Friday, December 25, 2009

A New Year's Prayer and Holy Name

Prayer for New Year By Kay Hoffman

Another year is dawning
With the chance to start anew.
May I be kinder, wiser, Lord,
In all I say and do.

Not so caught up in selfish gain
That I would fail to see
The things in life that mean the most
Cost not a fancy fee.

The warm, kind word that I can give,
The outstretched hand to help,
The prayers I pray for those in need--
More precious these than wealth.

I know not what may lie ahead
Of laughter or of tears;
I only need to know each day
That You are walking near.

I'm thankful for this brand new year
As now I humbly pray,
My hand secure in Yours, dear Lord,
Each step along the way.


The Holy Name January 1 (BCP)

Eternal Father, you gave to your incarnate Son the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation: Plant in every heart, we pray, the love of him who is the Savior of the world, our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

A Child's Christmas Prayer

The stars that shine at Christmas
Shine on throughout the year,
Jesus, born so long ago,
Still gathers with us here,
We listen to his stories,
We learn to say his prayer,
We follow in his footsteps,
And we learn to love and share. Amen.

Christmas Day Sermon - 10 AM

from the Hymnal #79
O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight
Philip Brooks (Episcopal Bishop) wrote this in 1868 after visiting the Holy Land, he gave it to his organist who set it to music for the Sunday School. It has become one of our beloved hymns but his best verses are often not sung. So let us sing the third verse:
How silently, how silently the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may his His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still, the dear Christ enters in.
It remind us how silently God enters our world, not with fanfare, not with paparazzi, but in a manger, in a small town among peasants living under Roman occupation. And even when we can’t hear it, we have our call to seek him out, for where meek souls receive him still, Christ enters in. Let us sing the fourth verse…
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the Mother mild;
Where Charity stands watching and Faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
This understanding that nothing will hold back Christmas, for the dark night will wake, the glory will break and Christmas will come once more even in misery and sin. It reminds me of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow…

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Christmas will always break forth even in the darkest of times and right will prevail. And when Christ does come into our midst, it is up to us to receive him. Let us sing the last verse:
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray!
Cast out our sin and enter in, Be born in us to-day.
We hear the Christmas angels, The great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!
Today, we celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and in our hearts. May we make Jesus’ birth real in our lives by what we say and do this Christmas and always. Let us pray:
God of all hope and joy, open our hearts in welcome that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen (NZ Prayer Book)

Chistmas Eve Sermon - 10 PM

On this most Holy Night, as we have listened to the words of Scripture telling us of salvation, as we have sung the carols and listened to the anthems that make our hearts glad, I am reminded of the words from the Nativity Sermon of St. Isaac the Syrian, who calls us all to rejoice tonight in peace:
This Christmas night bestowed peace on the whole world; So let no one threaten;
This is the night of the Most Gentle One -Let no one be cruel;
This is the night of the Humble One - Let no one be proud.
Now is the day of joy - Let us not revenge;
Now is the day of Good Will - Let us not be mean.
In this Day of Peace - Let us not be conquered by anger.
Today the Bountiful impoverished Himself for our sake; So, rich one, invite the poor to your table.
Today we receive a Gift for which we did not ask; So let us give alms to those who implore and beg us.
This present Day cast open the heavenly doors to our prayers; Let us open our door to those who ask our forgiveness.
Today the Divine Being took upon Himself the seal of our humanity, In order for humanity to be decorated by the Seal of Divinity.
Tonight we open our hearts, to see the Christ child not only in the manger but in our midst, the Prince of Peace… In the words of the poet Maya Angelou:
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices
To celebrate the promise of Peace.

Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother. Peace, My Sister. Peace, My Soul.
Tonight, we celebrate in peace and joy Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and in our hearts. May we make Jesus’ birth real in our lives by what we say and do this Christmas and always. Amen.

Christmas Eve Sermon - 5 PM

Children's Sermon Story: This is the Star by Joyce Dunbar

For the congregation:

On this most Holy Night, as we once again hear the story of our savior’s birth, as we sing those beloved hymns, say our prayers and eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation, we are called forth to follow that star, just like those in that story our children heard this night.

Why do we follow? Maybe W.H. Auden put it best:
To discover how to be truthful now
Is the reason I follow this star.
We anticipate or remember but never are.
To discover how to be living now
Is the reason I follow this star…
…we have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are
To discover how to be human now
Is the reason we follow this star.
W.H. Auden, Star of the Nativity from For The Time Being, A Christmas Oratorio

Indeed, we follow that star to be among those who gathered around that manger and worshipped what God had promised to bring. We follow to understand our humanity and our place in the world. Now its our turn to open our hearts, to see the Christ child not only in the manger but in our midst, to See the star right now, outside of this Church, to see it on the way home tonight, and know it still beckons us each and every day of our lives. The star is a symbol like Christmas reminding us of God’s presence even in dark moments.

[In my notes but not preached at 5 PM:

In the words of Dr. Howard Thurman…
The symbol of Christmas - what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from its mother's nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stirred with the newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident than wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.]
Tonight, we celebrate Christ’s birth in Bethlehem and in our hearts. May we make Jesus’ birth real in our lives by what we say and do this Christmas and always. Amen.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Prayer

God of all hope and joy, open our hearts in welcome that your Son Jesus Christ at his coming may find in us a dwelling prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen (NZ Prayer Book)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sermon: Advent IV (Dec. 20)

An icon of Mary & Jesus hangs in the room of Jared & Aidan, the icon reminds my boys not only of the presence of Christ near them but of their relationship, of mother & child.

To us in the Western Church, she is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus. For many, she is the comforter for our sorrows for she understands because of her own sufferings. She is the Mother of Sorrows. She is called on by many for help in healing. She is Our Lady of Guadeloupe and our Lady of Lourdes. So many look to Mary in hope, and see in her life and in her song, a call to follow; she is also called the Queen of Heaven. Many, many different faces and names to Mary.

In the Orthodox Tradition, from which this icon originates, Mary is called the Theotokos that is God bearer. For as Elizabeth says to Mary: Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. Elizabeth reminds us that it was Mary who said yes to God, to bear the son of God, for she believed and God acted. And of course, Mary sings her song: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior…

The story begins for Mary as a teenager and is beautifully captured in his song Let Me Be Like Mary by Eric Law.
Mary was a woman who had her life to live.
She was to marry Joseph, a man with much to give.
Then one day God asked her to be the mother of a Child
who would change and save the world.
It is the angel Gabriel who changes everything for her with a request from God, and it is Mary’s yes that would set her on a very unique journey.
Wise and Gentle Mary, she just said yes to God.
Strong and gentle Mary she bore the child of God.
Brave and gentle Mary owned the joy and pain
Of giving birth to Christ for the world.
Her pregnancy was a scandal. She was unmarried, pregnant, and Joseph was not the father. She took it all on, and for the sake of the world, bore the joy and pain of giving birth to Christ for the world. As Dietrich Bonheoffer put it as he reflected on Mary and her song:
“The song of Mary is the oldest Advent hymn. It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings.… This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about collapsing thrones and humbled lords of this world, about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind. These are the tones of the women prophets of the Old Testament that now come to life in Mary’s mouth.”

But it isn’t enough to hear her song and understand that God is at work in this world in mysterious ways. We can look at our icons, our stained glass windows, and leave Mary there or we might consider what her story means for us today.
We are just like Mary who have our lives to live.
We might have our families, our jobs & homes to keep
But what will you do if God asks you to be a servant
who’ll make Christ known to the world
It’s in those everyday encounters when we say Yes… Can you be like Mary and just say yes to God? Brave and strong like Mary to bear the child of God? Can you share with Mary all the joy and pain of giving birth to Christ for the world? Everyday encounters bearing Christ and his love and reconciliation to the world.

(1) She had not talked to her friend for some time and wondered how she was doing. She had heard that the family was going through a tough time. One morning, she saw that a movie they both said they were looking forward to seeing had opened. So she called her: “Hi. Would you like to take in a movie this afternoon?” After a pause, her friend said, “You know, that would be great. It would give us a chance to talk.”

(2) The chair of the college’s education department asked her to come in. “A downtown church is organizing an after-school program for at-risk kids,” he explained. “They’ve asked if any of our students could serve as tutors. You have a real gift for working with young kids and you’re going to make a great teacher. So I thought of you immediately.” She asked a lot of questions; she wondered how she could work it into her busy class schedule; and she didn’t have anywhere near the confidence in herself that her professor clearly had. But, in the end, she said: “I’d love to help.”

(3) After her beloved father’s death from Alzheimer’s disease, she began making an annual gift to the Alzheimer’s Association. One day she received a call asking if she would help organize a “memory walk” for Alzheimer’s research. As she talked to the volunteer, her eyes fell on the photo of her Dad on her desk. “Yes, I’d love to help.”

We are all like Mary for God calls every one of us in the form of an invitation, a plea, a concern for another’s well-being and like Mary, we think of all the kinds of reasons why this doesn’t make any sense or that it’s beyond us to do — but it is in these everyday encounters that God changes the course of history.

“In the Advents of our lives, God calls us to bring his Christ into our own time and place; may we respond with the faith and trust of Mary, putting aside our own doubts and fears to say I am your servant, O God. Be it done.” (Jay Cormier)

For it is up to each of us to say Yes:
Let me be like Mary and just say yes to God.
Brave and strong like Mary to bear the child of God.
Let me share with Mary all the joy and pain
of giving birth to Christ for the world.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Season of Peace

The Lambeth Conference, a decennial gathering of the bishops of the Anglican Communion, declared in 1930 that "war as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ." That statement has been reaffirmed at succeeding conferences and added to with renunciations of nuclear weaponry and arms escalation, and in support of Christian conscientious objection. The bishops also have repeatedly condemned specific regional and national conflicts, and urged Christians to work as peacemakers in their local context. (A complete history of resolution of the Lambeth Conference through the years can be found here.) These teachings have been affirmed regularly by the Communion's other consultative bodies – the Primates' Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council – and have found focus in the work of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network, and inter-provincial network devoted to the Church's role as peacemaker.

Most Episcopalians will sing the hymn, "O Little Town of Bethlehem," at least once this season. As you do, consider the current well-being of people in the land in which Christ was born. Earlier this year, Christians and others who support a peaceful two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians found hope in the words of President Obama, during his first week in office, recommitting U.S. energies to working for peace in the Holy Land. Nearly a year later, that hope seems dimmer as U.S. energies focus elsewhere in the world and new obstacles to peace mount between Israelis and Palestinians. To learn where things stand, and what you can do to advocate for a recommitment of U.S. energies to peace in the Holy Land, visit our friends at Churches for Middle East Peace and become a member.

Of particular sadness during Advent and Christmas is the continued presence of the 30-foot-high concrete wall erected around Bethlehem, the city of the Savior's birth. Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem will celebrate Christmas in 2009, as they have every year this decade, confined behind the Wall. The Episcopal Church's General Convention earlier this year, through Resolution A037, urged all Episcopalians to pray, especially during Advent and Christmastide, for the Wall to come down. The Convention recommended the following prayer:

Almighty God, Creator of the wonderful complex diversity of humanity; you have fashioned us in your image and commanded us to love one another. Reach down your divine hand so that the wall shall come down in Bethlehem, the birthplace of your Son, the Prince of Peace, and may crumbling walls herald the fall of all barriers that divide us. Bind us together so that love gives rise to an abundance of tenderness among all people; and may our hearts, like Mary's, magnify the Lord, and may your love shower down throughout the world so that all divisions are scattered and washed away. We ask this all with expectant hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This holiday season is also an appropriate time for Christians to recommit to advocacy for peace in the Sudan. After decades of civil war between the people of the predominantly African and Christian southern portion of the country, and the government in the predominantly Arab and Muslin north, the parties in 2005 signed a peace agreement designed to bring about long-term, peaceful coexistence. Since that time, however, the northern government has sponsored new widespread ethnic violence in the western region of Darfur and has sponsored further violence against the southern people by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army, a regional terrorist militia originally based in Uganda. Prospects for peace also have been complicated by continuing disputes over borders, census and electoral matters, and fair sharing of revenues between north and south. The year 2010 is schedule to bring the first round of national elections envisioned by the 2005 peace agreement. This will serve as lead-up to a referendum in 2011 in which southerners will vote on whether to secede from the north. The fairness of these votes – and the willingness of northern and southern leaders to resolve other outstanding differences in the coming year -- will go a long way toward determining whether the future holds peace or renewed violence for the long-suffering people of the Sudan. In short, 2010 is a very important year for peace.

The 2005 peace agreement came about, in no small part, as a consequence of American and international leadership. That same sense of commitment and resolve is needed again at the present time to ensure the peace agreement does not collapse. What can you do? To read a report on the current status of the peace process in Sudan, visit our friends at Pax Christi International. To get involved with other Episcopalians working on this vital issue, join the American Friends of the Episcopal Church of Sudan.

Advent and Christmas provide occasion for Episcopalians to learn about, and get involved with, the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. Founded on Armistice Day, November 11, 1939, EPF is a national organization connecting all who seek a deliberate response to injustice and violence and want to pray, study and take action for justice and peace in our communities, the church, and the world. EPF offers a wealth of resources on advocacy, action, and prayer for congregations and other faith communities. At the present moment, EPF is working to encourage advocacy from Episcopalians concerned for peace in Afghanistan in light of the recently announced escalation in American military forces there.

The Episcopal Church, in accordance with the resolution of the 1948 Lambeth Conference referenced above – as well as multiple resolutions of our own General Convention – is committed to the elimination of the threat of nuclear weapons from the world. Some of our most recent work is through a multi-faith coalition committed called Faithful Security, which is committed to raising the voice of America's faith communities toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Faithful Security offers a superb organizing kit for local communities on its website, and helped create an issue of the Yale Divinity School Journal Reflections earlier this year focused on "Faith and the Future of Nuclear Weapons." The issue features contributions from influential theologians like Miroslav Volf, and noted American leaders like former Secretary of State George Shultz.

Finally, because peace is related immutably to the ability of human beings to love in freedom from want and need, please take a moment this season to consider a contribution to Episcopal Relief & Development. Episcopal Relief & Development is is the international relief and development agency of the Episcopal Church, guided by the Episcopal Church's principles of compassion, dignity and generosity as it works to heal a hurting world. Episcopal Relief & Development works in partnership with the worldwide Church to create opportunities to serve communities in some of the most remote areas of the world, as well as in urban environments where extreme poverty persists.

[From EPPN]

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sermon: Advent III

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.
In Scripture & Song, today we rejoice. Rejoice! Today the pink candle is lit because on this day of rejoicing, with three candles lit, we await and prepare for the coming of Christ, we are full of anticipation and joy that the Lord is near.

The prophet Zephaniah give us a song that celebrates God's vindication of Israel; “sing aloud, rejoice & exult” that God is in the midst of her, Israel will no longer be overrun by other nations, God is with her.

This joyful pronouncement is also in Paul's letter to the Philippians, another song of praise. Calling us all to rejoice! in the Lord, for the Lord is near. But Paul does not end on that note. He wants us to take the rejoicing further. He wants us to act on our gentleness, our joy and to think about it and share it with others, “for then the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

These readings are not just relaying feelings of joy, but rather they are commands to rejoice, commands of faith, that indeed God is still active in our world and we need to rejoice. We stand rejoicing because of our faith not our feelings, and in the midst of all this, there is someone who stands in the corner of our lives that demands to be noticed, and he says: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"

The words from the Gospel, from John the Baptist startle us like a splash of cold water on our face...
"Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'we have Abraham as our ancestor,' for I tell you God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire."
John the Baptist calls on those who are listening to his message to bear good fruit. Not to rely on their ancestry, their power, or themselves. It is as if John is looking right at us this December, celebrating for ourselves and looking around at our world and calling us to bear good fruit.

So what does it mean to bear such good fruit?

We like the crowds that remained with John the Baptist ask the question, "What then should we do?" What should we do? How do we live faithfully in the midst of our busy lives and this violent world? How do we follow Jesus and bear good fruit?

What does John say?

Does he say, give up everything, put on camel's hair and come live with me in the wilderness, at the river, eating locusts and honey. Yum! No.

Does he use baptism as a magic act, a cleansing ritual, a kind of get out of the fire free card. Nope.
To the crowd he replies: "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise."

To tax collectors: "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you."

To soldiers: "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."
Simple, common-sense, charity toward one's neighbor. If they have a need, share your abundance: your coats, clothing, your food. It is a challenge for us when it is so easy to hoard all the extra we have and miss all the need around us. And I think John’s challenge to us, really goes after what it means to rejoice! For how can we rejoice, how can we celebrate when we don’t reach out with a coat or food when we see someone in need. How is this acting on our faith?

The fruit that John asks us to give, is the fruit not born out of selfishness, but out of generosity and love. I think of how we asked for winter coats and people brought coats and we gave them to the Birmingham Group and women and children this winter, in this cold, will have something to keep them warm. I think of all the Turkeys bought with those gift certificates at Thanksgiving, all those presents we will be giving to kids in need through DCF next week for Christmas.

Last winter, Ellen & I heard about a need at one of the shelters in New Haven, they had run out of pillows, they needed help. It was an easy act, purchase and deliver, but for our kids, to see how people were living and to understand how and why we help those in need, is as that commercial says, was priceless. When we pray for those in need, my kids remember.

Helping out others: I also think of a story I just read…

Officer John Fosket of the Helena Police needed help, they had a new explosive sniffing dog from the Israeli Defense Forces – but he only responded to commands in Hebrew. And try as he could, he just wasn’t pronouncing the words properly and Mikey, the dog, would not always respond to the commands. He asked a Hasidic Rabbi who was at the Capitol to light the menorah candles for Hanukah for help. And as was reported: all is well in the Jewish community there. The Hasidic rabbi is helping the Montana cop speak Hebrew to his dog. It is good news all around. The officer keeps the Capitol safe, and the Hebrew pooch is feeling more at home hearing his native tongue, and the rabbi, a recent arrival from Brooklyn, is working hard in Montana building up his community. [from the NY Times]
Helping each other when we are in need, that sounds like good fruit.

We need to look beyond John’s words "you brood of vipers!" and hear his words that gives us counsel on how to lead a faithful life that indeed bears good fruit. In words not so harsh but filled with the wisdom of God. For he reminds us that we need God in our lives and we need to help others.

John's words today are full of rejoicing! (just like the other readings). For the Lord is near and we are called to live bearing fruit that God would want us to bear. So with many other exhortations, John the Baptist proclaimed the good news to the people. Those words are good news for us too, if we are ready to bear good fruit, fruit that will last. So let us rejoice as Zephania and Paul would have us do, and live what is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, and commendable before God and our neighbors as John would have us do. Amen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Human Rights Day 2009

December 10 is known as International Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Conventions.

Non-discrimination is focus of Human Rights Day on December 10 - Embrace Diversity & End Discrimination.

Learn more here.

Here is one news article about today.

A prayer for today:

O HOLY GOD, you love righteousness and hate iniquity: Strengthen, we pray, the hands of all who strive for justice throughout the world, and, seeing that all human beings are your offspring, move us to share the pain of those who are oppressed, and to promote the dignity and freedom of every person; through Jesus Christ the Liberator, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advent Week II - Spend Less

From Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation...
Its Advent 2, a full seven days into our journey into the darkness–awaiting the coming light, life.

This week on the blog we hope to give you ideas, reflections and articles about how you might spend less on Christmas presents this year, so that we may be freed up to give more PRESENCE.

What are your favorite homemade gifts? What are you doing to spend less this year? Where are you shopping, and what tips and tricks for saving money are you using this year?

How’s this for a few ideas for spending less? (Ideas from this awesome resource Buy Nothing Christmas, bookmark it! Great site!)

1. Make a soothing, herb pillow filled with lavender, rose, etc.
2. Collect quotes that make you think of someone.
3. Stamp and address postcards for family members.
4. For the elderly people in your life, research newspaper and magazine articles from their youth and present in a creative fashion.
5. Make a calendar with pictures of family members and/or scenery.
6. Wrap gifts in newspaper, maps, scarves or interesting clothing.
7. Fill an old trunk or suitcase with fun clothing, hats and gaudy jewelry for your children to play dress-up.
8. Make a puppet from a sock.
9. Give away a valued possession.

What’s on your list?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

[AC] Advent Conspiracy 2009

Advent Conspiracy is an international movement restoring the scandal of Christmas by substituting compassion for consumption.

This Advent:
Worship Fully.
Spend Less.
Give More.
Love All.
Give Presence.

Sermon: Advent II (Dec. 6)

A hike after Thanksgiving...
  • Jared, Aidan, Rowan & I were with Uncle Alden (Ellen’s brother) on his 200 acres of land.
  • on one of the hills was a tree stand used by hunters – now dilapidated – below the stand was a simple cross, with a plaque on it.
  • the plaque was in memory of a son – the previous owner of the land had lost a son and since they loved to hunt together, it was a fitting memorial.
It now stands quietly in the forest, nearly forgotten, and yet it is a symbol of hope, a symbol of remembrance. On that grey afternoon, that memorial reminded me how this celebratory season between Thanksgiving & Christmas is often a time when we all remember our loved ones. Whether its remembering a parent who died, like me who remembers his father, or those who remember a spouse, or a child who his died, this time of year we remember them and our years together and all those holidays.

For many, this time of year is more dark than light and as the darkness grows this time of year, so does those moments of sadness and sorrow, of longing for those loved ones lost. And in that darkness is also mystery for in the midst of such darkness Christ is born, in such darkness lies our hope, in the dark we find light.

For we live in hope, like that cross on the mountain, we hope for the sunshine, we hope for the light, we hope to see those loved ones again. And we do at times struggle to find our way in the darkness, groping around, trying not to stumble.

For the Israelites in exile, those away from Jerusalem and their homeland, I suspect many wondered about their days ahead, they longed for the past when life was good in the land of Israel. Now they lived in strange lands with strange peoples – their days seem dark and they groped for a way forward.
Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.
Baruch writing to the exiled Israelites ends his short book of the bible with a psalm of hope.
For God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory…
Baruch’s psalm is a call to hope in the midst of their sorrows, to see that God was leading them forward into a brighter future, even when they could not see it for themselves. When the land of Israel would be theirs again to inhabit. When we are in the midst of such darkness, it is hard to find the light, to be lead by the light…

But that theme of being lead to be a better place is throughout scripture, of being led from slavery to freed, from sin to life, from death to resurrection. There are many passages of such hope. And it is Baruch and the Gospel of Luke that we heard this morning that both look to the Prophet Isaiah for such hope in darkness…
Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
That is hope that all shall see the salvation of God, all will see their loved ones again, all will know that this present darkness is not all there is, there is light.

And as we sit in this season of Advent and the darkness washes over us and we sit and wait for Christ’s coming, maybe it isn’t that the light breaks upon us all at once. Maybe gradually, maybe its splintered light, God’s glory breaks through and we catch glimpses of it, and we can feel God with us and know our hope is right.

Let me end with a poem that looks at such hope in the midst of darkness, from A Slender Grace: Poems by Rod Jellema

I have to look in cracks and crevices.
Don’t tell me how God’s mercy is as wide as the ocean, as deep as the sea.
I already believe it;
but that infinite prospect gets farther away the more we mouth it.
I thank you for lamenting his absences— from marriages going mad,
from the deaths of your son and mine, from the inescapable terrors of mankind: Treblinka. Viet Nam. September Eleven.

It’s hard to celebrate his invisible Presence in the sacrament
while seeing his visible absence from the world.

This must be why mystic and poets record
the slender incursions of splintered light,
echoes, fragments, odd words and phrases
like flashes through darkened hallways.
These stabs remind me that the proud and
portly old church is really only
that cut green slip grafted into a tiny nick
that merciful God himself slit into the stem of his chosen Judah.
The thin and tenuous thread we hang by,
so astonishing, is the metaphor I need at the shoreline
of all those immeasurable oceans of love.
In such slender incursions of splintered light, Hold on to those symbols of hope, symbols of remembrance, for as the Prophets are reminding us today… we will see the glory of God. Amen.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Prayer for World AIDS Day

A Collect for World AIDS Day

Loving God, You provide comfort and hope to those who suffer. Be present with all HIV positive persons and their families in this and every land, that they may be strengthened in their search for health, wholeness and abundant living, through Christ our Companion. Amen.

Merciful God,
we remember before you all who are sick this day,
and especially all persons with
aids or hiv infection.
Give them courage to live
with their disease.
Help them to face and
overcome their fears.
Be with them when they
are alone or rejected.
Comfort them when
they are discouraged.
And touch them with your
healing Spirit that they may find and
possess eternal life, now and forever.