Sunday at Scarboro – December 24, 2017

10:30am - Advent Four - Magnify the Lord

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Worship Leader: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Advent Three - Do Not Be Afraid

SOCKS! SOCKS! SOCKS! This Sunday is the day to bring your donation of new SOCKS to the kitchen before church. The Elda Daniels Group will be delivering them to the DI again this holiday season. Thank you for your support!

Come early for coffee at 10am, and stay after church for coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall. You may notice markers and large banners at the back of the Sanctuary and downstairs by the Memorial Hall. You are invited to colour these banners before, during, and after the service. Christmas pageant players will meet in the Sanctuary for a full performance workshop from 11:30-3pm. Lunch will be provided!

See what is going on at Scarboro here. We are collecting most needed items for Closer to Home throughout Advent, see the list of items or pick up a flyer from the church office.

Co-op Gift Cards will be available for purchase in denominations of $25, $50 and $100 from Mary Axworthy - cash or cheque only please.

If you haven't already, pick up an Advent Journey booklet, and log your steps toward Bethlehem as we meditate through movement this Advent. Download a copy here.


Sermon: Advent IV: My Soul Magnifies the Lord
December 24, 2017
Rev. Lee Spice

The images on Christmas cards and art and social media are very peaceful.  Mary, often in a lovely blue robe, with maybe a white head covering, looks demurely down at her newborn bundle of joy.  Joseph is in the background, also gazing at the child.  It’s very special.

Going back in time, before this idyllic picture, the whole situation begins, in this account, with Mary getting visited by the angel, who has this awesome news that she is pregnant.  Which is news to her.  Oh, but don’t worry, this is the son of God.

OK, can we talk?

A couple of times in the past few years, I have intimated that I don’t buy the virgin birth.  This morning, I’m coming all the way out of the theological closet, and saying that Jesus came into this world in the usual, human way.

There are a couple of things to note from the context.  First, we note that many of our New Testament stories are modelled after the Old Testament – and this is no exception.  Often, at this time of year, we read a piece from Isaiah that sets the tone, even though it is not necessarily meant to predict the coming of Jesus.  Isaiah chapter 7:14 says, “Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”  Only in a few translations, including the most familiar King James, say, “behold, a virgin shall conceive.”  That’s because, when the Hebrew word “almah,” meaning “young woman,” was translated into Greek, the Greek word for virgin was used. So, it may all be based on a translation understanding.

That being said, it seems pretty clear that the gospel writer Luke means for Mary to be an actual virgin – that is, someone who has never had sex.  Luke wrote this account several decades after Jesus walked the earth, and Christianity was a fledgling faith.  It had to compete with the pantheon of Roman and Greek gods, a few of them having the delight of impregnating humans.  And this is where it is most important:  the offspring of these god/human couplings were said to be half-gods, and during the time of Jesus, the one who claimed to be fathered by the god Apollo was none other than Caesar Augustus.

Not that his mother was a virgin, though.  Just that he was a son of the god.  Luke’s story one-ups even Caesar – Jesus was said to be born of a virgin!

And here’s the kicker - not just a virgin, but one of the common folk. Not even royalty. Not even hardly anybody.

Which is exactly the point.  Augustus Caesar was called Lord, Son of God, Bringer of Peace and Saviour of the World.

And Luke writes this origin story of Jesus (one of only two in the Bible – two of the gospels don’t say anything about his birth).  And this origin story is has the angel letting Mary know that she is pregnant with one who shall be named God Among Us, Son of God.

Luke is a genius.

He paints us this beautiful Christmas pageant, with angels singing that this babe is the Bringer of Peace; and the first to hear were shepherds in the fields, and it’s all because of a young couple, displaced by the government, having a teeny, tiny, baby, with not even a proper crib or a proper place to stay.

Born to be Son of God – that’s Caesar’s title!

In the narrative from the Gospel of Matthew (an entirely different tale, but, nonetheless…), the magi seek the one who is born to be King of the Jews – that’s Herod’s title!

Bam! The oppressive regime of the day takes a direct hit.  In the nicest, starlit way.

The miracle in this story is not that, somehow, a young girl gets pregnant without sex.  It’s that a poor young girl, with an unplanned pregnancy, is blessed by God, and the child that is born is the manifestation of God’s love, itself, right under the nose of Caesar.

The miracle is that this incarnation of The Holy One appears from the grass roots, witnessed by working people – people that probably didn’t even own the sheep that they watched, and this baby is born to a young, scared Jewish couple.

The miracle is that this birth is NOT SPECIAL. There was blood and the tearing of flesh and there was pain.  Like so many other births.

But, leave it to the church to mess things up.  And they have been messed up.

For hundreds of years, Mary has been venerated – not because she was a strong Mom who raised her boy right – not because she got through an unplanned pregnancy and raised a family.

For hundreds of years, in various ways, the church has held as the iconic, most pure, most highly praised woman – a woman who allegedly managed to give birth to a child without having sex. Because of this story.

What has that done for women, in these hundreds of years?

Women have been seen as dirty, and sex was seen as dirty.  Attitudes about Mary have spawned misogyny and sexism.  No woman could ever measure up. The patriarchy, putting women in their place.  Murder, torture, witch hunts, and oppression.

The church really messed up.

I feel you being uncomfortable. I hear your inner protest which says, “We have come a long way since then!”

This past week, I got an email from someone who hasn’t been in church for a decade.  He was there when we sang, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”  It was verse two that was troublesome.

“God of God, Light of Light – Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb.  Very God, begotten not created.  O, Come, let us adore him….”

Let me quote the email:

“It clearly implies that a women’s uterus and vagina are essentially evil! -We are assured that Jesus is divine, even though he came from a human woman, because Mary was still a virgin, and therefor not yet abhorrent. *cough* *crickets* I don't believe that thought would occur to any of your younger flock, thank god, and I doubt many of the older members would care to hear it any more.”

His suggestion was to cut that verse out altogether, but it’s not that simple.  Despite all of our attempts at current scholasticism…despite our resolve to be a liberal church that holds justice as being paramount, we seem to throw it all out when it comes to special occasions like Christmas, and our sentimental selves belt out the hymns of our childhood with great joy.  Trouble is, our hymns and symbols are full of antiquated theology, and at times like Christmas, when the old tunes are the ones we’ve always known, this antiquated theology seems to become invisible.

What are we going to do about that?

Well, for one, we can continue to search for and use hymns that more closely reflect the faith that we have come to embrace.

For another, we can look to what the message of Mary really was about – about God’s grace appearing through the direst of circumstances, through ordinary people.  Maybe even through us.

Luke attributes Mary with a most wonderful song of praise – a song that is powerful and subversive, and has nothing to do with her sex life.  It’s about how God works through the humble, and how God keeps God’s promise: (from the Inclusive Bible)

My soul proclaims your greatness, O God,
And my spirit rejoices in you, my Saviour.
For you have looked with favour upon your lowly servant,
And from this day forward
All generations will call me blessed.
For you, the Almighty, have done great things for me,
And holy is your Name.
Your mercy reaches from age to age
For those who fear you.
You have shown strength with your arm,
You have scattered the proud in their conceit,
You have deposed the mighty from their thrones
And raised the lowly to high places.
You have filled the hungry with good things,
While you have sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of Israel, your servant,
Mindful of your mercy –
The promise you made to our ancestors –
To Sarah and Abraham,
And their descendants, forever.

Bam! Right under the nose of the powerful Caesar, comes a message of hope, to the humble, to the persecuted, to the poor.

Let’s not miss this.

This year, we’ll read the same scriptures at Christmas that we always do.  And we’ll sing the same hymns of many of our childhoods.

But, this year, let’s not let ancient hymns and ancient understandings set the tone for how we understand God, or humanity, or men or women, or babies.

This year, let’s not make Christmas about the purity of Mary.

Let’s hear the voice of the gospel writer Luke, dreaming of a day of justice and peace for all people.

Oh, it may be difficult to sing, “round yon virgin, tender and mild,” for sure. But, for the love of the woman who brought Jesus into the world, for Mary, for all women, for the poor, for the oppressed, and for all people on this suffering planet, let’s make our celebration about the song of joy and liberation that she sang.


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Sunday at Scarboro – December 17, 2017

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Worship Leader: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Advent Three - Do Not Be Afraid

SOCKS! SOCKS! SOCKS! This Sunday is the day to bring your donation of new SOCKS to the kitchen before church. The Elda Daniels Group will be delivering them to the DI again this holiday season. Thank you for your support!

Come early for coffee at 10am, and stay after church for coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall. You may notice markers and large banners at the back of the Sanctuary and downstairs by the Memorial Hall. You are invited to colour these banners before, during, and after the service. Christmas pageant players will meet in the Sanctuary for a full performance workshop from 11:30-3pm. Lunch will be provided!

See what is going on at Scarboro here. We are collecting most needed items for Closer to Home throughout Advent, see the list of items or pick up a flyer from the church office.

Co-op Gift Cards will be available for purchase in denominations of $25, $50 and $100 from Mary Axworthy - cash or cheque only please.

If you haven't already, pick up an Advent Journey booklet, and log your steps toward Bethlehem as we meditate through movement this Advent. Download a copy here.


Sermon: Advent III: Do Not Be Afraid
December 17, 2017
Rev. Lee Spice

When did the world start revolving on fear?
When did leaders come to be placed in power because people were afraid of losing their privilege?
When did acts of violence result from the fear of the other taking over or getting more than they deserved?
When did young people begin to take up arms to attack, for fear of being attacked first?
When did those in the minority come to be viewed with suspicion and fear, disguised as anger?
It seems the world is enslaved by fear.
Has it been always?

As long as there have been humans on this earth, they have been afraid.
At first, maybe afraid of freezing or starving or being eaten by a ferocious beast.
But fear, itself, is a ferocious beast – insatiable and unrelenting.
It convinces its victims that they are afraid.
Afraid of losing, afraid of The Other, afraid of the Different, the Strange, the Queer.
Even afraid of the Lesser, the Margins, the Poorer – worried that they will rise up and take without asking.  Or receive without thank-you, I suppose.

I can just imagine God, wondering to Godself, “What do I have to do?”
“I keep sending prophets and teachers and messengers with the message not to be afraid.
But fear is an ugly motivator…and a powerful one.
Fear causes people to be violent, and pinched, and small.
Fear raises hands to hurt and turns beauty and inspiration into weaponry.”

“Better that people would be motivated by love.
Better that sacrifice would come in service and in helping others.
Better that people would learn that The Other will bring blessing and not harm.”

And so the Holy One began to work through the small things, the unlikely things, to bring blessing to the world:
A young couple in a hostile land, when fearful eyes were turned to Caesar.
A baby born in poverty, when fearful hearts pandered to power.
The message delivered to working folk, when fearful ears listened to rhetoric.
And the anointed one, who grew to be the very manifestation of God’s love, right here, in the middle of struggling humanity.

Today, more than ever, the world seems to revolve on fear.
Today, more than ever, fear trumps love.
But God has something to say about that.
Today, more than ever, we need to listen to the messenger angel:
“Don’t be afraid.
For unto you is born…
today,
in the middle of fearful humanity,
amongst the small things
where you’d least expect it
God’s true love.”


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Sunday at Scarboro – December 10, 2017

Worship Start Time:  10:30am
Worship Leader: Rev. Lee Spice
Theme: Advent Two - Prepare

Come early for coffee at 10am, and stay after church for coffee and conversation in the Memorial Hall. You may notice markers and large banners at the back of the Sanctuary and downstairs by the Memorial Hall. You are invited to colour these banners before, during, and after the service. Christmas pageant players will meet for a first run through this Sunday after church, with a full performance workshop on Sunday, December 17 from 11:30-3pm.

See what is going on at Scarboro here. We are collecting most needed items for Closer to Home throughout Advent, and socks for the DI are due at the church by Sunday, December 17.

Co-op Gift Cards will be available for purchase in denominations of $25, $50 and $100 from Mary Axworthy - cash or cheque only please.

If you haven't already, pick up an Advent Journey booklet, and log your steps toward Bethlehem as we meditate through movement this Advent. Download a copy here.


Sermon: Advent II: Prepare
December 17, 2017
Rev. Lee Spice

Many of us in this room are familiar with Facebook.  Every now and then, the algorithms at Facebook put together a message that says something like, “Lee, at Facebook, we care about you.  Here are some memories from 5 years ago.”  Then you look at pictures from back then.

My first response, if it’s from about 5 years ago, is, “Wow, look how skinny we are!  Look at the muscles in my arms!”  That’s because, 5 years ago, we were preparing to climb Aconcagua, which, at 22,840 ft., is the highest mountain in the world outside of the Himalaya.

In preparation, we swam, we hiked, we skied, we ran, we walked….we did something almost every day.  And when the time came, we ascended and summited the mountain.  As the only woman on the trip, and one of the three of us over 50, I was grateful for every minute of preparation that I’d put in.

The scriptures today speak of preparation, and that’s usually interpreted as a kind of gentle, internal preparation.  You know – “Lord Jesus, come into our hearts” kind of preparation.

The scripture from Isaiah says, “A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.”

OK, so anyone recently experienced driving through construction?  That place at Sarcee and Hwy 1 where you have to know what the names of the roads are on the other side of the highway or else you’ll get in the wrong lane and drive there and have to turn around? (not that I would know…). In Okotoks, they’re created a subdivision out of what was part of the D’Arcy Ranch, and the size and number of the earth scrapers is jaw-dropping – great beasts moving tonne after tonne of earth – flattening the land down to suburban standards.

Construction is a little ugly, a lot of disruption, and, sometimes, very, very painful.

“Every mountain shall be made low!”  Scraped and scratched and backhoed and dug and dynamited….we’re not talking about something gentle, here.

And out of the wilderness, every year, comes John the Baptizer, wearing animal skins and eating wild food, and INSISTING that preparations be made for the coming of Christ into the world.  “Prepare the way of the Lord.  Make his paths straight.”

How do you make a path straight?  Whether it is a garden path or the path to Highway One, you don’t make a path straight by just looking at it – there is work to be done – digging and flattening and hauling away of all of the stuff that you don’t need.

Preparation, too, is a little ugly, a lot of disruption, and, sometimes, very, very painful.

In the story from Mark, John the Baptizer appears, and proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Ah, there it is.  There is the hard work.  There is the digging and flattening and the hauling away of stuff that you don’t need.  Repentance.  For the forgiveness of sins.

In the United Church, we don’t talk about sin very often.  Perhaps, as a church, we’re trying to distance ourselves from the notions of original sin.  Perhaps we want to emphasize that everyone is beloved, and created by God.

Yes, yes and yes – but it’s a fact of being human that humans mess up.  Humans get things wrong.  Humans hurt other people.  Humans hurt even ourselves.  Humans miss the mark. Humans get on the wrong path, and sometimes find that it’s more like a merry-go-round that keeps going faster and it’s really, really hard to get off onto solid ground.

All of these things get in the way of living the life to which God calls.  They are stumbling blocks – things that get in between us and God…thangs that isolate or alienate ourselves from others…things that prevent each of us from knowing our authentic self.  Things that are heavy and hard to carry around. And they’re prickly, and they continue to hurt.

And that’s what the Bible calls “sin.”

This gentle account from Mark doesn’t do justice to the hard work that John’s message implies.  Repentance is the preparation that John the Baptizer is talking about.

To “repent” means “to turn around.”

Get off that path, jump off the merry-go-round.

Take a good look around.   What is hurtful?  What needs attention?

Where are the great mountains of regret getting in the way? What is wedging itself between you and God, between you and others, or between you and your true self?  What needs to be dug or backhoed or dynamited?

What needs confessing?  What needs apology?  What needs a new start?

Look inward.  Look deep.  Spend the time.

And then, get out a shovel and dig. Turn up the soil and haul away that which is hurting you and others.  Leave the stuff that needs to be left.  Move things around.  Create a new landscape.  Lower the mountains, straighten the paths, prepare the way.

Make the call. Send the text that says, “Can we talk?” Find your mentor. Look up the program.

Is this easy? No. No. No.  But preparation is a little ugly, a lot of disruption, and sometimes, very, very painful.

Of course, in construction, you don’t leave the patch of real estate as a flat, empty, scarred up piece of land.  A least, not forever.

It is being prepared for something.  New systems of electricity and natural gas and water will be put in, homes and roads will be built.

Pathways and green spaces will invite healthy living.  Gardens will be planted.

And new life will be born again.

Maranatha. Come, Holy Jesus, come.


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