Tuesday, December 30, 2003

On the Sixth Day of Christmas…

Merry Christmas, one and all! We are already halfway through the season, and way more than halfway through the break. In fact, Luke and I will be returning to Chicago tomorrow (I think), after a very full break. Christmas was fantastic, and Santa was good to us. Least shocking gift? The first season of West Wing on DVD. We’ve already watched several episodes. Yup, we’re a tad fanatic about the whole thing. Other events of break include: me preaching my first sermon since I began this whole crazy process (see below, for those of you who were following my thought process and would like to view the results). It was really well received – but this is also the congregation I grew up in. They want me to do well. Luke turned the big 25 yesterday – he has caught up with me in age once again. We had three good meals to celebrate so far, and a movie with good old friends. Really, most of break was spent connecting with friends- some we hadn’t seen for several years! Fun, but tiring.
Also over break, our good friends back here in Ann Arbor have asked us to be godparents for their new baby, who is due any second now. I have no godparents myself, and Luke’s godfather was pretty MIA over the last 24 and a half years. So – do any of you have good godparents? What has made them good godparents? I’m incredibly excited and honored – and I want to do this right.
Merry Christmas everyone – and, (given the rate of postings recently I'll be early with this rather than several days late), Happy New Year!

Da' Sermon

Here it is folks. Probably the longest post I've ever done too. NB: This was absolutely written to be delivered, not read. So please ignore the incomplete sentences- they worked in real life :)

Celebrating Christmas: A Sermon on John 1:1-18
St. Clare’s Church, Ann Arbor – December 28, 2003

In seminary, we spend a fair amount of time thinking and talking about our strengths and, shall we say, growing edges. One thing that I have rediscovered about myself is that I love planning for things. I love the part where we get ideas for a class presentation, a worship service or even a party. I like doing the preparations, getting everyone organized so that when the big day comes, we will all be ready to go. Maybe this is why Advent has always been my favorite liturgical season. Advent is all about getting ready – preparing a way for the Lord. Around here, we do this especially well with intergenerational activities, and a focus on creating contemplative time and space for each of us to get our hearts ready. Anticipation like we have in Advent is exciting. Anticipation… I love it. I like planning and getting ready. But there is always this follow-up part. After the party, we need to clean up – and worst of all, do dishes! After the excitement of brainstorming and getting a really good idea, there is always grunt work to be done to carry it out. After the excitement of a new pregnancy and a new baby, there is this small helpless person who only sleeps when you hope she will stay awake, and cries when you want to sleep, . After the excitement of moving to seminary, there is reality to be dealt with – classes, papers, tuition, and the fact that seminary is not full of perfectly kind, holy people. Excitement and anticipation often get deflated when they run over that pesky thing called reality. Christmas morning was great, except for the kids fighting over the new Playstation game. Christmas dinner would have been fun, if your crazy family didn’t all have to be in the same room. God coming to be with us on Earth, in the flesh would be fantastic – but what kind of God becomes incarnate as a baby in a manger? What kind of King lives a life as an itinerant with no place to lay His head? What kind of Messiah comes not to overthrow but to be crucified? The kind of God, King and Messiah that comes to shine light in our darkness.
This kind of let-down – this baby in the manger is easier to swallow on Christmas Eve, when we greet the coming of our Lord with a cast of thousands. As a raging extrovert, I tend to prefer the hustle and bustle of the Christmas pageant and the Christmas stories in Luke and Matthew. There is so much to see and hear - there are so many characters to identify with! We want to have dreams and visions like Joseph and Zechariah, we know what its like to be “just doing our job” and have God break in on us – and to be terrified and joyful, like the shepherds. We know what it is to wait for a child that is both longed for and unexpected, like Mary and Elizabeth. With all that going on, it is easy to lose sight of one small character – the helpless baby Jesus, lying in the manager. The mysterious folk known as the Lectionary Committee did a smart thing by giving us the first chapter of John this Sunday after Christmas. It is certainly a different picture of Emmanuel than we had on Wednesday night. There are no more adoring shepherds, the choirs of angels have returned to Heaven. In the “day-after” Christmas time – when all the presents have been opened, family and friends have gone home, and the house probably needs cleaned up– when the anticipation is over, this week our Christmas story gives us just one character to identify with: the Word made flesh, the Light shining in the darkness. This is what we have been waiting for, this is the comfort promised to us by Isaiah: The Emmanuel, God-with-us. But the good news from the Gospel of John today goes even further than this. John reminds us that God has always been with us, since the beginning. The Word made flesh shines light into the darkness, and the darkness shall not overcome it: the Light is then still shining today. If Advent was about hope and expectation, then Christmas is about celebration, fulfillment and miracles. Not celebration as in eggnog, presents, cookies and sparkly things – not that I have any issue with those things. But by celebration I mean something more life-encompassing, more life-giving. Our celebration continues by finding God-with-us, and proclaiming that Light in our lives – even if it means going into the darkness to find a dim light shining. Certainly, in the bright parts of our lives – singing in church choir, good friends and relationships, children we are proud of- light is as easy to find as sales at the stores this weekend. Finding God present in our dark struggles, in loneliness, illness and brokenness – that is as difficult, time-consuming, and strange as, well, as following a far-off star in search of a baby in a manger. At Christmas, we see God at work in the miraculous extravagance of Incarnation and our foretaste of the Resurrection, and we see God at work in the ridiculously ordinary circumstances of babies and animals. And, at Christmas, we discover again that those two things are not as separated as we may think.
To celebrate the ending of our fall terms, Luke and I went to see the movie “Love Actually”. The movie begins with footage from a typical airport scene. Hugh Grant, in a voice over, tells us that whenever he is feeling particularly degraded about the state of the world, he goes to the arrival gates at Heathrow Airport. Watching parents greeting children, wives and husbands, girlfriends, boy friends, old friends, love and affection are very much on display. Here, we can remember that if we look hard enough, and perhaps in some unlikely places, we will find that Love Actually is everywhere.
Continuing the Christmas celebration is as simple yet extraordinary as that. The Word became flesh, shining Light in the darkness – and continues to do so in our everyday miracles, both great and small. When a struggling teenager reaches their high school graduation because someone cared enough to see him through, God love is made flesh in our own lives. When a Christian congregation and a Jewish congregation can live together with love and respect, light has overcome darkness. When lonely people are welcomed into community, when hungry families are fed, when children are raised in love, God is with us. Find those places of light in your life, and shine that light in the darkness. Love actually is everywhere… By shining light in the darkness, we will find it, in the most unlikely places, we will find it, in a stable, in a baby, in our lives. And in small ways, as we celebrate the light each day – as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever – the Light will not be overcome. May the celebration continue!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Six Degrees of Ordination

Luke & I are about to take our leave of Chicago for the break. Tonight is Heather's ordination to the diaconate in Kalamazoo. Then on Saturday I will be chanting the litany at the diconal ordinations in my diocese, where two Seaburians (plus two other folk I am not accquainted with) will join the clerical ranks. Also on Saturday is Mark's priestly ordination, which I will be missing since I will be in Michigan. I have been to several ordianations in the Episcopal Church, and I have heard many sermons about how "This day is not just about new ClergyPerson X, but about the whole Church". As someone in the ordination process, I have always found that to be true for me. Ordinations refuel me and my sense of call. I wonder about those people who are not going through such a process. Do they feel the same? I wonder about those people who are there because its a big day for Aunt Jane or Cousin Joe? My experience at most ordinations is that the Spirit has been so present it is tangible. Even those who don't care can tell that there is something special occuring in that place. If that is not sacramental, then I don't know what is. Anyway, I think the next few days will be good ones for the Church. Please do keep all the ordinands in your prayers.

Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every
good and perfect gift: Send down upon our bishops, and
other clergy, and upon the congregations committed to their
charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace: and, that they may
truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy
blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate
and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Book of Common Prayer, p. 817

Friday, December 12, 2003

Waiting & Expectation

I realize that the season of Advent is maybe not the best time to be impatient, but does that apply to secular life? Luke & I tried to tape West Wing this week, and were really looking forward to sitting down and watching it, but it wasn't West Wing, it was Law & Order! I'm not sure what is going on over at NBC, but I don't like waiting for new episodes to come out. I like indulging my fantasy political world for 53 minutes each week! It gives me hope.
Speaking of waiting and hope, I have some more (somewhat incoherent) thoughts on the sermon. My home parish makes a big deal out of Advent - lots of programs, we put out a meditation book with an Advent Wreath lighting service for families, some Advent hymns, etc. We put a lot of effort into the "getting ready" for Christmas- creating opportunities for reflection, spaces for mediation and silence. So what are we waiting for? We wait for the Light - as in, "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light" and we wait for Comfort, as in "Comfort, Comfort ye my people". In the Christmas season we are celebrating that the Light of the World has already come to us. Yes, we are also waiting for the fulfilment of the Kingdom, the Second Coming, the end times... but in Christmas season, we also get to celebrate the already part of the Kingdom being 'already, not yet". God is present now, Light is shining in the Darkness now, and we get to recognize, celebrate, and reflect that now. Thoughts from the peanut gallery?

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

I can see clearly now...

(Warning: Joyful utterances ahead. Those not yet finished with the term may not want to read the following just yet.)

I'm done with the term! Woo-hoo! I just handed in a sermon for Systematics class on living into the imago Dei, and now I am done. Well... i still have classes to attend tomorrow, and I need to actually hand in my journal from Plunge, but basically, I'm done. On to... the sermon for home, next week's Ember Day letter, my already assigned reading for next term, and some relaxing: scrapbooking and football! Yay. And - thanks for all the encouragement on the sermon.

Tonight though I am going out for tapas with the U of Chicago PhD crowd. Yup, I'm meeting all of Luke's classmates, and I'm really looking forward to it. Putting names with faces is always fun. Funny thing to say in a virtual medium, no?

Monday, December 08, 2003

Sermons, Sermons everywhere!

I seem to be surrounded by sermons. At least, decisions about sermons. First, the preaching rota for next term. Since the Middlers (my class) have taken "Preparing to Preach" we are considered now prepared to preach, and invited to preach at Seabury. I declined the invite. You that phrase "the more you learn, the more you realize you don't know anything"? Um, yeah. That.
Thanksgiving break was great. (Yeah, that was awhile ago, but oh well). Luke & I made it home, and I got to meet the new rector at St. Clare's, Ann Arbor. In the first five minutes of conversation, we discussed (at his impetus) whether I am receiving enough support from my home parish, and if I could preach the Sunday after Christmas. So, I am preaching at home for the first time since I officially started my discernment process, two and a half years ago. The Gospel is the same as it always is the first Sunday after Christmas. "In the beginning was the Word..." Do I have any clue at all what to say? Nope. For some reason, I'm feeling an incredible amount of pressure not to be cliche. Something about history is bouncing around in the back of my head.... when it moves its way towards the conscious part of my brain, I'll let you know. Any other thoughts would be appreciated. This has actually never been one of my favorite passages in Scripture. Abstract poetry? No thanks. I'll take a good miracle story any day.
Finally, I am working on my last preaching exercise for that same "Preparing to Preach" class. These five-sentence exerciese are actually pretty useful, and the repetition really does wonders for confidence and all that. Even though they are only five sentences, they do take some prep work. So, enough procrastination for now! Only four more days left in the term...

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Holy Jokes, Batman

I like religious humor. I think its an occupational hazard. So here is one from my friend Leigh that came up in theology class today.

How do you make holy water?
Boil the hell out of it.

Its the end of the quarter, and punchiness has arrived at Seabury. Woo-hoo!