Tag Archives: Christmas

Christmas Sermon: Christmas Eve at the Lake House – a St. David’s Story

The Gospel according to Luke, the 2nd chapter (2:1-7)

It was December 23rd. Marlena stared out the window at the passing scenery, as the van made its way down the highway. Next to her was her husband Jim. In the back of the van her kids Lizzie, 13 and David, 11. They were watching movies or listening to music or playing video games on their devices. In the middle of that van were family friends Miriam and Jesse, between them was an infant car seat and behind them their 4 year old had nodded off in his carseat. 

There was also a mountain of luggage, groceries and Christmas presents in the cargo area of the van. 

As they zipped down the highway, Marlena spied a very familiar motel. 

“Look Jim! Miriam! Jesse! There it is!”

It was 5 years ago that Marlena and her family had met Jesse and Miriam at a roadside motel in  a Christmas snow storm. 4 year old Christopher had been born on Christmas Eve. Marlena had helped Miriam through the birth while they waited for the ambulance to arrive. The rest of the guests had put together an impromptu Christmas dinner. It was quite the experience. 

Still, they had lost contact after that extraordinary time. But last Christmas, they found each other again, when Jim and and Marlena wound up delivering a Christmas hamper to Jesse and Miriam. After the two families reconnect, Jim gave Jesse a job at his food supplier business and the two families had grown close over the past year. 

Jesse and Miriam weren’t going to have any relatives over the Holidays, so Marlena insisted that they come along for Christmas at the lake house. 

Unlike the blizzard 5 years ago, this year as they drove down the highway, the skies were bright and sunny, the highways clear of ice and snow.

When they pulled up to the lake house, Marlena’s parents met the van in the driveway. The house was more like a large rustic bed and breakfast than small summer cabin. There were rooms for everyone and great room big enough to spread out in, with spacious kitchen and dinning.

Marlena’s parents quickly welcomed Jesse and Miriam, and began fawning over 4 year old Christopher and 1 year old Lilly. The whole crew unpacked the van and settled in to their Christmas abode. 

The next day, the kids played out in the snow, and the adults puttered around the house baking and cooking, wrapping presents, chopping firewood and taking many coffee breaks. Soon they would be ready for Christmas Eve Dinner and church. Marlena’s dad kept the kids entertained with all kinds of grandfatherly antics. Everyone seemed to be settling in for a cozy evening. 

As the sun began to set, the group grazed over a Christmas Eve buffet supper. Jim set up the projector from work and connected his phone, so that they could stream the Christmas Eve Service from St. David’s. Everyone found comfy spots on couches and easy chairs, the kids in Christmas PJs and wrapped in blankets. Jesse lit a roaring fire in the fireplace, and everyone had their own candle (or glow stick depending on age), for the service. 

The procession began at St. David’s. The sanctuary glowed with candles and Christmas garland, with tree lights and gathered congregation. The processional party looked like Angels floating down the aisle, carrying torches and candles. They joined in singing O Come all Ye Faithful with the congregation. After all they had been through in the past 2 years, it finally seemed like a normal, peaceful moment. 

Then all of a sudden the screen and all the lights in the house went dark. There was loud sound outside followed by something that looked like fireworks going off outside. Baby Lily started crying, Christopher rushed to his dad, Marlena’s mom gasped. 

Jim rushed to the front door. 

“The power poll down the street is sparking.” 

Jim and Jesse put on their boots and coats to go out and get a closer look. As they hurried down the road, the air was crisp, the night sky was dark with no clouds, and the snow crunched under their feet. 

They came upon the flashing lights of a power company truck, and they could hear a loud electrical buzz and something that sounded like whip. 

When the truck came into view, they saw the bucket lift was halfway down the ground, and a severed electrical line was sparking and whipping the road. And right in the middle of all was a man in an orange reflective jumpsuit, laying on the ground. 

As Jim stepped closer, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“That’s a live wire. You need to stay back. Phone 911.” Jesse said seriously.

Jim pulled out his phone and dialled. 

As Jim connected to the 911 operator ,he saw Jesse dart past him into the ditch. Jesse was collecting dead wood and rocks. He found the biggest logs or rock he could carry, and took them over to the far side of the live wire. Began throwing on the back side of the wire to see if could pin it down. He slowly made his way down the wire, until he had most of it trapped like an angry snow snake. 

Then Jesse rushed over to the man laying on the ground. Jim could hear the man moaning. Jesse quickly but carefully checked for broken bones and then hauled the man off the ground and over his shoulder. He carried the power company worker over to Jim. 

Jim and Jesse then carried the man in the orange jump suit between them back to the house, assuring him that an ambulance was on the way. 

Once back at the house, they wrapped him in a blanket and gave him a chair to sit on. 

Jim waited outside and before long the familiar red flashing lights of an ambulance arrived. A couple of burly EMTs knocked on the door. 

One went to check the power company worker, the other one checked in with Jim. 

“Whoever went and covered that power line with logs and rocks was really stupid.” He said. 

“But also brave, because you probably saved this guy’s life,” he said gesturing to the worker. 

Then the EMT furrowed his brow. “Hold on a second, do I know you?” 

Jim looked the name tag on the EMT’s coat – John Shepherd. 

John looked around the house. 

“You are the people from the motel 5 years ago!” 

“And you were the one who made it through the blizzard to take Jesse and Miriam and baby Christopher to the hospital!” Jim said. 

The group greeted and welcomed John Shepherd, reminiscing about the miracle birth in the blizzard 5 years ago, and they all shared where they now. Christopher stood proud and tall, showing how much he had grown. 

“I don’t know if you folks should be together on Christmas anymore “John Shepherd joked. “This is twice that it has brought me trouble.”

They all laughed. 

Soon the EMTs were gone with the worker, and another power company truck was out restoring power. 

Jim grabbed his portable power bank, hooked up the projector and got the Christmas Eve service running again. The fire place kept them more than warm. They picked up with the usual Christmas Eve readings. 

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

The listened to the Christmas story that began “In those days, a decree went out from Emperor Caesar Augustus” 

Father Angelo, the priest at St. David’s, reminded them that despite all they had been through in the past two years, that God was still sending light and hope into the world. The same Light and hope that came into the world in the Messiah, the baby born in a manger. 

Finally, it came time to light the candles for Silent Night. As the lights were dimmed in the church, the small flames of candle light began to spread and glow across the sanctuary. The group at the lake house also lit their candles. 

The congregation began singing Silent Night. 

As the families joined in, Miriam helped Christopher hold his candle. Lizzie and David sat with their grandparents, singing intently. Jesse held a sleeping Lily in his arms. 

Marlena and Jim were snuggled next to one another. Marlena leaned back to her husband. 

“Our Christmas night hasn’t been that silent, has it?” She whispered. 

Jim shook his head and smiled. “Something tells me that the first Christmas wasn’t all that silent either, with the manger stalls, travellers in the city, Shepherd from the field, angels singing in the heavens.”

“Maybe the bright lights and drama under the starry night, the unexpected Shepherds and miracles are more like the first Christmas than we really know.” Marlena mused. 

As the service neared its conclusion, Father Angelo gave the blessing:

“May the Christmas Star illuminate your path and show you the light.

May the Miracle Messiah, born this night, reveal God’s grace and mercy given for you. 

May the the incarnate love of God found in the Christ, move us to see the divine in our neighbour. 

And may the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, bless you on this Holy and Joyous night of the Angel’s song and forever more. 

Pastor Thoughts – Christmas Eve and Pandemic Timing

As a kid, Christmas Eve was one of my favourite services of the church year. I can still hear the congregation and choir singing “Glo-o-o-o-ria, in excelsis deo” in 4 parts. I can close my eyes and easily picture the darkened sanctuary, with stained glass dimly glowing in the night. The crowded and full congregation often meaning that we didn’t get to sit in our familiar family pew, but instead a new spot that afforded a new view of proceedings. It was fun to go to church at night for some reason. 

Combine that special service with all the family traditions: our Norwegian menu for Christmas Eve dinner (thankfully Lutefisk was a rare sight), gathering with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, opening presents, singing carols and staying up late!

Christmas Eve was indeed a special night, filled with memories and nostalgia. I am sure many of you feel the same way. 

And then came my first Christmas Eve as a pastor. Things had already been a little dicey. The congregation was used to having a pageant on Christmas Eve, but didn’t have the kids or teachers to pull it off that year. So I was roped into coming up with something, and we decided on the Sunday school kids singing some Christmas carols and reading the nativity gospel. Let me assure you, conducting a kids choir is not a seminary class. Regardless, we practiced and prepared for the big night. 

Knowing that there would be a lot going on, I planned to arrived 15 minutes earlier than I usually did for most Sundays. On my first Christmas Eve, I walked into the church at 5:45 PM for a 7PM service expecting to have a few minutes to myself. Being an hour early most Sundays gave me that opportunity. 

But when I walked over to the church (across the field from the parsonage) the lights were already on, the doors open and several cars already in the parking lot. 

Inside and already sitting in the pews where about 15 people, none of whom I had seen before. This totally threw me. I wasn’t ready to be welcoming and greeting people for over an hour before the service started. We made it through, but it wasn’t my most enjoyable Christmas Eve. 

The next year I got to the church 2 hours early, which left me with 30 minutes to myself, but the night was still a challenge. 

I will confess that, since becoming a pastor, Christmas Eve has taken a sharp fall off my list of favourite services of the year. Most Sundays folks don’t arrive with a complete vision of what is going to happen in worship. And as a pastor it is hard to live up to all those expectations (let alone my own Christmas Eve memories) on the most highly attended service of the year. 

It is also hard to find something to preach that cuts through all that expectation. 

All this adds up to a night that usually fails to live up to my own Christmas Eve desires, and a lot of stress about trying to provide something that meets the desires of others. 

Now, you probably know where I am going with this. 

After last year, when no one’s hopes and dreams for Christmas were met, we find ourselves in a place that we did not expect to be this year. Even just last week, we were pretty sure we were going to get something a whole lot better than watching our computer screens or iPads. Today, as I write this, we are living under a cloud of uncertainty. We have decided to suspend our in-person services.

Once again, this Christmas Eve will not meet the expectations of our memories and nostalgia.  

But a secret that I learned after those first couple of challenging Christmas Eves as a pastor… unmet and unrealized expectations are, in fact, at the heart of the Christmas story. 

The first Christmas was nothing but things not going as folks expected. An unwed teenage mother, a fiancée who was not the father, no room at the inn, shepherds and sheep crashing a birth, and the Messiah born into this mess in the back corner of this supremely unimportant place in the world. 

Leaning into all the ways that this story of Messiah’s birth challenges our expectations and challenges our versions of what Christmas ought to be is sometimes precisely what we need. 

Sure, I would rather just be trying to meet all the regular expectations about Christmas Eve than having to deal with a relentless pandemic with bad timing. 

But I also know that the promised Messiah is born regardless. Born to a people walking in darkness. Born to be our new light in the world. 

If Messiah could be born in a stable in 1st Century Judea, Messiah can meet us wherever we are and how ever we worship on Christmas Eve. 

Pastor Thoughts – What are we going to do about Christmas?

The world has changed (again) this week.

It feels strange to be looking back on the beginning of this pandemic like it was in the ancient past, but I have found my thoughts drawn there this week. 

My first clear pandemic memory is from January of 2020. I was attending the Alberta Synod Study Conference in Canmore, AB. Each night as we flipped on the TV before bed, the news kept talking about this Novel Coronavirus. I knew that I should be paying more attention to this, but the things happening more immediately around me pushed those thoughts away. It was still 6 weeks before that fateful week in March when the whole world changed.  

Back in mid-November when Omicron was identified as a variant of concern, I had a similar feeling to the one I did in that hotel room in Canmore. 

And this week has felt an awful lot like March 2020. When things that seemed to be on certain footing just a few days ago have become shifting sand. 

I am sure there are many who are wondering about Christmas. Some might be hoping that we may be able to hold on and still get our in-person gatherings with family or at church. Others are probably already adjusting plans, and re-thinking things that felt set in stone for weeks or even months. 

With the new public health orders that arrived Friday afternoon, we know that as of today, our capacity will be limited to 50%. For this reason we will be adding a second service at 4PM in order to spread out our attendance and to keep from having to turn folks away.     

We are committed to keeping everyone as safe as possible at Sherwood Park. And in addition to the extra 4PM service, online services continue to be available no matter what. 

This pandemic has again certainly put a damper on the season. I also suspect that the new year will bring a challenging time and things might feel like they are going back to those early days of the pandemic. 

But we have been here before. We have weathered this storm before. And this time we know how to make things work. 

And remember that first Christmas had a number of bumps along the way as well: government required travel, full inns, mangers for beds. And yet the Angels still appeared, a crowd still gathered even if in an unconventional way and the Christ-child was still born. 

The Long Awaited 10th Day of Christmas

John 1:[1-9] 10-18
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.

The long awaited day is finally here. 

The 10th day of Christmas. 

Now of course, most of the fuss has been made in past weeks, months even, leading up Christmas Eve, already 10 days ago. And probably for many, today is a moment to relax… maybe you still even have some that turkey left over to make some sandwiches for lunch. 

But for most that gather to worship this morning, the reason that you are here are likely quite different than all the folks who tuned in for Christmas Eve. Today, you might be here because this is an escape from endless family zooms, or yet another Christmas break walk with household. Or maybe even as the world has moved on from Christmas, you are still looking to hear some Christmas music.  Or perhaps the opportunity to hear again the story of Christ’s coming into the world matters to you, that it matters to your faith… or maybe it is all of those things and more. 

Still, there is something unique about these Sundays after Christmas… and I think it has to do with the fact that these days after Christmas each year are when we release ourselves from the burden of creating the perfect memories with the magic of the season. This morning the carols can be sung, the readings read and prayers prayed without need to fill relive all the memories and magic of Christmases past and Christmases imagined. 

In fact, the season of Christmas in most churches stands in stark contrast to the experience of Christmas that most of the world has been observing for a couple of months now. If we are to believe the Christmas commercials and flyers, the perfect Christmas can be achieved with a combination of spending, baking, decorating, zoom party planning, YouTube concerts and amazon prime deliveries. Which is odd because Christmas is supposed to be a season of celebration, isn’t it? The season where we prepare and watch and wait is Advent. Yet, the preparing that so often goes on in these months before Christmas Eve and Christmas Day is an unconscious or unaware preparation. There might be tallies and lists of the number of gifts to buy, wrap and ship, FaceTime calls to make, Christmas cards to mail … but the deeper attention to what the preparations are truly for and why they are important is mostly absent.

And then the big day arrives and Christmas Eve is full of expectation. And instead of the wonder of the Angels announcing good news, we experience a frantic desire to recreate and relive memories and traditions of old. And we put on Christmas Eve impossible expectations that no number of traditions can truly ever meet. 

So often we arrive at Christmas Eve desperately seeking something which we cannot define, a fleeting feeling only experienced in memory, but rarely in reality. 

And in 2020, Christmas Eve didn’t have a hope to live up to our memories, long before we ever flipped the calendar to December 24th, Christmas Eve was going to fail. 

But then we come to the 10th day of Christmas… with Christmas as we usually imagine it probably failing to meet our dreams and expectations… and today gives us something different. 

We get the Word in the beginning, light in the darkness, word made flesh. 

John’s familiar words in the Christmas gospel stand in stark contrast to the way Christmas tends to go in our world. 

John speaks poetic words about the Word bringing life into being, about light shining in the darkness and the darkness unable to overcome it, about a world which does not know this word and this light. 

And finally John says the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Then that familiar story of Mary and Joseph in the stable, the shepherds and angels coming to worship, the Christ child in the manger… that story takes on a different meaning. 

It is a story not found in store window fronts and crowded malls, nor in no-contact deliveries and Facebook Live Christmas events, not found in Christmas movies which we watched so many of this year, not told by the targets adds and buy local campaigns in our news feeds.  

It is a story that isn’t one of a busy and frantic world searching for fulfillment in all the wrong places. It is a story that comes in the quiet and dark places, in the forgotten and sombre places. Maybe it is a 2020 or 2021 story more than we know. 

The Christ comes into the world revealing God to only one household, two people to begin with. Angels from heaven announcing the greatest news in all space and time, to only a handful of shepherds, people who weren’t expecting or searching for anything. 

Despite our best intentions, Christmas as our world often observes it misses the point. 

But Christmas according to John makes the point. 

The word and the light, the Messiah, the Christ, is born into our world this day, this Christmas Day… and the Christ does not come because of our frantic preparations and searching. 

The word and the light comes into our darkness, into our lost and forgotten places, into the moments when we can finally breathe, when our search for something to fill our nostalgic memories results in emptiness and nothing. It comes despite our best efforts because we still need saving. 

The Word becomes flesh…  

the Christ takes on our bodies and our hearts,

our misplaced desires and lonely longings, 

and Jesus joins our world, a world that does not know him, 

and Jesus becomes the only one who can truly fill that emptiness, 

that seeking desire within . 

And so here we are on 10 the day of Christmas, in the moments after the chaos of the past few months has ended… and today is the moment that the Christ comes in flesh to us. 

Comes in flesh to bring light and life. 

Comes in flesh so that God can be known in your flesh and my flesh and in all human hearts. 

Comes in flesh so that we may no longer live in darkness but in light

And on this 2nd Sunday of Christmas, when most all the world is busy with other things, yeah the new year, with vaccinations, with starting 2021 anew, and maybe doesn’t even know that today is still a day to celebrate, 

The Christ, the Word comes, and dwells in flesh among us. 

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