En-Joy Christmas

EN-JOY CHRISTMAS
Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
‘Trinity on Church’ Kitchener
Advent 3, December 17, 2017

Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Who and what gives you joy, and how? Holding your left hand quietly palm up, think about those ways that en-joyment flows into you filling heart and mind.  Again: to whom, in what situations and way, do you give en-joyment, and how? Holding your right hand palm down, think about those ways you release and share that gift of en-joyment with others.. We keep praying here, asking to be blessed, so that we in turn might bless God’s world. That includes a gift of joy.

The old dour Scots, my role models in the faith, had a way of describing the faith in question and answer form: the Westminster Confession. Knox, once his death sentence for heresy was lifted, imposed ‘catechism’ on every Scot, every Sunday afternoon.  For children, of ‘feebler minds’, a Shorter Catechism of only 107 questions and answers was prescribed.  In the old gender exclusive diction, the first question and answer ran like this, ever since the mid 1600’s:

Q: What is the chief aim of man?
A: The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever!

‘Enjoy’ in this old usage of the English language by the Scots, does not mean ‘please yourself’. ‘Enjoy’ means to give joy, or transmit it or make joyous as a transitive verb: give joy to God!  In turn, we practiced by giving joy to others, ‘en-joying’ them.  Today, we took time we wondered what that might look like.

Martin Luther King, in ‘Strength to Love’, draws the distinction between our excellence in what Jacques Ellul called ‘techné’, instrumental activity, and our moral confusion about what purposes are served so efficiently:

The means by which we live have outdistanced the ends for which we live.
Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power.
We have guided missiles, and misguided men.

If ‘en-joy’ means giving joy, it is less likely to be confused with self-medication, compulsive addictive behaviour, seeking novelty, and cheap thrills.  Endorphins don’t keep multiplying by frequent repetition, but taper off with habituation to any stimulus.  That’s how we are created, and evolved.  A consumer Christmas is deceptively close to en-joyment, and we spend thousands of dollars in every household in consumer goods and social recreational experiences.

Compare the thousands we spend on this consumption with the highly publicized charities of Christmas.  Every media outlet associates itself with a ‘campaign’ to make poor people’s Christmas less unlike our consumer holiday.  Many stores ask us at the till to add a $2 donation to a good cause.  We all shell out something – my partner was ringing a bell for the Salvation Army this week!

However, the CRA reports that 4 out of 5 income tax filers make no claim at all for charitable giving.  The median gift from the remaining 20%  (not the average, inflated by a few massive tax-planning donors) is $150 for the first tax bracket, and $250 for the next higher one.  Our charitable giving, en-joying God and the world, gets a big tax break – you all know that.  Do you teach others?

I’m not here to please you, to meet your consumer needs in religion, or to palliate you into death as a community of faith.  I’m here to equip the saints for your ministry, to proclaim a gospel worthy of your calling.  What ends do we serve?  Even the old technique of ‘comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable is too petty and instrumental. 

Cleophas J LaRue, Yale professor of preaching, is from East Texas, with the accent and the attitude of an evangelical Methodist or Baptist.  I’m a groupie.  Many of his students righteously say ‘I give my people what they need’, afflicting the comfortable.  LaRue says ‘I give my people what they want – that way they’re still there, when I give them what they need.’

We heard today from Isaiah 61, ‘Third Isaiah’.  Remember, the ‘First’ Isaiah lived through the decline and fall of Judah to Babylon, like Jeremiah, warning the leaders, in chapters 1-39 of our book.  Last week, we heard from ‘Second Isaiah’, a second generation, after a century in exile, moving from ‘told you so’ to ‘comfort my people’, the image of a ‘suffering servant’ vindicated in 40-55.  This is ‘Third Isaiah’, likely written even later:

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
 because the LORD has anointed me;
God has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;

That’s what Jesus will read, according to Luke, to sum up his own ministry. as fulfillment of traditional hopes.  It’s a good summary of en-joyment, isn’t it?  Ask the oppressed, the broken-hearted, the captives, the prisoners!  Recalling moments of joy, how many are relief from burdens, limits, and suffering?

Jubilee is a tradition from Leviticus 25.  What if every 50 years (7X7 plus 1), all land and capital of Israel (tribe by tribe, clan by clan) is redistributed, and we all get a fresh and equal start?  That’s good news for some whose kids have failed, and an obligation of others who succeeded to share.  The world church relied on this tradition to lobby early this century for debt relief to Africa.  Mennonite communities often resist loans with interest among themselves.  Imagine that!

If you’re having trouble imagining oppression or bondage – ask your deeply indebted neighbours, facing interest rate rises at long last in 2018, however small!  Ask a younger generation of millennials, suffering from our boomer preference to hold on to our generational gains without sharing.  Jubilee, redistributive justice to offer everybody a fresh start, is a provocative proposal.

The ‘day of the Lord’, or the day of vengeance, is even less familiar among us. Tradition tells us ‘vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’.  It’s not your job to judge and impose punishment – leave it to God.  Ultimately, we may all rely upon mercy, and be glad we showed grace.  But what if one day God did deliver a measure of justice?  To whom would that be bad news?  Remember the old Marxist aphorism, behind every great fortune is a greater crime’.

In our zeal to be blameless, we destroy out kids.

That’s the Rev Dr Jack Shaver, my supervisor 35 years ago.  His 5 kids were grown up, and he was near retirement.  I was a kid, who wrote down his statement, but didn’t get it for years. Jack didn’t anticipate ‘helicopter parents’. He said we were already out of line in smothering kids.  Let them get their own credit and blame, grow up.  Raise them the same, they turn out different! Don’t let them blame their parents, or surrender credit to their ancestry, for the outcomes in their lives.  The perfect parent destroys her kids.

Barenaked Ladies, Stephen Page and Ed Robertson, sang it this way in 1992:

When I was born, they looked at me and said
What a good boy, what a smart boy, what a strong boy

And when you were born, they looked at you and said
What a good girl, what a smart girl, what a pretty girl

We've got these chains, hanging 'round our necks
People want to strangle us with them before we take our first breath

Afraid of change, afraid of staying the same
When temptation calls we just look away

Who and what gives you joy, and how? Holding your left hand quietly palm up, think about those ways that en-joyment flows into you filling heart and mind.  Again: to whom, in what situations and way, do you give en-joyment, and how? Holding your right hand palm down, think about those ways you release and share that gift of en-joyment with others.. We keep praying here, asking to be blessed, so that we in turn might bless God’s world. That includes a gift of joy.

Remember those moments of joy – go there – it’s like a United Church version of meditation.  New MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) brain science experiments confirm that our brains ‘light up’ in meditative states.  When you know en-joyment, you want to repeat it, for yourself and with others.  En-joy!

My guess it that your moments of joy are not limited to sex, self-medication, (numbing or stimulating).   You don’t just remember the ‘thrill of the kill’, but the ‘flow state’ of ‘stalking the spirit’.  The choir musicians were nodding – we recall the moment of the great performance, when it all came together, but we also know that ‘flow state’ of discipline and practice.  

Others of us, of my age and older, nodded at my recitation of Wordsworth’s “Ode. Intimations of Immortality”:

O joy! That in our embers
Is something that doth live,
That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive!
The thought of our past years in me doth breed
Perpetual benediction.

So I wish you lots of en-joyment this Christmas.  I hope that you will be open to God’s gift, through others who en-joy you.  I know that you will recognize some opportunities to en-joy others.  If all you do is meditate a moment between the busy moments of indulgence and self-medication, that will be good too.

Q: What is the chief aim of man?
A: The chief end of man is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever!