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)