[Zephaniah 3:14-20; Luke 3:7-18]
I want to begin with part of a prayer from Thomas More. More was a 16th-century lawyer and an ardent critic of the Reformation, including our spiritual ancestors the Anabaptists. Sometimes we find wisdom in our enemies. Let us pray:
“Grant us, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest. Grant us healthy bodies, and the necessary good humour to maintain them. Grant us simple souls that know to treasure all that is good and that don’t frighten easily at the sight of evil . . . .”
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I don’t know if you heard it, but our reading from Luke has a very contemporary ring. This is a passage about privilege.
John has barreled in from the wilderness, chased by an epiphany. He has realized that his people were abusing their privilege. Way back in the book of Genesis we learned that their ancestors were blessed in a special way with God’s presence. John believed they had let the gift sour. John’s people had become complacent in their status. So he marches in to share his epiphany. It’s this: God can use stones. Stones can fulfill the mission. God doesn’t need a special people. The people have become like a privileged tree that doesn’t produce any fruit. John tells them to get ready for the axe. Continue reading “Discovering a bit of Joy (182)”
[Luke 1:68-79; Luke 3:1-6]
Some time before, Zechariah had drawn the short straw. He had been chosen by lot to carry out the priestly duties in the most holy, and most dangerous, part of the temple.
Different time and different culture, but this time of year we see fellows who have drawn the short straw too. They are the ones in the Christmas parade carrying the shovels, following the horses.
It was different for Zechariah. For him drawing the short straw may have meant that his colleagues clipped bells to his robe and tied a rope to his leg. If the bells stopped ringing his colleagues knew he had been struck dead and had to be pulled out by the rope. As it happened, Zechariah was not struck dead. He did, though, have a strange encounter. He saw an angle. The angle said that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a son. This son would “make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Continue reading “By the Tender Mercy of our God (181)”
[Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36]
Have you head of Big Lonely Doug? He lives near Port Renfrew. Actually he lived there when the town was still called Port San Juan. Authorities had to change the name because the mail kept ending up in the San Juan Islands (USA). Port Renfrew is on Vancouver Island. Big Lonely Doug doesn’t live in town. He’s something of a hermit. Even so, he’s had thousands of children, and outlived most of them. Big Lonely Doug has been part of political campaigns and he’s been featured in magazines. Now he gets some visitors. Here are some of the basic facts: Big Lonely Doug is old, probably 1000 years old. He’s tall, 66 meters (216 feet). He’s well-rounded, 3.79 meters in diameter (12.4 feet). He’s also a record-holder: Big Lonely Doug is Canada’s second-tallest Douglas fir. Continue reading “A Tree and a Branch (180)”
A one-match fire in the snow is the test. An old-timer once told me a story of a time he failed. He and a buddy were making a long trek on snowshoes between two northern villages. The night was colder than they expected. They were counting on a trapper’s cabin but couldn’t find it. They set up as best they could in the snow with spruce boughs and down sleeping bags. But they couldn’t get a fire started. Match after match, they went through almost every one they had. The flame wouldn’t catch. Continue reading “As when Fire Kindles Brushwood (149)”
We could take a little poll to see what percentage of us would appreciate more joy. All we would need to do is ask for a show of hands. I don’t think we have to. Joy is something most of us crave. Christians are led to expect it. In the beginning of Galatians 5—this is Paul’s description of the things the Spirit produces in our lives—we read that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” and so on. There is joy coming in at number two.
In the last verse of Isaiah 12, a few chapters out from the Old Testament reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent we come across this: Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. Joy is a response to the presence of the Holy One in our midst. It’s the culmination of the thought that begins with the famous phrase, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.” The shouting, the singing for joy at the presence of the Holy One—it’s the culmination of that. And then, of course, there is Luke 2. The angels are talking to the shepherds. Do you remember what they say? “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior . . . .” Did you catch that, “great joy”? We find ourselves in a mess that runs too deep for us to fix. So there is joy at the birth of a savior.
The quick and obvious conclusion is this: God’s presence in our world and God’s work in our lives should make us joyful. If the faith helps us live well, joy should be part of the deal. But saying it ‘should’ isn’t the same as saying it ‘does’. Continue reading “Mary Karr, an Ancient King and the Presence of God (a sermon from advent 4, 121)”
I once worked for a college program that focused on developing students’ leadership skills. We used the wilderness as our classroom. In the fall semester students were encouraged to spend 24 hours camping alone. After the experience was over we would gather together and talk about how things went. Most students described about grappling with fear or loneliness. The silence bothered some. I remember one student, who wasn’t particularly anxious going into the experience, sharing how he woke up in the morning to find his campsite circled by the tracks of a mountain lion. There is something unnerving about that thought: it’s the switch from thinking about the food chain to thinking of ourselves within it. It’s a very basic, very primitive feeling of vulnerability. Continue reading “The Gentle Future of Wolves (119)”