Dec 142014
 

I am still under the weather.  I am also trying a new format for this posting, to include the songs and centering prayers I would normally do on line.  They are included as Youtube url’s.  Just open them to enjoy.  God Bless

 

WELCOME

 

“No matter who you are,

or where you are on life’s journey,

you are welcome here.”

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PARDON AND ASSURANCE:

 

“As God so loved the world”…is a very inclusive statement.  It is compassion in totality, a complete love for all life, in all its diversity.  So, who are we to judge what God does not judge?  Who are we to condemn what God loves?  Who are we to discriminate against whom God includes?  Forgive as God forgives, completely, both for those who may have hurt you, but also yourself for the pain you have caused others.  After all, God has already done so.

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CENTERING PRAYER:

 

Since the theme for this Sunday of Advent is one of Joy, this particular youtube seems to say it all.  It starts with the simple act of a child, and one musical voice, and from that comes a groundswell of Joy.  We should all remember that.  It doesn’t take much to generate hope, joy and love.  It just takes the determination to try.

 

“Ode to Joy” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=87qT5BOl2XU)

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SCRIPTURE:  John 1:6-8, 19-28

 

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. John came for testimony,

to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him.  John was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?”

John confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.”

“And they asked, “What then? Are you Elijah?”

John said, “I am not.”

“Are you the prophet?” And he answered, “No.”

They said then, “Who are you?  Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Sovereign, as the prophet Isaiah said.”

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked John, “Then why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?”

John answered them, “I baptize with water; but among you stands one whom you do not know, even the one who comes after me,  the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” This took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

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ANTHEM:  “Where are you Christmas?” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nmGSHZYZ74c)

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SERMON:   Joy

 

Much is made at this time about Christmas.  You see it everywhere, especially right after Halloween, and in some cases, if the stores’ profits have been low, right after Labor Day.  Up go the decoration, out go the products, and suddenly the television is packed with all sorts of commercials to buy this and buy that.  The latest “must have” gismos and products hitting the market fills the shelves and the advertising goes crazy to draw people into the stores to part with their hard earned money.  Why?

 

What is all this about?  And even more so, is this what Christmas is really all about? After all, what is Christmas?  Makes me think of poor Charlie Brown asking his own questions.

 

It would seem that to the commercial sector, it’s all about profit.  They call the day after Thanksgiving Black Friday because this is when stores finally start to see a profit after operating in the Red all year.  But is this Christmas?  Personally, I think it’s greed, especially when you see the behavior of people as they rush into stores to buy that newest and on sale cheapest gift, trampling over people, pushing, shoving, clawing, pepper-spraying others…and for what?  And now, stores don’t even wait for Black Friday.  They want you to give up Thanksgiving and show up then also.

 

Is it the obligation that just because somebody bought you a present last year, one you might even have re-gifted, you need to buy them something this year, which they might even re-gift also?  Or the presents for the children that we deprive them of all year, only to go broke buying it all at Christmas?

 

Is Christmas just about commercialism and buying and selling?  Or is there something more we are missing?  What is Christmas really about?

 

When I was a child, Christmas was about the presents, but it was something much more.

It was about family, and it was about giving from the heart, often gifts that money can’t buy.  It was about the goodness of giving ourselves.  As I got older, the gifts no longer seemed to matter as much.  It was about family, and the spirit of love, and peace and hope.  But even this was taken away from me when I was 30, when my ex and I broke up.

This was when my “family” came to the fearful realization that I might start showing up at family gatherings as a woman.  They never asked me not to, or expressed their personal reservations.  They just assumed the worst for them, and ended up shutting me out of Christmas.  It wasn’t the presents.  It was no longer even about family.

 

I know how hard this season can be to those of us who are transgendered.  Many of us have lost families because of who and what we are.  We feel alone at this time of year, wondering “where is Christmas” for us.  We miss the family gatherings, the feasts and presents.  We miss the laughter and joy, the singing and the decorations.  We miss the love, and feel it has been taken away from us.  But as a community, we are not alone, for there are others like us, also searching for Christmas again, for the real meaning of Christmas in our hearts.

 

That is when I realized what Christmas Really was about.  When you have love, or what you thought was love, taken away from you, especially at Christmas, you realize that LOVE IS what Christmas is all about.  Love, and Joy.

 

It took time, but that love and hope returned in my life.  Christmas has returned in my life.  Getting presents still means little to me though.  What matters the most is the love and joy in and from others I love.  It is also about giving of my own spirit and soul for others, and receiving those same gifts in return.

 

Christmas lies in the close friendships and fellowship, love and support that we can all bring to each other.  Christmas lies in the spirit of Christ in others who love us, whether it is our families, or friends, or church, or our social groups.

 

I am mindful, when the morning air was filled with singing and joyful noise, how the Grinch began to realizes that in spite of his efforts, he didn’t stop Christmas, and he saw;

“It came without ribbons,

It came without tags,

It came without packages, boxes or bags.

Maybe Christmas does not come from a store.

Maybe Christmas – perhaps – means a little bit more.”

 

And then even the Grinch knew that Christmas came from the heart as even his own heart  grew three sizes that morning.  Christmas is a feeling, not a commodity.  Christmas is that miracle of wonders when we are infused with that special glow of joy over simple things, like a snowflake, or a child’s laugh, or a carol sung  It is the feeling in our hearts knowing this time of year brings a sense of renewal, of rebirth, of hope in the world.  It is Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all Humanity, a noble goal we would like to strive for, but still seem to fall short of.

 

But we strive for it nevertheless.  It is that moment in time when the soldiers in the trenches of World War I stopped fighting and joined in singing Christmas Carols together, in English and German, sharing a drink together in No-Man’s Land.  It is the same when a Yank offers up some coffee in exchange for some Reb’s tobacco along a frozen creek or river in the Virginia countryside, while sharing news of home far away.

 

These are not gifts you can wrap.  These are gifts that you cannot buy.  These are gifts of Love and Joy.

 

I look at this church when Christmas comes.  I see beauty, even more so than the rest of the year.  In that beauty is love.  I see it along the sidewalks of small town city centers on the fringes of Los Angeles, or at places like “The Grove” or “Americana on Brand”.  I see it in the decorations and the lights.  I see it in faces of people in relaxed contentment and peace.  I see it in the parties where everybody brings something to eat, and there is sharing and laugher and fun among good friends.

 

All of this is intangible and at the same time so very real.  Still, I do not say “don’t give gifts”.  What I do say is this; if you give something at this time of year, give it from the heart, not out of obligation.  Give warmly and simply, in appreciation for the friendships and love others bring to your life, and to honor that feeling.

 

When the Magi brought their gifts to Jesus, as the story goes, they brought gifts to honor, in love and hope, for something better.  That is the meaning of Christmas.  That is what keeps this season alive.  You give a gift you want to give, not what somebody else wants and could easily get themselves.  You give the gift that brings you joy and happiness in the giving, without expecting anything in return.

 

But at this time of year, as at all times of the year, the greatest gift you can give is the gift of Love and Joy, and of the Spirit.  Give that gift in a very real and tangle form to somebody who has nothing, to the child with little joy or hope in their life, or the adult who has lost everything.  Give where that gift really makes a difference in a life.

 

What is one more toy to the child who has hundreds, compared to giving that one doll to the little girl who has none?  What is another new tie to Uncle Harry compared to the new shoes to somebody who has no shoes at all?  What is a new food processor to a housewife who already has a dozen kitchen appliances compared to a job to somebody trying to feed a family?

 

What gift did Scrooge bring his nephew Fred on Christmas day?  He brought himself.

We often discount greatly just how powerful the gifts of joy and love can be in somebody’s life?  We often devalue what we might see as something simple when in fact, that gift’s impact can be great.

 

So we speak of the coming of Jesus at this time.  Last week’s readings actually spoke more on John the Baptist, as does this readying today.  But it is John who heralds the coming of Jesus.  He speaks several times of “one who comes after me”, or “make straight the way of the Sovereign”, or of one who comes who is mightier than I.  At each turn, John is announcing this, while he is also humbling himself.  But by the time John is preaching along the banks of the Jordan, baptizing people with water only, Jesus is already maturing in adulthood.  After all, Jesus is only a few months younger than John, his cousin.

 

But whether the readings at this stage of Advent, or the readings at Christmas, which then speak of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, it is the same theme; the proclamation of the coming of the Beloved One of God, the WORD, the Christ.  It is the proclamation of the coming of the Good News, of hope and salvation, of liberation from sin and sorrow, and of new life in the world.  It is about Joy.

 

As we then celebrate this season of Advent and Christmas, how often do we really remember these qualities of the time, these gifts to humanity?  How quick are we to show that love and compassion and hope while searching for a parking spot at the mall, or that “perfect” present for your “secret Santa” co-worker for the annual Christmas Party?  How often do we stop and just “FEEL” the season about us and enjoy it with out the pressures of the commercialism?  Even more, what would Jesus think of all this today when people rob, steal, cheap and even kill, often just in the act of “shopping” or obtaining something for themselves while depriving somebody else?

 

We are so quick to buy for everybody else that we forget whose birthday we really should be celebrating, and the real purpose behind that celebration.  We forget what real gifts are given at this time, and often who gave those gifts.  We even forget Jesus.

 

Slow down and remember the reasons we are really all here.  Slow down and share the gifts of love and hope, of peace and justice with everybody you meet.  Smile.  Laugh. Live.  Share.  Give.  Peace on Earth and goodwill to all of humankind starts with you, and me, and all of us.  Let us spread those gifts everywhere this season, and all year long.

 

As the song in the centering prayer says “The joy of  Christmas is here inside you.” Never let that go away.

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BENEDICTION:

 

Let the spirit of Christmas remind us all what this season is truly about.  It is about giving, but not just what you can wrap in paper, but what comes from your heart.  Show kindness and compassion, be thoughtful and gracious, and treat others with the same respect you wish to also be treated.  In the many names of our Universal God, through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus for our redemption, and the Holy Spirit which fills us with God’s light.  Go with love.  Amen.

 

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