Sunday, December 14, 2008

Proclaiming Immanuel

I was 8. This year the Sunday School Christmas Pageant was going to be a no-fuss event. All us kids were going to stand up in a line each of us having memorized one verse from the Christmas story in Luke.

And when they had seen it, they made known ab
road the saying which was told them concerning this child.

That was my line.
I was disappointed!

My best friend, the pastor’s daughter, got to say the most phenomenal line in the history of the World: “And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

and I was stuck with the most wooden and clunky line in the whole narrative:

17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

From song to prose

From angel armies to a band of dirty shepherd

From the heraldic singing of Glory to God in the Highest

To throaty midnight shouts.

From celestial glory to a mundane excitement.

From divine revelation to human proclamation

This time when I read this story though I was particularly struck by the line about the Shepherds making know abroad the saying which was told to them concerning this child (even though I still think it sounds a bit clunky)

The passage nails a central movement in the Shepherds experience and reception of that very first Christmas—their comings and goings. If you will, their transition from: “O, Come Let us Adore Him” to “Go, tell it on the Mountains.”

From seeing to recounting.

From adulation to proclamation!

Today, I want to stress this movement towards proclamation.

I imagine the pounding of feet, heavy breathing, running, running and walking and running again…breathlessly… through the deep darkness and night air.

Did the night suddenly seem brighter after seeing the angels? Or did the darkness (which earlier their eyes had been accustomed to) suddenly seem umbearable?

I imagine that the dark was suddenly stark.

Yet, the shepherds believed that the world was turning….And with burning lungs and sweating brows they went out into the fields, and taverns, and inns, and byways, and hovels, and houses to proclaim this revolution.

What did they shout? I am not totally sure. I suppose that the messiah was here.

I am certain that they were greeted with looks of incredulity. Perhaps, some angry that they had been waken from a sound sleep. Some eyeing the shepherd suspiciously looking for signs of drunkenness or prankishness or madness. A few, perhaps, curious.

I suppose I have Christina Rosetti’s in the Bleak Midwinter in my mind when I imagine the scene.

frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron

water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

Because I imagine the shepherd running on ground hardened by frost their labored breaths visible in the night air….

Of course the snow and ice doesn’t fit in a historical or geographical sense but they certainly do express a metaphorical truth about the harshness of the world into which this baby had entered frail and vulnerable as all babies are. Snow on snow… A kind of cold and bitter poverty, Shepherds (as the NRSV puts it) living in the fields, life filled with the capriciousness of imperial edicts, the strange unkindness and inhospitality of strangers, The massacre of the innocents, the displacement of people from their homes and kindred…

This world is familiar to us particularly after 20 centuries of stony sleep.

Indeed, it is pretty much a Christmas tradition to remark that there is no peace on earth. No good will towards humankind. To say that the world has turned at Christmas seems to deny its revolutions of 2000 plus years. The turning and turning and turning of a weary world. the turning and turning into a widening gyre.

And whether we think that the world is much the same as it has always been or that it is something altogether new, something falling apart…

there still seems to be little room for the

Kind of proclamation that is so central to the Christmas story: Joy to the world the savior reigns! Joy. Jesus reigns.

Spoken eloquently in

Mary’s revolutionary proclamation:

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
This is proclamation in its full sense of a public and formal announcement of the accession of a monarch;

Proclamation is at the very heart of Christmas story.

And it has been from the very first, or even before the very first. From the time of the prophet Isaiah, and his words to weary mortals, from a weary God. “The Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, a virgin, a young woman, an almah or parthenos, is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”

But what is the place of proclamation in our celebration of Christmas? How do we proclaim this ascendency of a new king? How do we go and tell about a world that is about to turn? And what does it mean to our proclamation that everywhere we look there seems to be things that deny the Lordship of Bethlehem’s Baby.

How do we proclaim? And What? And to whom?

What is this Christmas proclamation. Part of it is hope. Not optimism that things are going to go our way, not a confidence in our abilities or in our connections, not what is often disparaged as false hope, a pie in the sky, the hope that is just a kind of a pain killer that takes the harsh edges off of our collective despair and frustration…. But a restless hope. A striving hope… A moving hope. The kind of hope that does not explain away present injustices but instead renders them unbearable. I think that this is the inner meaning of so much Christmastime talk about the lack of peace on earth. Christmas proclamation is a thorn in the flesh of the unconsummated Christmas promise.
The promise that in his name all oppression shall cease, the promise that thorns will no longer oppress the ground, that the slave is our kin, that the Saviour reigns.
But, The Christmas proclamation is not just a promise that the Saviour will reign but the affirmation that the saviour does reign.

At Christimas we must proclaim not only the coming of.

but the actual arrival of the revolution

The future is here and now. In Toronto. On Yonge Street and in TUMC///

This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’



This baby wrapped in Swadling clothes is a Sign unto us.

A sign of hope.

A promise.

But, this sign is more than just a sign.

It is the real, historical, physical presence of God with humanity.

Jesus Christ is not just a sign that God will be with us.

But that gOD IS with us.

This is revolutionary. This is evidence that the world has turned. Already. And what should we expect … but that there are signs of the kingdom everywhere we look. Some as small as a mustard seed; others, a marvel to our eyes:


So how do we proclaim this revolution which is Immanuel--God with us.

What does proclamation have to do with our Christmases that will contain Carols, and presents and feast, candles, times with family and friends, fires. Perhaps, a snowball fight or a snow man… times of reflections. Times to come and adore Bethlehem’s baby.

How does proclamation fit into our Christmas celebration?

How would our Christmas celebrations change if we began to think of them as proclamations? How would our Christmas celebrations change if we began to think of them as signs?

As proclamations of God’s coming kingdom, of signs that surely, God is with us… all of us.

How would that change how we understood “us”? Who it includes and who it doesn’t?

Would this change the tone with which we said: “Merry Christmas.”

Would it change the manner of our invitations to Christmas merriment…. and who was invited to them?

Would it change what gifts we bought? wOULD it change who we buy them for?

And this shall be a sign unto you. Immanuel!

Would our New Year’s reflection change? What if we asked ourselves the question; “How can I live in the new year in such a way that my life is a sign of God’s kingdom? How can I live in the New Year in such a way that it proclaims Immanuel?

Truth be told, however, it is not just the God and the mortals of Isaiah 7 who are weary. The world itself seems weary. And one of the things with which the world seems long weary, is the proclamation that Jesus is supreme. We’ve been there and done that, and it wasn’t necessarily so good. Beginning in the fourth century, so the story goes, the entire world as then known to Europeans was ruled in Jesus name. Do we really want to belt out to the world “receive your king!”?

We live in a world, and among a host of Christians, who rightly doubt the wisdom of such a proclamation. But then there are these texts, these pesky Biblical texts around which we’ve ordered our convictions on peace and justice, grace and mercy, salvation as liberation . Those same texts unswervingly announce the reign of God in Jesus as being for every tongue, tribe, and nation.

So what happens? What now?

There are a number of possible responses to these trying questions:

Maybe a neo-conservative, neo-constantinian insistence on universal freedom of religion… that the US army is glad to back.

Another possible response, They got it all wrong, Jesus reigns like a baby or a man on the cross, humble, weak, extraordinarily vulnerable.

Or perhaps what we might call the default position of progressive, urban Mennonites. Pluralism is a non-violent gospel value, we’d rather deemphasize the proclamatory, universal, missionary impulse of Christianity. Jesus reigns, yes.

In a sense

In our hearts. In some as of yet undefined future. As a universal possibility but not necessity.

DRAMATIC PAUSE – as long as you can stand it

Oh Holy Night, was perhaps, one of the more controversial Christmas songs when it was first written, The author was known in his small community in France for being anti-slavery and a socialist. The song was banned for a time. Because of the reputation of the author its verses were read with the suspicion that it contained an insidious, revolutionary message. Eventually the song came to the US and was translated by a radical abolitionist and soon became a favourite amongst American socialists and communitarians. Can the singing of Christmas songs be proclamations! I guess it all depends on who is writing them and singing them. For this is the salvific message of Oh Holy Night:

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord, O praise His name forever!


Let us live our lives in the New Year in such a way that our Christmas singing makes worldly power and petty potentates uneasy.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sermon, TUMC, July something.

So, I am suppose to be thinking about “Christ’s defeat of the Powers” but other things are more sharply in focus: Doug, and the kids and I are just about to leave our neighborhood and get onto the Gardiner expressway…. On the on-ramp a young man sits. He is holding a tattered and wet cardboard sign…. I jump out of the van to hand him a bag of pretzels and some juice boxes—he jumps—“you scared me” “you almost gave me a heart attack” and although he is young—younger than Doug and I, I believe him. I notice first his mouth of broken teeth and a second later, when he mentions it—his missing finger. It is “healed” but from the looks of it only very recently and clearly not with consistent medical attention… it has healed twisted and gnarled The cars behind us honk—once again causing him to jump—and I return to our car and we proceed to the Gardiner.

There is another man whom we see with great frequency wandering around Parkdale. No shirt, his pants tied up with a piece of rope, his hair and beard long and brown. Very dirty He is also, not much older than I. I noticed him first at our milk store. He came in and stole a can of hash. The shopkeeper “yelled at him” “No! No! Don’t steal from my store! I told you before! and then his voice softens a bit “just ask.” I see him tonight banging his back against the white brick wall of the milk store looking precisely as I have always imagined the demoniac that Jesus meets in the tombs.

The kids and I often go on street walks with Doug for Lazarus Rising. On the whole we see very many hopeful things. Camaraderie, and teasing, hopefulness, and even at time a real reciprocity of care—like the very cold night that I offered a women a pair of nice donated gloves from my backpack and she suggested that I should wear them instead—my gloves looking to her to be inadequate for the bitter night.

Yet, there are times, and particularly for me around Parkdale, where we see people in palpable bondage.

At these times I do not know what to do with the triumphal language of Colossians—that Jesus Christ disarmed the powers and made public examples of them triumphing over them on the cross.

Better for such times are the words of Paul in Romans that all creation is groaning, crying out for its coming redemption. Such language of waiting, and longing, and present disappointment makes better sense of people with broken teeth stranded without love..

Indeed, much of the New Testament speaks of a Christ who wins the war only after losing every battle… Of a church who still has many strategic losses to suffer. ….In other places Paul speaks of victory behind and before, but in the now, in the current moment, the fragility of goodness is all too clear.

But, in our text today we get only a hint of present strife in Paul’s enigmatic statement that he is going to complete the sufferings of Christ in his own body.

Most of the text today is quite triumphant.

Jesus Christ is….

Before all things

Sustains all things

The first fruits of creation

All things come to fruition in him,

In all thing he is preeminent

And he is above all power and all authority.

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his beloved son!

Indeed, he has not only defeated the powers—he has flouted them, he has made a public spectacle of them. Public Spectacle. My mind returns to the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes or of the elaborate victory parades of ancient empires. Where the leading citizens of the losing nations are paraded before the crowds of “victors’ so that they can be laughed at, scorned, spit upon, and mocked.

Paul claims in our text for today that what had looked like Jesus’ public flogging, mockery and death had not served to show the fragility of Jesus, his nakedness, or his mortality…. Instead it had shown the nakedness, and fragility, and mortality of the power…. Jesus disarmed the powers and made a public mockery of them, triumphing over them on the cross. The torture chamber became an arch of triumph.

Paul’s text in Colossians is a source for one of the oldest bits of theological reflection on the meaning of the cross. This way of telling the meaning of the cross, or atonement, has been given the short hand of the Christus Victor model. One of the more famous examples of this way of telling the story of the atonment is found in C.S. Lewis’ familiar children story, “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” In Lewis’s telling the white witch has legitimate authority over all law breakers. She has a completely justified claim over young Edmund’s life. When Aslan agrees to take his place. To take responsibility for Edmund crimes and to die in his place, the witch can’t believe her luck…. But, it is a trap. Aslan tricks the witch. She has no legitimate authority over someone that is blameless and because she has overstepped her authority she loses her rightful proprietary claim over the sinner.

The witch thus pays dearly for overstepping her legitimate realm of power and authority.

John Howard Yoder in the Politics of Jesus also employs a Christus Victor model of the atonement. However, it is much simpler and perhaps more profound than Lewis’. For Yoder the powers include the state, politics, class, national interest, accepted morality, democracy, decency, place of clan or tribe, respect for ancestors and family, the justice system, race, ideology, and morality.

These power were created good in order to preserve and order our lives together on this earth. However, these Powers are fallen. They are fallen, they are personal, and they have arrogated themselves. While the egotism of the Powers is constituted in part by all the “little egotist” which belong to these Powers—be they states, or families, or religion—the depravity of the Powers is much more than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the powers include many things like morality, nationalism, racism and ideology that have no centre and take no members. The powers have claimed for themselves an absoluteness that does not rightly belong to them.

. Instead, Jesus lived a life that was politically (and soteriologically) powerful insofar as He completely rejected the Powers claims to sovereignty. Yoder’s theory of atonement, then, is a form of the Christus Victor argument. Jesus (just like in Lewis’ story) traps the Powers into publicly overstepping their rightful legitimacy.

The Lord of the world---who was before all things, by whom all things were made, in whom all thing have their end and their meaning has entered into the world. And he makes a public spectacle of the Powers’ self-arrogation and claims of ultimate sovereignty.

Religious leadership forsakes the holiness of their Sabbath and the Romans forsake law and justice, in order to combat a lordship that they cannot possess. Jesus is killed by the powers that have claimed for themselves an ultimacy not rightly theirs … and through the resurrection they are trapped into revealing the real truth… They are NOT sovereign. Do we still live as if they are?

Colossians 2 takes its audience to task. They have crossed a divide, but are still living as if they are on the other side. The rulers and authorities of this world have been shown to be farces. Yet some in the church are still tarrying at the crossroads. With Christ we have been made dead to the elementary spirits of this world, yet we still so often live as if we belong to the world. Just as with Jesus himself, the call to live as if we do not belong to the world is not a call for withdrawal or disengagement. It is rather a call to be fully engaged; to live today boldly because death has been conquered. We have been raised with Jesus and should live in such a way that the principalities and powers of our age find themselves unmasked, embarrassed, and mocked.

So I am walking down Bay street to King street with Doug and another volunteer and I suddenly a vision overcomes me. I look to the stock exchange, and the RBC and CIBC and for a moment these building with all their power and pomp seem mightily belittled by the men and women sleeping on the grates beneath them…

It is a scandal. A public embarrassment. Made all the more shocking because these bank buildings are as temporal and finite and effervescent as all the moneyed transaction that buzz along inside them. Someday those buildings are going to fall to dust and yet those people homeless on those grates are eternal. The pinnacle of God’s creation. Theirs is the kingdom of God. And when everything shakeable has been shaken and everything finite falls away they will remain.

And then this vision is lost, gone as fast as it has come and I begin to think about a cup of coffee and the movie Doug and I are planning to see… and suddenly the buildings before me seem immense and solid and the people below them frail and failing.

God came into the world and none of the rulers of this world recognized him….

And all around us are broken images of God; are we able to recognize them!?

See to it that no on takes you captive through the philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ…. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

Our text speaks about the need to have one’s thinking fundamentally reordered to be “renewed in knowledge according to the image of the creator” He is calling on the community in Colosse to be the kind of place where that renewal can occur. The sort of place that is rooted and established in such a way that a fundamental reordering of one’s thinking can occur. This reordering of thinking would lead us to be able to recognize the image of God when we see it? And to recognize idols when we see them? It is the fundamental reordering of thought that could sustain the vision that I held for just a moment on King street into the activity of one’s life. To begin the process of allowing those thing which are finite to be shaken and to allow those things which are eternal to remain. So that when Christ who is our life is revealed, we will be able to recognize him and ourselves in him…. Because we have made a day-to-day practice of deep, costly love for the images of God that surround us.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Gifts of Community

Tonight Ben and Angela went on a date and I put Jacob to bed. I don't know if it is just are Western obsession with cleanliness, but there is just something new. . . lovely. . .magical about a immediately-post-bath-tot. Watching lashes flutter, his wiggles subside, his breaths deepened and sleep overcome him made me very cognizant of the deep love that I have for him. I felt a similar warm love for Yana, seeing her yesterday and remembering feeding her late at night through the tube in her nose. I deeply cherish that I was there to hear Jacob's borning cry and those times of late night anxiety with Yana. Being able to share in the treasuring of these little ones, in the wonder of their natality, in the goodness of their curiosity and strivings is a profound gift. I am left with a deep sense of the kind of communitas which suffers children, disrupts the monopoly of kin altruism, and shares deeply. Of course if that little rapscallion wakes up before Angela and Ben come up and disturb my moments of contemplation on community I am going to be really annoyed. But, also very glad that I recorded this joy for my later memory.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Today I have been overwhelmed by contingency. Nothing really has to be as it is. For this reason beauty is all the more devastating and mysterious. Why did Jesus die? Why are crocuses the first flowers of Spring? There is a way of explaining everything so that it is what had to be, what is natural, in accordance with universal reason, one big divine plan..

Yet, what we celebrate when we worship a God who made everything out of nothing is that "what is" didn't have to be and for this reason everything, which is good and true and beautiful, must be accepted as gift.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Lenten Reflection Questions from the Junia House

1. Am I learning to become more and more selfless? Am I constantly
seeking to put the needs of others (my spouse, family, friends, church members,)
before my own?

2.Am I fully engaged in relationship with the person I am talking with right now?

3. Am I Jealous? Do I spend and inordinate amount of time comparing
my gifts with those of others. Do I fail to praise God for other' s
gifts? Do I belittle the gifts of others or exult in their failures.

4. In my thoughts and words, am I (or are we) overly critical of my housemates, my spouse, myself, or
others around me or am I guided by a spirit of charity, grace, and encouragement?

5. Am I fighting for joy? Am I seeking to find fulfillment in life by
serving Christ alone and not in the hopeless idols of the culture I
live in?

6.Have I been the presence of Christ or seen the presence of Christ today?

7. Am I praying for those whom I find hard to love? Am I praying for
those who seek to thwart the ministry of Jesus Christ both in my immediate
setting and around the world?

8. Have I lost hope for my enemies? Do I think conversing with such
people will do no good? Have I lost sight of the ministry of reconciliation?
Do I consider some people undeserving of God's gracious patience and forebearance? Do I pray for my enemies?

9. Am I pursuing holiness? Am I striving to keep my thoughts and mind pure at all times?

10. Do I covet? Do I spend and inordinate amount of time comparing my possessions to others? Do I find myself feeling
inadequate because I don't own nice enough stuff. Am I spending an undo amount of time planning how I might aquire
more things.

11. Do I take inordinate satisfaction in saying the right thing? Do I fail even to imagine how to transform
my words into actions?

12. Is my heart filled with fear? Or, do I live fully in confidence as a child of God? Do I acknowledge in my lived
practices that nothing, no, nothing can seperate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

13. Do I/we pray sufficiently?

14. Am I remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy?

15. Are we pursuing justice with our purchasing power?

16. How have I stewarded God's creation today?

17. Are we as a community displaying the marks of the
New Monasticism?
1. Inhabiting the abandoned places of this world
2. Sharing economic resources
3. Hospitality
4. Lamenting racism and pursuing just
5. Submission to the local church
6. Intentional formation along lines of old
7. Nurturing our common life
8. Supporting celibate singleness along with
married couples and their children
9. Geographically proximate to members who share a
common life
10. Caring for our plot of earth and nurturing
local economies
11. Peacemaking
12. Disciplined contemplative life

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Community Update:

Angela is at work trying to get a community garden set up.

Ben has started a part time job at Parkdale Neighborhood Church, has started a games night there, is supporting the drop-in, and is doing daytime childcare.

Doug continues his work at Sanctuary. He recently preached an amazing sermon at Toronto United Mennonite Church (TUMC).

Jodie has joined the Christian Education Committee at TUMC.

Steve continues doing outreach walks with Sanctuary and recently gave a talk at Rouge Valley Mennonite Church on his experiences while homeless. Next month he will lead a two weeks series on the same subject at TUMC.

The Junia house and Parkdale Neighborhood church has recently written a letter of interest to a foundation in order to have Steve lead more street walks in Parkdale.

Johanna and Simeon are having a birthday party the 10th of February.

Jacob is not only walking but running and dancing.

Charlie: killed a mouse and left it for Jo and Sim to eat.

Holly: has become Jacob's best friend and occassional step stool.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Day

A sled, hamburgers, cookies baked in an outside oven, a beskated toddler pushing a folding chair 'round a skating rink, a street car ticket dropped and then swept away by a passing car, chai tea, John Wesley, David Hume, pee drenched snowpants, the crunch of the season's first snow, success as a TA, my dog's self satisfied winter trot.... all marks of a long lovely day.