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.

Jan 3: Twelve More Days of Christmas

WELCOME to this post, our first for a new year. Today’s service has some different elements in it. See the whole plan in the Bulletin for today, here on another page of our website. Video includes some prayers, children’s time and the sermon.

PRAYERS for UBC Digby ~ January 3, 2021. Please note: the sermon comes between Prayer 8 and Prayer 9. Today is a day of dozens. Twelve times I am going to pray, in this service. Each time we will look back to one month of 2020. Each time we will pray for the members and adherents of our congregation. Each time I will also offer one of my daily prayers I wrote in my own prayer journal last year.

PRAYER 1 Let us   pray. Eternal and Everlasting One, we look back with thanks for the year that is now past, and call on You as a new year begins. God of January, 2020, we remember the bush fires that burned terribly in Australia – and we prayed. Thank-You for your blessing of firefighters and all first responders.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Reta, Carol, Bonnie, Sonny & Dianne, Rodney & Eileen, Michael & Donna, Louise, Bernie & Ellen, Mike & Maggie.

Revelation chapter 4 speaks of heavenly worship. The centrality and power and joy of heavenly worship is strong. Take us back to times of being excited about worship. Your holiness, God, is for me a beautiful thing. Somehow, I have dulled my sense of this. (Jan 9) AMEN.

PRAYER 2 Let us   pray. God of February, we remember the Wet’suwet’en blockades in  British Columbia. We are grateful for Your gift to all of us of the land and sea and sky of creation.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Kingsley, Mary, Don, Dick & Della, John & Marilyn, Brian & Corinne, Deborah, Marguerite, Elaine & Craig, Linda, Charlene.

Thank-You, Holy Master, for the diverse perspectives of your many children of many nations thru the ages. Broaden our own view of You, that we may know more that’s true. (Feb 6) AMEN.

PRAYER 3 Let us   pray. God of March, we remember the beginning of the pandemic lockdown in Nova Scotia, and around the world. We worship You, for Your care is worldwide and Your compassion crosses all borders.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Hazel, Sandra, June & John, Peter & Bev, John & Evelyn, Carol, Tom & Cathy, Eddie, Nancee & Adrian.

Master, when I feel like a failure, may You succeed in me. When I feel proud and satisfied, may You be honoured more than me. When I feel better and smarter and more sensible than others, may they be encouraged and empowered. When I feel happy to be different and separate from others, may they know we all belong and have one Master – You. (March 9) Amen.

PRAYER 4 Let us   pray. God of April, we remember the tragic massacre of 22 people here in Nova Scotia, and the helicopter crash in Greece. We give thanks that Jesus is crucified and risen, showing the Divine understanding transcends all suffering and death.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Myra & Carey, Raymond & Sandra, Murray & Sandra, Lexi, Terry, Ardith, Marj & Doug, Sheree & Philip, Verna & Bob.

Jesus of healing – this is a time of healing and a time of dying. This is the whole world’s focus. In this age we know so much. May we make the most of this knowledge. Keep us wise in helping others. (April 2) Amen.

PRAYER 5 Let us   pray. God of May, we remember that Black Lives Matter. We rejoice in the blessed assurance that Christ’s Kingdom welcomes and respects all peoples of earth.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Marilyn, Carol & Roy, Dianne, Louella, Geraldine, Gail, Carolyn, Michael, Amelia, Chris, Barb, Jackie & Dick.

This day, O LIFE of life, this day looks to the eyes to be grand. Plans for the day seem hopeful and helpful. The focus is upon joyful things, that’s for sure. May we not forget all who will not have a good day, whose body, mind, or spirit is hurting, or dull, alone or oppressed. Then, may Your good Life flow to them, even through me. In Christ. (June 9) Amen.

PRAYER 6 Let us   pray. God of June, we remember the global recession in the economy, caused by all the pandemic precautions. We bow to You, who have such preferential care for the poor and oppressed, in every age.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Floss, Joyce, Audrey & Bill, Robert, Louise, Dottie & Nelson, Marion, Darleen & Brian, Joyce.

Bread. We find ways of buying bread, of making bread. It feeds us. It is a pleasure. You, Jesus, speak of being the Bread of life. Today, today may we turn to You for sustenance and pure joy three times. At least three times during the day. (June 13) Amen.

PRAYER 7 Let us   pray. God of July, we remember gathering to worship You again. Though it has not been the same as it was before, we rejoice that You are unchanged, You are still accessible, You are uniting Your people.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Sharon & Roger, Carolyn, Shayne & Bruce, Margo & Bobby, Geneva, Johanna, Bev & Rick, Bill, Ellen.

Precious God, we call You our Provider. Our economy is a strict, fragile thing. There is no room for sudden sabbath, for jubilee. The ceasing of much business in a pandemic is not a rest, it is a disaster. This is need not be. This need not be? …Is small and local and self- sustainable the way? And is Your holy calling to Your people an economic one? We are not hearing it. (July 2) Amen.

PRAYER 8 Let us   pray. God of August, we remember the terrible explosion in Beirut, Lebanon. How we give thanks for the wonderful work of Your servants there, showing hospitality and giving aid, in that time of great need.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Janet & Mark, Angela & Dwight, Judi & Churchill, Heather & Dick, Richard, Joy, Wayne, Irene, Barry & Gloria,.

Instead of ‘social media’- socialize with Thee. May it be. Instead of distractions from work – stay working for Thee. May it be. Instead of longing for attention – attend to others and pay attention to Thee. May it be. In the name of Jesus. (Aug 6) Amen.

SERMON: Twelve More Days of Christmas (edited from Dec 31, 2017) – Jeff White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, on the final Christmas Day, Amelia and Dryden,
Hannah and Sam, Eliana, Gabe, McKenna and Mason,
Taylor and Grace found 12 drummers drumming; you knew they would!
And all the lessons that they learned of life, they all were good.

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

PRAYER 9 Let us   pray. God of September, we remember the conflict and justice issues in our lobster fishery. We also remember the months of no school, the challenges of online learning, and the complex return to classes. We trust in You for guidance, and eyes to see all others with compassion. 

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Don & Cairine, Paul & Cheryl, Owen, Steve & Pam, Virginia, Edna, Marlene & Daniel, Dorothea, Keith & Pat, Marilyn.

Let this day brighten for others, because we are in it, and You are in us. Let goodness shine before us, as we meet those in whom You dwell. Let all creation sing because we humans bless it. (Sept 29) Amen.

PRAYER 10 Let us   pray. God of October, we remember it as mental health awareness month, highlighting the strains and stresses upon millions this year. We thank You for the healing work that is done, and support for the downcast that comes from your heart. 

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Myrtle, Reta, Henoche & Barb, Murray & Stella, Mary Ann, Joe & Sharon, Stan & Bonnie, Dave & Flo, Jeff & Laurie, Douglas & Morgan.

As a grand tree dies and is cut down, allowing others to grow, O Gardener, so let us be pruned of those things that are ill and old and wrong and out of place. So let us be pruned of our lack of seriousness about sin and weakness. So let us be pruned of the sources of pride that actually limit our journey, and [limit] the good for others that could come out of our lives. Thanks & glory to You for the wonderful, holy horticulture you have already accomplished in us. (Oct 7) Amen

PRAYER 11 Let us   pray. God of November, we remember the service and sacrifice of so many military members and civilians through the decades. We also remember our neighbours who had elections for their governments. Thank-You for hearing our prayers for all who serve and govern.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Andrew & Alison & Gabriel & Eliana & Khang, Grace, Ramona, Sandra, Geraldine, Alfie & Mary, Doug, James, Joanne, Helena.

O Saviour, You have saved me from my sin, You are saving me from my sins, You will save me from sin. Alleluia! Today, let me live in this joy, that I may avoid sin all the more, have my sins lit up and crushed, and take new paths away from wrong. Open the way of humbleness to us. (Nov 5) Amen.

PRAYER 12 & BENEDICTION Let us   pray. God of December, we remember the loss of six scallop fishermen, and other serious tragedies. Praise to You, for the ways You weep with us, and that You walk with us on a path to peace.

Today, Saviour, we pray for Your blessing in the lives of Darlene & Paul, Amelia & Jack, Paul, Sharon & Jeff, Barbara & Alan, Ronnie, Sara & Rob & Sam & Hannah, Linda, Marie, Barb.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus. Come, Thou long unexpected Jesus! It is so easy to ignore and be blind to the unexpected, and miss it. Miss You. Let us see You this week; expect the Unexpected. (Dec 9) 

And may the blessing of God Almighty: Father, Son & Holy Spirit, rest & abide with us now & always. AMEN.

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.

Looking Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A radio program on spirituality played an interesting song the other day, the song of a musician and comedian I’d never heard of before.  A strong critic of religion, he sang:
I don’t go in for ancient wisdom
I don’t believe just ‘cause ideas are tenacious
it means they are worthy
(Tim Minchin, White Wine in the Sun)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CeY0VdhXK8

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

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

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

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

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

Gifts of Christ to Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks to be God for the Gifts of Christmas!

And Still Their Heavenly Music Floats

(Isaiah 9:2, 6, 7a; Luke 2:1-20)

Christmas Eve, Dec 24, 2016 – UBC Digby – J G White
 

Christmas.  Christmas means music, among other things.  So many Christmas songs have surrounded us.

We are about to sing a carol that is about a song.  It is not directly about Jesus – Christ is not quite mentioned.  This carol is about a song from the past.  The song the angels sang in Bethlehem, about 2,020 years ago.  We are about to declare again, that…

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old.
Who sang that glorious song?  
…angels bending near the earth
to touch their harps of gold:
What did they sing?
“Peace on the earth, good-will to men,
from heaven’s all gracious King”:
Have you waited for this again?  Are you ready?
the world in solemn stillness lay
to hear the angels sing.

I am ready.  I am waiting.  That’s what I think the Christian season of Advent is all about.  But the waiting and watching and longing is forced upon me anyway.

World news about Aleppo, Syria, makes me feel a bit desperate for ‘peace on the earth, good-will to all.’  

Then, I go to a party to celebrate a Syrian family who has been in Digby for one year now.  They have joy, and safety, and education, new friends, and peace.  Did I hear the angels sing, at that celebration last week?

Then there are the dear people who are ill – and in danger of dying – bring out the Advent in me: the longing and pleading for a Saviour.  But then, someone who is sick gets to her town council meeting, as usual.  Or one person who crashes his vehicle on a snowy highway walks away without a scratch.  Or someone who has served the Lord faithfully does die, and because of Christ is now alive forevermore.  

I heard more angels sing.

Have you heard angels singing?  

Frederick Buechner says this about angels.

Sleight-of-hand magic is based on the [demonstrable] fact that as a rule people see only what they expect to see.  Angels are powerful spirits whom God sends into the world to wish us well.  Since we don’t expect to see them, we don’t.  An angel spreads his glittering wings over us, and we say things like, “It was one of those days that made you feel good just to be alive” or “I had a hunch everything was going to turn out all right” or “I don’t know where I ever found the courage.”

(1973, Wishful Thinking, pp. 2-3)

The angels wish us well because there is Good News.  God gets born as one of us, one night, in a Bethlehem of long ago.  And He is worth singing about.  This child ushers in peace of the human soul and of creation.  This Jesus brings real good will for all the people.  

Still through the cloven skies they come,
with peaceful wings unfurled,
and still their heavenly music floats
o’er all the weary world.
 

This Christmas carol was written by Edmund Hamilton Sears. Sears was a unitarian minister as well as an editor, author, and poet.  He varied from most Unitarians however, by accepting the divinity of Christ.  “The word God may be uttered without emotion,” he told his congregation, “while the word Jesus opens the heart, and touches the place of tears.”  

While Sears wrote this poem, the war [of the United States] with Mexico over Texas (and beyond) weighed heavily on him…  His text serves well beyond the Christmas season as an ethical acknowledgment of suffering, as well as the presence of hope, in the contemporary world.  (Burgard, Anna Marlis, Hallelujah: the Poetry of Classic Hymns, 2005, p. 65)

Have the angels glittered down something from God to you?  And shall you give back the song the angels sing?  Offer the peace of Christ to others? And give God’s good will to all?  

Jesus is born.  And we are born again.