Archive for December, 2015

“Lullabies for Angels,” (Sermon, Christmas Morning 2015)

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:8-20


It is so good to be together on this holy day, singing the songs of the season, just as the angels did so long ago.

For several of the last few Christmases, the harp and I made a trip to the Art Institute near Renfrew Skytrain Station. I would meet my dear friend Byron and his cello, and the two of us would go to see his buddy Adam and Adam’s latest crop of sound-engineering students. For the next couple of hours, we provided the talent for these young people as they practiced their recording, mixing, and mastering skills. Cellos and harps are complicated instruments to mic well, so they got good practice with us.

Byron and I used our first time in their studio to lay down three tracks for an EP we called “A Quiet Quirky Christmas.” We chose songs we knew our mothers would like, and the results were better than expected. Then we were invited again the following year, and chose a few more songs. Finally, late one year, Byron became an uncle. The two of us met that Christmas and recorded the Austrian carol “Stille, Stille, Stille,” which the Vancouver Children’s Choir performed beautifully at our Carol Sing-Along a few weeks ago, for his niece Ember.

I was thinking of Byron and his joy at Ember’s birth when the choir sang that carol, and as I thought of my very dear friend, I also got caught up short by the simple beautiful fact that this was only one lullabye of hundreds that have been penned over the years by human beings to the Christ child.

Some of our best Christmas carols are lullabies to this holy child.

Pause for a moment and think of how amazing it is, that people have written lullabies to God; that the one who made heaven and earth was made incarnate among us and experienced so many of the holy rituals we have around childbirth and babies; that not only did one child many years ago hear his mother sing, but that two thousand years later we gather to sing songs written by those who died centuries after this child did; that in spite of all of the violence and inner weakness of the human creature, we offered up our simple cradle songs and expected they would be received by the one who lived among us as a squalling, kicking, wriggling baby.

And furthermore, isn’t it beautiful that the creator made a sort of musical trade with creation – in exchange for the lullabye of a poor peasant girl, God offered the songs of angels to a pack of rough shepherd folk on the night shift in the hills.

What a trade! It seems ridiculous, doesn’t it? God would rather hear the frightened, trembly, ecstatic voice of an exhausted teenage girl than a seraphic symphony. God’s generosity is almost appalling here, trading pearls for stones.

But this is the one who has come into the world.

Anointed One? Yes. Kingly One? Yes.

But more than that: Wild One. Daring One. Reckless One.

Think about it: Why would we write and sing lullabies for Jesus?

Because we say he was a baby, and like all babies he cried and needed to be soothed to sleep.

This is why I take such issue with lines such as “The little Lord Jesus no crying he makes,” or “Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as he.”

At some point we have to face the truth and ask ourselves, “Who do we really believe God to be?”

One of the most excruciating and beautiful things about babies and very young children is that they are so often explicit about their need for help. They are, to coin a phrase, aggressively vulnerable.

Now obviously a child must be socialized to be independent and conscientious of others’ needs, but pushing them to do so before they are ready or silencing them instead of acknowledging (if not always meeting) their needs usually turns out poorly for everyone. At its worst, I believe the same behaviour underlies all of the worst “isms” of our time – the ignoring and silencing of those who dare to say that to become independent they need extra help from those of us who don’t.

Isn’t it funny that we so often try to be angels, when God chose shepherds where and as they were to receive angels? Isn’t it strange how we are often so flummoxed by our own vulnerability that we try to get rid of it in ourselves and then so often come to realize that our unwillingness to ask for help is what has made us sick or unhappy?

And therefore: Isn’t it wonderful that children are born with this instinct because they are so vulnerable; born with the instinct to demand help while so many of us stumble along unable to ask, or sometimes even resenting the people around us for not being psychic and knowing that we need it?

Source: Caitlin Reilly Beck

Source: Caitlin Reilly Beck

Last Saturday, I took part in a special outdoor Christmas Pageant at St. John’s Shaughnessy. It was a deanery-wide event which included in-character interactions with those who attended by the intergenerational cast, a petting zoo, music, a hilarious script, and a real baby Jesus, wrapped up in a furry red blanket. Despite the very best efforts of singing angels, gentle shepherds, and the twelve-year-old girl playing Mary, our Jesus, who was clearly very tired, couldn’t get herself to fall asleep and refused to be soothed.

There were two performances of the Pageant and she cried all the way through both of them, from her entrance to her exit and beyond.

And not just fussy whimpering: this was the full-on stutter-y wail of an exhausted infant that parents in the congregation today are all wincing to remember.

Having noticed that she seemed to calm down when there was music, I leaned over Mary’s shoulder and sang quietly to her, thinking this might calm her down. Mary joined in the song as well, and adjusted the pacifier that kept popping out of the baby’s mouth.

No dice.

As we formed a tableau around her toward the end of the performance, the St. John’s choir began to sing the Huron carol, and we joined them. As we sang the line, “The earliest moon of wintertime is not so round and fair as was the ring of glory round the helpless infant there,” I found myself completely overcome. Here barely sheltered from the freezing cold of a rainy west coast December afternoon, among a couple of bales of hay put out for the live donkey to munch, wearing a ridiculous pair of butterfly wings and a tinsel halo, I felt transported in time to a sacred place.

Not a palace and not a soft, gentle, cosy barn. A place not fit for humans to sleep, much less give birth… and yet the place where the Mother of our Lord and faithful, righteous Joseph were dumped because the inn was packed so full of people, staying in Bethlehem in order to be counted in the census and thereby taxed.

A place full of animals, who despite how cute they look in a petting zoo, are just as smelly and obnoxiously needy as any infant.

A place where there was no bassinette, no cradle, no bed. Only a trough. (I sometimes avoid the word “manger” specifically because of the weird baggage it has obtained over the years as so many of us lost our agricultural roots. I’m a city girl and when I hear the word “manger” I think “Christmas,” not “box where the animals eat.”)

A trough, which may indeed have had an animal face-deep in it when the baby was laid there. The Godly Play Holy Family figures beautifully include “the cow who was surprised when she came to her feeding trough, and instead of her breakfast found a little baby in it.”

All of the angels, shepherds, and Magi in the world do not make the barn anything other than what it was.

And that’s where the awestruck beauty of Christmas lies.

God didn’t choose something else.

God didn’t choose something better.

This is a reckless God, who gives us angels in exchange for our lullabies, and undying love in exchange for a cross. God chooses us – and not for our treasure, or our best offerings.

Because we are not always good at knowing our best.

Our best is not Herod’s palace of sumptuous gold, or Caesar’s vast empire of vassal states.

Our best is not a picture perfect Christmas with mountains of gifts and a flawless family dinner.

Our best is an unmarried teenage girl saying yes.

Our best is her betrothed accepting her as she was instead of putting her to death as was his right in those days.

Our best is a babe wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

Our best is the lullabies that we write to the creator of the stars of night.

Our best is aggressive vulnerability – the true gift of a child – because this was God’s gift to all of us.

And it’s Christmas morning…so go ahead and open that gift.

It’s the best one you’re ever going to get.

Merry Christmas.

“The Spiral Journey,” (Blue Christmas Sermon, December 23rd)

Several weeks ago I gathered with other youth workers of many denominations to complete Godly Play training. Godly Play, as you know, is a Christian education program we use here at St. Philip’s. Developed by an Episcopal priest, it seeks to empower children by giving them space to “wonder” about God and introducing them to the stories, words, and concepts we encounter in church.

To complete our training, each of us had to tell one of the stories to our classmates. I chose “The Circle of the Church Year,” which teaches about the different feasts and seasons we celebrate in church.

I wanted to share with you just one (slightly adapted) piece of this story today, and I’ll explain why afterward.

So, if you’ll permit me, let’s talk a little bit about time.

“Time, time, time. There are all kinds of time. There is a time to get up, and a time to go to bed. There is a time to work and a time to play. But what is time?

Some say that time is a line…but what would that look like? Oh! What’s this? Time. Time in a line. Look at this – this is the newest part. This is just being born. This is brand new.

Oh, now look. The newest part has become older. Now this is the newest part. Hmm. Oh, and it keeps going. Does it ever end?

Oh! It ended! Look at the ending.

Now the part that was once brand new has become old…and the ending is the newest part. So we have a beginning that’s like an ending, and an ending that’s like a beginning.”

What a mystical thing, time: something that moves forward but also spins. Sound familiar? The earth makes its yearly journey around the sun, and yet every year is slightly different than before. Likewise, the earth spins on its axis, giving us night and day: same journey, slightly different every time.

This truly is what it means to be “a soil creature,” the literal translation of “a’dam.” We are born and progress through stages of development: learning to walk and speak, learning to reason and doubt and hold faith. We move forward and yet often shed pieces of ourselves only to pick them up again. Cells die and reproduce. As children we speak truth and learn to share with others and clearly express our needs only to so often shed the instincts and then pick them up again later.

I think our most powerful emotions can play with our sense of time. They can make it stand still or go whipping by. Ultimately, like the seasons and our planet, our emotions dance within the space between “time in a line” and “time in a circle.”

We really see it in the experience of emotional pain. We move through the journey and yet we so often circle back and forth through the accompanying emotions: sadness, anger, joy, acceptance, and back again, for our entire lives.

As a couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah are well-respected people from the sacred house of Aaron. But they have no children. Ancient Near Eastern folk would have seen that as a source of shame – for Elizabeth, not Zechariah.

Elizabeth begins the cycle of this story in a place of dishonour and sadness.

And then, she finally conceives and bears a son. She cycles out of shame and into a place of honour among her peers, and they rejoice with her.

Zechariah’s story is a little different. He is the honoured one, the priest performing the most sacred duty at the Temple. He receives the good news of his coming son from an angel with doubt. This reaction causes the angel to take his voice away.

He cycles out of privilege into imposed disability.

Now although the people of the ancient Near East interpreted many disabilities as punishments, obviously it’s not appropriate to do that today. So for our purposes in the 21st century, let’s say that this muteness is not punishment for Zechariah, but an opportunity for Elizabeth.

It is an occasion of cosmic balance.

The one who had previously enjoyed honour is now dis-abled. The one who had endured shame is now exalted.

The one who had a voice has lost it, and the one who had no voice has found it. In the story it is not until Zechariah is made mute that we get to hear Elizabeth speak. She rejoices with Mary, and in today’s passage names her child John.

The cycle continues, and yet progresses. Elizabeth will never be the same, and neither will Zechariah, having had this experience.

See, there is something really amazing about this passage that I didn’t realize until I’d read it several times through. During Zechariah’s earlier meeting with the angel, he is informed that the child will be called John. Shortly after this, before he leaves the Holy of Holies, he loses his voice. This means that he is unable to share the content of the vision with others before the child is born.

But in today’s passage, the people are about to name the child Zechariah, and Elizabeth says, “No, he is to be called John.”

How does Elizabeth know that the child’s name is to be John?

Did the angel also visit her? Did Zechariah write it down for her? Or did she choose it for her own reasons?

Either way, Zechariah affirms his wife, and once he does that – once he knows what it means to be without a voice – he regains it again, and immediately praises God.

They are both changed.

Now we don’t see what happens to them after John grows up. He is affirmed in his wisdom by the text, but the next time we see him he is on his own, wandering in the wilderness.

What did his father, the priest, think of this? What about Elizabeth? Did they cycle through shame again at his weird antics? Did they remember the circumstances of his birth and defend him to the skeptics? Did they simply accept that their service had been rendered and step back to make room for him? Did they also become advocates and prophets? Did they have other children?

We don’t know. The apocryphal Infancy Gospel of James claims that Zechariah was killed after hiding baby John and refusing to surrender him to Herod’s soldiers during the slaughter of the innocents.

From honoured priest to executed criminal. Another cycle.

This cyclical progression is an utterly necessary balancing act. In the times of deep sorrow and pain, we cannot be too focused on progression forward. This does not allow us to heal fully. But likewise we cannot be too focused on the cyclical nature of the experience. This may trap us in unhealthy patterns.

Balance is key. Reminding ourselves that we are in a cycle will help us from feeling too down when we feel we are not moving fast enough down the road. Reminding ourselves that we are on a spiral path outward helps us not to get trapped in our spinning.

With the Earth we all turn on an axis, and move around our sun.

My sun, my anchor, is Christ, the one who cycled from the greatest height to the deepest depth; the one who walked the road knowing full well that it ended in pain, degradation, and death, and chose it anyway to close the gap between heaven and earth – son of God, son of Mary.

You will have your own sun – and like Earth you’re affected by the gravity of other bodies. This community is one of mine, as well as my family and my friends. In the deep space of loss, it can be difficult to see these other bodies. Like Neptune they may affect our orbit invisibly at first.

But they are there.

Time in a line – time in a circle.

For every beginning, there is an ending, and for every ending, there is a beginning.

When Christmas hurts, reach out to your sun…and reach out to one near you, one who loves you.

I’m here.

Thank God you are.

“He will come like child,” (Sermon, December 13th)


John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Luke 3:7-18


“He will come like last leaf’s fall.
One night when the November wind
has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth
wakes choking on the mould,
the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost.
One morning when the shrinking earth
opens on mist, to find itself
arrested in the net
of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark.
One evening when the bursting red
December sun draws up the sheet
and penny-masks its eye to yield
the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come,
will come like crying in the night,
like blood, like breaking,
as the earth writhes to toss him free.
He will come like child.”

This beautiful poem, entitled “Advent Calendar,” was written by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams about twenty years ago. In 2011 it was set to music by the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and since then has been featured yearly at the Cathedral’s Advent Carol Service. It’s a haunting piece that always moves me to tears.

Despite its beauty, it is also at times quite ominous. The last stanza builds, with frantic discord, and the words “toss him free” are cut off abruptly at the end of the line, as though an invisible cord has been snapped.

Finally, the last line, “He will come like child,” is quiet and moving, full of awe, slipping into a major key right at the end, like a gentle smile.

He will come like child – like this child here with us today, brought among us to be baptized into the Body of Christ.

This truth is the essence of joy for me. How appropriate: this Sunday is traditionally known as “Gaudete” Sunday, or “Joy” Sunday. Some churches mark Gaudete Sunday with a pink candle on their Advent wreath. It’s a great Sunday for a baptism.

You can hear it in the readings for the day. If I might summarize quickly for you again:

Zephaniah: “Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!”

Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

Oh…yes, Lord!

Luke: “You brood of vipers!”

:/ Ooohh.

John the Baptizer? John the Buzzkill – the spooky wild-eyed preacher, the unexpected son of Zechariah and Elizabeth’s, dunking folks in the Jordan and munching on locusts in the outback – the one to whom the word of the Lord came.

Not to anyone from that long list of names that prefaced the chapter, not to Emperor Tiberius, or the governor Pontius Pilate, or King Herod; not even to either of the high priests, Annas and Caiaphas.

To John, the weirdo in the wilderness, a man dedicated to the Lord and yet mucking about in the wasteland, all alone, accruing no royal position for himself like some of the prophets of old.

Why not? Was his message not for them? Rich and poor alike came to him.

Perhaps his message was not a message for gilded halls. Perhaps it was too hard to hear in such places.

John’s message was to “repent.”

Repentance is not just “turning over a new leaf,” or “being born again.”

Repentance is shadowed by the past.

It means turning around, getting back to the right path.

It’s about newness marked by hard times.

It’s about open arms and wounded hands.

It’s about recognizing the many systems within which we are tangled – infants and elders alike – and using that knowledge to break free, over and over.

It’s about birth, in the same way that resurrection is about birth.

And it is a joyful thing.

See, I think joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness for me is an uncomplicated, pure, and sunny emotion. Joy is woven with darker threads of grief and past pain. Joy is tied to hope, and hope does not exist without a portion of emptiness, longing to be filled.

Joy has teeth.

This tension is where the necessity of the season of Advent really hits us at the core. In the wider world there is such a desperate, rabid focus on fellowship, noise, and colour at this time of year, and I love every minute of it. But it’s out of balance.

In moments of joy, the world is so bright and the heart so large. It is wild…but not chaotic.

It is radical.

The word radical comes from the word radix, or “root.” I think the sharp edge of joy comes from that connection to earthiness. Its sharpness comes from the ache of our hearts stretching up as high as they can go, and the rest is ecstasy at the realization that the reaching could even be possible.

And baptism is the same, isn’t it? We are buried in water, and burst forth into new life – brand new and soaking wet. Death and chaos clings to us – and it is through those that God plunges to pull us into air and light. We affirm and celebrate the deep and the zenith together.

This is the incarnation: the descent of the perfect one into imperfect creation, and our hope for his return.

But is this return really joyful news? “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the tree. Every tree that does not bear fruit will be cast down and thrown into the fire.”

Do we really want the perfect one to return to us, as we are? We are an apocalypse-haunted culture. Today, we worry about Daesh, or ISIS, or whatever name we choose to give them. Before them, though, there were other terrorists, other freedom fighters, other victims, and other heroes – all of whom were far more nuanced and faceted – far more human – than we could ever realize over the course of a lifetime.

However we feel about it, this violence, this chaos, is nothing new.

In only a few weeks we’ll tell the story of a family forced to relocate for tax purposes only to be chased into exile by a murderous king. Jesus grew up walking the major Roman trade routes through his country, walking under the shadows of crucified Jewish rebels, strung up to warn potential zealots of the price of rebellion.

The people of Jesus’ time whispered together, “We shall be avenged by God’s Anointed One. Just as God saved us from exile, so will God’s messenger save us from the yoke of the Romans.”

And then, generations later, people huddled in house churches and arenas and whispered, “We shall be avenged by God’s Anointed One. God’s messenger will return and bring about the end of the age.”

Neither of these things occurred as expected. The Temple was destroyed and the Jewish people forced into diaspora. The Christians were imprisoned and executed, and Jesus did not come. Later, the Christians gained the Empire, and the Church grew far bigger than expected, and fell prey to all the same temptations to which every Empire had fallen and will fall.

But the stories don’t end there.

This is the truth that gives incarnation its light: the Anointed One is never the one we expect.

It is not the one who rules through violence, or the strong, clean, muscular Superman who descends in power and majesty, adorned in gold.

It is the infinite one robed in finitude, the king clothed as a slave, the ageless wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Like a child, he was terribly perceptive and spoke whatever came to mind. Like a child, he was terribly vulnerable, and accepted it wholeheartedly without question.

There is no need to fear his advent.

Our judge was judged unjustly, and returned speaking peace. Our king served us, and commanded us to love one another. Our Son of God came to us as a beloved son born to the poor and dying with the poor. Our Messiah anoints us with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

This is the one to whose care we will commit the life of this child: a child himself, with all the wisdom and vulnerability of a child.

When John calls the crowd “a brood of vipers,” it probably leaves you with a nasty mental image. But the Greek word for brood is “offspring.” You offspring – you children – of vipers.

The same word can also be used for “fruit.” You fruit of vipers.

“Break the cycle,” John says. “Don’t continue to bear the fruit of vipers. Bear fruit worthy of repentance. You can. You are not lost. You can turn around. It’s never too late.”

What must we do, they ask him.

It’s so simple: Be kind to one another. Give what you have in abundance, and be satisfied with what you have.

It’s an incredibly empowering message. It doesn’t presume that the poor cannot contribute. It doesn’t presume that the rich will not. It doesn’t presume that this child here among us today, who will go down to the waters and come up again a new creation, marked by the Holy Spirit, cannot be a minister among us right now, right here, simply by our own joy in her presence.

Be kind. Give what you have in abundance.

A child can do it. An elder can do it. All genders, all ethnicities, all sexualities, all ages, all capabilities, all people.

In baptism, in Advent, at Christmas, we affirm this truth: that the divine has come down not merely to touch or teach, but to be veiled in flesh, and all to close the gap we imposed between us – and to do this all because it is just that stupid in love with us.

“Bear fruit worthy of repentance. It is never too late. It is never too early. And the one who is coming after me is more powerful than I.”

He will come not like a warrior. He will come not like a king.

He will come like child.

Rejoice in his coming. I say again, rejoice.

“The Spirit is loose,” (Sermon, December 2nd)

“After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.

Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?’ Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’ Then ordering the crowd to sit down on the ground, he took the seven loaves and the fish; and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all of them ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. Those who had eaten were four thousand men, besides women and children. After sending away the crowds, he got into the boat and went to the region of Magadan.”

Matthew 15: 29-39


If you’ve been following what I call the Media Outrage Machine, you’ll know that there’s been a kerfuffle over Starbucks recently.

starbucks_red_holiday_cups_2015This controversy (which really deserves the most exaggerated of air quotes) concerned a perception that Starbucks’ unadorned red cups (featuring no seasonal designs like snowmen or ornaments or stars) represented yet another assault in the non-existent “War on Christmas.”

I thought it was a hoax at first. It sounded exactly like the kind of thing someone cooked up to get people self-righteously buying coffee to stick it to the perpetually offended. I thought this because I have seen too many potshots taken at my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ, and also there was absolutely no way to support a claim like that. I’d been in Starbucks. Everywhere you look there are signs of Christmas, including Advent calendars and “Christmas blend” coffee.

So I was terribly depressed when I finally traced the story to its source: an angry video posted by Christian Youtube personality Joshua [Fewer-stine] Feuerstein. The video of him standing outside a Starbucks using “politically correct” as a slur and berating this corporation for hating Jesus went viral.

Feuerstein also advised that customers tell Starbucks employees that their names are “Merry Christmas,” so employees will be forced to write the phrase on the cups and to call it out when the drinks are ready to be picked up.

“That’s right, Starbucks,” Feuerstein gloats into the camera, “I tricked you.”

The first time I heard that it made me laugh out loud, because it reminded me of a hilarious moment in one of my favourite TV comedies, American Dad. American Dad is a cartoon about Stan Smith, a CIA operative living with his family in suburban Virginia. In one episode an ex-KGB operative who was once a bitter rival of Stan’s moves in across the street and continues his war against consumerist America by showing up at Stan’s door one morning and asking menacingly, “Did you notice your showerhead was on the pulse setting this morning? That was a mere appetizer at the banquet of my revenge!”

Now I’m not going to waste too much outrage on this. For one thing, the internet has already done that for me. I’m becoming convinced that a lot of folks have such bad self-esteem that, to feel better about themselves, they will loudly and gleefully point out the flaws of anyone else, even complete jerkstores.

(By the way that’s an insult from my Millennial arsenal you can add to your collection).

In my research on the absolute tidal wave of vitriol the video generated on both sides of the issue, I discovered a thoughtful article featuring two intriguing quotes.

One was offered by Jim Chern, director of the Newman Catholic Centre at Montclair State University. He said, “If we’re worried about the war on Christmas, what does Christmas really mean to us?”

What indeed?

The other quote made me laugh until I cried – not because of the content, but because of who said it.

Here it is. Quote: “Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays. We’re embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it. [It being the minimalist design of the red cup]. It’s a more open way to usher in the holiday.” End quote.

What a fascinating little piece of theology. The seeds of Advent, a time of contemplation, reflection, and quiet, are really sprouting here – or maybe it’s the beans of Advent brewing?

Who would say something like this? It sounds like something a theology professor or student, relaxing at the campus Starbucks location might say. Or maybe a priest or parishioner of a church located close to a Starbucks?


That little piece of Advent wisdom is from Jeffrey Fields. He’s the Starbucks vice president of design and content.

This guy understands Advent better than the most (allegedly) devout among us.

This is what we’re talking about when we say that the Spirit of God is loose in the world.

It surprises me, but Matthew the Evangelist would not have batted an eye. Our passage today is only one in a series that explores this very topic.

We need context here. Some time ago I preached on Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman in the same Gospel. Remember, Canaanites were ancient enemies of the Jews. They were the heathen hordes that in the biblical accounts were flushed violently out of the Promised Land by the invading Israelites – problematic stories, to be sure. Jesus at first refuses to help her with that stinging comment about throwing food to the dogs, but her wit makes him change his mind.

That passage is what immediately precedes this one.

We see that Jesus has gone on to heal many Gentiles, and, like the Canaanite woman who calls Jesus “Son of David,” they recognize him for who he is, giving praise to the God of Israel.

As they do, Jesus tells the disciples that he has compassion for them, because he knows they are hungry. He feeds 4,000 of them and they leave seven baskets of leftovers. Like the twelve baskets left over by the earlier crowd, seven is a significant number. Seven represented the Gentile nations.

There is enough for all of these heathens, these unbelievers. And they are the ones who recognize the incarnate one walking among them as the Holy One of Israel. They thank Israel’s God for his presence.

The elders of Jesus’ tradition, of course, scold him for breaking the laws of his faith.

Now I often cut the elders some slack. They were defending a faith that had been under fire for about as long as it had existed – under fire from countless invading empires which always had different attitudes toward other faiths, and under fire from the Roman Empire, which only tolerated their differences as long as it suited them.

I cut those elders a little more slack than my angry Christians brothers and sisters, because I do believe that threats to the Christian faith in North America are far less prevalent and aggressive than War on Christmas alarmists seem to think, especially in the United States. But the fact remains that many of us feel like our faith is under threat. Some of us, myself included, cling rigidly to Advent specifically to drown out the chaos of this season, which begins earlier every year and focusses so much on consumerism, and invite stillness into our lives. As our children at St. Philip’s learn in Godly Play, it takes time to enter the Mystery of Christmas, and if you don’t take the time you might walk right through it and not even know it’s there.

But, as one frightened child learned long ago, “All things are possible with God.”

The Spirit of God is brooding over the tempestuous waters of creation. In my imagination (what I might better call my prayerscape), she has always made a sound like pigeons in the eaves at dusk – a low, placid, maternal murmur that fills me with awe.

The Gentiles knew the work of God when they saw it.

The Starbucks juggernaut, for all its faults and worldliness, knows the longing of the human soul for quiet in this time, and decided to offer up its own work for the purposes of that longing.

This is the truth we celebrate in this season of Advent: the incarnation of the divine within our fragile, broken, and yearning fleshly bodies, not where we think it is going to be, but in the most unlikely and irreverent of places.

This is the truth that changes the world.

It happened long ago…and it is still happening today.

Amen, amen. Come, Lord Jesus.