All posts by The Rev. Erik Parker

An iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. Blogger | Liturgy Geek | High Church Lutheran | Husband | Dad. Musician, gamer, movie-lover, amateur techie.

A Pandemic Christmas Day

John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God… (Read the whole passage)

“Mom, the camera isn’t on”

“But I can see you.”

“Yes, you can see me, but I can’s see you”

Marlena was again waving her arms at her computer screen, trying to look as though she was pointing down at the camera button on the other end of the screen. 

It was Christmas Day, and she was “zooming” with her elderly parents. They had been zooming regularly for a few months by now. It had taken herculean effort in patience just to get her mom to find the gallery or “Brady Bunch” view. But she still had trouble turning on her camera and microphone every week. 

2020 had been that kind of year. 

Marlena, her husband Jim, and their kids David and Lizzie, were no strangers to extraordinary Christmases. A few years ago, they had been travelling to see her parents and got caught in a snow storm on the way. They spent Christmas Eve with a bunch of strangers snowed in a roadside motel. They even cooked their own potluck Christmas dinner in the restaurant. 

On another Christmas Eve, they had welcomed new refugees from Syria for their first Christmas in their new home. 

And another year, as their family helped serve at the local soup kitchen, they heard that some youth from their church, St. David’s, had been with been on patrol with a local social worker for the homeless community when they helped a homeless woman give birth in the alley beside the church! 

But as appropriately Christmassy as these experiences had been… a global pandemic had changed everything and made for a completely new and unusual Christmas.

Last night they had their COVID Christmas Eve all planned: they would go and pack take out meals at the soup kitchen, then go for a drive through of Candy Cane Lane all before online church for Christmas Eve. 

But Father Angelo, their priest from St. David’s, had called and asked to make a last minute meal package delivery. When they went to make the delivery, they had a surprise meeting with old friends. 

The delivery was to same couple that they had met a few Christmases earlier when they had been snowed in a the roadside motel on Christmas Eve. Jesse and Miriam. Miriam had gone into labour and given birth to Christopher. Marlena remembered how badly she wanted that Christmas to be perfect, yet in the weeks leading up to Christmas things she just couldn’t keep juggling it all. 

But in meeting Jesse and Miriam she was reminded how imperfect the first Christmas was. How plans were derailed and people just had to make do. 

Last night when the two long lost families went for a Christmas Eve walk, all the memories and feelings came flooding back. Watching her kids play with little Christopher. Watching Jim and Jesse laugh about work and fatherhood. Walking with Miriam had put Christmas back into perspective again for Marlena… it was the perfect Christmas Eve miracle for the year 2020. 

But Christmas Day was a little more back to the reality of the world. 

“Okay, I can see you now.” Marlena told her mom. 

Marlena’s mom began her usual recounting of the week. 

“I was talking to my friend Gladys over coffee the other day.”

“Not in-person I hope” interrupted Marlena. 

“Don’t you worry, we washed our hands and wore masks.”

“How did you drink the coffee mom?

“Well… we took off the masks for coffee!”

Marlena felt like she was in the movie Ground Hog day every time she talked to her parents… even on Christmas Day. 

“David, Lizzie, time to open presents with grandma and grandpa on zoom!” Marlena called to her family.

Opening gifts was kind of normal. There were the usual gasps and squeals of delight of Christmas morning. The kids did have to take each toy and hold it up to the computer so Grandma and Grandpa could inspect them. But they were together with the normal Christmas morning crowd none the less. 

When the gifts were all opened and the zoom ended, the family sat down to brunch. Marlena saw that she had cooked way more food than they needed. Old Christmas habits… she figured.

After brunch, Marlena sat and stared out the window. The kids were off playing with new toys. Jim was setting up his new iPad. But Marlena was longing for something else. Last night, after seeing Jesse and Miriam, Christopher and his new sister Lilly, Marlena had felt something for the first time in a long while. This little family that they had taken under their wing, up against the world, with barely anyone in their corner… somehow managed embody hope for the future. Looking into baby Lilly’s eyes she felt the same things that she felt when she looked in baby Christophers’s went he had been born at the motel. As she looked into this child’s eyes she could see herself, she could see everyone that she loved, she could see the whole world. In this little helpless child, Marlena could see the divine, she could see a great passion for all creation, she could see God in flesh — Emmanuel. Looking at Jesse and Miriam, Marlena could saw Mary and Joseph, looking at Christopher and Lilly, she could see the Christ child. The whole world became different than it was. A world with God in it.

“Mom” Lizzie’s voice interrupted Marlena’s thoughts. “Could we take the extra brunch leftovers to Jesse and Miriam? I want to see Christopher again” 

“Yeah, mom and dad! Please!?!” Echoed David. 

Jim shrugged, “I don’t see why not.”

“Can we wrap some gifts for Christopher?” David asked. 

And soon the family was busy changing out of their Christmas PJs, packing up brunch and putting some well loved toys that David and Lizzie had grown out of into boxes to be wrapped.

It wasn’t long before Marlena Jim, David and Lizzie were standing Jesse and Miriam’s front yard. Lizzie ran up and knocked. 

Jesse and Christopher opened the door. 

“We come bearing gifts!” Jim said. 

Soon the two families were standing in the front yard. Christopher was opening his gifts with glee, David and Lizzie were clapping excitedly. 

“I don’t know what to say” Jesse said. “You didn’t have to do this.” 

“We know” said Jim. “We wanted to”

“It was the kid’s idea really. And that makes it a gift to us” added Marlena. 

“But we can’t repay you.” Miriam said.  

“Well, now.” Jim interrupted. “There is one thing you can do, you specifically Jesse. What are you doing on December 27th?”

Jesse shrugged.

“I need a warehouse foreman. Business has been too much for me to handle on my own. You are a contractor, so I know you have managed people before. That’s the hardest part, I can teach you the rest.”

“I don’t know what to say” Jesse was floored, Miriam was smiling so wide. 

“Just be ready for work at 6:45am. I will pick you up.” Jim tried to sound stern, but he couldn’t keep from grinning. 

The two families visited – socially distant and outdoors, of course – for a little longer and then said their goodbyes. 

As Jim loaded the kids into the car, Miriam and Marlena lingered. 

“I still can’t believe you saved us, and on Christmas again.” Miriam said. 

“Oh, you were the ones who saved us… again.” Marlena replied. “But this year, nothing surprises me anymore. And now that we have found each other again, there is no getting rid of us. You are family now” Marlena said. “Besides, you will have to peel our kids away from your family.

“Remember what the old priest read to us at the hotel during that chaotic but amazing Christmas dinner?” Asked Marlena.

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Miriam recited. 

“The word has come to us, and we are each other’s flesh. We belong to each other for good now. Just the way God intended on that first Christmas.”

Miriam nodded to that, 

Amen.”

Part 1 of this Story is found here: A Pandemic Christmas Eve

St. David’s Christmas Eve at the Motel
St. David’s Christmas Day the Motel
St. David’s Advent 4 Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Eve Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Day Refugees

A Pandemic Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-14(15-20)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered…. (Read the whole passage)

“You are on mute”

Marlena was waving her arms at her computer screen, trying to look as though she was pointing down at the mute button on the other end of the screen. 

It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and she was finishing her final work zoom before Christmas break. 

2020 had been that kind of year. 

Marlena had been working from home for months. Her event planning and corporate workshop business had to quickly transition from being an in-person service to an online one. She spent her days on zoom helping different businesses hold training events and lead them through corporate team building. 

During the same time, Jim’s food distribution company had been incredibly busy. The business they lost from restaurants had shifted quickly to increased deliveries to local grocers and even a residential home delivery service. Jim had to become an expert on COVID-19 protocols overnight. 

Lizzie and David had been doing their school from home in the spring and then blended learning through the fall. It meant that Marlena has become a part-time home-school teacher along with being a corporate zoom meeting facilitator. 

And still even with busy work and added responsibly at home, their lives had become so small. The kids only saw their friends through their phones, while Jim and Marlena’s social calendar had been wiped clean. Marlena’s book club had moved online, but she just couldn’t spend more time on zoom than was absolutely necessary. They hadn’t seen friends and family in-person since March… other than a few summer walks and socially distanced barbecues – which were only weird and awkward. 

“Okay, I can hear you now.” She said to the person on the other end of the call. “Let’s book the next meeting for January”

And then bloop, it was finally done.

____ 

Around lunch time, Lizzie and David emerged from their rooms, headphones on and iPads in hand, to appear at the kitchen table just in time for some grilled cheese sandwiches to be served. 

“Don’t forget, we are packing meals at the soup kitchen this afternoon.” Marlena said the words out loud, but her kids didn’t seem to be aware that she existed. She heard Jim’s car pull into the garage. He came into the house. “What’s for lunch?” He asked. 

Marlena sighed. The two sat down to eat… while David and Lizzie cleared their plates without looking up from their screens. 

“Work is all set until the 27th. 3 days off!” Jim sounded both exhausted and excited at the same time. “I thought we could do to that Candy Cane lane drive-thru after the soup kitchen and before church” he said with a half mouthful of grilled cheese.

“Sounds like fun” Marlena said, but her words didn’t match her expression.

Christmas just wasn’t the same this year. Jim had been trying. He bought a real tree, instead of pulling out the old artificial one in the basement. They weren’t travelling so they could water it every day, he reasoned. 

They had also been watching a Christmas movie a night since mid-November. They were all starting to blend together, except for the night when they watched Die Hard… Marlena kept waiting for the Christmas part of the movie, but it never really came… just lots of explosions. 

Around 5 o’clock, Jim and Marlena, Lizzie and David were all packed into the family car. They were leaving the soup kitchen for their drive down Candy Cane lane. Instead of serving meals like they usually did, they were packing to go containers in a socially distanced kitchen with masks on. Another Christmas tradition that just wasn’t the same.  

The family was quiet as they drove through the empty streets of the city. Marlena looked out the window and kept thinking about all the things that Christmas wasn’t this year. 

All of a sudden her phone started buzzing. 

“Hello” 

“Marlena?” It was Father Angelo, the priest from St. David’s. 

“I have one more meal to deliver, but all the drivers are gone. Are you still close?” 

“Sure” said Marlena. “We can be back to you in 5 minutes.”

——

Father Angelo handed Marlena the meal and an address. 

“Thank you so much” he said. 

Marlena just nodded. 

10 minutes later, Jim was taking the car through a rougher area of town. A lot of run down rental houses and dingy apartment buildings. 

Finally, they pulled up to a particularly unsightly house. 

“I can take it” Jim said. 

“No, I will. But keep the car running.” Marlena answered. 

As Marlena approached the house, the outside light came on and the front door opened. 

A woman appeared from behind the door, and there was young boy hiding in her legs. He couldn’t have been more than 3. The woman had a mask on, just like Marlena did. 

As Marlena approached, she started to feel like there was something familiar about this woman, but Marlena couldn’t place it. 

Marlena was going to leave the box with the meal package on the step, but woman came out to meet her with her arms outstretched.

“Marlena?!?!” The woman gasped. 

“Miriam?” Marlena blurted out. 

Without thinking, Marlena put the box down and the two women hugged… but only for a moment before stepping back. 

“Sorry” they both said. 

“Miriam, I thought you and Jesse had gone up north?”

“We did” said Miriam. “For a few years we were. But back in March the work dried up for Jesse. So we came to the city. Jesse has had work off and on since then. Enough to get by, at least until the latest lockdown. Now… it’s been hard this past month. “ said Miriam. 

Marlena’s heart was full of compassion in a way that it hadn’t been in a while. She looked down at the little boy in Miriam’s legs. 

“And are you Christopher?” Marlena gasped. “You’re huge” she laughed.

“Marlena is the very first person to hold you, ever” Miriam said to her son. Christopher’s jaw dropped the way little kids jaws do. 

“I met you the day you were born. Your mom and dad, and my family were all snowed in at a hotel for Christmas. You came a week early. Wait… tomorrow must be your birthday!” 

Christopher smiled a big smile… while Miriam had a moment of saddness cross her face. Then she turned back to the house. 

“Jesse!” She called “It’s Marlena and Jim. You know, from the motel. When Christopher was born!” 

Jesse came to the door, a big grin on his face. As he walked through the light, Marlena could see that he was holding something… or no, it was someone. 

“This is Lilly” said Miriam.

“Lilly Marlena” said Jesse. 

Marlena gasped. 

___

Soon the two families, all bundled up for winter, were walking down the street. It was a mild and clear winter night. 

David and Lizzie were playing peek-a-boo with Christopher behind trees and bushes along the walk. Jim and Jesse were talking about their jobs and the pandemic. 

Marlena was looking at Lilly as she walked with Miriam.

“She is only 2 weeks old.” Said Miriam. “She is the reason we came to the city for Jesse to find work.”

“Why didn’t you look us up?” Asked Marlena. 

“I don’t know… it felt like it was so long ago. And it was only a two days that we were together. I just didn’t feel like I could ask for help again. You saved us once already.”

“No” Marlena said. “You saved us. You saved me. We were miserable that year. I wanted so bad for it to be the perfect Christmas that I was cranky with my family all month. Then when we were snowed in, I just lost all hope. But when you and Jesse… and Christopher came into our lives, you reminded me, us, that Christmas isn’t about perfect moments and memories.”

Miriam just nodded.

“And here were are again… and we are different kind of miserable. The whole world is.” Marlena’s voice started to break, she took a deep breath and wiped her eyes. 

“But look at my kids.” David and Lizzie were smiling and laughing like they hadn’t for months. 

“And look at our husbands.” Jim and Jesses were chuckling about something. 

“And look at me. Look at you.” Marlena stopped and turned to Miriam “Look at Lilly, this little Christmas baby. I see you and her and your family. And you remind not to let my version of the world take up too much space. You remind me that there is something more going on, even when everything feels heavy and dark. You mind me that God is up to things in this world that are both bigger than I can imagine, but also happening in the smallest out of the places that I forget to look.”

The two women looked at each other and at their families. 

Marlena looked to Lilly. “In this child, this little baby, I see hope and promise. I see a future. I see God breaking into this broken world, bringing light and life for us all, when we need it so desperately.

The tears were streaming down both women’s faces now. 

Just then some music began playing. It was coming from the school yard nearby. 

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth, receive her king. 

Miriam and Marlena started to laugh with joy. Just then the kids and the dads gasped as a giant firework erupted over head. 

“Let every heart, prepare him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing”

Miriam looked at Marlena and said, 

“Thank you.” 

Marlena shook her head., “No, thanks be to God for you.”

St. David’s Christmas Eve at the Motel
St. David’s Christmas Day the Motel
St. David’s Advent 4 Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Eve Refugees
St. David’s Christmas Day Refugees

Mary’s story is a story for 2020

Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” (Read the whole passage)

Stir up your power Lord Christ and come. 

Four Candles are finally lit today, and it isn’t long until that central Christ Candle is lit. Advent, as it always, starts by talking about the end, and then giving us two weeks to hear John the Baptists’s preaching about the coming of Messiah. But isn’t until Advent 4 that we get a story the feels like it belongs to the season… or least it isn’t until this Sunday that we hear a story seems to move forward our desire to roll the calendar over to Christmas. 

But before we can bust out the carols and presents, Advent needs to give us our last reminder of what it means to wait for Messiah, a qualifier for our celebration of Christmas. 

Just in case we think the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary is a Christmas story, we are reminded today that it is an Advent story. And quite the Advent story it is. We hear this story of Gabriel and Mary and it is easy to imagine a young grade schooler wrapped in a bath robe and shawl, woodenly reading lines as she receives the news that she is pregnant. The pageant version of this story is the one we easily imagine, but certainly unlike the moment when most women find out they are pregnant. 

It is easy to imagine the young virgin, meek and mild, humbly and graciously receiving the angel’s news. It is natural to picture the made for TV Christmas movie version of the story, the version where there is no doubt that whatever tension presents itself in the story everything will turn out in the end. The idyllic nativity sets confirm this. The nostalgia laced Christmas greeting cards confirm this. 

And yet, the actual story was anything but idyllic. 

The story of Gabriel’s annunciation is a story in the real and messy world. A story that is less made for TV movie or Christmas pageant, and more real life stuff that usually happens in the privacy of our personal lives. 

When Gabriel told the young Mary that she would conceive and bear a son, it was likely not welcome news. Mary’s life plan was certainly different than this development. 

In Mary’s world, women had few options. Marriage and motherhood was the ideal, a woman’s worth was in the ability of her body to give sons to her husband. Sons to carry on their father’s lineage who would also be the retirement plan for most women, someone to care for them once their husband died. 

Yet, if a woman couldn’t provide children, or couldn’t reliably provide children that belonged to her husband because she wasn’t virgin before marriage… well that likely meant divorce and being tossed onto the streets. Pregnancy outside of marriage meant becoming a single mother living on the streets in the best case, execution by stoning at worst. 

And so as Gabriel announces this news to Mary, she is right to be much perplexed. This just about the worst thing that could happen to a young unmarried woman. Hardly the stuff we think about during the Christmas pageant. This is messy and real life. This is the kind of stuff that many of us had to deal with – life altering changes of course, 

This is kind of stuff that we know all too well in life. Things that happen to us beyond our control that change the entire course of our lives. Things like job loss, death of a loved one, separation, diagnosis of an illness or unplanned pregnancy…. 

Things like a global pandemic that changes how we live our lives to core. From how we work, shop, maintain relationships, worship and even how we celebrate Christmas. 

Things that take all we have in ourselves just to keep it together. 

Mary’s story is a real life story, a story about the messiness of life. It is a story for 2020 as much as it is a 2000 year old story.  

But Mary’s is also the story of God finding humanity in the mess, finding humanity in the struggle, finding humanity in the realness. 

Long before the angel interrupts Mary’s life plan with news of her pregnancy, Mary lived in a world where she was less of a human and more of a piece of property or livestock, where her marriage was likely arranged by her family as they were making a business deal. And of course there was the messiness of her own people and culture that was compounded by the fact that they all lived under Roman occupation. 

Yet, when the Angel first greets Mary, the Angel says, “Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.”

Right from the very beginning, God does something new and unexpected with Mary. God determines her worth and value before anything else. Mary is favoured by God. Not because she is a fertile body waiting to be impregnated. Not because she will bear the Messiah. But simply because she is herself. 

Greetings favoured one!

And then God gives Mary a purpose, she will be the one who will bear Messiah to the world. In a twist of irony, by choosing Mary to do the one thing that her world values her for, bear children, God takes away her cultural and social value. And instead, God imbues her with divine value. She is favoured because God has said so, and God then gives her a purpose in bearing the Messiah. God establishes her value and then gives her a purpose, opposite of the way her world works – where value is only given if one produces something considered worthy. 

Right from the beginning of the story, God is at work doing something new, transforming Mary’s life in unexpected ways. 

God is at work in Mary’s real story, her messy, struggled filled story. 

And remarkable as Mary’s real life story is, it is not special. 

Because Mary’s story is a universal story, it is our story. 

God has a way of finding us in the midst of our messy, struggled filled and very real lives too. Even as we are stuck at home, even when it feels like no one know where we are or how alone we feel. 

God finds us in the middle of real life, and breaks through all the things around us that would tell us our value, that our purpose, that life is only worth living based on what we can do in the world… 

God breaks through all the things that would tell Mary she is barely more than a thing that can be owned and that which is less than human. 

God breaks through all the things that would tell us that we are missing this year, all ways our lives have been made small and make us feel less than our true selves. 

God breaks through to us, and declares that we too are favoured. 

God breaks through and says that the Lord is with you. 

As we gather virtually, even as we pray and worship at home, God gathers us together, God reminds of words spoken to us at the beginning of our life in Christ, that still hold true today. God reminds us of the water poured on our heads, the sign of the cross that marked and sealed us to the Body of Christ. 

God reminds us that through all the messiness of life, through all the unexpected twists and turns, that we have been claimed in the waters and welcomed by Angels, divine messengers – by siblings in Christ who said to us: 

We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share:
join us in giving thanks and praise to God
and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.

Join us in bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world, just as Mary, Mary the God bearer did. 

Just as the Angel, the divine Messenger, tells Mary that she will bear a son, the son of God – that she will bear the Christ, the Christ who is the Word… 

God tells us the same. 

God declares that we are favoured, that we are marked with the cross. 

And that God us will use to bear the word, Christ who is the word, to the whole world. 

So you see, Mary’s story is not truly a pageant story or made for TV Christmas story. 

It is a real story. 

It is our story. 

Today, as Advent takes us through the final parts of the story, the ones that lead us to Christmas, we are reminded that this is a real story. A messy story. A story more like our lives this year than we really know. 

And it is real because it is the story of God’s breaking into our lives. Breaking into our mess in order to bring Messiah, the Word, the Son. 

In order for Christ to come and take flesh among us. 

So, stir up your power Lord Christ and come.

Ep 7 The Pandemic Reformation and the Post-Pandemic Church Part II

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-3djue-f53b1c

So, it has been a while. Just after recording our last episode, Pastor Erik developed a case of Bell’s palsy. It took a few extra weeks to heal and be able to talk properly again, but it is good to be back. Pastor Courtenay and Pastor Erik continue their conversation about the Pandemic Reformation and the Post-Pandemic Church. We continue to talk about way the church can look to a future that has been forever changed by this pandemic, but also by the other crises facing our world. 

In Episode 7, we map out our hopes, dreams and wishes for a post-pandemic church coming through this Pandemic Reformation. 

Check out The Millennial Pastor blog.

This podcast is sponsored by the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC).

Music by Audionautix.com

Theme Song – “Jesus Loves Me” by Lutheran Outdoor Ministries in Alberta and the North (LOMAN)

The Unmet Expectations of This Advent Season

John 1:6-8,19-28
This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” (Read the whole passage)

Keep Awake!
Prepare the way of the Lord!
I am not the Messiah!

Each week of Advent seems to brings a them of waiting and preparing with it. Each week taking us closer to the coming of Messiah, even in the midst of all the darkness around us. 

We have now crossed into the back half of Advent. We started the season by hearing Jesus proclaim the end of time, to keep awake for God’s coming. Last week, we heard the beginning of the good news, we heard of Mark’s straight the point interpretation of the incarnation, the in flesh God among us. 

Today we hear the Advent twist on the story of John the Baptist. And for that we take a little detour from Mark’s gospel, to the gospel of John. John the Baptist is a familiar, if not odd, figure from the Gospels. A wild hermit preacher dressed in camel hair furs, eating locusts or giant grasshoppers for food. And for the people of ancient Israel, John fits the profile of a prophet, one sent to preach God’s message for the people.

And as John is preaching, teaching and baptizing in the desert, the authorities take notice. The priest and levites, the religious authorities send representatives to find out who this hermit preacher, this potential preacher is.

And so they ask, ‘Are you the Messiah?” A loaded question, a question about their expectations. Is John the one who has come to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven, the one who to destroy the enemies and oppressors of Israel, to establish a divine Jewish kingdom on earth. 

But John says, “I am not the Messiah”

And so they ask again, “Are you Elijah?” Is John the one who will herald the end, the one who is the precursor, the advance party, the warning shot of the Messiah. 

But John says, “I am not.”

And so they ask a third time, “Are you the prophet?” Is John the prophet like Isaiah, maybe not the one who will establish the Kingdom of Heaven, but at least establish a new, powerful, and restored-to-former-glory Israel.

But John says, “No”

The Levites, Priests went to hear John the Baptist preach on the banks of the Jordan with expectations. Expectations about who he might be and what he might bring into their world. The were worried about the disruption he might cause, the over turning the of the status quo, the systems of power that privileged a few and caused suffering for many. 

The crowds too went to hear John preach with expectations. Expectations about who he might be and what he might bring into their world. The hope and light he might reveal, the overturning of the established orders, the oppressors who kept the people under their thumbs. 

And we too might hear John with expectations today. Expectations about who he might be and what might bring into our world. Expectations that our current circumstances can be undone, that there is some quick fix for our current predicament on its way to us. 

As our community, as our world, as we hunker down for a Christmas like none before, it is hard not to be longing for things the way they used to be, for things to go back to normal, for even a little reprieve from restrictions and orders that are keeping us from the Holidays as we know them. From celebrating with family and friends as we usually do, as we have been desperate to do for months now. 

And our expectations and hopes are only pushing towards disappointment and resentment.

And here as we wait for Messiah, halfway through Advent, expectations are everywhere. And while normal Advent and Christmas expectations centre around a lack of time and energy, about family gatherings going sideways, about creating perfect memories… This year we wait for things like case numbers, test positivity and hospitalizations to drop, for vaccines to be distributed and something that looks even a little bit like normal life. 

In 2020, we come to the John, asking he is the Messiah in a world that feels, at times, not too different than the world of those people standing on the banks of the Jordan, listening to John the Baptist. We see darkness, suffering, struggle and hardship in new ways. We understand being powerless and hoping for change in new ways. We know what it means to be waiting and focused on salvation like never before. 

And we come too, wondering if John the Baptist can tell us something about dealing with all of this.  

And John says, “NO”

Instead John says, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness.”

And that voice in the wilderness is not the Messiah. This desert preacher is not the Messiah, he is not the one who will solve our problems, he is not even the one who to whom we should be looking. John the Baptist is simply a messenger. 

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord.”

But John is pointing elsewhere. 
Proclaiming another. 
Revealing someone else. 

John is here to tell the Pharisees and Scribes and crowds… here to tell us that there is another who is coming. There is one coming who will address injustice, oppression, suffering and death. There is one coming into our world who is God in flesh – God with us. And this one, this Messiah is coming to change the world in ways that we cannot imagine, who will transform us beyond our wildest expectations, who will flatten the hills of oppression, straighten the paths of injustice, fill the valleys of suffering, and grant us new life. 

This Messiah isn’t coming to give us Christmas back, to unlock our lives tomorrow.

This Messiah is not here to fix us or take our problems away and make things normal again. 

But rather, this Messiah is coming to fill our hearts, 
and bring us light. 

To light our path through the dark ways ahead.
To lead us through these difficult days with the promise of new life. 
To show us the way to the grace, mercy and love of God.

Half way through Advent, we might be focused on the things we won’t have this Christmas. 

Yet whether we see it or not, whether we realize is to not, 
the light of promise is beginning shine a little brighter. 
The darkness is being pushed away one candle, one light at a time. 

And as much as we carry expectations about a Christmas we cannot have, about a quick fix to world’s problems that won’t come on our timelines, and about the God who we wish was a great problem solver… 

we are getting to that part of the story when all our expectations are blown away.
When the unimaginable happens… 
when to an unmarried immigrant couple, 
when to a young virgin teen, 
when to the most unexpected people
a long hoped for yet unexpected Messiah is born… 

A Messiah born to save us all. 

This is what… who… John the Baptist is talking about.

Amen.