Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Where did that kid go?

There is a story told of two brothers who were in a word “scallywags”. Both boys were considered to be reprobates and scoundrels and their parents and their teachers were at a loss as to what to do with them, Finally, ,one day they called in the local clergy to the principal’s and it was decided that the clergy was going to scare these to misguided youth straight. They brought the younger boy into the office and invited him to sit in a nice chair. In a loud, menacing voice the clergy asked the boy, “Where is God?”  The child squirmed in his chosen seat but said nothing. So the cleric got closer the boy so that he towered over him and said again in a thunderous, threatening voice, “Where is God?” the boy’s eyes opened wide in obvious fear. He suddenly exploded out of his seat and burst through the door. Grabbing his elder brother by the hand he exclaimed, “We’ve got to get out of here! The adults have lost God and they are trying to pin it on us!”

It was Jesus’ first Passover as a man – he was all of twelve. He was now a son of the law and there were expectations on him now. He had been to the City before but had now been allowed to participate the way that he was now. He was openly listening and questioning and learning from the very people who would later question him and declare him to be a blasphemer. Jesus was an avid student learning and listening and questioning – learning about life from our very human point of view.  But in the process he was missed and left behind by his parents.

Mary had started out with other female relatives to the camping spot where the family would eat and take their rest while Joseph and other male relatives waited for morning prayers at the Temple before setting out. It was not until that night when Joseph found Mary in their tent that they discovered that they did not know that Jesus was missing. They immediately backtracked to the City wondering what had happened to Jesus. Was he hurt or sick? Had someone taken him? Why hadn’t he left the city with them? What had become of him? One cannot help note the similarity of this moment with the one that Mary Magdela had the morning of the resurrection – “Where have you put my Lord? Tell me and I will go get him.” Mary must have had it run through her head – I have had the Lord and Saviour and now I cannot find him – where did that kid go!

Three days the searched lasted. And when they found Jesus he was still listening, still talking and still learning.
His mother brings him up short by asking him, “Did you not realize that your father and I were looking for you” as if to imply that he was unaware of the search and the stress of the loss that had been place on them. Jesus answers in a manner that seems to be – at least me at any rate – more than a bit flippant: “Didn’t you know that I had to be about my Father’s business?” His response makes it clear to the reader that Jesus knew who he was from a very early age. He knew who he was and why he was here and what needed to be done. The discussions that he was participating in, where not only of a theological nature, they were also about everyday problems that the nation faced. The older men around him were amazed at his grasp of the situation as a young man.  Jesus knew that he had a relationship with God that was like no other and yet he was not rude or arrogant about it – he chose to be obedient and follow Mary’s instructions as they started the journey home to Nazareth.

In some sense this is the other half of Christmas. The world thinks that the Holidays are all but over. And that Christmas is so week – last week. It is time to pack up and put away for another year while the Church is just getting started. The media are worried about their top ten and top fifty and top one hundred lists. For most of our North American culture we are only worried about how Christmas helped the economy and whether or not we bought enough stuff. And while the world is packing up and putting their Christmas away and awaiting the dreaded credit card bill, the Church is watching the boy grow and mature both as a man and with God. Christmas is not about buy or getting, it is about giving. And giving implies you know what you are getting and more importantly who you are getting that something for. Giving is not just a moment, it is a process. Gifts are meant to not only be given but also to be used/shared/worn. It takes time to learn how to use some gifts so that it benefits us and those around us.  And we are called and drawn to worship with the rest of creation because we can see our redemption coming in the person of Jesus Christ. It is time to make room under our trees for the gift that is going to count the most when it comes to Christmas – our lives. Giving is more than just the gift it is the connection between the giver and the receiver. God knew we needed Jesus and so Jesus is what God gave to us. And instead of standing back watching and observing and maybe being judgmental about the whole thing we call life, he is actively engaged and participating in the real struggles and troubles we face. This should remind us that we do not choose him, he chose us. And he has loved us with an everlasting love. And if he is in the middle, then where can we expect to see him? By the Christmas tree as well as the cross? On the side of the road as well as in the middle of things, facing life’s struggles and giving them his dignity?

Where will you see Jesus in 2010? Where will you find him and where do you think he will surprise you? We have seen his glory and he has made his dwelling with us… now are we going to go and look for him?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

On the side of the Road

We call him Emmanuel, “God with us”. We claim that we have seen him and his glory, the glory of the One and Only.  And yet we did not praise him or give him any glory. He came to the stable on the roadside of a Judean town. He did not come to a palace, not to a mansion or a castle, not even to a crowded and unwelcoming inn. He came to a roadside stable. He didn’t come to the rich and the powerful. He didn’t come to the intelligent and the wise nor the popular or the religious of heart. He came to those who were in the margins and in the wilderness to draw them to himself. He came to an unremarkable couple with a simple gift of faith in God and he drew them to that roadside stable with only the hosts of angelic fanfare to announce his arrival.

God came to us and we did not recognize him. We saw the light of glory and we ignored him, thinking that he was of no account. We refused the outstretched hands that had molded our bodies in the depths of the earth and flung stars out into space. He made his tilt amongst us and made his presence manifest on earth so that his light might shine through earth (through us) so it can be seen throughout the earth. The Word was made flesh, going forth from God and he cannot be nullified or voided. He came to that which was his own to accomplish the purpose for which he was sent. There was no one and nothing like him in the entire world but we ignored him. He came to us in flesh and blood that we might learn to be with him and he with us.

The witness of each Christmas that we celebrate is that God had his advent, his coming amongst us. We were driven from the Garden and now he seeks us out on the side of the road. Many are surprised at the nature of the Word and his mission. The joy of the green tree and the presents will soon turn to the grief and sorrow of another tree, rude and bare. The only gift offered will be the life that is needed to make amends. We will be drawn from the lights of the Christmas tree through the darkness of those hours to the light of the first day of the week and the Resurrection.

The witness of each Christmas that we celebrate is that God had his advent, his coming amongst us. We were driven from the Garden and now he seeks us out on the side of the road. Many are surprised at the nature of the Word and his mission. The joy of the green tree and the presents will soon turn to the grief and sorrow of another tree, rude and bare. The only gift offered will be the life that is needed to make amends. We will be drawn from the lights of the Christmas tree through the darkness of those hours to the light of the first day of the week and the Resurrection.

God came to us and we did not recognize him. We saw the light of glory and we ignored him, thinking that he was of no account. We refused the outstretched hands that had molded our bodies in the depths of the earth and flung stars out into space. He made his tilt amongst us and made his presence manifest on earth so that his light might shine through earth (through us) so it can be seen throughout the earth. The Word was made flesh, going forth from God and he cannot be nullified or voided. He came to that which was his own to accomplish the purpose for which he was sent. There was no one and nothing like him in the entire world but we ignored him. He came to us in flesh and blood that we might learn to be with him and he with us.

So this Christmas, take a moment to consider carefully what it is that God has offered you. He has come to you to offer you grace upon grace and has proven in his Son, his Word incarnate what he will do to draw you home again. He was born through the pain and the blood, the joy and the surprise into the muckiness of this human life. And the Word made flesh did it to be completely with us in our humanness and so that he could guide us on the journey home to God. We are invited to return to the stable and to the Garden. Let us make that journey together that we might be with him and he with us, our Emmanuel.  

Friday, December 18, 2009

What Christmas means to me

What does Christmas mean to me? A great many things! First it means that there is a lot to do and to be done. There are services to be done all over the Peninsula, taking communion to those who belong to the churches but cannot get out to services, visiting people who are sick in hospital and in the homes Christmas programs at the schools and helping to feed families that are in need this time of year.

Christmas is a time to stop and think about Christmases past: how things used to be and about family and the times that we have shared over the years. I think of the Christmases when I used to so look forward to watching my favourite television specials like “The Grinch who stole Christmas”, “Frosty the Snowman”, “Rudolph the Red nose Reindeer” and my absolute favourite, “A Christmas Carol”. I don’t mean the newer ones. I mean the classic, black and white one with Alistair Sim as “Ebenezer Scrooge”. I think of the old family traditions like the pictures in front of the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and getting ready to go off to Church for service late in the evening. I recall the smell of the wafting incense as the teenaged server passed by, the ringing of bells, and the singing of traditional Christmas Carols. I recall the early morning surprises and the joy at an unexpected gift would bring. I hark back to the pleas of my parents to either go back to bed or to go and play quietly until a more suitable hour of the morning. I remember the smell of the freshly perked coffee emanating as we waited for my mom to come in from “throwing a flake of hay to the horses”. I remember the twinkling lights and bright decorations on the tree, the vibrantly coloured packages under the tree and perhaps the thrill of finding a bit of snow on the ground.       

This moment is a moment to stop and recall Christmas present: the day previous has been a busy one. And it had been a late night trying to get the house settled down a least for a time. Early in the morning the family rises and settles in our appointed spots around the tree into open presents. There will be the flipping of pancakes and the sizzling of bacon for breakfast and the sweet order of the turkey as it cooks in the oven. There will be joy of watching children with their new found treasures. There will be the demands to put something together so that it can be played with or the need to put batteries in a toy that has already used up its first set in rigourous play. There will be a meal to look forward to with a moment of thanks for all that has been given and received and lots of eating.

But why do this at all – the meaning of Christmas comes to us from something that happened in the life of a couple more than 2,000 years ago. God came to a roadside stable, he made his tent with us and we have seen his glory. He came not only that we might know him but that he would also come home with him. Let the first gift of this Christmas be the one God desires to give to you: himself. Christmas means that God has come to us to be with us and that he will show us the way home.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Share, be fair and don't be a bully...

As the child who had never before been to a Christmas service said when asked what he though of the service, he replied, "I want some of that `umphant!'" "What's that?" the child was asked. "You know, it's what those people were singing about--`O Come all ye faithful, joyful and try ‘umphant' I'd like to try some of that `umphant.'"

“Umphant” must have been what John had when he preached. The word of the Lord sought him out and he went all around the region of the Jordan preaching, calling people to repentance, to baptism and to do something about it. Let’s keep in mind that John is regarded as the latest and the last of the prophetic line in Israel. In a sense this is the final warning before the Savoir comes. It is kind of like the warning that athletes get when the time on the clock is running out; something like, “last minute of play in the period”. John is telling the people that the One that was promised to come is coming and the time is at hand. We need to straighten out and straighten up our lives because he is coming and we will be judged by him we need to be ready.

It used to be that judgment was to be feared or what I now call the “God of Maude”. God will seek you out and will get you for what you have done, just because someone disagrees with you. John is not talking about that kind of judgment. The judgment of God is not like that – not at all. John tells the people that listen to him that they cannot rely on who they are (in terms of their heritage and ancestry) or what they have (position, power and authority) when it comes to judgment – what will matter is how one has lives out their life.  And if you take a moment to consider who John is talking to – he is taking not just to the religious and the lawyers, he is talking to the poor, the tax collectors and the soldiers. He is preaching to everyone who is in the nation. Without judgment, there is no presence of justice. After all, all flesh will see the judgment of God.

As a response to what they have heard people ask the natural question “What shall we do?” How can we respond to the fact that judgment is coming. John’s preaching points to the need for repentance and a need to live a life that is worthy of such an act towards God. And how do we live a life worthy of repentance and mercy? We need to share, we need to be fair and we need not to bully. Sounds almost too simple does it? Faith and fidelity aren’t just for heroes; the fortunate and the few. It is for everybody. All of us can share what we have because we have something that God has given us to share with others. We need to be fair in our dealings with everyone as well as honest and true. We are not able to always control what happens to us we are always in control of how we act and react when things happen to us. That’s where the ‘umphant’ comes from: the willingness to stand up and stand firm and to speak with grace and with courage. We are called to stand for those who are in need and who have fallen and have walked away from God. We need to do good (not just be good)  for their well being and because we are also responding to the love, the grace, the mercy and the call of God in our own lives. We know how to share, be fair and not bully. And while its sounds like stuff we learning in kindergarten and Sunday School – it can be some of the hardest and roughest things we do. Stand in for someone else is not an easy thing. And yet with the ‘Umphant’ we are enabled to overcome.

Moving towards being an overcomer, trying the ‘umphant’ thing can also make one fearful and yet we are encouraged by Scripture to “Fear Not”. Fear is numbing and therefore is corrosive to the human spirit. Courage is the willingness to walk into the gloom of these days of Advent not because we are fearless but because we know and trust the One with whom we enter into it. So as we wait for the King to come with the dawn of his day, let us seek out the sacred and the extraordinary in the everyday goings on in life and do the things to which we are called with enthusiasm. Let us share, be fair and not bully. Let us live a life that is worthy not only of repentance but of the life that was offered for us. And let us do so in the name of the King.     

Monday, November 30, 2009

What time is it?

There was a game that we used to play when we were kids. It was called, “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” and all those who thought themselves sheep or chickens would call out to the person who was the wolf this very question… “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” The person acting as the wolf would call out various times of the day: 12 o’clock, 3 o’clock. Each time the sheep and/or chickens would move ever closer to the wolf who was guarding the home free line. Eventually when the wolf thought the time was right the sheep and the chickens would call out, “What time is it” and the wolf would roar, “Lunchtime!” chasing after the sheep and the chickens trying to capture as many as he or she could. When you were caught you too became a wolf. The last one to survive was considered the winner. And he or she was now the wolf instead of the chicken or the sheep. And the game would start all over again.

As we grow older and more mature, we tend to worry about time and what we do with it. We as a society are somewhat obsessed by it. We have lots of interesting ways to express our thoughts and feelings about time and the passage of time. For example, some might say “there is no time like the present!” Or “time and tide wait for no man!” and we can go on with expressions like “There’s no time to lose”, “There’s no time to spare” or “there’s no time on the clock”. We need to saving time for the important people and things in our lives and we need to buy time to forestall events that we are either not ready for or don’t want to happen at all. One of my favourites is Carpe Diem (Latin for Seize the day!).  We are challenged to make the most of our lives and to live it out to the fullest because there may not be a tomorrow.

Luke takes this moment to seize the opportunity to communicate the message of the news from God. He takes the time to tell us about John the Baptist and his ministry. He tells us about the message that John preached and the fact that people reacted to it – and not everyone reacted favourably to it. He told people what time it was – time to acknowledge that the One God had promised was on his way and that there were things that the people needed to do to be ready for the coming of the King. He tells us that we need to fix our lives not our roads (A challenge to anyone who lives in rural Newfoundland!) because the One promised is on his way and that this is going to not only be the end but also the beginning because we are going to see the salvation of our God.

And in doing so, Luke tells us about all the important people: kings, government officials, rulers and priests. Luke tells us of how they were upset and in an uproar because of the message that was being preached and they were watching the preacher. Luke also tells us of one insignificant man, a son of a small town priest who was out in the wilderness calling people to respond to God and to mend their lives because the King was coming. John calls people to come to repentance and to baptism as a symbol of that turned around life – regardless of who you were. Baptism was considered to be okay for the outsider but not for those who were children of Abraham. Baptism was not okay for the insiders. The religious and the political structures of that society were shaking even before the time and ministry of Jesus. The country was ready for spiritual revival and was listening not to the politically powerful or the religiously astute. The people were heading the call to be ready for the coming of the King and to fix their lives not their roads. The powerful and the astute think they are being weakened by this nobody out in the middle of nowhere and they do not like it and will not stand for it. They will not go down without a fight. They are willing to kill and to destroy if they cannot have what they believe is rightfully theirs.

That is the risk of playing games and walking roads that have potholes. Life gets dangerous. Without repair the potholes deepen. Games must stop when the call comes for everyone to go in for supper. Advent is not just about getting ready. It is about showing that we are prepared to play and to walk with Jesus. Advent is about being ready to serve, even when everything around us is coming apart when we thought we had it nailed down. Remember, Jesus comes amongst us as one who serves. After all, now is the hour and  today is the for salvation. Take the opportunity to tell someone this week that Jesus came to play them that they might be with him forever. Certainly there is no time like the present.

Waiting? What are we waiting for?

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for the One who is to come? What is it that you are looking for? These days we are waiting for so much and seemingly getting so little. Many are worried about their pensions and their incomes. More are waiting for some other kind of news: like when a loved one who is serving in the Armed Forces is coming home. Perhaps it is someone who is waiting for news of what action the government is going to take in light of the injustice they have suffered. Probably someone is waiting for the news of test results from their doctor because Cancer is suspected or some kind of surgery is needed. Maybe there is a student who is waiting for the news of results of an exam or a report card and is worried about the outcomes. Maybe it is a husband waiting for the wife to give him the news that it is time to rush to the hospital for their child to be born. What news are you waiting for.

The disciples have asked what news will come to know that the end of the world is about to happen – if the Temple is going to be destroyed (again) then surely God is going to bring the world to an end. Right? If there is a moment in the life of the world where we as the Church can be countercultural – it must be now. Everybody is getting ready for Christmas and the holidays. Even clergy are making their plans to be with family and to do things here and there. And yet we are called on by Scripture to be thinking about the end of the world. After all, what is more counter to the ways in which we celebrate Christmas, than having to worry about the world coming to an end?

There is a stark reality that we have to come to terms with. For a long time we have lived with the notion that things must be improving in the grader scheme and that life is going to keep getting better. Sure, there are new technologies, new devices, new medications, and even new ways of doing report cards that are design to help us feel better, live longer and have a healthy positive opinion about ourselves. Nobody dies and no one fails. We simple pass on or pass away. The world was and the world remains pretty much the same as it has always been. There are wars and rumours of wars. There are crops being eaten by drought and people stealing from one another and killing one another. People are still ensnaring and enslaving one another through one means or another. People are still sick and dying in spite of the best efforts of those who care for others. The world will stay the same until Christ comes again.

Sounds a bit depressing? Maybe. And yet there is hope in all of this for those who are willing to believe and are willing to wait on Jesus. Jesus encourages those will believe and who follow him to stand up and look up (at Him!) and acknowledge that our redemption is coming from God. Everybody has a vision – and claims to see. We as the body of Christ and as the people of God are called to stand up and to look up, focusing ourselves on God because our redemption is drawing near. When we find ourselves suffering and in pain, when we are feeling hurt and confused we are called on to look up. We are waiting on Christ not just for him. We await that moment when we will be finally and fully free and free to serve God and one another.

So when the world seems unyielding and unforgiving look up. Don’t act as if we are hung over as if we had been partying all night. Don’t look down trodden and defeated as if we have lost our last and best friend. These things are not becoming of a person of hope and who is waiting on the coming of the King. And don’t let the worries of the world/the Empire weigh you down so that you are not caught unawares. Let us focus on whatever it is that God has given to be done and in the doing and going look up in anticipation of the King’s presence among us. In his presence, we will not only know our freedom we will also know life and be able to fully live in His service. That will be worth waiting on. Let us do so in this week; in this Advent, in Jesus name.

More than a mere memory

On behalf of my family, I want to take this opportunity to wish you and your family the most happiest of Christmases and all of God’s best for you in 2010. And in saying that, there is a part of me that feels sort of funny saying right now. I write this note to you in advance of the actual days and events that will take place this Christmastide. You remember Christmas? Surely you remember the Christmas tree with twinkling lights and brightly wrapped gifts underneath. Certainly you can recall the squeals of joy and early morning excitement with a new found treasure, the decorations and smell of the meal as it is prepared in the kitchen? Possibly you might think back to when family and friends were popping in, some expected and some a surprise; the mummering?. When I look back at Christmas memories captured on film, I think back on the years that my wife and I have shared as a married couple with our two sons. And as I sit back and watch I cannot help but think of those moments which seem so long ago now in my own childhood. And then that is precisely the moment when I stop and give thanks to God that Christmas something more than a mere memory. It is an opportunity to be ready for when he comes again. The need to be ready for Christmas makes me even more aware of the need for a season like Advent: a time to prepare for Christ’s coming amongst us, not only as the Babe of Bethlehem but also as the King of kings and Lord of Lords. Advent should be a time when we focus on the fact that Jesus did come some 2000 years ago to a dim, starry lit stable. And the memory of that event should remind us that we need to be prepared for his next coming – his return to us.
We should celebrate with everything that is in us the feast of the Incarnation, of the coming of the Christ among us which leads to our redemption and salvation. The gift of Christ to us, of his presence amongst us, is only the beginning of all the grace, the mercy and all of the good things that God desires to pour out upon his people. This is the moment that we should renew and revitalize our commitment to bring this same gift to the rest of the world. We are encouraged to open his gifts and to explore them fully. I pray that we will do exactly that this Christmas: that we will open ourselves up to Christ’s presence in our lives and explore all the great things that our heavenly Father has for us to do and to be in the New Year. Have a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.
Jason+, Nova, Joshua & Aaron

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Some thoughts about priesthood

"People ask a great deal of their priest, and they should. But they should also understand that it is not easy to be a priest. He has given himself in all the ardor or youth, yet he still remains a man, and every day the man in him tries to take back what he has surrendered. It is a continual struggle to remain completely at the service of Christ and of others.

A priest needs no praise or embarrassing gifts; what he needs is that those committed to his charge should, by loving their fellows more and more, prove to him that he has not given his life in vain. And as he remains a man, he may need, once in a while, a delicate gesture of disinterested friendship... some Sunday night when he is alone.

"Come with me, and I will make you fishers of men." (Mark 1,17).

"You did not choose me: I chose you. I appointed you to go on and bear fruit that shall last..." (John 15, 16)

"Forgetting what is behind me, and reaching out for that which lies ahead, I press towards the goal to win the prize which is God's call to the life above, in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3, 13-14).

Tonight, Lord, I am alone.
Little by little the sounds died down in the church.
The people went away,
And I came home,

I passed people who were returning from a walk.
I went by the movie house that was disgorging its crowd.
I skirted cafe terraces where tired strollers were trying to prolong the pleasure
of a Sunday holiday.
I bumped into youngsters playing on the sidewalk,
Youngsters, Lord,
Other people's youngsters, who will never be my own.

Here I am, Lord,
The silence troubles me,
The solitude oppresses me.

. . . . . . . . . .

Lord, I'm thirty-five years old,
A body made like others,
Arms ready for work,
A heart meant for love,
But I've given you all.
It's true, of course, that you needed it.
I've given you all, but it's hard, Lord.
It's hard to give one's body; it would like to give itself to others.
It's hard to love everyone and to claim no one.
It's hard to shake a hand and not want to retain it.
It's hard to inspire affection, only to give it to you.
It's hard to be nothing to oneself in order to be everything to others.
It's hard to be like others, among others, and to be other.
It's hard always to give without trying to receive.
It's hard to seek out others and to be, oneself, unsought.
It's hard to suffer from the sins of others, and yet be obliged to hear and bear them.
It's hard to be told secrets, and be unable to share them.
It's hard to carry others and never, even for a moment, be carried.
It's hard to sustain the feeble and never be able to lean on one who is strong.
It's hard to be alone,
Alone before everyone,
Alone before the world,
Alone before suffering,

Son, you are not alone,
I am with you;
I am you.
For I needed another human instrument to continue my Incarnation and my Redemption.
Out of all eternity, I chose you,
I need you.

I need your hands to continue to bless,
I need your lips to continue to speak,
I need your body to continue to suffer,
I need your hearts to continue to love,
I need you to continue to save.
Stay with me, son.

Here I am, Lord;
Here is my body,
Here is my heart,
Here is my soul.
Grant that I may be big enough to reach the world,
Strong enough to carry it,
Pure enough to embrace it without wanting to keep it.
Grant that I may be a meeting-place, but a temporary one,
A road that does not end in itself, because everything to be gathered there, everyting human, leads toward you.

Lord, tonight, while all is still and I feel sharply the sting of solitude,
While men devour my soul and I feel incapable of satisfying their hunger,
While the whole world presses on my shoulders with all its weight of misery and sin,
I repeat to you my "yes" -- not in a burst of laughter, but slowly, clearly, humbly,
Alone, Lord, before you,
In the peace of the evening.

--Michel Quoist, Prayers (English translation of the 1963 French original, Avon Books, 1975, pp. 64-68)