In the movie, “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, Fred Rogers helps Lloyd Vogel process his relationship with his father and re-connect with him after decades of cutoff on both sides…. It leaves us thinking we can’t change the past, but maybe we can give the story a different ending….** If only we could be just a bit better than we are, a lot less anxious, helping others trust God just a mite more, so that our stories could have a good ending. **adapted from Healthy Congregation Words by Rachel Tune, Pastor Wittenburg University***
Joy Sunday Contrasts with Advent Blues
the third Sunday of Advent, is the Sunday of Joy. Advent was
historically a time to prepare for Epiphany baptisms, a time to take
in Jesus’ costly journey of bringing faith to us. During the rest of
Advent we get ourselves alert, reflect on the cost of our faith,
prepare for, but wait patiently for, Christ’s coming and our
celebration that he has come, and is present.
out of step with the Lenten-like mood of waiting. Our wreath has one
pink candle among the blue candles of hope. In this season of waiting
to celebrate, how did the Joy Sunday and the pink candle get into the
mix? Except this contrast makes our Christmas joy that much more
Today we highlight the opposite of the rest of Advent, making our preparations and joy all that more vivid. Only blue on the dark black of the long nights won’t do, neither would all pink be great. If Advent were all joy, then it’d be hard to celebrate Christmas; it’d be as if we’d nibbled at the turkey, dressing and all, and gobbled up all the Christmas cookies for weeks. The celebration would be just more of the same, if anything were left for the feast. But on the dark background of real life, pink decorates blue spectacularly, and since it denotes God’s joy then the best pink would be hot-pink on deep sea blue rising to sky blue.
Today, though, we also remember that Christmas, more so because it’s supposed to be such a joyous time, can actually be the most painful, sorrowful, lonely and despairing time of the year. It can be all so blue. For this reason we offer Blue Christmas Services.
Insert here Niel Diamond singing Song Sung Blue YouTube – Song Sung Blueor your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues, or your favourite song about the blues, our old friend the blues.
The New Ending Needed
name of Jesus we can’t change the past, but we know
the story needs a different ending….
Biblical Images of Life Dried Up
of dried up creation abound in today’s lessons: wilderness, dry land,
desert … weak hands, feeble knees, fearful hearts … blind, deaf,
lame, speechless people … burning sand, thirsty ground, haunts of
jackals, dry grass … lions, ravenous beasts … sighing and
The New Ending, Possible?
the past. We can’t change the past, but can
we really give this story a
Dark, Cold Tunnel of Real Life
It’s dark. The sun rises but stays below the southern roof- or tree-tops. It’s cold. In the city it’s dipped into the minus teens. Not far away, on a little lake that’s as much home as anywhere, it’s been below -30⁰C and not over -15⁰ for days. Most everyone is affected, some a bit more as they struggle with mild to severe depression because of the lack of sunshine. Too often this season can seem like a cold, dark tunnel that we get thrust into, whether we choose it or not.
In Alberta now, after the oil bust of 2014 and lately Premier Kenny’s cuts, 20% of young men are unemployed. That does not count those who have given up trying to find work, or those who are back at school trying to increase their odds of finding a job (going in debt to do so), or those who have part-time jobs where they work pitifully few hours, so that it’s less a job, and more a hindrance to finding real work. Employers more cheaply employ 10 part-time workers 8 hours each week than 2 full-time employees 40 hours each.
real. These young men face hunger, homelessness, losing their
vehicles. Forget about having anything for health and dental care.
Chaplains in hospitals write up verbatims: formerly well-paid men are hounded by their spouse (or not-spouse) to bring home the same money for the pricey lifestyle they’ve spent themselves into. Turning to crime or not, the stress eats away at the men’s health. For some, physical or psychological violence at home puts them in the hospital. Women know the courts will likely believe any lie they tell and the men will be convicted and jailed, even when they are the victims.
The Booby-trapped Tunnel
The dark tunnel we find ourselves in can, in this or other ways, turn out to be full of traps set by people we would trust. People point us to the light at the end of the tunnel, but it seems a long ways off through the dark and dangerous cold.
The New Ending Beyond Us.
know full well we can’t change the past, but even
trying to give the story a different ending seems
Epidemic of Senior Loneliness
severity of the seniors’ epidemic of loneliness increases at
Christmas. 25% percent of seniors live alone often not by choice.
Living alone or not, an unknown number of seniors are severely
lonely, cut off from meaningful engagement in life. Loneliness
affects health and precipitates death as quickly as any disease. Two
of life’s necessities are missing: a meaningful contribution to life
and an ability to love and be loved.
are walls to stare at, perhaps paths to walk. But one is alone even
in crowds. Few reach out with kindness and understanding, and time.
Everyone has their own busy agenda to help them ignore the emptiness
Worse still are the seniors that experience elder abuse. Seniors can be more vulnerable than young children and become targets because they may appear to have wealth, and the taking appears to be easy. This month we collect for “No Room In the Inn” to create a safe place to which they can escape.
The Light in the Tunnel is a Train
The light they told us was at the end of the tunnel looks more and more like a train coming right at us in this dark tunnel and we cannot see any way out. We can’t move fast enough to find any emergency exit that may be somewhere out there.
The New Ending Only Hoped For
can’t change the past, and we only hope
we can give the story a different ending before it’s too late.
into this dark reality, our Advent Sunday of Joy is set as a stark
contrast to our Lenten-like Advent preparations.
Sunday is exactly like the Crocus named in the OT lesson. The first
flower of Spring, it pushes up and blossoms even while the snow and
morning frosts keep other plants at bay.
Similarly all the desolate images serve as the setting into which God comes and transforms creation. Cool streams flow in the wilderness, over the dry land, and on the burning sand bringing them to rejoice and blossom, with joy and singing. Weak hands are strengthened, feeble knees made firm, fear is met with encouragement, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame leap, and the speechless sing.
A highway is made upon which no lion or beast or thief prowls, and even a fool cannot go astray. Those redeemed by Christ will obtain joy and gladness. All sorrow and sighing will flee away. In a simple word, we and all creation are baptized in the water of God’s blessings. It is a marvellously new creation. We are made saints and set to live well in it!
God’s coming is already, and not yet. Like the farmer we wait patiently for the early and the late rains of God’s blessings to tumble down on us and through us. We do not grumble against each other, for grumbling against each other is caustic to life and for it we would be justly judged by the Judge at the door. There are no evidentiary rules, precedents, or arguments required. This Judge is omnipotent and all-knowing, and the judgments are fair, clearly so to all. Jesus’ every judgment is made to make life possible for all.
comes to set things right, to make people healthy, what is wrong is
set right. Jesus comes in poverty, born homeless in a cow barn. Jesus
comes to those least acceptable to the world of his day. Jesus comes
to the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor.
The Light in the Tunnel is Christ’s Light on God’s
Train Coming at Us!
turns out that the light at the end of the cold, dark
tunnel is a train coming right for us. Or
rather it is the Light of Christ barrelling down on us like a train.
This train is not loaded with oil, grain, lumber, or other goods.
first cars of this train have the Blue Hope of Advent spilling out in
endless streams over the landscape of God’s wonderful and broken
Hope is followed by cars as numerous as the stars spewing Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Inspiration, Gratitude, Generosity, Faith, Love in Action, and Love Universal and Unconditional. Look at all the colours streaming across the desolate landscape of our broken lives!
Light. Run to it. Dance to it. Sing for it with the deepest and
intends for us, even in our sadness and loneliness, to be overwhelmed
with the Goodness of life given to us by the Holy Spirit, the engine
of that train. It may be cold and dark outside but the pink of joy
covers the dark and decorates our blues.
God’s New Ending
We can’t change the past. And we cannot give the story a different ending. This Advent we remember, we do not have to. God has already given the story the best ending possible! What Joy!
wait, full of anticipation for the celebration of Christmas, marking
Jesus’ birth, proclaiming
Jesus’ presence now, and hoping for Jesus the Christ’s return!
We pray, Let us be the blessed “who do not let the Messiah [we] are expecting blind [us] to the Messiah who is standing right in front of [us]” (Barbara Brown Taylor, God in Pain: Teaching Sermons on Suffering [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998]).
Our Response: We are the Pink in the Blues
reflect on joy, and its roots in the dark of misery, and its place
within the blues of Hope. The Holy Spirit makes us the streams of
cool water flowing in the deserts of life, the crocuses springing up
for those to whom Christ came. We are the patient, non-anxious,
gracious, kind, and generous ones. In us others see Christ
active for them even if the world frosts them out.
This is the ending to the story that God has for creation and all of us in it: that Christ came, that Christ comes, that Christ will come, and all of creation was, is and will be baptized with living water, transforming it and all of us. Therefore we follow Christ’s example: bringing real joy to those with SADS, the unemployed, the lonely, the blind, the lame, the deaf, the lepers, the dead, and the poor. This is the pink of our Advent Blues. It may not be more than a touch on the horizon in our preparations, nor need it be more. It is like the light at the end of the tunnel, giving us reason to Hope, even in the blues.
We are the pink of Adventfor those in need around us.
get ready to sing: Let me highlight with pink and blue a few words of
our hymn of the day:
All earth is hopeful, the Savior comes at last! Furrows lie open for God’s creative task: this, the labour of people who struggle to see how God’s truth and justice sets [Blue:] everybody free.
We first saw Jesus a baby in a crib. This same Lord Jesus today has come to live in our world; he is present, in neighbours we see our Jesus is with us, and ever sets [Pink:] us free.
Theme and Notes
pink contrast to the Blues of Advent, draws us to be God’s people to
bring transformation to those most in need.
*In the Pink: to be in the best of health; by Grace alone the best spiritual health.
***Wittenberg University is a private liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio. It has approximately 2,000 full-time students representing 37 states and 30 foreign countries.
passages for this Sunday’s lessons are profoundly problematic.
Malachi promises that the day will come when arrogant and evildoers will be burned up entirely, stem to root. That is of course only Those, them, the others. And on that day We, us, those who revere God’s name, upon us (not them) the sun of righteousness will rise, with healing in it’s wings.
Thessalonians, either written by Paul or more likely a disciple of
Paul writing in his name (as was common and acceptable then,)
commands the readers to work for their food, and not be idle. And he
also commands that those who do not work should not eat! This
prescription to allow some people to starve has been used as
justification for all sorts of injustices worked against the poor.
Lukan passage deals with the end times, cautioning the listeners to
not be taken in by false prophets claiming to be the returned Christ.
Admonishing calm patience and faithfulness the passage ends with “By
your endurance you will gain your souls.”
in the dark cold wind of self-righteousness, what are we to do?
we do not use Psalm 98 this week.
a new song to the Lord,
who has done | marvelous things,
whose right hand and holy
arm have | won the victory. 2O
you have made | known your victory, you
have revealed your righteousness in the sight | of the nations.
will judge the | world with righteousness
and the peo- |
ples with equity.
perhaps it is a good opportunity that we do not use the Psalm.
each text is filled with directions on what to do as Christians, even
prescribing what things we must do in order to receive Salvation, we
believe and hold firm the faith and tradition that is handed on to
us, namely: that we are saved by grace alone, not by the merit of our
interpret all scripture and spiritual thought through this lens: That
we are saved only by God’s act upon us, that we remain totally
sinners throughout our lives and at the same time God makes us,
through Christ’s redemptive sacrifice for us, totally saints. This
is a gift imputed to us, not infused into us. This gift is effective
in us, yet does not overcome the sinner that we remain, until Christ
comes again, God reckons righteousness to us, and we become saints in
the light of Christ for ever. These precepts are paradoxical, and we
believe they hold the truth of God’s Grace for us that cannot
logically be expressed. Faith cannot be grasped and controlled. It
can only we experienced and enjoyed with awe, or rejected with
So what are we to make of these scriptural judgments of others and promises that we are not them, of the command that if we or others do not work we are not to eat, or the admonishments to earn our salvation?
choices are four:
We could preach the problematic parts as if they were the Gospel of Christ ignoring that they are destructive to faith and community.
We could ignore or pretend to ignore the problematic parts of the texts. Preaching on Psalm 98 alone would be an opportunity to take this route.
We could preach a reinterpretation of the passages so as to proclaim a faithful Word, a true witness to Christ, but not mention that we are interpreting the passages to bring Gospel out of them. OR
We can be clear about the need to re-interpret and proclaim that need along with a clear proclamation of the Gospel after we re-interpret these passages according to Luther’s Gospel within a Gospel: that we are saved by Grace through Faith and not by merit of our works.
are the days of colour and calm.
Cold Hard Facts of the Gospel have arrived with the cold and snow in
Preach as you will, but as for me and my empty “household”, the woods, squirrels and the occasional deer, we will enjoy God’s grace and preach it clearly, honestly, and profoundly as, as much as God gives me opportunity and energy to do so.
Of course, the squirrels really do not listen very well, and the deer have no patience, anxious as they are from hunters pursuits.
is clear from the lessons for this Sunday is that true discipleship
costly as those we remember today, the veterans who have sacrificed
to give us the possibility of the lives we now enjoy.
While we chafe under encouragements to tithe, giving 10% of the first fruits of all God gives us, our time, talents and resources, the call that claims us and the faith that is imputed to us demands not merely 10%. We chafe so brutally that we often demand no mention of tithing occur in our congregation, certainly not that we ask each other to work towards this small sacrifice, guilty as we are that we have never thought this possible for us ourselves. Always one hears how unjust this call is for those who are below the poverty line. Which is true sort of: 10% of an income of which 50% is spent on the bare necessities of life is challenging, but 10% of an income of which 110% or more is spent on the bare necessities of life is a challenge beyond respectable.
discipleship costs us 100%, and our avoiding a call for 10% gives
witness how weak our faith is practised in our lives.
the True Gospel is not that we must give 100%, or that we must give
even 10% for God’s grace to be effective in our lives and at the
end of time, effectively applied to us. What counts is still what God
does, not what we do.
Though it is problematic that we do not do what we readily could do, and instead we count on God’s Grace to save our neighbours from hunger, poverty, despair. Since Christ steps in for us sinners when we were lost (each day of our lives) why would we not strive with all our being to be Christ’s hands especially to our neighbours in desperate need!
But one can hardly preach that to people who refuse to be the hands of Christ, asking for the first 10% in good stewardship for their church. One does pray for them, and for one’s self: that we may all survive the winter, cold, hard, and brutal as it is … to be gracious with each other … soon, before it is too late.
the sun just up, I trust, since the clouds are thick and low, but it
is not dark as night anymore, when the waning crescent moon supplied
a bit of light to step by to dump the ashes from the night’s fire
as the early morning fire is stoked and left to burn hot,
the sun just up, the logs have been hauled for fuel to heat with, and
the Eucharist celebrated with thankful prayers for family, all.
breakfast, a required meal of fibre and fruit to keep my body from
rejecting most foods with spasms and great pain, is prepared, cereal
in the bowl, coffee measured into a small glass, the french press
ready, and then pre-heated and filled with water boiled on the wood
burning in the fire in the stove … and
then the milk cold from the natural fridge is poured on the cool berries from nature’s fridge, the liquid milk freezes into crystals on the cold, cold berries decorating them with the snow white of frozen milk.
Add the hot coffee to milk, Kafe au lait, and the breakfast is balanced into good measures of blessing
open this portion of the morning, with the routine well accomplished
and work well planned.
task of everyday, exercise, then Eucharist, then breakfast and
under Berries under Frosty Milk, before Coffee Golden
Berries Under Milk, Quiet
only the fire sparks and moans as logs become heat and clear smoke
burned so hot!
well. Tell the truth only. Trust God’s protection and blessing.
everything with Grace, Forgive all who can be, work diligently for
justice for all, and hope for things unseen and for which there is no
evidence it will be provided. For this is life, as God created us to
live it, filled with Love, pure and simple, even for one’s enemies.
the cool days of fall darken earlier and earlier, and the dark of
night stays with us longer and longer …
Dark comes early, closer to South
wood pile is just high enough,
food sufficient for the coming days,
water enough and replenish-able,
the air is fresh,
clothing rather well prepared for the coming months,
shelter from the weather to come is mostly prepared,
labour is directed, consumedly so, towards writing what must be
love grows and wanes, I am loved well and always.
God holds me safe.
more can one ask for from life, from God, from all that might be?
that might be.
many humans have had so much less, so much less, so much less.
beauty of the world is at my fingertips, literally, as a cell phone
camera captures what can be seen and hoped for?
Cell camera photos: harvest moon, over three harvesters
what more would anyone wish from life?
than the time each morning to celebrate that Christ is with us, in
body and blood?
than the ability to see beauty and share it with others?
than the ability to know truth, without doubt, or hesitation?
than to live well?
mitkommen! – from the movie Remembrance, Tomasc calls out to Hannah
to come with him, he dressed as a German soldier initiating their
escape, as he carries a canister of photos of the Nazi concentration