Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015


Christmas 2015 Audio
There's a wonderful video wandering its way around youtube, called An Unexpected Christmas. If you haven't seen it yet, you may want to look it up. As the story is told, the little angel exclaims "that's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!" God decides it's time to send his son to help the people remember that God loves them. But how will they pay attention, seeing as how it's clear they haven't been paying much attention. God decides the way to get the people's attention is to send something so surprising, so unexpected, the people would have to take notice. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
It seems to me that we've put Christmas in a nicely wrapped package with a beautiful bow, and completely lost the surprising and the unexpected. We've tried so hard to experience Christmas as a time of romance and nostalgia we've pushed the astonishment of the inconceivable incarnation under the rug. We get so absorbed in the stuff of Christmas we've lost the unreasonableness of a baby born in a barn. A baby born in poverty to parents uncertain of their own future. Parents who soon will have to flee their home to avoid persecution. A baby who would be king, born in the muck and the mud of a stable. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
This story that we tell as each Christmas comes and goes, the story of the baby born in the manger, the angels singing and the shepherds coming to see him, the wise men who read the stars and recognize this world changing event. This story is not about comfort, or nostalgia or romance. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us and all of creation to know that Love wins. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants to meet us flesh to flesh. It is about God who loves us absolutely and abundantly, and who wants us to join with Mary as she says yes to the difficulty and pain and joy of new life and new birth.
They won't be expecting that! Mary says, he scatters the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, he brings down the powerful from their thrones, and lifts up the lowly, he fills the hungry with good things, and sends the rich away empty.
We continue to experience much violence far away and near, we wonder about how to make peace in our homes, our communities, our countries. This Christmas event, this wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace, shows us the way. This Christmas event, this Galilean carpenter, shows us the way. This Christmas event, these angels and shepherds and prophets, show us the way. This Christmas event, shows us the way.
Christmas is about God showing us the way to love. Christmas is about God showing us the way to peace. Christmas is about God showing us the way to hope. God shows us through this birth, this new life, this new beginning, this powerless baby and these powerless parents in this ordinary stable. God came to dwell with humanity to show us about love. God comes to dwell with us in the flesh so that in the flesh we live life fully and completely. Emmanuel, God with us in the flesh. God came to be with us in the flesh not to relieve us of the mess and the muck of this life, the suffering and the pain of this life, but in the flesh God stands by our side, takes our hand, sometimes even carries us, and loves us. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
And that kind of love changes us, we can't help but be changed. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to be perfect because we are perfectly loved. We don't need to consume and acquire to possess worth, we are enough just the way we are created. God in the flesh reminds us in our flesh that we don't need to gain attention to earn God's love, God has already loved us into ourselves. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. Our hearts expand, our hearts break, we give, we receive, we grow, we die. We do not despair, or lose hope, we do not harm, we work for the good of the others with which we share this rock, because we know that love wins. Transformation happens in our lives as we take seriously the love that God shows us in the flesh. We come here on this night/morning seeking God in the flesh, and we receive God in the flesh, Jesus, in the bread and the wine around this table, at these steps, and we are made into that flesh which God is. We are made into God's body in the world. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
We go home, and share our own meals, we gather around our own tables, we spend time together, we give and receive presents. And we go out into the world bearing God's love, bearing the light that grows and grows and grows. We go out into the world as God's transformed body, God's flesh in our flesh, making a difference in every dark corner, in the places that need healing and wholeness and love. We go out into the world as God's body, God's flesh in our flesh, and we show the world that love wins. That's brilliant, they won't be expecting that!
This birth more than 2000 years ago matters as much to us today as it did then because there continues to be those who don*t understand the nature of God*s love for all of God*s creation. There are people who continue to think that hate can defeat love, there are those who continue to think that violence is a solution when we disagree, but we know differently. We know that the God who created all that is seen and unseen, the God of love, dreams for us a world in which all people are treated with dignity and respect and compassion. The God of love, who comes to us as a baby born in a barn, who comes to us as the child who must flee it*s home, who comes to us as the one whose arms of love embrace the hardwood of the cross, dreams for us a world in which we keep Christ in Christmas, by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiving the unforgivable, welcoming the stranger and the unwanted, caring for the sick, loving our enemies.

We are to be the surprise, we are to do the unexpected. We are to say yes with Mary to this inconceivable incarnation. We are to say yes to God made really present in you. We are the light bearers, we are the peace bearers, we are the love bearers. Amen.   

Saturday, December 19, 2015

4 Advent Yr C Dec 20 2015

4 Advent Yr C Dec 20 2015 Audio

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. What would be like if we greeted one another in this way? Each of us are God-bearers, just like Mary and Elizabeth, should we not greet one in expectation and hope? Our advent waiting draws us ever closer to fulfillment. 

Elizabeth, barren and too old to conceive, Mary, too young to conceive, both of these child-bearings are inconceivable. Our response to this inconceivable conception calls forth some Holy Imagination. 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 we need to respond like Mary, like Elizabeth. We need to respond with shouts of joy, with dances of gladness. This Good News changes us forever; it changes our world forever. It is as inconceivable and unreasonable that each of us is a God-bearer as it is that Mary is a Christ-bearer. It is inconceivable that God has burst into our world. And yet, all of Advent we wait in active anticipation of the moment that God bursts into our world as a baby, and that God bursts into our world to bring our history; our lives, to fulfillment. We cannot continue to respond to this Good News with business as usual. We cannot respond to the sacredness of each other the same as always. Just saying Merry Christmas is not enough. The Good News is Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him! 

This inconceivable conception that God bursts into our lives must change us. It changed Mary, it changed Elizabeth, it changed Zechariah, it left him speechless, it changed Joseph, he had to defy the law in order to love and support Mary, it changed a community, it changed an entire people. Mary responds to this inconceivable conception first when the angel Gabriel comes to tell her, and it is reported that Mary says “let it be to me according to your word.” My hunch is that maybe it took her a little while to come to this kind of brave acceptance, initially she probably said something a little more like “no way, I can’t have a baby, I’m too young, I’m not married.” By the time we catch up with her in the story we read today, Mary is singing “my soul magnifies the Lord.” Mary’s response to this inconceivable conception progresses from brave acceptance to joyful praise. I wonder if Mary needed some time to get used to the idea that she is the Christ-bearer so that she could move from brave acceptance to joyful praise. I wonder if Mary didn’t have a little advent waiting of her own. 

When Mary and Elizabeth meet, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb leaps and Mary is filled with such joy and hope that she sings and dances. Mary and Elizabeth lived in a dark time under Herod the Great, whose casual brutality was backed up with the threat of Rome. And yet Mary’s song is a song of freedom, a song of liberation for her people, it is subversive and it is revolutionary. It is joyful and it is hopeful. Advent waiting calls us into this paradox, the paradox that Mary embodies, that finding involves losing; that hiding involves revealing; that birth involves death. 

While our culture has been celebrating Christmas since Halloween, we continue to wait. This fourth Sunday of Advent is oh so difficult, we just want to be there, we just want to have it now, and it is so hard to resist the pressure to just say Merry Christmas. But Advent waiting as Mary shows us, forms us and shapes us, so that the inconceivable conception can take hold of us, and can give birth to the Holy Imagination that bears God into this world. 

Mary spent most of her life waiting; from the moment the angel Gabriel comes to her and announces do not be afraid, through the final moments as she waited for her son’s death on the cross, and the hours up to the inconceivable resurrection. Mary waits. I think Mary’s waiting can teach us that Advent is a time that summons us to embrace waiting as a way of life. Advent summons us to practice waiting, and by doing so to put down the foundations of a life shaped by waiting, so that when those times come when we have no idea what to do, those times of sadness, times of joy, times of difficulty, times of division, we fall back on that deep, still waiting in the present moment that opens up a space for God’s interruption in our midst. 

We wait in this present moment with Mary, with Elizabeth. We wait with quiet and confident expectation for this inconceivable conception to come to fruition and fulfillment. In the waiting we may be changed. We may be filled with hope, hope that God indeed is turning the world around. But we also know that waiting is not doing nothing, so we must act with justice and mercy, knowing that indeed with Mary we are bearing God to this world. In this present moment God turns each of us around. 

It is no coincidence that the way that God interrupts our world is to be born into our world, it is no coincidence that God interrupts our world to live and love, and suffer and die just like each and every one of us. Being human means being born to die, and only a God who is willing to share that can actually help us face our own mortality and that of those we love, and to help us live every present moment fully alive. It is in the waiting for the births and the deaths, and in the moments in between, that God breaks in and surrounds us and lifts us with love. 

I am reminded of my own pregnancies during Advent waiting. I am reminded of the joy and hope and dreams of bringing a baby into the world. I am reminded of the fear and trepidation of bringing a baby into the world. I am reminded of the blissful ignorance of what the future would hold. As I look backward to that time I am filled with nostalgia at its wonder, I am forever changed and cannot respond to the world with anything less than compassion and hope. And I look with hope to the possibility of what the lives of our sons will bear. But it is the present moment that is pregnant with possibility, the present moment that bears God in their lives, in my life, in our lives. 

Do not be afraid; listen for God to be born in this present moment. Do not be afraid; act with justice and peace and kindness. Do not be afraid; find the people who need your works and actions of assurance that they are loved as you are loved. The world is about to turn. Our King and Savior now draws near: Come let us adore him.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

3 Advent Yr C Dec 13 2015


3 Advent Yr C Dec 13 2015 Audio
John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. Remember, the repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Remember, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be.
As you know, there's always a lot of chatter about wishing folks a Merry Christmas at this time of the year. The problem with that conversation is that it misses the point. The point being that we are not there yet. I prefer to wish people a Blessed Advent. We are not at Christmas. The problem is that when it finally is Christmas, and it's time to wish one another Merry Christmas, many are already tired of the whole thing, and their Christmas trees and Christmas wrappings are in the trash.
So why bother with the whole thing? Why not just give into the cultural Christmas? Why bother with the waiting, the preparation, the anticipation? We are not really "merry" at this time anyway. We are hopeful, expectant, and joyful, but not really "merry." Diana Butler Bass, a well known contemporary writer on the church in society, wrote in the Huffington Post, "Christians recollect God's ancient promise to Israel for a kingdom where lion and lamb will lie down together. The ministers preach from stark biblical texts about the poor and oppressed being lifted up while the rich and powerful are cast down, about society being leveled and oppression ceasing. Christians remember the Hebrew prophets and long for a Jewish Messiah to be born. The Sunday readings extol social and economic justice, and sermons are preached about the cruelty of ancient Rome and political repression. Hymns anticipate world peace and universal harmony." Not really very "merry" at all.
We bother with Advent because we human beings need to spend time waiting and preparing for this event that turns the world, this event that brings light into the darkness, this event that makes the first last and the last first. We can't just jump into it. We can't just jump from Halloween to Christmas without some time to be immersed in the mystery of incarnation; this mystery that we struggle so to understand, this mystery that seems unreasonable, this mystery that takes leaps with our imaginations. In Advent, we get glimpses of it, but it takes time for that mystery to grow in our hearts, and in our souls, and in our lives. It takes space for God who is with us, to sit down next to us and teach us that Love wins. It takes quiet to hear the voice of the one crying in the wilderness, and to hear the voice that calls us to transformation.
And it is not easy. We want desperately to make it easy, and romantic, and nostalgic. We want it to be about feeling good. Indeed, some of that is part of what Christmas is, but that is not what this story is about. John calls us to a change of direction in mind and action. John calls us to Advent transformation. John calls us to be ready for the one who is coming, the one who has come, the one who turns the world. God in our midst, Emmanuel, the baby born in a barn, the one who shows us that Love wins, calls us to deepen our commitment to loving one another, calls us to deepen our commitment to compassion and to mercy.
These winter days are dark. They are short, the light is with us for only a few hours. These winter days are dark, there is much violence and sadness that may lead us to believe that the light really has gone out of the world. But Advent reminds us that the Light is never extinguished. Advent reminds us that even if it seems dark, the Light is there, and the Light will brighten even the darkest corners of our lives. Advent reminds us that God walks with us, God does not take away our sadness and our pain, but God walks with us through the sadness and the pain.
We live in this in-between time, in this time of the already but not yet. We live in this time where we tell the story of Jesus birth, we await Jesus birth, and we imagine the end, God's fulfillment of all time. There is where our hope is. It is in the already but not yet. We know what God has done in creation, we await what God will do in creation, and we live our lives in God's grace. There's no guarantee of happiness, there's no guarantee that pain and sadness will not visit us, there's no guarantee of prosperity. But there is love, there is hope, there is joy.
So what do we do in this dark time, what do we do as we wait for the Light to fill the room? What do we do as all around us we hear hate filled speech? What do we do when we hear calls to exclude and mark the ones who are not like us? What do we do when those who seek power rile us up by spewing fear? We don't do nothing. Waiting is not doing nothing. We love one another as God has loved us. We speak out, and we live out, against exclusion and hate. We speak out and we live out, our belief that God loves all of God’s creation, heck, God loves us, it’s certain that God loves all the others as well.  We stand up with and for our neighbors, the neighbors who live next door and the neighbors who live across the world.  
We hold one another, we listen to each other, we bring light into each other's lives, we do not wait alone. We are God's household, you, and me, and all of us. We bear God's light and love into every corner of our lives. We bring healing and wholeness to those whose lives are torn apart. We bear the Good News that Love wins. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

2 Advent Yr C Dec 6 2015



2 Advent Yr C Dec 6 2015 Audio
Nine months Zechariah was quiet, nine months he could not speak, nine months Elizabeth didn't hear him complain, nine months he had to think about what his first words would be. And those first words out of Zechariah's mouth were "Blessed be The Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them." Zechariah was a priest in the temple. What did he do for those nine months of silence, those nine months of preparation for this child who could not be, this child to be born to his barren wife Elizabeth, this child who who was an impossibility, this child who would prepare the way for the one to come after him. Silence. Silence in the face of mystery, silence in the presence of new life, silence, as the world is about to turn.

John the Baptist, son of the priest of the temple and his wife Elizabeth, was as different from his father as different could be. John, son of Zechariah, lived in the wilderness, not in the temple confines like his father and mother. John, an itinerant preacher, son of Zechariah, priest of the temple, proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Not temple sacrifice, not temple piety, but repentance. John, son of Zechariah, preparing the way for the one who is to come. The one who changes everything.

The world is about to turn. The coming of Christ into the world changes everything. Blessed be the Lord God. 

You see, what is happening here has far reaching effects. This story of John, and the story of Jesus, is set squarely in the political context of it's day. In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. It is at this time and this place that God is doing something new, that the world is turning, that change is happening. We are being pointed toward this absolutely new thing that God is doing in the world, we are to prepare for it, we are to stay awake, keep alert, be ready. The birth of two baby boys, first John and then Jesus, have everything to do with everything, Luke is saying. What seems so insignificant changes the world, Luke knows that and is telling us that. 

Luke has John say these words from Isaiah. In Isaiah these words are about God leading God's people out of exile, back to their land. God will make straight paths through the wilderness, a smooth and easy return -- in essence a new "exodus" -- bringing the people of Israel out of bondage and back to the Promised Land. The path is for the people; God-made, God-led. And in Luke, John points to Jesus, who comes to empower and finish the re-turn of God's people to their God. John points to Jesus who shows all humanity that Love wins.

These two bundles of promise, John, born to Elizabeth and Zechariah, and Jesus, born to Mary and Joseph, bring God's love into time and space. These two bundles of hope, show us that the world is about to change. These two bundles of peace, speak truth to power. These two bundles of joy, bear such grief to their mothers. These two bundles show the world that love wins. 

John, the unlikely bearer of good news, the one who from the wilderness, not the seats of power, announces the coming of the kingdom. Prepare, the world is about to change. You are about to change. That is the repentance that John calls us to. You see, waiting is not doing nothing. Waiting is about preparing for the surprise, waiting is about participating in the reality of God's kingdom, waiting is about the not yet that already is. Waiting is about being who God calls you to be, whether or not you know who that is. The repentance that John calls us to is not feeling a certain way about ourselves; like bad or good or even shame, repentance is a change of direction in mind and action. Repentance is being who God calls you to be, and who God calls us to be. And being who God calls us to be is what we do in the waiting, it is what we do in the preparing. And who God calls us to be may be surprising, indeed, if it is not surprising, it may not be God doing the calling.

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. God's voice that says you are already loved, you can do nothing more or less to earn my love. Let go, give up control. Put up your tent, make camp right here. Enjoy what this is, right here, right now. The one next to you is also already loved, just as much as you are. Give her a smile, buy his coffee, make their day. 

So in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, we may hear God's voice surprising us. Take time to pray, to listen, to wonder, to invite God into this day, this circumstance, this ordinary stable we live in. Give up the busyness, the worry, the noise, the stress. Be filled with the Love that is born in the mess of the stable, the Love that is born in your heart, the Love that is born here each time the one who is looking for something more finds their way to this table. Be filled with the Love that wins your time and attention, your pocketbook, your heart and your mind and your soul. 

But in this Advent waiting that is not doing nothing, in this in between time that is the now and not yet, we are bombarded with violence. So much violence that it seems we can do nothing about. What does God call us to do? What does this inconceivable incarnation say to us and to this world in which we live? How do we live in the promise of God's peace when there is no peace? 

We continue to do what followers of Jesus do. We pray. Prayer connects us to those around us, prayer connects us as the community that follows Jesus to those we know and those we do not know. Prayer is important. 

And we love one another, those we like and those we do not like. We welcome, we welcome the ones that look like us and we welcome the ones who are very different from us. And we do these things not because we are right and others are wrong, we do these things because we are loved by God, as is every creature in this reality we know. We do these things because we continue to live in the in between, in the now and not yet, in the Advent that is not nothing. We do these things not because we have all the answers, but because we believe in God's heart's desire that we may be people who love. We do these things despite being sick and tired of the violence that must stop. Amen.