Saturday, December 29, 2012

On the Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me....

a delightful video from St Paul's Church in New Zealand.

If the video doesn't work, you can watch The Christmas Story here.

Friday, December 28, 2012

On the Fourth Day of Christmas...

Happy Fourth Day of Christmas.

There's some truly amazing performance art out there and Joe Castillo is one of those artists.  His telling/drawing of the Christmas story is very beautiful and quite engrossing.  I find myself hanging on each move, wondering what he's drawing next.

Enjoy A Christmas Story in Sand

Thursday, December 27, 2012

On the Thrid Day of Christmas

Merry Day Three of Christmas!

Today's gift comes from my new favorite story tellers at St Paul's Church in Auckland. New Zealand.
They tackle the question of why Christmas?  Why did God send God's Son into the world.

We find the answer to that in John 3:16.
 For God so loved the world
      - all the world, the whole cosmos, every little bit of the creation that God called good
that God send God's Son
      - God came to live with us, as one of us, Word made flesh, God with us, in the form of a baby!

Yes, God's love was why for Christmas - even though humans didn't really do much of anything to deserve such love.  Listen to the story:

It is indeed Good News of Great Joy!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

On the Second Day of Christmas......

Merry 2nd Day of Christmas! 

And Happy Boxing Day to our neighbors to the North and across the Pond! (and anyone else who celebrates Boxing Day!)

I love a clever song lyric and witty play on words (which explains my love of country songs).  And as much as I love a clever lyric, even better is a parody of that clever lyric.

I first saw today's video last year and fell in love.  I wished I could have shown it at both my congregations on Christmas Eve.  Alas, our lack of projection equipment at the time made it impossible.

The angels song today might sound like this:  Bethlehemian Rhapsody


On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me - puppets and a Queen parody.  Nothing says Merry Christmas in quite the same way!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

On the First Day of Christmas..

One the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me....

For most people, today is the last day of the Christmas Season.  The radio stations that started playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving (and those that started at Thanksgiving) switch back to their regularly scheduled programing.  Stores rush to mark down Christmas merchandise and make room for the Valentine's Day displays.   In living rooms, people settle down with an exhausted sigh, celebrating that the mad rush to get everything done in time for Christmas is over, and the family gatherings have been gathered and dispersed.

Maybe some diehards among us hold off until after New Year's day.  After all, it's still part of the holiday season.  And possibly, there are still some family gatherings to attend - after all you can only do so much on Christmas Day, and Mom and Dad still expect you to visit even though you had to visit the other side of the family on The Day. 

But really, Christmas Day is just the beginning.  Did you ever wonder where the whole 12 days of Christmas thing came from?  Is it more than just a quaint song?

The 12 days of Christmas mark the tradition Christmas season according to the church calendar.  It starts on Christmas day and goes until Epiphany - the day celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Christ.  (For the purists - Christmas Day is the first day and Epiphany, being the 13th day after and the start of a new church season, is not included in the count).

So in honor of the season, I offer gifts for the 12 days of Christmas.

Ok, I'm not your true love - so no partridges or lords a-leaping. 

I offer for your Christmas enjoyment the 12 Videos of Christmas.

Today's video is bySt Paul's Church, Auckland,  New Zealand.  They may just be my new favorites at telling the Christmas story.  And who can resist the kid's accents!

Enjoy An Unexpected Christmas (link provided in case you can't get the video to work.)  I love the angels - warrior angels, baby angels, little girl angels and the image of heaven is so much fun.  And I love the idea that the angels are stunned at God's idea.

I love that God want's to be closer to God's children.

Monday, December 24, 2012

What is it about Christmas?: A Christmas Eve meditation

Listen to the story once again (Luke 2:8-20): 
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.   
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."  
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" 
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." 
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.  When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Mary pondered these things in her heart.  
I’ve been pondering Christmas things in my heart.

What is it about Christmas?

-Is it just lights and decorated trees, and Christmas cards and carols?

-Is it just parties and treats at the office and Secret Santa exchange?

-Is it just packed malls, and crossing off items on a overflowing to do list, and finding just that perfect gift?

-Is it just children creeping down the stairs on Christmas morning, and wrapping paper strewn rooms?

-Is it just the smells of turkey or ham, or my mother’s traditional Christmas lasagna, and family gathered around the table?
All these are good things.  
All these are joyous things.  
But are they enough to explain Christmas?

-Is it the joy of the children’s Christmas program, where anything can happen –
                             angels’ wings drop off,
                             a lamb runs down the aisle for the safety of her mother’s arms,
                             a tiny shepherd uses his staff to hook the angels
                                                 and fish the baby Jesus  doll out of the manger,
anything can happen
                                but the angels’ song never sounded sweeter.

 -It is the full church on Christmas Eve,
                      greeting friends and family you only see at Christmas time,
                      the melody of familiar carols,
                      and the sacred silence of a candlelit church?

 What is it about Christmas?

Why does the world seem to get a bit kinder at this time?

Why do people smile at strangers and wish them “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays”?

Why are there more acts of kindness, stories of people surprising their poorer neighbors with turkeys for the table and gifts for the children and the wonder of a paid in full electric bill?

Why does joy seem more joyful and tragedy seem more tragic?

It’s as if at this time of year we sense that there’s something better than the way things are.

There’s a promise wafting on the wind.

There’s something here, something grand.

Something we long for deep in our souls.

And we catch a glimpse of that something at Christmas.

And it makes us want to celebrate.

It makes us want to rejoice. 

It makes us want to hope.

This week, I read a poem by Ann Weems, called Lord, You were born:

Each year about this time I try to be sophisticated
And pretend I understand the bored expressions
                  Relating to the “Christmas Spirit.”
I nod when they say “Put the Christ back in Christmas.”
I say yes, yes, yes when they shout “Commercial” and
                  “Hectic, hectic, hectic.”
After all, I’m getting older.
And I’ve heard it said, “Christmas is for children.”
But somehow a fa-la-la keeps creeping out…
So I’ll say it:
I love Christmas tinsel
And angel voices that come from the bed upstairs.
And I say three cheers for Santa Claus
And the Salvation Army bucket
And all the wrappings and festivities and special warm feelings.
I say it is good
So hooray for Christmas trees
And candlelight
And the good old church pageant.
Hooray for shepherd boys who forget their lines
And wise men whose beards fall off
And a Mary who giggles.
O Lord, you were born!
O Lord, you were born!
And that breaks in upon my ordered life like bugles blaring.
And I sing, “Hark, the Herald Angels” in the most unlikely places.
You were born
And I will celebrate!
I rejoice for the carnival of Christmas!
I clap for the pajama-clad cherubs
And the Christmas cards jammed in the mail slot.
I o-o-o-oh for the turkey
And ah-h-h-h for the Christmas pudding
And thank God for the alleluias I see in the faces of people
I don’t know
                  And yet know very well.

O Lord, there aren’t enough choir boys to sing what I feel. There aren’t enough trumpets to blow.
O Lord, I want bells to peal!
I want to dance in the streets of Bethlehem!
I want to sing with the heavenly hosts!
For unto us a Son was given
And he was called God with us.
For those of us who believe
The whole world is decorated in love.

At Christmas, the world catches a glimpse of God’s love.

A glimpse of the way God created the world to be.

A glimpse of something grand.

Something we long for deep in our souls.

Hope was met that night in Bethlehem.
Peace was birthed in a manger.
Joy burst forth over all the earth.
And love became incarnate and walked among us.

And so we celebrate!

We rejoice with the angels!

We run through the streets praising and shouting with the shepherds!

How can you not want to shout it from the mountain tops?

God is with us!

And the whole world is amazed at the news! 

(sing “Go tell it on the mountains”)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Do you know?

Readings for this Sunday: Micha 5:2-5a; Psalm 80:1-7; Hebrews 10:5-10, Luke 1:39-55

One of my favorite Christmas carols is “Mary did you Know.”  Actually, I have lots of favorite Christmas carols and each of them is special in some way.  But this carol, it speaks to me:
Mary did you know that your Baby Boy would someday walk on water
Mary did you know that you Baby boy would save our sons and daughters….
Mary did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod
And when you kiss your little baby, you’ve kissed the face of God.
Oh Mary did you know?[i]
Oh Mary did you Know?

We will hear on Christmas Eve the story of how the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced that God had looked on her with favor and chosen her to be the mother of God with us – Jesus. 
How Mary was puzzled that she should be the one to have this child
        as much because she was an ordinary, poor woman
        as because she was not married.

To which the angel replied,
        the Holy Spirit will come to you,
        the power of God will cover you in God’s shadow,
        this child, born from a human mother – is the Son of God,
        this child, born to a poor ordinary couple, will be King of all,
        Nothing is impossible with God, who can cause an old woman way past childbearing age to conceive
o   Like Sarah
o   Like Hannah
o   Like your cousin Elizabeth

Mary did you know?

Mary goes to visit Elizabeth.  Who better to understand the inconceivable?  Who better to
believe the unbelievable? 

Who better to share her good news with - someone else who has experienced the power of God in her life.

If Mary didn’t know, Elizabeth certainly tells her
        My unborn child recognized Who the child you are carrying is,
        My child leaps for joy at the sound of your voice,
        Mary did you know you are blessed?
        Mary did you know you are carrying God’s son?
Mary bursts into song.  Praising God for what God has done for her.  But her song quickly changes to praising God for what God has done, is doing, and will do for the world:
        God’s everlasting mercy throughout the centuries;
        Casting down the proud and powerful;
o   Lifting up the poor and oppressed;
        Filling the hungry with good things;
o   Sending those who are rich and satisfied with the status quo away empty;
        Remembering God’s promise to bring salvation, reconciliation, re-creation:
o   Her child, decedent of Abraham will bless the world
o   Her child, from the line of King David, is the Prince of Peace.
No doubt about it - Mary did know how God had drawn her into God’s redeeming, re-creating activity in the world.
There are lots of songs sung at Christmas time.  When we sing, do we know how God draws us into God’s reconciling, re-creating activity in the world?
 People do you know, that Mary’s Child has come to make you new?
People do you know that the Son of God is God’s sign of love for you?
People do you know that this baby boy brings God’s grace and love to earth,
And you’re called to live God’s story, as you sing about his birth?
Oh People do you know?
People do you know? [ii]

That when you sing “Joy to the World,” God works joy in your heart, drawing you into joyful anticipation for that day when “No more let sin and sorrow reign and thorns infest the ground.”  That God comes again through you to make “God’s blessings known, far as the curse is found.”

That when you sing “What child is this?” the marvel of God come in human flesh, God with us, born in a humble stable that night long ago becomes even more marvelous as the realization seeps into you that Jesus still comes to us, still lives in us, is still with us – through you!

That when you sing “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “the hopes and fears of all the years,” the hope and fear of today are given voice, are lifted to God once again, and God once again answers those hope and fears with love and grace and mercy.

That when you sing, “It came upon a midnight clear,”  you join the angels’ song, singing “Peace on earth, God’s mercy and favor is shown to those who are crushed by life, who are burdened and weary,” and suddenly you understand that the angels’ have come to you, to tell you that you are blessed, that you have found favor with God and that you are sent as a messenger from God to proclaim peace, to reveal God’s love for the world.

That when you sing “O come thou long expected Jesus,” you are singing Jesus into your heart, into your very being so that Jesus birthed in your soul can continue God’s reconciling, re-creating activity in a world that needs to be set free, to be released from fear, to be restored to right relationship (freed from sin) with God and each other, to bring hope and peace and joy and love?
That each Christmas we sing, because we are pregnant with Mary[iii]
        pregnant with the possibilities inherent in our God with whom nothing is impossible
        as a pregnant woman carries her unborn child, we carry Jesus, speaking for him, breathing his love into our world,
        anxiously awaiting God’s promise of hope, joy, peace and love, the  birth of a world changed.
That’s the song we sing at Christmas. 
           That’s the song we sing all year long.

We join in Mary’s song.
      (Sing “the Canticle of Turning”)

[i] Lyrics by Mark Lowry.

[ii] From here on out this sermon is directly influenced by David Lose’s thoughts for the Fourth Sunday in Advent, Dear Working Preacher,

[iii] Thanks to Terri at “Seeking Authentic Voice” for including the Caryll Houselander quote that talks about how we birth God to the world in her sermon for this Sunday. It’s a great sermon, and I wish I wrote it.  You can read it at:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tears for the children, Tears for us all.

The tears finally came.

I think yesterday it was the shock.  How could it not be?  Sitting at lunch with a visiting pastor from Cameroon when I saw the news flashing across a TV in the corner of the restaurant.  Apologizing to my friend when I pulled out my cell to search for news to clarify the soundless message of "27 dead in school shooting" flashing across the muted screen. 

Connecticut.  Kindergartners.

I can't even fathom what could have happened.  How could someone walk into an elementary school - AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! - and start shooting.

As I explain to my friend what has happened, he asks, "Was it terrorists?"

I respond, "Probably not.  Usually when this happens, there's been a fight, a broken relationship, some bullying.  Someone has a problem with one of the people shot, or the school."

I recoil at my own words:  Usually....when this happens....


Really - how many times does this have to happen for it to become almost common?  For it to become something that we can talk about in terms of the typical reasons for it?

I think of the people in that mall near Portland earlier this week.  Of the Sikhs in the temple in Wisconsin, the movie-goers in Aurora.  I think of Virginia Tech, of an Amish schoolhouse.  Of Columbine.

The rest of the day, I carry a heavy lead weight in my soul.  There are no tears, no prayers.  Just 'Lord have mercy..." and the wordless cry of my heart to God for the children, the parents, the first responders, the community....for us all.

Today, finally, the shock wears away and I have tears.

I think of this week's worship - my friend visiting from Cameroon will be doing a monologue as King Herod talking about his deadly rage at the news of a new king in town - the newborn Prince of Peace.  We'll light the third Advent Candle - the candle of Joy.  We will hear Paul's words to the Philippians:  "Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say "Rejoice."

Herod, the king who murdered infants in order to kill the Prince of Peace who threatened his rule.  This evil has been with us a long time.

Rejoice in the Lord always.  

How can we rejoice, when we hear the voice of Rachael, weeping over her children?  When we hear the cries of the mothers in Bethlehem?  The cries of women weeping over their children killed in war, in senseless violence, in heedless pursuit of greed throughout the centuries?  When hear the tears of a nation reeling in the deaths of 20 kindergartners just 11 days before we celebrate Christmas?

I cry this morning with them.

I offer the words of one of my favorite hymns as a prayer this morning.  "God of Grace, and God of Glory" is usually sung as a triumphal hymn.  Today as I read it, verses 2 and 3 become a lament, a prayer of longing for the coming of the One who will make all things right, make all things new:

Lo! The host of evil round us
Scorn the Christ assail his ways!
From the fears that long have bound us
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom
Grant us courage
For the living of these days
For the living of these days

Cure your children's warring madness.
Bend our prise to your control.
Same our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul
Grant us wisdom
Grant us courage
Lest we miss your kingdom's goal
Lest we miss your kingdom's goal.

Come, Lord Jesus - end your children's warring madness.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

First Sunday in Advent: Hope and the End of the World

Luke 21:25-36  There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  27 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory.  28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."  29 Then he told them a parable: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees;  30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near.  32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place.  33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  34 "Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly,  35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth.  36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man."

The race to Christmas has begun.  So much to do – cards to send, gifts to buy, cookies to bake, trees to decorate, holiday concerts to attend, parties to host or to go to, the list goes on endlessly it seems.  The stores jump right from Halloween to Christmas, carols start playing before Thanksgiving.  The perfect family Christmas is the goal – like in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation's perfect Griswold Christmas.
And then you come to church, and it’s like someone slammed on the brakes.  We’re not rushing to Christmas here.  No, we’re waiting and preparing.  It’s Advent.  And we’re not preparing for Christmas, although we will decorate the church, and sing carols, and the kids will practice for the Christmas program.

In Advent, we’re preparing for Jesus’ to come.

Not as a baby – he’s already done that.

We’re preparing for Jesus to come again.

And that’s why we start Advent with this strange story about the earth in turmoil, and the foundations of heaven shaken and people fainting from the fear of it all.

In Advent, we begin with the end.  We begin with telling the story of how it will be – how the Son of Man will come in glory on the clouds, how God will redeem all of creation, making all things new, how death and sin and evil and pain and suffering will be once and forever defeated.

Knowing how the story ends gives us hope.  We trust that in the times of turmoil of life, when everything seems to be crashing down around us, that God is in charge, that God is working all things to God’s purpose and to the good of those who love and trust in God.

So, Jesus paints this frightening picture of a world turning upside down and then says, “Don’t be weighed down, and bent over and trapped by the worries of this life.  Stand tall, raise your head and look around for the signs of God’s kingdom breaking in on this world.  God is near, bringing salvation.  Pray and watch.  Watch and pray.   God is faithful.”

And that’s what Advent is really about. Waiting and watching, praying and looking for the signs of God’s faithfulness in our own time. 

As we wait, we tell stories of how it is – where we see the signs of hope in our own times.

Did you see this week’s picture of Lawrence DiPrimo, the NYPD officer, who saw a homeless man in Times Square who had no shoes?  When he saw the man, he went out and bought a brand new pair of boots, and socks to go with them, and gave them to the man.  If that wasn’t enough, he knelt down, and put the boots on the homeless man’s feet. 

We hear stories like that during the Christmas season all the time.  People who drop off food to a hungry family, or pay someone’s utility bills, or give a coat to a person who has none. 

I read about Lawrence DiPrimo, and I thought of Jesus stooping to wash his disciples’ feet.  I hear stories about people working in soup kitchens or giving a coat to someone who doesn’t have one, and I hear echoes of Jesus teaching that “when you did this to the least of these, you did it to me.”

Remember when we studied the book of James this fall, and James wrote: “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change[i].”  Those stories – those are signs of God breaking into our world, of the kingdom coming near.

In the stories we tell of how it is, where we see God’s kingdom coming, God’s will being done, we hear echoes of how it was.

And that brings us to the beginning.  To the story of God coming down to us, becoming one of us, being born in human flesh is when hope was birthed into the world. 

To the world, Christmas is an end, and the Christmas season is an interlude where people dream of how it could be, where they let themselves hope for peace and love and joy, if just for a moment. 

For us, Christmas is just the beginning.  In Advent, we watch for the places where God breaks into our world, as we wait for Jesus to come again and make all things new. 

[i] James 1:17