(I apologize that I had to remove the audio file of my complete sermon, as there seems to have been a technical glitch. In compensation, I’ll try to flesh out the brief version of my sermon below. Check back in a day or two to see if I have expanded what is shown here.)
A kindergarten teacher gave her class a “show and tell” assignment. Each student was instructed to bring in an object that represented their religion to share with the class.
The first student got up in front of the class and said, “My name is Benjamin and I am Jewish, and this is a Star of David.”
The second student got up in front of the class and said, “My name is Mary. I’m a Catholic and this is a Rosary.”
The third student got in up front of the class and said, “My name is Kosta. I am Greek Orthodox, and this is a baklava.”
Funny, but not far from the truth. What are we known for? Our icons? Maybe, to a few of the more intellectually curious people in our city. Our theology? To an even fewer number of people. But almost everyone knows us because of our Festival and bake sales. When people ask me where I work, I tell them Holy Trinity – you know, the Greek church, the one with the Greek Festival. Ah, people know right away which church I’m talking about.
I don’t mind, I like it. There’s nothing wrong with being recognized as the priest of the church that has the popular Greek Festival. That’s become my standard introduction to strangers who want to know what I do and where I work. In my more rigid days it used to bother me that people know us for our food and pastries rather than for our theology and liturgy. Not any more. I’ve grown up. Nothing to be embarrassed about. Jesus himself was not embarrassed by who he was and where he came from. That’s the whole point of today’s Gospel reading, that amazing genealogy that Matthew made up. Sure, he made it up to show Jesus came from important stock. But in that genealogy there are men and women not so lofty, not so holy, including some that you and I would be embarrassed to have in our family tree. No matter. God touched down on real earth and real people.
Right there at the beginning of the genealogy we find Abraham and Sarah. They were visited by three men who clearly came as representatives of God. They were on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah, to destroy those notorious cities of sin – kind of the Las Vegas of that time. But Abraham bargained with them, trying to convince God not to destroy – partly because Abraham had a nephew living there, Lot, but perhaps also because Abraham knew from personal experience how easy it is for people to sin. God listened and made the bargain with Abraham, but to no avail. He destroyed the city. The story of humankind starts with fire and brimstone, and so it continued for millennia. Then Jesus came, as the Prince of Peace, to bind up the wounds of the people, to preach good news to the poor, to heal the sick, to liberate the captives and the oppressed, to open the eyes of the blind, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. That’s how he identified himself to the people of Nazareth when he started his ministry as an adult. He came precisely for every inhabitant of Sodom and Gomorrah of every place and time. We are all bound, we are all blind in one way or another, we all need good news to come our way.
Every time we are in spiritual need, we stand with people of all times – in waiting, anticipation for the release that Jesus brings. And the miracle of Christmas happens every time we need good news, every time we need our eyes and hearts to be opened, every time we need forgiveness. God knows that we need the miracle of Christmas in our lives. Jesus did not choose to mingle with the religious types. He chose to be with the regular folks, people like us. And if he were in Portland in June he would definitely come to our Festival and taste our shish-kebab and baklava and loukoumades and even drink some Greek beer. I’m not sure about the Greek coffee. He can get better coffee in the Middle East.
2 Replies to “A Christmas Community”
For those of us who believe in the leading and sovereignty of the Holy Spirit in the church ( despite being in the minority) , your sermon today would not have come as a surprise at all. Let me just mention that on the way to church this morning, i was reading and translating to Elizabeth two articles written in Arabic by two different moslem people ( one man, one woman) about Christmas. One of the Articles was entitled: the sadness of our feasts and the joyfulness of theirs. This article talked about how jealous the writer was throughout his youth of the joyfulness that Christian Children experienced at Christmas. The lights, the colors at the darkest time of the year, the gift giving, the songs, the music and yes the overeating and the good food and sweets, were all signs of joy that this child was green eyed with envy about. He then compared it to the shiite moslem feasts he was used to, where the feast was to go recollect murders, or visit gravesites, and no gifts were ever given, and he thought that that seemed unfair. One year he recounted , that he even got a branch from a pine tree( the real stuff with real pine nuts, not the imitation stuff you see here…:-)) and he took a bulb from one of the house lamps, placed the bulb between a few rocks, which he also used to hold the branch, drew a shepherd and a sheep on a piece of paper and placed it outside this home made grotto, that was also holding the pine brach, which he decorated with cotton to resemble a form of a Christmas tree, so that Santa Claus would come and leave a gift for him too, when he came to give gifts to the Christian kids… ( he recounts that his home was only. A few hundred feet from the Church so I guess he didn’t think St. Nicholas could miss it)… Of course, Santa didn’t leave a gift, and the boy wondered why Christian kids were loved so much more than he was, that they had Christmas. Both articles by both moslems concluded that they decided that Christmas was so important that they vowed that they would celebrate it with their kids, and the woman writer , who is a religious moslem, even said that she even has a special meal and a special breakfast and a tree and a cave and lights and gifts for her kids and her husband.
Given this, i believe you are right in saying that being “baklava Christians” is not a bad thing. I personally feel that when God gives us life and gives it more abundantly, he actually invites us to the type of communion with each other, found only in family dinner parties…the type we share in festivals and the like. It is because we are alive that we are able to celebrate without sadness, and it is because we are invited to a dinner party and to a wedding that you can experience laughter from the heart and friendship and good food. Even in the book of revelation, with the fire and the brimstone, it showed that the Christians were invited to the feast of the wedding of the lamb.
You mentioned in your sermon,doubt about the existence of hell, and that you did not want to be controversial…but i would love to share what I think of hell, myself. I think that God is so kind that he would never send us to hell, but i think he also is very respectful of our free will. There are those, who do not believe in justice or truth, and would find this currency very hard to deal with , and would choose voluntarily, injustice and and deceit. I have met such people, and i think, these people would completely perish in the light of absolute truth and absolute transparency and light, so I think God allows them to exist far away from Him….and where god is very distant…that is Hell! I believe that it is not in the afterlife that people go to heaven or to hell, but even as they walk this life, they choose a way, and live a life of heaven and of hell…. One can love others and want to share joy with others or one can be narcistic and selfish and envious and want to rob people of their joys. this is heaven and hell right before our eyes. Of course we all go to the other side and they come to ours in this life and we oscillate back and forth, but eventually, i think, that will not be possible….
So given your sermon today, i am encouraged to share some joy with you as a friend. Forgive me if some of these hymns you have heard already, but i think they are exceptionally performed, and really worth seeing on a large computer screen or at least an ipad(in case your seeing this email on your Iphone.). Here they are:
1- sir John Taverner, a composition based on a canonical Orthodox Christmas hymn: http://youtu.be/pAQTMk_vjrU
2-the Piano guys. These are People from Utah ( i assume Mormon) but what they do in those pieces of music are remarkable: the first is: angels we have heard on high
3-a musical rendition of God rest ye merry gentlemen and Carol of the bells by Piano guys: http://youtu.be/e9GtPX6c_kg
4: angels we have heard on high, also by piano guys , sung and played exceptionally http://youtu.be/PrLoWt2tfqg
5- this is a hymn by a vocal group called pentatonix…a young people group…also very interesting and amazing acapella : http://youtu.be/WSUFzC6_fp8
6: also by Pentatonix: http://youtu.be/ifCWN5pJGIE
7: and finally ( 7 being the number of completeness in scripture… 🙂 )
The drummer boy: http://youtu.be/qJ_MGWio-vc
Both Elizabeth and i were enjoying these, and we thought you and Madeline would enjoy them too.
Sent from my IPad
Thank you, Alexis, for these thoughts. I can count on you to make thoughtful and profound responses to my own thoughts. Your view of “hell” is precisely my own. My doubts are about the gruesome versions of “hell” that are used to strike fear and intimidate people into submission. Thank you for sharing the experiences of those muslim writers; they confirm the importance of living our faith in a joyful manner. Jesus was attacked by the “religious” people of his time for wining and dining with all sorts of wrong people – wrong in the eyes of the religious, that is. The ethnic aspects of Orthodox churches can be burdensome obstacles to experiencing the presence of Christ in our lives. But then they can also be reminders of precisely why Jesus was incarnate. And that was part of my point this morning.
I will listen to the audio files you have appended and might comment on them. I hope other readers of this blog will listen to them as well. Thank you for sharing them.