Friday, December 25, 2009

Sermon: Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve 2009 Semon from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

Text here:

Joseph had to make his way to his ancestral home. And I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it. It was long trip. His wife was pregnant. He probably didn’t have a whole lot of cash in his wallet. But the government wanted him where his family tree was planted.

We’re often told that we’re supposed to be “home” for Christmas. But sometimes I wonder just where that should be. As one whose lived in three different provinces, moved into countless apartments and houses, paid rent to way too many landlords, I wonder what “home” really looks like.

Tonight is a reminder that “home” is kind of fluid. It’s not as fixed as we might like to think. Some of us might not even know what we mean by “home.”

Sometimes, by “home” we mean a sense of the familiar, a feeling of safety and security. A place where we can be truly ourselves, we can forget to wipe our feet at the front door. We can belch at the dinner table and someone will still pass us the potatoes, although with a snide remark. Home means stability. A rootedness that we don’t find anywhere else. A connection to our past.

If that’s what we’re looking for then I wonder if Christmas is really the place we find it. Christmas is a story about...(whole thing here)

Merry Christmas! Here's St. John Chrysostom's Christmas Sermon

BEHOLD a new and wondrous mystery. My ears resound to the Shepherd’s song, piping no soft melody, but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn. The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory. All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now for our redemption dwells here below; and he that was lowly is by divine mercy raised.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven; hearing from the stars the singing of angelic voices; and in place of the sun, enfolds within itself on every side, the Sun of justice. And ask not how: for where God wills, the order of nature yields. For He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed; all things yielded in obedience to God. This day He Who is, is Born; and He Who is, becomes what He was not. For when He was God, He became man; yet not departing from the Godhead that is His. Nor yet by any loss of divinity became He man, nor through increase became He God from man; but being the Word He became flesh, His nature, because of impassability, remaining unchanged.

And so the kings have come, and they have seen the heavenly King that has come upon the earth, not bringing with Him Angels, nor Archangels, nor Thrones, nor Dominations, nor Powers, nor Principalities, but, treading a new and solitary path, He has come forth from a spotless womb.

Since this heavenly birth cannot be described, neither does His coming amongst us in these days permit of too curious scrutiny. Though I know that a Virgin this day gave birth, and I believe that God was begotten before all time, yet the manner of this generation I have learned to venerate in silence and I accept that this is not to be probed too curiously with wordy speech. For with God we look not for the order of nature, but rest our faith in the power of Him who works.

What shall I say to you; what shall I tell you? I behold a Mother who has brought forth; I see a Child come to this light by birth. The manner of His conception I cannot comprehend.

Nature here rested, while the Will of God labored. O ineffable grace! The Only Begotten, Who is before all ages, Who cannot be touched or be perceived, Who is simple, without body, has now put on my body, that is visible and liable to corruption. For what reason? That coming amongst us he may teach us, and teaching, lead us by the hand to the things that men cannot see. For since men believe that the eyes are more trustworthy than the ears, they doubt of that which they do not see, and so He has deigned to show Himself in bodily presence, that He may remove all doubt.

Christ, finding the holy body and soul of the Virgin, builds for Himself a living temple, and as He had willed, formed there a man from the Virgin; and, putting Him on, this day came forth; unashamed of the lowliness of our nature’. For it was to Him no lowering to put on what He Himself had made. Let that handiwork be forever glorified, which became the cloak of its own Creator. For as in the first creation of flesh, man could not be made before the clay had come into His hand, so neither could this corruptible body be glorified, until it had first become the garment of its Maker.

What shall I say! And how shall I describe this Birth to you? For this wonder fills me with astonishment. The Ancient of days has become an infant. He Who sits upon the sublime and heavenly Throne, now lies in a manger. And He Who cannot be touched, Who is simple, without complexity, and incorporeal, now lies subject to the hands of men. He Who has broken the bonds of sinners, is now bound by an infants bands. But He has decreed that ignominy shall become honor, infamy be clothed with glory, and total humiliation the measure of His Goodness.

For this He assumed my body, that I may become capable of His Word; taking my flesh, He gives me His spirit; and so He bestowing and I receiving, He prepares for me the treasure of Life. He takes my flesh, to sanctify me; He gives me His Spirit, that He may save me.

Come, then, let us observe the Feast. Truly wondrous is the whole chronicle of the Nativity. For this day the ancient slavery is ended, the devil confounded, the demons take to flight, the power of death is broken, paradise is unlocked, the curse is taken away, sin is removed from us, error driven out, truth has been brought back, the speech of kindliness diffused, and spreads on every side, a heavenly way of life has been ‘in planted on the earth, angels communicate with men without fear, and men now hold speech with angels.

Why is this? Because God is now on earth, and man in heaven; on every side all things commingle. He became Flesh. He did not become God. He was God. Wherefore He became flesh, so that He Whom heaven did not contain, a manger would this day receive. He was placed in a manger, so that He, by whom all things arc nourished, may receive an infant’s food from His Virgin Mother. So, the Father of all ages, as an infant at the breast, nestles in the virginal arms, that the Magi may more easily see Him. Since this day the Magi too have come, and made a beginning of withstanding tyranny; and the heavens give glory, as the Lord is revealed by a star.

To Him, then, Who out of confusion has wrought a clear path, to Christ, to the Father, and to the Holy Ghost, we offer all praise, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Like Any Given Sunday

Every year Christmas sermons get harder to write. At least that’s been my experience. Christmas is the Super Bowl of church, the one day of the year we can be guaranteed a full house. Don’t say Easter gets people through the door. I’ve preached at half-empty churches on Resurrection Day.

Some pastors like to say that Easter is the High Point of the church year, the game seven of world series, the Stanley Cup finals of the ecclesial world, opening night on Broadway.

That may be true theologically, but it’s not true practically. Some theological wags say that Christmas is less threatening than Easter because Christmas is about a baby, and what’s so scary about a baby? While Easter is about God turning the world upside down, defeating the forces of sin, death, and devil, the inauguration of the New Creation ; an event that demands a response from the worshipper. After all, how can one be confronted with the powers of the Almighty hitting alt-ctl-del on the world, and NOT respond in faith?

Sheesh. These folks need to get over themselves. I think Christmas is more popular than Easter because we get stuff, not because people are threatened by resurrection. Presents make the holiday. Not the story.

It would be nice if it were the reverse. But, sadly, I don’t think it is. Not in our culture.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this into an anti-consumerist keep-Christ-in-Christmas, Jesus-is-the-main-thing rant (although that would be fun). I can’t get on my high horse because I like getting stuff at Christmas too. Everyone does. We grouch like Charlie Brown over the consumer-driven holiday, but still dutifully line up at the Wal-Mart checkout. We whine about the corporate take-over of Christmas, but come Christmas morning, the homes of most Christians look like a Sears commercial.

That’s why sermon writing gets harder for me each year. I have trouble penetrating the celebratory fog that obscures the Nativity story. Even my own fog.

But one year, two beloved and long-time members of the church died the morning of Christmas Eve. That day, the sermon wrote itself because I had to think about what the festival of the Incarnation really means for us. If Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us - then what did that say about the grief we were all feeling?

And then I got thinking that, even if visitors to our little congregation didn’t know the two women who died that morning, they were bringing their own pain and grief with them. They came to hear the story and sing some songs.

And maybe the the bible readings and Christmas carols were mere accessories to make their Christmas celebrations complete, they came to CHURCH to hear them. They were compelled to be with a community of God’s people to listen to God’s sacred story; and with in story they hear the Word proclaimed. The Word does it’s job when it reaches peoples’ ears.

So, maybe that’s where I have to begin this Christmas - at the intersection of the Christmas story and peoples’ lives.

But then again, how is that different from any given Sunday?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Another Quote of the Day

When I love God I love the beauty of bodies, the rhythm of movements, the shining of eyes, the embraces, the feelings, the scents, the sounds of all this protean creation. When I love you, my God, I want to embrace it all, for I love you with all my senses in the creations of your love. In all the things that encounter me, you are waiting for me.

For a long time, I looked for you within myself, and crept into the shell of my soul, protecting myself with an armour of unapproachability. But you were outside—outside myself—and enticed me out of the narrowness of my heart into the broad place of love for life. So I came out of myself and found my soul in my senses, and my own self in others.

The experience of God deepens the experiences of life. It does not reduce them, for it awakens the unconditional Yes to life. The more I love God the more gladly I exist. The more immediately and wholly I exist, the more I sense the living God, the inexhaustible well of life, and life’s eternity.

—Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, p. 98

Quote of the Day

...I am concerned that something might come to be and perhaps flourish that calls itself Protestant yet in essence has very little to do with [the] classical Protestant heritage and may in fact represent religious and moral assumptions antithetical to that heritage. I am concerned, too, that that heritage should not be reduced to a traditionalism that is nothing but “the dead faith of the living.” Stewarding the Protestant tradition means listening attentively to the “living faith of the dead” so that the present community of discipleship may find its way into the future.

- Douglas John Hall, Bound and Free p. 108, with a hat tip to Jaroslav Pelikan.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Many of you know already that I have, in the last month, separated from my wife. We realized that we were making each other miserable, so, for the sake of our respective sanities, and the welfare of the kids (who shouldn’t have to watch mommy and daddy fighting so often), we decided on a trial separation.

We don’t know if reconciliation is possible. But we’ll see what the future holds when we get there.

I changed my Facebook relationship status from “married” to “it’s complicated” (there’s no “separated” option. Being “separated’ is not quite “single” and not quite “married.” It’s a relational limbo that people interpret for themselves.) as a way of starting to tell people. I have told close family and friends, as well as my congregation and a few colleagues. So people are starting to learn of R’s and my separation.

I have been hesitant in telling people because of the requisite feelings attached to a failed marriage: grief, shame, embarrassment, anger, etc. It’s hard telling people that what was supposed to be a lifetime commitment disintegrated after only 9 years. It’s hard being THAT statistic which people like to throw around so carelessly.

But I also have a sense of possibility for the future. New doors opening and avenues to explore. I imagine that my wife is feeling the same complex of emotions.

I appreciate the support I’ve received since the news got out there. Most people have been kind, gracious, and generous. Especially from within my faith community.

I covet your prayers for my family, specifically for the girls. If praying’s not your thing, send positive vibes our way. And feel free to buy me a beer.

I’ll keep you updated....

A "Full Communion" Christmas Greeting

Two Thoughts:

I don't know why, but Bp. Susan always looks comatose in these video greetings. Odd, since she's usually so full of life.

And I think ArchBp. Fred gave me the kernel for my Christmas Eve sermon. Stay tuned.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Sermon: Advent 3C

Advent 3C from Good Shepherd on Vimeo.

Although we missed Part One of John the Baptist, today we’ll jump to Part Two. And it isn't a pretty picture.

If all we knew about John the Baptist was that he asked us to prepare the way for the Messiah's arrival, then that would be something we could easily handle. In fact, we're doing just that. We've decorated the sanctuary, put up the tree. We’re rehearsing the Christmas pageant. We're planning our Christmas celebrations. We're buying the gifts and organizing the Christmas meal. We've decided what charity we'll support over the holidays, and maybe we've decided to volunteer a little extra time helping the less fortunate.

What else need there be to do?

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John the Baptist bellows at us last week, “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.”

So far, so good. A familiar passage to most of us. Some of us even sing along to Handel's Messiah version as we hear this being read.

But flip over the page and...(whole thing here)