Tag Archives: Christianity

Shantymen Christmas

I know I haven’t used this blog much lately, but I felt like there are some who would like to read this. This morning I presented the devotional for the Harbour Light Christmas service. While I was preparing the devotional, I had a half-remembered story stuck in the back of my brain, but I couldn’t remember any details. I went searching for the story online but couldn’t find it – I found these pictures instead. All pictures are from the January 11 1954 edition of Life Magazine, and were taken by George Silk. You can find the article here: https://goo.gl/X4p111

 

A Shantymen Legacy Christmas

Imagine a wooden boat, an old fishing troller, tossed about by the waves on a dark and stormy night. Imagine three men inside, peering into the darkness, hoping against hope to see the flash of a lighthouse, signalling their way into a safe harbour. Now, this alone would not be an unusual sight – these waters are home to many lonely fishing vessels, men scratching out an existence along the rugged west coast of Vancouver Island. But this ship is different. For cargo instead of fish or ice is a box full of Christmas gifts and ornaments. Tied to the mast is a fine pine tree, ready to be given to a family that has never had a Christmas tree. These three men are not fishermen, but Shantymen; they consider themselves missionaries; men of God, travelling with the intention to share a little Christmas cheer with the isolated communities along the coast.

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Finally, they see the light. The youngest of the three, Earl Johnson, says a silent prayer of thanks as he hangs on to the ship’s rail, shifting his weight as the ship rolls along with the swell. All three break into a spontaneous Christmas carol as they pull into Ucluelet, which is a Nuu-Cha-Nulth word for ‘Safe Harbour’.

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There in Ucluelet they distribute the few gifts they have, along with the Christmas tree. They are invited to participate in the Christmas Eve service, held in a little house that the Shantymen helped the town purchase and establish not long before. They share the good news of Christmas, much like we’re doing here This morning.

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Earl Johnson and Teddy George

Last month I had the chance to attend the wedding of my best friend growing up. His grandfather performed the ceremony – a man named Earl Johnson. It was Earl and others like him that set up little churches in Ucluelet and Tofino in the early 50’s, where the townsfolk of those small villages would gather to sing, eat, and pray together.

The little church in Ucluelet became Christ Community Church, and became a temporary home to my dad in the 70’s. Dad was running from a broken family and a series of bad choices, trying to find somewhere he could find some peace. He wound up living in the back of Christ Community Church, where he eventually met my mom. Both found their way because of people in that church.

Some years later a little boy would sit on the floor of that church, asking a pastor far too many questions for a Christmas Eve. I can still remember his laugh as he would attempt to answer questions he’d never even considered. The other kids would look at me skeptically, wondering why I couldn’t just shut up and listen to the story.

Earl and others like him shaped my faith – a faith not focused on systems or buildings, but a faith built on people – people willing to brave the cold and the wet to reach out their hand to their fellow human. Every Christmas I reflect on that boat that carried Earl and others like him up and down the coast, searching for a lighthouse and a friendly face, and on the faith that compelled them into the lonely places of the world, convinced that the birth of Jesus meant something so important that everyone should know about it. That is the legacy that brought me here – a legacy not of rulers or commanders, but a legacy of shepherds, sailors, and refugees.

Even Christ did not come as a ruler, but as a baby – as a baby to teenage mother, a baby that people whispered about – who’s his father? He was born before Joseph and Mary were married – is he a bastard? Yes, Jesus was born into a dirty stable to an unwed teenage mother – and this is the person I call Christ the King. This is the king that steers my ship – his hand is on the rudder, and all he asks of me is that I keep moving forward. So here’s to those rough around the edges. Here’s to those brave enough to face their fears and to move forward through the storms that life throws at them. And Merry Christmas, one and all!

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Advent Through the Centuries – the fifth century

Monday, December 5
The fifth century of the Church

Scripture:

Isaiah 35:1-10

Let the desert and the dry lands be glad, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom; like the asphodel, let it burst into flower, let it rejoice and sing for joy. The glory of Lebanon is bestowed on it, the splendour of Carmel and Sharon; then they will see the glory of Yahweh, the splendour of our God.

Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to the faint-hearted, ‘Be strong! Do not be afraid. Here is your God, vengeance is coming, divine retribution; he is coming to save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind will be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy; for water will gush in the desert and streams in the wastelands, the parched ground will become a marsh and the thirsty land springs of water; the lairs where the jackals used to live will become plots of reed and papyrus. And through it will run a road for them and a highway which will be called the Sacred Way; the unclean will not be allowed to use it; He will be the one to use this road, the fool will not stray along it.

No lion will be there, no ferocious beast set foot on it, nothing of the sort be found; it will be used by the redeemed. For those whom Yahweh has ransomed will return, they will come to Zion shouting for joy, their heads crowned with joy unending; rejoicing and gladness will escort them and sorrow and sighing will take flight. 

Reading: 
Augustine, reflection on Psalm 109, c.400-430. Full text here.

He promised us eternal salvation and an unending life of blessedness with the angels, and an imperishable inheritance, the joy of seeing his face, a dwelling-place with him in heaven, and the fear of death removed from us through the resurrection. This is, if you like, his ultimate promise. We look forward to it, and when we reach it, we will want nothing more. But as to how this final end is to be reached, he has also told us in promises and prophecies.

He has promised to men that they will be like God; to mortals he has promised immortality; to sinners, righteousness; to the lowly, glory.

Indeed, brethren, because what God promised seemed incredible to men – that from mortality, decay, weakness, lowliness, dust and ashes they should become equals of the angels of God – he did not only sign a contract with them to convince them. He sent, not just any prince, not just any angel or archangel, but his only Son. The road by which he was to lead us to the end he had promised us – through his Son he would show us that road.

Even so, it was not enough for God to send his Son to point out the way – he made his Son the way itself, so that we can go on our journey guided by him as he walks along his own way.

So the only Son of God was to come to men, to take on humanity, and thus to die, to ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of the father, and so to fulfil what he had promised among the nations. After that promise to the nations had been fulfilled, he would fulfil his other promise, to come, to demand the return of what he had given, to separate the vessels of anger from the vessels of mercy, to give the wicked what he had threatened and the righteous what he had promised.

All this had to be prophesied and foretold. It had to have its coming announced. It could not come suddenly and unexpectedly, causing terror and alarm: people had to be awaiting it with faith.

Apse from the Santa Pundenziana in Rome, fifth century.
Apse from the Santa Pundenziana in Rome, fifth century.

Prayer:
Attributed to St. Patrick, c. 450-490

Christ be beside me,
Christ be before me,
Christ be behind me,
King of my heart.

Christ be within me,

Christ be below me,

Christ be above me,

never to part.

Christ on my right hand,

Christ on my left hand,

Christ all around me,

shield in the strife.

Christ in my sleeping,

Christ in my sitting,

Christ in my rising,

light of my life.

Christ be in all hearts thinking about me;

Christ be on all tongues telling of me;

Christ be the vision in eyes that see me;

in ears that hear me, Christ ever be.

Advent Through the Centuries – the seventh century

Saturday, December 7
The seventh century of the Church

Scripture:
Isaiah 60:19-22

The sun shall be no more
your light by day,
nor for brightness shall the moon
give you light;
but the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your God will be your glory.
Your sun shall no more go down,
nor your moon withdraw itself;
for the Lord will be your everlasting light,
and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.
The least one shall become a clan,
and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the Lord;
in its time I will hasten it.

Reading:
The Jesus Sutras, c.
635AD.
Today is a bit of a different reading. It comes to us from China, where there was a growing Christian population in the 7th century. This Christianity was influenced by Nestorianism (which taught that Jesus had two ‘persons’ contained in his body – one divine and one human), and various Chinese beliefs, including Daoism and Buddhism. Christianity was brought to China by a persian monk named Aluoben, and a monastery still stands in China on the site of the monastery that they built. It’s fascinating to think of what Christianity would look like today if it had taken root in the East rather than the West. More can be read about the Jesus Sutras here. without further ado, a reading (and Chinese representation of Jesus) from the Jesus Sutras:

Then He spoke to the assembled crowd and said:
This Sutra is profound and unimaginable.
All the gods and gurus agree on this, and acknowledge
This Way that is the essences of connection and return.
To move you need light to see by — this teaching provides it
Just as the sun slants out, so you can see what is in front of you,
This Sutra offers understanding, and by its light
You can know the Way of Peace and Happiness in your heart.


If anyone wants to share these teachings with friends or family
Of course they can. Honor them, sing and pray together —
And this will bless you and your family into the next generation.
Every generation is united in this communion —
From goodness in past lives, people come to this religion
And through the faith they have they find Happiness.
It’s like the spring rain that refreshes everything —
If you have roots, you will flourish in its coming.

Prayer:

Attributed to St. Fursey of Ireland, c.584-650

The arms of God be around my shoulders,
The touch of the Holy Spirit upon my head,
The sign of Christ’s cross upon my forehead,
The sound of the Holy Spirit in my ears,
The fragrance of the Holy Spirit in my nostrils,
The vision of heaven’s company in my eyes,
The conversation of heaven’s company on my lips,
The work of God’s Church in my hands,
The service of God and the neighbour in my feet,
A home for God in my heart,
And to God, the Father of all, my entire being.
Amen.