Looking Forward

(Luke 2:21-40) – J G White
11 am, Xmas 1, Sun, Dec 30, 2018 – UBC Digby

We looked forward to Christmas. Now what?  New Year? 2 days away. Looking forward to spring?  About 80 days. Christmas? 360 days from now!

So many dates and timelines and moments are things we have created to celebrate; a bit artificial.

It is December 30th.  Time to look back, of course.  Time to celebrate now, yes.  And time to look forward.  To plan. To prepare. To get reoriented.

The early stories of Jesus continue, today.  Joseph and Mary dedicate their child in Jerusalem. “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  This was a worship sacrifice for those unable to afford the usual.

What does looking forward mean to those who are poor?  Poor in things? Is looking forward simply about survival: hoping and planning to survive another year?  Wishing for some windfall, some luck, some unlikely blessing to come along? Sharon and I watched a 1938 film version of A Christmas Carol the other day.  The story is told over and over of the Cratchits, the working poor: how they live, how they hope, how they survive.  

Mother Teresa said, “The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted.” What could Christ have for an unwanted person to look forward to in a new year?

What about for those poor in health?  What does it mean to be forward looking when you might be in your last years of life?  Less able to do many things?

Let me tell again the story of Doug and Gertrude.  Seniors, in their little house in Wolfville, thirty years ago.  Looking around their living room, Gertrude says, “I think we could use a chair right here. We should get a chair.”  
“Just how long do you think we are going to live?” asks Doug.
“I don’t know,” says Gertrude, “But I know this: I’m going to live as long as I live!”
She took the advice of Jonathan Swift: “May you live all the days of your life.”  Such is the attitude of those who look forward. Life built upon the past, growing into the future.  

The future is, of course, uncertain for everyone.  Yet what we do today, in the now, inspires and helps many people, not just ourselves.  

If found quite a few poignant moments in our Christmas music here this past week.  Jean Brittain joins the Ladies Ensemble to sing, amid her cancer treatments. Bonne and Pete and Linda reunite to sing together, with as great a spirit, and volume, and harmony as ever.  Peter Dickie comes forward to offer a solo, taking off his gloves and mask, and putting a new, germ-free, foam cover on the microphone.

And then, as a counterpoint, quiet little Mason clings to his grandmother Margo as she sings a solo.  

The people who are seniors, and the people who are children, each has an unknown future, but with great joy and beauty to give today, and with a measure of hopefulness.  Each one, inspiring us.

Speaking of a little one brightening life for us, we heard those stories of infant Jesus brought to the Temple of Jerusalem.  At that time, a complete stranger comes forward. Simeon, a man who was looking forward to the Christ, the Messiah… ‘the consolation of Israel.’  Perhaps, two thousand years ago, there were as many ideas about what the Messiah would be like, among the Jews, as there are Biblical theories about Jesus coming the second time, among Christians in the world now.  

Whatever he expected, this man in Jerusalem is drawn to Joseph and Mary & the Child. Traditionally Simeon is thought of as an old man, though he was not necessarily so.

Our text tells us he was Spirit guided.  Promised to see the Anointed One before his death.  Then, he recognized this one child as the One.  How the Spirit and Simeon did these two things we are not told.  We simply find this future-oriented man appearing on the scene in Luke chapter 2.

Gazing at the Simeon story, I think about this:  the Spirit-filled life as a way of looking forward.  Makes sense. Be closely in touch with God, and get pointed into the future.  It’s not about living in the future. And Simeon does not live thirty more years to hear Jesus preach, see him heal, or be sacrificed and raised up.  Glimpsing the Saviour is enough.

Simeon speaks a poetic blessing.
Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,
according to your word.
For my eyes have seen your salvation…

It gets called the Song of Simeon, or the Nunc Dimittis.  Simeon’s song gets recited (or sung) in evening services by Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and many other groups.

Anna was there too, and speaks prophetically.  She is old: 84. She speaks of the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Notice that of her we are told she was devoted to prayer and fasting.  She spent her life this way. Many years. We get this brief glimpse of her in Luke 2.   We see spiritual discipline as a path to looking forward and having a message to share.

Bible people like Anna inspire me to take up things like prayer, meditation, worship, fasting, Bible memorization.  For instance, I believe in adults memorizing Bible verses.  Hence our monthly practice of learning scripture verses.  Getting the Word ingrained in us as a way to open a door for the Spirit.  For the Spirit of God to do more with us. To point us to the real and true future.

On the cusp of a New Year, a friend, who will be turning fifty years old, has decided to memorize fifty poems. Talk about a New Year’s resolution!  Hmmm. What goals could I have in 2019? Sharon and I talked about this quite a bit last week. I could try the same as my friend, fifty poems. But what about something else?  I could memorize twelve chapters of the Bible over the next twelve months.  

A radio program on spirituality played an interesting song the other day, the song of a musician and comedian I’d never heard of before.  A strong critic of religion, he sang:
I don’t go in for ancient wisdom
I don’t believe just ‘cause ideas are tenacious
it means they are worthy
(Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun)

Me, I am hooked on some ancient wisdom.  I do go in for it. Certainly this Bible.  Memorizing some good-sized chunks of it can help me on the path to, well, being on the right path.

A spiritual discipline, a focal practice, whatever you call it: what might U take time for next year that will make a difference to you, to God, to the world?

Anna and Simeon, a couple very minor Bible characters.  Their cameo appearances inspire. Of course, you go to church, you meet the real churchy people.  You go to temple two thousand years ago, you meet the most devout Jews of all, this man and this woman who are there every day the doors are open, so to speak.

There are other days we meet the people out there who guide us.  John the Baptist, say, who left the life of city and temple and priesthood for the wildness of the palestinian desert. John was all about acting now for an important future.  Prepare the way.

I’m also looking forward to meeting those sorts of people.

Gifts of Christ to Us

(Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-7) – J G White
7 pm, Christmas Eve, Tues, Dec 24, 2018 – UBC Digby

For almost everyone around here, it is gift getting time and gift giving time. I enjoy this a lot: it is so fun!  Here, tonight, we focus upon the Jesus story.  What does Jesus the Christ give us? Are there gifts here for us, from Him??

Let’s open up some gifts to us from Jesus…

Includes Everyone (Earth)
God’s readiness to give and forgive is now public. Salvation’s available for everyone!
Even after two thousand years of Christianity, Christ is still seen as a tribal thing.  One religion among many, in competition with the others.
Jesus is bigger than this.  Better than this.
If we just remember this is a Jewish baby who was born, we clue in.  We are not Jewish, but the Jewish Messiah is our Saviour.
He is more, far more than the Jewish religion waited for.
Christ is even more than most Christians today know, and love, and serve, and wait for. 
He is here for everyone.  
I don’t know how to explain this!

How to do better (owners manual book)
We’re being shown how to turn our backs on a godless, indulgent life,
People sometimes look for a life owner’s manual.
It is not actually the Bible.
(basic instructions before leaving earth?)
No, our owner’s manual is the Baby.
We can trust Jesus the Christ to be our expert, for our lives.  
It is like the difference between taking a trip to Italy, say, with a travel book about Italy, or taking an expert Tour Guide with you.
Jesus got born here to be our personal Guide.

The God-Filled Life (water jug)
how to take on a God-filled, God-honoring life.
This doesn’t mean we talk about God all the time.
It does not mean happiness all the time either.
It means we are headed into oneness with Creator.
There is enough of the Holy One to fill every corner of your life, your soul, your days, your situations.  This living water never runs out.

Good Life Now (wrist watch)
This new life is starting right now,
Abundant life now, the grown-up Jesus called it.
Not the same as getting everything we think we want.  Nor the same as getting an easy ride in life.
But now, before heaven, before life-after-death, we have these days with God.
Like at the end of the famous ‘Grinch Who Stole Christmas’ story:  The people of Whoville rejoiced on Christmas morning even when there was no food and gifts, no tree or lights at all.  
The real reason to rejoice was still in them.

Future Hope (2019 calendar)
whetting our appetites for the glorious day when our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, appears.
Christ appears to us many times in our lives.
Many extra-special moments.
Perhaps there will be a BIG moment in the future when the Son of God will yet appear.
The future pulls us forward from day to day.
Instead of the past controlling us so much.  

Freedom from Evil (key)
He offered himself as a sacrifice to free us from a dark, rebellious life into this good, pure life,
There is a lot of wrong in the world.  We see all the criticisms everywhere of all the problems.  
We don’t agree on what is wrong and what is right in this world.  That can also be a problem!
Then there is our own self-criticism.
The One born in Bethlehem promises freedom from all this.  
The key to life: the key to freedom.  

We are Wonderful to God (picture in frame)
making us a people he can be proud of, energetic in goodness.  Jesus is proud of me?  Of you?!
God Is Love.
We are loveable to God. Not, it’s not that we might be loveable, or could be loveable – we are now.
We are in the Divine Image – we are like God.
God as one of us – Emmanuel – shows this.
God thinks about us, talks about us, is proud of us, take pleasure in us people!

Thanks to be God for the Gifts of Christmas!

Telling the Good News

(Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46-55) – J G White
11 am, Advent 4, Sun, Dec 23, 2018 – UBC Digby

Welcome to Christian worship of God, and at Christmastime, even.  We have a magnificent Gospel to proclaim! What kind of Good News do we tell now?  How do we put the Good Tidings into words? Into our own words?  For our people? Today?

Sure, we like to quote Francis of Assisi, who is credited with saying: ‘Preach the gospel at all times; use words when necessary.”  In our lives words will be necessary.  There is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.

This month I have been talking with you about The Good News of Jesus.  It’s my own project I’m sharing, really: how to understand salvation better, and how to say it better.  Every age in Christian history has to do this.  Every Church and every individual believer must work it out.  Not only do we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12), we work out how to express it, how to share it, afresh.  

To tell the News, the Good News of God, is to tell a story.  Tell God’s story – the Bible story. And tell our story. We often wander from one to the other, and back again.  We use Bible words in personal ways.

Together here, we recited Mary’s whole song of praise.  The Magnificat, it gets called, from it’s old title in Latin.  My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!  For He has looked with favour on the lowliness of His servant. (Luke 1:46-48)  And so on. She was expecting a special child, and at this point she was visiting her old relative, Elizabeth, who was expecting a special baby of her own.  Together they rejoice.

When Mary sings out these words, she is echoing Bible words, reworking an old lyric.  In particular, the words of the song of Hannah, from one thousand years earlier, when Hannah was happily expecting a baby, who would be named Samuel.  

Mary, in her praises, is telling what she expected about God’s salvation.  She does it by celebrating the kinds of things her Lord does.

So Mary says: God takes people’s souls to heaven, after they die.  God brings people together to build church buildings with steeples and pulpits and pews.  God reunites loved ones in heaven if they do not end up in hell. Ah… No, she doesn’t!

Mary says things like: God scatters proud people.  God wrecks powerful people and lifts up weak people.  God fills up hungry people, and gives nothing to the rich ones.

It is very practical stuff Mary and Elizabeth celebrate about the Saviour who is about to be born.  It seems to be very earthly minded, not so heavenly.

I have one of those magnetic images of a nativity to stick on my car that reads: KEEP CHRIST IN CHRISTMAS.  I read this posting on social media:
Want to keep “Christ” in Christmas?  
Feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, love the outcast,
forgive the wrongdoer, inspire the hopeless.

There are plenty of options when it comes to putting the Gospel of Jesus into words. Some proclaiming of it has been what gets called ‘the social gospel,’ a movement that was at its peak about a hundred years ago.

In our lives, South African Bishop, Desmond Tutu, said, “I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person.  When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Now is that political or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.” (Claiborne, Shane, et al, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, c 2010, p. 71)

Other ways of explaining the Gospel are focused upon individuals and their souls, which could end up in eternal bliss or eternal torment, after death here.  

Church planter and author, Brian McLaren, tells of a multi-faith gathering outside of Washington, DC, just a few months after the attacks of September 11, 2001.  It was awful, McLaren says. Held at a local mosque, the first speaker, a Sikh from India, insulted the host imam with his first sentence. Next, a Catholic priest was dull, long-winded & academically complicated.  A protestant minister was just as monotone, but said that Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw Christ even in Hitler! McLaren wanted to crawl down into a crack in the floor.

Then a Pentecostal pastor spoke, who was very emotional and energetic.  He ended up saying: “I love you! I love you all! And because I love you, it is my duty to you, my neighbours, be you Muslims, Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, or Buddhist, to tell you that you are all going straight to hell unless you repent and receive Jesus Christ as your personal Lord, Saviour, Healer, and Deliverer!”

The pastor went on for about thirty minutes like this.  Then, to Brian McLaren’s shock, he got tremendous applause from when he finished.  

McLaren concluded: for him to be himself, to pour out his heart, to unleash his emotion… and to do so in the presence of others of different faiths… that was just the gift people needed in the aftermath of Sept. 11.  People needed to cry and shout and vent… And in that very human connection, he communicated real love for the people in the room. (Why Did Jesus, Moses, Mohammed and the Buddha Cross the Road?, 2012, p. )

The communication of real love for others is what Christmas is all about. What the Cross is all about.  What Resurrection is all about. You and I find our ways to love others when we tell our stories of God.  Our Good Tidings of great joy must be authentic.  Real. Genuine. Personal. I don’t recommend ‘fire and brimstone’ unless that is your only way to speak love.  

So, I tell people that this Jesus being born is the story of how loved and valuable we are. It is about what’s wrong with me and how God comes to me.  It is about what’s wrong in the whole world, and how God loves the whole world. It is also about the fears I have, and can get through with God. It is about pain and suffering, for it is the story of a God who comes deep into pain and suffering. It is a story about making things right, and setting things at peace here. It is about finding my path to take in this life, with a Guide who walks right beside me, not far ahead.  It is about belonging in this world, being in community, with a God who is on my side, who is for us, all the way.

How do you tell about the Christ of Christmas?

GO, tell it on the mountain!

The Good News: What’s Right

(Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11) – J G White
11 am, Advent 2, Sun, Dec 9, 2018 – UBC Digby

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas–
star and angels gave the sign.
Christina Rossetti, 1883

What kind of Good News, Gospel, do we have?  Paul, of the Bible, wrote to his friends in one town, and spoke of sharing in the Gospel, the work of the Gospel.  (Phil 1:3) Did you detect his tone of voice in the words of this letter?
I thank my God every time I remember you…
The One who began a good work in you will complete it…
It is right for me to think this way about you…
How I long for all of you with the compassion of X

Yes, the Good News of Christianity is a message of love – God is love, God loves us, God loves all, God does not want anyone to be wrecked.  Not one person.

We are to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ – right where we live.  As we serve in this way, remember this part of the Message we have to give out:
You are in God’s image – you are of God.
You are loved, so loved, so lovable.
You are valued, so valuable, you are gold!
You are becoming, becoming so amazing (not just forgiven).

Last week we explored the bad news: what’s wrong. This week: what’s right.
Jesus and the Gospel – is not just problem solving.

Some Christian teaching says that to be human is to be totally depraved.  I think other Christian teachings are better. There is evil and wrong in us, yes.  Yet there is beauty and good in who we are. A human, even an unsaved human, is a wonderful thing.

At a funeral last week I heard some verses of scripture well read that are very familiar to me.  From 2 Corinthians 4. I could have yawned through them, in my comfortable pew. But at that moment, and not of my choosing, they hit me right in the heart.  They moved me deeply.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure

C S Lewis wrote a whole long essay about this, this ‘weight of glory’ that we each shall bear.  This beautiful holiness of the human being – often hidden down deep inside us, that will yet be revealed.  It is what we have in common with what we call God.

The Christian story – from scripture – is unique.  The Creator comes into creation; God gets born as a human individual. A baby was born in Bethlehem, with the same kind of fingernails, the same kind of gallbladder, the same kinds of distractions in his brain that we all have.  Our story to tell is of a Supreme Being who actually becomes one of us. That tells the world something about how worthwhile we are.

The Good News also tells us we have purpose. We are saved for good works. (Eph 2:10) Jesus did great things, we shall do greater things. (Jn 14:12) The One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion, says Philippians 1.

Another word picture in the Bible is of the refiner’s fire.  How a metalworker fires up the furnace, and out comes the pure gold.  So it is for humans – there is pure gold in us to be refined.  We heard this today from Malachi 3 .  No, we are not nothing, into which God needs to put something good; at heart we are created good and beautiful.   

How do you show others that they can come out like gold?  That they are precious? That they are loved!  Do you believe this about yourself? Can you say, like Job did, (Job 23:10)
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold?

The season of Advent and Christmas is a season for storytelling.  So here is a story. Another old- fashioned story by the Rev. William E. Barton.  His tales are about a wise old pastor, Safed the Sage, and his life experiences, long ago.
This story is called ‘The Pens.’

I have a friend who is a maker of Gold Pens. And he said unto me, What doest thou know about Pens?  
And I said, I live hard by a Pen, though not in one; for I am a Writer.
And he said, Come with me, and I will show thee how a Pen is made.

So we entered the Factory, and came into a room where there was a Crucible.  And a man took Fine Gold and weighed it and cast it into the Crucible; and Copper he took also.  And out of the Crucible came forth an Ingot.

And another man took the Ingot and weighed it, and rolled it into a Sheet.  And another man took the Sheet and weighed it, and cut it into Strips. And another man took the Strips and weighed them, and out of every one of them cut he Pens an hundred and forty and four.

And another man took the Pens and curved the sides thereof.  And another man cut out of every several Pen an Hole that was shaped like an heart.  And another man cut in every Pen a Slit.

And every man counted the Pens that were given him, insomuch that if one Pen had been lost, or so much as a grain of gold missing, it would then have been known who had taken it.  

Then did certain damsels take the Pens, and they burnished them and polished them, so that every Pen received of the labor of an hundred men and two score maidens.

And the garments that they wore are burned once in the space of three months, and from the ashes they save more than enough gold to buy new garments.  And when they wash their hands the water runneth into a great Vat and settleth, so that in every month they take from the bottom of the Vat gold to the value of three hundred shekels.

Now I had watched the making of one Pen from the time it came forth in the Ingot till it was completed.  And my friend took that Pen, and caused it to be set in an holder, and gave it to me. And he said, Keep it, for it is thine.
And I bowed low and thanked him.
And he filled the holder with ink.

And I spake unto him, and said, Behold, thou hast showed me a wonderful thing, and I have learned much.  But I will show thee a thing yet more wonderful. For I am filling this Pen not with ink only, but with memory and creative power.  I will cause this Pen to tell the story of its own creation, so that men who live a thousand miles away shall see what I have seen this day.

And he said, Thine is the more wonderful art: for the making of the Pen is not so wonderful as the use thereof.

So I took the Pen, and I wrote this parable therewith.  And I remembered the gold that did not become Pens, but became dust of gold in the garments, and that flowed down the pipe into the Vat.  And I prayed to my God, and said, O my God, who willith not that any of the children of men should perish, if the washings of men’s hands yield not filth only but gold to the value of three hundred shekels in a month, what canst thou do with the souls of men, in the day when hearts are tried as gold is tried in the furnace?

And I know not the answer to my prayer, but my hope is in God.  

(William E. Barton, Safed and Keturah, 1921, pp. 82-84)

The Good News: What’s Wrong

(Jeremiah 33:14-16; 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13) – J G White
11 am, Advent 1, Sun, Dec 2, 2018 – UBC Digby

I have wanted this year to figure out some fresh ways to preach the Gospel.  How to explain It simply and briefly for this time and place. As I admitted last Sunday morning, the “old time religion” is not good enough for me.  

So “Christmastime,” as this month is still called in Canada, seems prime time to explore The Gospel, while Jesus still gets a lot of attention all over.

Some of you have been to the doctor lately.  Ever have him or her say to you, “I’ve got good news and bad news.  What do you want to hear first?” Well, I think, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I have some good news and some bad news for you.  I’m going to give you the ‘bad news’ first, this Sunday.

There are many versions of the ‘bad news’ of the Gospel of Jesus.  We usually call it ‘sin,’ and explain it with lots of scriptures. We are talking about what we need, what the human problem is.  But a reading like Jeremiah 33, today, reminds us that ‘salvation’ is often about a whole group of people, and often about safety and freedom in this life, not just the next.

This year, an Australian Christian man now in the States wrote a little book called “Gospel Reset: Salvation Made Relevant.” He had it mailed out to every pastor in North America.  I got a copy in the mail, Alex Constable got a copy, & so on. In it, Ken Ham suggests that individuals out there now need to be taught a particular way of understanding & believing the Bible, and then they will be able to understand and believe the Gospel of Jesus.  

He did not convince me. It did not seem relevant.  And then he uses a very individual, evangelical way of telling the Gospel.

Surely you have heard this before.  The teaching that: God is so perfect He can’t even bear to look at anything not perfect.  All us people are so wrong and bad and unworthy that God had to get His own Son killed off to take the rap for us, and save us.  Otherwise we’d be doomed. So we sing things like
‘Til on the cross as Jesus died,
the wrath of God was satisfied.

That’s why Jesus was born in Bethlehem long ago; He was born to die, to die for us, to deal with our sin problem.

As true as these words are, they don’t tell the whole story.  And this is not the only Biblical way to explain the Gospel.  No wonder we make time for a sermon 52 times a year!  It is high time for us to have more training in explaining our Christian experience.

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ: it is time to devote ourselves more to listening to people not the same as us, and hear what they know about human problems – and solutions.  Learn their language. Hear the cries of their hearts. Understand their questions and aspirations.  

With our traditional Bible words we talk about being sinful, evil, lost, unholy, unworthy.  Or, as Paul wrote to the Thessalonian Christians, he had hope that his friends would become more loving and holy, and, have what was lacking in their faith restored.  Every age, every culture, has its own ways of expressing the problem. Today is not different. A few years ago I played here a 2010 pop song by the band, Bastille: Flaws.  Some of the words are:

All of your flaws and all of my flaws,
they lie there hand in hand
Ones we’ve inherited, ones that we learn
They pass from man to man

You have always worn your flaws upon your sleeve
& I have always buried them deep beneath the ground
Dig them up – let’s finish what we started
Dig them up – so nothing’s left unturned


This year, a 2017 song by Lovelytheband has caught my ear.  Called Broken, it has these lyrics:

I like that you’re broken
Broken like me
Maybe that makes me a fool
I like that you’re lonely
Lonely like me
I could be lonely with you


Maybe these are just contemporary love songs, but the expression of flaws and brokenness is very clear.  Humans are broken; people are flawed.  But we are going to be together; we can fit together anyway. And, our flaws, our brokenness, does not need to destroy us.  It could bring us together.

I could preach the same thing about the One who’s to be born in a stable in Bethlehem, once again. Isn’t the story of Jesus given to us to show us God?  God who comes among us and experiences all the flaws, all our brokenness, and takes them, so that we can be together?  Together with each other, together with God? Jesus is God: born, killed, and the alive again.  The alive again part is also meant for every one of us.

This is what I’ve called ‘what’s wrong’ from the Gospel.  Tune in next week for some of ‘what’s right.’