Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve is always a favorite time in the church. Our service started at 5pm. The Advent Wreath was ready for the lighting of the Christ candle. Families were sitting together; some, like ours, taking a whole pew. The sanctuary at Bethel was full of people. Even the balcony was full. On Sunday mornings there are a few in the balcony, but on Christmas Eve the balcony was filled with people.

Children were allowed to stay in the sanctuary as we sang through almost all the carols at least one verse. The Organist let go after waiting through Advent to open up that grand organ. It was magnificent.

A Dad and his daughter did their usual Christmas Eve duet- Do You Hear What I Hear? A soloist, a voice teacher in her own right, professor, stood at the piano and gave us "O Holy Night". Unbelievably beautiful.

I waited my turn to preach as my two associates read scripture and led worship. Then, I got up to read Luke 2. I don't know why, but I was moved. I'm always moved by Luke 2 and its beauty, but this time I nearly broke down. I had to work hard not to lose it. Emotion is fine, but I had to preach even if it was a short sermon.

I told about a boy who was playing a "magi" in the church play. The church was packed. The choir sang and narrators read. Then, the moment came for the boy's one line. For the life of him, he couldn't remember that line. After a moment, the boy next to him showed him the line. He tried to say the line but he couldn't get it out.

If he said it now, everyone would know he had messed up. So, standing there for what seemed like thirty minutes (really only one minute probably), he let the moment pass. The choir started up; he lived through it.

I said: "Slip in among those other boys and girls at the nativity. Forget all your lines; forget what you planned to say. Say nothing. Before such beauty, such wonder, there really is nothing more to say."

In the next moment, the sanctuary lights went out and the candles came up. And, we sang: "Silent Night; Holy Night". Then, we belted out: "Joy to the World", and went out into the night. It was cold and rainy. I looked to see if my "homeless" buddy was there; he was there last year. As I came out the door, he was there last year. But not this time. I walked to my car grateful to be just a small part of such a tremendous story, the story.

Merry Christmas,
Dave Nichols

Monday, December 1, 2008

Something is Being Born

The first Sunday in Advent, November 30th, I preached from the lectionary, Mark 13. Mark is the first Gospel; almost all credible scholars say that. It is also the shortest, and the most terse of the three synoptic Gospels. Being the first it was written toward the end of the first century, around 90 AD. So, it is the closest to the time 70 AD when, in fact, the world did end for the Jews and Christians of Jerusalem.

It is also the Gospel that comes closest to being written after King Nero's idiocy. Remember that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

So, we know that Mark was written to the church during a time of intense presecution for its faith. In Mark, we have this mixture of end-time symbols and images, alongside the stuff that was happening to the church in its present life.

Mark 13 is called the "Little Apocalypse". Apocolyptic Literature is literature like that of the Book of Revelation. It uses symbols and dreams and visions to convey the drama of God's great war with evil. And, it is always meant to be a word of encouragement for the people to whom it is written.

It is saying: "You must endure tribulations, suffering, but it will not last forever; the time of crisis will pass and in God's good time, God will overcome. Good will overcome evil. And, when it's all said and done, the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign forever and ever. Amen."

We, unlike the early Christians, are not being persecuted for our faith, at least not directly, although we do live in a time when our culture not only questions the things of faith but seems to reward cynicism. We are most always living in a time of crisis, economic, or otherwise.

Hear this as a word of encouragement. Jesus says: "Endure. Wait. Watch. For you do not know the time when all these things will occur. Wake up, for you do not want to miss it when it happens. All these things which are happening are just the beginning of the birth pains."

Something is being born. Get ready, not just for Christmas, but get ready to meet God.
See you in Church
Dave Nichols

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