Worship, Nov 14 – Just, Right

WELCOME to this worship post for mid-November. Instead of a simple ‘spectator sport’ – watching a whole service on video – the text and video here can allow you to work your way through the service as outlined in the Bulletin, as an active worshipper at home, or wherever you may be.

PRAYERS of the PeopleFather, in my life I see, You are God who walks with me. Now, we pray, not on our own, not just side-by-side, not just listening to one pastor’s voice, but together. Walk with those in our prayers. God, walk with those who are challenged in their workplace this year. We think of folks serving at Tideview Terrace, for instance, and our local hospital. Nothing is easy, Master: help each and every staff person.

You hold my life in Your hands. May others, many others, know you hold their lives also, God. Our friends who live at Tideview Terrace, in long term care in Annapolis, in Mavillette, in Waterloo, and elsewhere. Also our friends who are having medical treatments now, or therapies, procedures, surgeries, tests, or medications. God, hold in your hands the lives of those who need more than physical healing, but healing of the mind and heart, of the soul, of the memory and of relationships. 

Close beside You I will stand. Jesus, our prayers are for those who try to stand with You, but need help. For others who are not interested in being Your disciple. And for those who make themselves enemies of You and Your Good News. We want to help people draw closer to You: make us do this for their sakes, and not ours. Also, Master, teach us all to be humble when Christians fail and get a bad name for themselves. 

I give all my life to You, help me Spirit to be true! We pray for all of life, and all the world today. Creator, we give our thoughts and actions about the earth’s climate to Your provision. We give our concern for the poorest of the poor to Your generosity. We give our care for those unjustly treated to Your freedom. We give our longings for healing from COVID to Your healing. We give our unanswered questions to Your wisdom. All in the name of Christ: Our Father…

SERMON: Just, Right. (Amos 1:1-2; 5:14-15, 18-24) Since September we have been marching – rather quickly, through the story of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Creation. The beginning.
Abraham and Sarah and their son Isaac. ~2000 BCE
Isaac’s son, Jacob, sees a stairway to heaven. ~1950
Moses gets his mission from God to lead the Hebrews to freedom and into a Promised Land. ~1250
The Israelites complain in the wilderness soon after.
The boy Samuel hears from God in the days when the people were governed by judges. ~ 1100
Young David is picked out to be the King. ~1000
The next great king, Solomon, has the Temple built in Jerusalem. ~950
The prophet Elijah flees from enemies, in the days when the Jews had split up into two kingdoms. ~ 875

This Sunday: Amos, who preached during the 750s BCE. Like a hot blast of wind from the south came Amos the prophet, up to the northern kingdom, Israel. This fig farmer and shepherd from Judah felt compelled by God to go north and denounce the royal rich folks who were so prosperous, and so unjust. The economy was booming. The poor were being ground into the dust of the earth! (A 2:7)

The quest for justice, the challenge of righteous living – these have been struggles throughout the millennia. The 2,700 year old words of Amos could be re-spoken today: 

Hear this word, you cows of Bedford, who are in the mansions of Sackville, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to their husbands, ‘Bring us a drink!’ (4:1)

Hear this, you who trample upon the needy, and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, “When will the statutory holiday be over, so we can sell junk food again? And the holiday, so we can cheat people? (8:5)

Oh you who turn justice to poison ivy, and cast down righteousness to the earth! (5:7)

As the scriptures prompt us to consider what our real injustices are today, we wonder, at times, what difference we each can make. What can I do against corporate greed, to battle massive clearcutting, to support under-funded healthcare, to decolonize everything we Europenas took over the past five hundred years?

Our God will help you and me to start small. To take our next best step. To learn – as a disciple of Jesus – our next skill of compassionate living.

The Monday Study Group has just worked through James Bryan Smith’s A Spiritual Formation Workbook. Among the ideas and exercises listed at the end, are fifteen about the ‘Social Justice’ tradition in Christianity. Here are the first five; perhaps one will be helpful to you:

  1. Write a supportive letter this week to someone you feel may be needing a word of encouragement.
  2. If you live with others, help out around the house. This may seem minor, but household chores are usually done grudgingly. Your willingness to do more than your share of work will be a real service to the others in the household.
  3. Spend an afternoon working at a local [food bank] or soup kitchen. Your help is sorely needed, even if you can only sweep floors. 
  4. Donate blood. We are giving the gift of life when we give blood. Call Canadian Blood Services and set up an appointment.
  5. Recycle your trash. Caring for the environment is an issue of social justice. Recycling what you throw away increases the next generation’s chance for a bright future. 

Even these small, seemingly mundane actions can be the training ground for our habits, our conscience, our sacrifice and courage. Take a new step in the right direction, and the Spirit of God will use your cooperation to do more than you actually tried to do on your own. It’s a bit of grace: a bit of ‘more than you can do alone.’ 

The resounding call of Amos, from 8th century BCE Israel, rings true in our own neighbourhoods. It is a warning with hope.  Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant. (5:14-15)

So, it is possible to seek good, not evil.
It is possible for God to be with us.
It is possible to get the right things happening where decisions are made.
It is possible that there will be grace – good things we can’t make happen will happen.

Cooperate with the God we worship together here. Your next step of faithful living will be beyond your recent bits of obedience. Perhaps there is a new challenge on your horizon, one that takes a bigger bit of generosity, of courage, of risk, of vulnerability on your part.

Here are five more ideas for social justice; one of these might be a new thing God is calling upon you to do:

  1. Help a friend in need. Do you know someone who needs assistance? If so, help that person, whether the task is hanging wallpaper, grocery shopping, helping with a move, or fixing the roof. Volunteering to help is a simple way to care for your neighbour. 
  2. Write to your member of [Parliament or the Provincial Legislature] and share your views. Is there an issue that you feel strongly about? Be sure that you have the facts straight and are expressing genuine Christian concern,not just prejudice.
  3. Join a prison ministry. Contact a group and go with them to visit the inmates, who often feel forgotten in their isolations. Jesus told us that when we visit inmates, we are visiting him (Matt. 25:31-46).
  4. Address an injustice with compassion. Is someone being treated unfairly? Do not be silent when your  words could make a difference. 
  5.  Practice the service of hiddenness. Do a kind deed (for example, shoveling snow from a sidewalk, or calling on nursing home residents) without being asked or expecting recognition. 

Of course, the greatest dynamic of Amos’s preaching was the warning that called for repentance. He’s not comforting to the converted, he is condemning the guilty! Seek the LORD and live, lest he break out like fire… and devour. (5:6) To add some new goodness & compassionate actions to our lives we must get free of more of our unjust and greedy habits. It is all rooted in a change of heart – inner examination, forgiveness from outside ourselves, and renewal. All miracles, miracles we see offered by Jesus.

About Jesus… we heard from his mother this morning. We recited a modern translation of Mary’s words when she celebrated her pregnancy – she would bear the Messiah. It is well-loved Bible poetry, and has been put to music thousands of times in many languages. But Mary’s vision of how God does things is so strong. She knows a God of justice, who upsets the applecart we privileged people are hauling! (The Voice translation, Luke 1:51-53)

The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
The rich—God has dismissed
with nothing in their hands.

She sounds just like Amos, of old. Do you notice how very practical and earthy are these Jews, from whom we get all our scriptures and tradition… and the Messiah? It’s not all pie in the sky when you die. It’s nutrition and compassion in the nation. 

Now, here are the final five social justice exercises and ideas. Do you see an opportunity in any of these?

  1.  Serve others with your words. Protect people’s reputation and speak well of others as a way of serving them. Kind words are great deeds.
  2.  Serve others by letting them have “space.” We sometimes overwhelm people or consume their time or usurp their freedom with our expectations. Make a concerted effort to give people space. Ask them what they want to do or if they want to be alone or if they are free to talk before imposing your expectations upon them.
  3.  Serve others by letting others serve you. Are you guilty of not letting other people do things for you? Hold a door? Buy a cup of coffee? Make a photocopy? This is a sin. It is a gift to others to let them serve you; do not deny them this joy.
  4.  Read a book that discusses social justice issues. As an example,The Politics of Jesus by John Howard Yoder forces readers to ask hard questions. You may also want to read Donald Kraybill’s book, The Upside-Down Kingdom. Though you may not agree with everything these authors say, they should stimulate your thinking. 
  5. Write a one-page response this week to the following questions: What is the most pressing social justice issue today, and what position should I, as a Christian, take? Share the paper with the other members of your [small group].

These ideas are personal and individual. Of course, we are also called into the Church, Christ’s Body, to serve together compassionately. Over just the past month or so, I have been excited and proud of you. I seem to hear people asking, out loud, ‘What are we doing for our community? How is Digby Baptist helping?’ Be it about sudden needs when a family loses their home or loses a loved one. Be it about people’s needs at Xmas and in the oncoming winter. Be it about the stresses of this multi-year pandemic time.

So here we are, having given away a bunch of very nice of winter clothing yesterday. (It had been three years since we’d done this.) How wonderful to have this happen again, for the people who got things!

Here we are, making polar bear decorations covered in birch bark: raising funds for me to spend on people in need who come to me. 

Here we are, looking at how to give some moral support to the staff at Tideview Terrace, who are stressed to the max. They could use some thoughtful cards sent to them, or batches of cookies, or be told we pray from them. So we will organize this too. 

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream

God is just, and does justice. God is righteous, and makes right things happen. So may it be with us, the Body of Christ, here. Here we learn to do justice, and keep it rolling. Here we learn to make things right, and let that keep flowing. 

This is the compassionate life. Not all sweet and lovely dovey, but strong and true, like the prophet Amos of old. The promise of Jesus, that His mother knew, is still arriving. God’s mercy is on those who fear Him, revere Him, draw near to Him, from generation to generation. God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds. The proud in mind and heart, God has sent away in disarray.

PRAYER after the sermon:  God of justice, may the words of Amos challenge us to realize our failures and be humbly improved. With the words of Mary may we remember and rejoice in how right You are and Your ways. And by the words of Jesus may our faith and confidence grow, and come alive in the ways others are helped by us. In Christ’s name. AMEN.

Worship at Home: May 9 – Mother’s Day

WELCOME to this plan for worship service at home, or wherever you are. It includes text to read, audio and video to hear and see. Instead of simply having one video to watch and hear, this plan is interactive. It demands of us, the separate worshippers, that we make efforts to praise and pray and read and ponder things. Worship, when we are together in pews, is not a spectator sport – it is a team effort. So it can be when we are separated. Be blessed today, and bless the name of Jesus!

WORSHIP Welcome: When Mary was chosen to bear the life of the Messiah in her own body, she ‘magnified the Lord.’ May we express our grateful praise of God now. When Paul and Silas travelled to share the Gospel in Philippi, Lydia believed and offered hospitality to them. May we also open our minds and our lives to the Good News shared with us today. When a woman in Samaria talked with Jesus by a well, she went back to town to tell everyone about Christ. Let us be inspired to speak of the Messiah we meet.

PRAYER: Living and eternal God,
You birthed creation in all its greatness,
You gave us minds and hearts to know and feel,
You provided mothers and fathers and family:
Praise You, glorious are You, great is Your name!
From our separate places of praise, draw us together,
reveal the Holy Spirit, transform us one more step.
Cleanse us from sin, we pray. Take our fears away.
Give purpose to this new day.
In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:46-55 Mary’s Song: ‘the Magnificat’

CHILDREN’s Time

Our Men’s Choir was to sing again, this Mother’s Day, but the recent pandemic lockdown halted that plan. Here is a recording made on Palm Sunday, when the Choir sang ‘No Other Way.’

SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:25-52 – Mike & Maggie Beveridge, Jeff White

SERMON: Raising Our Messiah (Luke 1:46-55, 2:25-52) J G White ~ 11 am, Sunday, May 9, Mothers Day, 2021, UBC Digby: online only

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum

Some of the classic music for this old prayer is so beautiful and so well known. I never shall forget, back in my student days at Divinity College, how a fellow student was asked to sing Ave Maria at the upcoming wedding of a couple who were our friends. “Oh,” I said to her, “that’s the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer: Roman Catholic.’ 

‘No, it’s not!’ she reacted.

But it is. 

Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

I am not a believer in praying to anyone but God: the Father, the Son, the Spirit. I do not encourage anyone to pray to any saint or to the Virgin Mary. Don’t get me wrong: I have great respect for our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers. My own brother, Steve, and his family are practicing Catholic Christians. And, if I were called upon to pray with a Catholic person in time of crisis, I would pray ‘The Hail Mary’ with that person. 

Now, it is time, as last, for me to greet Mary, and preach my first sermon in twenty-five years about her.

The Holy Scriptures have so much about this amazing woman to inspire us. The mother of Jesus the Christ is before us today, in the pages of the Bible. She was chosen to raise our Messiah, along with her husband and family. What an incredible task in the course of world history!

In Christian history, God, the One to whom we do pray, has mainly been all male: a Father, a Son, and a masculine Spirit. Even though, so often, ‘Spirit’ in the Hebrew language is a feminine word. In our lifetimes (as well as in history way back), there have been some who preach and pray to God, at times, with feminine language. One modern hymn speaks of the Holy Spirit, as a dove, this way:

She comes sailing on the wind, her wings flashing in the sun…

No wonder the Blessed Virgin Mary has had such a devotional following in the Church for centuries. In part, there was a need for the Divine to be more than male. And God certainly is far more than a bearded old Man in the sky! Jesus shows us the face of God, and even spoke once of being like a hen wanting to gather her chicks to herself. 

Our protestant, and Baptist, tendency has been to avoid Mary, probably as a reaction to the devotion to her in Catholicism and other branches of our Faith. Let us look to her today, as a parent, outlined in the Gospels.

We begin in Luke 1 with the Magnificat, the poetic praise Mary shares when she is rejoicing in the holy child she will bear. She speaks of all the hopes of God’s justice for the week and oppressed. All God’s promises.

And now the Messiah will finally be born on earth! We remember how Mary, a teenager, was ready to bear this child, to serve God and the whole world in this way. Of course, this is not just about giving birth to the Anointed One, it is a matter of child-rearing too. And with this go all the usual parental concerns and challenges.

Here I am, preaching about parenthood, and I have never been a parent. Never fathered a child. Even when I married Sharon, my step-daughters were aged nineteen and seventeen, and never lived with us. Nevertheless, I can see, as we all can, the awesome responsibilities of parenthood, shown by the woman who raised our Messiah.

Mary faced what others said about their child, Jesus. From the birth stories we see the amazing and hopeful things said about her child. From shepherds who spoke, surely, of angelic messages, to the words of old Samuel and Anna in the Jerusalem Temple, there were amazing hopes and dreams placed on her child. Remember the Magi who arrived to worship Jesus when He was a toddler. And when Jesus was twelve, and stayed behind in that same Temple, the scholars were impressed. There was much for Mary & Joseph to ponder about their son!

None of our children have been the Messiah, but there still are, with any little one, the hopes and fears that spring up from everyone around. There are expectations – sometimes high, sometimes low. And what the doctors say about a kid, and the teachers say, and others, can have a big impact upon the parents. There is much to be said for Mary’s approach: ponder these things deep inside, where the Spirit of God meets with our own spirit.

Mary and Joseph did what they could do, as a new family, with what they had. The offering they brought to the Temple for the blessing of their son was that of a poorer family, not the more generous, usual worship offering. They did what they could with what they had. 

Think again of Mary’s praise months before. All those hopes of God doing what God usually does. 

God looks favorably on lowly people.

Scatters proud people.

Brings powerful people down off their thrones.

Lifts up lowly people.

Feeds the hungry.

Sends rich people away, with nothing.

This is the kind of God Mary believed in: so she knew that poverty was not a problem in God’s Kingdom. This is still a lesson for us to learn today.

Mary, with her husband, was a person of good Jewish faithfulness. Their obedience to the usual religious traditions is clear in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, where the stories of birth and childhood are found. 

Good Christian faithfulness, in families today, is a challenge, I’d say. Or, maybe, it is simply rare and uncommon in our part of the world, now. 

Mary and Joseph raised their Son in the context of family and community. This was simply the way things were done in first century Judaism, of course. We see this culture in what happens with twelve year old Jesus. The entourage leaves Jerusalem together; Mary and Joseph can assume their son is with the family and friends.

Today, I see a lot of camaraderie and cooperation among parents. Plenty of them are not practicing Christians, I know, but there is still the knowledge that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ Parents truly need other parents to confer with, and share with. When believers want to raise children, there is the need for other believers, of every age, every generation, to be part of the team, part of the family. 

We also see in the scripture stories that Mary had deep anxieties about her first child!  Today, we read of them losing track of their twelve-year-old. Don’t forget what happened a decade before. The little family fled to the south, to Egypt, to escape the fury of king Herod, who was having baby boys killed. That is a serious crisis: fleeing home to save your child’s life!

Not to mention the other, subtle concerns Mary had. All those things she had to ponder: what Simeon and Anna had said, for instance. Such high hopes placed on this boy: to be the Anointed One. But also, whatever Simeon meant by saying to Mary that He would be “spoken against,” and, “a sword will pierce your own soul too.” They did not know it then, but indeed, one thing Jesus was born to do was to die.

People often say a parent should not have to face the death of their own child. Yet it happens to so many. It happened to Mary. It happens for many reasons to others.

Julia Ward Howe may be best known to us as the author of ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic.’ It was on June 2, 1872, in the wake of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, that she began the celebration of Mother’s Day as a holiday to honour mothers by working for pacifism, for an end to all war. She proclaimed:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether our baptism be of water or of tears! Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands will not come cot us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.’ From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: ‘Disarm! Disarm!The sword or murder is not the balance of justice.’ …As men have forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Every chapter of life has its anxieties. In our present pandemic we have another layer added to the usual ones. For all of it there is grace, there is help, there is holiness. Often, again, there is a call to action.

Yet we do not have all the answers given to us. Mary did not understand everything, as she contemplated everything. Pre-teen Jesus said to her and Joseph, that day outside the Jerusalem Temple, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Then Luke tells us ‘they did not understand what he was saying to them.’ 

‘But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.’ The influence of this same Jesus in our lives comes with time, comes with living, comes with treasuring these things. As an adult, the Divine One among us, He becomes the Leader of our souls and the Renewer of our lives. So as people of Faith we learn to be parents, to be step-parents and grandparents, to be friends and neighbours from Jesus, our Brother, our Master, our Friend, our Saviour. And His own mother still inspires us, as we see her raising our Messiah.

PRAYERS of the People: Today, some suggestions for your prayers: Quietly, ever so quietly, become ready to pray.
Remember how your thoughts, your words, your body, and the place where you sit or stand or lie points you into prayer. Remember the presence of the Spirit of God.
Now pray.
Pray to thank God for good things.
Pray to thank God for difficult things.
Pray to thank God no matter what happened.

Pray for yourself, with your problems, your responsibilities, your sins, your opportunities, your spiritual gifts, and your faith.
Pray for others, remembering people in need in our hospitals, such as Wayne, Marie, Dottie, Darryl, and Heather. Remember people who suffer pain and health problems at home, wherever they call home. Remember people with hard work to do in these challenging times.
Pray for the Church, beginning with your own congregation, separated and connected as it is. Pray for the good work you can do together, empowered by the Spirit.

Pray for the wider word. You may think of the troubles of others. Mental Health week is ending; pray for the mental health of all who need a healing touch. May is a month of awareness for many things, such as a month of awareness for Asthma, Brain Tumors, Bladder Cancer, Celiac Disease, Cerebral Palsy, Chronic Immunological and Neurological diseases. Pray because of these troubles.
Pray again for many things about the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask the Spirit of God to guide your prayers, your thinking, your concerns. Pray that you will be led to be a voice of hope and wisdom among the people you know.

And there are many other things you may pray.
We might all end with the Lord’s Prayer.

Amen.

BENEDICTION: Here you are, a servant of the Lord.
Let things be with you according to God’s own word.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.
Let your soul rejoice and magnify God,
now, in every way, and evermore. Amen.

Christmas Eve 2020 – 6 PM

We celebrate the nativity of Jesus Christ with our simple worship service. Check out the Bulletin on the website for the full order of service. Video of the sermon will be posted here before 8 pm on Christmas eve.

What Child Is This? (Luke 2:1-14; John 1:14-18) – J G White – UBC Digby

A Child is born. Many of our best songs of this time, each year, are in the present tense. Not “a child was born” – but “a child is born.” Not “all was calm, all was bright ‘round yon virgin mother and child” – it’s “all is calm, all is bright.” Not “What child was that?” – rather “What child is this?”

What child is this? We find answers when we sing. Another thing about the traditional carols – many are rather old! Our next one, by William C. Dix, was composed in 1865, and put to the much older tune, ‘Greensleeves,’ in 1871. Dix was an insurance salesman in England with a flair for poetry. His twin occupations were marine insurance and writing hymns. 

So, naturally, an old lyric uses some old words in old ways. Maybe that is part of the charm of many Christmas carols – the words have that old feel, with mysterious meanings.

We are going to sing this line about Jesus:

Haste, haste to bring Him laud, the babe, the son of Mary. 

Haste to bring Him laud. To make haste means what? To hurry up, be quick about it. ‘Get on over here and bring Jesus some laud!’ What’s laud? No, not ‘Laud, have mercy!’ Not, ‘Cook with shortening or laud?’ Laud means praise. Praise Jesus.

We are doing this right now: gathering for worship, singing to Christ, speaking words of praise, paying close attention to God the Saviour. 

Mr. Dix’s original words are ‘Haste, haste to bring Him praise.’ 

 Then we will sing

Why lies He in such mean estate where ox and ass are feeding?

Jesus is in a ‘mean estate.’ We guess from the context what the phrase is about. Jesus is not mean and nasty; God arrives in a poor and needy situation. His ‘estate’ is His condition, His social standing, His class. Yes, and what he possesses as a home; He starts off as a traveller, resting in an animal feed trough.

It is the genius of God’s plan that we humans get to meet the Divine One as one of us. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ John’s Gospel tells us. And this is still a present tense experience.

In the third stanza we’ll sing, through our masks,

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh, Come, peasant, king, to own Him.

Come peasant, come king, to own Jesus. Dix’s original words were 

Come, tribes and peoples, own Him.

Do you own Him? Do you claim Jesus as yours? You and He belong to one another? You pledge allegiance to Christ? You take ownership of Him as Your Master? This carol invites us to claim and to submit to Jesus. Whether you count yourself a peasant, or a bit of a King or a Queen, own Him

With all the carols being heard on the radio and in the places we shop, our communities all seem to claim Christ, for one annual moment. So when you are somewhere and find yourself humming along, think again of these things.

How do our lives laud or praise God?

How amazing that the Holy One comes among us, in our mean estate!

And how beautiful it is that you and I get welcomed into the story, and can own the One who ‘owns’ us. 

What Child is this?

PRAYERS Let us pray. Glory to God in the highest! Alleluia! From the vantage point of another Christmas Eve we see You again, Saviour. Again, You are a message to us and our world, living in our midst. We see You; We see the glory of God. 

Spirit of grace and truth, we pray for a world needing grace, a world lacking truth. We pray again, because of that beautiful hope we have that there is more good that can happen than we alone can create. We pray because we need truth instead of confusion in our lives. In the name of Jesus, who is full of grace and truth, we ask for blessings among those in need, those who are isolated and alone, those who face violence or fear, those who mourn or are depressed, and those who are ill or injured today.

God of word and story, we see Jesus, born away from home. We make room in our lives for Him tonight. Let the light of Christ shine from within us, and transcend the barriers of our pandemic precautions. Be the great Author of our life stories, now, and the bright Star that guides our way. 

Glory to God in the highest! Hosanna! AMEN.

Oct 18: The Gift of a Child

1 Samuel 1:9-20; 2:1-10; Luke 1:46-55

From time to time mothers and fathers post this Bible verse in their child’s nursery. 1 Samuel 1:27 ~ “For this child I prayed; and the LORD has granted my petition.”

I’m sure those words resonate with many Christian parents who waited long for their child, or whose child faced dangerous health threats, in the womb or in the first year. Such as our grand-daughter, Amelia. Born three months early, she then spent her first 118 days in the IWK children’s hospital. 

It was a woman, Hannah, who spoke those words, about her long-awaited son, Samuel, a few thousand years ago. “For this child I prayed.” 

Here is a bit of Bible genealogy: father son, father son, wife wife. It answers the age old, Nova Scotian question: “Who’s your father?” 

1 There was a certain man of Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham son of Elihu son of Tohu son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 He had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children

It ends with the sometimes hard question, “Who’s your child?” Not every one of us has a child. Hannah suffered for having no children, for years, it seems.

So begins this section of the Bible we call First Samuel. It is clearly from a different culture, long ago and far away. When did this happen? Take a look at the timeline on the bulletin cover: can you find this moment?

And what are some of the cultural differences we notice about these people? 

Polygamy – men with more than one wife. It was Elkanah’s other wife, Peninah, who’d borne children, who goaded and provoked Hannah. Many OT men were polygamous, such as Abraham, Jacob, Esau, and Kings David and Solomon. 

Childbearing expectation – and of a male child. It was not a day and age when couples would choose not to have children, like some of my friends have done, and my sister and her husband. In most cultures through the ages, couples have children. That’s it. Not to have any was a problem, maybe even a curse.

Making decisions for an unborn child – in the case of Samuel (even before he is conceived) he is promised to be given up to service for God in a shrine, with the Jewish priests. Hannah and Elkanah go through with this promise when he is born.

The promise about the child is a specific cultural thing: the Nazarite vow – set apart for God. Another famous character who was a nazarite was the judge Samson. This was sometimes a short term pledge, not life-long.

One other little thing we may notice in this story is that everyone would pray out loud, not silently. When Hannah, in desperate, private prayer, moves her lips but does not make a sound, priest Eli thinks she must be drunk. It was also normal that those who read something would read aloud to themselves.

Out of this very different time and place we have these amazing, holy stories: sacred history that speaks to us even now. How things have changed, the little things and the big. 

One thing that can remain the same, through the ages: life is a gift. The birth of a child is the receiving of a gift. People of faith look to God as the giver of life, of every life. Some of you know this attitude: that last breath you took? It was not promised to you: it was a gift, a wonderful gift. Each breath you take. (See Psalm 104:27-30.)

Family connections are counted a blessing; bearing children is counted a blessing. What do we do without this blessing? This is the painful question at the beginning of this story. Hannah was deeply distressed and prayed to the Lord, and wept bitterly. It was the annual time to offer special worship to the LORD God. The family – Hannah and her husband, and his other wife, and their children – had gone up to Shiloh to offer sacrifices. Hannah is provoked to tears by Peninnah. She offers her desperate prayers.

There is a lot of pain and tears associated with not having children. Or losing a child. Or all the things of this nature. Annually, October 15th is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, in Canada and many other nations. So it is a fitting time to go to God with our prayers and questions about children.

All those centuries ago, Hannah’s conversation with God was remarkable. We are told: 11 She made this vow: “O Lord of hosts, if only you will look on the misery of your servant, and remember me, and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a male child, then I will set him before you as a nazirite until the day of his death. He shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants, and no razor shall touch his head.”

Hannah pleads for the gift of a child, yet promises to give him over to a special kind of life. She asks for him, to give him away. 

The desperation this woman felt must have been so deep. So many people have experiences like this. I think of people in my own family, and circle of friends, who wanted a child, but never got to raise one. And the many people who lost a child early in life, or even later. That loss stays with a person. It stays in the conversations with God we call prayer. 

Other losses are just as challenging, or more. Abortion surely has its personal impact, as the years go by. This affects so many. The World Health Organization estimates that there are between 40 and 50 million abortions each year, across the world!

Then there is not the loss of a child, but the loss of the relationship when there is estrangement, and one gets cut off. And, of course, many people say goodbye to a child by giving him or her up for adoption – some never see that child again.

In these circumstances, and others, the cry goes up: ‘O God of power, if only You would look on the misery of Your servant, and remember me.’ Then the prayer continues. We ask many different things:

Give the gift of a child!

or, Protect and heal this child!

or, reunite me with my child!

or, answer me, why did this happen to my child?

A child is a gift, but when that gift is not given, or seems taken away, we cry out. It hits hard. It stays with us a long time.

In today’s lesson from history, Hannah is blessed with the answer she wants. The priest, Eli, says, “Go in peace; the God of Israel grant the petition you have made to him.” And God does. A boy is conceived, and born, named Samuel, and dedicated to God. 

This is not what is promised in most troubled times for men and women. This is not the happy ending everyone gets. It is the story of a key transition figure in Israelite history, Samuel, who anoints the first two Kings of Israel. It is the story of his origin, of his mother of deep faith. It just happens to be a story of infertility and fertility. Of cruelty within a family and rising above it. Of sacred promises made & kept.

One thing illustrated here, for me, is the readiness of a person of faith to go deep, with God, in prayer. Hannah’s terrible circumstance drives her to desperation. But she knew to pray. She poured out her heart to God. She knew about religious commitments, and she made one. 

One way we see that Hannah knew her faith and her God, is the way she waxed poetic after Samuel was born. From the second chapter, Margo read Hannah’s prayer, which is remarkable Hebrew poetry. You may have noticed she does not even praise about her son, the answer to her prayers. She simply praises the God who blesses the whole world. A God who speaks well and holds knowledge. A God who raises up the desperate poor, and squashes down the privileged rich. Hannah’s words get repeated in Psalm 113. And her sentiments are copied a thousand years later by Mary, when she is promised to have a child, the Messiah. Hannah knows very well the One she is praising and thanking.

There are no atheists in foxholes, it is said, and anyone may pray when trouble demands it. But how much better when you or I are already a person of prayer. Then, when life is unfair, when disaster strikes, when our own child is in peril, whatever, we know very well the One with whom we speak. When we already are on friendly speaking terms with Creator, then we are ready for prayer in time of crisis. After all our days of smalltalk with the Spirit, we can have a real heart-to-heart.

And our prayers, like Hannah’s, will be about a lot more than our little problems and praises. Our praise will be about the Big things Jesus is up to in our whole world. 

So, in the end, maybe we do best by noticing the gift of one particular Child in all of history. One human life that changes everything is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Son of God. How God changes everything: this is what Hannah speaks in her prayer. This is what Mary knows when Jesus is to be born. God changes the world. 

There is an interesting Christmas song that includes these lyrics:

A silent wish sails the seven seas
The winds of change whisper in the trees
And the walls of doubt crumble, tossed and torn
This comes to pass when a child is born

And all of this happens because the world is waiting,
Waiting for one child
Black, white, yellow, no one knows
But a child that will grow up and turn tears to laughter,
Hate to love, war to peace
and everyone to everyone’s neighbor
And misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever

(Fred Jacobson)

This child is Jesus. And it is for each child of ours that He came among us, lived and died, and lives again. ‘Let the children come to me,’ Jesus said, from His daily teaching. Does He not also say it from His cross? And from His risen glory. ‘Come to me.’

Allow me to end by quoting this word picture of Jesus from a 1926 sermon by James A. Francis, often called ‘One Solitary Life.’

He was born in an obscure village,
the child of a peasant woman.
He grew up in still another village
where he worked until he was thirty.
Then for three years
he was an itinerant preacher.

He never wrote a book.
He never held an office.
He never had a family or owned a home.
He didn’t go to college.
He never traveled more than 200 miles
from the place he was born.

He did none of the things
one usually associates with greatness.
He had no credentials but himself;
he was only thirty-three
when public opinion turned against him.

His friends ran away.
He was turned over to his enemies
and went through the mockery of a trial.
He was nailed to the cross
between two thieves.
While he was dying
his executioners gambled for his clothing,
the only property he had on earth.

When he was dead
he was laid in a borrowed grave
through the pity of a friend.
Nineteen centuries have come and gone
and today he is the central figure
of the human race,
the leader of mankind’s progress.

All the armies that ever marched,
all the navies that ever sailed,
all the parliaments that ever sat,
all the kings that ever reigned,
put together,
have not affected
the life of man on earth
as much as that One Solitary Life.

James Allan Francis, The Real Jesus and Other Sermons (Philadelphia: Judson Press, 1926).

PRAYERS ~ Let us   pray.

Mighty God, You became a child for us. You welcome us as Your children. You send us out into our world to reach children with hope. Forgive us for the ways we forget Jesus, from day to day. Forgive us for the ways we do not welcome others who are Your children. Forgive us for the ways we lash out instead of reach out. In the name of Jesus, renew us.

We pray, in response to Your word and Your world around us. Let there be grace and strength for those who have lost a child in pregnancy or infancy. Let there be hope and peace for those who did not get to raise the child they hoped for. Let there be comfort and serenity for those who aborted during pregnancy. Let there be care and love for those who gave up a child for adoption. Let there be purpose and joy for those who never had a child. Let there be compassion and grace for those who are not on speaking terms with a child of theirs.

And, loving Father, let there be encouragement and wisdom for all parents, at every age, caring for each child. We feel surrounded by a world of wickedness and danger and injustice, at times. Master, amid the elections, send wisdom – from our own town to our United States brothers and sisters. Amid the workers in our fishing industry, give a sense of responsibility and understanding for one another. Amid the flooding in India and fires in Africa and America, we pray for help on a grand scale. 

We, Your praying children, look with You, Spirit of God, upon all our world, and ask for small blessings at home also. We look for a healing touch for many people we know. We look for strength and encouragement in times of trouble or pain. We look for wisdom and guidance in moments of decision and our opportunities for action. You’ve got the whole world in Your hands, or, as one prophet said, You have inscribed our names on the palm of Your hands, and You shall not forget us. Thank You, praise You, we love You, God. AMEN.

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: 
https://abtslebanon.org/2019/11/28/beirut-bolivia-baghdad-algeria-chile-and-hong-kong/ 

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.

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!

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.