31 January 2011

Epiphany 4 A

The Reverend Elliott Siteman Readings: Micah 6:8

St. Luke’s, Burlington Matthew 5:1-12

Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

30 January 2011

(With the children)

What do you think of rules? Where do you have rules that you need to follow? What rules do you have at home, at school, with your friends?

What rules do you always follow? What rules do you wish you didn’t have to follow?

Why do you think rules are important?

Today we heard about some rules that God wants us to follow, and keep in our hearts.

Jesus had been teaching and healing a lot of people and he was getting tired. He decided to go away from the crowd by climbing a mountain. After a time his friends came to see how he was doing and they told him that the people have been wondering about the rules they should know if they were to follow him.

Jesus looked out and a whole bunch of people were sitting there, waiting for Jesus to tell them what to do. What are the rules? What should we do? Jesus thought about it and started to talk to his friends. Jesus told his friends to be good to each other. Jesus said being good to each other would make people blessed – which is another word for happy.

Jesus gathered some friends around him and started to tell them what God wanted them to do; they wanted to know the rules. What are they supposed to do? Jesus helped them understand what God wants them to be doing.

So tell me what things we you do when we are friends. What happens when two of us want to play with the same thing? What do we do when one of us is really sad? When we have a job to do, like, for instance, putting all the toys back in their box, how can we make it easier for all of us?

When we do these things then we are beginning to follow the rules that Jesus told us through his friends. And when we do these things then we become blessings to others.

Thanks, now I have to have a word with the older folk…



We all have them, we all follow them, and we all hate some of them – judging by the way some people drive in this part of the world, some people really hate some rules – yet, in the end, we all need them…

Rules, keep our lives orderly and civilized.

Today we hear about the rules we are to follow in this life if we are to be blessed. First a bit of a piece of translation: the word we hear today in Matthew’s Gospel we translate as “blessed” in the original Greek - μακάριοι (mak-ar'-ee-oi) - has more of a feeling of contentment with ones life, a sort of happiness that surpasses giggles and enters the realm of being at peace with yourself.

So, “contentedly happy are the poor in spirit; contentedly happy are they that mourn; contentedly happy are the peacemakers; contentedly happy are those who are reviled and persecuted.”

And in contemporary Greek this word goes even further, as currently this word means “blissful”.

Anyway, I’ve gotten ahead of myself here…

As I said, Jesus had just spent a lot of time and energy teaching and healing a huge crowd of people. They were all reaching out to him in their need and he gave of himself until he could give no more. So he escaped from them.

I know that the normal reading of this passage is to think that Jesus got up on a hill and preached to the crowd but when you read this passage a little more closely that is just not the case. Jesus went up a mountain to be refreshed and renewed.

The people he has just been with are hungry to be fed spiritual food. They are in need, with illness, poverty and full of fear. They are also hungry to know how they should live if they are to be rewarded by God.

They know the words of the prophet Micah who tells them “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” but they want to know HOW to do this… what RULES should govern them as they attempt this.

The crowds are probably becoming quite curious and start asking the disciples to tell them these rules. The disciples have no answers for them so they go up to Jesus, they seek him out.

Jesus gathers them together and then teaches them some very radical things.

The very people that they have been ministering to are the ones who are to be content, and who will be rewarded. The lowest of the low, the saddest of the sad, the outcast, the sick, the people who are so often overlooked – they are content, happy, blessed… blissful.

You can just see in your mind’s eye the reaction of the disciples as they hear these words for the first time. Their mouths would have hung open, their eyes would have bulged out of their sockets, and they would have been left speechless.

Jesus is saying to them that when you are at your lowest point in life it is then that you are blessed, you are content, you are happy, you are – dare I say it – blissful and through that you will receive great rewards.

Jesus says “blessed ARE the poor in spirit; blessed ARE those who mourn; blessed ARE the meek.” He does not say “blessed will be…” No! Jesus is saying something much more astonishing here. He is saying that for those of us who consider ourselves blessed by power, wealth, position, or what have you, we are the ones who need to take a long hard look at what it really means to “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.

For what we also miss many times in this Gospel reading is that Jesus only tells these rules to the disciples, this “sermon on the mount” is a sermon for 12. After he tells them he would then mandate them to go and teach the crowds of people who have gathered seeking the rules they should follow.

So what does all this have to do with us? What do we do with all this here at St. Luke’s, Burlington? How do we integrate this into our lives?

So many times in my ministry as a priest I have encountered people who are in great pain – physical, spiritual, emotional – and they often wonder what it all means. What does all the pain of this life mean? Why are we forced to endure such pain?

We have all had pain in our lives: the pain of loss, the pain of betrayal, the pain of confusion, the pain of conflict. What Jesus wants us to know about that pain is that within it is the source of our strength; within that pain is the source of our ultimate joy. For when we let go of all that holds us back from living as Jesus asks it is then that we will know the true power and presence of God. When we are in the greatest pain this world has to offer it is then that we are vulnerable enough to let God into our lives and feel the bliss that is being in relationship with him.

Today, in our hearing, Jesus turns life on its head! Jesus tells us today that the transient THINGS of this life are not truly blessings. Yet the true blessings of this life are found in how we build good, loving, honest relationships with each other. The true blessings in this life are found when we are open to the Grace and Mercy that flows from our God into our painful wounds.

So take this opportunity to look at what it means to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be a peacemaker, to be persecuted for righteousness sake, to be reviled because you dare to turn the world upside-down and proclaim that blessing, happiness and bliss cannot be purchased or earned. Blessing, happiness and bliss can only be experienced though the pain of our lives.

Go from this place renewed in how you see the world! Go from this place renewed in how you feel blessed by being blessings to every person you meet. And then, THEN, you will be doing justice, and loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God.”


Epiphany 3 A

Sermon for 23 January 2011

Isaiah 9: 1-4

Matthew 4: 12-23

By Sharyn Hall

‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in the land of deep darkness – on them light has shined.’

The concepts of light and darkness were very important to the ancient people of the Bible. Darkness was a reality for them, which we in industrial countries of the twenty-first century do not experience. We live in a world of constant light. During the darkness of night, there is light along our streets and highways, outside and inside our homes, in factories and office towers. Office towers are towers of light scraping the dark sky. Often we have so much light around us that we cannot see God’s starry firmament above us.

We are so accustomed to breaking the darkness that we panic when we lose the power to make our own light. When there is a black-out, we become people walking in darkness. Darkness envelops us, creating anxiety and danger. Darkness provides the opportunity for people to give in to their dark temptations, to loot and steal, to harm and to destroy under the cover of darkness. In our homes, we search for a candle, which amazingly illuminates much more that its small flame of fire. We are grateful that the surrounding darkness cannot blot out the tiny flame. The fact that a cloud of darkness cannot extinguish a simple beam of light, and that a beam of light can split the darkness, became a powerful symbol to ancient people who lived much of their lives confronting the power of darkness.

When Isaiah writes about a people who walk in darkness, he is not describing their physical reality, he is talking about a lost people, who have become separated from God. Isaiah describes a people whose eternal destiny is without God because they have turned away from the light of God to live in darkness.

Light is God’s creation. God’s first act of creation was to pierce the darkness of chaos with light. Light denotes the divine presence of God and becomes the symbol for what God gives to the world and to humanity. In the Bible, light is associated with God’s glory, God’s righteousness, truth and love. Light is a symbol of God’s saving grace for all people. Jesus was accepted by the early Christians as the way to a renewed relationship with God, and consequently, Jesus became identified as a light from God to confront the darkness in people’s lives. To walk as people of light, the followers of Jesus were called to turn away, or in other words to repent, from their sins of darkness.

In our passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the quote from the prophet Isaiah reminds the people that the light of God came to their ancestors who lived in darkness. A new light has dawned in the Saviour sent by God. Matthew links that new light with the beginning of the ministry of Jesus. The gospel states, ‘From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Christians are called to choose the light. God gives us the freedom to choose, to choose justice against injustice, to choose compassion against cruelty, to choose peace against aggression, to choose love against hatred. Christians can become complacent, even arrogant, about being people of the light of Christ; however, the history of Christianity has dark shadows. The early Christians began to quarrel amongst themselves. St. Paul wrote to the small Christian community in Corinth to chastise them for their bickering about baptism. As the Christian church spread to other countries and cultures, the Christian faith began to fragment into different theologies and practices. Unfortunately along with fragmentation came more bickering, prejudice, hatred and sometimes violence.

This past week was the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which is celebrated by many churches around the world. On Thursday evening, I attended a service at St. John’s Anglican Church in Ancaster to commemorate the Week of Prayer. The service of prayers, scripture and music was a joint venture between St. John’s parish and St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church. For over one hundred years, people have observed the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and much has been accomplished, particularly in recent decades.

People from different Christian denominations meet together, worship together and work together to follow Christ’s mission of compassion, justice and peace. As you know, the Anglican Church of Canada is in full communion with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada; this has brought us together to pray, to share the sacraments and to work for social justice. I chair an inter-church committee of Anglicans, Lutherans and Roman Catholics from four dioceses, which organizes events to foster mutual understanding and fellowship among us.

Every opportunity for mutual understanding needs to be grasped so that Christians can be united as the body of Christ. To be united does not mean to be uniform in our worship, scriptural interpretation or customs. As Christians we need to be united in sustaining the light of Christ’s mission, amongst ourselves and for the benefit of all people. Daily we are reminded that many people walk in darkness, the darkness of war, of disaster, of poverty, the darkness of hatred, cruelty and injustice.

We can find hope if we remember that darkness only exists where there is no light. If you are standing in a dark room and someone opens the door to a room full of light, darkness does not invade the lighted room; the light comes to you to dispel the darkness. Each one of us can be that someone who opens a door of light to dispel the darkness, and to bring God’s saving grace into this troubled world. Amen.

Epiphany 2 A

Epiphany 2A 2011

16 January 2011

Isaiah 49: 1-7

John 1: 29-42

St. Luke’s, Burlington

By Stuart Pike

Do you remember those days when you were a seeker? When you knew there was more, but didn’t know what that was, and you were looking for it? There was more to life that you had to find out about; there were questions that needed to be answered. Perhaps what had satisfied your juvenile mind just didn’t do the trick any longer.

It might have been at a pivotal time in your life: maybe you were making decisions at the end of High School about University or work life. Maybe you were wondering about where you might settle down, or with whom you might settle down.

Or maybe you were past all that and had settled and lived a great deal of your life already. And, looking back on all you had lived, you wondered, “And now what am I supposed to do?” or “What’s next for me?

Or maybe your job situation changed and brought you face to face with the unknown.

All of those situations might have been a little bit exciting, or maybe a whole lot scary, but they opened us up to possibility: they snapped us out of the known way and obscured our vision and made us into seekers. We looked for light in the darkness. We may have been filled with equal parts hope and dread, but we were seekers, and because of that we were primed to experience an Epiphany.

You can tell we’re in the season of Epiphany because the stories of the scriptures continue to tell about seekers finding what they seek, glimpsing the divine light and then bringing others to see for themselves the wonderful truth that they have just seen. There’s the idea about people be brought from far and wide and seeing the truth for themselves.

In the Isaiah passage God says to Isaiah, “I will give you as a light to the nations.” This truth is for everybody.

Epiphany itself showed us the Magi, the seekers following the light of the star, which led them to the light of the world, the Christ child.

Last week we had seekers from all over the countryside of Judea looking for more in their lives, and coming to John the Baptist, looking for answers. And Jesus himself comes to be baptized by John and his divinity is recognized by John.

This week the story continues on with the Baptist telling of what he experienced in Jesus, and pointing two of his own disciples in Jesus’ direction, saying – here is the lamb of God. John had his own Epiphany and his next impulse is to tell others.

One of those two disciples was Andrew.

They listen to what John has to say about Jesus, “This is the Son of God” … “here is the Lamb of God.” And they follow after Jesus.

What happens next is important. Jesus doesn’t just say a regular, “What do you want?” But he asks the bigger question: “What are you looking for?” Jesus knows these two are seekers.

Their answer is both baffling and profound. They don’t ask Jesus who he really is, or ask for the answer to any seemingly deep question. They answer Jesus’ question with another question, “Where are you staying?” Seekers are wanderers – like the magi who travel from a far country, following the light of the star, or even like the Jews who wander down the dusty road to find the Baptist on the edge of the wilderness. But these two seekers want to know where Jesus is staying. They don’t want more seeking: they think they have found what they are seeking, and they want to know where he’s staying. And they want to stay there with him.

Jesus just says, “Come and see.”

They stay with him that day and we don’t know what they saw or heard. We don’t know about their conversation. All we know is that at the end of that day, Andrew goes home and gets his brother and says, “We have found the Messiah” They have had their Epiphany, they have seen the divine light in Jesus and their first impulse is to share what they have found.

And this brings us to the last point of the story. Just as Epiphany is about seeing the divine made manifest, it is also about telling, about sharing the truth with others.

Andrew and the other disciple had their lives changed by their experience that day, and they would become, just like Isaiah, a light to the nations. After this story we usually only hear about Andrew bringing others to Jesus – like the boy who shared his lunch so that the multitude would be fed, or the visitors from Greece who were looking for Jesus.

Andrew wasn’t the one in the limelight, like his brother Peter, who always took centre stage. Andrew always worked in the background, telling others the story, bringing them to Jesus, and Jesus changed their lives too.

So let us consider Jesus’ question too. “What are you looking for?” Have you figure that out yet? Or are you still a seeker? Being a seeker is a great start because I really believe Jesus when he says, “Seek and you shall find.”

But at some time we will realize that our wandering, seeking souls must reach a place to stop and stay, to find what we have been seeking for all these years. We will find our own Epiphany when we stop and stay with Jesus and be changed by him.

May our next impulse always be to go and tell, to share our experience and to bring others to Jesus. Amen.

Baptism of the Lord

Sermon for 9 January 2011

Matthew 3: 13-17

In the play, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Shakespeare writes, “I see a voice: now will I to the chink, To spy and I can hear my Thisby’s face.” The verse seems to mismatch seeing and hearing. (I see a voice…I can hear my Thisby’s face.) The connection between seeing and hearing in Shakespeare’s verse is a voice. Every person has a unique voice. To know a person includes recognizing his or her voice, and when we hear a voice, we may see a person’s face in our mind’s eye. Our voice is a significant part of our identity, not only in the words we speak, but also in the sound, the inflection, the tone in which we speak.

The ancient Hebrew people recognized that a person’s voice could convey meaning beyond words. A person’s voice could convey emotion and character. Crying out with a loud voice might indicate desperation or anger. A forceful voice could indicate the authority of a king or the judgment of a prophet. A soft voice might suggest gentleness or compassion. There are over three hundred references in the Bible to the voice of a person. In the scriptures, a person’s voice could identify that person equally as well as the person’s visual appearance.

An example of the juxtaposition of seeing and hearing occurs in the story of Jacob. When Jacob pretended to be his brother Esau to deceive his blind father Isaac, he almost was caught because Isaac thought he recognized Jacob’s voice. Our picture of John the Baptist as a man clothed in animal skins is not complete unless we remember that his voice was like a voice crying in the wilderness. We have little visual information in the scriptures about the appearance of Jesus, but when Jesus speaks of himself as the good shepherd, he says, ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they know me.’ The sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice.

The Biblical idea that a voice reveals the identity of the speaker becomes less clear when the speaker is God. The people of the Bible believed that the face of God or the image of God could not and should not be revealed. To see the face of God was too overwhelming for any mortal. To create an image of God was to create an idol and would lead to idolatry. Therefore, God is not described in a physical form in the Bible, but God’s voice represents God’s presence, and God’s voice conveys the elusive nature of God.

In the psalm appointed for today, psalm 29, God’s voice is described in relation to the powerful and destructive elements in nature. The voice of the Lord thunders upon the waters. God’s voice breaks the cedars of Lebanon, splits the flames of fire, shakes the wilderness, makes oak trees writhe and strips the forests bare. God’s voice in this psalm is the voice of power and authority, which creates awe and even fear in the listener.

A contrasting description is found in the first Book of Kings of the Old Testament. The presence of God is foreshadowed by a great wind which splits mountains, but the Lord is not in the wind. After the wind, comes an earthquake, but the Lord is not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, a fire comes, but the Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire, a sound of sheer silence. What is a sound of sheer silence? The Hebrew phrase is ambiguous and can be interpreted in various ways. The more traditional translation is that God is in a still, small voice.

The voice of God is a symbol in the Bible of the unseen presence of God. In today’s gospel passage, Jesus went to the Jordan River to be baptized by John. When Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened and Jesus saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove upon him. The visual image of God’s Spirit is revealed only to Jesus, but the presence of God is confirmed to everyone by God’s voice. God’s proclamation seems to be addressed to anyone who hears his voice. God does not speak only to Jesus, and say, ‘You are my Son.’ God says to everyone, ‘This is my Son.’

God’s voice brings the presence and authority of God directly to the people crowded around John in the Jordan River.

At the baptism of Jesus, all three persons of the Trinity are present – God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. It is an auspicious beginning to the ministry of Jesus. The voice of God reveals that the mission of Jesus has been created and ordained by God. The baptism of Jesus was a turning point in the life of Jesus.

God is present as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the baptism of every Christian. Whether a baptism is for an infant or an adult, with a sprinkling of water or full immersion, with many in attendance or very few, baptism is about the presence of the Holy Trinity. Our baptism affirms that God is with us.

The voice of God may be drowned out by the clamour of our noisy, demanding world. Our job is to stop long enough to listen and to be willing to believe that God is here. We may hear the voice of God when we see a storm upon the waters or the breath-taking beauty of the mountains. We may hear the still, small voice of God in our thoughts and imaginings, in our yearnings and our hearts’ desires. For every Christian of any age, baptism offers us the grace to hear God’s voice in our daily lives, to see the world through the eyes of Christ , and to welcome the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Epiphany a 2011

Epiphany 2011

2 January 2011

St. Luke’s, Burlington

Text: Matthew 2:1‑12

By Stuart Pike

Every year in Gaspé we used to have an ecumenical bilingual Christmas Pageant with adult actors (except for the baby Jesus of course!) There was always a choir made up of English and French-speaking people from the RC, Anglican and United Church congregations. All of us sang in both languages and we had a good selection of different carols. One of the carols which was always there was "We three Kings". We always had three of the older members of the Anglican Church be the Kings. We had beautiful robes and fancy-looking crowns for them to wear. They would walk up the aisle while the RC priest and I and one other voice sang the solo voices in we three Kings.

The story of the wise men has always interested me. I started to study them and found some fascinating things about them.

For one thing, the Bible tells us very little about them. I think this is one reason why so many traditions later developed about them (just like we know very little about Jesus as a child but whole books of tradition came into being about this).

Tradition, for example, says that they were actually kings. You know the hymn, "We Three Kings"? It's based on that tradition. But the text says nothing about this.

Tradition gives us the names of these kings. Balthasar, with dark skin, was King of Arabia. Melchior, elderly with gray hair, was King of Persia. Caspar (or Gaspar), young and beardless, was King of India. Of course, the text says nothing like this.

Tradition also says they came riding in on camels. The Bible tells us nothing about their means of transportation.

Traditions says there were three of them (though in one Eastern Orthodox Church I believe there were 12). I think this tradition grew because three gifts were given. But, once again, the Bible does not tell us how many there were.

But what does the Bible actually say about them?

The Greek word used here and translated as "wise men" is "magoi" or "magi" (from which we get the word "magic"). Apparently there were two kinds of magi in those days. Some of them were magicians, charlatans, soothsayers.

The other magi were truly "wise" in that they were learned individuals, kind of scientists of their day; astronomers; seekers after truth. Thus they were often used as counsels and advisors to kings. So it was most appropriate that they would go to a king, Herod, on their search. Apparently these magi were the seekers after truth. They would find the One who was the Way, the Life, and the Truth!

And I think the great significance in this is that they were Gentiles. Already at his birth, Jesus is attracting persons to him ‑ from lowly shepherds to the learned magi. It was a preview of what was to continue to happen (and still does). Those, no matter what their class or status, who are seekers of truth and wisdom, will eventually end up in Bethlehem ‑ they will seek out the Christ.

What are you seeking this Christmas, this New Year?

You see, I think we are all seekers. There is something about this time of year that reveals the hunger in our hearts, this yearning for something.

We need God. And I can only say like so many before me, I have never felt closer to God than when kneeling at the cradle of the Christ, than when looking into his face, listening to his words, letting his mind, his spirit dwell in me.

I would challenge you and myself this new year to become seekers of the Christ, to get closer to him than we have ever been before.

How can we do that? Well, this story gives us a couple of important insights.

First, it's interesting that the Magi come to Herod and ask him where the Messiah is to be born, but Herord then turns to his religious advisors who then turn to Scripture. They quote Micah 5:2:

Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, you are by no means the least of the leading cities of Judah; for from you will come a leader who will guide my people Israel.

They do not find the Christ Child without the scriptures!

If we are to find the Christ Child we must go to those places where he promises to be revealed...

One of those is the Scriptures.

Martin Luther spoke of the Bible as the cradle of our Lord. The scriptures are where you can come, like the magi, and find the Christ in his cradle. The more you peer into it, the clearer your vision will be of him. The more you listen to it, the more you will hear the voice of God.

This New Year, why not consider joining one of our Bible Studies?

The second insight I get on seeking and finding the Christ is when I see the Magi finding Jesus and the first thing they do is kneel down and worship him.

I think if we wish to come closer to the Christ this new year, we need to get closer to his people, especially when they gather together for worship. Jesus himself promised, "Where two or three or gathered, there am I in the midst of them." You see, worship, too, is the cradle of the Christ, for when we are together, there is sense of his presence we can receive in no other way.

At first, the Magi were far away, in a distant country ‑ far from the Christ. But they left everything to seek him and they did not stop until they found him

Where are you this new year?

Are you still in some far away land, feeling that empty yearning inside? Have you started the journey to Bethlehem?

Maybe you have started but have grown weary. Maybe you've gotten sidetracked or lost for whatever reason, and can't seem to get started again.

Let this new year be a new beginning for each of us ‑ a fresh start in the journey to becoming closer to the Christ. Reading the scriptures and worship are steps that will lead us to him. And we will discover that when we take a step toward him, he always takes at least two toward us! Seeking the Christ leads to the joyous discovery that he was seeking us all along.

The Naming of Jesus

Sermon for 26 December 2010

The Naming of Jesus: Luke 2: 15-21

By Sharyn Hall

Choosing a name for a child is a very important responsibility. Often parents consider many things when choosing a name for their child. The choice may be to honour a family member or a close friend, or in admiration for a famous person.

In the ancient, Biblical world, names were important for identity and meaning for the individual as a member of a community. Children were given names by their parents, which were significant to the circumstances of their birth or the destiny of the child. An example is the name, Moses, which in Hebrew means literally ‘to draw out’. This is an appropriate name for Moses, who as an infant was saved from death by being drawn out of the water for Pharaoh’s daughter. As a man, Moses became the leader of the Hebrew people and led them out of slavery in Egypt to freedom.

Sometimes the name of a person in the Bible changes because of specific circumstances. Saul became an apostle of Jesus to the Gentiles of the Roman Empire, so his name was changed to the Roman name, Paul. Jesus changed the Hebrew name of his disciple, Simon, to the Greek name, Petros, which means ‘rock’, because Jesus wanted Simon to build a foundation for his mission to the world.

In the culture of the ancient Middle East, a person’s name was essential to personhood. Your name identified you as an individual, a member of a family or a tribe, a freeman or a slave. Anonymous people in the scriptures were given names in later writings to provide an identity for them. A famous example is the three wise men or magi who appear anonymously in the gospel of Matthew. In the sixth century, a Greek version of the magi story gave them three names, Balthazar, Melchior and Gaspar, names which have remained popular identities for the magi to this day.

The naming of a child in the ancient Hebrew culture was ceremonial, particularly if the child was the first-born male child. After eight days, the child was circumcised and given his name. Then the family travelled to the temple in Jerusalem to dedicate the child to God and to give an offering of thanks for God’s blessing. The name given to Jesus was not chosen by Mary and Joseph. His name was chosen by God and told to them before the baby was born. The significance of God’s choice is evident in the name. In the gospels, he is called Jesus, but that is the Greek form of his Hebrew name. The gospels were written in Greek because it was the literary language of the time. The Hebrew name of Jesus is Joshua, more properly pronounced Yeshua, which means ‘The Lord saves’ or simply ‘Saviour’.

Similarly, the word, ‘Christ’, is a Greek translation of the Hebrew word, ‘Mashiakh’, which means ‘Anointed One’ or ‘Messiah’. As early as the first century, Jesus was called ‘Joshua Mashiakh’ or ‘Jesus Christ’, not as a title, but as his personal name. We commonly refer to Jesus as Jesus Christ. If we were to call him by his Hebrew name, it would be Joshua Mashiakh. In either language, his name means ‘Saviour, the Anointed One.’

The significance of his name was understood by his early disciples and followers. His name meant that he was anointed by God to bring salvation to the Hebrew people. His name, Joshua, was more than a reference to the ancient hero, Joshua, who led the Hebrew people into the promised land. His name meant that he would save the people again, but not with military power. This Joshua would save the people by restoring them to the covenant between God and God’s people, the covenant made with Abraham by God. Joshua Mashiakh was the anointed one sent by God to lead the people into a new salvation. This Mashiakh would lead the people into a renewed spiritual relationship with God free from oppressive religion which obscured God’s love. When God’s angels told Mary and Joseph to name the child Joshua, God had a special plan for this infant. That plan would be revealed gradually over many years.

We honour the Greek name, Jesus Christ. Perhaps we could become more familiar with his Hebrew name, Joshua Mashiakh. The meaning of his name is what we need to remember. The name chosen by God for this infant born in Bethlehem is a message of hope for God’s people. God has not abandoned humanity. Despite the hardship and sorrow of earthly life, God’s saving grace is always at hand to provide hope, courage and strength for the present and for the future.

To name a child is a great privilege and the name carries the hope and promise for what the child will bring to the world. We thank God for the infant born over two thousand years ago and for the gift of hope in every child born today, and in God’s future tomorrows. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Christmas Eve 2010

St. Luke’s, Burlington

By Stuart Pike

When I was a teenager living in England, one of the marvelous things which my family enjoyed were the magnificent cathedrals.

Often on a week-end we would jump into the car and drive to one diocese or another - to Winchester or Worcester or Chichester or Salisbury or Exeter or to London.

We went to so many.

We basically Cathedral-crawled our way through England during the three years we lived there.

Each cathedral was beautiful; each one, in its own way, contained something perfectly holy within its walls.

First of all, one would get the sight of the Cathedral from a distance.

This would spark in me an excitement which would mount until we would climb the steps and, necks craning back to see the height of it, we would at last enter through the heavy wooden doors and into the holy space.

I would imagine the sheer weight of the structure, and would feel the solidity of the stones,

the history of human effort, which went into the construction.

Oddly enough, though, the holiness for me wasn’t perceived in the physicality of the building, but in the great weightless and invisible space.

The holy was in the great emptiness contained within those beautifully adorned walls.

It was so entirely fitting that all that stone and glass and wood be the physical container of this holiness

- it all filled one with awe and prepared one for the sacred experience -

but the infinite was in the space.

The other thing which I would often experience in those cathedrals, was the sacred music

- the organ, the beautiful singing, which, like the beauty of the cathedral itself,

would bring me right up to its conclusion: the silent and empty immensity in which was God.

The sheer beauty of the music would cause me to gasp, and in the drawn breath the holiness of that space would fill me.

- God is here!

The memory of it now fills me with the sense of excitement and wonder.

I still feel that way when I visit our own cathedral in Hamilton,

and I feel it within the beautiful wood and stained glass, and in the music of this Church of St. Luke.

And now for something completely different, as they would say on Monty Python:

The birth of Jesus was completely at the other side of the spectrum.

Jesus was born, not in some royal palace or hallowed hall, but in the squalor and stench of a stable.

We like to paint a serene picture - a humble, yet oh so clean tableau.

The animals are gentle, as are the shepherds

who have hastened to behold the holy mystery,

the baby tenderly and mildly smiles at his adoring mother who kneels at the manger.

Joseph, the strong and silent type, stands protectively by.

All my experiences of stables and their animal occupants and of babies and their birth tell another story.

A noisy and smelly and uncomfortable story.

A story of poverty and pain and of cries and tears in the dark

and of fear

and such great hope in the midst of it all.

Amazingly, God who created the universe, leapt across the chasm of infinity to be born in such a poor and rude place as this stable.

The poor shepherds were the roughest sorts of people you could find.

The circumstances of Jesus’ birth were desperate.

In my many decades since those teenage years and all those cathedrals, I have come to experience the holy in the meanest of circumstances as well.

Maybe it has something to do with Jesus saying to us,

“Whatever you do to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do to me.”

Jesus: in the least, the poor, the lonely the sick and the suffering.

I experienced the holy:

In the woman in Uruguay living in the corrugated tin shack, without a husband, caring for her six children.

In the six year old beggar girl in Madagascar carrying her baby brother on her back.

In the man in his fifties reeling with the news of his terminal diagnosis.

In the last breath drawn by the dying person.

In the stark emptiness of these situations, there is, once again, an astounding holiness which cannot be explained in words.

I sometimes draw in my breath in recognition. God is here!

If God is in the exquisite perfection of the Cathedral, and God is in the baseness and poverty of the stable,

- just where is there a place where God is not?

I think that the thought contained in this last question is exactly why Jesus was born in a stable.

The story holds such extreme contrasts together.

Perhaps this is why the story holds such meaning for us, and why we tell it again and again.

Our lives contain such incredible contrasts. Our lives are sometimes pure and pristine, and sometimes they’re so extremely messy - sometimes all in the same day!

The maker of the universe, born in weakness and poverty.

The coarse shepherds are witnesses, alongside the chorus of heavenly angels.

God’s being extends to all sorts and conditions.

And God is where you are!

And more amazing than the place of Jesus’ birth is the fact that God was born into human flesh at all.

What a concept!

We forget to be amazed.

Because of Jesus’ birth we know that human is one of the ways God can be.

Being human is something which all of us experience

- in our relationship with others, and in our own being.

It is into the midst of this humanity that our Saviour was born.

In the midst of the noise of our lives and in the peace of quiet contemplation, God is.

In the profanity of our nature and in the wondrous harmony of our music, God is.

God isn’t only reserved for the pure and the noble;

God is for everyone:

the wisest and the dullest,

the purest and the basest.

Now in what I hope are my middle years, I have come to treasure the holiness which I experience in the beauty:

in the old wood and glass and in the music.

But I realize that I need to bring that sense of holiness out of the Church with me and into the rest of my life - into the humanity of it all.

And sometimes I gasp in recognition: God is here! Amen.