All posts by The Rev. Erik Parker

iPhone Pastor for a Typewriter Church. Blogger, Podcaster | High Church Lutheran | Husband & Dad | Oilers fan in exile | He/Him

The End of Advent and the Beginning of Christmas – A Christmas Day Sermon

John 1:1-14
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it…

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

And the Word became flesh. 

This morning, on this feast of the nativity, we have made a long journey to be here. 

Through the dark places, searching for the light. We have journeyed through Advent. We draped our sanctuary and our selves in the deep and rich blues of Advent, we let our eyes adjust to the dark until the distant starlight began to peek through the darkness. Our Advent waiting and wondering led to this moment of celebration at the birth of Christ. 

We began 5 Sundays ago with Jesus announcing the end of time, imploring us to Keep Awake. To open our eyes to the world around us. 

We continued on with John the Baptist, who was preaching in the dark wilderness to “Prepare the way of the Lord,” the Lord who will come to straighten our crooked paths.

We then followed John to prison, to the dark night of the soul, wondering if all these promises of the Messiah were in fact true. 

And finally, last week, we heard the announcement. Mary would bear a child named Jesus. And our darkness, the darkness of the entire cosmos was placed in contrast to the tiny baby growing in one young woman’s womb… and we wondered if this indeed was God’s plan to push the darkness back and keep it at bay. To bring light, THE LIGHT of GOD, into the world through a tiny baby born to insignificant people in a forgotten corner of the world.

And then last night, we walked with Joseph and Mary across country, to the town of David called Bethlehem. We submitted to the Emporer’s decree to be registered, we were denied place to rest our heads, we squatted like refugees in animal barns, we heard the angels with the outcasts and we found out that God was indeed born into our dark world, bringing real light. 

We also discovered, that this 2000 year old story is a story for 2022. That if Jesus was born into a world full of darkness back then, one where tyrants ruled, soldiers killed, people lived in fear, that certainly the darkness of our world is not too much for God. That Jesus does come into our darkness too. Messiah is born today, just as 2000 years ago.

But today, the Gospel of John pulls us back from the details of the story. John gives us the Christmas story again, but without shepherds and angels, barns and journeys, without even Mary or Jospeh. 

John takes us to the heart, to the meat of the story. 

And the word became flesh. 

John’s story of incarnation is hardly one we could reproduce with a Sunday School pageant. John expects that we can separate the details of the story from the meaning of the story. What does it mean that the God of all creation has chosen to become incarnate?

Incarnation is one of those churchy words that pastors tend use, but that actually has a very earthy meaning. 

The flower with a similar name, carnation, gets its name from its fleshy colour.

Carnivale, the South American Mardi Gras festival is related to incarnation too. The great festival where you eat all the meat in the house before fasting during lent.

And carnivore, the scientific word for meat eater. 

Carne means meat. 

So that church word incarnation literally means”to take on meat.”

And the Word became flesh. 

The birth of Christ is the moment when God puts on the meat of humanity, the flesh of our bodies. If you want to know what God looks like, look at the people around you, look at their skin and eyes and hair. When Mary and Joseph and those Shepherds looked into the eyes, of the christ child, they would have seen there all of humanity contained in flesh.

When the disciples and the crowds heard his voice, they would have heard the voice of the God. 

When the lepers and the lame and blind were touched and healed by Jesus, they would have felt the touch of God. 

When the soldiers nailed feet and hands to a cross, they would have pierced the Body of Christ. 

But putting on our meat isn’t just about our physical bodies. 

The incarnation is also how God puts on the flesh of our humanity. The darkness of sin and suffering and death. The flesh of the human condition, of limited, fragile creation. God takes on what it means to be human, to be created, to be us.  

John’s Christmas story omits all the details that we tend to think the story is all about in order to bring us to heart or the meat of the matter. God has taken on our flesh in order to bridge the unbridgeable gap between God and a fallen, broken creation. God has become one of us in order to come near to all of us. 

Sure, John’s version of the Christmas story might be missing a few of the familiar parts of the story, but fleshiness of the story, of the incarnation reminds us that of all the Christmas traditions we hold this time of year, the most true of them all is the one carry on with week after week. In the Eucharist as we share in bread and wine, we partake in God’s fleshiness. And we are reminded again and again that God takes on our flesh AND we take on God’s. That God’s light and life comes near to us again and again. Given and shed for us. 

And as God comes near, as God becomes incarnate, God begins to reveal the light that has been missing from our world. We begin to see just how pervasive the darkness was. We begin to see that even the smallest bit of real light coming into life through a young woman giving birth in a barn is more light than we can handle. We begin to see that God comes and comes in small space, because even the smallest light pushes the darkness away, but the darkness can never diminish even the smallest amount of light. 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 

As we began in Advent seeing the dark places of the world, making our way from the end of the world backwards to the beginning, to the announcement of the coming Messiah, to going with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem and with angels to shepherds, John tells us that our destination was here. Here with the Word in the beginning. Christmas is where God begins creation anew. 

Christmas begins all things new, because the darkness of sin and death will no longer have hold over us. Because the old order of things has ended, and now the Christ born into flesh has come today. 

Christmas according to John might not have all the details we think are normally part of the story, but John does take us to the heart, to the meat of the matter. John strips the details back to open ears to hear, our eyes to see, our hearts to know that this story of a babe being born to virgin in a stable in Bethlehem, is the story of God coming into our world, coming in order to be near to us again. 

Hear John’s final line in the Christmas story again:

Today, the Word becomes flesh and lives among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

Do Not Be Afraid that Christmas isn’t what you expect – A Christmas Eve Sermon

*Note: Sermons are posted in the manuscript draft that they were preached in, and may contain typos or other errors that were resolved in my delivery. See the Sherwood Park Lutheran Facebook Page for video

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

You may be expecting a story tonight.

For the past three years, the first here in person and then the past two years online, I have told stories, modern versions of the Christmas story. However, tonight will be a bit different. Rather than something that sounds like a Vinyl Cafe story, we are going to tell and hear the Christmas story with new ears to year and new eyes to see. As the angels said to the Shepherds:

Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people

2022 has been another rough year in a succession of rough years. In the fall of 2021, we were heading into 2022 hoping that it would be finally a relief from pandemic and a return to normalcy. Instead we got more pandemic, and then war in Ukraine and not long after refugees landing in our homes and neighbourhoods, there were convoys and debates over public health measures, there were supply chain issues, rising price of gas and inflation. It feels like we have been battered by one thing after another this year. 

As we arrive at Christmas this year, we are reeling from all we have lived through again this year and stumbling into what comes next.

So maybe for you Christmas is just the same old, same old time for family, traditions and memories this year. 

But it is probably NOT the case that for most of us. Christmas may be lacking something this year. It feels a little more like a struggle than it is supposed to. The magic just isn’t there for all the reasons that these past years have been so difficult.

And we think that Christmas is supposed to have that special quality, that feeling of being different than the normal and mundane things of every day life. Christmas is supposed to lift our spirits, remind us of better things, be a time for sentimentalism and warm fuzzies. It is like that Christmas Card with Mary gazing lovingly down at newborn Jesus – it should melt our hearts. It should feel like that special moment when we all sing silent night to candlelight, – glowing faces all around. 

But this year it hasn’t been those things. Maybe tonight was supposed to be the chance to reclaim what Christmas is supposed to be… And certainly being here in person for the first time since 2019 is wonderful…. But it isn’t the same, it is NOT just picking up from the world of 2019 as if the past two years haven’t happened. 

But here is the thing about all of that. 

The Christmas story that we know, the one that goes along with silent night, kids dressed up in cute costumes for the pageant, family traditions waiting at home and presents under the tree… that isn’t exactly the real version of Christmas either.

All the nostalgia is less about Christmas than we think. In fact, all those things that we listed earlier that made 2022 such a hard year… they speak more to Christmas than we know.

When we hear that familiar story from Luke that we just read… it is easy to imagine the Christmas pageant or TV version.

But the very first line of story takes us to something a little more 2022 than we might be comfortable with. 

“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered.”

Today, we know what it is to have our political leaders make declarations that turn our life upside down. Whether it is soldiers marching across borders into neighbouring countries, or central banks increasing interest rates, or public health orders affecting how we work, study or travel.

Mary and Joseph too had no choice but to get up and go, when ordered by the empire. Baby on the way or not, inconvenient to life or not – their lives were thrown into chaos by the order of the Emperor.

Today, we bear witness to poverty around the world and here in our streets, on the TV and in our bus shelters. Mary and Joseph too had no safe place to stay. No safe place to give birth, but rather the part of a house or cave used to shelter the animals. This is where the mother of God was forced to give birth.

Then once the ordeal of child birth is over, a gang of Shepherds showed up. Not the cute ones wearing bathrobes that we imagine. But shepherds who were the dregs of society, more like drug dealers and addicts, not good and polite neighbours bringing casseroles, not well meaning aunts who stop by the hospital with flowers. Rather is was misfits and riff riff who are the first to worship this newborn child. 

Today, we know the stories of violence against women and missing and murdered indigenous women and girls. Mary is a teenage mom with an older man looking after her and her child despite not being the baby’s father. Jesus is born into the kind of situation where would we expect child and family services to intervene. Yet, this is the family that God chooses to care for the Messiah.

Once the baby is born and somehow the holy family has survived everything…Mary and Joseph are left on their own, left to escape corrupt Kings and authoritarian regimes all by themselves.

None of this sounds like the familiar Christmas, does it?

Except this IS the Christmas story. 

And it is IMPORTANT that this IS the Christmas story.

Because the warm fuzzy version is not what our world needs. The shopping and carols and movies and lights strung up might make us feel good, they may even bring a certain joy and hope to our dark December…. but the TV version of the Christmas story will not save the world. It will not save us from all the things we need saving from.

Instead in Mary and Joseph’s story we can connect to elements of our own, that we can see the ways in which our world has not changed. 

This fact means that if God can be born to a teen mom and a step dad in 1st century occupied Israel, surely God can be born in our world. 

That Jesus is found in families fleeing Roman or Russian soldiers.

That Jesus is found in Bethlehem mangers and Winnipeg bus shelters.

That the holy family is found in those struggling to put food on the table, struggling to afford Christmas presents,  struggling to just hold it all together when this supposed to be the happiest time of the year. 

As much as we want the magic of Christmas,

The world needs the Messiah to be born, 

The Christ who is willing to go and be found in real Christmas places. 

God in Christ is willing to be born among us in order that we can see that God has come near. Near to us in the ways and places that we need most. God comes near, God joins in creation, taking on our flesh to show us that we are not left alone to sort out this crazy world. That we go into the night with God along side us, that God is facing the dangers with us, that surviving our world, that confronting sin and death is precisely where God is with us.

2022 might not feel much like Christmas as we know it, but it just might be the closest to the first Christmas we have ever been.

The story that we tell tonight is so much bigger and so much deeper than the feelings we try to recreate at this time of year. The real Christmas story, the real story of Jesus’s birth in our world is about all the feelings that we don’t want to have this time of year. It is about the fact that God comes to into a world that needs joy and hope and light. 

So just as those Angels proclaimed: Do not be afraid. 

Do not be afraid if Christmas doesn’t feel like we think if should this year…. because it is precisely into this world of ours full of difficulty, hardship and struggle that Jesus is born. Born in the city of David, born here among us this night.

Christmas not as we expect – Pastor Thoughts

The great day of anticipation is soon here. 

In no time at all, we will gather together for the first fully in-person Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services since 2019. Though Christmas and worship wasn’t cancelled in 2020 and 2021, these past two years Christmas Eve and Day worship has not been the same. The sound of one another’s voices as we sing carols, the visitors from afar and familiar folks that we know well all together, the glowing candles as we sing Silent Night. 

2022 with all its ups and downs is bearing a lot of expectation about what this Christmas should be. There are many people who are trying to get back what we didn’t have in the last two years, trying to have the gatherings, visits, trips that we missed the past two years. The parties and concerts that were cancelled. Trying to recreate with nostalgia the memories of Christmases gone before. 

And still once again this year, those things are under threat. Not from a virus but from continent-wide weather events. 

In our family, our planned Christmas company has been unable to fly out of Kamloops since Monday and might have arrived a week late, if at all. Another friend and colleague has been stuck in Victoria for days with no help from the airline in terms of a booking another flight home to Regina. Pastors in Eastern Canada and the United States are wondering on Facebook if in-person services will be cancelled for the third year in a row. Luckily, all the means to be online are already in place. 

In a twist of fate, Manitoba might be one of the best places to be for winter weather this Christmas. We are going to have just the regular cold and snow that we can handle with no problem. 

But of course, all the expectations about what this time of year is supposed to be are still there. And as a good friend says, “Expectations are pre-meditated resentment.” 

Wanting Christmas to be a certain way with certain people following certain traditions is pretty normal. But as our world changes and there seem to be more things outside of our control that affect us in bigger and bigger ways, we might do well to remember that Christmas is a story rooted in unmet expectations and in people navigating circumstances beyond their control. 

And still in a world that buffets us back and forth with challenges and struggles, God comes. God becomes incarnate. God is born into human life so they we might share in the divine. 

So as we bring all the things we want Christmas to be this year, God is already at work bringing the hope and promise that we need in our troubled world. 

May this Christmas Season be a time to celebrate the joy of Christ’s coming with those that you love, in whatever way is possible. 

Blessings to you this season. 

Pastor Erik+

Awkwardness of Advent – Pastor Thoughts

We are heading into the 4th and final Sunday of the season of Advent. 

After hearing Jesus talk about the end of the world and then two weeks of John the Baptist, the fourth Sunday finally gets us to the familiar stories that we usually associate with this time of year. Mary and Joseph finding out that Mary is pregnant. 

The annunciation as it is called, is a beautiful story that also gives us the Magnificat: Mary’s song about God’s faithfulness, throwing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly. 

But there is also a certain awkwardness to the fourth Sunday in Advent. It is a reminder that our beloved Christmas story begins with an unwed teenage mother and her near escape from being tossed onto the streets by her partner. We then see two new parents living in poverty unable to provide the basic necessities of life for their family – including a safe place to give birth. 

This week as I drove down Portage Ave., I saw the bus shelters that have been taken over with folks living in them. I couldn’t help but imagine the Holy Family taking refuge in one of these makeshift lodgings, with no room at the shelters or soup kitchens or rooming houses. 

We don’t usually associate these kinds of images with the nativity scenes that we haul out of storage at this time of year. In fact, the Holidays are often a time where we enforce a certain dissociation with all the hard and difficult things happening in the world. 

This Advent has been more muted than previous ones. In 2020, there was a certain novelty with doing “zoom Christmas”, combined with the hope that came with the announcements of new vaccines. Last year, we were anticipating a more normal Christmas right through Advent and up until the 11th hour when Omicron snatched it away. 

But this year, even knowing there would be no health measures that will take our gatherings away, the Holidays of our nostalgic longings haven’t magically returned. Instead we are living with a lot of uncertainty, in the middle of world that is struggling under burdens of a lingering pandemic, surging flu, overrun hospitals, affordability and inflation, stories of tragedy and violence in our community, the stories of war that are lingering still in Ukraine. 

If feels like all the things that could go wrong this year have gone wrong, and now we are trying to just have a “normal” Christmas. 

Maybe that is why the awkward story of Mary and Joseph is helpful this week. Maybe it is the reminder we need that the Christmases of our warm and fuzzy memories maybe aren’t the true version of Christmas that we believe them to be. 

Messiah comes into our world, even and especially when it doesn’t look like we hoped it would. Messiah comes to us right where we are and brings light to this world and our lives as they are today. 

The moveable feast of Christmas – Pastor Thoughts

Though it is hardly December, we are quickly moving through Advent this year. Sunday was the 2nd Sunday in Advent on just December 4th. 

I was sitting at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet again this week, chatting with parents while casually checking emails. The topic of Christmas came up and as a pastor, non-religious folks sometimes take the opportunity to ask about my work. One of the parents asked when the Christmas busy-ness ramps up. I replied that it isn’t in November like most of the world, but that Christmas doesn’t technically start until December 25th and it is 12 days long ending with Epiphany on January 6th. 

Right now the church is observing Advent, which looks like Christmas with wreaths and lights and trees, but is more about preparing and waiting, more about being small and contained than the over-the-top celebration that is Christmas. I also noted that this year is what some of my colleagues call “Pastor’s Christmas.” 

Normally, there is less than a week between the 4th Sunday in Advent and Christmas Eve. In fact, the 4th Sunday can be as late as Christmas Eve morning. This means Advent 4, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services all fall within the span of 24 hours. Three different sermons, three different services in succession. 

Even still, Advent 4, with Christmas Eve on Tuesday or Wednesday, means a few days to prepare for Christmas services and only a few days after for the first Sunday of Christmas. 

But this year, there is time. Luxurious time. Christmas Eve isn’t until Saturday night leaving an entire week following Advent 4 to prepare. Christmas Day falls on Sunday morning, meaning that there is a full week until the first Sunday of Christmas. 

Yes, Christmas is always December 24th/25th, but it feels more moveable than Easter (which is called the moveable feast). Easter’s date may change, but it is always on Sunday, Good Friday always on Friday. The experience of timing is consistent during Holy Week regardless of the date. 

But our experience of timing in Advent and Christmas can be widely different every year (next year the fourth Sunday in Advent will be on Christmas Eve morning!).

And maybe this varied experience of Advent and Christmas each year is connected to the theme of the season. The quirky realties of dates and days of the week and how they align to create different experiences speak to what it means to wait and watch. 

In Advent, we begin our waiting and watching for Messiah, we remember the people of Israel longing and hoping for Salvation. We consider people going out into the wilderness – where time can get fuzzy – to find good news. We journey with Mary as she receives the news she is pregnant. An experience that is largely not in control of the one who is pregnant, where the ones who are waiting for the new child must live on the child’s timing.

The timing of Advent, the beginning to our liturgical year, reminds us that we are not in control but that we live according to the divine timing. And God doesn’t check with our calendars before initiating God’s plans for creation. Like anyone waiting for a child to be born, things happen on a schedule that is not our own. 

Advent teaches us to live waiting and watching for God, to expect God at any moment and that God will come when God comes. 

But more importantly Advent carries with it a promise – God is on the way. Messiah will be here soon.