Christmas morning

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
– Philippians 2:5-11

O God our Father,
whose Word has come among us
in the Holy Child of Bethlehem,
may the light of faith illumine our hearts
and shine in our words and deeds;
through him who is Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

God and man today become
More in tune than fife and drum,
So be merry while you play,

Tu-re-lu-re-lu,
Pat-a-pan-a-pan,
So be merry while you play,
Sing and dance this Christmas day!

Christmas Eve – at night

I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day a Saviour, Christ the Lord.
-Luke 2.10-11

Eternal God,
this holy night is radiant
with the brilliance of your one true light.
As we have known
the revelation of that light on earth,
bring us to see the splendour of your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Therefore let our gathering
Now sing in brightness
Let it give praise to the Lord:
Greeting to our King.

Journey of the Magi by T.S. Eliot

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sore-footed, 
     refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the 
     terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and 
     grumbling
And running away, and wanting their
     liquor and women, 
And the night-fires going out, and the 
     lack of shelters, 
And the cities hostile and the towns 
     unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high
     prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all 
     night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, 
     saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a 
     temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of 
     vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill
     beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped in 
     away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with 
     vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for 
     pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no imformation, and so
     we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment
     too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say)
     satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I 
     remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This:  were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?  There was a Birth, 
     certainly, 
We had evidence and no doubt.  I had 
     seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; 
     this Birth was 
Hard and bitter agony for us, like 
     Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these
     Kingdoms, 
But no longer at ease here, in the old 
     dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their 
     gods.
I should be glad of another death.

— T.S. Eliot

When Christmas Hurts

“The true joy of Christmas is in the love shared with family and friends.”

“May this Christmas find you surrounded by those you love and those who love you.”

Sometimes, our lives do not spin out in tidy, Christmas-card scenes.
Sometimes, Christmas does not promise to be full of joy.
Sometimes, watching other people prepare with joy for a celebration of family, fun, and excess can highlight what our own lives might lack: the person who will be missing from the table, or the presents we can’t afford, or the conflicts we can’t fix, or the illness that steals away those we love.

A perfect Christmas dinner

Christmas slogans and wishes can highlight our yearnings – and make us more aware of what we lack.

“May the closeness of friends and the comfort of home renew your spirits this Christmas”

Advent can be a balm for the weary soul – a season in which we accept the reality of darkness, of longing, of grief, but we also remember the promise and hope that the forces which grieve and destroy the creatures of God will never triumph in the end.

In the midst of deep darkness, a light still shines.

In recent years, some churches have begun to offer a special service for those who find it hard to be joyful at Christmas: those who are grieving (death of a loved one, loss of a relationship, difficult diagnosis, mental illness, loss of a job, etc), those who hurt. These services have many names (Blue Christmas, Longest Night, Service of Solace) but one purpose: offering a place to those who need it to remember that Christmas is, at its core, about God coming to meet us in the midst of our often messy lives. Picture-perfect home-crafted displays may be nice, but they are entirely unnecessary.

A Blue Christmas service will be held in the Advent Chapel tomorrow, December 17, 2011 at 3pm. All are welcome, and no active participation will be required of those who attend.

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
— Psalm 46:1-5 (NRSV)

... an ever present help in trouble
(Picture of sunrise by Mehul Antani.)

Peace

praying for peace at Christmas

peace
is the absence of conflict;
or
peace
is a spiritual connection;
or better still
peace
is a way of living,
a commitment to something important;
but
peace
as a wild eyed radical
screaming its way
to revolution
isn’t quite the peace
we had in mind….
is it?
we light a candle for peace.

Poem by Katherine Hawker, found at http://www.liturgyoutside.net

Candle of Peace

Reflection: One Friday Night in the Advent Chapel

An Advent Chapel volunteer reflects on his experience.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said.

– John 1:19-23

I want to tell you about something wonderful that happened at the Advent chapel this last Friday. There was compline / evening worship service that night… an inspiring service with chant, renaissance music and beautiful liturgy. It was led by a wonderful choir, with ethereal voices that gave thanks and praise at the end of a busy day. I remember telling the choir before they started, “Set up near the door, so that people can hear you. The music will draw everyone in as soon as they hear it! Everyone will turn around and take notice.”

The service every bit as meaningful as expected. There was only one disappointment. For the duration of the service, none of the busy shoppers actually stopped to come in to the chapel. Not one.

What are we to make of this?

Sure, some people peered in quickly as they walked by. Maybe they were just confused. The foot-locker guy across the hall seemed really curious, but he never actually set foot inside. Did we not put out a big enough welcome mat? Did I not tell enough of my friends? It was a beautiful renaissance worship service in the middle of a bustling shopping mall. A voice crying in the wilderness, indeed.

Make straight the way of the Lord!

In the above reading from John, we hear about some other people who were perhaps as confused as those modern day shoppers. These were priests and Levites trying to figure just who John the Baptist was. According to this telling, John the Baptist was reasonably polite. (At least he doesn’t call them all a brood of vipers.) But he doesn’t really tell them who he is. “Make straight the way of the Lord”, he tells them, as the prophet Isaiah had said before him.

But what are we to make of this eccentric prophet, and of his words?

John the Baptist was referring to Isaiah 40:3. This was written about people ending their exile in Babylon – an end to Jerusalem’s suffering. At this time of year, we hear other readings from Isaiah, telling us that that the Lord has sent the prophet to bring good news to the oppressed, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and to repair the ruined cities (Isaiah 61:1-4).

Is this what the prophets are calling us to do at Advent?

Sure, we do our share around here. About three weeks ago, Montreal City Mission put on an amazing benefit concert, called “Do 1 Thing” to raise awareness for refugee rights – refugees being, in so many ways, the most vulnerable people in our society. Two weeks ago BELIEVE and St. James United Church hosted Montreal’s annual World AIDS Day benefit concert lifting up those who are still suffering and are still ostracized due to complications from HIV. Recently the United Church moderator Mardi Tindal was in Durban, South Africa, meeting with other leaders from around the world for the United Nations climate talks. And all of this is happening during Advent.

Yes, we’re doing a lot, and I’m proud of it. Two weeks ago I got started in a discernment process at St. James United Church. Surely, this is the sort of social justice that I’m being called for… Well, sometimes, there’s doubt in my mind as to exactly what was envisioned by Isaiah, or John the Baptist, or any of the other early prophets, as to what they would be calling us to do.

Earlier this summer, I spent a lot of time with my good friend, and the spiritual guide in my life, John. I told him over dinner one night that I liked the social gospel, and I liked that part of it that I heard from the early prophets, but also that I didn’t fully understand them. What connection with God did these prophets have that maybe I was missing? What are they really saying, that you don’t hear at, say, an NDP leaders debate, or a climate change conference?

His response to me was, “Have you read Heschel?”. I admitted that I hadn’t. For those, like me, who may not have known, Abraham Joshua Heschel was a 20th century Jewish theologian, philosopher, and certainly a social activist. I recently saw an interview with Heschel from his later years. I remember at one point he was asked, what advice do you have for those who are young? He said many things, but above all, he said to live your life as if it were a work of art.

Live your life as if it were a work of art. This 20th century scholar who comprehends the mind of the prophets as well as anyone else, is telling me to go out and live my life as if it were work of art. What about John the Baptist, and making the paths straight (the sort of thing they always taught me in Engineering school…)

What are we being called to do?

I’ve given it some thought. When I look back on what I’ve done in the last few weeks, and what has been truly beautiful and a work of art, what comes to mind was attending a renaissance evening worship service of otherworldly inspiration on a Friday night in the middle of crowded shopping mall.

It’s a little unorthadox. It’s mildly subversive. And it is truly beautiful. Not really what I expected to do when I came back to school to study theology. Hmmm. Stay tuned…

Geoffrey Duerden is a student at the United Theological College and McGill University, and loves the Advent Chapel.

Advent as a Parent

This reflection is from the Rev. Rhonda Waters.

 

I have always loved Advent but since I became a parent it has taken on new meaning. The faith Advent calls for – a willingness to say “yes” to whatever may be coming and to trust that whatever it is will turn out to be good – resonates with the kind of faith parenting requires. Before the child arrives, certainly, but even afterwards, we make a blind commitment to a person and a life that we can’t know and we can’t control. Hope and joy and love abound: so, too do fear and uncertainty and worry. We pray that the former will be stronger than the latter.

Madeline L’Engle writes of Advent:

“This is the irrational season when love blooms bright and wild. Had Mary been full of reason there’d have been no room for the child.”

For it was Mary’s wild and daring “yes” that began it all – a “yes” rooted in the promises of God’s love and justice and the recognition of God’s radical solidarity with us. “My soul magnifies the Lord,” sings Mary, some months into her pregnancy, and so do ours. Each time we say “yes” to God’s promises, we make those promises more visible, holding all of us, God included, to that vision of the world.

What if God were one of us?

The Annuncation by John Collier

“My soul magnifies the Lord,” sings Mary, some months into her pregnancy and, I am sure, well after it as well. Because I know that when I look on my own child I am emboldened to say “yes” and my soul is lifted up to magnify the Lord.

May you have a blessed – and wild – Advent.

The Rev’d Rhonda Waters, a deacon in the Diocese of Montreal, is curate at Christ Church Cathedral.  As a recent graduate, she is thrilled to be celebrating this Advent free of exams!