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Archive for December, 2009

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The Word was in the beginning with God.  All things came into being through the Word, and without the Word not one thing came into being. What has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all creation.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.    (John 1:1-14)

Merry Christmas, one and all!  I hope that each of you has had a good celebration of the Nativity of Jesus in our midst.  As my beard gets greyer year by year, I come to a deeper appreciation of the magical quality of Christmas, in spite of the usual orgies of consumerism and the spate of rushing about that tends to accompany the season.  Beyond all that, there is the brilliance of the star, and the warmth of the manger, and the love of family and friends, and the miracle of the Christ-child “born this happy morning”.  Every year, this seems to mean more to me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m in no way naive about the harsh and oppressive circumstances of Jesus’ birth, nor the near-demonic hold of the powers and principalities in our own world.  In fact, truth be told, I have less hope now about the possibility of significant human-driven reform than I have ever had in my life.  But that is not to say that I am hope-less … rather, my hope in the power of God to redeem, to weave life from the tatters of destruction, grows.

In telling the ancient story of the Nativity, John begins his gospel before the foundations of time.  “In the beginning,” writes John, “was the Word”.  Scholars have been quick to point out that this “Word” is closely related to the “Sophia” of earlier writings, the Divine Wisdom who was with God at the beginning of all things.  This Logos was identified by the elders of the church as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the only-begotten Child of God.  And through this Word, this Living Song of the Creator, God brought/brings into being everything that exists.  As a Sophian, this is one of the reasons why I claim, and proclaim, that “Her Body is all creation”.  In a similar way that “the Word became flesh” in the person of Jesus, so also the Word is embodied throughout the entire universe.  In Jesus, the Incarnation becomes focussed and unique, but this Divine Embodiment began long before Jesus, and will continue until the end of time.

This, then, is the source of my hope.  God comes to us, again and again, in vulnerability and weakness.  God’s power is shown forth, made manifest, incarnate in the least and the lost.  Incarnation happens where we least expect it … when hope (from a human perspective) seems most unlikely.

This Christmas season, look again at the world within and around you.  Where is God breaking in?  Where is Sophia revealing Herself?  Where is the Word becoming incarnate?  It happened in the beginning, it happened in a manger over 2000 years ago, and it is happenning now and always, within us, among us, because of us, in spite of us, until the kin-dom comes and Love shines forth in all Her glory.  For what has come into being in the Word was life, and the life was the light of all creation.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.    Thanks be to God.

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Samhain: Advent 4

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me One who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.  Therefore God shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of that One’s kindred shall return to the people of Israel.  And that One shall stand and feed the flock in the strength of YHWH, in the majesty of the name of YHWH, their God.  And they shall live secure, for now that One shall be great to the ends of the earth; and  shall be the One of peace.    (Micah 5:2-5a )

I must admit, I’ve never liked the hymn very much.  “O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie…”  etc.  It’s always sounded a little kitchy to me, not ancient and mysterious like “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent”, or “O Come O Come Emmanuel”.  So when I saw this reading from Micah listed in the lectionary for this week, I thought I would just skip over it quickly.  But as I scanned the lines, I was stopped in my tracks.  There is a mystery here that goes far beyond the well-worn words of a Christmas hymn.

Over the past several years, it has become clear that the most pressing crisis our planet faces is the challenge of ecological wisdom, and more specifically, the spectre of global catastrophe through radical climate change.  In a few days, the gathering at Copenhagen will be wrapped up, and there seems to be little but disappointment as its bitter fruit.  Canada dragged its heels, gagged and manipulated by Big Oil.  Saviour Obama let us down as well, showing virtually no leadership, but rather old and tired policy babble.  The game is up, with no promise of real change in sight.

But what did we expect?  The world, the system, expects that hope and wisdom will come from the mighty ones; that the powers and principalities will come to the rescue to set things right.  But that has never been the case … when will we learn?  True Wisdom, Holy Sophia, the Spirit-Wisdom of God, rarely graces the corridors of power.  She is found instead among the “little ones”, those with no power in the eyes of the world.  Micah’s prophecy, the prophecy which guided the wizards as they followed the star in the heavens, pointed the way to Bethlehem.  Beth-lechem, House of Bread, a tiny insignificant village among the “little clans of Judah” … that would be the place where Wisdom would be found.  Not in a mighty city, not among the powerful kings of old, but rather among a small and weak people.  And we know the rest of the story … the Saviour is born in weakness, in poverty, under oppression and Roman occupation.  When the child of Wisdom is born to Mary, the first witnesses are pagans (the magi), the poor (the shepherds), and the Earth (the animals in the stable-cave).  Wisdom is found, right where no one expected it.

And so it is today.  Sophia is found where the powerful never think to look, among the people to whom no one listens.  Let me be blunt, let me prophecy … this day the saving Wisdom of God takes flesh among the hopes and dreams and ancient wisdom of the First Peoples.  They are the Earth-Keepers.  They are the “little clans of Judah”, oppressed and ignored by the Empires of today, ignored in our own country, ignored at Copenhagen, ignored to our peril and to the detriment of the whole Earth community.

O Little Towns of Bethlehem … the villages of Aboriginal people in northern Saskatchewan, in New Zealand, in Guatamala.  This is your time, your moment.  From you shall come forth Wisdom, the Saviour Sophia, Spirit of the Living God.  And the ones who will bear witness, who will stand with you in solidarity, are (once again) the wizards, the poor, and the creatures of the Earth.  And the Christ-child as well, with all who follow in his Way, ready to serve in the protection and healing of this broken, beloved world.  O come, let us adore … and follow.  Amen.

 

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Samhain: Advent 3

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.     (Philippians 4:4-7)

Once again,  this is Paul, writing to his beloved sisters and brothers in Philippi.  Oh, how I envy those who find their hearts mirrored in this passage.  It is such a promise, such an oasis of confidence and peace.  But so often, for me, as I survey the troubled depths of my own soul, Paul’s sweet words are ashes in my mouth.

Rejoice, he says.  Rejoice.  And I want to … with all my strength I want to.  But look at the world around us.  Look at the tarsands, the Mordor of Canada. Look at the fiasco of Copenhagen, and the hell hole prisons of Afganistan.  Look at the homeless and the hopeless in our cities of wealth and luxury.  And look as well into the depths of your own broken and twisted heart.  How shall we rejoice, in the midst of this pain and confusion?  Brother Paul, how shall we rejoice?

And yet, and yet, in this cold, dark season of Advent, there are glimmerings of hope on the horizon.  As we lit the pink candle of joy on the wreath at Church this Sunday, Sophia reminded me that despair is not an option for those who would follow in the way of wisdom, in the path of discipleship.  Perhaps I have been looking too intently in all the wrong places.  Why would I expect to find “solutions” to our world’s problems among the mighty and powerful of the world?

Sophia, the bountiful Wisdom of God, leads me instead to view the world through the lens of the vulnerable.  She points my gaze to Ronnie, a young boy in our congregation who has made it his mission to buy a house for the homeless.  Sophia reminds me to pay attention to  the faithful work of CHEP and QUINT and so many other grassroots organizations in our community who are doing the missio Dei right here among us.  And she calls my attention as well to the Earth itself, wrapped in a mantle of snow and ice, Her creatures burrowed in hibernation or huddled together for survival.  The Earth knows, with the Spirit’s own Wisdom, that the season of winter has its own beauty, and that it will not last forever.  And She knows as well that on the coldest, darkest, longest night, the Light of the World shall be born.  The cosmic Christ-child, bearer of burdens and warrior of peace … this One shall come among us once again.  For those with eyes to see, and hearts open to recieve, Jesus, child of Mary and Sophia, will enter our lives and our world in ways we can barely even ask or imagine.

And so, in the end, Paul is right.  The Servant of Wisdom, apostle to the pagans, has convinced me again.  “Rejoice!” he says.  The pink candle of the advent wreath illumines my heart and pierces through my despair, and I too embrace the invitation … “again I say, rejoice”.  And so I shall.  Amen.

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Samhain: Advent 2

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.  I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.  It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.  For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.  (Philippians 1:3-11)

Reading this portion of Paul’s letter to his beloved friends in Phillipi, I can’t help but be moved.  It brings to mind for me so many of my own friends and partners in the gospel, scattered across the country (and the globe), who have made such an impact on me over the years.  If it is true that each of us is constituted by the relationships which have been woven into our lives, then my own life is rich indeed.

During the season of Advent, we are given an opportunity to re-member all our relations … our families, our friends, the beloved creatures of earth and sky and sea who surround us, and even our enemies.  Each relationship which has shaped our lives is present to us right here, right now.  Furthermore,  there exists a deep mystery in creation that we are formed  and held by a multiplicity of relationships, most of which we are not even conscious.  This is the exquisite web of creation which binds us together in the Spirit with each and every being in the universe, whether we are aware of it or not.  This Spiritweb extends through time as well, to the depths of the past, and to the far reaches of the future … even, proleptically, into the “age to come”.  We are bound to our ancestors, and to our descendents, for from the perspective of Eternity the river of time flows both ways. 

It is this awe-inspiring web of creation which should give us clues, not only for our personal lives, but also in our collective reflections and decisions on ecological matters.  Our leaders are used to making political decisions based on short term linear and causal logic.  Unfortunately, this is not a style of logic which matches the complexity of the vast web of life.  Now, perhaps more than ever before, we are in desperate need of Sophia, the Wisdom of God, who is Herself the Spirit which creates and animates the very web so endangered by our foolish and short-sighted ways of being in the world.

In his letter, Paul waxes eloquent with desire: “how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.”  He is speaking of his friends and partners in the gospel, but perhaps it is not a stretch for us to apply his words to the whole creation which surrounds us and upholds us.  All my relations, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus.  All our relations … the people whom we know, yes, but also the vast plenitude of creatures who fill the earth, and the cosmos as well.  This Advent, as we remember with joy those whom we most value, let us extend that compassionate and prayerful remembrance as far and wide as we possibly can, even to the farthest edges of time and space.  And may Sophia guide each of us “that our love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help us to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ we may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.”  Amen.

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Samhain: Advent 1

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the Human One coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.  Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”  Then Jesus told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.  So also, when you see these things taking place,  know that the kin-dom of God is near.”            (Luke 21: 25-31)

So, happy New Year!   In the ancient liturgical cycle, the first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of the Christian year.  But in many ways, Advent 1 also sets the tone for “the beginning of the end” ….  For many people of faith, the season of Advent is about preparing for Christmas, getting ready for the holidays, looking toward the celebration of the birth of Jesus.  But the gospel text assigned for this Sunday points us instead toward the Eschaton, the consummation of creation, the drawing near of the end of the age.  The language is apocalyptic, filled with imagery of tumult and distress.  Certainly not what we usually associate with Christmas!

For many, this apocalyptic sensibility is scary at best, wing-nut at worst.  It conjures images of ranting fundamentalists and Waco end-time cults.  But that is certainly not the only way to interpret these confusing texts.  So what might be a more Sophian take on Luke’s gospel-apocalypse?

As a Sophian, I affirm the inherent goodness and value of creation.  Indeed, “Her Body is all creation”.  But we all know that these days, the Body of God is under dire threat of mass destruction.  “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves,” says Jesus.  “People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world…”   All you have to do is watch the news to see the signs of immanent danger.  But this is not something that the Creator is doing to the world; rather, we are in a season of reaping the harvest that has been sown by globalized industrial capitalism.  The “powers that be” have been plundering the earth for generations, ripping “resources” from the Body of God as if all creation was nothing more than fuel for the fires of “progress”.

Earlier this year, I was part of a pilgrimage, a journey to the tar sands of northern Alberta, to bear witness to the place of terror which is Canada’s Mordor.  I have seen with my own eyes the brutal reality of death which festers under the putrid rhetoric of the oil industry.  It is a scene which could well be found in the book of Revelation … it is “apocalypse now”, and it is in our own backyard.  It was truly an act of faith for those of us on the pilgrimage to be able to trust that one day, healing shall come to such a nightmare landscape.  These images haunt me still, and are with me as I contemplate this Sunday’s gospel.

Gospel … good news … so what exactly is the good news here?  In the face of such destruction, where is hope to be found?  Should I put my hope in the world leaders gathering at Copenhagen later this month?   Should I put my hope in “carbon trading” schemes and technological dreams?  Perhaps … perhaps some good will come out of these meetings.

But in reality, the gospel calls me to put my hope elsewhere.  Jesus says “when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near … the kin-dom of God is near.”   This is of course utterly counter-intuitive, but I believe it to be true.  My hope is in God, who is a Tree of Life, gathering Her children in Love.  And God’s children are not just human, but also trees, animals, the waters, the land, and all creatures who have been destroyed, and who face more cruelty and annhilation in the days to come.  Each of these creatures is a beloved child of God, and none of them are lost in the Eternity of the God who is Love.  In God, they live even now.  The powers that be can do their worst, and certainly in the tar sands we see that worst, but they cannot separate the creatures they kill from the eternal realm of Love.

As “the end draws near” in this season of Advent, we are also reminded that ” the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”  In apocalyptic code, these powers are the forces of domination which oppress the whole creation.  In Syncrude and Suncorp and Cameco, we meet these powers face to face.  But strong as they are, these powers that be are not eternal.  They have a beginning and an end, and their end is coming soon, one way or another.  The God who is Love will find a way to bring life out of death, healing out of destruction … for She is a Tree of Life, and She gathers Her children in Love. 

Good news indeed … thanks be to God!

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