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)

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.