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WORSHIP FOCUS: “Repetition”

January 2, 2022 – 2nd Sunday After Christmas

It’s the repetition of affirmations that lead to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen. – Muhammad Ali

FIRST LESSON: Psalm 147:12-20 (NRSV)

Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you.
He grants peace within your borders;
he fills you with the finest of wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth;
his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool;
he scatters frost like ashes.
He hurls down hail like crumbs—
who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and ordinances to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his ordinances.
Praise the LORD!

SECOND LESSON: Luke 2:39-52 (NRSV)

When [Mary & Joseph] had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

REFLECTION: “John Lennon’s Happy Christmas”

The very first speech I ever gave was for the Etobicoke School Board’s Annual Public Speaking Competition. I was in Grade 6, and my topic was time. I remember at the time, that my teacher, Mr. Armstrong, thought that that was a terrible topic. “Time, was not appropriate or interesting,” he told me. “It’s too complicated a topic,” he said, “You need to talk about something that will make the judges like you. Don’t you think it is a little presumptuous for a kid in Grade 6 to think he can speak with any sort of certainty about the fourth dimension? You are going to come across as a geeky nerd.”

But I persisted, and delivered my speech, and, although I know that I did come across as a geeky nerd, I know that Mr. Armstrong was surprised. It was a good speech. It was interesting. It made people think.

Time. Time has always been something I have been interested in. Mr. Armstrong was correct. It is the fourth dimension. Without time, the universe would be static. Time allows the universe to expand. Time makes change possible. Because of time, if we wish to map a point in space precisely, we need to capture not only its position but the moment it exists. Every point is, therefore, an event. It can only be recorded once it is dated. Each point is a little bit like a photograph with a date-stamp on the back.

I am, of course bringing up time today, because, if there is one time in the year that people think about time more than any other it is at New Year’s. And, because I just came back from visiting with my parents and was talking to my father, the physicist-astronomer who used to talk to me often about a time when I was a boy, and I am confronting my middle age and his old age, I am thinking a lot about time.

I am also thinking a lot about an event that happened this Christmas season at Lookout Ridge which has to do with time, and how we use it.

Now, thinkers and philosophers have always talked about two conceptions of time. There is time that repeats itself, such as the seasons, and the orbit of the earth around the sun, New Year after New Year, and Christmas after Christmas. And, there is linear time – time that journeys to a destination – such as the time it takes to get a degree, the time it takes to train and successfully run a marathon, the time it takes to plant and harvest, or the cosmic conception of linear time that moves from the big bang to some final grand conclusion. The first type of time is eternal. The second is finite.

In terms of our faith, we have two other concepts with regards to time – we have the idea of Chronos and the idea of Kairos, which overlap somewhat with these scientific concepts of time. The first, Chronos, is time we can measure – worldly time that we can perceive here on earth. The other is Kairos. Kairos is God’s time. And Kairos is a time that we can only imagine, never predict, and never truly fathom. Kairos is a type of time we can consider and peer into, but it is a time that we will never truly fathom and which will always dizzy us.

How we look at time, especially at the New Year is important. It can make a difference in our outlook. You may know, for example, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Christmas Song. You know, the one with the chorus that goes: “So this is Christmas, and what have you done. Another year over. A new year just begun.”

For some reason, the radio plays this song over and over, and for the life of me, I don’t get it. This song conceives of time only in a linear sense, and it is a song that I am not sure is helpful. It views of a year as an opportunity to accomplish something great like world peace, finding a cure for cancer or COVID, or alleviating world hunger, and then sneers at us with withering contempt because we have not done just that in 365 days. And this cynical view of time as something we have most certainly squandered makes me squirm. Yes, it is true. Yes, we can always do more. Yes, two years into the pandemic, we are still struggling. But is time only something that we should be using to measure ourselves against and see failure? Is comparing this year to last year, and deciding that it is perhaps worse or no better really the whole point? Is time really a series of repeated failures leading to an apocalypse?

I think that there is a lot of this kind of view about time going on right now, and I think that is a pity.

Time can be measured. And measuring time can be useful. But time can also be so much more than a commodity used to get stuff done, can’t it? It can also be the eternal moment to be and experience what it means to be human. It can be the grain of sand in which we glimpse eternity.

In our scripture today, you may have noticed a whole lot of repetition. Our psalm repeats a lot of the same themes that other parts of scripture repeats – praise to God; a lifting up of Jerusalem and the use of the image of gates; surprising imagery concerning nature; mention of Jacob who is renamed Israel, the one who struggles; and the importance of God’s statutes and laws. Yes, we know all this. We have heard it all before. Another year over, and what have we done? That is one way of looking at this repetition. But is this the intention of the writers of this sacred scripture?

In our Christmas story from Luke, we have even more repetition. Again Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple. Again something happens in the temple that astonishes people. Again there is mention of Jesus growing in wisdom and in stature. And, again we have Mary treasuring all these things in her heart and pondering them. Yes. We know all this. We have heard all this before. Another year over, and what have we done? Is it the intention of the writers of this story to diminish us?

A few years ago, I went to see Cleophas LaRue, one of Martin Luther King’s contemporaries, the writer of a very famous book called, “The Heart of Black Preaching.” LaRue spoke of the importance of repetition in our faith. He talked about how repeating the Good News was always important. That rather than reveal our inadequacies, the repetition of the Good News encourages us to see the possibilities that God offers us.

For his people, Afro-Americans, descendants of slaves, the simple idea that Sunday is coming, and the promise that all those Sundays will one day culminate in a glorious Sunday, is what is important. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday may be hell. But Sunday is coming! And what is important about the repetition of this Good News, is that when we hear it, we perk up, feel our load lifted, shrug off our devastating sense of what is not good or right or just or easy in life, and, instead, rejoice in the moment, and taste and see that God is good.

LaRue would argue that all the repetition in our Scripture is about being fed – feasting on the word, and rejoicing. That each repetition is another opportunity and invitation to peace, joy, hope, and love. That rather than be viewed as failure, each repetition is to be savoured and celebrated.

This year at Lookout Ridge, I played Christmas Carols to the residents on the third floor. Some of these people had been non-verbal with me for months. Some of them ostensibly have little reason to smile and tap their toes to music. And yet, they perked up. They rejoiced. People who never talked to me before were suddenly were smiling at me, speaking in full sentences, telling me about the Christmas story and their Christmas memories. They sang all the verses to Silent Night and Away in the Manger. They did not need song sheets.

So this is Christmas. Another year over. A New Year just begun.

For those folks at Lookout Ridge, there was not a whiff of cynicism about what we do and do not do with the time given to us. There was only the Good News and the joy that in the hearing of it, in the celebration of it in the moment, in the glimpse that it gives us into God’s mind, there was enough to make it to the next repetition of the Good News that is Christ, and the next year, and the next.

So this is Christmas. Another year over. A new one just begun.

As we move into 2022 may we not fall into Mr. Lennon’s trap. May we not just conceive of time as another lost opportunity.

Time is something more. Time is the place in which we live and move and have our being. It is our fourth dimension. It is God. It is God’s mind that sets the universe in motion. It is all we have. And that all we have is something that, even if we are living on the third floor of Lookout, we can always sing about.