Daily Halos

Homily, Christmas Eve

Our secular culture seems to have decided that religion is not good for us. Religion is unhealthy, old-fashioned and certainly hostile to the human body. Religion is considered the enemy of fun and freedom and fulfillment. If you are among those who think that religion is something best to avoid, then tonight’s news is for you.

Because tonight’s news is pretty darn radical and pretty darn awesome. Believe it or not, but Christianity is based on the goodness of the flesh/our body. We haven’t always communicated that very convincingly, but it’s true. Think about it, if human flesh was good enough for Jesus, why should we reject it? To be human is to be flesh. To be holy is to glory in it.

The very scandal of Christianity lies in the fact that we see God/divinity in … humanity. Every major religion acknowledges the role of the Creator in the development of life, of course. But the Creator in life? Part of it? Identified with it?! Only … Christianity … makes the crazy claim that the Creator … has taken on … the flesh and blood of creation in order to connect us to the divine in ourselves.

In that forlorn stable in Bethlehem, God became helpless and vulnerable, and adorable and lovable in … greeting us in a small baby. A baby makes heads turn and hearts soften – that’s our God. The good news of the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, gives all human beings dignity and inherent beauty, capable of holiness in and through our bodies and in and through the ordinariness of life.

And so tonight, on this Holy Night, I’d like to illustrate this claim through the words of a dear friend. Not because I couldn’t come up with my own thoughts, but because Leah is a young mom expecting her next child. Leah’s words paint a vivid picture of what the beauty of God/Christmas looks like, feels like, tastes like in our own lives – the sacred of God in the small and ordinariness of human flesh. Leah’s words reveal the possibility of … halos … in our everyday existence:

Preparing a place is one of my favourite things.
We love having the guest room full,
the bed made and food planned,
the anticipation of time spent with people we love.
Preparing makes space, in our home and inside of us,
for those who are coming.
And this year, for the second time,
we are pregnant at Christmas.
It’s a beautiful connection
to the ancient Story of God coming as an infant.

I have a rounded belly growing full of mischief.
I feel exposed and empty as I prepare for this Christmas.
The year has been one from hell:
We have crawled through a miscarriage,
a season of unemployment,
and the cavernous murder of my own twin sister,
my own flesh and blood.
The planting work of living, of daily meals and tidying,
of tucking in and washing hands was laboured and late.
We showed up and watered and fed
with all the strength we had and it was not much.
The fall harvest was spotty at best.
There was more grace than we put in, and that was a miracle.
The stubble that is our family
lies poking through the snow; we survived, barely.

We have had so little to give;
Now I see that nothing … has given us … everything.
All the years spent preparing for guests
actually taught us how to let people into our lives.
This year, so many friends and strangers
have walked into our mess with food and cleaning supplies,
with hands for folding laundry,
with a willingness to be with us in tears and big emotions.
The bathrooms have not been as clean as I would like them.
The kitchen counters are littered with paper and toys.
The drawers and closets are getting out of hand.
Yet people who love us, our people, came anyway.

Jesus is coming, again, to our messy world.
He chooses us over and over again.
And He’s the kind of guest that comes regardless of the mess.
If we are willing, Jesus will stay all year.
He doesn’t care about unpacked boxes,
the mess in the junk drawer,
or the toothpaste clumps in the sink.
Actually, Jesus finds treasures
in the very mess I am trying to hide.
Jesus pulls joy out of my sadness,
finds space and meaning and possibility in my emptiness.

Preparing readies my heart to be broken open by love.
Jesus came to an unwed, teenage mother
and a foster father who risked faith.
He came in a stable and their little family
became refugees in Egypt to flee a massacre of infant boys.
Jesus wept for my little Claire (lost in miscarriage),
held us in job loss, wailed with me at the murder of my twin sister,
and now sends us every gift in death and grief,
in our next-awaited baby.
Jesus is not a stranger to our raw and exposed wounds.
From the moment of his birth,
Jesus knows emptiness too well
and loves us in the emptiness we feel.
He comes to us again as we are.

Preparing my heart and my home
requires a recognition of what I can do
without becoming resentful,
or burdened by my own unrealistic expectations,
and distracted by the unnecessary.
The straw and the snow and the sky
are a stark and simple beauty.
I am learning to prepare with some more slow,
some more gentle, some more kind.
Preparing from emptiness feels shaky and weak.
I only ever have myself to give anyway.
When I am empty there is more space for the ones coming.
Christmas is about the simplest things:
God in this time and this place;
generosity and hospitality,
hope in struggle,
light in overwhelming darkness.

***
So far Leah’s musings. The poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Earth is crammed with heaven.” Gerald Manley Hopkins said the same: The world is charged with the grandeur of God. The human body was good enough for God in the baby Jesus. Our bodies, and our daily lives, however messy and painful, are “crammed with heaven” – all the time. The halos, the kind we can see around planets and constellations through a telescope, exist around each one of us. The halos, imprints of God’s loving kisses, are everywhere. As Leah’s musings show, we just need eyes to see and a heart to love. God is our glory. God is our power. God shows up in our emptiness and fills it with love, joy and beauty through the babe born in  Bethlehem. That is the Good News we celebrate tonight. May we all be blessed with a beautiful and grace-filled Christmas. Amen.

  • Leah’s original blog can be found here. 

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Do You Love Me?

I was ordained a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada on the Feast of St. Andrew, November 30, 2017. Here is the text of the homily I preached the next day.

First Eucharist December 1, 2017 IMG_6230
(attended by nearly 100 people from Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal, United, Evangelical traditions and non-Christian persuasions)
Isaiah 55:6—11, Psalm 34, Philippians 4:4–9, John 21:15–19 

It is rare that there is ever a legitimate reason to change the Scripture readings from what the Lectionary assigns. But somehow the doom and gloom in these last days of the church year clash a bit with the festive spirit present here today. So after appropriate Anglican consultation and permission I chose readings that speak into the new ministry I am beginning among you today as an ordained priest in the Anglican Church of Canada.

For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Ordination16

Interesting, isn’t it, how personal events can affect how … words … land in our lives. These words from Isaiah were addressed to a people discouraged, depressed, and lost. Isaiah’s words of God’s promise and faithfulness poured into them the balm of hope and trust, courage and perseverance. And we all need such words in times of distress and pain.

But sacred words are not limited to specific times and places. That is why they are considered ‘sacred.’ Their power to sustain and guide and comfort the human spirit is activated in every time and place, in every circumstance. That is why I felt drawn to Isaiah’s words, to the joy Paul expresses in his letter to the Philippians, and to Jesus’ words to Peter in John’s Gospel this morning.

At the time of Jesus’ greatest need, Peter had betrayed his dear friend Jesus, no less than three times. Now the risen Christ asks him, three times, “do you love me?” We usually understand this three-fold asking as Peter’s chance to redeem himself and to be forgiven. And yes, that is certainly a valid understanding.

But we not need limit ourselves to this one understanding. My experience of being called into priestly ministry has shown how this same question by the risen Christ can fuel and guide and bless and authenticate … a vocation. I will spare you details of this 25-year journey that have led to this joyful day; that’s fodder for another book someday! But I will say this: at every turn of surrender in service and ministry, Jesus kept asking, through the needs of God’s people and the desire in my heart, ‘do you love me?’ And I kept answering, ‘yes, Lord, you know I love you,’ sometimes with exasperation in my spirit, as in, ‘well, isn’t this enough yet?’

And Christ repeated the question, each time with new depth, only fueling the desire to live God’s call ever more fully and blessing that desire by the summons to ‘feed my lambs, feed my sheep.’ I knew that fullness of life lie in fully embracing what God had placed in my heart. I could taste it with every yes I mustered. Even when, like Peter, there have been and still are times that I ‘betray’ Jesus – through sinful acts, ego-driven ambition, by lukewarm engagements, by nursing hurts and resentments, or even downright denials of his hold on my spirit, none of that deters Christ’s summons, ‘do you love me?’IMG_6260

Each of us is on a quest to realize our fullest potential in total surrender to the promise God has planted in our hearts, minds and spirits. After all, the place where we are called is where the world’s hunger meets our deepest joy. But like Peter, our own failings and betrayals can hinder that quest. Locked doors, in our hearts or in our external circumstances, can hinder that quest. But as with Peter, God keeps asking gently but surely, waiting for our response to just one question, ‘do you love me?’

Deep down, it is the one fundamental question in each human heart: do you love me? Do you love me ask the fragile eyes of an elderly relative or neighbour needing reassurance and presence; do you love me asks the earth pleading for responsible stewardship; do you love me ask our First Nations sisters and brothers yearning for reconciliation and healing. Do you love me cries the child needing food, family and shelter; do you love me challenges the rebellious teenager famished for belonging and community. Do you love us … asks a faith community needing a pastor. Do you love me, asks God in the depths of our hearts through God’s dream for us. Do you love me asks Jesus in the calling to a holy ministry. We find ourselves in different places with Jesus’ question, and with God’s  dream for us, Someday, some place, the question will come to you, maybe it already has. Most likely, the question will present itself, as it did for me, in ways least expected, ‘do you love me?’

One of the ways this question by the risen Christ has taken on new meaning is in this 500th Anniversary year of the Reformation. The many events that have brought Christians from all stripes together this past year, from the very top to the very bottom, have moved us swiftly from a drab “ecumenical winter” to a full-fledged ecumenical spring-time. We are now answering Jesus together: Yes, Lord, you know that we love you by the love we now extend to one another. What an exciting time to minister in God’s holy catholic church!

Our ecclesial divisions have been a scandal only paralleled by Peter’s own betrayal of his Lord. Our historical conflicts, disputes and outright condemnations have fractured the Body of Christ on earth to the point of discrediting the very News that was supposed to be … Good!

This year, finally, we have reason to rejoice. From Pope Francis/Archbishop of Canterbury, and other world confessional communions, down to small groups in small communities we have heard Jesus’ question anew – do you love me in your Reformed, Mennonite, Pentecostal, Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Quaker, United, Baptist … sisters and brothers? Do you love me …. in your Jewish, Celtic, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Indigenous, atheist and agnostic sisters and brothers? Do you love me in the lost and rejected, in the victims and outcasts? Whatever you do to the least of these, you do it to me, we heard in church last Sunday.

We witnessed a powerful example of this radical loving in Pope Francis this past week on his visit to Myanmar. Seeing the images of his meeting with the Buddhist community makes it crystal clear that the encounter itself is the message and answer to Jesus’ question: do you love me?

Despite our horrible track record – not unlike Peter – God keeps pressing us – feed my sheep, feed my lambs. Despite our failings and betrayals, God keeps asking us. Despite perceived locked doors, externally or internally, the risen Christ appears and begs us, ‘do you love me?’ And when we finally surrender to this pursuing God, we too will experience what Peter did: when we were young (& foolish) we went where we wanted and did what we wanted. But once we give our lives to God’s dream for us, once we say, yes, I love you – to every aching and begging heart – indeed “someone” does put a belt around us and takes us where we would rather not go. Loving unconditionally has a way of doing this…

Yet, paradoxically, that very place which we would not choose of our own accord, nevertheless holds the key to fullness of life and love in more ways than we could ever ask for or imagine, because we give ourselves over to a reality beyond ourselves. I’d like to think that this is what our gathering today is about – a taste of the heavenly banquet, a reality beyond ourselves, as we have come from different churches and different backgrounds to unite around one holy ministry and one holy table. A bit like dancing on the walls that still separate and divide in order to fuel our dream, God’s dream, towards full, visible unity.

My husband Jim and daughter Rachelle know all about seeds and the growing conditions necessary for seeds to germinate and thrive. Incidentally, both Jim and I work with seeds: Jim with seeds in plants, I with seeds in the human heart. Our hearts are filled with seeds; seeds of weeds and thistles, of course, but most of all seeds pregnant with divine promise, good seeds waiting for the right soil, the right season, the right situation, the right question that will make them sprout and grow – do you … love … me?

While the seed of my call did sprout several decades ago it still took a long time to come to full bloom. But bloom it does now, for God does not give up that easily! Despite our failings and screw-ups, despite our pain and desperation, despite locked doors, God’s seeds of life and love keep pulsating, stubbornly and undeterred, with promise and hope – do you love me? Listen to the whispering of the spirit: is that listening obstructed by locked doors, or clouded by hurts and missed opportunities, by resentments and pain?Do not worry about anything, says Paul to the Philippians and to us today, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. Do the whisperings sound impossible and unrealistic? Really … ?

 For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,Family1
and do not return
until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it …

Now … let it be so. AMEN

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