A Star’s Light

(Luke 2:1-21, James 1:17-18; Luke 11:33-36) – J G White
7 pm, Christmas Eve, Tues, Dec 24, 2019 – UBC Digby

I wonder as I wander, out under the sky,
how Jesus the Saviour did come for to die
for poor ornery people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky. 

It’s Christmas Eve. For many, it has been a busy time, an exciting time, maybe a stressful time. Anyone feeling ‘ornery’ out there?  The editors of our hymnbook actually changed that phrase to ‘poor ordinary people,’ instead of ‘poor ornery people.’  

Life has its bright spots, and its darkness, so to speak. Some times in our lives we seem full of light, at other times, darkness. It all comes together in the story of this night. We rejoice in the wondrous Light give us!

When Mary birthed Jesus ‘twas in a cow’s stall
with wise men and farmers and shepherds and all,
but high from God’ heaven a star’s light did fall,
the promise of ages it then did recall. 

Do you look up at the stars often? Regularly?  This time of year, with our long nights, I get up in the morning and the first thing I do is look out the windows. I look out at the landscape, the sky, the weather. Sometimes, the light of the stars is shining. 

I remember a cold winter’s night in 1986. My mother and I got up and went out into the cornfield next door, with binoculars in hand. We were looking for Halley’s Comet. We tried to find Halley’s Comet. 

In the end, we did not figure out what spot in the sky was the famed celestial visitor. We suppose that the Magi of old were indeed wise people, and worked hard to discern the new star, and how it could guide them to something – Someone – of real importance. 

It takes work on our part to see the light, to follow God, to keep on throughout our lives. 

The Bible sometimes call the Divine One ‘the Father of Lights,’ and other such titles. A wonderful Light in the darkness: this is our experience of God. 

If Jesus had wanted for any wee thing,
a star in the sky or a bird on the wing,
or all of God’s angels in heaven for to sing,
he surely could have it, ‘cause he was the King. 

We marvel tonight at a child born who could wield the stars at his command. Yet he did not. One ‘star’ shone for Him, who is the Light of the World.

As another Christmas song says, 
Jesus is now that start divine,  
brighter and brighter He must shine
Beautiful star of Bethlehem shine on.
  (Adger M. Pace c 1940)

Jesus would grow up to say “you are the light of the world.” The purpose of the nativity, is to give our lives purpose. Prepare us to shine. Such a gift!

Tonight, as we come to the closing prayers and carols, we share light. Little, battery powered candles. We become a giant constellation, we remember that we are to be the people of blessing, shining forth in the world with hope, peace, love and joy. All of it shining from you and me and Christ.

Joyful Celebration: Joy to the World

(Psalm 98) – J G White
7 pm, 4th Sun of Advent, Dec 22, 2019 – UBC Digby

I  Isaac Watt’s New Songs

We’ve just sung a ‘new song.’ Did it sound new to you? It was new three hundred years ago, when Isaac Watts composed this poetry in 1719, in England. 

Watts was a prolific hymn writer. He was an innovator, in a time when the Church was just waiting for new songs. Instead of singing only liturgical prayers or metrical Psalms from the Bible, Watts started writing poetry based upon scripture, but not direct translations. So many of his old, old songs are still sung by us today: 16 in our hymnbook! Such as:
Come We that Love the Lord
O God, Our Help in Ages Past
Alas and Did My Saviour Bleed?
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
Jesus Shall Reign

‘Joy to the World’ is based on Psalm 98. It begins with a phrase found in more than one place in the Bible. ‘O sing to the LORD a new song.’ 

Perhaps the music we used was new to you. That tune, Nativity, is only 165 years old. It has been used often for ‘Joy to the world.’ I even found it in a 1933 British Baptist Hymnbook. It has three tunes for this carol; but the tune we know is a fourth, found in the appendix. We will sing the one we know later tonight.

II  Handel’s Messiah

In 1741, the famed German-born composer in London, George Frideric Handel, wrote an oratorio called Messiah. The text for all the singers and choir was from the Bible, Old and New Testaments. Handel wrote all the music within 24 days! It was produced for the debt relief of prisoners in several jails, for a hospital, and an infirmary, all in Dublin. That first performance, April 13, 1742, was a great success!

Why am I telling you about Handel’s Messiah? Because the music we just about always use for ‘Joy to the World’ seems to come from Handel, and from this beloved oratorio. The first words sung in the Messiah are from Isaiah 40, Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. The orchestral music seems to be echoed in the repeating part in each verse of ‘Joy to the world.’ And the first part of our familiar tune 
Joy to the world… 
is the same as Psalm 24 in the Messiah
Lift up your heads, (O ye gates…)
Have patience, we will all sing the tune we know as our finale tonight!

III  King David’s Joyful Noise

We often joke here, in Church, about ‘making a joyful noise.’ We quote this at choir practices, for instance. And we are quoting Psalm 98. 

In most of our Bibles, Psalm 98 is not given a note about being a Psalm of David, like so many others are, but there is a tradition that says this was part of that King’s collection. David is known for his lyrics, and his musicianship. As a young fellow he was called upon to play the strings and soothe Saul, when upset. We have a little stained glass image up above of a lyre, that ancient instrument played by David, and mentioned in Psalm 98.

If the floods can clap their hands, the hills sing together for joy, and lyres and horns take up the praising, then any of us can make a joyful noise. 

IV  Lowell Mason’s Music

The earth cries out for justice. People cry out for the right things to happen, to be done, to be decided! So says Psalm 98, and so sings ‘Joy to the World.’

More than a century after that poetry was written, Lowell Mason adapted some of Handel’s music into a new tune. He named the music Antioch, and we know it as ‘Joy to the World.’ 

Mason was a formidable hymn writer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. His musical career took off when the Boston Handel and Haydn Society  published, in 1822, his Collection of Church Music. The book was a great success and quite influential, in churches and schools. Mason moved to Boston, eventually leading and conducting for the Handel and Haydn Society. He became known as the father of American Church music. 

No wonder one of his most famous tunes is based upon the music of Handel, from The Messiah. In a few moments, at last, we will sing Isaac Watt’s poetry to this tune, which we know so well.

Work of Love

(Hebrews 6:7-12; John 3:22-36) – J G White
11 am, 4th Sun of Advent, Dec 22, 2019 – UBC Digby

The story was told to me of a preacher, years ago in Windsor. He started every year by preaching the same sermon. His first words, at the start of each January, were: “Making love is hard work!” I’d love to know what the rest of the sermon was.

Love is work. It is action. It is lovingkindness. It is compassion. It is holy. Today’s scripture words about the Messiah, the Anointed One, dabble in the loving action of God, and the loving we do now.

He who has the bride is the groom, says John the Baptizer. He uses the old Bible imagery of God the groom and the people as the bride. It is love. It is relationship. It is joy.

The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hands, says John chapter 3. This chapter that also tells us: God so loved the world that He gave His one Son…

And the author of Hebrews wrote: God will not overlook your work and the love you showed… 

It seems that the things we do for Love truly matter when they are part of the bigger picture. As we grow to love the world as God loves the world, our lives give more, make more of a difference. The whole, cultural spirit of Christmastime alerts us all to goodness, to compassion, to generosity. 

Love is hard work. Perhaps these sentences from Hebrews 6 are another statement of James 2:17 “So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

Christmas, without Christ, is dead, we could say. Also, Christmas, without loving actions, is dead. Perhaps we repeat a celebration every year on the same date for two reasons. One, to remind and to teach those who are just learning. Two, so that we can grow up and do better. With the Christ of Christmas. One angle on this is to become less, and Jesus becomes more. 

John the Baptizer said to those who wondered if he was the Messiah: “my joy has been fulfilled. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.” (J 3:30) The chapter goes on to say of Jesus and his cousin:

31 The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things.

It is clear from the story that some of John’s disciples were feeling competitive with Jesus and His followers. ‘Jesus is becoming more popular!’ 

Of course He was. And John was OK with this. Indeed, he knew his role – preparing the way. Pointing the Way.

Perhaps, like me, you look for better ways, every December, to have more purpose in your Advent and Christmas. I stick a magnet on the back of my car that says “Keep Christ in Christmas.” I mean this as encouragement to believers. But what do I do differently this December, better than years before? How do I get myself pointed more towards Christ, my North Star?

I have been reading a chapter of Luke’s Gospel every day. But what have I done better for other people? Have I found new obedience in December?

Amid the warnings in Hebrews 6 about doing well or being a failure, being diligent instead of sluggish, are these words of encouragement: …beloved, we are confident of better things in your case, things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.

Genuine, sacrificial giving gets highlighted in this season. Remember the classic short story by O. Henry called ‘The Gift of the Magi’?  In this little, 1905 tale, Della Young and her husband, James Dillingham Young, are indeed young, and loving, and poor. 

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time… Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window someday to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he paused, just to see him pluck at his beard with envy. 

What did Della do? She went out to Mme. Sefronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds, and sold her hair. Della got twenty dollars from that haircut. And what did she buy? A platinum watch chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone… 

Later, Della was home, and Jim was late. When he got in, he just stared at Della’s short hair. 

After they settled down a bit, Jim gave Della a present. There lay The Combs – the set of combs, that Della had worshipped for long in a Broadway win- dow. Beautiful combs, pure tortoiseshell with jewelled rims – just the shade to wear in that vanished hair.

Then Della gave Jim his gift. “Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it. “

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled. 

“Dell,” said he, “Let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ‘em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs.”

O Henry concludes, about these two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. …of all who give and receive gifts, such as these are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi. (Fireside Al’s Treasury of Christmas Stories, 2008, pp. 43-51)

Perhaps stories, and events, around you this month have inspired you. The Holy Spirit has prompted a growing of your heart, by half a size, at least. All of us have basic and beautiful things to learn. To learn to do. To be. To give. The big story of these days is also of sacrifice, and risk, and giving. Jesus is God’s Work, God’s Action, God’s Love. And love is always about caring more for the other person.

Wayne Oates was a giant in the 20th century in terms of pastoral counselling. He taught pastors for years at Southern Baptist Seminary, in Kentucky, and later taught at University of Louisville Medical School. In a very personal essay about his own life, written in the 1990s, he reflected on the beauty of the pastor as counsellor, equal to the counsellee. 

In the Free Church Tradition, the pastor and pastoral counselor are interpreted in a side-by-side, fellow sufferer way [with the person being counselled]. “Jesus is Lord” takes the place of the elaborate ideologies of psychoanalysis. …We are fellow strugglers and fellow students. This stance certainly cuts through the proud flesh of the present effort to establish the pastor as an overlord of the church, to see nothing wrong with “cloning” oneself as a pastor. I would prefer to see my relationship as activating the individuality and unique image of this person before God. (‘My Theological Journey,’ in How I Have Changed My Mind, John D. W. Watts, Ed., 1993, p. 28)

How beautiful it is, to see a wise counsellor as a fellow-traveller with the one seeking help. What a shining example this can be of good work, of lovingkindness, in the name of Christ. Instead of an attitude of power-over someone else who is weaker. Oh, if all our friendships and relationships would be about helping the other person… to take one more good step… towards reaching their own potential!

Our work of love grows and develops, thank God! Christ waxes in us, shines, brightens. 

A hundred years ago, James Moffatt was preparing his New Translation of the Bible. He chose to render John the Baptizer’s statement about Jesus like this: “He must wax; I must wane.” (J 3:30)

We have reached the winter solstice; yesterday was the shortest daylight of the year. With Christmas, the feast day of the Messiah, the days are getting longer – waxing. Six months from now will be the feast day of John the Baptist, on June 24; the longest day will be over, and the days will be getting shorter, waning. (G. H. C. MacGregor, Moffatt Bible Commentary: John, 1928, p. )

Jesus must ‘wax;’ John, and all who prepare the way for Christ, must ‘wane.’

Yet it is the miracle of love that, as we shrink and the Divine One grows in us, we actually become our true selves. The whole talk in the New Testament about being in Christ, and Christ being in me gets at this. 

So we become imitators of Christ. Imitators of people who have the Spirit animating them. Hebrews 6:12 even says: you… become… imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. 

All the so-called ordinary things of life can become the imitation of Christ. Living our day to day lives like Jesus would, in our bodies. Well, don’t we say, in our simplistic way, Jesus lives in our hearts?

Let me end with the Blues Brothers. D’ya remember The Blues Brothers? These fellows are putting a band back together to make music. How many times did Elwood say, “We’re on a mission from God”? The work we do, the love that moves us to do things – all part of your mission and mine.

Christian educator, Findlay Edge, said, As one “loses his life” in the mission of God in the world, one finds that God has brought healing in one’s life and that the gift of salvation has been given. Thus, the essence of God’s call is a call of mission.  (How I Have Changed My Mind, John D. W. Watts, Ed., 1993, p. 69)

Your work and your love is your mission, should you choose to accept it, this Christmas, and in 2020.

Joy to the World: a hospital sermon

(Psalm 98:4-9; Luke 2:1-14 ) – J G White
11 am, Wed, Dec 18, 2019 – Digby General Hospital

Psalm 98 starts with “O sing to the LORD a new song.” Can you think of a favourite NEW Christmas song, on the radio or TV or wherever? . . . 

But we love the old carols at Christmas, don’t we? Like ‘Joy to the World.’ 

Do you know how old it is? Three Hundred.
Words written in 1719 by Isaac Watts!
Watts was a great songwriter, hymn innovator.

Based on verses from Psalm 98.
Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth.  Jesus comes to earth for the whole earth! The people, and everything. At Jesus’ birth, what were the shepherds told? “Good tidings of great joy, that shall be for all the people.” I sat at a table of people last week, from all over, at a Christmas banquet. The people were from Australia, India, Rwanda, Canada. Jesus is celebrated by them all. 

And all of creation – the rocks and trees and birds and seas. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy. Today the trees are festooned with snow, raising branches beautifully. Millions of unique snowflakes fall down gently. We imagine the conversation with God – speaking back and forth. Jesus came to earth so fellowship with God need not be broken; we’re reconciled to God by the Son.

…for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the earth with righteousness, and the peoples with equity. Jesus as the good judge of the world is a good thing, right? We want all decisions and plans to be right. ‘Cause things don’t always happen right!

You get a bill in the mail that is wrong – you don’t owe that much money! So you want that sorted out. You have to get it made right. 

You come to a hospital for some care, maybe some testing, then some treatment. You want the experts to get the diagnosis right, to choose the best path for healing and help. We don’t want even the smallest mistake to be made in the lab, or in our prescriptions, or even in our menu when we order our next meals here. 

Yet we know this is no perfect world. So it is amazing news when Jesus promises to be the final judge, of every detail in the universe. Because He is perfectly good and right… and loving. And that is the sort of Judge he is of us, personally. Totally gracious.

So we sing again, ‘Joy to the World.’ Yes, we love to sing it. Once upon a time – 300 years ago – ‘Joy to the World’ was a new song

And then, only 171 years ago, the song got a new tune. So, the way we sing it, the music: who wrote that? Lowell Mason, in 1848, based on some tunes from Handel’s Messiah, 1741. 

It starts off like the bit: Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up… (Psalm 24)
Later in the tune sounds like some of the music for: Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people. (Isaiah 40)

Joy to the World’ expresses our Christmas faith so well. We feel lifted up, opened up to God. 
We feel comforted also, as weary people, strengthened by the Saviour. 
May it be so for you, and your loved ones, this Christmastime!

Christmas Family Tree

(Hebrews 4:12-16; Luke 3:23-38 ) – J G White
11 am, 3rd Sun of Advent, Dec 15, 2019 – UBC Digby

What does genealogy tell us? What is a family tree for? 

We read Jesus’ lineage from Luke 3. Recognize a few familiar names? Hear a few that you’d rather not be asked to pronounce out loud? Do you suppose these 16 verses of the Bible are just incidental, and not particularly edifying? Move along; not much to see here. ?

Your own family tree might be of interest to you. Mine is to me. A few times a year I look at my research, and the work of others, and try digging up a few more relatives in the far flung branches.

I could tell you that I am 
Jeff White, born in Halifax, 
son of George White, born in Berwick,  
son of George White, born in Yarmouth, 
son of Albert White, born in Springhaven, 
son of Waitstill White, born in Quinan, 
son of William White, born in Springhaven, 
son of David White, born in, Albany, NY
son of David White born in… the 1700s.

Or, I could just as easily claim I am
Jeff White, born in Halifax, NS
son of Joan Suppelsa, born in Oshawa, ON
daughter of Dorothy Roberts, born in Whitby, ON
daughter of Emma Wray, born in Whitby, ON
daughter of Mary Plowman, born in Reach Township, ON, daughter of Margaret…

Why do some of us like this personal history? It gives a sense of personal identity, a sense of belonging and connection with others, a sense of history, a sense of home and a sense of place. 

Christmastime, in our culture, often brings out memories of past Christmas times with family, and memories of family long gone.  Maybe we have family traditions: they go back decades, or generations. And we remember who it was who started those traditions – a grandparent, a mother, a cousin. Like the time we three children, with our parents, visited Aunt Jeannie and Uncle Byron one December 24th. And for the first time, we each opened one gift on Christmas Eve. Steve and Michelle and I each got from Jeannie and Byron a big plastic mug that you could put in the freezer, then put your pop or kool aid in it for a refreshing drink!

In our Christian Faith, we discover how we become part of Jesus’ family. We receive gifts from Him, and we celebrate! We tell stories and keep traditions going. Life is better. 

The lineage of Jesus, such as the one in Luke 3, is symbolic of such things. Such as how great a variety of people belong to the family of Christ. 

Who do we remember in the list? Joseph, the supposed father, of course, who was engaged to Mary. These folks trace their family right back to King David. Verse 31. It was his wife Bathsheba who bore him Nathan, among others sons, who was a descendant of Joseph.

David’s father was Jesse, whom we remember some years with a Jesse Tree, with all our stained glass symbols of Bible people in Jesus’ family tree. And we sing O Come, thou Rod of Jesse, free  thine own from Satan’s tyranny.

Look further in Luke’s list. Verse 32. There is Boaz. Remember Boaz? Ever read the book of Ruth? Ruth was not quite a Hebrew, but she joined the tribe when she married Boaz. She became a great grandmother of the Messiah. And Boaz, his mother was Rahab, well known as a prostitute in our Old and New Testaments.

Verses 33 & 34: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Judah. Jesus Messiah came from the tribe of Judah. Judah’s parents were Jacob and Leah. Remember Leah? Jacob got tricked into marrying Leah before her younger sister, Rachel, whom he truly had the hots for. Jacob gets named Israel, and the whole nation takes his name for good.

By verse 36 we are all the way back to Mr. & Mrs. Noah. Two of the eight upon the Ark. Mrs. Noah’s name? We are not told. Perhaps she was Naamah (Genesis 4:22) – that’s a bit of a guess. 

And Luke takes us right back to Adam and Eve. Verse 38). ‘Son of Adam, son of God,’ it says here. How interesting. How inspiring! At some level, every single one of us is a child of God. 

We belong with Jesus; we belong with God. That’s the other side of our story of Jesus coming to us, belonging in human history. 

Those few verses we read today, from the NT book of Hebrews, have two well-known bits. First, the bit about the word of God being alive and active and sharper than a sword. Second, the phrases about Jesus, who can sympathize with our weaknesses, and who has faced every test or temptation that we face. 

Jesus comes for everyone on the human family tree. Every sort of person. Every circumstance. Every era. So this includes us, and everyone we know of. We know of a lot of people on this planet!

And, you could claim to be related to every single one of them. 

Most of us have at least a few cousins – first cousins. Maybe, like me, you have met up with other people, you dig into your family trees, and discover you are related. 

I have met a few distant cousins. A team of youth came to us at Windsor Baptist some years ago – from Woods Harbour and Shag Harbour, Shelburne county. One of the teenagers, Shelby, was there with her mother, Sherry. Sherry’s family name was Devine – which was the name of one of my great- grandmothers.  So, I did a little genealogical digging, and found out we are distant cousins. Shelby is my sixth cousin, Sherry my fifth cousin once removed. So, we felt a bit of kinship, suddenly. 

Have you ever felt kinship with Jesus? Somehow seen that the great Saviour, Teacher, Lord and Friend is also Jesus your Brother, kind and good? And the brotherhood of Jesus is a better way to put it than just seeing Christ as our distant cousin. I am more likely to keep in touch with my brother than my sixth cousin. Though any relationship can develop and deepen. 

Just yesterday evening I sat at a banquet table with ten people, most of whom I’d never before met. All students at Acadia Divinity College, or, like me, related to a student. Yet it was quite an international table. My wife, born in Australia, sat beside me. On the other side, a pastor from central Africa who is a theology student. A student from India, was there, a couple others from Africa, and some white Nova Scotians. 

I had an interesting conversation at one point with the African Pastor sitting to my right. He spoke of being in Wolfville now for about five months. For all this time he was attending the local Baptist Church, naturally. Putting his little tithe in the offering plate each month. Meeting with people, socializing – even with the Pastor – and being part of the congregation. But he had not be welcomed as a church member yet. So he told me he was going to find another Church. A different Baptist Church. A congregation that would welcome him as a church member without a long delay. So that he would be officially included. So that he would be accountable to the body of believers. He said he is going to find a Baptist Church like that.

I basically said to him, “Good luck with that!” And yet he is right to value that official belonging to a fellowship of believers. For a couple hundred years, Baptists have been week on keeping church membership local. Far too many people stay as members after they move away.

That sense of belonging to God in the place where we live and work and travel can be so amazing. We are to bloom where we are planted. And we are able to bloom where we are planted because of Christ, present everywhere by the Holy Spirit. Born in time and space here, once, He now belongs to every age and every time and every corner of the world. You and I get to be a close disciple of the Master exactly where we happen to be.

Advent and Christmas can be a time for our relationship with God to deepen and develop. We sometimes sing, “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.”  

Jesus is, in a cosmic sense, the first born in the huge human family, and we rejoice when we know we belong.

In that amazing chapter, Romans 8, we can read: 28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 

Pray that you, and others, will know how much you belong in the family tree of Jesus, the family of God. May we strongly grafted in, to grow & flourish.

The House of God

(Hebrews 3:1-6; Luke 1:57-80; ) – J G White
11 am, 2nd Sun of Advent, Dec 8, 2019 – UBC Digby

Our children decorated the scene with all our familiar, beloved, Christmas and winter paraphernalia. From many nations and countries these things come, don’t they? And if we travelled the world, we would discover plenty of other Christmas traditions that are not like ours. 

Years ago I heard about a Baptist Church in Sydney, NS, that had an annual musical festival – each year the theme was Christmas in a different country. One year might be Ukranian traditions, the next,  Christmas music from Czechia, the next year, France. 

Our candle lighting this December brings us elements of Indigenous Christianity. 

All the cultural traditions are about the same event: Jesus’ birth into this world. They remind us of the variety and scope of our glorious salvation. Our focus on Jesus’ activity can be refreshed by how others across the world follow Him.

Hebrews 3 proclaims: every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. (3:5) We are also told, we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. (3:6)

We build our Christmas decorations one way, people elsewhere build something different. May the builder of all our traditions be the Spirit of God!

And may the meaning of our great salvation be built by the Source, the Saviour. Listening to saints in other places will instruct us.

For instance, what might believers in the Arab world teach us? Here’s Robert Hamd, ABTS Blog: 

From Beirut to Santiago, from Baghdad to Hong Kong, people are taking to the streets to protest. What all these countries have in common is that more people are poorer today than ever. 

In Beirut, the protesters are chanting in unison. People are crying out; the system is not working. As I walked through the streets of downtown Beirut, at the heart of the protests, I heard the same chorus from young and old alike: economic injustices, extreme indebtedness, rising medical costs, and a profound distaste for the political elites who gamed the system to profit off the backs of the poor. 

Hamd points out that Jesus’ first sermon references Isaiah 61 – proclaiming good news to the poor and the year of the Lord’s favour, which is the Year of Jubilee, from Leviticus 25. This instructs the forgiveness of debts – of money – and the return of land – real estate – to the peasant families. It does not just mean pray for these things; it means do them.

Hamd says: We are perfectly comfortable limiting Jesus to the role of forgiving us of our sins, but we debate the merits of debt jubilee. We believe economic questions are outside the scope of the mission of the church. Calling for economic reform seems too radical. Too uncomfortable. In contrast, we miss Jesus’ wholistic gospel that bids people come, find forgiveness of sins in Him alone, and to work out what “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” means in practice. Following Jesus is taking on a whole different trajectory, in light of the recent protests.

A crisis across the world can show us that the One born in Bethlehem comes to do all that His mother said. All that Zechariah, father of John the Baptizer, said too:
Now we will be saved from our enemies.
…find salvation through forgiveness of…sins…
…light to those who sit in darkness
…guide us into the path of peace.

Let us pray for peace – for shalom – in our world.

Pay Greater Attention

(Hebrews 1:13-2:4; Luke 1:1-25) – J G White
11 am, 1st Sun of Advent, Dec 1, 2019 – UBC Digby

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? It is pointless to spend time and energy on this cliche question. The first chapter of the book of Hebrews is worth our time and energy – and tells us a bit about angels. Verse fourteen says, “Are not all of them spirits in the divine service, sent for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?” 

A good reminder, on the first day of December, when figures and pictures of supposed angels are everywhere: and usually female in appearance. Meanwhile, those in the Bible have names like Gabriel, Michael, Satan. The opening chapter of Hebrews tells us that even good angels, divine communicators, are far surpassed by Jesus, the Messiah. He is far superior. 

“Therefore we must pay greater attention to what we have heard,” Hebrews chapter two begins: “so that we do not drift away from it.” Tis the season to pay careful attention to the story of Christ coming into the world. So many of us in this room know the story quite well, and it means much to us. The impact upon you may be great. But we still need this time each year, to refresh our memory, and even learn some new things about Jesus and us. Apparently, it is possible to drift away from what we’ve heard.

Not today, but later this month, our Choir will ask these questions, in song: (Pamela Stewart, 2011)
If angels filled the skies tonight,
would I hear them sing?
Would tomorrow find me saying 
it was all a dream?

Would I leave my bed and go 
outside to hear their song?
Would I go on sleeping
until the morning dawned?

Would I miss the miracle?
Would I see the King?
Or would my life be so consumed
with ordinary things? 

Beyond the miracle of angelic visions in front of us, there are many divine messengers to meet us. Some unexplainable and powerful things happen to us that turn life around. Other messages from God are quite ordinary, but point us in a good direction. 

A few things are pointed out right here in Hebrews 2:3&4. Our great salvation was declared at first through the Lord, it says. Direct from God, in Jesus. He brought a message, but He also is the message, the content, the thing He declares. He is the way, the truth, and the life

Our primary source in history and literature is, of course, the Gospels in the Bible. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Might be about 160 paper pages in your Bible. And the whole of the New Testament is our source for the next way the news of God comes to us: the men and women who walked with Jesus. Hebrews 2 calls them those who heard Him.  

So, we keep reading the stories. The histories. The poetries. The prophecies. Maggie read for us today the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. He sets out an ‘orderly account’ of things, for posterity. Well, Dr. Luke says he put this book together for dear Theophilus – a name that means ‘lover of God.’ Many lovers of God have read Luke, over and over. Just as we do in December. You’ve seen the post on social media, with the suggestion to read one chapter of Luke each day of December. Luke has 24 chapters – you will end on December 24th with one version of the story of Jesus – the Gospel – just in time for Christmas.  

So we have already read some of the Jesus story we don’t often read in December, that is not about Jesus so much as it is about his cousin to be born just before him – John. We’ve known the Christmas Bible stories since we were children? Read them again as adults, and read the whole story, see a bigger picture.

Even noticing how children take in the Christmas story can be instructive to us, the parents and elders. 

In his humorous novel, Good News for North Haven, Michal Lindvall tells of life in a little church in a little, fictional town in the midwest. When it is time for the children’s Christmas pageant, the old, traditional drama gets a few changes when some ‘young mothers’ take over the production.  

Mary and Joseph were to walk on as the narrator read, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem… to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.” At least this is what the Narrator was supposed to read. It was what the Narrator had read at the rehearsal. But a few hours before the performance, one of the young mothers had observed that none of the children could much understand King James English, so they voted, in their ongoing mood of revolutionary fervor, to switch to the Good News translation… “What kid knows what ‘great with child’ means?” they asked. 

So, as Mary and Joseph entered, the Narrator read, “Joseph went to register with Mary who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant.”

As that last word echoed from the Narrator through the PA system in to the full church, our little Joseph, hearing it, froze in his tracks, gave Mary an incredulous look, peered out at the congregation, and said, “Pregnant? What do you mean, pregnant?”

Amid the laughter of the congregation, the pastor’s wife said to her husband, “You know, that may well be just what Joseph actually said.” (pp. 27-27)

Read the stories again, for the first time. 

A third thing that declares what salvation is to us – a list of things really – comes out in Hebrews 2:4. God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by various gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to His will. 

Would I miss the miracle? Would I miss the opportunity? Would I not be touched by some gracious action by someone near me?

If a stranger knocked upon my door
tonight in deepest need,
in my life would there be room 
for anyone but me?

Would I hear the voice of God 
within a Baby’s cry?
Would I open up my heart
and welcome Him inside?

Welcome to December. Welcome to Advent. Pay greater attention, with me, to Jesus. The whole story of Jesus. Pay careful attention to the Spirit of Jesus among us this year.