Twelve More Days of Christmas

A Story for All Ages

Jeff G White; UBC Digby
11 am, 7th Day of Christmas, Dec 31, 2017
Illustrations by Terry S. Gilbert, copyright 2017

One

O, once upon a time, near here, ‘twas Christmas time again.
And everybody knows that’s when the famed Twelve Days begin.
So, on the twenty-fifth, Sam asked his friends about the song:
‘Can we go find a partridge in a pear tree? Won’t take long!’

So off the children went to find the gift of that first day;  
And when they found that happy bird, they shouted, ‘Hip! Hooray!’
‘What’s next,’ said Gabe, & soon they set out quick, to find the rest;
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Two

So off the children went and looked below, between, above,
Until they found two turtledoves who shared a lot of love.          
Just like two lovebirds, those two doves seemed filled with joy & care,
Yet also looked so welcoming for more to join them there.

Now, Samuel said, ‘God is love. We say this at our church.’
And Hannah nodded, ‘yes,’ and smiled at birdies on their perch.
Sam asked, ‘What way should we go now?’ & Gabriel said, ‘West.
If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Three

Next was the 3rd great Christmas Day; they looked for 3 French hens,
And wisely thought to seek them out among Acadiens.
To Clare the children went, & found three chickens, Une, Deux, Trois,
All clucking by a Frenchys store.  The children cheered, ‘Rah, rah!’

Wee little Mason pointed out the juice and bread they had,
And Gabriel knew Christmas time had made the birdies glad.
‘Cause Jesus, when He grew up always shared bread as a guest.
If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Four

On the Fourth Day of Christmas time the children’s band set out
To find four calling birds, and find out what they called about!
Up in the sky, near a bright star, four birds sang, bright as morn.
The children knew they took their turns to tell that Christ was born.

Joseph was the adopted dad, and mom was named Mary;
Some shepherds lived nearby, and wise ones came from far away.
‘These birds sing true,’ said Sam, ‘they pass the Bible story test.’
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Five

On the Fifth day of Christmas time a challenge grand and bold
Was waiting for the kids: to find some rings, five rings of gold
‘We’ll never find them,’ Sammy cried, ‘This isn’t very funny.
They’re not like birds up in the trees and we have got not money!’

Just then McKenna stopped and stared at something down the road.
And Mason saw it too: a llama blowing bubbles gold!
Five golden bubbles were provided for the children’s quest.
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Six

With brand-new hope the children went down to the llama’s farm.
There, geese were laying eggs within a pen, all safe from harm.
‘Hooray!’ said Gabe, ‘We found day six, and six eggs on the ground.
They’re red and yellow, pink and purple, greenish and dark brown.

Dear Hannah gazed, as if to ask why eggs weren’t all the same,
But then she knew, as they all knew, that all things, wild and tame,
God makes all different, just like us; so she thought, like the rest:
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Seven

To Sandy Cove the young ones went to find some swans rehearse
(The seventh day of Christmas, it is New Year’s Eve, of course).
The next day was Polar Bear Dip, & yes, some swans were there
To practice for the festive swim: they dove and swirled with flair.

‘If seven swans still practice how to swim, what should we do?’
Sam asked, & Dryden answered, ‘We should practice our best too.’
God gives us good to do & learn & seek &, yes, you guessed:
‘If we could find all everything, yes, that would be the best.’

Eight

On the eighth day the kids set out to find some working folk,
As they looked for a dairy farm and eight girls who could milk.
And sure enough they found them all, each ready, set to work,
With smock and bonnet, pail for milk, and happy: each one smirked.

‘They’re nice, but dressed alike!’, said Gabe, ‘I know I am not wrong:
In God’s world here so many different-looking folk belong.’
‘Twas New Year’s Day, and they had just four days to find the rest.
‘If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

Nine

On the ninth day the group of children, looking far and wide,
Sought out nine dancers talented whose grace each would not hide.
They found a twenties flapper, and a poodle skirted girl,
A gal of nineteen-seventies, and grandma doing a twirl;

Then ladies, each, of Ireland, and Spain, and Africa,
A ballerina, and a girl traditional Mi’Kmaq.
The kids rejoiced and joined right in with them to dance with zest.
‘If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

Ten

So all the children danced, Amelia and Hannah too,
They simply rocked and bobbed and grinned, ‘twas natural to do.
Well, naturally, ten lords a leaping were easy to find;
They took their cue from the wise women, following behind.

Among the gentlemen wise Brooklyn noticed, very quick,
That Jesus Christ, the Lord, was there, along with old Saint Nick.
‘It’s when a whole big lot of folks are here that God is blessed.
If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

Eleven

The girls and boys could see God’s ways, before eleventh day:
‘Welcome to God’s kingdom!  Welcome to all!’ This is the way.
So when eleven pipers were needed to pipe for heav’n,
They knew it was not just the pied piper for day elev’n.

So many pipes play music, and these players piped their song;
And one piped icing on a cake; a plumber worked along;
A bird, like Piping Plover, payed a tune to join the quest:
‘If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best.’

Twelve

Then, on the final Christmas Day, Amelia and Dryden,
And Sam and Hannah, Mason and McKenna, Gabe, and Brooklyn,
They found 12 drummers drumming. Yes, I’m sure you knew they would,
And all the lessons that they learned of life, they all were good.

‘Christ is born!  The Saviour lives!’, the children celebrated;
And all the while the super-duper drumming ne’er abated.
God’s ways are super-creative; God welcomes all as guests.
If we could find all everyone, yes, that would be the best!

Mystery Revealed!

(Romans 16:25-27; Luke 1:26-38) J G White
4th Sunday of Advent, Dec 24, 2017, UBC Digby

Here we are on the cusp of Christmas.  The excited anticipation is at its peak.  Even adults have been counting how many ‘sleeps’ until Christmas morning; I think this is about get-togethers, gifts and food; don’t you?  We are waiting for the mysteries to be revealed.  What’s in that big parcel, that long narrow gift, that decorated envelope.  

That first Christmas was quite different, but it was definitely about mysteries being revealed.  Good News!  Young Mary is to have a baby.  This is a big favour from God.  But it takes some time for Mary and her family to come to terms with this.  Well, they have nine months, we could say.  We retell this story because of its power.  

Christmas eve is just hours away for us, but this morning, we take up the story nine months before.  When the news is brand new to Mary.  Good News sometimes begins with just one person.  But then, you know of someone you can go to.  Someone who also will understand God is involved.

Sharon and I were at lunch on Friday at St. Pat’s Soup Kitchen.  And I thought about the weekly free meal on Thursdays at Windsor Baptist Church.  It has been going on for years, since Y2K, perhaps.  Each Thursday, a team of folks brings in food and prepares it for 20 or 30 or 40 people to share.  They all eat in the BIG kitchen together.  It’s called the House of Hospitality.  

It began in a small way, years ago.  A retired nurse named Betty and the associate Pastor named Marlene got talking.  They had a vision, just the two of them, a vision for this beautiful weekly luncheon.  It took time to get others on board to work with them.  It took time for people in the community to start coming to the lunch – years.  Now, the House of Hospitality has been a wonderful thing, for more than fifteen years.  

It takes time to come to terms with Big News.  Mary, at first, was perplexed.  Yes, she surely had many different feelings and thoughts as her pregnancy went along.

In the events as Luke tells them, the next part has Mary travel to visit her older relative, Elizabeth, who is also – unexpectedly – expecting!  Christy Thomas, who blogs as The Thoughtful Pastor, explored the many feelings of these women as she retells the story…

Mary, mother of Jesus, hears the words of the angel. She will bear a special child. Almost immediately she sets out to see her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, at least a five day and often dangerous, walk. Why? Because the angel also told her that Elizabeth was six months into a pregnancy.

One can only guess at Mary’s state of mind. Terror, certainly. A strange vision, an awareness that something was happening to her body, the horror of possibly being pregnant in a world where a non-married pregnant woman would likely be stoned to death . . . let us not turn our eyes away from her predicament.

Picture her arrival at Elizabeth and Zechariah’s home. She would come unannounced, of course. No email or text zaps to prepare her hosts. She’d show up and seek entrance, only to hear that Elizabeth was in total seclusion, refusing all visitors.

Elizabeth, seriously past child-bearing age, carried the stigma of barrenness. Barrenness: the sign of God’s displeasure. When the land . . . or a woman . . . did not produce or reproduce, everyone suffered.

Now this elderly woman must cope with an unexpected pregnancy. She will take no chances. Will see no one. Her sole companions: her silenced husband and her private, quietly silenced fears that her pregnancy was not going well.

Mary insists that she be permitted to see Elizabeth. She quietly enters the dark room, only one tiny window offering light.

After her eyes adjust, she observes Elizabeth, sitting in utter stillness, her hands resting on her swollen belly. Signs of worry, perhaps even tears, emphasize her aged-lined features. The life inside her womb has stilled. She feels no movement. She fears an imminent stillbirth.

Mary softly greets her cousin. Suddenly, Elizabeth opens her eyes, her face alight with hope again. For upon hearing Mary’s voice, the child inside Elizabeth’s body begins to move with energetic vigor.

The old woman, face now awash in tears of joy, embraces her young, terrified cousin. Then, looking at her straight in the eyes, Elizabeth confirms Mary’s pregnancy and the hope that her baby will bring to the world.

Finally, Mary, fear temporarily set aside, rejoices in her own pregnancy.

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtfulpastor/2017/12/18/subversive-act-justice-true-christmas/#IbT5uGqRlWZDXIO1.99

‘Nothing will be impossible with God,’ said Gabriel to Mary.  And that is what we seek from God too, hoping against hope for the impossible, from time to time.  The physical or mental healing we want to see in someone dear.  That reconciliation with someone in the family.  A step in the right direction for the person we know who has been taking all the wrong steps.  We wait for a miracle, sometimes with great hope, sometimes with great fear that it just ain’t going to happen.  Jesus will come into the world, and what will he do?  We take time to be hopeful, doubtful, positive, confused, enthusiastic, depressed, and anything else.  The journey of faith takes time.  

Mary also decided to let it be.  Let herself be.  Be pregnant.  Be the mother of this chosen Child.  Be of service to God, whatever that would mean.  And when she has that visit with Elizabeth, Mary sings, her soul sings out!  She rejoices in God her Saviour.  The impossible does happen, at last.  Not just a young girl having a holy Child, not just an old woman expecting her first child, but for the whole people the long-awaited Messiah is finally arriving.  There will be a Saviour.

Sharon and I happened to go to a cinema this past week to see the newest Star Wars film.  Spectacular science fiction, and like so many action adventure stories, it is, what I call, “How many times can you escape certain death?”  You know, the heroes – and some of the villains – have not hope of survival… and they do survive, yet again.

Our Bible adventures are filled with suspense too.  Over and over, people get to the end of the rope.  But then there is a new hope.  And we see this in our living today.  We dream the impossible dream, fight the unbeatable foe, bear with unbearable sorrow, and go where the brave dare not go.  

A mystery is revealed.  There is more good at work in the world than we see.  The journey can be hard.  The Mystery is how God comes in and rescues, how God reunites with us.  How life wins over death, and good wins over evil.  This all gets revealed in a birth in Bethlehem, and a cross near Jerusalem.  

Who Are You?

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24; John 1:6-10, 18-28) J G White
3rd Sunday of Advent, Dec 17, 2017, UBC Digby

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside; He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

These are the very last words of Albert Schweitzer’s classic 1906 book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, translated into English in 1910.  

Jesus comes to us as one unknown.  Well, that is how He starts out.  We might see this as a theme of John’s Gospel, compared against the other three Gospels in the New Testament.  John 1:10 says of Jesus: ‘He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.’  When we get to verses 26 & 27, John the Baptizer is talking. “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me.”

As this Gospel tells the story of Christ, we find people such as Nicodemus (chapter 3) and the Samaritan woman (chapter 4) who understand Jesus’ words but not their meaning.  From the High Priest and Pilate, to the twelve disciples, Jesus is regularly misunderstood.  

Who are you?

Ever meet up with someone and you end up with your own identity crisis? Either you get mixed up about who you met, or someone you met doesn’t know who you are?  

Just this week I met a local women who is getting to be a friend of mine, from the garden tours and nature field trips we’ve had.  In the grocery store we met, and she said, “Oh, I have been thinking for days I must call Rick Andrews!”  She proceeded to tell me a quick story about a bear that visited her camp in the woods this fall, and ate some apples and onions on her doorstep.  But she finished by saying, “And… you’re not Rick, you’re Jeff!”  

Sharon, remember the time you were in a grocery store, and met our local Member of Parliament, but talked to him about a situation our Member of the Legislature knew about?  Oops.  You knew it was one of our politicians. 😉

So, it’s about thirty years after Jesus and his cousin John were born.  John is preaching and baptizing – not in the temple – out of town by the river.  Some of the professional religious came out from the city to quiz John.  “Just who are you?”  The Anointed One, the Messiah, the Christ?  No.  Elijah, who will come before the Messiah, according to the final verses of the Old Testament?  No. That prophet foretold who will be greater than Moses?  No.

I am, (here’s a quotation from Isaiah) I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.”  

They find out who John the Baptizer is by process of elimination.  Who he is not.  And John goes on, talking about this One who is about to appear on the scene.  In fact, among you stands One whom you do not know.

Jesus is, well, not standing among us, but lying in many mangers among us right now. As I have preached before, He is for many people today X, an unknown quantity.  So “Xmas” is really quite appropriate.  X is really the Greek letter Chi, and stands for Christ, but not even Xians (Christians) know this. 😉

It is by experience, purely by personal experience, that one gets to know Jesus the Christ.  Of course, it can take a lot of time and experience to know God this way.  I think I have been blessed to have had, well, 47 years of good opportunities to get to know this Unknown One, born in a barn. Many have fewer chances.

So, sometimes, you and I will be ambassadors for Christ, as the New Testament puts it.  Or, like John the Baptizer, we bear witness to the Light we have seen shining.  Like testimony in a courtroom, we can tell what we have seen and known.  We recognize God in the room, and celebrate.

Who are you?  A pointer towards Christ. Occasionally, people see us, and just think it is us, only us, here.  Maybe it is, sometimes.  But we know at many other times that the Unknown One is among us; God with us, Emmanuel.

I’ll call her ‘Rhonda.’  She moved to Windsor from my home village.  I’d known her all through my Schooling.  We all knew she was different.  In the early 80s people would rudely refer to her as ‘retarded.’ She was loud and excitable and energetic.  In elementary school I remember her tackling me in the playground and kissing me!

So, in adulthood she moved to Windsor, and came to us at the Baptist Church.  It was a hard transition for her. And it was hard for some to welcome her and help her find her place.  In her little country church at home she had been very involved in the ladies auxiliary, but in this new town, the women didn’t know her, probably underestimated her, didn’t know how to have Rhonda join them in their work.

Rhonda had her membership transferred from the little Baptist Church back home to the new big one where I was pastor.  And when she did, she wanted to give a testimony – to stand up on Sunday morning and tell some of her life story, her faith journey.  

All the Church waited to see what would happen.

She told a beautiful story.  She told it beautifully and so honestly.  People were deeply touched, in that moment.  They were impressed with her.  We were impressed with the light that we suddenly noticed, shining!  We learned something that day about who Rhonda was, and who Jesus was.  And who we were.

‘Who are you, Jesus?’, people may ask. The answers we know we give.  We can’t make up anything else.  We might not believe all the facts we think we are supposed to believe.  What we do experience of Light and Truth, of Pain and Grace, we can share. ‘Who are you, Jeff?’ is also asked.  By grace we may answer well, and shed some light.

Writer and activist Jan Phillips, leads, among other things, storytelling workshops.  Story-spinning classes.  

Jan says: Our stories define us. They affect our well-being, our relationships, our present and our future. They are vehicles of energy. We can harness great power from the experiences of our lives. Our bodies are waiting to be tapped for their wisdom, gained from every ordeal we have suffered or encountered. Every catastrophe has stripped us of something and given us something. The nakedness, we know. The gifts are yet to be unearthed.

Like John, at times, we are witnesses of the Light that comes into the world.  At other times, we need to see that Light in others.  

Witness Steve Garnaas-Holmes — Dec 14, 2017

        John came as a witness to testify to the light.
        He himself was not the light,
        but he came to testify to the light
               —John 1.7-8

The brook is not the light
but it reflects the coming dawn.
The geese are not the winter,
but it falls from their wings.

The wave is not the sea;
the note is not the song;
I am not the light
but I am made of nothing else.

Bear witness.
If not to the light within,
bear witness to the dawn.
To the song.

The candle isn’t the sun,
but sings its song.
I don’t have to believe this,
just sing the song.

A Time for Peace (or 365,250)

(2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8) J G White
2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec 10, 2017, UBC Digby

It’s the Second Sunday of Advent, and we are still reading about the second coming of the Messiah.  Second Peter gives us more of the typical wisdom and warnings of apocalyptic literature.  

I believe that, despite the destruction we notice in Revelation, or Daniel, or 2 Peter, the end message of all the second coming teaching is life and peace.  Peace among all men and women.  Peace between humans and the rest of creation.  Peace between God and human souls.  The violent kingdoms of human history are overcome by the Kingdom of the Heavens, where there is no violence, no death, no pain nor suffering.

Back in the 1840s, when this Baptist congregation was a newly planted church in Digby, way down in the USA a war was waging with Mexico over the Texas territory, and beyond.  In Massachusetts, Unitarian Minister Edmund Sears was weighed down heavily with the situation.  He believed that to kill in war was a grievous a sin as murder.  He composed a Christmas poem that looked for a real hope of peace in his warring world.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angels’ strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong.
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
It’s ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

We sang some verses of ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ in our carol sing today.  It celebrates that night the angels sang, and the future time foretold.  We sing of the ‘ancient splendors’ of peace. Indeed, deep peace must be a splendid thing.  Christmas is a time to love, and Christmas is a time to seek peace.

This carol has become ‘timeless,’ it has stood the test of time.  And it is time that is on my heart again this week. Time rolls along, and sometimes seems the same.  Going along, getting faster a bit as the years go by, maybe.  

But time can also be special.  Those special moments when time is, well, different.  Time stands still, we sometimes say.  Time is sacred.  Time become timeless.

We know what these special moments are like.  So perhaps we can understand those famed phrases of Peter.  With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (2 P 3:8)  

I almost gave this sermon a six figure title: 365,250.  With God 24 hours is like 365,250 days, and 365,250 days is like 24 hours.  

In our lives we expect that special kind of time to happen in December, Christmastime.  All the stories and tales that keep being told and written about Christmas – the cartoons, movies, comics, TV shows, poems, songs – all of them: retelling magical, poignant moments that are timeless.  Even with our business, the hustle and bustle, certain events, special stories, catch our hearts, and Holiness is there. Even when we are skeptical, God graciously breaks through.

I likely told you the story before of the time we went to The Living Christmas Tree in Moncton.  What a big, gigantic production this is, at Moncton Wesleyan Church each year.  We were to join Sharon’s older daughter and son-in-law, who lived up there at the time, for this spectacular musical drama.

On the night for which we had tickets, it was a tremendous snowstorm.  But we set out, from Windsor, with Sharon’s other daughter in the car, to Moncton. The weather was so poor, we got to the church in Moncton just in time for the intermission, and the second half.  And we were driving all the way back home to Windsor after!

Once we finally got there, I was, of course, still a bit jaded about this ‘mega church’ and their very professional show, The Living Christmas Tree – with lights and special effects, professional singers and actors, amazing sets and staging – even live animals.  Over. The. Top.

Of course, in the second half, Joseph and Mary are there, and they have a baby.  I know the story.  The crowd of glitzy angels and authentic-looking shepherds are singing some spectacular song as magnificent Magi parade down the side aisles – singing perfectly, of course – when Mary and Joseph come forward on the stage.  
And then it happens.
The actor, Joseph, lifts up a baby.  
The Baby.
A real, human baby.  
Time stopped.
I wept.  I couldn’t help myself. And I almost never cry.

Last night here in town I had a twinge of that again, I must confess, while Dr. Neil Pothier, as the Innkeeper, held a plastic doll in a little comedic drama at Digby Wesleyan.  

We look for these timeless moments.  We get into December with anticipation, expectation, hope.  And even when we are hurried, or cynical, or stressed, or bored with it all – time can and will stand still.  Holiness appears again.

Deep peace breaks into our time.  Serenity sneaks in.  Love cracks the hardened heart.  And it’s not just in music and storytelling that this happens.  It is in real life.

I remember… I remember a very simple moment.  A bunch of us were Christmas caroling around our community.  A dozen of us in a few cars, going to a few homes.  We got to Mr. & Mrs. Boyd’s place. In his 80s,  Mr. was always at Sunday service, in the local Men’s Choir, and on our church committees too.  Mrs. B was not getting out as much anymore – few of us realized how hard the beginnings of her dementia was for their life at home.  

We started singing a few carols.  Mr. and Mrs. joined in.  Then I saw it.  For a few of the carollers in their 30s, sacredness arrived. They wept as they tried to keep singing.  

We keep singing carols.  Advent is a celebration.  A celebration of special time.  Of holy peace that breaks into the violence of the world, and into the hum-drum bah- humbug of it all.  The first Advent – Jesus getting born – was timeless.  The second Advent – Jesus coming back gloriously – is timeless too.  The fiery preaching of John the Baptizer, and the apocalyptic writing of Apostle Peter were understood by the people of old who were oppressed, looking for hope, troubled by world events back then. There can be peace.  There will be peace.
Peace among men and women.
Peace with all creation.
Peace with God.
In Advent we celebrate the mysterious and perfect Time for Peace.
I believe in it.

In Between Time

(1 Corinthians 1:1-9; Mark 13:24-37) J G White
1st Sunday of Advent, Dec 3, 2017, UBC Digby

It’s that time of year – time for me to get my gifts in order to send in the mail. So the annual family calendar is put together, with photos of family members and my own photos of scenery and birds from the year that is past.  Fifteen or twenty family and friends will get my calendar again this year.

Now, every Christmas gift that arrives at my door I like to keep wrapped up until December 25th, or later.  I don’t want to open anything early.  I like to have as many surprises as possible at Christmas. Do you?

Not everyone is like this.  My Aunt Jeannie, for instance. She is famous in the family for opening things early. Each year, when I drop off the calendar to her ahead of time – wrapped in Christmas paper – she soon would have it opened.  On Dec. 10th I read on facebook a note from Jeannie: “Thanks for the calendar, Jeff & Sharon.”  

Last year I decided to play at trick on Aunt Jeannie.  I wrapped up a pile of scrap paper as if it was the calendar, and that’s what I gave her before Christmas.  Only after the 25th did I drop off the real gift – the calendar.  

Wanting to sneak in and open the gifts… or wanting to save the surprise!  This is Advent. We are in tension: an in between time.  We start, today, preparing for the arrival of Jesus the Saviour.  We also know the whole story, and we have already started to decorate and have parties and sing the carols.  It was not always this way in history.

Friday evening we sang The Twelve Day of Christmas.  British hymnologist, Andrew Gant, suggests that
something of the generous spirit of the twelve-day holiday survives in this sprightly carol, even if nowadays we do Christmas in the wrong order.  We put our decorations up and file dutifully into our carol services during Advent, or even earlier.  Christmas effectively ends, rather than begins, on December 25th.   

Advent, for the Church, is billed as a season of preparation for the real celebrations.  Advent is also about the second advent of the Messiah, the second coming.

It has been many centuries now for Christians to be an in between people.  In between the arrival of Jesus born Bethlehem, and the second arrival, His future return.  For almost two millenia now the saints have waited.  

We remember the death of Jesus today, with shared bread and fruit of the vine.  I so often, at the table, quote the words of the Apostle Paul from scripture.  For as often as you eat of this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.  Until Jesus comes back.  

That’s what our two scripture readings are all about this morning.  Words of Paul from that same letter; words of Jesus from Mark’s Gospel, his little apocalypse, chapter 13.

We are between advents.  We are  between things being hidden and things being revealed.  We are between guilt and total forgiveness.  We know about Jesus’ first arrival. We don’t know as much about the second.  There are quite a few approaches to the Second Coming of Christ, the Day of the Lord, the Apocalypse, the Eschaton, the Parousia, the Second Advent, the Rapture, etc.  As many names as the Bible experts have for it, there are as many theories about how it will happen.  

Many Christians are quite keen on there being a real date in the future – maybe the near future – when Jesus will come back and we’ll go up.

Other believers are not quite expecting a literal moment in the future when this happens, but rather look for Jesus’ return to break into history at many times and places all through the present and the future.  

Some of the faithful have the idea that the Kingdom of God is growing or being built now, and all the words about the return of Jesus are being realized bit by bit.  

And maybe some of Jesus’ present day disciples think of His return being very close all the time, but never really quite happening; it will always be in the future.

So we are a people in between all these theories about the second Advent of Christ.  Somehow, it is to be my proclamation to you that God is faithful, no matter what all these Bible promises mean. As Paul wrote: you are not lacking any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end.  God is faithful; by Him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

God is the God of the in between times.  All the in between times of life, I’m sure.  And that’s good news.  For being stuck in the middle of where we were and where we want to be is often uncomfortable and hard.  

I’ve reflected on this when I remember the different people I have met this week who are in between – between one part of life and another.  And I have seen so many others in similar situations.  God has got to be there, in the long times of waiting.    

I think of people I have seen this week who are like so many others.  People between having faith in Christ and having no commitment.  I remember back to a dear church friend in another town. I’ll call her Beth.  She and her husband grew up in the same downtown Baptist Church.   They married and settled in a different town – both serving as busy volunteers, taking turns as deacon, trustee, small group leader, all that.  But regularly, in prayer times, Beth would have us pray for her father, a man who had never become a churchgoer, never made a commitment to Jesus Christ, as all the women in Beth’s family had done.   

How many people are in between – between faith and no faith, joining a spiritual path and not joining?  They remain in the hopes and prayers of you, their loved ones.

This week I have also thought of people who have been hanging in that place in between life and death.  For Sharon and I got called in to visit with an elderly woman in palliative care, and her family.  Like others I’ve known, the tiny body, under the covers, is quietly carrying on.  After ten days of no food or water, her heart is still beating, lungs still breathing.  Her mind, ravaged by alzheimer’s, is quiet under the morphine, but perhaps still aware of loved ones in the room, hearing their voices, feeling the touch of their hands, hour by hour.  It is a long wait, that in between time.  

The in between of life and death comes in many other forms, and in it all, the God of in betweens is there.  It is a special time, a hard time, a sacred time.  Jesus on the cross is God in between life and death. Remember God there.

And this week I have been aware again of the many in between people who are between home and home.  The  refugees in our world.  I think Christmas will now always make me think of refugees, for it was two years ago on Decemeber 22 that Syrians Rema and Shekrallah Kenaan and their six children arrived in Digby from Lebanon.

I think of the transient people I have met in my towns, people who came for a while but did not get to stay.  Like that thin young man in dark clothing who sat in a back pew one summer Sunday.  He thought we were so fearful.  These in between people have a life, and often rely upon the grace and goodness of us who are settled, but often too scared and skeptical to help.  What does the God of in between times do in the lives of people who are so often between home and home?  Remember Mary and Joseph and their little baby, fleeing to Egypt for a while, when Herod the ruler was having children executed.  God knows.

And I see every week people who are doing their best at buying and selling their home – trying to make a move.  Sometimes the waiting is long and confusing.  Sometimes the deal is messy.  Sometimes the move comes quickly and smoothly.  Some of you are in this in between chapter.  God is the God of these in between times, the in between people.  Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.  So said Jesus about His Day.  So His Spirit might say to us in our in between times.  

We wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Not only the end of time, as we know it; the end of the situation we are in now.  Look at how the Divine One is appearing in between, now.  This is our Hope.  AMEN.