Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What REALLY Happened...

10 days ago, after worship on the 4th Sunday of Advent when this sermon was presented (here is a podcast of the actual presentation), a comment was made: "maybe one year you can preach about what really happened--though maybe Christmas isn't the right time for that".

The comment has stuck with me.  What might that sermon be?  (And in point of fact I think that the Sunday before Christmas or the Sunday after Christmas would be a fine time for it--but not Christmas Eve.)

I think I need to start these thoughts with the statement that I do not think there is any remembered historical event in either Matthew or Luke's stories of the Nativity.  I think it is all theology.

BUt the only reason I can make that statement is that the "born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit" line is not vital to my understanding of Jesus as the Christ.  If that was not true then I would have to find historical accuracy in order for my faith to make sense.

For me the "what really happened" sermon would be more about "why was the story told this way".  Mind you for me that is often the sermonic question.  PArt of that is because I find the "what really happened" line to be a fruitless trail.  Because we can never know for certain, there is simply no source of information to answer the questions, we are likely going to find the answers we expect to find.  And in the end the question of faith is more about meaning than event.

But the question was what really happened.  And I think there are only a few things we can say with great certainty.  WE can say there was in the tradition a sense that there was something different about Jesus' birth.  I think there are signs that there was a hint of impropriety about the birth, that the child was born "too soon" -- and there have always been children born "too soon" relative to marriage dates.  We can, I believe, say with a degree of certainty that there was a conflict between the understanding that Jesus was a descendant of David as well as a plausible tradition that he was (or that the Messiah would be) born in Bethlehem and the lived reality that he came from Nazareth (a conflict that Matthew and Luke resolve in two different ways).  Other than that I think it is all theology.  After all the primary point of the Gospels is not history/biography as we understand it in 2014.  The point is to proclaim the Good News that the Messiah has come, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And for Matthew and Luke that means starting with conception and birth (for Mark the story begins with Baptism, for John Jesus its the Primeval Word who was in the beginning).

SO why might Jesus have been born too soon?  Maybe Joseph and Mary had a shotgun wedding?  Maybe Mary had another beau on the side, one she may have preferred but a different arrangement was made?  Maybe Mary was a survivor of sexual violence?  All possibilities.

But for me the question is always WHY.  Why did Matthew and Luke tell this story this way?  How did they see God active in Jesus of Nazareth, who they knew as the Risen Christ?   I think that in the Nativity stories we see the development of a different Christology, one that eventually develops into the classic formulation of wholly human and wholly divine.  I think that in the absence of a fully remembered story humanity tends to fill in the details based on what they have learned/experienced about the person.  [In point of fact I think much of humanity does this even where there is a clear account of an event--they just re-tell the story in a different way.  Memory is a funny, and sometimes unreliable, thing.]

ANd one final thought about the sermon I have not ever preached (I have done Christmas trivia to point out how much of what we "know" about the Nativity Story comes more from Carols and Pageants than what Matthew and Luke actually tell us but that is a bit different).  It is my belief that the real basis, often, behind the question is in fact a much more philosophical discussion about Christ, about how God is active in the faith story, about miracles vs science than about the actual events.  Why do we make the faith claims we do?  This is why the answer we come to is so often pre-determined by our philosophical viewpoint on those issues.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Devil in the Details

For the last monthe we in Canada have been inundated with ads announcing the Federal Government's proposed changes to the Income Tax system that will, in their opinion, be of great benefit to young families.

Now this is nothing new.  Political parties do this all the time.  There is a slight ethical issue in that the ads are funded by the government, not the political party and the changes 1) have not yet passed through Parliament and 2) are expected to form a large piece of the CPC election platform in next year's campaign (especially since the changes have a large bunch of cash arriving in people's bnk accounts just a few weeks before the election). 

But as always the devil is in the details.

To be fair, there is good stuff in here.  The increase in the Tax Credit for child Care expenses is needed.  The increase in the Universal Child Care Benefit is not a bad idea either.  Of course neither those things will do a whole lot to actually make Child Care affordable for lower-to-middle income families but they are a start.

ANd unlike many commentators I am not totally against teh "Family Tax Cut" (aka income splitting). I mean there are a whole lot of families (like ours) who will not benefit one cent from the plan.  But once in power governmensts have the right to support programs that flow with the ideals of their supporters.  Many CPC supporters (and MPs and Cabinet members and PArty staffers) support the idea of one-income families and income splitting is a good way to support that.  And I am sure there are a number of families in Grande Prairie who WILL benefit from this plan.  The inclusion of an upper limit that a family can save made it much more palatable to me.

The problematic point was a little line at the end of the description of enhanced UCCB payments.  And interestingly it got no airplay in the hype around the announcement or even in commentators talking about it (because they were sucked into the debate around income splitting).  Ir reads:
These enhancements to the UCCB would replace the Child Tax Credit, starting in the 2015 tax year

Now here is the thing.  The UCCB is taxable income, the Child Tax Credit is not.  Also the Child Tax Credit is MORE than the enhancements to the UCCB--in our case the difference as far as I can tell would be a negative $240/month.  And that is the money we have been using to build the education savings plan for post-secondary purposes.  Other families are using that money to buy food.  [AS a side note the UCCB was this governments idea of a National Child Care program--of course it comes nowhere near paying enough to make child care affordable.]  So for us, and I assume for MANY other families, these enhancements will cost money--and the enhancements move money from non-taxable to taxable income.

IT does strike me that this is an odd way to support lower-to-middle income families.  But then to be honest I do not think this government has every really been about doing things that will support lower-to-middle income Canadians as a primary goal of their tax program choices.

The devil is indeed in the details.

Friday Five--Because I should really post something....

SOme people marked the month of November by posting every day.  I appear to have marked it by not posting ANYTHING on this blog....

SO I thought for that for the first time in I don't know how long I would do the RGBP Friday Five.

This week's prompt is about Christmas Trees.  Our tree won't go up for t more weeks but here we go.  Let's start with a picture of our tree from last year:

ANd the prompting questions are:
1) Real tree, or “fake?” My preference is real.  But after spending as much on real trees in 2 years as we spent the entire time we were in Atikokn we bought a fake one.  This will be its third year.  Our 10 year old hates it--keeps asking why we put "a piece of plastic" up instead of a tree.

2) White or colored lights? coloured, no question.

3) When do you put up and take down your tree? because we always used a real tree the tradition was to put it up around the 20th and take it down on New Year's Day (in my childhood my mother would often de-decorate the tree while watching the Rose Parade).  Even with the "piece of plastic" we tend to keep to that schedule because we have limited room in the living room for the tree as it is.

4) Tell us about your favorite ornament (share a picture, if you can). Not sure I have a favourite...but I will mention the set of 6 ceramic bulbs that have the Irish "May the Road Rise to Meet you" Blessing on them I was given years ago and then did not use for a while due to using "bush" trees with weak branches.  Now we can use them because the fake branches are plenty sturdy.

5) What goes on the top of your tree (again, share a photo, if possible)? We have an angel and a star, both in the same material and style, that we alternate.  Mind you we have to rely on the girls to tell us which year is which...though I see above that last year was the star

Bonus: Are there traditions about decorating your tree that you’d like to share? Every year we buy an ornament for the girls.  (Soon we will have more ornaments than we have tree but that is another issue)  Here in town there is an annual Ten Thousand Villages sale in mid-November so every year we go to that and this is where the girls buy their, fairly traded, ornament for the year.  For the last three years running our second child has gotten ornaments with nativity scenes on them--says she is starting a collection.

There are stories that always get told in families.  Here is one of ours....
One year, I think I was in Grade 10, I had a play rehearsal (for Our Town which we were performing in January) on the Saturday before Christmas.  We had not yet decorated our tree.  At that point in time my father and sister did brunch on Christmas Day.  Often they had grand plans (which over the years faded into simple bacon and eggs but since at that time my grandfather only got bacon and eggs once a year [cholesterol diet] he did not mind) and this year they had a fancy bread they were making.  That afternoon while they were trying to make it and my grandmother was giving helpful advice my mother decided that the kitchen was not where she wanted to be.  SO when I got home from rehearsal the tree was totally decorated.  I was less than impressed that I did not get to help.