstances. I don’t know about you, but that sure isn’t the way I hear the Christmas message coming from my TV, or the newspaper, or Time magazine. The Christmas message that I’m getting is that the key to Christmas this year is to buy all my presents with cash; at least I won’t be in debt.
We are in a place and a time where this message; rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, the one who calls you is faithful, couldn’t be more appropriate. Here is where hope lies. Today we light the third candle on our advent wreath. We are filled with hope in the one who is faithful, the one who is to come, the one who has come, the one who will come again. We positively burst with excitement at the possibility and the reality of the light coming into our dark world.
The hope that we look at today is not to be confused with wishing. That often happens, wishing gets confused with hope. We misuse hope all the time when we say, hopefully, things will change, or I hope I get a new iphone for Christmas, or I hope those Vikings can win the Super Bowl this time. Those are all wishes. We can wish for much, but it still isn’t hope. Christmas as we see it presented in the marketplace is all about wishes, but not about hope.
Hope lives in the reality of God with us, hope lives in the reality of the incarnation and in the resurrection. Hope is in the faithfulness of the one who calls your name. Listen to this Good News carefully. Hope is in the faithfulness of the one who calls your name. For me this is truly good news, hope is not in my ability to have enough faith, or any faith at all, those things live much more in the realm of wish, sometimes I may say to myself, I wish I had more faith. Hope is not in my ability to earn more money and buy more things; hope is not in the stock market. And wishing all that won’t make it true. What is true is that the one who calls you and me is faithful. The one who calls you and me is trustworthy, reliable, devoted. This is the one in who hope lives. This is the one who has made you and me new creations; this is the one who delights in us. This is the one who we prepare our hearts and our minds and our souls to receive into our lives now, this is the one who came 2000 years ago, and this is the one who will come again.
Joy is a result of this hope. Hope is similar to joy as wishing is similar to happiness. Happiness is something that the marketplace wishes to fulfill. You will be happy if you build a bigger house, you will be happy if you buy a nicer car, you will be happy if you make a lot of money, none of this has anything to do with joy. Joy lives in the reality of being the beloved of the one who created us, joy lives in the incarnational wonder of the one who created us.
Hope and joy are the realities of Immanuel, God with us. The response to hope and joy is to rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is a compelling reminder of the faithful response of a community that celebrates God’s saving actions in Jesus Christ. How can we faithfully witness to the joy of God’s delight in us? And how might our actions and responses move us away from a climate of complaint to the creation of a climate of rejoicing? As I have contemplated this question I have also been reading a book that my son Tom gave me to read about writing. The image the author of this book on writing uses is composting. She says you need to practice writing by writing all the time, including all the stuff that you may eventually throw away, and then your writing will begin to be the fertile ground that your stories grow out of. I think that is the same as how rejoicing always, praying without ceasing, and giving thanks in all circumstances is the will of God. When we are always in the posture of praise and thanksgiving, hope and joy can take root, and give rise to our witness to God’s incarnation.
And then we are in the posture to see and hear God signs. We are able to see God incarnate, God in our midst, Immanuel. Your God sign stories are important to us. Your God sign stories show us the reality of hope and joy. I’ve asked you to think about and share your God signs. This is my most recent God sign.
A few weeks ago, just before the passing of the peace, at the time I usually invite folks who are celebrating birthdays and anniversaries for a blessing, lately I’ve been adding “and anything else anybody needs.” A young father came forward with his nearly two year old son, who was have surgery the next day, asking for prayers. Well, that 8 o’clock congregation prayed for that little boy and his family, and was quite touched that his father had the courage to ask for the prayers. On their way out that day, some wise folk gave them a prayer shawl, and sent them off with not only our prayers but also the shawl that envelopes one in our love as well. The baby had successful surgery, and two weeks later, at the same time in the service, his mom brought him to the front of the congregation and thanked them for all their prayers and their love. She told me that that blanket had become his favorite, and he never let it go.
There is so many reasons why this is a God sign. I’ll leave you to wonder about that.
Keep awake, pay attention, prepare, watch for God with us.
Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
One of my favorite stories to tell in Sunday school is the story about how the church tells time. The church tells time differently than the way our culture tells time. I’m reminded of a very old song by Chicago, the lyrics are, “As I was walking down the street one day, A man came up to me and asked me what the time was that was on my watch, And I said, Does anybody really know what time it is, Does anybody really care, If so I can’t imagine why, We’ve all got time enough to cry.” And then, “I was walking down the street one day, Being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock, And I said, People runnin everywhere, Don’t know where to go, Don’t know where I am, Can’t see past the next step, Don’t have time to think past the last mile, Have no time to look around, Just run around, run around and think why.”
When we tell time the church’s way our year begins with the first Sunday of Advent, and our year begins in quiet waiting rather than loud revelry. Telling time the church’s way causes us to stay awake and to prepare for this amazing thing that God does in Jesus Christ. Telling time the church’s way causes us to take time to be present to ourselves, to one another, and to God. Telling time the church’s way helps us to live fully, and not to run around in circles, always wondering why we are alone, always wondering why we never get anywhere.
In Isaiah we hear that all of creation is getting ready, the wilderness prepares the way of the Lord, every valley is lifted up, every mountain and hill are made low, everything is getting rearranged for the day when it can be shouted, Here is your God! And in second Peter, one day with the Lord is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like one day. Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?
Advent not only marks the beginning of time, it also marks the beginning of the end of time. We begin the year again, we wait patiently for and prepare for birth, the coming of God into our world, and at the very same time, we wait patiently for and prepare for our Lord coming into our world again, the end of time as we experience it. Does anybody really know what time it is, does anybody really care?
John the baptizer knows something about time. In fact I think he really does know what time it is, and he really does care what time it is. John knows that to live fully in the present, it’s time to repent; it’s time to be forgiven. It’s time to be prepared for the One who is to come. All creation is getting ready; it’s time for us to be ready. How are we to be fully present to God who is with us, and how are we to get ready for the One who is to come?
I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with repentance and forgiveness. I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with being fully present to God in our midst. I’m not sure that the season our culture experiences as Christmas has much to do with being ready for the One who is to come at all. But if it really is time for repentance and forgiveness, we’d better get around to it. lf it is time for repentance and forgiveness, what is it that we need to turn away from? Where is it that we miss the mark? Not only individually, but collectively. How do we even know where the mark is? I think we can find the mark in our baptismal covenant. Seeing as this story from Mark is a story of baptism, maybe it is good to look at our baptismal promises as the mark.
As we live fully present to God in our midst and as we prepare for the One who is to come, we may measure ourselves against this: we are to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers; we are to persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord; we are to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves; we are to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
This is the mark to which we point ourselves. And when we miss the mark, when we fall short, we repent and ask for forgiveness, and we try again. Does anybody really know what time it is? According to John the Baptist, it is time to repent and seek forgiveness.
As we live fully present to God in our midst and as we prepare for the One who is to come, we may also look for those signs that show us the way, those signs that tell us that this is Advent, the time of preparation for Immanuel, God with us. We like to call these God signs. The things, the people, the circumstances that call us to be fully present to God with us. What wakes us up and causes us to say, hummm, that was a God sign. There are God signs all around us, signs of God with us, signs that help us to know what time it is, signs that may even cause us to see how we miss the mark.
I encourage you to spend some time this advent being fully present to God with us, I encourage you to spend this new year fully awake and aware of God with us. I encourage you to share with one another the God signs in your life. Around the church you’ll begin to see some signposts. They are there to help us identify God with us, God signs. You can go ahead and add your own God signs to them.
Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.