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"What I 'got' for Christmas" story

(Several people asked me for a copy of the story that I read during my part* of Rev. Cathy's and my "What I 'got' for Christmas" sermon on Christmas Eve. Here it is, with a brief introduction.)  ...don’t ever let anyone tell you Christmas is not about “presents” – Christmas is all about presence, God’s presence in human form, God’s presence in this frightened young girl giving birth to her first child far away from home; God’s presence in a feeding trough, LOVE, present, in real life.  Phillip Gully, in his book Christmas in Harmony , tells a wonderful story about Christmas presents/presence: He says he remembers when his biggest decision at Christmas was what to buy with the ten dollars his grandparents gave him.  “The week before Christmas, my grandmother would walk up Marion Street to Vernley Stout’s window at the bank, where he would count out two crisp ten-dollar bills, one for my brother Roger and one for me.  She would arrange them in the m

"The time of singing has come" (Wedding sermon, Julie Huang and Scott Tucker)

November 23, 2013 The Rev. John Ohmer, Rector The Falls Church Episcopal, Falls Church, Virginia Family and friends, wedding guests, welcome: whether you are a very first time visitor to this place or a lifelong member of this church, on behalf of all the people of The Falls Church Episcopal and on behalf of Scott and Julie, welcome and thank your presence here making this celebration a joyful one. Photography: Ann Keiser The passages we’ve just heard read, from the Song of Solomon and the gospel passage – are passages that Scott and Julie picked out themselves, as passages they wanted read on this their wedding day. They are classics that have stood the test of time, and are familiar to many of you. And while those beautiful words from the Song of Solomon are often heard at weddings, My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one,    and come away; for now the winter is past,    the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the

Elf on the Shelf's War on Christmas

Several times over the past couple weeks I've heard people refer to "Elf on the Shelf," the theologically obscenity that doesn't seem to be going away.  So I want to repeat something, with modifications, that I wrote about a year ago, which is that besides being psychologically creepy ("taking in all the daily activities around the house," we're told, "the elf makes his daily report to Santa,") (YOU. ARE. BEING. WATCHED.), "elf-on-the-shelf" is about as bad a theology around Christmastime as you can get.  If there is one thing Christmas is NOT about, it's NOT about who is on who's "nice" or "naughty" list. People talk about "a war on Christmas."  Well, there is one. Except it's not the the perceived hostility to the celebration of Christmas that some hyper-ventilating news commentators and others get all worked up about - the way Christians are supposedly being persecuted becau

Advent Purists are well-intentioned Killjoys

I consider myself a "recovering Advent purist."   What I mean by that is I used to be on board with the custom in the Episcopal Church that Advent -- the four week season leading up to Christmas -- should be a "mini-Lent" season of preparation.   The lessons assigned in the lectionary push this understanding of Advent, with their focus on the second coming of Christ: oddly, they hardly ever make mention of the "first coming," namely, all the events leading up to Jesus' birth that first Christmas.  Advent purists (as I used to be) steadfastly refuse to put up Christmas decorations at home during most of December, roll their eyes at Christmas music being played at the malls, and refuse to allow the congregation to sing anything from the "Christmas" section of the hymnal until after December 24.   Advent purists are well-intentioned killjoys.   There's a brief little seasonally-adjusted prayer called a "proper prefa