Christmas is Upon Us


We have just a few days now till the celebration of the Incarnation! We will have much to celebrate. As a people of God we will hold up to the world the very notion that peace and love are real and viable.

This year perhaps more than most we will come to Christmas services facing many questions about the darkness we see about us in our global village. It will be easy for us to look at problem near and far from home and pray that someone somewhere finds a solution. Bur Christmas is for us that time when we declare that we will claim our mortal duty, we will make the light and peace of Christ real,

Etty Hillesus – facing grave danger and darkness offered these words -
Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.

So as we face tragedy and terror in Australia, Pakistan, The Middle East or hear at home – we might the advice of Etty and reclaim the peace that we have within us that we may share it with others,

Please join us at St Aidan’s for worship at

4 PM — Large Family Service 

8 PM — Community Mass with Carolling at 7:30,

10:30 Christmas Day Mass – be the First 50 to arrive for a special gift from me! 

Hope to see you at our services,

Let us be like Mary ……Ordinary!

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What a day at St. Aidan’s today. We celebrated the Fourth Sunday of Advent with a Christmas Pageant after the 10:30 Mass. It was Awesome. The children, their parents, and the teachers all did a wonderful job of preparing. It was a real delight. (You can see photos below the sermon below)

AlexWe also said our farewell to Alex Strong. Alex has been our interim Director of Children’s Christian Education — For Two years now. Alex’s love for the children is evident and their love for her is on full display each week. She has been a gift for us and we will miss her. Author Lisa Wingate wrote: -

…Children are the greatest gift God will give…, and their souls the heaviest responsibility God will place in your hands. Take time with them, teach them to have faith in God. Be a person in whom they can have faith. When you are old, nothing else you’ve done will have mattered as much!

Alex has served our children well. She has taken time with them, taught them faith, and has been a person in whom the children could have faith. For that we shall forever be grateful. We all love you!

Alex will continue her teaching career is the school system and we wish her every success. I can’t say enough how much we appreciated Alex’s ministry with us. Please join me in sending her best wishes. (Comment section upper right)

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Today’s sermon was focused on Mary’s YES and her willingness to be a God-bearer in the ordinariness of her life. You can listen to it here: (Text is below) I look forward to your feedback and thoughts.

Joe Queenan, writer for the New York Times and GQ, criticizes what he calls our culture’s “inability to accept the ordinary.” Queenan says that we insist that “every experience be a watershed, every meal extraordinary, every friendship epochal, every concert superb, every sunset meta-celestial … nothing can ever again be exactly what it was in the first place … ordinary.”

He’s right! He’s so very right. This need for exceptionality impacts so much in our lives. It influences how we view dinner and how we view a night out at the movies. Sit with a bride and Groom sometimes planning a wedding – each of the weddings will be the best ever. It impacts how we view church even. We will evaluate everything from the hymns, the anthems and heaven help us even the preaching… and heaven help us if that is ordinary!

It also impacts how we see the lives of the faithful. We fall victim to the notion that God somehow is at work in the lives of spiritual giants lake Vanier or Nouwen, Theresa of Avila or Julian of Norwich. Each Wednesday here we celebrate another Saint or perhaps commemorate the life of a woman or man of faith who has had great influence on the church. Last Wednesday for instance we celebrated the witness of Simon Gibbons – who is Simon Gibbons you ask?

Well….

Simon Gibbons, who was the first of the Inuit nation to be ordained as an Anglican priest and whose ministry in the diocese of Nova Scotia gave the rest of our Church a wonderful example of vitality.

He was born in Labrador, the son of a white settler and an Innu mother. Both of his parents died before he was six years old, and he was placed in an Anglican orphanage in Newfoundland. The Church nurtured his intelligence, and he was encouraged to train for ordination. He eventually went to King’s College in Nova Scotia, where he was ordained to the priesthood in 1878. Gibbons began his ministry as a travelling missionary in Cape Breton and laboured in conditions which taxed his physical endurance to the limit. He regularly walked a hundred-mile circuit to conduct services in isolated communities. He made his rounds even in the depths of winter, just to bring the comfort of Christ to the sick and dying; and in so doing he risked his life in blizzards or while crossing inlets whose frozen surfaces often gave way beneath his feet. Yet in all his exertions, despite fatigue, pain, and danger, Gibbons never failed in joy or in his ability to communicate the gladness of his service to the people he visited.[1]

Now let me stop there – you see what happens. We all think – wow that Simon Gibbons was something! Walking 100 miles between parishes, being joyful even through excretion and pain and fatigue…We can’t all be like him. The danger with noting the lives of people like Simon Gibbons is falling victim to understanding how God is so very present in the very ordinary.

We do the same with the Gospel story that we hear today. It is the Annunciation to Mary. Mary is visited by the Angel Gabriel and told that she will bear the Light of Life into the world. She is a Virgin and she will give birth. That’s pretty extraordinary for sure. The whole scenario is extraordinary. What gets lost in there is the very ordinary nature of Mary and her life.
Consider this. Before she becomes the Theotokos the “God-bearer” the “Birth-Giver of God”

  • Mary was a young, Jewish girl – most scholars agree that she would have been 12 or 13.
  • She was a peasant girl
  • She is not married – but has been contracted to marry Joseph.
  • She is from Nazareth – the slums, the wrong side of the tracks if you will. Remember what the Gospel of John says; “Can anything good come out of Nazareth.”

When God blessed Mary through the words of Gabriel, ‘Greetings Favored one – Blessed one,’ this ordinary young woman whose life is far from extraordinary or exciting is to become the God-bearer. In the ordinariness of her life Mary is tasked with God bearing.

It is in the ordinariness of lives that we too are called to be ‘God-Bearers’’ – in the ordinariness of our lives we are called to be a vessel for God. As surely as the Angel Gabriel spoke Mary the word of God comes to you and me today –

“GREETINGS FAVOURED ONES – Our God is with you!

Let that sink in for a moment.

Greetings Favoured ones – beloved ones! God is with you!

Let us go back to Simon Gibbons for a moment – an orphaned child, humble, vulnerable beginnings. I said earlier that we look upon his life as something exemplary – because it was. But the truth of God’s love offered to him in the ordinariness of his life is what truly mattered.

God is with you!  You are favoured! God has noticed you. God has noticed me. God wants you and me to give birth to light, to hope to peace, to love in the ordinariness of our lives. You know, it makes perfect sense that Mary was quite startled – “much perplexed” as scripture tells us. Those words were no doubt strange to Mary too. So we may find these words strange. We may be perplexed that God would notice us.

Mary says YES to God’s request to bear light – but before she does she accepts the blessing, the favour and the notice of God. After doing so she says yes to bearing God in the very ordinariness of her life.

Now turning back to us – Not every moment this week will be extraordinary. We will no doubt some of us who will over these next couple of days place extra pressure upon ourselves to have the best Christmas ever. But for most of us – that heightened expectation is dangerous. I would like for us to put aside our worries and stresses for a moment and think about where we might be this week. Who will we see? What will we do?

Now I would like us to consider if we can be God-bearers in those ordinary moments. In his novel For One More Day  Mitch Albom writes – “You can find something truly important in an ordinary minute.”  So in the ordinary minutes this week – will we find that truly important presence -

Because God has noticed you …remember – God has declared

“Greetings, favored ones. The Lord is with you and plans to do great things through you.”
You might ask, “How can this be?”

Well whether at work or school, whether at home or in the world, the Holy Spirit is with you and will guide you in all you do and say so that you may be a blessing to the world. It need not be extraordinary – You can bear God in the ordinariness of your walk, your journey.

Will you accept this call to bear God and see God in the ordinary?

“Let it be according to God’s word.”

[1] For All The Saints (Anglican Church of Canada)

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Saying Good-Bye

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Left to Right…. The Rev’d Anne Jaikaran, Rose Perry, Wendy Kilgour, Doug Wilson Hodge and Jim Smythe

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Today is Rose Perry’s last day at the office as Parish Administrator for St. Aidan’s. For just a little more than two years now, Rose Perry has been our Parish Administrator. Rose joined us in 2012 in a time of great change and transition for St Aidan’s parish. In the short time that she has been with us Rose has helped us make great strides in how we manage data, present materials, advertise events, modernize our office, schedule volunteers, handle rentals .. And the list goes on. Rose is leaving us to upgrade her education and further her career goals. We wish Rose every success in her future endeavours. She has been a valuable member of our St. Aidan’s team. She and her gifts will be missed.

It was a joy for me to officiate at Rose and Ryan’s wedding this past May. I have been pleased to get to know Rose over these past two years and indeed will miss her in the office. She has been a hard working member of our team who always managed to get more done than we could have asked for.

I invite you all to pray for the wardens at St Aidan’s as they are in the midst of a search for a new Parish Administrator. CS Lewis wrote – “When we lose one blessing, another is often most unexpectedly given in its place.” Our prayer now is for that unexpected blessing that God will make known to us.

In the meantime, I offer thanks for our time with Rose. “Some people come in our life as blessings. Some come in your life as lessons.” Mother Teresa was a wise teacher. Rose you have been a blessing and a lesson – I hope we have been the same for you.

Please join me in wishing Rose every blessing. (Comments section is in the upper right of this post)

God Bless you Rose in your new adventures!

Dear Santa …


Atheists

Reading Time Magazine’s page a couple of days ago, I landed a piece in the Religion section about Atheists Billboards in major cities in America. Very Splashy, very creative…. but I wonder how effective these billboards are? Who is the target audience? I am interested to hear your thoughts and your opinions on this advert?
Does it offend you? Does it make you laugh?
Can this sort of advertising make a difference?
Are you sympathetic to to the message?
How might you respond to this message if you could speak with its creator?

Ministry of Imagination

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Today is the Third Sunday of Advent. Today’s Sermon is focused on the Magnificat.

The Text of today’s Sermon  is below the photos from today – More or Less!

20141214_121500 20141214_121841 20141214_121659The other day a friend and I were reminiscing about this time of year in Newfoundland. We were recalling that trees were real, were cut hear the few days before Christmas. They came form in over the hill, or across the pond where we cut our firewood, our on the Old Track road. Sometimes we would cut several – choice is always good. We recalled what it was like rigging up the old decorations we had. Putting bubs on the tree… (that’s Bulbs to a Mainlander). Had me reminiscing about the old fashioned Christmas lights that we put on the tree – you might remember too. I was recalling how some of our strings were quite old – taped up in sections – holes in the casing on the wires from the multiple nicks from staples from stapling them to the inside of the window.  How we did not set the house ablaze is a mystery. So many great memories of childhood come rushing to all of us this time of year. There is something about the lovely music and the colourful lights at this time of great darkness that seems to cast our minds to warm recollections of family, of friends, of those who meant the lost to us and the moments that instructed our character. When I let my mind go there, I see reflected in my memory, Christmas Dinners, full houses, visits from neighbours as well as visits to neighbours, a small church full of people, simple gifts but great excitement. It all floods back to me.

As church goes, my memories are kind of vague. I don’t have strong recollections of what happened in Church throughout Advent in Christmas. But there is one thing that I do remember and it washes over me always at this time of the year – ours was a church that had Evening prayer regularly. That meant that we often said the Magnificat –Mary’s song. I recall – strange has this sounds hearing the Song of Mary read as the Gospel in Advent and thinking — That’s where that Magnificat comes from!!! I think I remember it to this day because the words of it were so very powerful for me – from my very youth. In the words of the BCP we would recite:

My soul doth magnify the Lord : and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
For he hath regarded : the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth : all generations shall call me blessed.
For he that is mighty hath magnified me : and holy is his Name.
And his mercy is on them that fear him : throughout all generations.
He hath shewed strength with his arm : he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.
He hath filled the hungry with good things : and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel : as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed for ever. 

The words that always leapt out were the assertion that God would put the mighty down from their seat and would exalt the humble and meek; that the hungry would be filled with good things and that the rich would be sent away empty. As I reflect on this many years later it makes perfect sense to me. My sister Helen, 20 years older than i recalled that she got excited about a 5 point apple in a wool sock – simple pleasures – the hope of a God who would fill the hungry with good things was made real for us in small gestures at Christmas that were large to us in the grand scheme of things.

In many ways, I think that at the time I needed to hear about a God who would humble the mighty and exalt the week. I was a victim of some pretty serious bullying in my youth. To say I felt weak, oppressed, and afraid would be an understatement. The very notion of the ‘proud being scattered’ was reassuring to me. Hearing Mary’s Song so regularly was a real reminder to me in God’s social order, the vulnerable, the scared, the weak, and the oppressed were the favored ones. Those brash, and arrogant powerful ones whose very strength depended putting others down, would be scattered, sent away empty. The very fact that a young and vulnerable woman could be chosen to bear the responsibility of delivering Light into the world, gives us all hope. As surely as Mary was given opportunity to bear light in the midst of difficult and trying circumstances – so to we are offered that opportunity. What does that look like? Not as complex as we might think.

It requires that we have imagination and that we be prepared to rejoice in that imagination. Mary’s Song is really a testimony she was prepared to imagine what we might be… imgine how we might live. In our second reading today we hear Paul instruct the community at Thessalonica to –

16Rejoice always, 17pray without ceasing, 18give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19Do not quench the Spirit. 20Do not despise the words of prophets, 21but test everything; hold fast to what is good 22abstain from every form of evil.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of the prophets. Paul was reminding the community to embrace the work of the Spirit to call us to imagine change, imagine, God breaking into the current condition and making a real difference. Walter Brueggemann in his book  “The Prophetic Imagination” [a book I cannot recommend highly enough] writes about the biblical narrative from Moses to Jesus, recasting the role of the prophet as one who engages the imagination in ways that moves beyond the dominant mentality [the ‘managed data’ of the prevailing culture] and gives freedom for the life of God to be revealed.

The prophet engages in future fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented… The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that make it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep conjuring and proposing alternative futures to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.[1]

The Magificat calls us to Rejoice in Imagination and what it can provide to us. Mary’s brings light into the world but before she does she dares to imagine what the delivery of God-Among us might look like. Her imagination pours out in song and it declares that the entry of Light into the world is intended to excite our imaginations that we might vision the peaceable Kingdom and make choices to make it real. For the peaceable Kingdom to come to fruition we need to act. We need to say YES to the invitation to bear Light, bear, hope, bear kindness and peace. In bread for the journey, Henri Nouwen declares;

The marvelous vision of the peaceable Kingdom, in which all violence has been overcome and all men, women, and children live in loving unity with nature, calls for its realisation in our day-to-day lives.   Instead of being an escapist dream, it challenges us to anticipate what it promises.  Every time we forgive our neighbour, every time we make a child smile, every time we show compassion to a suffering person, every time we arrange a bouquet of flowers, offer care to tame or wild animals, prevent pollution, create beauty in our homes and gardens, and work for peace and justice among peoples and nations we are making the vision come true.

We must remind one another constantly of the vision.  Whenever it comes alive in us we will find new energy to live it out, right where we are.  Instead of making us escape real life, this beautiful vision gets us involved.[2]

I have been reflecting on those Christmases past. I can imagine my sister Helen getting an apple, an orange, and some grapes in a wool sock on Christmas Morning and smelling it an imagining the distant land from which it came and being warmed by the kindness of love of parents who will fill her stocking with fruit that she did not get to see all year. I also imagine myself now. Hearing those words of Mary and imagining that God would deliver me from my torment and embrace me with love and lift me from my lowliness. And you know what? I have seen glimpses of that peaceable kingdom because of people have got involved and cared enough to show me kindness. Simple acts of kindness have made the promise and imagination of the Magnificat come to life for me. The courage of Mary to imagine a future fantasy gives us courage to also keep alive the ministry of imagination.

As we tread closer and closer to Christmas – as we remember and reflect – let us not lose sight of the fact Mary’s call to us was to look ahead, Paul’s call to us also was to let the Spirit guide us and run amok on the status quo, God’s call to us is to make live the Incarnation by engaging in prophetic ministry.

The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.


There is no better place to take on that work than right here, there is no better time than right now, there are no better group of people than this group here… Imagine… Imagine…. The lowly lifted, the hungry fed, the vulnerable being the vessel of God…. Imagine…. just imagine … because of our acts of kindness… imagine!

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination

[2] Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey – Mediation for December 13

We are Social Creatures — Not Selfish – Not Self Serving

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We are made for community. We are made for love. Have no doubt it is hard for us to hear that message; hard mostly because we are constantly inundated with messages of individualism.  We are sold a bill of goods that we are self made, self reliant, and self important. We have, from a young age, learned to compete with others. While that sense of competition can serve us well, it can also cause us to leave others behind, or to be left behind ourselves, in a game whose stakes are very high; the game of life.

Vanier has written a lot about community. The above quote is one of my favorites of his because it is a reminder of why community is so very important. We all yearn for love. We yearn to love and to be loved. God reminds us through community that we are beloved, that we are not designed for loneliness. We are hard wired to be social, to assemble, and to work collectively to care for one another.

This week I cannot seem to get away from the message of community and how important it is that we come together. My reading keeps bringing it back. A friend forwarded an article in the New York Times entitled Evolution and the American Myth of the Individual. It is a great piece that emphasises the fact that we are social creatures.  In the article John Edward Terrell writes;

Philosophers from Aristotle to Hegel have emphasized that human beings are essentially social creatures, that the idea of an isolated individual is a misleading abstraction. So it is not just ironic but instructive that modern evolutionary research, anthropology, cognitive psychology and neuroscience have come down on the side of the philosophers who have argued that the basic unit of human social life is not and never has been the selfish, self-serving individual. Contrary to libertarian and Tea Party rhetoric, evolution has made us a powerfully social species, so much so that the essential precondition of human survival is and always has been the individual plus his or her relationships with others.*

We are not our best selves when we are just self! We are not designed to, nor have we evolved to, be focused on self. The self-serving and selfish individual is not the basic unit of human social life! This important message from the University of Chicago anthropologist can serve as a powerful reminder for us as Christians of who we are called to be. Terrell in fact writes about what he was taught by church as a child noting that he was taught about relationship to God and responsibilities to one another. He points out that while some Christians and evolutionists often are at odds, on the matter of social responsibility there is little light between the social teaching of Christianity and the work evolutionary scholarship. He concludes his piece with these powerful words: “We have always been social and caring creatures. The thought that it is both rational and natural for each of us to care only for ourselves, our own preservation, and our own achievements is a treacherous fabrication. This is not how we got to be the kind of species we are today. Nor is this what the world’s religions would ask us to believe. Or at any rate, so I was told as a child, and so I still believe.”

This week I have also been reading Take this Bread by Sarah Miles. Raised an atheist, this journalist finds her way to Christianity and writes about how that tectonic shift in her life instructed how she would respond to people around her – especially those who hunger and thirst. She had, as a journalist seen much suffering and hunger before her so-called ‘come-to-Jesus’ moment. After coming to experience the power of community as expressed particularly in the sacrament of the Eucharist, Miles’ life became enriched not because of what she achieved, or accomplished in her own life, but instead by how she discovered ways and means to feed the hungry. She writes in her introduction:

At a moment when right-wing American Christianity is ascendant, when religion worldwide is rife with fundamentalist crusades and exclusionary ideology, I stumbled into a radically inclusive faith centered on sacraments and action. What I found wasn’t about angels or going to church or trying to be ‘good’ in a pious, idealised way. It wasn’t about arguing a doctrine… the Virgin birth, predestination, the sinfulness of homosexuality and divorce… or pledging blind allegiance to a denomination. I was, as the Prophet said, hungry and thirsting for righteousness. I found it at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: at a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and the outcasts are honored.           …And so I became a Christian.**

Church Tree

When we get ourselves all spun out on arguments that serve no positive end, and when default to what divides us – we have succumbed to the materialistic and competitive messages that are not rooted in our story as a people of God.  Its at those times that I worry that we are cutting our own tree branches from below our own feet. The church is famously fractured into denominations, and even divided further within those denominations into parishes. With the pressures of being church today, parish leaders and members are becoming increasingly protective as all of our silos are threatened with tumbling in these days of decline. As Church we are not immune to the consumer messages of individualism and self preservation. I am convinced that they more stress we face and the more fear we have the more inclined we are to default to the position of preservation and protection. The danger becomes forgetting that we are a people whose message is rooted in the simple yet profound. Our material core bread, wine, body, blood, broken and shared. We are called to come together around the table – all of us. The outcasts and the despised are not just welcomed – but honoured.  We are in danger of forgetting that we have a responsibility to one another. Coming together is a sign to others that love is possible. We must never forget that God loves us and calls us repeatedly in scripture to come to one another.

We are approaching Christmas and the ads are rife with messages that say ‘I want that!’ Truthfully all of that consumer pressure revolving around the coming Holy season of Christmas is built on the notion of the self. It is a built on a lie. For the Christian – this is an outrage, the Incarnation is about anything but consumption and want. I urge us to heed the words of Terrell  “The thought that it is both rational and natural for each of us to care only for ourselves, our own preservation, and our own achievements is a treacherous fabrication. I would add that it is fabricated to the benefit of a group that long ago figured out that they needed to look after one another – Corporations. We have a choice. The Christian lives in the hope and expectation of new life. We are a people who have a God of healing and of incarnation. We have been assured that God cares enough for us that God would come to us in our vulnerability and our fear. God dispels our darkness with Light and Life – Christmas. We might take time during Advent and Christmas to find ways to focus on other and not on self. This might be a time that we could enter into another’s vulnerability as Christ enters into ours. Let us renounce the fabrication of #IWantThat to embrace #WhatDoYouNeed #HowCanIHelp #ILoveYou #IForgiveYou

Please feel free to leave your thoughts by clicking the Comments button at the top right of this post.

JV-inspiration

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*John Edward Terrell,  New York Times; Evolution and the American Myth of the Individual – http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/30/evolution-and-the-american-myth-of-the-individual/?emc=eta1&_r=0

**Sarah Miles Take the Bread, (New York, Ballentine Books, 2008)

Keep Christ in Christmas!

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I have grown increasingly tired of the ‘War on Christmas’ drivel that comes annually at this time. All of the social media posts and cute bumper stickers reminding us all to ‘Keep Christ in Christmas’ are enough to really entice me to scream. The only war on Christmas is the one waged by people whose connection to Christianity is so tenuous that they are threatened by store clerks saying ‘Happy Holidays’ to them as they tap their PayPass or insert their chip card in celebration of Baby Jesus. If my faith in Jesus and my understanding of the Christmas Season (which is yet 23 days away I hasten to add) is so shallow that I become insecure whenever someone offers me a greeting rooted in the expression ‘Happy Holy Days,’ perhaps it is time I re-evaluate my commitment to said faith.

Today I saw this Social Media Post that stoked the embers — (I have been chewing on all of this Merry Christmas debate for a little bit)

Christ in Christmas

I love this. Rather than getting all in a lather and spending time posting about catchy phrases and buzz lines like ‘Keep Christ in Christmas,’ how about we DO something. We have just begun Advent and have been reminded that the Christmas Season for which we prepare will be about a Light to dispel all darkness. We are reminded that we are to keep awake, and alert, and active. We are called to be light. So let’s forget about what someone else called the season that runs from December 24-January 6 and remember that for us it is Christmas and act as though we understand and know what that means. Let us show others why Christ is in Christmas. As we feed, clothe, forgive, welcome, care, and love, we will be keeping Christ in the season far moreso than we can with bumper-stickers and social media gobbledegook about how political correctness has robbed ‘us’ of our ability to celebrate ‘our’ holy season.

My friends, may your Advent season allow you time to keep alert for opportunities to show others what Christmas looks like.

It’s not about what we say …

What will we do?

Happy Holidays folks……

Be sure to offer your comments in the top right of this post…

God Without us Will Not; We Without God Cannot.

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advent 1 again

I am trying out something new — I will post here from time to time my Homilies in Audio and sometimes in print format. here is the Preaching for Advent 1. Please feel free to click the comment button at the top right of this post and offer your thoughts and your feedback…. Thanks for visiting.

TODAY’S GOSPEL

Mark 13:24-37

But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.

SERMON TEXT
Still this morning I was hearing adverts on radio about Black Friday. A consumer holiday which came to life in the 90s in America, Black Friday is a day to show just how helpful citizens could be by lining up for hours to buy stuff at great prices, the day after one has given thanks for all of the stuff they already have. These sales have been called ‘Door Crashers’ because people have literally been trampled to death as doors of these stores have been crashed in as people attempted to out run and out muscle one another for TVs, Toasters, and Toys and Trinkets. People have been in fistfights for the bargains offered on everything from Nike’s to Knickers. Since its birth, it has mutated from a day following the American Thanksgiving Holiday to now include Thanksgiving Day, as well as the weekend that follows. It did not take long for this condition to spread north to Canada and this year its influence has now travelled across the Atlantic ocean and is in full effect in Great Briton.  Black Friday has since given birth to Black Monday – a more peaceable feast as it is exercised from the comfort of one’s home or office – but it’s common creed is consumption – as much as possible.  At the same time the retailers tell us that this whole event is to get ready. It’s a time to help us be prepared – for of all things CHRISTMAS.

Against that backdrop we come and hear the declaration that God is calling us to keep awake, to be alert, and to keep watch. I’m pretty sure that Jesus invocation to the disciples to keep awake was not at all related to lining up outside the local Walmart at 10 pm to be able to crash the door at 5 am.

As we witness all of this excess, we are also faced with the news that nearly 7000 people have now died from Ebola in West Africa. Every few weeks there is more news about ISIS and its brutal and violent attacks on innocents. People in America who feel disenfranchised and unheard are marching in the streets. We hear local stories of poverty, job loss, and isolation. While Mark places these very stark words of Jesus in his gospel as a message to the disciples to get ready to be busy, alert and on watch – God gives this word to the very real world and to the present condition in which live. This eschatological message of Jesus is as powerful today as it was to his listeners so long ago.

Eschatology is the study of the end of the age, of the last days. Commonly in some Christian circles it is concerned with the destruction of all that is and the revelation of what will be in the second coming. In a mystical sense, some see the eschaton as a time when the current or old reality will end and reunion with God and God’s will is restored.

The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan is good reading for all Christians who are journeying toward Christmas through this season of wonder and waiting called Advent. In the book, they offer two approaches to eschatology – the talk of end times.

There is:

  ‘Supernatural eschatology,’ or ‘interventionist eschatology.’ Within this understanding, only God can bring about the new world. It can happen only through a dramatic divine intervention. All we can do is wait for it and pray for it. Many twentieth-century scholars argued that this is what Jesus and the earliest Christians expected. It has also been found in popular Christianity through the centuries  

The second form is what they call

  ‘participatory eschatology,’ or ‘collaborative eschatology.’ Put simply, we are to participate with God in bringing about the world promised by Christmas. Rather than waiting for God to do it, we are to collaborate with God.  Participatory eschatology involves a twofold affirmation: we are to do it with God, and we cannot do it without God. In St. Augustine’s brilliant aphorism, God without us will not; we without God cannot. We who have seen the star and heard the angels sing are called to participate in the new birth and new world proclaimed by these stories. * 

Today the prophet reminds us that despite the fact that we are a people who still live in unjust and violent ways, that even though we might feel like we are not worthy or we sinned or failed – Yet, O Lord, God; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. God is in it with us… God without us will not. We are in it with God – We without God cannot!

Advent provides us a wonderful opportunity. It’s an opportunity to keep awake, alert, and active. This season is indeed a call to action – we will be given a glimpse of what God-With-Us is telling us to keep alert for. Through the lens of participatory eschatology, we will sing the Song of Mary and declare that humble and the vulnerable will be raised up and the powerful will be humbled. Through the lens of participatory eschatology , we will be reminded by the John the Baptist that we will one day turn away from our ways of destruction and waste, toward reconciliation and peace and restoration of the earth – we will make straight the path. Through the lens of collaborative eschatology, we will be reminded by the prophet Isaiah that we will one day God-With-Us, see the day when the captives will be freed and those who mourn will be given full and utter comfort.  Through the lens of collaborative eschatology, we will hear Zachariah  declare to us that it is time to embrace the dawn from on high and to give light to those who have sat in great darkness.

It is easy to be discouraged – indeed – beyond the troubled world we live in, we might be troubled or discouraged in our own world, or our own hearts. When our own world is crumbling around us, difficult to comprehend how we can participate in bringing and end to that which is destructive in order to embrace that which would bring us into full and complete relationship with God and God’s reign. We at times surely do identify with the words of the prophet Isaiah:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 

We certainly have times when we would be more than happy to have that ‘interventionist eschatology.’ It would be a relief if God would just deal with all the problems we see in our world our lives, and we who feel that we are righteous would be taken into eternal bliss. But alas, I think we need to heed the words of Jesus to the disciples who toiled in difficult days and muster the energy to respond in our difficult days.

Etty Hillesum was a young woman who lived under German occupation in her native Holland during World War II. She kept a journal. Among the many powerful words in her journal are these

 The jasmine behind my house has been completely ruined by the rains and storms of the last few days…But somewhere inside me the jasmine continues to blossom undisturbed…And it spreads its scent round the House in which You dwell, oh God. You can see, I look after You. I bring you not only my tears and my forebodings on this stormy, grey Sunday morning, I even bring you scented jasmine.. I shall try to make you at home always. **

Etty, and her family were murdered at Auschwitz. Her journals were discovered in1981 and were published as An Interrupted Life-The Diaries of Etty Hillesum. Etty came to a place of deep assurance in the face of unimaginable conditions.  Etty did not lose hope in the face of horror and evil.  To God speaks saying, “I shall try to make You at home always.”  You might say she she was totally prepared to collaborate with God. Her prayer is active – she declares that she is busy making God at home – even in the face of unspeakable injustice. No matter what we face, Etty’s words can be inspiration for us to engage in participatory eschatology. We can be proactive in bringing to an end the age of injustice, of greed, of consumption, and destruction. We can collaborate with God, keeping alert and ready to act at all times – we have no idea how much effort or time it will take – only that we need to be ready to embrace the God who assumes the vulnerability of the Cradle and the Cross.

God without us will not; we without God cannot. Amen!

_____

*Marcus Borg, and John Dominic Crossan: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’ Birth (New Yoork, HarperOne, 2009).

** As referenced by Barbara Lundbald – It’s that Time Again: Depression and the Holidays (Isaiah 64:1-9) [http://www.odysseynetworks.org/on-scripture-the-bible/its-that-time-again-depression-and-the-holidays/]

Wait for the Lord


Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:4

Advent is soon upon us. This great season at the beginning of the church year is a time of expectation, of hope, and of anticipation. It is a time when we wait. That’s right – we wait. Not something we are accustomed to in this world of immediate gratification. We are all going a million miles a minute.

There is a lot happening around us nowadays. I asked a friend once how he was doing. His reply – “I am busier than a one legged man in an arse kicking contest!” A little crass, but most of us can identify with that. Sadly, we have allowed it. So busy have we made ourselves that we cannot put down a cell phone long enough to drive 3 kms from the office to home. Last Monday London Police laid almost 60 charges for cell phone use, and if they had passed me that day I probably would have joined their ranks. My point is – we allow ourselves to be consumed. Advent is a time when the Church allows us the freedom to say – ENOUGH! We can stop and be still and we can wait. Wait for the Lord, whose day is near!

JI Packer in Knowing God wrote:

“Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”

That is a reassuring message, but it is one that is hard for us to digest in a world obsessed with the rushing constantly from step to stern. Hard for us when we want to know the ultimate outcome before its even close to time. Can we have faith that when we do not know what is coming next, that we can be patient, wait for God, and know that when it is time to act, light will come?

As we prepare to bolt out of the gate toward Black Friday sales, Christmas socials, kids functions, etc – let’s just all stop for a moment. Let us stop, and offer prayers that we might be able to step away from all that consuming we do, and all that consuming of us that we tolerate.

St. Aidan’s will offer a space each Wednesday, beginning tonight, in which we might be still and in which we can pray expectantly for God to guide us – one step at a time. Our Advent Vespers will run from 8-830 on Wednesday evenings. No preaching – just evening prayers, candle light, quietude, and the sights, sounds, and smell of prayerful anticipation. Please join us if you can!

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God Rejoices Whenever We Learn

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“Give me, if you will, prayers;st__teresa_of_avila_icon_by_theophilia-d6qmnnn
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?
Yours I am, for you I was born:
What do you want of me?”
― Teresa of Ávila

Today was the Feast day of Teresa of Ávila. At church we noted her contribution as a Doctor of the Faith by reading some of her quotes. We each took from a basket a slip of paper with one of her writings. Each in turn offered her words and we reflected on how these words impact us. It was a moving experience for me. The collective proclamation that came from the small group gathered around the table, talking about their faith and how God is at work in their own lives and in the lives of the world was a great gift.  It was proof positive of one of the quotes shared today: “But to get to know God’s friends is a very good way of ‘having’ Him.” The sheet that I pulled had these words on it –

“This Beloved of ours is merciful and good. Besides, he so deeply longs for our love that he keeps calling us to come closer. This voice of his is so sweet that the poor soul falls apart in the face of her own inability to instantly do whatever he asks of her. And so you can see, hearing him hurts much more than not being able to hear him… For now, his voice reaches us through words spoken by good people, through listening to spiritual talks, and reading sacred literature. God calls to us in countless little ways all the time. Through illnesses and suffering and through sorrow he calls to us. Through a truth glimpsed fleetingly in a state of prayer he calls to us. No matter how half-hearted such insights may be, God rejoices whenever we learn what he is trying to teach us.” 

I could not agree more that ‘God calls us in countless little ways all the time.’ God is speaking to us in the midst of all things. We often neglect to see the varied and often simple ways in which God calls us. God voice reaches us through the sharing of our friends when we gather. Today I could see these words made manifest – Jesus was made present in word, in sacrament, in sharing, in fellowship. I am fortunate to have opportunity to break bread with people and hear how Jesus is at work in our community. I am certain that Teresa is quite right about God rejoicing at our learning – God had much to rejoice about.

Here are the rest of Teresa of Ávila’s quotes that were read earlier today –

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

 

May today there be peace within you.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities
that are born of faith in you.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing that you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into our bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and everyone of you.

 

Thank God for the things that I do not own.

 

Love turns work into rest.

 

Untilled ground, however rich, will bring forth thistles and thorns; so also the mind of man.

 

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

 

The closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes.

 

It is of great importance, when we begin to practise prayer, not to let ourselves be frightened by our own thoughts.

 

Never suppose that either the evil or the good that you do will remain secret, however strict may be your enclosure.

 

As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them, or how precious they are — those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty. All our interest is centred in the rough setting of the diamond, and in the outer wall of the castle — that is to say, in these bodies of ours.

 O God, who by your Holy Spirit moved Teresa of Avila to manifest to your Church the way of perfection: Grant us, we pray, to be nourished by her excellent teaching, and enkindle within us a keen and unquenchable longing for true holiness; through Jesus Christ, the joy of loving hearts, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. 

 

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