Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Preaching Materials for December 13th, 2009

R U M O R S # 579
Ralph Milton’s E-zine for people of faith with a sense of humor

December 6th, 2009


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

Warm Advent greetings to all of you!


The Story – a time of yearning
Rumors – a practical joke
Soft Edges – when beginnings are endings
Bloopers – no adultery till March
We Get Letters – two thoughtful letters
Mirabile Dictu! – flabbergasted
Bottom of the Barrel – celebrate
Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 2:1-7
Stuff – (read this only if you would like to subscribe, unsubscribe or are wondering about permissions. That sort of boring stuff.)


Rib Tickler – The Morning After the Night Before

‘Twas the night before Christmas
When all through the house,
Nothing was stirring,
Especially my spouse.

My spouse was zonked out
After spending the night,
Wrapping the robot
With its laser light.

We’d had a big supper
Where we both dropped our diet,
Then an hour in church
Telling Junior, “Be quiet!”

The robot was big,
It had batteries included.
All over its frame
Deadly weapons extruded.

Wrapping was hard,
Guns poked through the paper,
And my spouse cut a hand,
On the robot’s steel rapier.

So my spouse had a scotch,
Then a hot rum or two,
And the robot got wrapped
Though a ray gun stuck through.

The robot, we thought
Was a most fitting gift...
A good Christmas trifle
To give Junior a lift.

Junior’s asleep now.
The child’s tired right out.
He threw a huge tantrum,
We’re not sure what about.

Yes, a robot’s the right gift
To give to our sleeper
To remind him of Jesus.
It’s called the “Peacekeeper.”


Next Week’s Readings – These are the readings you may hear in church this coming Sunday, December 13th, which is the third Sunday of Advent.
If you are following the Revised Common Lectionary, these are the readings you will probably hear.
* Zephaniah 3:14-20
* Isaiah 12:2-6
* Philippians 4:4-7
* Luke 3:7-18

Isaiah 12:2-6 – paraphrased by Jim Taylor
2 God has rescued us from our arid deserts;
Nothing terrifies me anymore.
I sing of the God who gives us living water.
3 From the deepest recesses of our souls, celebration gushes forth,
4 It spills out across an anguished land,
As an awed people pour out praises.
5 Their voices rise, like water in the well:
"Glory to God, who creates springs of life in the deserts of death."
6 So let praise pour out like the living water from the well in our midst,
the well that is our God.
From: Everyday Psalms
Wood Lake Publications.
For details, go to

If you are swimming against the current and going along with our “heretical, common-sense, ‘for-Pete’s-sake-let’s-tell-the-Christmas-story’ lectionary,” you will be reading these scriptures.

* Isaiah 9:6-7 (for a child has been born to us. . .)
Ralph says:
I can’t help it. I get Handel’s “The Messiah” into my head and I start singing it, which to those around me, is a mixed blessing. It’s the King James Version, of course, and probably not as accurate. But it has a cadence that rings.
Scholars tell us it’s not at all clear who Isaiah was talking about, but it certainly wasn’t Jesus.
It doesn’t matter.
Ever since the struggling people in the early church read this – whenever people of the Christian fold in the centuries since then heard this – whenever we in today’s church let this passage have its way with us, we think of the one we call the Messiah.
Advent for me, is not so much a time of waiting as it is a time of yearning. It’s about reading the paper or watching the TV and allowing these words from Isaiah to become my words as I long for – ache for – the “justice and righteousness” that God has promised.

* Luke 2:1-7 (she gave birth to her first born son. . .)

Jim says –
Although it happened 25 years ago, I remember my wife’s Joan words as she scattered our son’s ashes over the side of the little boat: “When I first felt you move inside me...”
I realized that she had known our son nine months longer than I had. Nine months longer than it was possible for me to know him. Because as a male, I cannot give birth.
Has it never occurred to anyone that Luke’s is a woman’s story? Matthew tells everything from the male viewpoint. The annunciation is to Joseph. The visiting Magi are male. Joseph has the dream to flee Bethlehem, and another dream to return.
But Luke tells the story from Mary’s viewpoint. Nowhere else in the Bible is there a comparable version.
Assuming there’s any historical validity to that story, it includes details that only Mary would have known or remembered. About her pregnancy. About her baby’s birth. About her purification in the Temple...
These are the stories that one woman would tell to another. But Mary would never – in the culture of that time – tell those stories to a man. A man would not have listened to a woman’s tales of childbirth; if childbirth made her unclean, then uncleanness made her stories of no value.
The content of Luke’s gospel leads me to believe that its writer was not a man, regardless of what tradition claims.
Luke’s nativity is a woman’s story; it should be told by a woman, to other women, and not pontificated over by a man. Nor even by me.

Ralph says:
Here’s the thing about symbols. About stories. About songs.
It doesn’t matter so much what was intended. Shakespeare cried out his despair when he wrote: “Life . . .is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
When I read it, the despair I feel is my despair. Not his.
It doesn’t matter what joy Wordsworth felt when he wrote: “And then my heart with pleasure fills and dances with the daffodils.”
When I read that poem, the joy I feel is my joy. Not his.
When I read Luke’s nativity story, told with such disarming, powerful, holy simplicity, it brings me to tears. It really does.
Because in those bright spaces between the gentle words of that story I find my own story. The unremembered story of my own mother. The half-remembered stories of tender moments – tearful, terrifying moments with my own children and grandchildren.
And the yearning.
And the hope.
And the holy promise declared to us.
In that one baby
and that one life
and in that one life beyond life.
lies the promise I can taste in my own tears.

If you are following the Revised Common Lectionary, you’ll find a children’s story based on Luke 1 and Luke 3 on page 22 of “The Lectionary Story Bible, Year C.”
For those following our alternate suggestions, you’ll find a children’s story based on Luke 2:1-7 on page 30 of Year B.
By the way, there’s a combined scripture index for all three volumes at the back of Year C.
Reports are coming in from all over about how useful this project is to clergy and Christian educators. If you would like to order, click the main Wood Lake Publications website at, or click on the following address which takes you directly to the “Lectionary Story Bible.”
Or, if you live in Canada or the US, simply pick up the phone and dial 1 800 663 2775.


Rumors – A Practical Joke
It’s a marvelous, wonderful, wise, loving, practical joke.
Christmas! The nativity.
There’s God, down through the centuries, listening to the prophecies about the Messiah.
Some of them were wonderful and beautiful and spoke the mind of God.
Others thundered away about the Conqueror, the one who’d come in on a white horse, with sword and shield, a leader that would be better and tougher than King David.
So God gave them the gift they so badly needed. But not the gift they expected.
It was King David II they wanted. It was a tiny baby they got. What a hoot!
They wanted power. So God gave them the power of weakness. They wanted a conqueror. So God gave them love that conquers all.
That must have been good for a heavenly chuckle or perhaps even a belly laugh, if a belly laugh is possible for a God who is spirit.
It was not the laughter of derision. It was the laughter of a loving, gentle parent waking up long before the kids on Christmas morning, waking up in anticipation of the face of the child when that special gift is opened, the child who receives so much more than it ever dared ask for in the letter to Santa.
And the laughter of God is the laughter of a pleased-as-punch parent who receives the Christmas thank-you hug of a delighted child.
The joke comes back every year.
From “Sermon Seasonings,”
Wood Lake Books, 1997


Soft Edges – by Jim Taylor
When Beginnings are Endings
The Christmas cactus on our kitchen counter has burst into bloom again. Its vivid pink blossoms defy the murky skies outside.
I wonder how it knows to bloom at Christmas and Easter. I know it has something to do with amount of light. Except as the hours of outdoor sunlight lessen, the hours of indoor artificial light increase.
Here in the northern hemisphere, that little Christmas cactus seems out of sync with the rest of nature. Everything else – including me –is in retreat. The hummingbirds have flown south. Trees and garden plants would do the same if they weren’t rooted so deeply into the soil; instead, they withdraw their vitality and hunker down to wait out the winter.
And we humans insulate ourselves from the inhospitable world outside with padded coats and mittens, with heated homes and extra blankets...
And when, I wonder idly, does a Christmas cactus bloom in Australia? Does it still mirror the Christian festivals? If it blooms in June and September, can it still be called a Christmas cactus?
Actually, June might be just as accurate for Jesus’ birthday as December. The Bible doesn’t specify dates. No birth certificate has come down through the ages. Even the Romans – meticulous record keepers otherwise – made no mention of a Jewish census that might pinpoint the time of Jesus’ birth.
But the Nativity stories have come to be associated with the turn of the year – winter equinox in the northern hemisphere, when the slow slide towards darkness reverses itself, when the days start getting longer and warmer again.
British poet T.S. Eliot, a devout Catholic himself, took a midwinter Christmas for granted in his poem, the Journey of the Magi.
“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey...”
The faith story, similarly, focuses on equinoxes in our lives – turning points, for reversing our desire to insulate ourselves, to withdraw, to cling with mittened hands to the urns of ancient certainties.
After presenting a variety of images from the Magi’s travels, Eliot asks:
“...Were we led all that way for
Birth or Death?
There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt.
I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us,
like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.”
Christmas does indeed celebrate a birth.
But as every parent discovers, a birth is also a kind of death. Familiar patterns of life come to an abrupt end as the newborn infant takes control of sleep, leisure time, and even bank accounts.
Eliot was right. Christmas also calls for a kind of death – a giving up of old selfish ways, turning away from worn-out assumptions, starting life over in a different mind space.
Are you ready for that?


Bloopers, Boggles, Typos and Stuff – Douglas Lawson of Sherwood Park, Alberta typed in a note saying the Bible Study would adjourn for Christmas looking at “the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:27-32 (You shall not commit adultery) until March 17.”

Becky Sherwood of East Moline, Illinois thinks there must be a sermon in this somewhere. The announcement read, “Christians around the world stand today in breathless anticipation of a miracle that has been repeated for more than 2000 years, yet that astroids us anew each year.”

If you’ve spotted any good bloopers in your church bulletin or newsletter, or anywhere else for that matter, please send them to me. ralphmilton at (change the “at to the symbol and remove the spaces.)

Wish I’d Said That! – “Honk if you love Jesus. Text while you’re driving if you’d like to meet him.”
from a bumper sticker via Don Propeck

If the law is of such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice. . .then, I say, break the law.
Henry David Thoreau via Upendo, Jim

Blessed are those that can give without remembering and receive without forgetting.
unknown via Velia Watts


We Get Letters – I expected a barrage of letters when I ran the story about Mary becoming pregnant by a Roman soldier. There were only two that went beyond a simple remark –the one I ran last week from Alice Warnes, and this one from Mervyn Flecknoe of West Yorkshire, England.
Rumors is not a discussion forum so I don’t plan to show any more letters on this topic (though of course you are always welcome to write). But the letter from Alice and this one from Mervyn show us two thoughtful but differing responses.
“Last week's Rumors about how Mary might have got pregnant in an occupied state with many soldiers far from home challenged me. I think I can imagine how Mary, engaged to an upright man, must have felt when she discovered her pregnancy. She had lost everything. To hear the angel tell her that this child was a child of God, worthy of love, who would go on to do great things, was just what she needed.
“Many women around the world, in every war zone, are bearing children conceived with a man they have reason to hate. This is a message for them. I am all for a woman's right to choose but if that choice turns out to be to keep the baby, let it be a loved baby that can achieve great things.
“Many thanks for the challenge.”

Someone named Kit Hahn sent this. Or at least, that’s the name I infer from the e-mail address. (Note to everyone. When you send me letters, please tell me your name and where you live. Please!)
Kit sends along a cartoon called, “The Back Pew” by Jeff Larson, and it shows three Canadians all dressed up in fur hats and toques. “Behold, eh!” says one. “He’s a keeper, eh?” says the second. “Beauty, eh!” says the third.
Below the cartoon we are told that this is “The Christmas Story retold for Canada.” “And the baby Jesus was born by Bob McMurphy’s ice fishing hole since there was no room in the ice shack, eh. Then these three smart Alex Canucks came to visit bearing gifts of loonies, townies and live bait.”

Here is a pun from Darren Liepold of Toronto, Ontario, which is just too terribly awful not to run. I have to get it out of my computer somehow or my hard disc will fry, so I’m sending it out to you. Don’t read it. Just delete it as quickly as you can.
“Did you hear they arrested the horse wearing the bad toupee?
“He was charged for using an assumed mane.”


Mirabile Dictu! – (Latin for “Flabbergasted!”)This was sent by Claire Phillips. It’s a fun thing to use at one of those Christmas parties we are obliged to attend each year. (Which begs a question. Why is it that every group you belong to has to have a Christmas party every year?)
Alternate meanings for common words:
* Coffee, n. The person upon whom one coughs.
* Flabbergasted, adj. Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.
* Abdicate, v. To give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
* Esplanade, v. To attempt an explanation while drunk.
* Willy-nilly, adj. Impotent.
* Negligent, adj. Absentmindedly answering the door when wearing only a nightgown.
* Lymph, v. To walk with a lisp.
* Gargoyle, n. Olive-flavored mouthwash.
* Flatulence, n. Emergency vehicle that picks up someone who has been run over by a steamroller.
* Balderdash, n. A rapidly receding hairline.
* Testicle, n. A humorous question on an exam.
* Rectitude, n. The formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
* Pokemon, n. A Rastafarian proctologist.
* Oyster, n. A person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
* Frisbeetarianism, n. The belief that, after death, the soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
* Circumvent, n. An opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men


Bottom of the Barrel – This from Mike Crockett who used to live in Cape Town, but now hangs his hat in Solihull. UK.
A young monk arrives at the monastery
He is assigned to helping the other monks in copying the old canons and laws of the church by hand. He notices, however, that all of the monks are copying from copies, not from the original manuscript.
So, the new monk goes to the head abbot to question this, pointing out that if someone made even a small error in the first copy, it would never be picked up! In fact, that error would be continued in all of the subsequent copies.
"We have been copying from the copies for centuries,” says the head monk. “But you make a good point, my son."
The old monk goes down into the dark caves underneath the monastery where the original manuscripts are held as archives in a locked vault that hasn't been opened for hundreds of years.
Hours go by and nobody sees the old abbot. So, the young monk gets worried and goes down to look for him. He sees the old man banging his head against the wall and wailing. "We missed the R ! We missed the R ! We missed the R !"
"What's wrong, father?"
With a choking voice, the old abbot replies, "The word was CELEBRATE!


Scripture Story as Reader’s Theatre – Isaiah 9:6-7, Luke 2:1-7

Reader 1: I think we should go back to using the Bible our grandparents used. My grandmother used to say, “If the St. James version was good enough for St. Paul, it’s good enough for me.”
Reader 2: I hope she was joking. It wasn’t the “St. James” version it was the “King James” version because it was commission by King James in 1604, at least 15 hundred years after St. Paul.
1: Oh, grandma was joking all right. She was always hoping somebody would catch her up on that. But she loved that Bible.
2: It was beautifully written. No doubt about that. But it was also very inaccurate in lots of places, and it’s written in the English of Shakespeare.
1: Oh, I know. I know. But couldn’t we go back to it. Just this once. (WHINING A LITTLE) Please!
2: Alright. Just this once. I’ll let you read this whole passage. It from the book of Isaiah, and some people claimed it predicted the coming of Jesus. But prophets weren’t fortune tellers. In this passage Isaiah is looking around at what is happening, and he writes this passage which is his yearning – aching for a better world.
1: For unto us a child is born,
Unto us a son is given:
And the government shall be upon his shoulder.
And his name shall be called
The mighty God.
The everlasting Father.
The Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it and it establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform this.
2: I have to agree. That is beautiful and powerful. At least the first part. The second half would have been better from a new translation.
1: So what about our next passage – the story of the birth of Jesus? Can we read that from the King James Bible?
2: No.
1: Why not?
2: Because this passage is much more beautiful in the New Revised Standard Version that we use most of the time in our scripture readings. In fact, it is almost achingly beautiful. Luke tells the story of Jesus birth which such a shimmering simplicity. He uses as few words as possible, because he wants us to imagine what it was like. Luke wants us to bring our own lives – our own experience – into hearing this story.
1: Then I think you should read this one. You obviously love it very deeply.
2: Thank you. I do. This is from the gospel of Luke, the second chapter.
2: In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. All went to their own towns to be registered.
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. Joseph went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
While they were there, the time came for Mary 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.

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