Epiphany 2011

by Brooke Thomas

In the Biblical story, the Magi represent the non-Jewish people of the wider world. They come to meet and pay homage to the infant Jesus – an acknowledgement of the divine coming alongside us on earth and quite a contrast to the actions of the local Jewish leader, Herod who tries to have Jesus killed.

I think Epiphany is actually a fascinating church holiday, one that has been de-emphasised over time but is layered with a rich history and a wealth of symbolism.

The Feast of Epiphany is also known as Three Kings Day or Twelfth Night and is observed and celebrated in a number of different ways all over the world.

You might know there is a tradition that says you should take your Christmas decorations down by Twelfth Night or twelve days after Christmas otherwise you’ll have bad luck in the new year.

It makes it seem like it marks the winding down of Christmas – pack the tree up, take down the tinsel, put away the punch bowl, and go back to work. But if all our celebrations are over by the time we recognise as the day the Magi arrive, it seems like the wise men may have missed the party.

The significance of their journey and their important revelation on behalf of all humanity is lost as we take the bottles and wrapping paper out to the recycling, tinker with our new toys, and think about life getting back to “normal”.

We’ve lost the importance of the Epiphany, an occasion which in many cultures and throughout history is marked as an incredibly joyous celebration of Jesus being revealed to all the people of the world, a Messiah who would transcend both the tradition and the times into which he was born.

So let me take you through some of the ways Epiphany is celebrated around the world. You might be surprised to find that Epiphany is behind many of the world’s biggest and most popular parties.

Like all good Christian holidays, the date of Epiphany aligns with a couple of preceding pagan festivals. In Medieval and earlier times, this period was a time of mid-winter festivities where people celebrated that the longest night of the year had passed and they gathered in celebrations to bless the next harvest before returning to their work in the fields to start ploughing. It was a time of dancing and dressing up and of sharing food and drink.

A key tradition of Twelfth Night is the sharing of a warm punch called Wassail and the eating of  King Cake which I have here for you to enjoy today so please come and help yourselves. (This version of the punch is non-alcoholic). Hiding in one of the pieces of cake is a dried bean (was actually a cardamom pod so no one broke a tooth). Tradition holds that the person who finds the bean in their piece of cake is crowned king or queen of the festivities. I have a crown here for the king, so make yourself known if you score the bean.

The king is normally supposed to oversee all the partying as well as pay for next year’s cake…

The wearer of the crown is called the Lord of Misrule and embodies the freedom that people had at this time of year from their traditional roles while there was no field labouring and the focus was on community, hospitality and celebration which transcended the usual social order. Twelfth Night was a final frenzy of feasting, drinking and often-raucous merry making before the community returned to its daily working grind for the rest of the winter.

Wassail is the drink of good wishes and holiday cheer and has been associated with Twelfth Night since the 1400s. The usually ale- or cider-based drink, seasoned with spices and honey, was served in huge bowls and shared with family and friends with the greeting “Wassail” which is from the old English term for “be well.” People would even pour a little wassail on their fruit tress to bless them for a bountiful harvest in the coming year.

This whole celebration owes something to the earlier Roman festival of Saturnalia which similarly prepared for the next harvest and relaxed the normal social conventions. The festival honoured Saturn, the god of farming and harvest, and his wife, Opis, the goddess of agricultural fertility and abundance.

Saturnalia was the most popular holiday of the Roman year. It was a succession of exuberant festivals lasting for over a week. Attempts by several successive emperors to shorten the festival failed due to massive public protest.

Families gathered together to celebrate the spiritual renewal of the new year. People shared feasts with friends, overindulged themselves in every conceivable way, gave gifts, and decorated their homes with festive greenery. The courts closed, there were amnesties for misdeeds, business stopped and wars ceased. Slaves were waited on by their masters and everyone wore the Pileus – a cap which denotes one as a freed slave: it looks like this. Which also looks suspiciously like a Santa hat. (Also a symbol of the French Revolution and worn by the Magi in some depictions).

Although I can’t figure out why Papa Smurf wears one too…

In a particular village in Spain today, this tradition manifests itself in a festival of running through the street in red undies. I bet you didn’t see that one coming.

So to move forward again to more recent times: it’s a tradition in Germany, where Epiphany is called Three Kings Day, for groups of children dressed as the wise men to go out carolling and collecting money for charity on Twelfth Night.

And it’s also a long held German and New England tradition that before the Christmas tree is taken down, the children of the household are invited to plunder the tree – that is to find and eat any remaining edible decorations on the tree first. Of course, good parents especially hide treats in the tree in preparation for Twelfth Night. Nowadays there are also environmentally responsible Twelfth Night gatherings where you get your Christmas tree chipped and use it to mulch your garden. It is said to bring good fortune for the household in the new year; much like the older tradition of extinguishing the Yule log on Twelfth Night and turning it into kindling for the new year which was also said to bring good luck.

In Ireland, Epiphany is often called Women’s Christmas and is the day when hard working mums get to have their own day of relaxing, lunching and being spoiled after looking after everyone else on Christmas Day. Men have to take over all household duties and give the ladies the day off.

In Mexico, Three Kings Day is when children receive gifts and the night before, they leave out small gifts for the wise men and fill their shoes with hay for the camels. In the morning, gifts from the wise men will be placed in the shoes. Kids in Mexico are more likely to go and sit on the lap of one of the three kings at the local shopping mall, rather than Father Christmas’s lap.

In the Eastern church where Epiphany focuses on the Baptism of Jesus, traditions centre around water.

In the Greek Orthodox church there is the tradition of the Great Blessing of the Waters. The priest blesses the water then the cross is cast into the water and people may jump in to try to retrieve it. The person who retrieves it receives special blessing for them and their household. This photo was actually taken on the Glenelg jetty in Adelaide.

In Bulgaria a similar ritual is followed by dancing in the icy waters. If it was a toss-up between running through the street in your daks, or dancing in the water for Epiphany, we should be grateful that we celebrate Christmas in summer on this side of the world!

You might be interested to learn that Epiphany is also related to Mardi Gras festivals all over the world. Mardi Gras shares with Twelfth Night the wearing of masks and costumes, dancing, parades,  parties, and the general overturning social conventions. King Cake is also eaten at Mardi Gras and it is from the early days of the New Orleans Mardi Gras that we get the now-traditional colours of King Cake – purple for justice, yellow for power, green for faith.  The season of Mardi Gras begins at Epiphany and culminates in huge parades and parties which coincide with Shrove Tuesday and the beginning of Lent.

By the time of the late Renaissance, Christmas itself was a day of low-key observance that kicked off an annual twelve day festival of religious ceremony and secular celebration, culminating at Epiphany in exuberant celebrations that coincide with the arrival of the Magi in Bethlehem.

But between then and now, the Victorian era stamped Twelfth Night with propriety and social conformity, Coca-cola gave rise to the red & white suited Santa Claus who pretty much eclipsed the wise men, and post-war consumerism got to Christmas and made it about the buying and giving of consumer goods rather than the joys of dancing in the street, sharing hospitality with one’s community, and giving thanks for the bounty of the earth.

So now it seems the party is over by the time the Magi arrive in our Christian calendar.
The Old Testament reading for Epiphany is from Isaiah 60 which prophesies the glory of God arriving as a great light over all the nations of the world, heralded by the arrival of gifts of gold and frankincense by kingly visitors on camels from the east.
Reading: Isaiah 60: 1-6  (Jill)
Notice how none of the gospel accounts of the birth of Jesus mention camels but it’s universally accepted that the bearers of these gifts from the east travelled by camel. Most of the nativity scenes we’ve come to know usually feature camels.

Psalm 72 also tells us that far off kings will bring gifts to the Son of David. It’s traditional to view the story of the Magi as a fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy and Psalm 72 which is why crowns and camels have crept into our idea of the Magi. But that’s not the interesting bit: notice that from the Old to the New testament we gained a gift? – myrrh.

We understand that the gifts of the Magi each hold a symbolic significance for the life and destiny of Jesus Christ.

Gold was the gift reserved for royalty and symbolised Jesus’ kingship.

Frankincense was a rare and valuable aromatic perfume associated with the priesthood and  symbolic of Jesus’ holy anointing. When frankincense is burned, as it was in the Temple, it gives off a sweet smelling white smoke. The smoke rising from the altar of incense represented the prayers of the people rising to God in heaven. The only use of frankincense for Jews was at the Altar of Incense in the Temple and it was reserved for the worship of God. The Magi presenting this gift to Jesus represents the fact that He was indeed divine.

But Myrrh, which specifically appears in the New Testament, has a symbolism almost directly opposite to that of the frankincense. Where frankincense symbolises Jesus’ divinity, myrrh symbolises his mortality. Its most common use was for burial. Myrrh was placed on the cloths used to wrap bodies for burial to help prevent the smell of decay following death. The Magi presented this gift to Jesus as a representation that He would one day die.

So there we have it in one little sentence in the gospels – frankincense and myrrh – immortality and mortality – divinity and humanity – God and man – right along side each other. No wonder Jesus’ contemporaries later in life didn’t know what to expect of him. No wonder Isaiah didn’t pick it.

This was the really hard thing for those living in Jesus’ time to comprehend – that the same person who fulfilled all those prophecies about a glorious new king also fulfilled the prophecies about a suffering servant. But this is the message the story of the Magi brings and is the essence of why Epiphany is so significant.

All three gifts of the Magi are necessary to convey this revelation, the epiphany of who this child in Bethlehem is and what he is destined to do.

So, getting back to the celebration of Epiphany and the notion of Twelfth Night: the Magi, Wise men, the Three Kings – whatever we choose to call them – brought their gifts to Jesus at this time in the New Year, just as the message of their story brings to us all the revelation that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, God born among us, to walk alongside us. They heralded the arrival of God’s light in the world.

So, rather than be met by us at Twelfth Night packing up the Christmas decorations, taking down the Christmas lights, thinking that the party is over, let’s leave the lights on to greet the Magi; let’s have hearts open to continue the joyful celebration of Jesus’ arrival among us. Let’s sing and dance in the streets at the blessings in our lives like people in Roman, Medieval and Renaissance times did. Let’s put hay in our shoes, and eat crazy-coloured cake, and dress up in bright colours, and splash in the water, and share food and drink with our neighbours, and even run through the streets in red undies.

Let’s keep the party going and the lights on for the arrival of the Magi and the arrival of Jesus, Light of the world. Let’s turn the fairy lights on our tree back on.

Prayer:
Let’s pray
God of all time, we praise you for breaking into the darkness of this world with the glorious light of your presence.  A light which made your love for the world visible in a baby born in Bethlehem – Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour.  A light which guided those gift-bearing travellers from afar to find and worship the Christ-child.  A light which leads us to you, now revealed in Jesus Christ.

The radiance of a star guided the travellers to the feet of  Jesus where they offered their most precious gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh.  In that act, you revealed your glory and your love in the person of Jesus – Light of the world.  As we offer our thanks for such amazing gifts to us, we recognise our responsibility to be bearers of  his light and love into the areas of people’s lives darkened by pain and fear, poverty and oppression, hopelessness and sorrow.

We remember today that members of our community are experiencing that sorrow at the loss of a loved one. We ask your blessing of light, love, and consolation on Tom and all of Betty’s family and friends as they mourn her passing. We give thanks for Betty’s life and the light that she shared with the world.

Today we also remember those Australian communities that are awash in an abundance of water – too much water. We pray for strength, compassion, relief and enduring community spirit as these people begin the long process of recovering from the floods.
Strengthen us all with your Spirit to follow wherever you lead us, that we may live out your compassion and love in all we do and say.

We give you thanks God, for making your love evident since the very beginning of time when you spoke the word which replaced the darkness of chaos with life-giving light.
Holy God, as the travellers with their treasures were overwhelmed with joy on finding Jesus, so we also are overwhelmed on finding out the depth of his love for us.
In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen

Final thought:
So, what’s the last thing we know of the Magi?
The last verse of their story in Matthew tells us that, having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, the Magi returned to their country by another route.

And this is my final thought for the day: once we have met the Christ-child, seen the light, and recognised God walking among us, we also can not go back the way we came. We are different people, choosing to walk a different path. We can’t go back again and we aren’t the same as we were before.

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Jesus-The Word

 

Text: John 1:1-9 and Ephesians 1:3-14 9

1. The context and the big picture

Mark introduces Jesus at the beginning of his ministry.   Matthew places Jesus in the context of Jewish history by his opening   genealogy and birth narrative.   Luke sets Jesus at the intersection of Judaism’s pious hopes and the Roman   Empire’s march through history.   As valid and interesting interpretation and adjuncts to Jewish, Greek or   Roman history as these introductions may be, they all allow the reader to say,  

“All that’s very nice, but Jesus doesn’t really concern me and my life and the   way I live in the New Year ahead.”  

However in John’s gospel there is no baby in a crib, no family scenes but   rather John plunges into huge concepts and ideas built around abstract terms   as part of his scheme to paint a picture of Jesus that is very different from that   found in the Synoptic gospels. John sets Jesus in the context of the creation   and its meaning.   To do this John introduces use of The Word, The Logos, and ideas built on

Jewish and Greek thinking and philosophy.   Important to note that since John is writing to both Greeks and Jews he uses   their own philosophical term as the starting point for his message.  

Today I want to focus on John’s use of “The Word” as a title for Jesus the Christ.

v1 When the world began, the *Word (Jesus) existed already.      The *Word was with God.   And the *Word was God himself.   v2 The *Word was present with God at the beginning of all things.   v3 God made everything by means of the *Word.   The *Word caused all things to exist.   v4 He gave *life to everything that God created. His *life gave *light to everybody.      v5 The *light continues to shine in the darkness. The darkness has   never understood the *light. And the darkness has never made the *light” disappear.  

These verses are incredible aren’t they for they indicate that reality is   dependent upon Jesus…The Word  

The meaning of life and truth are somehow connected to Jesus.

No one can accept John’s picture of Jesus and then walk away saying,

“That doesn’t matter to me.”

It is not just some interpretation or adjunct to Jewish Greek or Roman   history…it’s about fundamental meaning of creation, about the reality and   meaning of our existence…our world view…its big stuff…it is of universal   interest.  

So much hangs about the use of the concepts behind the use of “The Word”… as a title for Jesus.

The Greek word for “Word” would be written in English letters as Logos (from   which we get logic, logo, and related words).      However Jesus is rarely called “The Word” outside this prologue.      It is interesting that UCA uses it in the way John does…Gordon and Steve   are “Ministers of the Word”.

Let’s do some work: To describe Jesus as the Word of God… points to some

valuable insights.

· A word is a message, a communication. Jesus is the communication of      a message from God.   · A word expresses the thoughts of the innermost person. Jesus is the      expression of the heart of God.   · A person’s word is a statement of that person’s nature or character.      Jesus is the perfect expression of the nature and character of God.  

In Jewish thought a word was a powerful and effective thing.   · Words accomplished things. Genesis 1 describes God as creating  

simply by means of a word.

· To say a blessing was to create a blessing.

 To call Jesus the “word” was to attribute to him the ability to make things   happen.      So in a Jewish world The Word  

But the Logos also had profound meaning in the Greek world.   Since John is writing to Greeks, he uses their own philosophical term as the   starting point for his message.   From their observation of order in the external universe and human rationality,   they believed there must be some universal “reason” which under-girds reality   and provides meaning for the universe. They sometimes called this “cosmic   rationality” (or Ultimate Reality) the logos.  

Logos therefore referred to Reason and to the principle of order that held the

Universe together.   In some ways the Logos was the mind of God that controlled the totality of the   world.   It was logos that made the world orderly rather than chaotic.   Further, Logos should control individual persons.   The Reason of the Universe should enable the individual to reasonably decide   between right and wrong.   Philo of Alexandria, writing at the very time of Jesus, described Logos as the    tiller with which God, the Pilot of the Universe, steers all things.  

In that sense the “Word” was an intermediary by which God related to the world and worked in it.

 Thus both the Greek and Jewish patterns of thought attributed profound   significance to “The Word.”  

In both cultures the Word was associated with God in the creation or   maintenance of the world.   In both the Word was almost a substitute expression for God Himself.      The first affirmation v1 When the world began, the *Word (Jesus) existed   already.  

The *Word was with God is of the existence of the Word in the beginning.

 · By doing this the gospel echoes almost exactly the opening words of Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God . . . .” Thus Jesus is placed at God’s side as far back in time as the Bible goes.

 The next phrase, however, refines the relationship between Jesus and God.

· “The Word was with God”. It might be better translated, “The Word was face to face with God.” The relationship of Jesus and God was more than side-by-side; it was a face to face relationship indicating far more intimacy than that of simply being co-workers.

 

This prepares for the final phrase, “The Word was God.”   · The affirmation that Jesus is God is difficult for many today and was      difficult for many first century Christians of Jewish heritage. Every Jew   began every morning with these words in prayer, “Hear, O Israel, the   LORD our God is one.” To claim that Jesus was God would be a very   difficult idea for Jews to assimilate.   · Perhaps the point that we should understand is not just that Jesus was      (and is) God, but that when Jesus is seen, God is seen. The Logos   provides us access and understanding into the very nature of God.   [That does not mean that the Logos exhausts the being of God. John   does not say God was the Logos. We struggle with the mystery of this   verse. Jesus is said both to be with God and to be God. That speaks of   Jesus being distinguishable from and yet identical with God. Our minds   cannot hold the ultimate logic of both statements together. We believe,   but there is a limit to our understanding. John could have easily said   as Paul did in Ephesians 5:32, “This is a great mystery.”][Could be   deleted]  

My mother taught me that…”Jesus was the best picture God ever took of   himself”…or more formally…   ” Jesus was the best picture of God that we have”…maybe her simplicity   covers and summarized all the ground I have been talking about….  

2. What is the Word or Picture that Jesus painted of God?

•     John also emphasised that Jesus was human. John recorded that Jesus was tired (John 4:6).

•     John also recorded that Jesus needed food (John 4:31).

•     Jesus was very sad when his friend Lazarus died. At that time, Jesus cried (John 11:35).

•     On another occasion, Jesus became angry with the people who did business in the *Temple (John 2:15).

•     And John also recorded that Jesus was *thirsty (John 19:28).

•     Jesus wept [ Slide 1 for Sermon on John 1.pdf]

•     Jesus healed on the Sabbath [ Slide 2 for Sermon on John 1.pdf]

•     Woman at the well…comes to us where we are. Regardless of how we see ourselves [ Slide 3 for Sermon on John 1.pdf and  Slide 4 for Sermon on John 1.pdf]

•     Heard and came to see our plight [ Slide 5 for Sermon on John 1.pdf]

•     Prodigal Son…God’s profligate, unconditional, extravagant love [ Slide 6 for Sermon on John 1.pdf]

•     Came and pitched his tent amongst us. God comes to us… [ Slide 7 for Sermon on John 1.pdf]

 Jesus was vulnerable…Jesus was tempted not to be…be supernatural · Jesus suffered, died but death is not the end…God remains with us thru death. · God is in and is the light and power of the creative process. Not standing aside and darting in and out but always there in the midst…taking responsibility.

Most importantly Jesus shows that God meets us where we are.

3. What is our response? to these pictures of God according to “The word of God “

As we begin new year how are we going to respond…what are some of   the options?   Is the Jesus-the Word of God, showing in his life and the stories he told   glimpses of God that you know and experience? Does it stack -up for   you? Is your picture of God like that painted by Jesus?   Maybe it’s not where you are at It is not where you are at with your   image and experience of God…maybe you are listening for a God that   is very different to the images of God shown in the stories of Jesus   and his very life actions.   Do you need to do some serious thinking and listening again to Jesus,   as he tells about God and gives you pictures, images and insights of   God.   Maybe you want to read the gospels again and perhaps as Markus   Borg says…”Meet Jesus again for the first time”.   Can we strip back the cultural veneer of our particular Christian   heritage that maybe have hidden, distorted or made dull the picture   that the Word of God was putting before us.   What ever your situation Jesus tells of God one key thing that God is   ready and waiting to take you as you are…right now.   Jesus showed us a God of abundant Love, Grace and   Forgiveness…stretching out to meet us where we are and to journey   with us from where we are. To travel with us every day.   A God who is in the creation, groaning to see it fulfilled through   relationship with us.   It is a never ending story of encounter.   As this new year open before us…read John and Ephesians   again…read the stories of Jesus again listen as Jesus paints the best   pictures of God that we have…and listen and see our loving God make   new , transform, refresh, and challenge our lives and our living as this   new year is dawning.   The picture we have of God has a profound impact on our lives…   Tell story from Signposts of Spirituality by Trevor Hudson.   Can I challenge you to reflect and if necessary re-think, re-experience   your picture of God as we enter the New Year.      John uses The Word to help us see Jesus as the best expression of our God we have. Look to how Jesus lived and taught as the basis for your picture of God.

I urge you to check it out.

Amen

John Williams

Posted in Sermons

25 December 2010

About 490,000 people will be born today across the world Just over 800 of them will be born in Australia. Some of them will be born in maternity wards in hospitals, others in homes. A few of them will be born in taxis or cars on the way to the planned delivery places  Some will be born in streets, some in refugee camps, some in warzones Many of them – far too many – will be born into poverty. Some will be born surrounded by animals.

That’s the reality of Christmas.   That’s the reality of birth in our world.

Every single one of those babies will bring disruption to the plans of others They will change sleeping patterns immediately; those that survive infancy will bring anguish and concern for years.

They will inspire protective behaviour from their parents, their family and community. Even the most meek person may be moved to significant courage and strength  in order to protect the most vulnerable: a baby.

They will provoke tears in others.   Tears when pain is experienced;  tears when communication seems impossible

They will bring delight unimaginable joy.  Joy that has the ability to reduce intelligent, articulate adults into apparently babbling incoherent lunatics. Joy that has the capacity to reduce people to silence and awe.

Each of those 490,000 babies born today carry in them the image of God. And not because they happen to be born on 25th December  as if  all babies born on 25 December have some special divine nature about them But because they are born.

Every one of them is born carrying the image of God. Like snowflakes falling from the sky (or from the ceiling beams) no two are identical –  In fact as we know not even identical twins are identical! But still each is in the image of God.

Christmas loses its power and much of its meaning if we reduce Christmas to a story of “back then” –  and even more so if it is seen to be ‘just a story’.

The depth of a child born as “Emmanuel – God with us” is at its most profound when we don’t sideline the Christmas story to being a story but accept that it is describing as much as it is narrating Christmas is Christmas when we let it come alive

Christmas is Christmas when we realise that every one of the 490,000 babies born today carries the image of God. And whether or not it is in precisely the same way as the infant Jesus carried that image,  it is still no less profound, and no less important.

Like wombat, we may not find our place in this world as the wise men Like wombat, we may not find our place in this world as the protector of the child Like wombat, we may not find our place in this world as a messenger of great news

It may simply be that we find our place in this world       when we look at ourselves and see the image of God Because that may then inspire us to also look at 490,000 new babies every day      And see the image of God.

The story moves from the pages of a book to the reality of life When we let it come alive as part of us, and when we realise we are the story.

My Christmas wish for you is that the story will indeed come alive

I wish for you the light that was born in you when God first spoke your name

I wish for you the word that echoed in heaven when she heard of God’s plans for you

I wish for you the time to grow into what God imagined in you in the first moment of your creation

I wish for you the hope that keeps you travelling across whatever horizons shape your life

I wish for you the promise of incarnation of birth and hope and word and journey

I wish for you the experience of life always coming true through God’s own word born in you today

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12 December 2010

Ah the irony of preparing in advance! Who would have thought when we planned this series of story books in around April this year that we would be reading Down by the Cool of the Pool  and the Isaiah reading of streams in the desert at the end of the wettest period in this region in 40-50 years!

But this 3rd Sunday in Advent – “Joyful Sunday “or “Gaudate Sunday”  is about experiencing the unexpected. Still holding off on the Carols (other than in the Very Kippax Christmas at 945 today) because we are following a good, solid Christian discipline of preparation. And hopefully, in the preparation, the anticipatory joy is catching. Like from a frog to a cow and a horse and a pig splashing around in the pool.

I wonder if it was relief, or excitement, of just the plain joy of something entirely different.

When the Israelites waited in exile, the promise of the prophet was of climate change Not the sort of climate change that threatens the globe these days but a change from emptiness to completion, from dryness to blossoming. Far from the experiences of the floods of this past week,  the image in Isaiah 35 is of life and of connections: Blossoms in the wilderness and an easy way of all God’s people connecting.   No longer separation, no longer alienation, no longer exile, no longer barren living No wonder the image is of joy

We’ve been hearing a bit of Walter Bruggemann over the past couple of weeks  “People are given back their lives, ” he says about this passage “Humanity is restored to full function”

But we read this text in the midst of our Advent waiting.  Of course, the world around us has already charged ahead full-steam into the Christmas season  and will have tired of it by December 26,  but in the church we are still in a season of waiting and anticipation, and preparation, too.  With one foot in the world of a waiting church and the other foot in the celebrating (and shopping) world,  we may find it one more challenge to hear these promises without going into overload.  Even good news can be too much to take in when we’re too busy to hear it.

Advent – the waiting in Advent – gives us a true chance to learn to celebrate. Brueggemann again: “God does what the world thinks is not possible.  Advent is getting ready for that impossibility which will permit us to dance and sing  and march and thank and drink – and live!”

If you want to capture the strange sense of singing celebration in Advent then we hear it in our 2nd reading when again the preparation for transforming impossibility is met with an outburst of joy

“Tell out my soul, the wonders of the Lord” Why?   Because the unmarried teenager is about to have a baby?? No!, because there is a promise that the world will be transformed so that no one is abandoned and there is probably no more powerful symbol of voicing this than an unmarried pregnant teenager in a world ruled by male hierarchy and values.

But I hope the joy in Mary’s song is catchy – like the joy with the frog and the cow and the horse. Because the message of Gaudate Sunday, Rejoice Sunday is for you to jump on in the water’s great!

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5 December 2010

The wolf shall live with the lamb,   the leopard shall lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the fatling together,   and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze,   their young shall lie down together

Sounds like a Christmas Card from Hallmark.   But we know the reality is that the world has evolved so that the strong survive and those that adapt so as to fight off or evade their predators are the ones with a future

Advent offers the promise of something else:   Shalom

Another quote from Walter Bruggemann:

Shalom, is creation time, when all God’s creation eases up  on hostility and destruction and finds another way of relating” 

The old practice of the big ones eating the little ones is not the wave of the future…. The rightly governed world will indeed be detoxified,  no more a threat to the poor, the meek, the children, the lamb, the kid.  The new world will indeed be safe for the vulnerable

This morning I want to invite you into a place that you may or may not have been expecting to head today.

Using the images of the Story book in your mind, and the sounds of reflective music I invite you to be aware of the battle that is going on:

Not the battles in Afghanistan, or the financial battles on the stock market Not even the battles for dignity and respect in detention centres.

This time today is your time and I invite you to journey into the battles that go on within.

What part of you is wolf?   What part of you is lamb? With an evolutionary mindset,  we might expect that we need to be making parts of us strong and make it so that the more vulnerable parts of our lives can eventually devour other parts

What does it mean for you today in your spirit

The old practice of the big ones eating the little ones is not the wave of the future…. The rightly governed world will indeed be detoxified,  no more a threat to the poor, the meek, the children, the lamb, the kid.  The new world will indeed be safe for the vulnerable

God’s desires are that it is safe for the most vulnerable part of your living the most sensitive and fragile.

Isaiah 11 talks about a shoot coming out from the stump of Jesse,  But this is after Isaiah 10 has talked about the lofty trees being felled and the tall ones being brought low.

Today isn’t a day to try to be strong, courageous, or as might as the cedars of Lebanon Today is a day to be reminded of the spirit of God nurturing the stillest smallest shoot.

Peace at Advent is not just a dram about what might become reality out there It’s about trusting God for refreshment of what is to be the case in here

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