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Archive for December, 2011

Matthew 1:18-24

Way In

Christmas spending

In America

National Retail Federation

Expects sales in November and December to rise 3.8% to a record $469.1 billion

Last year spending went up 5.2% during the holiday season, putting both years above the 2.6% average increase over the past 10 years.

And that’s just in the US

We’re probably the highest

But we’re not the only country spending money at Christmas

I guess there are folks out there working hard to “keep Christ in Christmas”

But somebody sure is spending a lot of money

After all, Christmas is …

Christmas is…December 25 is …what?

Matthew’s gospel says that King Herod the Great died right after the birth of Christ

Herod the Great died in 4BC, right after he ordered the “slaughter of the innocents.” That is to say, all of the 2-year-old boys, because he was after the King of the Jews

So we can say, in the context of historical reference that Jesus Christ was born between the 6th and 4th years BC.

But the church didn’t celebrate the Nativity of Christ for another 300 years

Hippolytus of Rome (170-235 AD)

Without going into all of his studies and theories

Known for producing a chronicle of the world

Set the birth of Christ on December 25

Saturnalia

Ancient Roman festival honoring the god, Saturn

Agricultural god over the Golden Age

When people enjoyed and shared the earth’s bounty

Without labor, sort of an egalitarian utopia

Celebrations of the feast reflected that age

Well-established festival by C. 2nd AD

Festivities took place from December 17

As the days shortened, to the shortest day of the year (solstice) – there was great celebration after that, when the days began to get longer

This was the celebration of the victory of day over night

The festival:

great feasts, even masters provided feasts for their servants

Time off from work

Lots of candles to celebrate light

As the Roman Empire became increasingly Christian (official religion under Emperor Constantine in C. 4 a.d.) …

the chronicles of the church placing Jesus’ birth in December coincided with and were influenced by the festival of Saturnalia

and the celebrations of Christmastide – Advent, Nativity, Epiphany – emerged

fast-forward to the 20th century

time doesn’t permit a full exposition of the history of Santa Claus

But I will suggest to you a evolving image through the syncretism of

The benevolent St. Nicholas

The poetry of The Night Before Christmas

And commercial development of the persona in Coca Cola ads

Brings us the “jolly old elf” we see everywhere today

Even kneeling at the manger in many crèches

Don’t get me started on that…

So now is the season – a full realization of the syncretism of church and culture

The birth of Jesus, the visit of Santa Claus, and Americans spending over $400 bil.

Despite the commercial excess of spending and promotion

Messiah – God among us – changes everything

The God of all creation has come among us

Jesus Christ, the Light of the World has shown us how to live

Full of grace and truth

To bring about the Kingdom of God

Prophesied by Isaiah

Mary exalted in the Magnificat

Jesus preached, his first sermon at Nazareth

Tell The Story

Read gospel again

See for yourself how this challenges cultural norms, Mary and Joseph’s relationship – which is, in the end, strengthened

How the birth of Jesus changes everything

So What?

Moving from cynicism about the commercialization of Christmas

Remembering what is true about the coming of Messiah

Hear these words from Fr. Daniel Berrigan

Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, by Daniel Berrigan, S.J. Orbis Books, 2004.

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—
This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction—
This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—
This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—
This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—
This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—
This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.

So let it be with us.  Amen.

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<letter sent to the congregation in November>

Dear Friends,

I am writing you with some news I prefer to deliver in person.  Since that’s not possible, this letter will have to do. After much discernment, I have decided not to renew the Stated Supply agreement for another year.  I want you to know that I love the people of the Yellow Springs church and in the community.  You have been very good to me and my family.  You are kind and good people with a terrific sense of humor.  You are committed to living out God’s love in the community, always looking for ways the church can connect.

The match here between the congregation and pastor is a good one.  Our view of life and the work of the church are compatible and I have enjoyed being around you at church, in your homes and in the community.  A pastor is fortunate to enjoy such a good relationship with their church.

My decision has to do with distance.  The drive I make three days a week from Piqua to Yellow Springs is about 92 miles round trip.  The work here is good but the time and distance make for a difficult part-time arrangement.  I feel rooted neither in Piqua nor Yellow Springs.  I was surely aware of these challenges when I accepted your call, and I believe we gave it our best efforts this year.

During my time of discernment, I received a call from the director of the YMCA in Piqua.  I had not applied for the job, but the Director said my name came up in their search for a Director for the Youth Center.  I have accepted this position to begin working full-time in January.  This is a good opportunity that permits my family to remain in Piqua and, for the first time in our marriage, to worship together and be rooted in the same church and community.  I will be involved in some teaching and possibly preaching on occasion at the Westminster Presbyterian Church in Piqua but not engaged in full-time parish ministry.

The Session has already begun the process of securing temporary pastoral leadership following my departure.  This leadership in the near term will permit the Session to engage in the search for a longer term pastoral relationship.

In closing, I want to thank you for your friendship, and for welcoming my pastoral ministry among you.  I treasure the year we spent together and I will never forget you.  I am sorry we will not have more time together, but this church will carry on.  As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I thank God every time I remember you.  In my prayers for all of you, I pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now; being confident of this, that the One who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Please keep me in your prayers, as you will be in mine.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Joe

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