Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Advent Wreath

We begin the season of Advent at the time of year when the dark gathers earliest, when the days are shortest, when the short-lived light seems to shine on a slant. It is no wonder that we use candlelight, so inviting, to mark the time. One candle this week, and two candles next week, and then three and then four, our light against the darkness as we wait for the light of the world to draw near.

I came back to church after a long hiatus on the first Sunday of Advent twenty-five years ago. Having been raised in a tradition that did not observe the season, I was entranced with the customs of Advent. Worried that I didn’t have a proper Advent wreath, I decided a homemade one was going to have to do, and I found four glass candleholders, only an inch or so high, and set them on a round glass canapĂ© tray and scoured the shelves at five stores trying to find three blue and one pink candle (only to be confounded by the discovery that some people use purple while others just use white). It looked pretty bare. But fortunately, I had a large patch of ivy taking over the back of our property and was able to bring in a big wad of it to make a green wreath. A green wreath full of dirt and bugs, but a quick spray in the sink fixed that up. Finally, I found a big white scented candle in a jar (so what if it was a summer scent), stuck it in the middle of the canapĂ© dish where the dip usually goes, and viola. My very first Advent wreath.

In the years since, I’ve mostly stuck to the homemade wreath. One year I bought some silk ivy which lasted until I caught it on fire. Another year I tried using some of my roses that were inexplicably still blooming in December. This was lovely for one week. For the next three weeks, it was back to the ivy, which is very hard to kill.

One year I bought a proper Advent ring, but I’ve never liked using it nearly as much as my homemade contraptions.

The point of it all, of course, is not to have “the right kind” of Advent wreath but to use it to mark sacred time with increasing brightness. It doesn’t matter what color the candles. It doesn’t matter if you say the right prayer when you light them. It doesn’t matter if you have a “proper” Advent wreath or one you rigged up out of Play-Doh and pretend flowers. The point of it all is to see the lovely light growing over the season, bringing us ever closer to meeting our Lord again in all his glory.

A blessed Advent to you again this year.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Risky love

Window in the church commemorating the 25th anniversary of the paratroopers
from the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Amry's arrival in
Sante-Mary-Eglise in Normandy.
It seems to me that the stories in the Gospel of Matthew where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” cause many people to freeze up in fear. We feel accused, anxious. 

What if I do something that will cause me to be thrown into the outer darkness? Have I already done something? I was hoping there is not an outer darkness but here comes Jesus bringing it up again. Judgment. I’m doomed. I’m afraid. Is Jesus being fair? Is God fair? I don’t want to be judged. I’m sure to be found wanting. No wonder the third man says: I was afraid, and I hid your talent in the ground. 

I can relate.

Sometimes Matthew can be an angry sounding Gospel. There is an emphasis on destruction. And here’s why that is: because there is also an emphasis on power differentials. Jesus calls out those with power who are making life difficult for the oppressed - the poor, the meek, the reviled - those he calls blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. He knows that the powerful are not likely to just say, oh, ok, I’ll hand over some of my power to the have nots; I’ll share power with the peacemakers. Jesus knows we don’t give up our power without an angry fight. And those who are poor and meek and mourning see Jesus as a savior who will fight that fight for them, because they know they can’t win on their own. The odds are against them.

The thing is, Jesus isn’t always going to be there in person. Which is why he journeys through his world accompanied by his disciples. They are going to have to take up his work when he is gone, so he is teaching them. And we get to listen in. 

Today’s teaching is about our calling. It isn’t about talent, as in the ability to play the piano or paint portraits, and it’s not exactly about the money although I think resources do come into play. The three people are given resources to do the master’s work in his absence - that’s their calling, the master’s work. Two of them do that work, but one of them is afraid to take a risk, and sits on the resources, missing the opportunities to live out his calling. I was afraid, he said.

I can relate.

Not long ago someone was in my office and the world “calling” came up. That word makes me kind of nervous, this person said. That word makes me kind of nervous, too, like the Biblical word neighbor sometimes makes me nervous. God is always calling us - all of us, not just clergy or people who work in a church but all of us who are part of the family of God to love our neighbors as ourselves, but I can think up a lot of excuses for why I can’t listen or answer right now. Because when God is calling us, that calling is to make a difference with the resources we have been given - whatever they are. To do justice and love mercy and all that. 

Our calling is to do God’s work in the world around us. And all through this Gospel, Jesus makes clear that justice and righteousness are where he’s coming from. He equips us with his teachings today just as he taught his disciples then. And with this parable he challenges them: will they take up their calling to be justice and righteousness in the world? Or will their fears win out?

I have a friend, a new mother with a baby at home, who recently went to a talk by a man who had been in prison for many years and he said that during all that time, nobody had told him that God loves him, not in person and not on the phone and not in a letter. And she thought, that man is my neighbor. I can write a letter that says God loves you. I am equipped to do that. 

And once I read the story of a man in Palestine who snuck across the border into Israel during a time of particularly lethal conflict in that region in order to give blood at an Israeli hospital. He decided he was equipped to do that for his neighbor.

What is it that stokes our fears? The specter of failure? The stigma of looking stupid or naive? The distress of not measuring up? Worry about being taken advantage of?

I can relate to all of these when I think that whatever I do in the world is simply up to me, that I’m on my own - that I must strive to make things happen with my own personal power. But Jesus also said right here in the Gospel of Matthew, I am with you to the end of the age, just as God said to Moses, I will be with you when you go tell Pharaoh to let my people go. I will be with you when you stick your neck out. I will be with you when you take a risk for my sake. I will be with you when you do justice and love mercy and seek righteousness.

Our Lord has given us work to do and sometimes God calls us to work that feels risky. It is easy to let fear take hold. But we know God loves us, right? 

Jesus who loves us asks each of us, you and me, to take up our calling to be God’s love in the world, secure in the knowledge that we do not do that work alone. God has given us what we need and promised to be with us. 

So take heart. Take a risk. Take a chance on loving every neighbor you meet along your way.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Even the horse wears a robe

A king rides off to battle in this window from Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris. It seems like you're pretty much wearing a neon sign saying "I'm the king, so aim at me" by wearing your crown into battle, but what do I know?

Thank you, Veterans, and Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

More murder

Here we have some more battle scenes preserved in church stained glass windows. 
These are from St Chapelle in Paris. The King's chapel, I suppose, is a place where kings like to look at battle scenes and stuff just as much as they enjoy looking at the life of Jesus and other Biblical figures during the service.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Nearly (Headless) Wednesday

A detail from a 13th century window from St Chapelle (the private chapel of King Louis IX). Most of the windows in St Chapelle are original but some were removed and replaced. This piece featuring a knight killing a king is now part of the stained glass exhibit at The Cluny Museum in Paris, a museum entirely dedicated to medieval art.

I wouldn't want to sit near this one in church.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017


Twelfth century stained glass windows adorn one section of Chartres Cathedral in France. These are scenes from the life of Charlemagne (Carolus in Latin). The 12th century glass is mostly blue and red with accents of green and yellow. Check out Charlemagne's chain mail as he rides into battle in the upper left scene.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Madonna with Paratroopers

This is the paratrooper window at Sainte-Mere-Eglise in Normandy, the village where, as part of the beginning of the D-Day invasion, on the night of June 4 and into June 5, 1944, paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army rained down on the village to begin the effort to liberate France from German occupation.

The son of the mayor of the village drew this picture as a young teen, and the major commissioned an artist from the village of Chartres to turn it into this stained glass window in the church. It replaced a window destroyed during the war.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Saints at the Foot of the Cross

Fra Angelico depicts the women (along with the Beloved Disciple) at the foot of the cross. Mary the mother of Jesus  in her Marian blue is supported by Mary Magdalene with the loose hair and red robe and by the Beloved Disciple on the right and one of the other women on the left. I love how Mary Magdalene's halo appears to be on the front of her face so that we can see her long red hair (I guess).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

All Faithful Departed

Fra Angelico's rendering (one of many) of the harrowing of Hell, when Christ broke down the gates of Hell (check out the squashed demon under the door) and led all those who had been born before Jesus' time out into the resurrection life.

Today we celebrate All Souls' or All Faithful Departed. Yesterday was focused on All Saints - the martyrs and prophets and big names. Today we commemorate everyone else who has died in the Lord. This day completes the "Fall Triduum" - the three days of All Hallow's Eve, All Saints' Day, and All Souls Day/Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

All Saints' Day

6th Century mosaic of women saints at Sant Appollonare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one
communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son
Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints
in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those
ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love
you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy
Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

(BCP 245)


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