Sermon Archives

Monday, December 25, 2017
The Feast of the Nativity (Christmas III, Year B)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Poetry and Practicing Presence

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Good morning and Merry Christmas!

This morning we just heard John’s prologue - a glorious, majestic piece of poetry or early Christian hymn. John’s gospel uses the evocative and grand words from Genesis: “In the beginning…” telling us that this is the beginning of a new creation, the fulfillment of the promise of creation. The poetry of the prologue connects us with a sense of something much larger than ourselves; it connects us with the Eternal and the Unchanging Divine presence that pervades and creates new life.

John’s Prologue lifts us out of time and sweeps us into a meditation on the God who created and loves us. Poetry and music help us receive the Divine by facilitating an encounter with love and beauty that is actually all around us all the time. Sometimes we describe those experiences as moments where we lost track of time or where we felt that time stood still.

There are Greek two words that the New Testament uses for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is used 54 times and refers to a specific amount of time, like a day or an hour. Chronos refers to chronological, sequential time. We probably spent much of Advent in a chronos mindset - planning as we counted down the days until Christmas, buying gifts in time, preparing the house, and scrambling for time to get all the things on the to-do list checked off.

Kairos describes a different experience and idea of time. Kairos is used 86 times in the New Testament. It often means the moment of God’s action, the appointed time when the purposes of God are fulfilled. It is a non-linear way of thinking about time, not marked by the past, present or future.[1]

One of the main themes of Advent is preparation. We count down towards Christmas, eagerly awaiting the Christ child. Our readings, particularly the readings featuring John the Baptist, warned us to stay awake, to keep watch, to be on alert. On the first Sunday of Advent, Jesus tells us: “you do not know when the time will come”. In that phrase, Jesus uses the word kairos for time.[2]

Jesus was telling us that we do not know the timing of God’s purposes. So much about God’s being and doing is mysterious - would you ever to think to look for God as a baby in a cave in some small Middle Eastern country town?

What Advent teaches us and Christmas affirms is that we are to stay awake and alert - not to some future date in time scheduled well in advance - but to be alert to the in-breaking of God into our world. It is happening all the time.[3] All we have to do is calibrate our hearts and our souls to sense God’s presence in our lives.

Christmas teaches us not to overlook the meek and the lowly, not to overlook the most unlikely of places or people, but to trust that God can and will work with anything or anyone in God’s beloved creation.

In order to pay attention and to discover God’s in-breaking presence, our faith gives us the tool of mindfulness. Jesus says: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own” (Matt 6:34). In his life and ministry, he kept teaching us to pay attention, to look at the current reality of our hearts and our communities, to live in the present, to be like children.  

There is much wisdom contained in the Al-Anon book. One of the slogans in the Al-Anon book is “one day at a time”. The book says: “Many of us have tried tackling projects by peering into the future and trying to anticipate and resolve every glitch we think we might encounter, making decisions upon information we do not really possess because the future has not yet happened. Rarely is this a satisfying approach. In most cases, we cannot anticipate every possible turn of events, so no matter how diligently we have prepared, we are eventually caught off guard. Meanwhile, we have expended so much time and energy trying to predict future events, soothe future hurts, and prevent future consequences, that we have missed out on today’s opportunities….This day is ripe with opportunities for joy, for sorrow, for experiencing the full range of human emotion and experience. Isn’t it time we took advantage of it?”[4]

I’ll be the first to confess that I find being in the present really hard. In my morning meditation practice, I often experience my mind jumping from one thing to the next. On days where it’s more difficult to sit still, I find my mind racing over my to-do list, or the list of things I haven’t done yet, or ruminating over past incidents or worrying about future possibilities or being excited about an upcoming event or visit. Every time this happens, part of the practice of centering prayer is to bring myself back to where my feet are, with forgiveness.

And every so often, I feel God’s presence in that gentle reminder to return, or in the gratitude to be back in the present, or when I notice how beautiful the sky or the trees are, and for that moment, I am nourished and my heart feels full and free. And I trust that these holy encounters are gently guiding me to live into the freedom that God calls us into.

Christmas joins together the chronos and the kairos within itself. Appointed to be celebrated on a certain day - chronos - and yet also containing the eternal and unchanging truth that God is committed to humanity, that God is faithful and the reality that even now, God is breaking into our world - kairos.

Christmas is the fulfillment of God’s promise to be with us - it is the appointed time of the fulfillment of that promise.

And we are called to pay attention so that we can be aware of the grace of the moment, so that we can be messengers of the Gospel who announce in word, in deed and in being, that God is with us.

Mary Oliver, one of my favourite poets, is an expert in paying attention. She writes beautiful poetry, mostly about nature and what she observes, infused with spirituality and reflections on life. This is her poem called The Summer Day:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?[5]

Now that we have arrived at the culmination of the season of Advent, let us take a moment and rest in the joy of God’s presence with us. May we say ‘yes’ to the invitation to live in the freedom of the moment, to be aware of the abundance on offer all the time and the courage to live differently as we soak up the gift of God’s presence within and all around us.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kairos

[2] From a sermon preached by the Rev’d Beth Bingham at St. John’s Royal Oak, on the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (December 3, 2017).

[3] From a sermon preached by the Rev’d Beth Bingham at St. John’s Royal Oak, on the First Sunday of Advent, Year B (December 3, 2017).

[4] How Al-Anon works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics, Al-Anon Family Groups, p. 72.

[5] Mary Oliver, ‘The Summer Day’, from New and Selected Poems, 1992, Beacon Press, Boston, MA.