Creation. Where the Christmas Story Begins (Puppet Version)

 

For the past few years my boys have been helping me with a puppet skit on each Sunday of Advent. I usually write the scripts to be supportive of the sermon. I know of at least one church that has borrowed and adapted the scripts, so I will post this year’s also just in case they may be of help to someone! Feel free to adapt to your own situation. We set up opening and closing videos for Farley’s parts, but he can be one of the puppets instead. Farley is a hedgehog, because we just happened to have a hedgehog puppet. Same goes for using a coyote instead of a wolf!

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Farley: Welcome to “Dangerously Close to Furry Farley’s Ferocious Frenemies,” The real life reality tv show that features real clips of me, Furry Farley, getting really dangerously close to some really ferocious animals, which are really real. It is dangerous work, but I really want you to get dangerously close with me. These animals may look all cute and furry. But they are really dangerous.

(Music and in our video we used clips of Farley being chased by our dog. Music fades – shots of a wolf and a sheep.)

Today I have been tracking a wolf tracking a sheep. The wolf looks hungry, but we want to get up really close and personal to see the wolf’s eating habits. Hopefully I don’t become the wolf’s dinner instead of the sheep. Let’s get dangerously close and see what happens . . .

Coyote: Sheep, sheep, sheep! All I ever get to eat is sheep. And always raw. Never cooked. Never boiled, Never fried, never barbecued. No spices, No BBQ sauce. Nothing special at all. And never a turkey dinner, like the one at church on Dec. 18th. I hear that is really good by the way. Always sheep. I’m sick and tired of eating SHEEP!”

Sheep: Cheer up, it could be worse. If you were a sheep it would be grass, grass, grass.

Coyote: Ugh. Salad. I’ve never liked salad.

Sheep: Or if you were a student it would be Kraft Dinner, Kraft Dinner, Kraft Dinner

Coyote: Well that I might be able to handle.

Sheep: And actually, it won’t always be this way.

Coyote: That students won’t always eat KD? – Like that will ever happen.

Sheep: That wolves will eat sheep.

Coyote: Do I look like a wolf to you? I’m a coyote, get it right or my appetite will return in a big hurry. Wait, wolves not eating sheep? How could that be? It has always been this way.

Sheep: Well there are a lot of things a certain way that will someday be another way. There is a great change coming.

Coyote: A great change? How? Why?

Sheep: The Bible says this in Isaiah 11:6 “In that day the wolf and the lamb will live together; the leopard will lie down with the baby goat. The calf and the yearling will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.” This is pointing to a Great Day, a great change, when all will be different, and not just of you and me but for humans also.

Coyote: Humans. They are a weird lot. We kill for food. They seem to always be killing for no reason. And even weirder is all theses Christmas carols. What noise pollution! I’m so triggered. And it is so weird how these humans like to celebrate Christmas. Like the birth of one little baby makes any difference.

Sheep: Actually the birth of that one little baby is huge. In fact the birth of this baby is crucial to make sure the great change I spoke of could someday come.

Coyote: Why should the birth of one baby make such a big difference to the way things are. Things have always been this way and always will be this way. One birth will not make a difference.

Sheep: Things were different once. Back when God created the heavens and the earth, he also created all the animals like you and I. And he created humanity in His own image. At that time no human being would ever think to kill another human being. And in fact there was such a  close relationship between God and the first humans that they could say “God is with us.”

Coyote: Things are not that way now. So much violence.

Sheep: Often true, but Christmas changes everything. You see this baby called Jesus is also known as “Emmanuel” which means “God is with us.” It is through Jesus that humans are able to get close again to God. Many are getting close to God, responding to God’s call to repent form their sins and turn to Him in Jesus. It is because of Jesus that the great change is coming for all of us. This is why they celebrate Christmas with joy and even a big turkey dinner.

Coyote: Mmmmm, turkey. Now that you mention turkey, I have a craving. I’ll be on my way, but thank you for giving me something to think about. Have a good day.

Sheep: Happy hunting, and watch out for the foolish hedgehog hiding with a camera over there.

Coyote: Hiding like that he must think you are one ferocious sheep!

Farley: The wolf (Coyote yells “COYOTE! Get it right!”) . . . whatever, whatever it is, it seems to have backed away from the sheep. Perhaps the sheep has evolved some sort of defence mechanism,  like really bad flatulence. If that is so, I’m not getting any closer! It could be really dangerous. This episode is over, join me next week as we look to get dangerously close in “Dangerously Close to Furry Farley’s Ferocious Frenemies.”

Creation. Where the Christmas Story Begins . . .

If someone asked you to tell them the story of Christmas, where would you start? With the angels announcing to Mary and Joseph that a baby is on the way? Or perhaps with the prophets of the Old Testament announcing that the Messiah would someday be on His way? That is still not going far enough back for the Christmas story goes right back to Creation. How so?

Imagine you are attending a synagogue service sometime before Jesus is born. The rabbi has read from the scroll of Genesis chapters 1 and 2. You wonder what it must have been like for Adam and Eve in the Garden before the Fall. You ask yourself “What did Adam and Eve enjoy during that time that we are missing out on now?”

Perhaps some of you will think of being naked and unashamed! Perhaps not. Some of you may think of the wonderful non-violence of that time and place. Even in the animal kingdom there was a sense of peace and non-violence:

30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. Genesis 1:30 (NRSV)

How things have changed, with violence marking both the animal kingdom, and so called civilization.

However, the biggest change of all, and the thing you should miss the most, is the full-blown presence of God. God is spoken of as walking in the garden as any person might, and only after the “apple debacle” do Adam and Eve feel that His presence is a scary thing.

8 They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 (NRSV)

We get a sense that before the eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve could spend time with God as easily as we might spend time with a family member or good friend.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would miss the presence of God without someone pointing to the Temple. The Temple was a symbol of God’s love; “I want to dwell with you.” But it was also a symbol of separation; “Because I am holy and you are not, I must dwell separated from you, in a holy place.” The Temple was a constant reminder that we are not in the Garden of Eden anymore. Adam and Eve enjoyed the full presence of God without the need for a Temple.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without the need for a priesthood. The priesthood was again a symbol of God’s love; “I want a relationship with you.” But it was also a reminder of separation; “I am holy, and you are not, therefore we cannot have a relationship. You need people who are holy, separated out from you, to stand between you and me.” Adam and Eve could speak freely with God with no need for priests.

Imagining life in the Garden of Eden, you would also miss the presence of God without all the rigmarole of religion. The ritual purity code again is another reminder of separation from God. By setting up the religious code, God was revealing proper morality, yes, but was also in effect saying; “There are a lot of things you need to change about yourself before you can even approach me.” Adam and Eve did not need to get all religious when in the Garden.

So does Christmas change anything? There are signs that Christmas is part of everything changing! If you were God and you chose to be incarnate, where would you choose to be born? Perhaps in the Temple to remind the people of the separation that exists between yourself and humanity? God chose a different emphasis. Could you get any less temple-like than being laid in a manger? This is an “unclean” place.

Likewise, if you were God, who would you invite to be the first to come and see your infant Son? Perhaps it should be the priests, the people most focused on holiness? Nope, the Lord sends an invitation to shepherds, whose ritual holiness would be impossible to keep given their work with animals. And they come straightaway. No need to stop for purity focused observances. They come to Jesus without getting all religious about it.

The point is clear. God’s focus at Christmas is to be with us, right here in our mess, even though we are not worthy of Him. In place of our worth, is His grace. Where the temple, the priesthood, and even religion stood as symbols of separation, Christmas stands as a symbol of Presence.

Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, “God is with us.” Matthew 1:23

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

I don’t recall where I first heard this, but Christmas is God with us, while Easter is God for us, and Pentecost is God within us. We can point to “the end,” to Christ’s return as our being with God as Adam and Eve were with God in the beginning.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them; Revelation 21:1-3

Just as there was no temple in the Garden of Eden, that symbol of our separation from God is not found in the future:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

Christmas, with its emphasis on “God with us,” points back to Creation when God was with Adam and Eve, to the present time as we enjoy God’s presence through the Holy Spirit, and forward to the great re-Creation when God will be with His people in the profound way He had in mind from the beginning.

What is your greatest delight at Christmas? Perhaps family? Or turkeys? (Hopefully you know the difference!) Perhaps time off work? Time away? Gifts? Or eggnog? God’s great delight and desire, which Christmas points to, is the realization of His original purpose in Creation; a loving relationship with people. While you may be into the eggnog, He is into you. He has prepared a wonderful Christmas gift, His presence, now, and for all eternity. Have you received that gift yet?

(All scripture references are from the NRSV)

Is Peace Possible? Psalm 46 Gives the Answer.

Will we ever have peace on earth? If you set out to write a book on the history of the world, by the time you are finished you might rather call it a history of conflict. Likewise a history of conflict is practically a history of the world. In the 1980’s I was fascinated by an encyclopaedia that chronicled all the world’s conflicts since WW2. Unfortunately, there were enough to devote a separate volume for every year. More recent volumes may be thicker.

We may also think that personal peace is an impossibility. Perhaps the enemy is at the gates, whether the enemy be in the form of threats to physical health, mental health, financial health, relationships, or well being in general. Will we ever have peace?

Peace may have seemed like an impossibility to the people in the Psalmist’s day, but the writer of Psalm 46 expresses great hope. Consider the great hope and comfort expressed in how the Psalm begins and ends:

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble. Psalm 46:1

The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Psalms 46:11

What trouble might God’s people in the Psalmist’s day expect? Why might they feel the need for refuge? We can easily forget that Israel in the Old Testament was quite a small nation stuck between some very large and powerful empires. And just as there is a constant moving of, or a desire to move, territorial boundaries today, so in those days the empires would swell and abate with much conflict. Many Biblical scholars think that the sparring of the nations is the upheaval symbolized in the early part of the Psalm:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.. Psalms 46:2-3

Earth shattering events were always too close for comfort. Who wouldn’t feel stressed stuck as the little guy between several big bullies? Knowing that God, the Creator of the universe, was on your side was a very encouraging thing.

We may be tempted to think here that this Psalm is therefore only for the nation of Israel, and only for those days. However we can note how the hope of the Psalmist in Psalm 46 is reflected by the hope found in the book of Revelation. Consider, for example . . .

  • In verse 4 we have a river.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High. Psalms 46:4

This is actually quite a strange thing as there was no real natural river in Jerusalem. So we are meant to think of God’s supernatural provision of blessing whereas other nations could only boast of their natural provision. There is also a river in Revelation:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Revelation 22:1

  • In verse 5 we have the presence of God.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns. Psalms 46:5

In Revelation there are many references to the presence of God. Here are two:

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. Revelation 21:22

But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him;  they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. Revelation 22:3,4

  • In verse 6 we have the nations at war.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts. Psalms 46:6

And in Revelation we have good news about the nations:

On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. Revelation 22:1-3

  • In verse 8 we have the notion of God as a destroyer.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalms 46:8

This might seem out of character for God for those who believe that He is so loving He could not hurt a fly. But being a destroyer is completely consistent with a loving and just character. As verse 9 makes clear, he is the destroyer of war itself.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. Psalms 46:9

That God is a great destroyer is a theme of Revelation also. He is the destroyer of death itself.

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; Revelation 20:14

Also, there is the destruction of empire, from Revelation 19:11 and following, all the way to the destruction of the most evil empire builder of all.

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10

Psalm 46 points well beyond its own time, in fact it points even beyond our own time as we find its hopeful themes reflected in the Book of Revelation.

Is world peace possible? In Revelation 7:9-10 we see a vision of something that has never been done before:

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”Revelation 7:9-10

Here we have all different kinds of people standing together. It is a vision of world peace. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised. And as for personal peace, every enemy that threatens us now will be destroyed along with all God’s enemies. What seems to us to be impossible right now, with God becomes not just possible, but promised.

This leads us to verse 10:

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10

This is to be taken in two ways, and which way you understand it depends on your relationship with God. The word for “be still” is really the word for “cease” or “stop.” If you have picked up your cross to follow Jesus, then be still, cease from your stress and anxiety over everything that threatens you. God’s got your back. The peace that may seem impossible to you right now is not only possible, but promised. But should you be against God, then cease from your striving and conflict, knowing that the Lord is God and not you. In which of these two ways do you take verse 10? Is peace possible for you?

(All scripture references are taken from the NRSV)