Times, they are a-changin’….

Changing time

Tonight people in my part of the world will change their clocks forward one hour before they go to bed (or their computers and smart phones will do this automatically, in the middle of the night). I have to admit, this is a nervous time for me. I once messed the time change up so bad that I arrived at the church where I was doing pulpit supply the next morning, 10 minutes before worship. Usually, I’d be there a good hour in advance. To say it was nerve-wracking is to understate it in the extreme.

So tonight will be a somewhat restless night for me. I know this. I suffer through it when the time changes twice a year. It is not my favorite night of the year, by far.

But there is something good – no, something GREAT – about the time change. It is sign of Spring. It is a sign that though the snow and ice are still present all around us, thought the wind may still be bitter at times, Spring is coming. The time is passing. Not long, now, until plants start to bud and the world grows green again.

Though we might not see the change, looking out our windows to a world that still resembles winter, the change is happening. Even now, the world prepares for new life.

I am reminded of a verse in Isaiah:

I am about to do something new.
It is beginning to happen even now.
Don’t you see it coming?
I am going to make a way for you
to go through the desert.
I will make streams of water in the dry and empty land.
Isaiah 43:19 NIRV

The journey through Lent is like this. We journey toward new life. Even now, we are drawing towards the Empty Tomb. Even now, God is preparing an Easter Sunday for us to celebrate. That has always been God’s work, and always will be.

I pray your eyes – my eyes! – will be open to seeing the new thing God is doing, even as it begins to happen. (Please take a moment to pray for the pastor(s) in your life…we really do struggle on Time Change Sundays!)

Blue…

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Tonight was the first ever Blue Christmas Service at St. Andrew’s. I’ve always struggled with the concept of a Blue Christmas Service – I always enjoy the sparkle and joy of the Season. So to take time to focus on the struggle with grief or loss didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me. It seemed like something that would jar me out of my joyful celebration.

However as we sang, prayed and lit candles this evening, I found something precious. A space of silence and breathing in the midst of a hectic and stressful season. This year, I have struggled to find my footing in the celebration of Christmas. I have loved every moment of worship that I’ve had since returning from Israel, but in between moments of singing and praying and listening to the word, I have found myself cranky and out-of-sorts. I think this has to do with wanting time to process all that we experienced in the Holy Land, and not having the time to do it. It also has to do with all the things on the “to-do” list which normally would have been done by now.

I have felt harried and frustrated and lacking in rest. So though I am not struggling with any particular grief or loss, I am struggling nonetheless. And this service ministered to me. My hope and my prayer is that it also ministered to all who attended, all who came broken and weary and weighed-down.

My hope is that if you are feeling that way, you too may be ministered-to during this season. That you may find a space to breathe, to reflect, to heal. And that the One who was wounded for us all, the One by whose wounds we are healed, would bring you comfort.

He was despised and rejected—
a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.
Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
it was our sorrows that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles
were a punishment from God,
a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
the sins of us all.
Isaiah 53:4-6 NLT

Shalom 2.0…

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Yesterday I wrote about Shalom – the Old Testament word for “peace,” which also means restoration and completeness and “how things are meant to be.” I think this is what our world longs for…we all know that something is broken in our world. It must be, because children get sick and die in our world, seemingly healthy people get diagnosed with cancer in our world, people commit suicide in our world. These things happen daily, and they tell us that something is terribly wrong, something is broken here.

Faced with these realities, we might find ourselves overwhelmed. We might want to give in to despair. We might want to stop believing that the Biblical idea of Shalom, peace, is possible in our world. While I certainly understand that temptation, I also think it is a bit of a cop-out. Because if we say that peace is not possible, it gives us an out…we don’t have to strive for peace because it isn’t really possible.

But we are called to be agents of peace in this world. We are called to be those who live the ways of peace, of Shalom, of how-it-is-supposed-to-be-ness. That is part of what it means to follow Jesus – to work towards those things that may seem impossible to us, but that are for the good of us all.

The prophet Isaiah writes:

Lord, you will grant us peace;
all we have accomplished is really from you.
O Lord our God, others have ruled us,
but you alone are the one we worship.

Isaiah 26:12-13 NLT

 

I think peace has to begin with faith. With the trust that says that God will bring about what seems impossible to us. That God is big enough to bring about what seems impossible to us, and that all the other things we might put our trust or our faith in are not big enough to accomplish peace.

When Jesus was born, it was not into a peaceful time and place. He came into the midst of our broken, messed up world. (Remember, after his birth, a whole bunch of babies were killed as Herod tried to protect the power that he held as King.) He came to show us what Shalom looks like in bodily form, in a life lived out, in choices made and in lessons taught. And ultimately, eternally, in a life laid down in sacrifice.

Often at Christmas we like to focus on the little baby Jesus, but one of the things those of us who preach regularly strive for is to keep the whole story of Jesus in mind at Christmas. To remember the messy bits as well as the pretty bits. To remember the sacrifice and betrayal as well as the birth and Resurrection. Because it is only in the complete story of Jesus (which begins with creation, according to John) that Shalom, peace, the-way-it-is-meant-to-be is found.

Light in the darkness..

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Like most towns and cities, Brampton has an annual tree lighting ceremony to kick off the Christmas season. The tree is housed in the courtyard at The Rose – a local live theatre.

This year, the tree looks an awful lot (to this geeky soul) like the White Tree of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings movies. One of my favorite moments in the third film is that moment when all seems dark and horrible, but then the camera pans onto the (supposedly dead) tree of Gondor and you see one white blossom…and you know it is all gong to be ok in the end – the good guys are gonna win!

It’s such a powerful little detail.

The prophet Isaiah wrote:

The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live
in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2 NLT

This verse is like that lone white blossom on an otherwise dead tree. It is part of a passage of hope in the midst of dark days in the history of God’s people.

Jesus is that light. He is our hope. He is our peace.

And like that one line blossom, he is the detail that tells us it will all be ok in the end. God’s gonna win!

Amen.

Healing…

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Tonight was the Healing Service at our church. It’s always such a special service to me. It is wonderful to be able to pray with people…it is an honor that people will share their brokenness with you, and it is so touching to see how strong their faith is.

So the whole issue of healing is on my mind tonight. I am convinced that Jesus is meant to heal us. But I am also convinced that our illness or brokenness goes so much deeper than disease or injury. I believe that Jesus is meant to be a holistic healer – one who heals our spirits and our minds and our hearts as well as our bodies.

Isaiah wrote:

 For a child is born to us,
a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His government and its peace
will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice
from the throne of his ancestor David
for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
will make this happen!

Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

I believe the peace that Isaiah is talking about is meant for all – the world and all who live in it. Not just peace as an absence of conflict, but peace as in wholeness. Peace as in the restoration to how things are meant to be. The

I believe that’s the kind of redemption that Jesus brought into the world through his birth, ministry, death and Resurrection. I believe that’s the kind of healing and renewal for which this world is crying out.

I believe it all started with the birth of a child, a son, who would be called the Prince of Peace, who would rule with fairness and justice.

 

Rejoice!

I have written more than once about how difficult the work of ministry can be. And it is true, there are times when this work is back-breaking, both physically and spiritually. But today is not one of those days (in fact, this whole week has not been one of those weeks). You see, the reverse is also true. There are times when ministry is all party, party, party. There are times when my JOB is to simply be present with people and celebrate, and today has been that kind of day.

After a morning in the office, my partner in ministry, the Rev. Geoff Ross and I headed to a local golf club. There was an unbelievable feast laid out for us and other members of the clergy in Brampton, sponsored by Ward Funeral Home. The Brampton Ministerial was having its Christmas luncheon. The food was delicious and overwhelming in its abundance.

Then this evening our WMS (Women’s Missionary Society) met for their Christmas Potluck, and the members of the clergy in our congregation were invited to be there. I admit – my belly is full and I have used some of my extra Weight Watchers points today. But you know what – my soul is full, too.

At both celebrations Christmas carols were sung with great gusto. It is good to celebrate with others who share our faith.

The prophet Isaiah wrote:

The people who walk in darkness
will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness,
a light will shine.

Isaiah 9:2 NLT

That’s what Jesus means. We were in the dark, but now the light has come. We have gone from worry and despair to rejoicing and celebration. We are meant to live as people who know what it is like to be in the dark, and more importantly, know what it is like to be delivered from the dark.

So may your days be full of celebration. Whether marked by abundance or observed more quietly, may you rejoice with those around you. May you truly know what it means to have found deliverance and salvation.

Sunday of Hope…

hope-coverMy internet is a little wonky this evening and has deleted the first draft of this, the second entry in my Advent Calendar Blog. I am sorely tempted to simply go to bed and try again tomorrow. But I will not give up so early in this project.

So here we go, again. The Scripture for this evening comes from my favorite prophet, Isaiah (we preachers are prone to choosing favorite prophets, gospels, stories, verses, etc. in the Bible).

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me,
for the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted
and to proclaim that captives will be released
and prisoners will be freed.
He has sent me to tell those who mourn
that the time of the Lord’s favor has come,
and with it, the day of God’s anger against their enemies.

Isaiah 61:1-2 NLT

This is the part of the scroll that Jesus turned to in the temple as he declared the beginning of his ministry. In essence, this is the mission statement for Jesus’ ministry. It was written down long centuries before Jesus ever walked in this world.

Because God has always been about freedom, compassion, comfort, forgiveness. These have always been the things that God was up to in our world. These are the things that you and I are meant to be about every day as we serve God, as we live as God’s children in this world.

So on this Advent Sunday of Hope, may your hope be continually restored by the Source of all hope. May you be filled with the hope of Jesus. May it spill out of you and touch all who surround you.