Rainbow’s End

(Gen 9:8-17; Mark 1:9-15)
First Sunday in Lent, Feb 18, 2018 – UBC Digby – J G White

What a world of violence we see.  And we can’t help but see it.  From another violent school shooting on our continent to a suicide on a local wharf (Feb 2), the sad news seems relentless.

It was interesting to hear from the Chief of the Halifax Police Department last evening at the Digby Fire Department Banquet.  One thing that Jean-Michel Blais talked about was the problem, the danger, of hearing and seeing bad and violent news every day of our lives.  It all adds to the trauma of our lives.

We sang (George Matheson, 1882)
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

The rainbow covenant; the God of love.  Is it true? Our Source and Saviour is Love, is Joy, and takes tears away?  Is this what the rainbow’s for?

The rainbow appears in the Bible, famously, after the great flood.  And it comes with a promise: never again.  It is the Noah Covenant, an agreement between God and Creation in the time of Noah.  

There are more than one very important covenants in our Bible.  What is a covenant?  A covenant is really an official agreement.  An agreement between two parties, sometimes like a contract. You do this, don’t do that, & here’s what I’ll do to keep the bargain.

The Bible covenants are not quite like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, but they are agreements.  In each case in scripture, agreements between God and people.

There are several main Old Testament covenants.  The covenant, or Agreement, with all creation in the time of Noah, signified by the rainbow. An agreement with Abraham and Sara.  An Agreement with Moses and the children of Israel.  An Agreement with King David. And the promised new Agreement with Jeremiah.  We will look at most of these over these weeks before Easter.  And they may tell us something about God, what the Creator is like.  

Which animal on Noah’s Ark had the highest level of intelligence?
The giraffe.

Why did Noah have to punish and discipline the chickens on the Ark?
Because they were using “fowl” language.

Who was the greatest financier in the Bible?
Noah – he was floating his stock while everyone else was in liquidation.

The flood stories here – Noah’s Ark – are ancient, sacred stories.  Told for many centuries, and finally written down and edited into their biblical form.  The events themselves were, for centuries, thought to have happened about 2,350 BC, Noah living more than four thousand years ago.  

For a long time, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy were considered the Five Books of Moses.  So these Genesis stories were thot to be recorded almost 1,500 years before Jesus.  

Many Bible scholars of the past century have seen evidence that this was actually written down in the time of the Jewish Exile, just 500 years before Jesus, a thousand years after Moses, who knows how long after Noah himself.

So for thousands of years the flood and Noah’s ark stories have been told.  In each era of the Middle East – and now the whole world – Jews and then Christians have found powerful hope in this holy tale.  

Such as George Matheson, who wrote that hymn we sang, O Love that Will Not Let Me Go.  When he was 19, and finishing university in his hometown of Glasgow, Scotland, he was starting to lose his sight.  He told his beloved girlfriend. She said she did not want to be married to a blind man, and they parted.

George went blind.  He remained a bachelor.  He became a pastor.  It was at age forty, on the eve of his sister’s wedding, that an evening of grief and inspiration hit him.  And and wrote that hymn, in 1882.   
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.
The rainbow is a sign of hope, again and again.

Like so many other foundational Bible stories, this one conveys a profound, repeated message.  God is gracious.  God is better than people realized.  Kinder.  Let me show you.  

Many narratives in the Old Testament actually do something we usually never think of doing.  They tell about God changing.  Changing God’s own mind, God changing God’s plans, changing God’s own attitude.  Remember, in the story of Jonah, God repented of the calamity God was going to bring upon Nineveh city.  Or once the Hebrews had a King, the LORD declared: “I regret that I have made Saul king…” (1 Samuel 15:11)

Today, we are at the finale of the whole flood story; Noah’s Ark has safely weathered the storm, and landed on dry ground.  People were wicked, Genesis 6 tells us, a flood was sent to destroy everything and start again, and a few humans and a few of every other animal are saved in the giant boat.  

One part of the telling of this story we may not notice is the grief of God.  The deep feeling expressed in these chapters.  At the start of the whole thing, 6:6&7 says, And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. “I will blot out from the earth the human being I have created – people together with animals…

After the destroying flood, survivor Noah builds an altar and offers burnt offerings.  Then God’s heart is mentioned again.  We read that when the LORD smelled the pleasing odor, the LORD said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.  Then the Agreement is made, that we read, in chapter 9, with the sign of the rainbow.  

Notice that it is God, God alone, who is changed.  After the flood, people are the same.  The human heart is still evil from youth, the ancient text says. But God changes what God will do.  In the same breath, the LORD says, I will never again curse the ground, never again destroy every living creature.  

This is the essence of Gospel.  God doing more.  Doing good.  Doing what we didn’t do, won’t do, can’t do.  Scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “The one-to-one connection of guilt and punishment is broken.  God is postured differently.” (Interpretation: Genesis, 1982, p.84)  The ‘guilt and punishment’ system is broken apart.

How many times in the Bible is this told?  The story of things going wrong, of God punishing, but then the punishment is revoked, the harm is healed, grace is freely given.  It happened in the story of Jonah and Nineveh.  It happened for forty years in the wilderness with Moses and Aaron and Miriam. It happened to Job.  It happened when the people were ruled by kings. It happened when the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon.  The biblical story, again and again, declares the end of violence.  In every chapter of history, we find these ‘never again’ moments from God.

It happens with the story of Jesus.  As the church season of Lent begins, we hear again the start of the adult Jesus story.  He gets baptized; He spends forty days alone in the desert; He starts preaching that God’s Kingdom is nearby, so turn around.

Yet our versions of that Kingdom have sometimes been rather oppressive and, well, even violent.

17 years ago Philip Yancey wrote a book called Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church.  Chapter 1 he calls Recovering From Church Abuse.  

Yancey tells of One church I attended during formative years in Georgia of the 1960s presented a hermetically sealed view of the world.  A sign out front proudly proclaimed our identity with words radiating from a many-pointed start: “New Testament, Blood-bought, Born-again, Premillennial, Dispensational, fundamental…”  Our little group of two hundred people had a corner on the truth, God’s truth, and everyone who disagreed with us was surely teetering on the edge of hell.  Since my family lived in a mobile home on church property, I could never escape the enveloping cloud that blocked my vision and marked the borders of my world.

Later, I came to realize that the church had mixed in lies with truth. (p. 1)  And Philip Yancey gives us a book about learning the whole truth of the Gospel, the amazing agreements of God that are so good.

The rainbow covenant with Noah is one amazing agreement, compared with the usual agreements of the Ancient Near East.  The Agreement is with all people of the future, not just with Noah and his surviving family.  The Agreement is with all of creation, not just with people.  The Agreement is all on God, the people don’t have to do anything to keep up this contract.  

And the Agreement is a promise of non-violence.  A Rainbow.  A Bow in the sky.  Not a bow like the knot in our shoelace, or a bow on a box of chocolates for St. Valentine’s Day.  No, it’s the weapon, a bow that shoots arrows.  God hangs up God’s bow in the clouds.  It is not needed.  God is no longer in pursuit of an enemy – those nasty humans!  No, it is not like that.  

Every era in biblical history needs to hear this again, and new stories are told here of the people’s experience of God.  God who changes before their eyes.  Not the Punisher anymore.

And the next generation needs to hear that same Good News.  

What about our generations, and the next generation?  The end of the rainbow – the reason and meaning of the rainbow covenant – just may be the end of violence.  God is not violent.  God is peace and grace.

Prophetic Authority

(Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Mark 1:21-28)
Jan 28, 2018 – UBC Digby – J G White

This week I bought an Almanac for 2018.  It happens to be Canadian, the Harrowsmith Almanac.  I am curious about the Long-term weather forecast, yes.  I’m not interested in horoscopes, and there are none in this book; it’s got astronomy, not astrology.  Mostly, I am interested in the comprehensive seed guide.

Farmer’s Almanacs are still respected, believed to have some authority, and some prophetic power.  

Here’s a peculiar prediction: Legend says that a July forecast of “rain, hail, and snow” mistakenly appeared in The 1816 Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Robert B. Thomas, the Almanac’s founder, recalled the books and had new ones printed, but news of that forecast had gotten out. He became the subject of much ridicule—until July brought rain, hail, and snow throughout New England!
 (www.almanac.com/content/predicting-snow-summer-1816)

1816 was ‘the year without a summer,’ after a volcanic eruption that affected the weather across the globe that year, and kept things cold.  

To know our future, or some upcoming things: how amazing that would be, we might think.  What will the weather do throughout this year?  How will the stock markets fare, and our investments?  What illnesses or injuries are in store – for which we can prepare, or perhaps even avoid?

There is something in us that longs for the security of seeing more of the path ahead.  Those inner longings for more control of the future. Where can we get some prophecy with real authority?

Jesus.  You knew I was going to say this.

You’ve heard the story of the Pastor on a Sunday morning who gathered the children to the front, as usual for a story?  He produced a small cage with a furry animal in it, long ears, wiggly nose, strong back legs.  “What have we here?” asked the Pastor.
After some silence, one of the children piped up and said, “Well, it looks like a bunny, but, knowing you, it’s gotta be Jesus.”

We come today to a story – and we are still in Mark chapter 1 – of Jesus’ impressive authority.  He is in the town of Capernaum, up on the north shore of the lake we call the Sea of Galilee.  Capernaum ends up becoming Jesus’ home, in a way, amid his travels from Galilee to Jerusalem and around.   At least, His home base.

It’s Saturday, the Sabbath, He’s in the community religious education and worship centre, the Synagogue of Capernaum. He takes up the role of a rabbi, a teacher, and of a prophet, speaking for the Lord God.   Something about what He says, and how He says it, impresses everyone.  They are astounded.  Mark, here, does not tell us any of what Jesus said. But the crowd senses in Him an air of authority.  

Then Jesus performs this healing, cleansing, exorcism – whatever we call it now, they called it casting out an unclean spirit.  And Jesus’ actions lead the amazed onlookers to speak about His teaching, a new teaching?  His actions speak louder than words.  The people continue to be impressed by His spiritual authority.  Here, at last, is ‘a prophet like Moses,’ as had been promised, sometimes hoped for.  

Today, in Christianity, we declare this Jesus to be our authority in life.  Our Way in life too.  “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus said.

We meet up with people in our lives who, well, who have an air of authority.  Who speak, and you listen when they speak.

I remember a dear ole couple, years ago, Harris and Mary.  People of great faith.  Harris had retired and returned to his tiny home community.  He was a member, and deacon, in a little Baptist Church of 20 people.  But he and Mary also came every Sunday morning to the bigger, town church.  In fact, they were the tellers every Sunday – counting up the offerings. I remember one winter Sunday morning when the snowstorm was so bad no one bothered to call me, the Pastor, to know if the service was cancelled.  It was so obvious.  But who drove their big car to town, to the Baptist Church, at 11 am?  Harris and Mary.  Harris was one of those men of few words – very few words – so when he did speak, you listened.

The voices you and I heed today are sometimes quiet, sometimes bold, sometimes trendy, sometimes traditional.  Who’s your authority?  What do you give authority to in your life?  

A Farmer’s Almanac, as you plan your garden and your travel this year?  A horoscope to guide your personal path?  Are there authors, well-known speakers or teachers who you look to in 2018?  Do certain friends or people in your family have a big influence on what you do?  Are there problems and anxieties that run a lot of your life?  Or do you decide to be your own best guide?  Check-in with yourself about who and what guides you.  It is worth doing.

That story in Mark 1 tells of a moment when a crowd was impressed by a new kid on the block, a new itinerant prophet, Jesus of Nazareth.  Could he be the prophet like Moses?

We read also this morning from Deuteronomy 18, with that verse about a prophet or prophets like Moses to be raised up among the people.  This chapter holds guidelines for the ministry of the Levitical Priests in ancient Israel, and for the ministry of Prophets.  The chapter briefly speaks of aspects of prophecy not allowed, then of the proper actions of a prophet, then of how to discern between true and false prophets.

Wouldn’t we love to make it so simple today! they we’d know what predictions of the future are right!  Right?

Well, we might find in this Old Testament chapter that the work of God’s prophets, then, was not all about predicting the future.  A prophet to speak on behalf of God is what was asked by the people at Horeb, where they received the Law, the Ten Commandments, and all.  Moses was not in the business there of laying out a whole bunch of future predictions.  He was giving out the Law, the boundaries of their special life as God’s people.  How to live.  A prophet like Moses could be expected to teach how to live now.  Not how to know your future.  

One Bible commentator put it this way: “Biblical prophecy is not the ability to predict events next Tuesday.  Rather, it is a form of clairvoyance that arises out of meditation on scripture.  The content of the clairvoyance is insight into the nature of God’s security….” (Soards, Dozeman & McCabe, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, 1993, p. 132)  

A couple weeks ago Martin Luther King Jr. Day was celebrated in the United States.  Listen to this oft quoted bit from one of his speeches, a speech that is forward looking, but not predicting the future, rather, inspiring people to work for that bright future in the now, the present.  

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life.  Longevity has its place.  But I’m not concerned about that now.  I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain.  And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land.  

I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

So I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything.  I’m not fearing any man.  “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”

King spoke these words the night before he was assassinated.  He was longing for a future, seeing it, but happy in the now.  

To be safe and secure with God is not all about knowing the future.  To strive to know secrets about the future is pretty much always not a way of resting secure in the arms of God.  

Author and peace activist John Dear lives in New Mexico.  In his book, The Beatitudes of Peace, he offers twelve signs to help us identify a true prophet.  Notice that none has to do with future predicting.

First, a prophet is someone who listens attentively to the word of God, a contemplative, a mystic who hears God and takes God at God’s word, and then goes into the world to tell the world God’s message.

Second, morning, noon, and night, the prophet is centered on God.

Third, a prophet interprets the signs of the times.

Fourth, a prophet takes sides. A prophet stands in solidarity with the poor, the powerless, and the marginalized.

Fifth, all the prophets of the Hebrew Bible are concerned with one main question: justice and peace.

Sixth, prophets simultaneously announce and denounce. They announce God’s reign of justice and peace and publicly denounce the world’s regimes of injustice and war.

Seventh, a prophet confronts the status quo.

Eighth, for the prophet, the secure life is usually denied. More often than not the prophet is in trouble.

Ninth, prophets bring the incandescent word to the very heart of grudging religious institutions. The institution that goes by the name of God often turns away the prophet of God.

Tenth, true prophets take no delight in calling down heavenly [lightning] bolts. Rather, they bear an aura of compassion and gentleness.

Eleventh, prophets are visionaries.

Finally, the prophet offers hope.

(John Dear, The Beatitudes of Peace: Meditations on the Beatitudes, Peacemaking and the Spiritual Life, 2016, pp. 117-119)

I notice that the very first sign of a true prophet, according to this guy, is that the person is centred on the word of God.  Looking back to Moses as a model, Moses was all about delivering what became scripture to the people.  The whole book of Deuteronomy is deutero – second, nomy – word or law.  Moses, before he dies, telling their whole story and the law all over again, to the people.

It was years ago I heard Dr. Roger Cann say something like this, in a question and answer session at some conference I was at.  “Don’t look for some new and special revelation from God, when you have not yet used the Bible which you have, right in front of you!”  A few of you know Roger, retired in New Minas after a career as a Pastor, Missionary and Baptist leader.  ‘Christian, don’t look for signs and signals while you still have scripture gathering dust.’

The story gets told that, just before the death of comedian and actor W. C. Fields, a friend visited Fields’ hospital room and was surprised to find him thumbing through a Bible. Asked what he was doing with a Bible, Fields replied, “I’m looking for loopholes.”  Our sacred texts are not just for cramming before finals – before death.  Nor is scripture just to help us get our future right.  It is for Holy communication now – every day.

A gospel song says (Ira F Stanphill)
Many things about tomorrow
I don’t seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
And I know who holds, who holds my hand

What kind of almanac is the Bible?  What kind of forecaster is Jesus?  The Bible, and Christ, come from far back in the past, and point out the future – yes – but are put to use in the present.  
What prophecy do you and I need?
To know the future?  Our future?  No.
To live well in the now?  Yes.
To have good guidance?  Yes.
Seek and you shall find.

The People Believed God

(Jonah 3; Mark 1:14-20) Week of Prayer for Xian Unity
11 am, Jan 21, 2018 – UBC Digby – J G White

The whale of a tale is over, and Jonah is sent again to the Assyrian capital city, Nineveh.  This time, Jonah goes.  He gives one of the shortest sermons on record.  “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Perhaps that is why it worked!

Here is a Hebrew prophet, commissioned to go north east to a city known for violence.  No small wonder Jonah was more than reluctant.  Suppose God chose Donald Robertson and said, “Get up, go to Pyongyang, North Korea, that great city, and tell the Supreme Leader and all the people that I am very displeased with them, The End Is Near!”  What would Pastor Don do?

But Jonah is quite a different person, really. When you read the whole story – about three pages – we find Jonah is spiritually arrogant, uncooperative and even malicious.  

Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, the people of the great city of Nineveh believe the short sermon.  Their own King believes the message.  They believe there is yet another option to the foretold destruction.  They act.  

And God breathes a sigh of relief.  This grand city of people (and animals) does not get destroyed.  

With our curiosity and our sanctified imaginations, we might wonder, in the story, why these people believed God.  Why, on earth, did they believe Jonah?  And maybe we wonder what they actually came to believe.

People believe in new information step by step.  We all begin somewhere.  And what grabs our attention, well, it ain’t the same for all of us.  I have always been one to wonder: how do others believe God, believe in the path they take, believe in themselves in a new way?  

Brian McLaren is a prolific Christian author and speaker now, after an early career as a Pastor in the US.  He had a lot of doubts as a young person, coming out of a conservative Christian upbringing. It took a lot of time for McLaren to believe God.  In his late teens, he went as a counsellor-in-training to church camp.  On the second day of camp, everyone was sent off for a time of silence and solitude. The idea was to get alone somewhere and talk to God.  It wasn’t much of a spiritual experience.

At some point, though, I distinctly remember praying this prayer: “God, I want to stop fighting you.  I want to be one hundred percent committed to you.  …I want to say yes to you.  I only ask for one thing.  Before I die, please allow me to see the most beautiful sights in the world, and hear the most beautiful sounds in the world, and feel the most beautiful experiences in the world.  

No lightning bolts or visions of angels ensued.

The evening brought more harmless if not inane camp games and songs, and we were about to go to bed…  But a few friends and I decided to take a detour and look at the stars.  It was a clear, dry, high-pressure-system night, and the stars were glorious.  I went off by myself… and I lay back in the grass and gazed.  And a thought, or series of thoughts, came to me with power… I felt loved.  The thoughts went like this:“Those stars are glorious, but [I am more precious to God than a star.] God did not send Jesus into the world for stars, but for me.  The God who made the stars and galaxies and space and time sees me lying here on this hump of dirt, and he loves me.  I am loved.”

And with that experience I started to laugh.  It wasn’t funny, exactly; it was joy.  It was pure joy…

(McLaren, Finding Faith, pp. 301, 302)

Other people take other paths of faith and experience what is Biggest and Greatest.  Such as a poet like Emily Dickinson.  Not a person for church and traditional Christian beliefs and practices, her famed poetry expresses holiness. Somehow, she believed God too.

[In this poem, she mentions a Surplice – a vestment worn by clergy or choir, and a Sexton – a church caretaker.]

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –

Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.

God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.

Those who are not just like us can and do believe and have faith.  We see diversity in our own pews.  Many began in pews somewhere else before you ended up here.  

Hands up: Anyone here who used to be in an Anglican congregation?  In a United Church?  Roman Catholic?  Wesleyan?  Presbyterian?  

Our reasons for church moving are many.  Occasionally it has to do with the beliefs and teachings, and the practices of that variety of Christians.  We leave that behind for something we like better.

But I think, more often than not, we move from one tribe of Christians to another for other reasons.  Not much to do with what they believe.  We move away from conflict with people in the local church. We move away from stylistic things we dislike.  We get in a fight with some people, so we leave.  We dislike the music, or the pastor, or somesuch, so we leave to find a better church.

And, conversely, we gather people into our fellowship, not because they want to be Baptist Christians, but because they find people welcoming to them, or they like the worship service a lot, or the building speaks to them, or they love the church’s ministry out in the community.  

So we have a rich variety in our fellowship.  We may not all know what it means to be a Baptist Church, but we bring our experience of the whole Church together: United, Pentecostal, Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan, Lutheran, whatever.  Our experience of believing God in those other spiritual tribes.

One Baptist Professor I knew (MRC) used to get called
‘the best Anglo- Baptist I know’ by his friend who was an Anglican Canon. A Baptist pastor friend of mine (GWP) calls himself a United AngloBaptiBuddhicostal.  In the fall I chatted with a teenager I know, whose family has Baptist roots, but goes to the Wesleyan Church.  I said, ‘You’re really a Wesleyan, eh?’  He said, “I guess I’m a mutt!’

Maybe a few of you would claim to have a mixed pedigree too.  And that can be quite healthy, and mean that you are well-rounded.  

In a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, our praying could take us into knowing who we have become, and how we can be better team players with the others in our own part of the world.  We have enough experience in those other churches to know that those other groups are filled with people who also believed God.

The Week of Prayer can be a time to celebrate our diverse unity.  The many ways people believed God, the different things people see in Jesus.  What you see in the Lord is different from what others see in Him.

And so we read about Him too, today.  Like Jonah, what we are told about Jesus’ first sermons is brief.  “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mk 1:15)

Andrew, Simon Peter, James, John.  What did those fishermen of Galilee see in Jesus?  They got right up, left their work, and followed this man. What impressed them?  Who knows?  Clearly, whatever they saw in Him convinced them.  Called to them.  Compelled them.

They many paths people walk with God are illustrated in the many ways Jesus spoke with people.  His approach depended upon the person.  To some, Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
To another, “You must be born from above to see God’s realm.”
He said the Kingdom of God is like a seed, a lamp, a bit of yeast, a woman seeking a lost coin, a buried treasure…
To a man Jesus said, “You know the commandments?” then, “Go and sell what you have and give to the needy.”
To a woman he said, “Is there no one to condemn you?  Neither do I.  Go and sin no more.”
To some He said, “you are forgiven,” to others, “you are healed,” to another, “salvation has come to this house today!”  

What has Jesus said to us?  Many, many different things.  Yet He has drawn us all in, to Himself.  This is the grace of God.

And in that more ancient story, of Jonah sent to Nineveh City, I see Divine Grace. I see Divine grace in:
The reluctant prophet who goes ahead with the mission.
The people of Nineveh who believe the message.
The people of Nineveh who hope against hope.
The people, and King, of Nineveh, who believe God might actually be better than the preacher said!
And, indeed, there is a God who is better than all the preachers and prophets.

A Time for Peace (or 365,250)

(2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:1-8) J G White
2nd Sunday of Advent, Dec 10, 2017, UBC Digby

It’s the Second Sunday of Advent, and we are still reading about the second coming of the Messiah.  Second Peter gives us more of the typical wisdom and warnings of apocalyptic literature.  

I believe that, despite the destruction we notice in Revelation, or Daniel, or 2 Peter, the end message of all the second coming teaching is life and peace.  Peace among all men and women.  Peace between humans and the rest of creation.  Peace between God and human souls.  The violent kingdoms of human history are overcome by the Kingdom of the Heavens, where there is no violence, no death, no pain nor suffering.

Back in the 1840s, when this Baptist congregation was a newly planted church in Digby, way down in the USA a war was waging with Mexico over the Texas territory, and beyond.  In Massachusetts, Unitarian Minister Edmund Sears was weighed down heavily with the situation.  He believed that to kill in war was a grievous a sin as murder.  He composed a Christmas poem that looked for a real hope of peace in his warring world.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angels’ strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong.
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! the days are hastening on
By prophet bards foretold
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
It’s ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

We sang some verses of ‘It Came Upon the Midnight Clear’ in our carol sing today.  It celebrates that night the angels sang, and the future time foretold.  We sing of the ‘ancient splendors’ of peace. Indeed, deep peace must be a splendid thing.  Christmas is a time to love, and Christmas is a time to seek peace.

This carol has become ‘timeless,’ it has stood the test of time.  And it is time that is on my heart again this week. Time rolls along, and sometimes seems the same.  Going along, getting faster a bit as the years go by, maybe.  

But time can also be special.  Those special moments when time is, well, different.  Time stands still, we sometimes say.  Time is sacred.  Time become timeless.

We know what these special moments are like.  So perhaps we can understand those famed phrases of Peter.  With the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. (2 P 3:8)  

I almost gave this sermon a six figure title: 365,250.  With God 24 hours is like 365,250 days, and 365,250 days is like 24 hours.  

In our lives we expect that special kind of time to happen in December, Christmastime.  All the stories and tales that keep being told and written about Christmas – the cartoons, movies, comics, TV shows, poems, songs – all of them: retelling magical, poignant moments that are timeless.  Even with our business, the hustle and bustle, certain events, special stories, catch our hearts, and Holiness is there. Even when we are skeptical, God graciously breaks through.

I likely told you the story before of the time we went to The Living Christmas Tree in Moncton.  What a big, gigantic production this is, at Moncton Wesleyan Church each year.  We were to join Sharon’s older daughter and son-in-law, who lived up there at the time, for this spectacular musical drama.

On the night for which we had tickets, it was a tremendous snowstorm.  But we set out, from Windsor, with Sharon’s other daughter in the car, to Moncton. The weather was so poor, we got to the church in Moncton just in time for the intermission, and the second half.  And we were driving all the way back home to Windsor after!

Once we finally got there, I was, of course, still a bit jaded about this ‘mega church’ and their very professional show, The Living Christmas Tree – with lights and special effects, professional singers and actors, amazing sets and staging – even live animals.  Over. The. Top.

Of course, in the second half, Joseph and Mary are there, and they have a baby.  I know the story.  The crowd of glitzy angels and authentic-looking shepherds are singing some spectacular song as magnificent Magi parade down the side aisles – singing perfectly, of course – when Mary and Joseph come forward on the stage.  
And then it happens.
The actor, Joseph, lifts up a baby.  
The Baby.
A real, human baby.  
Time stopped.
I wept.  I couldn’t help myself. And I almost never cry.

Last night here in town I had a twinge of that again, I must confess, while Dr. Neil Pothier, as the Innkeeper, held a plastic doll in a little comedic drama at Digby Wesleyan.  

We look for these timeless moments.  We get into December with anticipation, expectation, hope.  And even when we are hurried, or cynical, or stressed, or bored with it all – time can and will stand still.  Holiness appears again.

Deep peace breaks into our time.  Serenity sneaks in.  Love cracks the hardened heart.  And it’s not just in music and storytelling that this happens.  It is in real life.

I remember… I remember a very simple moment.  A bunch of us were Christmas caroling around our community.  A dozen of us in a few cars, going to a few homes.  We got to Mr. & Mrs. Boyd’s place. In his 80s,  Mr. was always at Sunday service, in the local Men’s Choir, and on our church committees too.  Mrs. B was not getting out as much anymore – few of us realized how hard the beginnings of her dementia was for their life at home.  

We started singing a few carols.  Mr. and Mrs. joined in.  Then I saw it.  For a few of the carollers in their 30s, sacredness arrived. They wept as they tried to keep singing.  

We keep singing carols.  Advent is a celebration.  A celebration of special time.  Of holy peace that breaks into the violence of the world, and into the hum-drum bah- humbug of it all.  The first Advent – Jesus getting born – was timeless.  The second Advent – Jesus coming back gloriously – is timeless too.  The fiery preaching of John the Baptizer, and the apocalyptic writing of Apostle Peter were understood by the people of old who were oppressed, looking for hope, troubled by world events back then. There can be peace.  There will be peace.
Peace among men and women.
Peace with all creation.
Peace with God.
In Advent we celebrate the mysterious and perfect Time for Peace.
I believe in it.