Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sermon for January 2nd 2011 - Flesherton Pastoral Charge

(Introduction to the Gospel Reading:)

As I was reflecting on the story of the magi visiting from the west, I encountered this passage about our response to fear and worry ... as I read this, I couldn’t help but wonder about the fear and worry that accompanied the Magi and their entourage as they travelled across the distance following the star and some vague promises about a mighty king being born in a distant land ...

I suspect that if I reclaimed all the minutes, hours, and days I've sacrificed to worry and fear, I'd add years to my life.
When I succumb to worry, I open a Pandora's Box of terrifying pictures, paranoid voices, and relentless self-criticism. The more attention I pay to this mental static, the more I lose my foothold in reality. Then nothing useful can be accomplished.
To break the cycle of worry and fear, I am learning to focus ALL my attention on this very moment.

I can turn away from destructive thoughts and concentrate instead on the sights and sounds around me: light and shadows, the earth beneath my feet, the pulse of everyday living - all pieces of the here-and-now. These bits and pieces of reality help rescue me from the 'what ifs' and the 'should haves' by anchoring me in the present.

Prayer and meditation, reminders, and phone calls from trusted friends are other sources of serenity that bring me back to this moment.

As I shut out the noise, I am more receptive to God’s will, and therefore more able to work my way through difficult times.

I wonder if the point of the Magi’s story is not so much the arrival of the learned and the powerful, but the journey itself ... maybe the point of the Magi coming is to remind us that we continually and habitually focus on the present moment and trust in God to see us through ...

(My sermon:)

It’s not over, this birthing. There are always newer skies into which God can throw stars. When we begin to think that we can predict the Advent of God, that we can box the Christ in a stable in Bethlehem, that’s just the time that God will be born in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe. Those who wait for God watch with their hearts and not thier eyes, listening, always listening for angel words ... (It Is Not Over – Ann Weems)
We are standing in an in-between time. Releived that our Christmas Season has finally wound down. Now we can begin to clear away the decorations and the clutter that come with this time of year. We can get on with the new year and cast our gaze to the coming seasons.

Yet, the challenge for those of us in the Church who want to continue to live out our faith, is how do we keep from packing all of the good stuff that is part of this season, away with the other stuff ?

How do we journey from the events of Christmas Eve in Bethlehem into the new year and on into the rest of our lives?

How do we keep Christmas beyond the two or three weeks at the end of December? Especially in a world that in a few days will start putting out Valentine’s decorations, and getting retail space ready for spring and summer?

Journeying as a people of faith is a challenge – but not a big nor a negative challenge ... it’s all about getting our priorities straight and being about living and sharing our faith.

My intention for this week was to tie in the origin and history of the Huron Carol to the idea of living out the Christmas message throughout the year. Given that the Huron Carole was written not far from here by Father Brebeuf in 1643 when he lived and worked amongst the Huron People at what we now call St Marie among the Hurons a relatively short jaunt to the east, it would be apt to connect the first Canadian Christmas Carol to the challenges and opportunities of living out the Christmas message all year long ...

I said – that was my intention ...

Then in reading a book I had picked up at the local library’s ongoing book sale, I found an article written by the late Peter Gzowski, with another angle on the whole Huron Carole. In this case, Peter was writing about Tom Jackson and Tom’s commitment to feeding the hungry by using the beauty of the Huron Carole.

Peter describes the Huron Carole event as a party where any number of people might drop in and join in the singing and entertainment on stage. But more importantly, Peter touches on the formative experience that has given rise to Tom Jackson’s commitment to the fund AND awareness raising that under girds the annual Huron Carole events, the Singing for Supper events and his involvement in the CP Holiday train, all of which have raised money and awareness in dozens upon dozens of communities in the fight against poverty and hunger.

Tom’s commitment began when he wandered the streets of Winnipeg as a teen ager, hungry and homeless. As he grew and became a singer, musician and actor, he turned his talents towards helping others ... in 1987, his first attempt at a Huron Carole in Toronto fizzled, but the next year

Tom tried again, this time in Winnipeg ... and for the next 15 years he toured Canada with an assortment of people entertaining with music and stories while helping out local food banks and soup kitchens in their vital work.

It is hard to even estimate how much money and food has been gathered through the commitment of Tom Jackson and the circle of folks he gathers each year to share their talents ... but having spent time in the circle of Brandon’s Samaritan House, and having been part of the Minnedosa Food Bank that benefitted directly from Tom’s generousity, I have witnessed first hand the difference his involvement has made in helping people day to day, and that is repeated across Canada wherever the Huron Carole or its replacement Singing for Supper tour has stopped ... and it has all happened because a First Nations singer, musician and actor took a simple Christmas Hymn written 3 and a half centuries ago in a First Nations’ village not far from here, and made it something distinctly his ...

That, at the end of the day is the proof of Christmas’ transformative power ... Tom Jackson once knew the hard streets of Winnipeg and the hunger of mind, body and spirit that stalks those living on the street, and he in time took his immense stature and talent and chose to do something to help others in similar stead ... the events might happen in the lead in to Christmas, but the planning, the inviting, the dreaming and the work happens ALL year round – something Tom and his wife Alison do quietly and without much fanfare ... perhaps without even realizing it, they live the Christmas Spirit throughout the year because of their personal connection to a simple and beautiful Christmas Carol.

Now, as we begin the cleaning and the packing up of the Christmas Season, the challenge we face is ensuring that we don’t pack up the wrong things ...

I must admit to a certain guilt about stuffing the Holy Family into a box in the aftermath of Christmas. It’s frankly a time of personal triumph when each Advent’s Eve, I free them (and the others) from a year’s imprisonment boxed in the dark of our basement. Out they come, one by one, struggling through the straw, last year’s tinsel still clinging to their robes. Nevertheless, they appear, ready to take their place again in the light of another Christmas. The Child is first because he is the one I am most reluctant to box. Attached forever to his cradle, he emerges, apparently unscathed from the time spent upside down to avoid the crush of the lid. His mother, dressed eternally in blue still gazes adoringly, in spite of the fact that her features are somewhat smudged. Joseph has stood for eleven months, holding valiantly what’s left of his staff, broken twenty Christmases ago by a child who hugged him a little too tightly. The Wise Ones still travel, though not quite so elegantly, the standing camel having lost its back leg, and the sitting camel having lost one ear. However, gifts intact, they are ready to move. The shepherds walking or kneeling, sometimes confused with Joseph (who wears the same dull brown) tumble forth, followed by three sheep in very bad repair. There they are again, not a grand set surely, but one the children (and in time the grandchildren) can touch and move about to reenact that silent night. When the others return, we will wind the music box on the back of the stable and light the Advent Candles and go once more to Bethlehem. And this year, when it is time to pack the figures away, we’ll be more careful that the Peace and Goodwill are not also boxed for another year !! (Boxed – Ann Weems)

As we clear away the clutter and trappings of the Christmas Season that has been, may we be careful not to box up and tuck in a darkened corner the gifts of peace and good will that have come to us from the child born in Bethlehem.

As the new year begins may we have the boldness to carry the light of Christmas into the darkened corners of our world as we live our faith with confidence and joy.

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

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