earth's manifest

Given the priority of Christmas on our mid-winter calendars it is not surprising that Epiphany is muted. Advent is well rehearsed as a four candle journey to the manger. The need to rediscover the “true meaning” of Christmas is proclaimed in a multitude of sermons. But the ancient holiday of Epiphany barely registers, submerged as it is in the New Year’s festivities of the surrounding culture. We are intrigued to learn that Epiphany predates Christmas as a Christian festival. Yet we too easily surmise that Epiphany lingers as a quaint liturgical artifact when, instead, it occupies a central location on the map of our communal pilgrimage.

Since the sale of its church building in 1985 University Hill Congregation has worshiped in the Chapel of the Epiphany at the Vancouver School of Theology. This is akin to a congregation worshiping in the Christmas Church or the Easter Sanctuary. Perhaps only Pentecostal churches are accustomed to worshiping in a sanctuary named for an event on the Christian calendar. In a sense every Sunday is Epiphany Sunday for University Hill Congregation. This weekly marking of Epiphany is, over time, teaching us three vital habits of the heart.


hill christmas

They came over the snow to the bread's
purer snow, fumbled it in their huge
hands, put their lips to it


a heavenly host

There is no room in the inn. The baby is born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough. God arrives incognito, unrecognized, there is no reservation. This is the first thing about this night. God regularly arrives incognito, unrecognized, without a reservation. Hosting the heavenly guest means making room as you are able for all manner of guests. This is the reason that monasteries and convents have long lived by the discipline that no one who knocks at the door and asks for shelter can be turned away. Jesus arrives in the least of these visitors. But, of course, sometimes there is actually no more room. Sometimes even the stable is already filled with guests. Sometimes the monastery or the homeless shelter is simply way beyond its capacity. Sometimes your life will implode if you make room for yet another cause or worry. Then what? Then we gather here, on this night, and thank God that room is found somewhere, somehow with someone. Then we thank God that, in the end, it is not up to us to be the perfect hosts. Yes, we watch for signs of God intruding into our busy lives. Yes, we pray that we may host the heavenly guest incognito. But mainly we give thanks that the heavenly guest has found room and still finds room in this crowded world.


sanctifying time

“Time to us is a measuring device
rather than a realm in which we abide.
We cannot solve the problem of time
through the conquest of space,
through either pyramids or fame.
We can only solve the problem of time
through sanctification of time.”

- Abraham Heschel, “The Sabbath”,

The Noonday Press, pp. 96 & 101.

From its inception, Christianity has understood that the news of God’s in-breaking kingdom called for odd ways of telling time (for a helpful introduction see “Early Christian Worship” by Paul Bradshaw, The Liturgical Press, pp. 70-93). The purpose of these peculiar rhythms is to sanctify time. To sanctify time is to experience time as holy - as time lived with and for God. In an age that provides instant access to digitized chronological time it is easy to forget the biblical notion of time as the place where God abides. Like the Sabbath itself, the Christian year intends to shape a people who seek God not in the acquisition of things or in a holy place but in a “sanctuary in time” (Heschel, p. 29).


annunciate & magnify

Luke 1:26-55

When the good news comes it always arrives with an announcement. In the beginning, when all is darkness and storm, order erupts from God’s announcement: “Let there be light” (Gen. 1). When ancient Abraham and barren Sara have long given up on God’s promise of a future generation they host three strangers, angels with an odd announcement: “When we return you will have a son” (Gen. 18). Sara laughs at such folly. When Israel has been judged and found hopeless, an exiled and broken people, the first sign of newness is Isaiah’s poetic voice: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people” (Is. 40). The good news arrives in the form of an announcement before there is any evidence of newness. The announcement is the evidence.


a deep happiness

I have been enjoying reading a collection of Leonard Cohen's poems and songs entitled "Stranger Music". Near the end of the book I found this little poem - "A Deep Happiness" - to which I find myself returning ...


annunciation, ave maria & magnificat in one text. wow.

The ecumenical lectionary lists Luke 1:26-38 as the gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, Advent IV. It also offers that the Psalm (or sung text) for either last Sunday or this Sunday can be Mary's song - the Magnificat - found at Luke 1:46-55. We will read the whole passage, beginning at verse twenty-six, carrying on through Elizabeth's greeting to Mary and then to Mary's joyful song - the first carol. I don't know where to begin. There is so much here.


transplant plus ninety

Tomorrow will be ninety days since my stem cell transplant. It will also be my first day back at work. It feels like the timing is right to head back part-time. Yesterday I attended worship at University Hill for the first time since July. It was a wonderful reunion with so many smiling faces greeting me. Doug preached a great sermon and the congregation clearly hadn't missed a beat in my absence. It was so good to simply be able to be there with everyone. There is enough hand-sanitizer in the place to keep our hands clean for a year! My need to be careful about catching a cold or flu may help everyone keep better habits when it comes to being cautious about spreading germs.


no room

Have you noticed? Christmas Day falls on a Sunday this year. This puts many congregations in a quandary. In North America many do not normally hold a worship service on Christmas day. Most hold their Christmas services on Christmas Eve. This convenient arrangement allows Christmas day to stand as a time for the family to gather without the complication added by the observance of Christian worship to mark the birth of the Messiah. However, when Christmas day falls on a Sunday there is the small matter of the fourth commandment to consider. Unfortunately, the commandment does not read: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy ... unless it falls on Christmas day”.


a gospel culture

The first reading on the first Sunday of Advent at the beginning of the three year cycle of the lectionary proclaims: “In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains ... all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD ... that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ ... They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (from Isaiah 2:2-5).

Six weeks later the readings for the day of Epiphany (Isaiah 60:1-6; Ephesians 3:1-12 & Matthew 2:1-12) once again announce the gathering of the nations who bring gifts to the One who is the light of the world. The seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany open the Christian Year with the prophetic announcement of the global ingathering that will be formed into a multi-lingual gospel people at Pentecost. The story begins in a world of ethnic hostility and culture wars. The plot of the story will be the gospel drama of the world’s peoples learning war no more. It is the gospel of the in-breaking of the new human culture that Jesus both announces and embodies - the culture of the kingdom of God.


janice is still riding

Janice Love is a former colleague at University Hill Congregation and long-time friend who now lives in Vernon, BC with her husband Jim and their eight year old son (and my godson) Jameson. Janice is a co-conspirator in the creation of the Christian Seasons Calendar. She was the one who created the first prototype after I had imagined what seemed an improbable concept. Now, all these years later, she continues as part of the team that publishes and distributes the calendar. This past July Janice was inspired to begin training for the Ride to Conquer Cancer in support of cancer research. It means she plans to participate in the bike ride from Vancouver to Seattle in June 2012. It is a long ride!