Gifts of the Season

 
Hope

“In the depth of winter I finally learned
that there was in me an invincible summer.” Albert Camus

Reading from Romans 8, adapted

The early Christians believed that God was preparing them for a new world, one in which peace and justice reigned. The letter to the Romans expresses the frustration of waiting, but a fervent belief in what that waiting would bring.

“What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory we hope to know later. All creation eagerly awaits the revelation of the fullness of the Divine.
For it appears that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we, although we have the Divine within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that dayÖ. Now, we eagerly look forward to this freedom. If you already have something, you don’t need to hope for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t have yet, we must wait patiently and confidently. The Spirit helps us in our distress. When we don’t even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray it prays for us with sighs that cannot be expressed in words. And the breadth of the Divine which is beyond all knowing, knows all hearts, and hears the Spirit yearning from within us, for the pleading of our own hearts is in harmony with depths of the Divine.”

Reading: from Healing Words by Caren Goldman
© Caren Goldman, Used with permission.

Hope

Hope is an attitude that’s seated in our hearts to help us live in the tension between our wishes and desires on one hand and our disappointments, failures, tragedies, and despair on the other. Hope, says Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Rast, is openness for surprise as we stand poised between the already and the not-yet. It is the pilgrim’s passion for the possible that “holds the present open for an ever fresh future.”
Whenever we pilgrims on the way trip over sickness, loss, and other stumbling blocks, it is hope that bolsters our resolve to search for a healing path. hope for wellness, vitality, and a better life urges us to move forward into an unknown future with treatments, protocols, requests for help and other practical responses. Hope sets our hearts and our sights on our goals and sustains our desire to attain them. hope does not require us to be optimists instead of pessimists. It just asks that even in our most cynical moments we do not shut the door to a “fresh future.”

Carol: O Little Town of Bethlehem
Reading: A Hope-filled Christmas
© Julie Webb 2003

There are four Sundays in Advent. Each with a word. Hope, peace, joy and love. Four of the most powerful words in our human language. Signposts for the journey. But what if they were destinations, instead?

What if we were to have a hopeful Christmas? What if we planned for December 25th to be a day where we saw nothing but the potential and possibility of every situation, and every person? What if we gave that hope to the world? What if on that day we prayed our hope?

What if we had a kind of hope born in us, that didn’t take away our responsibility, but bred in us an assurance that we were working for good, that we were travelling in the right direction. What if we assured others, that no matter what happened they would handle it? What if that hope spread in the world? Would that be a kind of day that meant something to you?”

Carol: Unto Us a Boy is Born

Peace

“If we did not fire at them, they would not fire at us.”

Readings from Hosea, Zechariah, Micah, adapted

The ancient Israelites dreamed visions of a day of peace. These are drawn from the prophets Hosea, Zechariah, and Micah

“At that time, a covenant will be made with all the wild animals and the birds and the animals that scurry along the ground so that they will not harm you. All weapons of war will be removed from the land, all swords and bows, so you can live unafraid in peace and safety.”

“The battle chariots will be removed from Israel and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and all the weapons used in battle will be destroyed. Peace will come to the nations. And the realm of peace will stretch from sea to sea and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth.”

“In the last days, the holy places will become the most important places on earth. People from all over the world will go there to worship, to be taught the ways of the DivineÖ. All the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. All wars will stop, and military training will come to an end. Everyone will live quietly in their own homes in peace and prosperity, for there will be nothing to fear.”

Reading: Caren Goldman, Journal Entries
Adapted from Healing Words by Caren Goldman
© Caren Goldman Used with permission.

On the eve of Christmas day, 1914, in the midst of World War 1, Sir Edward Hulse, a twenty-five-year-old lieutenant, journaled about a strange occurrence:

“A scout named F. Marker went out and met a German Patrol and was given a glass of whiskey and some cigars, and a message was sent back, saying the “if we didn’t fire at them they would not fire at us.” That night the fighting suddenly just stopped. The following morning, German soldiers walked toward the British lines while the British came out to greet their enemy. They exchanged souvenirs with each other and the British gave the German soldiers plum pudding as a Christmas greeting. Soon arrangements were made to bury the dead British soldiers whose bodies were lying in no man’s land. The Germans brought the bodies over and prayers were exchanged.”

Another British soldier, Second Lieutenant Dougan Chater, also wrote about that Christmas in the trenches, when two Germans got out of their and headed toward his:

“We were just going to fire on them when we saw that they had no rifles so one of our men went out to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas. This continued for nearly an hour before their superiors ordered the men back.”

Carol: Silent Night
Verse 1, in the original German, solo
All: Verses 1-3

Reading: A Peaceful Christmas
© Julie Webb, 2003

Or the peaceful Christmas–you have to plan for peace you know. It doesn’t just happen. Sometimes you have to drop the bottom four things off your “to do” list. A friend of mine plans Christmas day to be a special one dedicated to sitting quietly and reading a wonderful book in mostly silence. Peace. What if planning a peaceful Christmas meant nothing more than the promise to your inner self that you would go on a solitary walk. What if this kind of Christmas became light which created Epiphany, and more peace in your sphere? What if this peace moved outward in your life? Wouldn’t that be the birth of something new?

Carol Response: Down to Earth as a Dove

Joy

Joy is a song that welcomes the dawn.” Brian Wren

Reading from Isaiah 9, adapted

No story has grasped the imaginations of the world’s most creative minds, crafters of words, painters of beauty, those who write music that stirs our souls and lifts us, no story like this story. And while Isaiah’s words may, indeed, sing themselves off the page, there is not a child born for whom these words should not be sung. When hope dries up in our tired hearts, we have but to look at life urging itself forth again, and give thanks.

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light-a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow. Israel will again be great, and its people will rejoice as people rejoice at harvesttime. They will shout with joy like warriors dividing the plunder. For the chains that bind the people will be broken, as too, the whip that scourges them. In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned.

“For a child is born to us, an infant is given to us. And the government will rest on its shoulders. And the child shall be called by these royal titles: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. An ever expanding, peaceful government will be established and never end for the child will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of its ancestors. The passionate commitment of the Divine guarantees this!”

Reading: Joy shall come
Traditional Israeli song

Joy shall come
even to the wilderness,
and the parched land
shall then know great gladness;
as the rose,
as the rose shall deserts blossom,
deserts like a garden blossom.
For living springs shall give cool water,
in the desert streams shall flow;
for living springs shall give cool water,
in the desert streams shall flow.”

Choir: Song of Joy
Reading: A Joyful Christmas
© Julie Webb, 2003

Perhaps the Christmas for you is one coloured by Joy. This is not happiness, the good but fleeting emotion. Joy is a state of luminous being where we discern ourselves in the midst of fun. To be joyful is to reach back in time to what was the best, the most interesting, the most alive we remember feeling and choosing to be this for Christmas.

This is like the lady in the nursing home, who when questioned her age said, “why we’re both 12 I think”. What if we could all be 12 together or 7or 5 and see the beauty of that child of light within us? What if we made Christmas to be about that for our lives? Finding our inner joy, and seeing that in those around us. Would that idea catch fire for you?

Carol Response: O How Joyfully

Love

“And now these three remain, faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love.”

Reading from Isaiah 61, adapted

The prophet Isaiah puts words to the days of God’s reign-issuing justice and love to the world’s marginalized, trading beauty for ashes. He puts words in God’s mouth to which his, and our, only response can be one of delight, of joy, of love.

Isaiah begins with brave and well-known words:
“The Spirit of the Peace, of Justice and Compassion, that Spirit is upon me, because I have been appointed me to bring good news to the poor. I have been sent me to comfort the broken-hearted and to announce that captives will be released and prisoners will be freedÖ to tell those who mourn that the time of the God’s favour has come. All who mourn in Israel will be given beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of despair. For they have been planted like strong and graceful oaks for the glory of the Divine.

God speaks through the prophet Isaiah:
“For I love justice. I hate robbery and wrongdoing. I will faithfully reward my people for their suffering and make an everlasting covenant with them. Their descendants will be known and honoured among the nations. They will live as people blessed.”

And Isaiah responds:
I am overwhelmed with joy in my God! For I have been dressed with the clothing of salvation and draped in a robe of righteousness. I am like a bridegroom in his wedding suit or a bride with her jewels. God’s justice will be shown to the nations of the world. Everyone will praise God whose righteousness will be like a garden in early spring, filled with young plants springing up everywhere.

Reading: Michael Joncas, O Ancient Love
© GIA Publications. Used with permission

O ancient love,
processing through the ages;
O hidden love,
revealed in human form;
O promised love,
the dream of seers and sages:
O living Love,
within our hearts be born.

O homeless love,
that dwells among the stranger;
O lowly love,
that knows the mighty’s scorn;
O hungry love,
that lay within a manger:
O living Love,
within our hearts be born.

O gentle love,
caressing those in sorrow;
O tender love,
that comforts those forlorn;
O hopeful love,
that promises tomorrow:
O living Love,
within our hearts be born.

O suffering love,
that bears our human weakness;
O boundless love,
that rises with the morn;
O mighty love,
concealed in infant meekness:
O living Love,
within our hearts be born,
O living Love,
within our hearts be borne.

Carol (Solo): Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Reading: A Christmas of Love
© Julie Webb, 2003

And finally the Christmas of Love. Could that be our destination?

What if we spent a good part of one day filling our chest cavity with a vision of love at every deep breath? What if the 25th was spent sending light and love outward to unsuspecting people. People we lived with daily. They might not guess we were doing it. Or people we thought about that day. What if we consciously directed what we know of God toward them? What if we did nothing more than nurture our sacred flame in the remembrance of a single soul lit in Bethlehem so long ago? Would Christmas be big enough to hold such a thing, or would it spill out into 12 days, or ordinary days, or 365 days?

Carol: He is Born

Topics: Action, Clergy/Ministry, Preaching/Teaching, Reference, and Worship & Liturgy. 8 Points: Point 5: Non-Dogmatic Searchers. Seasons & Special Events: Christmas. Resource Types: Read and Sermons.

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