Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sermon for December 12th 2010 - 3rd of Advent

In his book Bent Hope, Tim Huff shares the experience of having left a typical Christmas gathering at his church to return to his ministry field in the dark forgotten corners of down town Toronto.

Tim took with him this particular night a collection of left over cookies and home baked treats that had been part of the feast enjoyed by his home Congregation. Tim made his way to a gathered group of homeless teens huddled under one of the off ramps into the downtown. He approached them and held out his package of baked goods and said – “homemade treats!”

He notes in his book – “Home – the word least spoken, and most longed for. The dream of what it could and should mean.”

“Made – created for enjoyment. Intentional. Detailed. Prepared with care.”
“Treats – something extra, something special. Something beyond basic survival. Something with a nod to feeling like a child again.”
“All put together – home made treats – at that time, in that place, they were the happiest and saddest words ever to have met.”

Tim then goes on to describe the gathering of teens – a tiny fleeting glimpse of who they are, where they’ve come from, what’s brought them under that concrete ramp – alone, frightened and homeless.

Tim shared the cookies with them. One – Sarah took a cookie and said “my mom used to make these” and she held it like it was a treasure to be guarded not eaten, then she added, “it’s about the only thing I can think of that I miss.”

The cookies opened a door of remembrance and as much nostalgia that street hardened teens are capable of experiencing ... the conversation flowed into talk about Christmas and the traditions and habits and things that stand out in the season, even for homeless youth.

The conversation turned to the first Christmas and the bits and pieces that make up that story. The teens told some donkey jokes, offered imitations of the farm animals in the stable, then offered some sharp and quick-witted observations about the season ... one of the teens said – “baby Jesus probably got tired of everyone hugging him” then as Tim was busy folding one of the pieces of tin foil that had covered the homemade trearts another teen said quietly:
“I’ve never been hugged ...”

Sarah – 17, a hardened street kid who Tim described as “hard the way people paint portraits of old sailors on weather beaten vessels” – Sarah made a comment that hung in the air ... Tim likened it to the cascading truths that Henri Nouwen spoke of when he noted that happen in moments of silence when we are accompanied by a friend who doesn’t need to speak, but rather remains present in the moment no matter what storm might be unfolding around us ... Sarah’s comment hung in the air ... the background noise of the expressway filling the void ...

Then another teen asked out of curiousity – “never? Not by anyone?”
Sarah snapped back “never!” then sadly and softer “no never ...”

Tim describes sitting in a place of profound sadness thinking about his own daughter and the love and affection she receives every day and how unthinkable the tragic circumstances of Sarah’s life truly were ... as he sat the other teens suddenly stood up and stepped towards Sarah, and one by one embraced her in their arms and without saying a word hugged her.

These teens dubbed by many as misfits, delinquents, beggars and losers became christmas angels by enacting a tiny Christmas miracle spoken through thier hearts.

Tim summarizes the experience well when he observes Sarah melting in the arms of her friends: “A tiny Christmas miracle in the hidden winter shadows of absolute compassion. No twinkling lights, no presents, no music. Just some left over baked good, four priceless children and a man who witnessed Christmas angels revealing themselves eight feet below the rusty steel girders of an ancient motorway.
A night like no other.
A silent night.
A holy night."

In this season, we are waiting for something ... a miracle ... a star ... an angel ... this is the season of waiting. But what we need to think about is – WHAT are we waiting FOR?

The challenge when we approach the Christmas Story with its shepherds, angels, visiting magi, and the other characters who fill the nativity scene, is how do we balance the story without assuming a literal interpretation of the events that requires us to say “this cannot be true.”

Factually, the Christmas story may not be true. Even the esteemed Catholic Theologian Raymond Brown acknowledges that the Christmas Story is almost entirely untrue, but vitally important. Theologians like Brown, Bishop Spong and others have all argued in recent years that the factuality of the Christmas story is not the issue – they tend to agree that the story is not factual, but where they ALL agree is in the importance of the story to convey a truth.

The gospel writers sat down and wanted to tell the world how important Jesus was – how utterly and completely momentous his life and ministry was, and so Matthew and Luke started at the beginning ... stars, angels, heavenly proclamations, visitors from near and far ... the scene was carefully cast and scripted to reflect the importance of Jesus and to portray a truth beyond what we can research, study or even experience ... the christmas story is about conveying to the world – to us – to ALL of us – a truth about love, acceptance, forgiveness and the availability of these truths to ALL.

The Truth of the christmas story is found in the proclamations by the angels that echo through the world and invite everyone to come and experience the Good News revealed and embodied by Jesus !

The truth of the Christmas story is about the power of God ... the power of the Christ Child ... the power of love ... the power of life ... and it is ALL revealed in the Christmas story if we dare to open our eyes, our ears, our hearts and our souls to it ...

Ultimately the Christmas Story is about experiencing again and again and again, the kind of miraclous moment of transcendence and transformation that Tim Huff witnessed that day because of a simple plate of left over cookies ... Tim notes of his experience:

There are precious moments when frailty and brokeness are
revealed, completely unguarded: an authenticity like I’ve found nowhere else, and with no one else. Moments when full disclosure of the heart and soul are more brilliant and more costly than gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Those are the moments we should be waiting for – those incredible breath-taking moments when God’s Holiness pours into the world and our lives and utterly transforms what’s before us into an echo of the christmas story.

We are waiting for God to reveal to us the truth experienced, revealed, embodied and celebrated in the Nativity scene.

We are waiting for God to transform a mundane ordinary moment into an experience of Grace ... Tim brought cookies and look what happened.

Our challenge is to embrace those mundance moments with trust – trusting in God to reveal love, grace, acceptance, and forgiveness in abundance.

Today we are waiting to experience the gift of White Gift ... the gift of giving ... by opening ourselves fully to the Spirit we are open to the possibility and the promise that even the smallest things we do this season(and throughout the year) are opportunities to suddenly find ourselves overwhelmed by God’s holy presence ... The gift of white gift is the promise of transformation when we least expect it ... Tim Huff experienced it under an off ramp with an unlikely group of teens because of a plate of left over cookies ... you and I might experience it any where and any time through our gifts and offerings ...

All we need to do is trust in God in to guide us to a silent and holy night, wherever it might be ...

May it be so, thanks be to God, let us pray ...

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