Thursday, December 11, 2008

Preachng Materials for December 21st, 3008

R U M O R S # 532
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 14, 2008


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

Christmas giving isn’t about loading down people with expensive junk. It’s about expressing care, concern, love, community. So if you know someone who might find Rumors enjoyable or useful, ask them if you can subscribe them to Rumors. If they say “yes,” send me their e-mail address and I’ll sign them up. But please ask them first.
In the meantime, from Jim and me, may you have a blessed Advent!


The Story – inside Christmas
Rumors – community
Soft Edges – three cheers for volunteers
Good Stuff – Christmas shopping
Bloopers – underwear on the tree
We Get Letters – occasional lapses
Mirabile Dictu! – p/e ratio
Bottom of the Barrel – air conditioners
Reader’s Theatre – different ways of hearing the truth
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – Lynn Johnson’s delightful cartoons often have more than a laugh.
A year or more ago, she had young Michael is all dressed up. The family goes to church. They hear the minister talking about a season of rejoicing and warmth.
On the way out, Michael asks his mom, “Is church open every Sunday, mom?”
“Yes, Michael.”
“Then how come we only come twice a year?”

Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 21, which is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.
The readings from the Revised Common Lectionary are:

II Sam. 7:1-11, 16

Luke 1:47-55 (or Ps. 89:1-4, 19-26) – paraphrased by Jim Taylor

Mary's–and perhaps every woman's–song of pregnancy.
47 My body bulges with new life;
the joy of it shines in my face.
48 For so long I have longed for this child.
Year after year, I felt I failed;
I was the most miserable of women.
But now everyone smiles at me; they congratulate me;
I'm so happy!
49 Now I know that prayers can be answered;
50 now I know that the deepest longings of the heart can take flesh.
51 I will be the best mother there ever was!
You don't have to be rich or famous to nurture new life;
you don't need big houses or expensive nannies–
you need love.
52 The most important person in the world lives inside me;
my unborn child matters more than prime ministers or presidents.
53 I feed my child with my own life blood;
I will nurse it with the milk of my own body.
No one else in all the world, no matter how rich or powerful, enjoys that privilege.
54 I care for my child the way I know God cares for me.
55 As the child lives in my womb, so I live in the womb of God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Books.
For details, go to

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38

The Alternate readings we propose for this Sunday are:
John 1:1-5 and Luke 2:1-19
Note: A “Reader’s Theatre” version of these readings may be found below, just before the technical stuff.

Ralph says:
Over the last few years, Bev and I have collected a dozen or so video tapes of classic Christmas programs. Today we watched Jessye Norman singing a program of carols from Ely Cathedral. Yesterday, it was Christmas in Wales – a traditional rendering of the service of carols and lessons, plus a few readings from classics such as “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas.
I knew every one of those carols, and most of the readings “by heart.” And I use that term, “by heart” because it is much more than simple memorization.
If I dig a little deeper, I find the old German carols we sang around the piano and in school in the tiny Mennonite community of Horndean in Manitoba. “Ihr Kinderlein kommet” (Come Little Children), “O du fröliche” (O You Happy Ones) and of course, “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night). Many others. They float around in that warm soup of semi-consciousness that is me.
I’m not claiming any kind of superiority to that potpourri of tradition. No more than I would argue that my children and grandchildren are more wonderful than yours even though I think mine are phenomenally fine.
I know there are many who go searching other traditions – spiritual and philosophical traditions – to find a way of being that makes more sense. I don’t quarrel with that.
But the older I get, the more I feel my roots deep in a tradition that feeds me – gives me strength – gives me a sense of place and of meaning. Most importantly, it provides a way – a language – a mythology through which I can worship a God of justice and love.
And that’s why I need to hear those familiar words all over again this Christmas.

Jim Taylor sent along two “blurbs” as comments on the alternate lectionary readings. He wanted me to choose the one I liked best. But I liked both. In any case, the first one is a comment on the John passage, and the second relates to Luke.

Jim says:
For me, the question is whether I play with God’s Word, or God’s logos – the English, or the Greek? Because the intent loses something in translation. The Greek logos was the creative principle behind the universe – like superstring theory, perhaps – but by the time it comes down to English, it’s more like God spoke and poof! the universe came into being.
Shades of Cinderella’s fairy godmother...
And yet to try explaining the original intent of the logos is likely to cure insomnia. So I’ll stick with “the Word.”
Perhaps a little word game – print up a few words, large, and ask people for their definition of those words. Some simple words, easy to define. And some that look simple, until you realize they have multiple meanings and pronunciations: bow, mold, object, sanction, fast...
If ordinary words have different meanings for different people, why should we expect everyone to have the same understanding of The Word, the whole complex personality of God revealed in a human being?
And was that whole personality there in full from the moment of birth? Or did it develop? Did Jesus learn?
This sermon will probably turn into a lot of questions. And perhaps it should, as we struggle to fathom the mystery and the miracle of an embodied God. Perhaps we should approach Jesus more with questions than with certainty.

Jim says:
As Christmas pageants and carols present the oh-so-familiar sugar-coated images of squeaky-clean mangers and bathrobed shepherds, perhaps it’s time for a dose of reality.
Like Buckley’s Cough Syrup, it will probably taste terrible, but it might be good for us.
I’d start with Mary. She’s almost nine months pregnant. She has to travel 120 kilometres, about 75 miles, to a strange place. The Bible doesn’t actually say anything about a donkey – that’s another of our sentimentalizations – so she may have had to walk the whole distance. And even if she did ride, how many women in your congregation would welcome bouncing along on a donkey’s bony back when they’re ready to deliver?
Then there’s the birth. All sweetness and light. “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given” – no woman wrote those lines! Mary’s a teenager. Her first birth. You can bet your life it wasn’t silent!
The stable? Piled high in dung.
And where did we get the idea that shepherds and Magi had all the time in the world to troop into town to see a baby? When I retired, I thought I would have lots of spare time. Hah! Work expands to fill the time available (I think that’s one of Murphy’s laws) and all though history, people have had all their time occupied in eking out a living. It would take some powerful motivation for those shepherds to leave their sheep unattended in the wild.
And yet... and yet... Perhaps that’s my theme – despite everything, somehow, the miracle happened. God ignored all the things that could go wrong, and came among us.
Thanks be to God.

There’s some useful children’s stories in “The Lectionary Story Bible,” both years A & B. Year A has a children’s version of John’s logos (John 1:1-14) on page 37. Year B has a story based on the Magnificat on page 28 and on Luke’s Christmas narrative (Luke 2:1-7) on page 30.
The “Lectionary Story Bible” is a series of three volumes representing probably the largest collection of children’s Bible stories anywhere. Volumes A and B are published and available. I’ve written volume C and Margaret Kyle is working on her delightful and powerful pictures to go with the stories. It’ll be published this spring.
Click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”


Rumors – After writing the blurb above about the scripture readings, this little essay came to mind. I wrote it a couple of decades ago when Bev was the minister at Winfield, a community just north of where we live now. It seemed to say what I needed to say.

They packed the hall on Sunday night. Every chair we had was set up, and people stood around the edges. It was a celebration of Christmas and a celebration of community.
The Elementary School choir got us off to a happy start with a set of rollicking songs
Tanya blushed and Chris boomed their way through solo parts. And by the time they were finished we all knew exactly why we had come.
Then the Grade Three choir lisped their way through a clutch of carols, and the Junior Choir from the church bounced us through a couple of snappy Christmas hymns.
Diane directed the choir with everything she was, from her toe nails to her hair follicles. It showed in her shoulders, in her hips and the sway of her head. I kept wishing I could see her face. The kids could, and her enthusiasm reflected in their eyes.
There were no spectators. These were our kids, our family, our friends, our neighbors. And even though we weren’t on stage, emotionally at least, we were participants.
We felt even worse than Tony did when his music fell off the piano and he had to start all over again. And when the Grade Three choir got a bit mixed up in their story of Silent Night we struggled as hard as they to get the thing together again.
That’s what community means. Feeling the pain when things go wrong, and shouting together when things go right. And celebrating both.
There wasn’t a thing in that program that was good enough for television. In fact, if you squeezed it through the wires and transistors of a television transmission, all the juice would have been lost and you’d have had nothing but a badly done amateur hour.
Come to think of it though, the evening was really much too good for television. We’d been brought together by the love that’s there in the middle of Christmas. And though we came from different religious traditions, or none at all, we were all there because we cared about somebody else; somebody who was playing or singing or reading.
And caring about somebody else is somewhere near the heart of Christmas.


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
Three Cheers for Volunteers
This time of year, the charities come out in force. CHBC’s Mike Roberts’ and the Good News Bears collect for the valley’s food banks. CBC Radio One does the same province-wide. Salvation Army kettles jingle. The regional newspaper has its “Be and Angel” campaign, and the United Way struggles for recognition.
I’m not against giving money. (The accountant Joan and I use tells us we’re too generous already.)
But I think there’s something even more valuable than money. It’s time.
At a meeting of the Directors of the Lake Country Museum, archivist Sonja MacCrimmon pleaded with us to record our volunteer hours. Sonja is addicted to information the way other people are addicted to chocolate.
We estimated that volunteers put in close to 3,000 hours a year, on everything from carpentry to computer data entry.
I started thinking about other organizations that depend on volunteers. The local Rotary, Lions, and Kiwanis clubs, for example. The Boys’ and Girls’ Club, providing recreational opportunities for kids. The many helpers at the local food bank. All the people who coach soccer and hockey teams. The volunteer firefighters, who abandon their own birthday parties and turkey dinners to risk their lives putting out someone else’s kitchen blaze. Scouts and Guides. The citizen’s patrol, that supports the work of paid police officers.
Sure, if we all gave lots more money, we could probably hire people to do these jobs professionally.
But would we get the same level of personal attention?
If I’m down at heart, feeling blue, I’d rather have a visit from a concerned neighbour than from a trained professional – who knows all the right questions, but for whom I’m basically a case, a file number.
And then there are the churches. I have no way of knowing what happens at other churches. Big churches have staff teams. But smaller churches, like mine, rely almost totally on volunteers.
At my United Church, for example, a dozen women each give many hours every week to staff a thriving Thrift Shop.
And for what return? A group of us have been working on a short play, part of a service of carols and readings this coming Sunday evening. The cast and crew will have put in a total of around 250 hours of volunteer time when it happens.
All that – for a mere 15 minutes in the limelight.
Volunteers gain nothing but good will for their efforts.
None of this shows up in Canada’s Gross Domestic Product, the standard measure of national well-being. An economic index can only value services for which money changes hands. So the GDP ignores parents who stay home with children instead of pursuing professional careers, for example.
But economics is not everything. I’ll venture that volunteer contributions offer a more accurate index of a society’s quality of life than the GDP.
After all, which would you rather live in – a society where people do what they’re paid to do, or a society where people work together because they want to?


Good Stuff – Christmas Shopping
This item, courtesy of Don Sandin. Unfortunately, we don’t know the name of the author.
I am flat broke from overspending at Christmas time. But I need to go shopping again soon because I am completely out of self-respect. I've said things I wish I could take back and I am not feeling too good about myself.
I also want to exchange a carton of self righteousness for an equal amount of humility. I hear that it is less expensive and wears well, and while I'm at it I'm going to check on tolerance and see if there is any available in my size.
I must remember to try to match my patience with the little I have left. My neighbor is loaded with it and it looks awfully good on her. I was told the same department has a repair shop for mending integrity. Mine has become frayed around the edges from too much compromising. If I don't get it refurbished soon, there won't be any left.
I almost forgot the most important thing of all – compassion. If I see some – no matter what the color, size or shape – I'm going to stock up heavily regardless of the price. I have run out of it so many times and I always feel ashamed when it happens.
I don't know why it has taken me so long to get around to shopping for these items. They don't cost nearly as much as some of the frivolous things I bought at Christmas time.
And I'll get a lot more satisfaction from them.
Yes, I'm going shopping today and I can leave my checkbook and credit cards at home! The things I'm looking for have no price-tags. What a joy!


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – This from Shirley Hollett of Labrador City, Newfoundland. “In Sunday’s announcements the minister was explaining the “Giving Tree” to the congregation. ‘This year the theme of our Giving Tree will be ‘Undercover Kids.’ Donations of children’s underwear, including shorts, panties, longjohns, undershirts, socks and tights may be placed on the tree. You may place your underwear on the tree next Sunday.’

Mark Brantley-Gearhart of Snyder, Texas noticed that the hymn was listed in the bulletin as "God, Tell It on the Mountain". So as the congregation chuckled, Mark told them, "Since God already told it on the mountain a long time ago, now it's our turn."

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! – It behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming:
Ralph Waldo Emerson via Jim Taylor

Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time. What we really want is for things to remain the same but get better. Sydney J Harris via Velia Watts

If, in the last few years, you haven't discarded a major opinion or acquired a new one, check your pulse. You may be dead. Gellett Burgess via Velia Watts


We Get Letters – John Hatchard of Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand writes: “The story about the philosophy prof assigning the question "Why" as the entire exam, reminded me of a story of ancient china written, I believe, by Edith Wharton. Candidates for the Imperial Civil Service were placed in individual cubicles, the doors closed and left to answer one question, "Write what you know". Until they had finished they were not allowed to leave their cubicle and food was passed under the door to them. I wondered how many died in their cubicles for being unable to complete their answer.

This doesn’t really belong in the letters section of Rumors. I don’t really know where to put it. Probably it should be put, as a cousin of mine used to say, “where the sun don’t shine,” but this is from Evelyn McLachlan who sends so much good stuff, I have to forgive her occasional lapses.
Q: Why did it take the Buddha forever to vacuum his sofa?
A: Because he didn't have any attachments.


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “P/E Ratio!”)
A lot of you have seen your stocks go down the tube in the last month or two. One of God’s gifts of grace when dealing with such things is the gift of laughter. So with that in mind, I offer this sent to me by Niel McRae.

Understanding Financial Jargon:
* Bull Market: A random market movement causing an investor to mistake himself for a financial genius.
* Bear Market: A 6 to 18 month period when the kids get no allowance, the wife gets no jewellery, and the husband gets no sex.
* Value Investing: The art of buying low and selling lower.
* P/E Ratio: The percentage of investors losing bladder control as the market keeps crashing.
* Broker: What my broker has made me.
* Standard & Poor: Your life in a nutshell.
* Stock Analyst: Idiot who just downgraded your stock.
* Financial Planner: A guy whose phone has been disconnected.
* Market Correction: The day after you buy stocks.
* Cash Flow: The movement your money makes as it disappears down the toilet.
* Yahoo: What you yell after selling stock to some poor sucker for $240 per share.
* Windows: What you jump out of when you're the sucker who bought Yahoo at $240 per share.
* Institutional Investor: An investor who's now locked up in a nuthouse.
* Profit: An archaic word no longer in use


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Arnold Chadney. I don’t think it’s anti-Jewish in any way. I hope not.
The four Goldberg brothers, Lowell, Norman, Hiram, and Max, invented and developed the first automobile air-conditioner. On July 17, 1946, the temperature in Detroit was 97 degrees. The four brothers walked into old man Henry Ford's office and sweet-talked his secretary into telling him that four gentlemen were there with the most exciting innovation in the auto industry since the electric starter.
Henry was curious and invited them into his office. They refused and instead asked that he come out to the parking lot to their car. They persuaded him to get into the car, which was about 130 degrees inside, turned on the air conditioner, and cooled the car off immediately. The old man got very excited and invited them back to the office, where he offered them $3 million for the patent.
The brothers refused, saying they would settle for $2 million, but they wanted the recognition by having a label, "The Goldberg Air-Conditioner," on the dashboard of each car in which it was installed.
Now old man Ford was more than just a little anti-Semitic, and there was no way he was going to put the Goldberg's name on two million Fords. They haggled back and forth for about two hours and finally agreed on $4 million and that just their first names would be shown. And so to this day, all Ford air conditioners show Lo, Norm, Hi, and Max on the controls.
So, now you know...!!!!


Reader one: How did it all begin? Everything? The world? The universe? What was there, before there was something? Why is there something, instead of nothing?
Reader two: Those are questions big enough to give you a great whonking headache.
Reader one: And there are no proven answers.
Reader two: None?
Reader one: None. But there are good and useful responses. Thoughtful responses. Helpful responses.
Reader two: Such as?
Reader one: Such as the “Big Bang” theory. This is a scientific approach to the question. According to the Big Bang theory, the entire universe exploded from a tiny mass of material many billions of years ago.
Reader two: But if it’s just a theory, that means they haven’t proved it, right?
Reader one: Right. But it’s generally accepted in the scientific community. At the moment, there’s no way to prove it one way or the other. But that proof could be there before long.
Reader two: But we’re Christians, right? So we don’t believe that Big Bang theory. We believe the world was created in seven days, like it says in the Bible.
Reader one: We are Christians, and being Christians means we have a radical openness to truth, wherever it comes from. Truth comes in many ways. From the Bible. From science. Our God-given minds allow us to think scientifically and poetically. Through science and through art. Such truth is expressed differently, but it is one truth. What the Bible tells us about creation is true, but it’s not science. It is story. It is legend. Science can tell us what happened. The Bible helps us understand why it happened. What made it happen.
Reader two: You mean like looking at something from several different directions?
Reader one: Yes. Science and faith do not conflict. They are alternate ways of describing the same reality. The first books of the Bible are a story told in such a way that we may understand some really important things about creation. The first thing it tells us is that God is what made it happen. The first four words of the Bible are: “In the beginning, God. . .” The second thing it tells us is that “God looked at all that had been made, and behold, it was very good.” Very good!
Reader two: Just a minute. This is Christmas time, isn’t it? Aren’t we supposed to be telling about babies and shepherds and wise men?
Reader one: Christmas is about beginnings. About the beginning of a new way of God’s love entering our world. A new way of thinking about who we are and how we can live in peace and justice in our world. For instance, the Gospel of John has a Christmas story that goes right to the beginning. To the big bang.
Reader two: (THOUGHTFULLY) In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word 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 the Word was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Reader one: Sounds as if John was talking about the big bang!
Reader two: He was. John didn’t know it when he wrote that, but the Big Bang is what he was talking about.
Reader one: But aren’t there babies and shepherds and stuff.
Reader two: (SMILING) Yes, there are “babies an shepherds and stuff.” It a way of talking about beginnings. The same beginning John had in mind. The beginning of God becoming part of our lives in a radical, wild, wonderful way. Becoming part of our lives as a tiny, helpless baby. That’s the way Luke goes about describing beginnings. He tells a story that grew up in the early Christian Church – a story that tries in it’s own way to tell us why there is a world – a universe – and how God is part of all that.
Reader one: (SLIGHT PAUSE) In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.
Reader two: Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
Reader one: While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Reader two: In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them:
Reader one: "Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
Reader two: And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying:
Reader one: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
Reader two: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another:
Reader one: "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
Reader two: So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph – and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
Reader one: But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Reader two: (SLIGHT PAUSE) This is how God’s love comes to us. Through science – through careful, scholarly thought like the writer of John, and through stories of a baby’s birth.
Reader one: "Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people. To you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
Reader two: Amen.

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