Friday, December 21, 2007

Preaching Materials for December 30th, 2007

R U M O R S #481
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 23, 2007



"A merry heart doeth good, like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22 KJV)

Greetings and thanks to all of you who receive (and occasionally read) Rumors each week. From you I receive joy and friendship and a sense of leaning into God’s dream for my life. So thank you.
May this Christmas be full of joy and hope – a time when you experience God’s gift of Emmanuel.


Next Week’s Readings – Emmanuel in context
Rumors – the manger under the cross
Soft Edges – out of darkness
Good Stuff – the child of hope in us
Bloopers – bears of joy
We Get Letters – while shepherds quaffed
Mirabile Dictu! – hereinafter the “Claus”
Bottom of the Barrel – a holiday groaner
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – This from Wayne Donelly.
A ten-year old, under the tutelage of her grandmother, was becoming quite knowledgeable about the Bible.
Then one day she floored her grandmother by asking, "Which Virgin was the mother of Jesus? The Virgin Mary or the King James Virgin?"
(Wayne, this story is obviously old. A modern child would have reflected our changing morality and asked about the “New Revised Standard Virgin.”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you will probably hear in church this coming Sunday, December 30th, if you are using the Revised Common Lectionary. It is the First Sunday after Christmas.

Isaiah 63:7-9 – We tend to read this as referring to Jesus, but the writer is using “the Lord” (Adonai) as pseudonym to avoid using the word God, which Hebrews would have considered blasphemous.
It was God who showed mercy to Israel – who lifted her up with tenderness and compassion. It wasn’t some celestial pyrotechnics that saved them, but God’s actual presence among them (v.9).
This is one of the gifts of the Hebrew faith – a teaching that surfaces again and again in the various writings – that God is not some absentee landlord who demands certain payments and services, but a living presence in us and among us.
And that living presence was most powerfully and specifically shown to us through the Bethlehem baby.

Psalm 148:1-14 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
The shortest day of the year has passed; the days are growing longer again.
1 Come and join the joyful dance of life!
Celebrate each moment of increasing light!
2 When the sun comes out after the snow,
when the south wind blows the blizzards away,
all of creation creeps out of its caves
to soak up the welcome warmth.
3 All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
4 All things wise and wonderful...
5 The Lord God made them all.
6 God created their characteristics and personalities;
8 The rain falls, the wind blows,
the frost forms its delicate traceries,
just as they should.
Rain does not rise, nor frost burst into flames –
they know their form and function;
The Lord God made them all.
7 So join the joyful dance of life.
The fish of the sea can shimmy;
9 Peaks and ridges march in royal ranks;
trees wave and grasses weave;
10 Cattle can stomp and marmots can whistle,
Chickens can cheep and porcupines bristle;
11, 12 The whole earth throbs with the pulse of life;
The drums of life pound their passionate rhythm.
Princes and popes, outlaws and outcasts,
all races, all colors, all ages, all species,
swirl together like galaxies glowing in a summer night.
13 In God's great dance of life, there are no wallflowers;
Every piece of creation has a part to play.
14 We humans live and die;
our communities come and go, our empires rise and fall;
But God's great dance of life goes on.
Thank God!
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Hebrews 2:10-18 – It’s just as well I didn’t become a lawyer, because I have a hard time with this kind of convoluted reasoning. I’m sure it makes sense if you can follow it. It’s based on the idea that only a “perfect sacrifice” is acceptable to God, which rules out anything you or I may say or do because our motives are always mixed.
The word “perfect” in verse 10, say the notes in my Bible, mean “to make complete – to bring to maturity.” Which doesn’t help a whole lot; because words like “complete” and “mature” are absolute terms and I doubt any human can achieve them.
But then “atonement” theology doesn’t sit well with me. The essence of Christmas for me is that it is pure grace. Pure gift. The gift of life and hope and meaning. Not something that God needed, but exactly what we needed. And still need.

Matthew 2:13-23 – The Christmas we celebrate is mostly Luke’s Christmas. Matthew contributes only the Magi, and their story takes us into the bleeding underside of Christmas which we try really hard to ignore.
But if Christmas is the time when we mark God’s break into human life – Emmanuel, God-with-us – we need to know that it involves not just sweet little babies, but screaming parents and blood-soaked infants and the terror of King Herod who lives and reigns now as always.
The gift of God’s presence brings with it the hunted, haunted look of mothers and fathers who live with fear and despair. The gift of Emmanuel comes to us in the bloody pain and suffering of innocents – in the bloody pain and suffering of crucifixion.

There’s a bundle of great resources on the Wood Lake Books website, including “Seasons of the Spirit” curriculum – which has material for all ages in the church. A few moments poking around on that site could be very fruitful. Go to the website at:


Rumors – A number of years ago I wrote a book called “Angels in Red Suspenders.” It’s done quite well, than you, and is still available. But in the process, I’ve learned a few things about angels. And people.
The gurus who know about such things tell me the angel fad has died off. All the angels have gone back to heaven, so any talk of a sequel is off.
There’s an angel in the story of the holy family, the flight to Egypt, and the slaughter of the innocents. Angels in the Bible are not the feathery-winged blond teenagers in white nightgowns we see depicted on Christmas cards, and not even Raphael’s bored babies.
The first thing angels say is “Fear not!” and there’s good reason for that. Biblical angels tend to have messages that turn lives upside down. Their news is not necessarily good. A trip on foot across the desert with a new baby is not the kind of excursion travel agents package for the tourist trade.
The thing I totally failed to communicate in my book, even though I said it quite explicitly, is that some angels are good and some are bad. Talk show hosts and reviewers missed that totally, as did most of the readers I spoke to.
Perhaps we should have had one of those bat-winged medieval angels on the cover. The ones with horns and a long arrow-tipped tail. That would have been just as accurate as the dove-winged toddler the designers put there, but of course, that would have stopped the sale of books dead in its tracks. Nobody buys books about evil angels.
We don’t want to hear the bad stuff. Especially at Christmas. The way to deal with death is to pretend it doesn’t happen. Many seniors I know have raised avoidance to a fine art, tiptoeing along the surface of life with a string of distractions to keep them from thinking about the reality of sickness and death. And when it comes to them, and it always does, they are totally unprepared.
The last thing we want to hear about on this Sunday after Christmas is babies dying and Jesus becoming a refugee. Christmas should be an escape from pain. Right?
Wrong! All joy exists in the context of pain and struggle. The birth of Jesus in the stable was not one bit less painful than the birth of any other baby, and the utter exhaustion shows in the face of Mary and Joseph even as they experience the joy of new life and hope.
No one goes looking for pain and death, and no one enjoys it. But those who have known the dark night of the soul also know the joyful morning of God’s love. Dawn comes to those who have known the darkness and resurrection to those who have suffered crucifixion.
That’s why, in our churches, the manger should always be located under the cross.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Out of Darkness
Friday is the winter solstice. All around the world, religions have given this day – the shortest day of the year – special significance.
Even societies with limited numeric abilities could determine this day. At the solstice approached, the noon shadow cast by a pole, a spire, or a peak grew steadily longer. And then it started growing shorter again.
And once they had identified the solstice, they could build monuments to help mark the cusp of the year.
In Britain, an ancient civilization built Stonehenge, oriented towards the sunset.
Across the Irish Sea, another civilization looked to the sunrise instead. They built a tunnel deep into the heart of an artificial hill. At Newgrange, priests huddled inside the cavern, waiting for the first morning light to penetrate the length of the tunnel into their inner sanctum.
In Central America, Mayan priests used elaborate geometry to coordinate three overlapping calendars.
Almost without exception, civilizations have attached mythical overtones to the winter solstice.
In the high Andes, Inca priests attached an imaginary rope to a hitching post, to anchor the sun before it could slip any lower in the sky. The Incas built houses and temples out of cut and shaped stone. But the hitching post was carved from solid bedrock – the only thing strong enough to hold the sun in place.
In Persia, the longest night marked the peak of strength for the evil god Ahriman. The next day, the good god, Ahura Mazda, the Lord of Wisdom, began winning the battle of good and evil again.
The Slavic peoples took their belief further. They believed that at the solstice the god Hors was actually killed by the forces of darkness. The next day, Hors was resurrected. Some Bulgarians still perform a chain-dance called a horo or khoro.
In Scandinavia, where winter nights are particularly long, the Norse lit a Yule log. As long as it gave warmth and light, for anywhere from three to twelve days, they feasted.
It’s probably no coincidence that our society celebrates Christmas around the same time of year – whether or not Jesus was really born on December 25.
“Much of our custom developed in the northern regions of Europe where Christmas Day fell during the darkest part of the year,” my friend Ralph Milton wrote in his weekly e-newsletter Rumors (write to subscribe).
I liked his thoughts so much, I’m paying him the ultimate compliment of a writer – I’m using his words instead of my own.
“Christmas comes when things have gotten about as bad as they can be. Darkness rules. The specter of starvation lurks in every corner.
“Into this desolation and darkness a baby is born. A helpless infant who cannot survive an hour without warmth – without a mother’s breast, a father’s arms.
“The child is born just as the days begin to get longer. There is hope again. Spring will come.”
Perhaps every religion finds its own way to symbolize the return of hope in the midst of darkness.

If you have comments or questions about Jim’s column, write to him directly at Jim also does another weekly column called “Sharp Edges” which is published in our daily newspaper. It has a stronger political-social justice content. If you’d like to receive Sharp Edges, send Jim a note at the address above. Or go to Jim’s web page at: . Click on Sharp Edges or Soft Edges or whatever else you might like to read.


Good Stuff – This Christmas meditation was sent to us and written by Connie St. Hilaire
In these days of darkness, as the sunlight decreases daily, we understand the despair of our ancestors who feared the loss of light and life.
In these days of darkness, as wars are waged in hundreds of places on our tiny globe, we wonder if peace is ever possible.
In these days of darkness, as our own government is troubled, we worry about who will care for the homeless, the sick, the luckless.
In these days of darkness, as corporations make record profits but continue to underpay, downsize, and relocate, we fear the loss of the middle class, the heart of America.
Whether we consider the Christmas story to be fact or fiction, we can each appreciate its universal symbolism.
Like Joseph, who among us has not needed shelter from the elements or from tyranny or from loneliness and been shut out?
Like Mary, who among us has not needed a miracle of acceptance and love from those around us when every evidence said we are to be shunned?
Like Jesus, who among us has not been tempted to exchange our sense of self for the goods of this world?
Like the wise men, who among us has not sought the one with the answer, the source of truth, often spurred only by a dream and directed only by a compass of belief in our light?
Like the lamb, who among us has not wished for a shepherd to look for us when we were lost and to rejoice with us when we were found?
As December 25 approaches and we notice the sunlight increasing, may we remember the lessons of the darkness. It is the nature of humankind not to trust change until the increase in the light indicates a trend over time. It is a miracle, given the violent nature of humans as we fear the unknown in the darkness, that there is ever any peace in the light.
It is the individual in collectivity that staffs the government and the corporations and can effect change, just as each atom of the sun contributes to the light that gives us life.
It is the star of faith in ourselves that guides us on a path to discovering the divine child inside ourselves.
It is the child of hope in us that suffers, questions, teaches, and redeems us. It is the light of love that we shine on the world that overcomes the darkness.


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Richard Glover of Waitakere, New Zealand was out carol singing at a hospital. All went well, except as they left one of the wards, a caroler called back, “See you next year!”

Kerry Brewer tells of an interesting suggestion in their bulletin last Sunday. It reminded folks that “the voice of God is still speaking in our hearts and asking us to be bears of joy in our world’."
Kerry says the bulletin didn’t specify whether “they would be actual bears or teddy bears.”

Jim Taylor writes: At a church in Calgary, the reader came to Matthew 3:9, which says, "Do not presume to say of yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor.' For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children of Abraham."
There must have been a flaw in the letter "n" because what the reader said, aloud, was "God is able from these stories to raise up children..."
Which is exactly the point, isn’t it Jim? That’s why the “Story Lectionary” goes live in mid-January.

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me.


Wish I’d Said That! – You don't have to go looking for love when it's where you come from.
Werner Erhard via Velia Watts
There is little joy in owning anything that is not shared.
source unknown via Evelyn McLachlan

Awareness of the treasure of the present moment puts us in the presence of God wherever we are.
source unknown


We Get Letters – Stephani Keer writes: “Of all the variations on ‘While Shepherds Watched,’ my favourite remains: ‘While shepherds quaffed their scotch by night . . .’"

Evelyn McLachlan saw this in the magazine Christian Century quoting Bradley Schmeling. "When I first began preaching, I wanted each sermon to be a powerful and transformative experience. I wanted it to be exegetically and theologically sound, even while it was painting new pictures and inspiring new metaphors. I wanted people's lives to be changed and the reign of God to come. Now, after almost 20 years of ministry, I just want to have it done by Friday."


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “hereinafter the ‘Claus’!”)
The Night Before Christmas (the legal description), which pulsed from the pen (a/k/a/ a laptop) of one James Taylor proving that he is after all a closet lawyer.

Whereas, on or about the night prior to Christmas, there did occur at a certain improved piece of real property (hereinafter “the House”) a general lack of stirring by all creatures therein, including, but not limited to a mouse.
A variety of foot apparel, e.g. stocking, socks, etc., had been affixed by and around the chimney in said House in the hope and/or belief that St. Nick a/k/a/ St. Nicholas a/k/a/ Santa Claus (hereinafter “Claus”) would arrive at sometime thereafter.
The minor residents, i.e. the children, of the aforementioned House were located in their individual beds and were engaged in nocturnal hallucinations, i.e. dreams, wherein visions of confectionery treats, including, but not limited to, candies, nuts and/or sugar plums, did dance, cavort and otherwise appear in said dreams.
Whereupon the party of the first part (sometimes hereinafter referred to as “I”), being the joint-owner in fee simple of the House with the party of the second part (hereinafter “Mamma”), and said Mamma had retired for a sustained period of sleep. (At such time, the parties were clad in various forms of headgear, e.g. kerchief and cap.)
Suddenly, and without prior notice or warning, there did occur upon the unimproved real property adjacent and appurtenant to said House, i.e. the lawn, a certain disruption of unknown nature, cause and/or circumstance. The party of the first part did immediately rush to a window in the House to investigate the cause of such disturbance.
At that time, the party of the first part did observe, with some degree of wonder and/or disbelief, a miniature sleigh (hereinafter “the Vehicle”) being pulled and/or drawn very rapidly through the air by approximately eight (8) reindeer. The driver of the Vehicle appeared to be and in fact was, the previously referenced Claus.
Said Claus was providing specific direction, instruction, and guidance to the approximately eight (8) reindeer and specifically identified the animal co-conspirators by name: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen (hereinafter “the Deer”). (Upon information and belief, it is further asserted an additional co-conspirator named “Rudolph” may have been involved.)
The party of the first part witnessed Claus, the Vehicle and the Deer intentionally and willfully trespass upon the roofs of several residences located adjacent to and in the vicinity of the House, and noted that the Vehicle was heavily laden with packages, toys, and other items of unknown origin or nature. Suddenly, without prior invitation or permission, either express or implied, the Vehicle arrived at the House, and Claus entered said House via the chimney.
Said Claus was clad in a red fur suit, which was partially covered with residue from the chimney, and he carried a large sack containing a portion of the aforementioned packages, toys, and other unknown items. He was smoking what appeared to be tobacco in a small pipe in blatant violation of local ordinances and health regulations.
Claus did not speak, but immediately began to fill the stockings of the minor children, which hung adjacent to the chimney, with toys and other small gifts. (Said items did not, however, constitute “gifts” to said minors pursuant to the applicable provisions of the U.S. Tax Code.)
Upon completion of such task, Claus touched the side of his nose and flew, rose and/or ascended up the chimney of the House to the roof where the Vehicle and Deer waited and/or served as “lookouts.” Claus immediately departed for an unknown destination.
However, prior to the departure of the Vehicle, Deer and Claus from said House, the party of the first part did hear Claus state and/or exclaim:
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!” Or words to that effect.


Bottom of the Barrel – Peggy Neufeldt
A man goes to his dentist because he feels something wrong in his mouth. The dentist examines him and says, "that new upper plate I put in for you six months ago is eroding. What have you been eating?" The man replies, "All I can think of is that about four months ago my wife made some asparagus and put some stuff on it that was delicious...Hollandaise sauce. I loved it so much I now put it on everything –- meat, toast, fish, vegetables, everything." "Well," says the dentist, "that's probably the problem. Hollandaise sauce is made with lots of lemon juice, which is highly corrosive. It's eaten away your upper plate. I'll make you a new plate, and this time use chrome." "Why chrome?" asks the patient. To which the dentist replies, "It's simple. Everyone knows that there's no plate like chrome for the Hollandaise!"

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