Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Sixth Day of Christmas: The Bells of Dublin

This seems like a good Sunday song during Christmas...

No real video here, but enjoy the Chieftans play The Bells of Dublin & Christmas Eve.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Fifth Day of Christmas: Some Children See Him

James Taylor sings Some Children See Him.

I first heard this carol when I was a young child - my parents had a Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas album with this song on it, and it has always been one of my favorites.  I guess hearing it as a child and knowing it was a Christmas song about children's experience made it particularly appealing to me.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Feast of the Incarnation

Nativity set from Haiti

Once again we come to Bethlehem, that land which, in the Christmas story at least, seems to stand outside of time and place.  As soon as we hear the words from Luke - “in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus ... and Joseph went with Mary, who was great with child” we are transported into another (almost magical) world where there are sheep-dotted fields tended by simple shepherd boys, where it's not unusual for the night skies to open suddenly, and streams of angels to surround placid sheep with glorious music.  Where friendly beasts gather around a sweet baby who has been laid in their trough by a lovely teenaged mother while more angels hover nearby, gazing upon the scene with serene satisfaction.

We've heard this Christmas story enough times to burnish and gild it, so that we forget that sheep are smelly, that shepherds were despised, that unwed teenage mothers do not find having babies out in the animal quarters to be romantic, that God Almighty coming to live among us as a helpless infant is preposterous. 
We forget that Caesar Augustus was also known as a Prince of Peace because of his Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, enforced by installing legions of troops in every province of the Empire.  Augustus was considered a god, the savior of the people, and it is against the backdrop of Empire, of the great socio-political and economic system overseen by the mighty Caesar Augustus that this Christmas story takes place.  

All the world was busily engaged in commerce and politics and cultural activities, while outside in a barn, the true prince of peace is born, the true savior comes, and no one takes any notice, except for some rough shepherds, the Imperial equivalent of migrant workers.  

So there is this tension within us.  We want and love the wondrous story and its once-upon-a-time quality:  the beautiful mother, the still night sky full of heavenly music, the sheep-dotted countryside.  

And yet the power of the story is intensified through the stark contrast of this birth and this life and this peace and this savior over against the life and rule of the warrior emperor Caesar Augustus, creator of the Pax Romana but NOT the creator of the stars of night.  

Still, if we stay with the otherworldly aspect of the story, if we limit Christmas either to an event occurring in a corner of the real but now ancient historical Roman Empire or to once-upon-a-time-in-Bethlehem, the land of dreamy angels and friendly cows, we miss out on Incarnation.  

Which is what we say Christmas IS in the Church - the feast of the Incarnation.  The nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ is not just about his birth but about how and why God chose to come and live among us and what that means to us and for us now.

Of course, we say every week that we know what this is about.  We recite in the Creed:  
For us and for our salvation, Jesus came down from Heaven.  By the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man.  

Mountains of words have been written to explore and explain the incarnation.  And yet sometimes the way we best understand something so awesome and complex as God and God's ways is to approach the subject by way of stories.  

The incarnation is at its heart a story.  A story with skin on it, the story of a person sent from God 
who shows us what God is like; the story of the man from heaven who became human so that we might become divine.

And through story, through this particular story, we come to understand through something other than reason or logic.  Through this story we understand that busy empires are not concerned with teenaged mothers who give birth in back alleys nor with their babies and their care.  That busy empires do not have the time or inclination to receive the songs of angels, much less notice God's appearance.  

We understand that God chose to come among us as a helpless infant born in irregular circumstances and resting in a feeding trough instead of as a powerful emperor resting on a throne.  And that the good news of his coming was announced to the poor, not to the powerful, and that the real prince of peace does not deploy troops or issue decrees that demonize or marginalize the non-powerful. 

We understand that the story of God is not just something that happens in an alternate universe but in real people's lives every day.  We may live under the rules of whatever Empire we are born into but those rules are not the ones under which God prefers to operate.

Incarnation is God's story with skin on it, having to do with not only the life of Jesus, God made man, but also the lives of all humans.  It means that God cares for those whom the world pushes aside.  It means that there is a connection between heaven and earth, between mystery and not just the ordinary but the grubby earthy realities of human existence.  

That connection is in the person of Jesus, who stands between heaven and earth, as the one who lifts us from the mire of our brokenness and brings all of humanity into the realm of dancing stars and singing angels into the very heart of God our creator.  And so we find ourselves looking into the manger and finding not just a baby, but a pathway into the mystery itself.  

But let us not forget the grubby earthy part, for this is where our own skin comes into the story.  We are not simply recipients of this bounteous grace but also charged to be God's hands who lift others out of the mire.  

This story of a vulnerable baby born to a powerless mother on the edge of society challenges us to see Christ in all vulnerable, powerless, marginalized people.  And not only to make that connection in our imaginations but to put our hands to work for their good, for their dignity and well-being.  The story of the incarnation is supposed to teach us to care, not only for Baby Jesus and his beautiful mother, but for all those for whom Jesus came.

Children have a great avenue into the Christmas story through the venerable tradition of the Christmas pageant.  They literally inhabit the story, they put on costumes and play out the parts.  They learn the story from the inside out, with their own bodies, another way of thinking about incarnation. They learn by playing all the parts and imagining themselves to be their characters. By putting themselves in the shoes of others, they just step into the mystery. 

After every children's pageant I see a few come away with shining eyes and I know that they were living in the story and not simply playing at it.  Their inching toward the baby in their animal suits, their standing in awe beside a tinsel-haired angel took them into that other world and gave them their own stories to bring back and to tell, about the time they held their breath as a baby was brought to the arms of a very young girl waiting at the altar.

Luke's Christmas story is a beautiful story, and we can either leave it at that or we can find a way to put skin on it and live into it, to embrace both the angel wings and the earthy grubbiness.  To know that not only did God come to humanity in the person of Jesus in Bethlehem, but that God comes to us again and again in this world and in this life.  

And that it is our calling to put flesh on God's love for all humanity through our caring for God's people ourselves, not in the ways of Caesar and Empire, but in the ways of the God.  To care for them as if they were that vulnerable mother and helpless infant lying in an animal's trough, surrounded by glorious angel song.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Best Christmas "Pageant" Ever!

This is two years old now, but it's still the best Christmas pageant ever. Thanks to the children (and their adult assistants) of St Paul's Auckland, New Zealand for this version of The Christmas Story.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Music Extra: Birthday Jazz

Today is my son's 18th birthday. He's the trumpet player. Here he is playing with one of his combo groups.  This is Prime Directive by Dave Holland.


Music for Advent: O Come, O Come Emmanuel

The Piano Guys play this Advent favorite. Enjoy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Friday Afternoon Advent Snow Break

We won't be seeing this guy in our neighborhood any time soon. The temperatures have been in the 60's much of the week!

Wishing you peace this day as we all move ever closer to Christmas.

Musical Psalm for Friday in the Third Week of Advent

Part of Steven Faux's Psalms Project, Volume II, this track was inspired by footage James Faux filed while on the front of a car as it broadcast a popular gospel song round Kyampisi village in Uganda.

The singer only sings the first two verses of the Psalm, so here's the whole thing from the Book of Common Prayer:

Psalm 67

May God be merciful to us and bless us,
show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

Let your ways be known upon earth,
your saving health among all nations.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you.

The earth has brought forth her increase;
may God, our own God, give us his blessing.

May God give us his blessing,
and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Almost there!

The waiting has been hard, but it's almost over. I've said my prayers and lit/gazed at my candles and read my devotions and said more and more prayers.  I'm not sure I will ever be properly and fully ready for Jesus to come, but I'm working on it.

I'm traveling today for a quick visit with hubby and son for my son's birthday and to attend a concert before returning to Virginia for Advent IV, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Then I'll be back on the road again for some R&R with the family. Check back daily for music, prayers, and nativities during the twelve days of Christmas!

Psalm for Thursday in the Third Week of Advent

Psalm 30

I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up
and have not let my enemies triumph over me.

O Lord my God, I cried out to you,
and you restored me to health.

You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead;
you restored my life as I was going down to the grave.

Sing to the Lord, you servants of his;
give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness.

For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye;
his favor for a lifetime.

Weeping may spend the night,
but joy comes in the morning.

While I felt secure, I said, "I shall never be disturbed.
You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains."

Then you hid your face,
and I was filled with fear.

I cried to you, O Lord;
I pleaded with the Lord,saying,

"What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the Pit?
will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me;
O Lord, be my helper."

You have turned my wailing into dancing;
you have put off my sack-cloth and clothed me with joy.

Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing;
O Lord my God, I will give you thanks for ever.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday Advent Angel

This angel lives on the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St John the Divine in Manhattan.

She looks expectant.

Psalm for Wednesday in the Third Week of Advent

Psalm 85:8-13

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up form the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The Lord will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Music for Advent: Come thou fount of every blessing

I posted this last year, but because I love this arrangement, I'm posting it again this year. This is Sufjan Stevens, from his album Hark. It's not normally considered an Advent song, but it is a call for God (as the fount of every blessing) to come be part of our lives.


Psalm for Tuesday in the Third Week of Advent

Psalm 34:1-8

I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.

I will glory in the Lord;
let the humble hear and rejoice.

Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord;
let us exalt his Name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me
and delivered me out of all my terror.

Look upon him and be radiant,
and let not your faces be ashamed.

I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me
and saved me from all my troubles.

The angels of the Lord encompasses those who fear him,
and he will deliver them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are they who trust in him.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A cup of kindness

It's been kind of rainy and gloomy here. It seems appropriate as we move quickly toward the solstice - the shortest day, or more aptly, the longest night.

A number of churches hold a longest night service on the 21st, in the same vein as what some call a Blue Christmas service. It is geared toward those who are grieving, who have perhaps lost loved ones in the last year, who are for whatever reason not up for a jolly holly Christmas. Our church will have one - a service in the chapel with candles and a soup supper afterwards - on Friday. Last year we had a harpist (not sure about this year - I'm actually out of town on the 21st). It was lovely.

Some of us have trouble feeling our feelings.  Maybe we were taught not to feel them so much when we were little.  I know that is true for me. Maybe we are afraid of our feelings. What if we get carried away, what if our feelings overwhelm us and we end up swept up in their tide. What if we end up like jelly outside the jar, just a quivering mass spreading out into nothing?

Or maybe we just don't want to show our feelings to others. Whose business is it anyway that we are sad or uncomfortable? Just leave us alone.

There are many people who are experiencing the longest night right now. Right now in the midst of our putting up Christmas greenery and shopping and singing and feasting. All the nights may seem like the longest night, now and for a while yet.

We all have rough edges and we bump up against one another all the time.  As the nights grow longer, let us be kind. You never know what's going on with the people you meet this time of year.

Let us all be kind.

Psalm for Monday in the Third Week of Advent

Psalm 25:3-8

Show me your ways, O Lord,
and teach me your paths.

Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.

Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love,
for they are from everlasting.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions;
remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

Gracious and upright is the Lord;
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right
and teaches his way to the lowly.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Who are these like stars appearing?

It wasn't my day to preach today, and so I don't have a sermon to post.

But I thought about the readings a lot today. I was glad that we sang "Comfort, comfort ye my people."  It was a hard day and this is a day of hard readings, at least from the Gospel of Luke.

John the Baptist calls out rather unkindly to the people who are gathered around him, gathered perhaps because he is a novelty, perhaps because everybody else is going to see and hear him.

"You brood of vipers!" he spits. "Did someone tell you to run and hide from the Day of the Lord, which is surely coming soon? It isn't running and hiding that you are called to do.

The world is broken.  And so we all need to change."

The world is indeed broken. And  we need to change it. Hearts are broken. Lives are broken, systems are broken, communities are broken. We are a broken people and things need to change.

There is a reason why we celebrate God's coming to live among us year after year.  And it isn't about presents or big meals or snow or Christmas trees and carols.  We celebrate God's coming to us every year because every year we need God to come among us again.  Every year we see again how broken our world is and how much we need healing and how much we need our wounds bound up and how much we need love that overflows and knows no bounds.  Every year we need to hear again that God will destroy evil and the world will be made right in the fullness of time.

This year perhaps you are the one whose wounds need binding up.  Or perhaps you are the one who is called to do the binding.

Perhaps you are the one who needs your tears wiped away. Or perhaps you are the one who is called to  hold a hand or give a hug or provide the tissues.

Perhaps you are the one who feels as if you cannot go on. Or perhaps you are the one who is called to hold someone up and walk with them for a few steps.

Perhaps you are lonely. Or perhaps you are called to be a friend.

Perhaps you are hopeless.  Or perhaps you are called to hold up a vision of hope.

To quote Mr Rogers, "In times like these, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." Maybe you are called to be a helper.  And if you are so called, then light your candle and step forward.

I think maybe the whole world is broken today after the slaughter of yet more innocents.  And so - and yet - we live in hope, again, that indeed on that day God will wipe away every tear.  And there will be plenty of tears to wipe away. But that is indeed our hope.

Don't run and hide. Light your candle and step forward. The world is broken. Help change it.

Who are these like stars appearing, these, before God's throne who stand? Each a golden crown is wearing; who are all this glorious band? Alleluia! Hark, they sing, praising loud their heavenly king.  Who are these of dazzling brightness, these in God's own truth arrayed, clad in robes of purest whiteness, robes whose luster ne'er shall fade, ne'er be touched by time's rude hand? Whence comes all this glorious band? These are they who have contended for their Savior's honor long, wrestling on till life was ended, following now the sinful throng; these, who well the fight sustained, triumph by the Lamb have gained.  These are they whose hearts were riven, sore with woe and anguish tried, who in prayer full oft have striven with the God they glorified; now their painful conflict o'er, God has bid them weep no more.  Lo, the Lamb himself now feeds them on Mount Zion's pastures fair; from his central throne he leads them by the living fountains there, Lamb and Shepherd, Good Supreme, free he gives the cooling stream. 

(Words by Theobald Heinrich Schenck (1656 - 1727); translated by Frances Elizabeth Cox (1812-1897).

Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine F. Hsu, 6, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6, Allison N. Wyatt, 6.
Rachel Davino, 29, Dawn Hochsprung, 47, Anne Marie Murphy, 52, Lauren Rousseau, 30, Mary Sherlach, 56, Victoria Soto, 27, Adam Lanza, 20, and Nancy Lanza, 52.

Collect for the Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rachel is weeping for her children...

A voice is heard in Ramah, 
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.

(Jeremiah 31:15)

Pray for the people of Newtown, Connecticut, today and in the difficult days to come.

Friday Afternoon Advent Snow Break

This is some of the really fluffy kind of wet snow.  You can almost see the individual flakes!
It's not snowing here, but it's fun to look at.

Lovely, no?

Psalm for Friday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 1

Happy are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seats of the scornful!

Their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and they meditate on his law day and night.

They are like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither;
everything they do shall prosper.

It is not so with the wicked;
they are like chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked shall not stand upright when judgment comes;
nor the sinner in the council of the righteous.

For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Santa Lucia

We interrupt this Advent to remind you that today is the feast day of St Lucy (Santa Lucia in Italian - remember the song?).

Lucy was a 2nd century martyr, probably killed in the Diocletian persecution. Not much is truly known about her, although a number of traditions have sprung up around her, including that she plucked out her own eyes in defiance of her fianc√© who she was trying to throw over in an effort to remain a virgin dedicated to Christ.  The fianc√© was not too happy about Lucy's decision (especially the part where she was giving away her dowry to the poor in Syracuse, where she lived) and he denounced her as a Christian to the authorities.  The part about the eyes is probably not true (the guy claimed it was what he liked best about her) but nonetheless sometimes she is portrayed holding a platter with two eyes on it.

More likely you have seen depictions of a young girl in a white dress wearing a crown of candles on her head.  The Northern Europeans celebrate Lucy as the bringer of light (it is dark this time of year after all), and of course Lucy means light. The eldest daughter dresses up as Lucy on this day and wears a wreath of candles at night.  I recall the American Girl doll who is dressed this way.

Anyway, it will be a good night for some candles (it will be dark here in Virginia by 5:00). Happy St Lucy's Day!

Psalm for Thursday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 145:1-4, 8-13

I will exalt you , O God my King,
and bless your Name for ever and ever.

Every day will I bless you
and praise your Name for ever and ever.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised;
there is no end to his greatness.

One generation shall praise your works to another
and shall declare your power.

The Lord is gracious and full of compassion,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

The Lord is loving to everyone
and his compassion is over all his works.

All your works praise you, O Lord,
and your faithful servants bless you.

They make known the glory of your kingdom
and speak of your power;

That the peoples may know of your power
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom;
your dominion endures throughout all ages.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday Advent Angel

My Murano glass angel.  She was a gift from my wonderful husband some years ago. Isn't she beautiful?

I love the glitter.

Psalm for Wednesday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 103:1-10

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits.

He forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;

He redeems your life from the grave
and crowns you with mercy and loving-kindness;

He satisfies you with good things,
and your youth is renewed like an eagle's.

The Lord executes righteousness
and judgment for all who are oppressed.

He made his ways known to Moses
and his works to the children of Israel.

The Lord is full of compassion and mercy,
slow to anger and of great kindness.

He will not always accuse us,
nor will he keep his anger for ever.

He has not dealt with us according to our sins,
nor rewarded us according to our wickedness.

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so is his mercy great upon those who fear him.

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.

As a father cares for his children,
so does the Lord care for those who fear him.

For he himself knows whereof we are made;
he remembers that we are but dust.

Our days are like the grass;
we flourish like a flower of the field;

when the wind goes over it, it is gone,
and its place shall know it no more.

But the merciful goodness of the Lord endures for ever on those who fear him,
and his righteousness on children's children;

On those who keep his covenant
and remember his commandments and do them.

The Lord has set his throne in heaven,
and his kingship has dominion over all.

Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding,
and hearken to the voice of his word.

Bless the Lord, all you hosts,
you ministers of his who do his will.

Bless the Lord, all you works of his, in all places of his dominion;
bless the Lord, O my soul.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What do you find comforting this Advent?

These are the readings for Tuesday in the Second Week of Advent from the Eucharistic lectionary:

Isaiah 40:1-11

Comfort, O comfort my people,
   says your God. 
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
   and cry to her
that she has served her term,
   that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
   double for all her sins. 

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 
Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain. 
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
   and all people shall see it together,
   for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’ 

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
   And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
   their constancy is like the flower of the field. 
The grass withers, the flower fades,
   when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
   surely the people are grass. 
The grass withers, the flower fades;
   but the word of our God will stand for ever. 
Get you up to a high mountain,
   O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
   O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
   lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
   ‘Here is your God!’ 
See, the Lord God comes with might,
   and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
   and his recompense before him. 
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
   he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
   and gently lead the mother sheep.  

And the Gospel reading:

Matthew 18:12-14

Jesus said, "What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost."


What wonderful readings! As I read through them again today, I thought about what I find comforting these days, which is not necessarily what I might have found comforting another year (or will find comforting in the future). These readings are so gentle - glad tidings, a God of strength and might come to care for the people who are small and mortal.  And Jesus assures us that God does not wish to lose any of us, even when we wander off.

What is sometimes hard about the reading from Matthew is what's also hard about Luke's story of the prodigal son.... If you have ever been the one who wandered off and then was found, then you are filled with love and gratitude for the God who has come to find your and/or welcomed you home.

But if you're the one who hasn't gone astray, the "good one" who did what was right and didn't mess up and need saving in the first place - well, then maybe you don't like the idea of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine "good ones" to go after the Big Mess Up One.  And probably you really don't like the idea that God is happier over that one who was lost but now found than all the "good ones" who didn't need chasing or forgiving.

What about me? the good ones ask. I didn't screw up. I did what I was supposed to. Why don't I get a party? Why am I taken for granted?

All I can say is this: let us rejoice that we have a God who wishes for everyone to be saved.  And who comes to all of us - maybe God has to go a little farther to reach some of us, but all of us are within God's reach. God knows our frailties and foibles and loves us and cares for us and forgives us anyway. And if we haven't strayed very far, well, that's what God hoped for all along. It's hard not to have the party be for us, but we are still always invited.

These stories are not about us. They are about God. They tell us who God is. God loves us all and pursues us out of nothing but love. That's what kind of God we have.  And I find great comfort in that. 

Sung Psalm for Tuesday in the Second Week of Advent

This is a recording of an a cappella quartet singing Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (Dutch composer, 1562 - 1621)'s setting of Psalm 96, Chantez a Dieu. The credits are at the end of the video.

Since they are singing in French, here's the BCP translation of Psalm 96:

Psalm 96

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the whole earth.

Sing to the Lord and bless his Name;
proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

Declare his glory among the nations
and his wonders among all peoples.
For great is the Lord and greatly to be praised;
he is more to be feared than all gods.

As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols;
but it is the Lord who made the heavens.

Oh, the majesty and the magnificence of his presence!
Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

Ascribe to the Lord, you families of the peoples;
ascribe to the Lord honor and power.

Ascribe to the Lord the honor due his Name;
bring offerings and come into his courts.

Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before him.

Tell it out among the nations: "The Lord is King!
he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity."

Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord when he comes,
when he comes to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness
and the peoples with his truth.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Advent Options

It's a busy time of year for all of us.  Even if we are not Santa, we have our lists. Even if we are trying to keep Advent and not rush to Christmas, there's still much to do. Shop, wrap, mail to people far away. Cook, attend events, visit. Put gas in the car, buy groceries, get a hair cut. Participate in seasonal (or regular!) outreach opportunities.  Decorate. Write cards.

When life gets this way, I am tempted to put my nose to the grindstone and grind away. No time for fluff, be efficient. Do what needs doing in all areas of life. And of course in my line of work, there is a lot that needs doing. All of the regular priestly activities - pastoral visits, funerals, preaching and teaching, meetings - plus extra seasonal ones, including helping people with their holiday anxiety.

So, last weekend I faced a dilemma.  I had a day off and my instinct was to get out my to do list and go at it with intention. I really have a lot of stuff to take care of. But then I thought, hey, it's going to be 65 degrees today (in December!) and when will I get another chance to go to the beach if I don't go today?  What to do?

So I went.

It was such a good idea. For all the usual reasons - fresh salt air, exercise outside, saying my prayers as I listened to the ocean and watched the beautiful waves and sky and the sunset and all that. You all know how I feel about being at the ocean. Plus the winter-at-the-beach thing - many loons in their winter plumage riding the waves, some tundra swans and gannets who have come south for the winter doing fly-overs.

And the best part was a large pod of dolphins cavorting just off shore. Almost as soon as I arrived, I saw them and followed them up the beach for several miles.  I love seeing them - they have this other life underwater and every now and then come up to let us see them. Sometimes they are playing and you can see just enough to know that they are having fun. It was wonderful to watch them.

And I thought, right. I was going to vacuum and buy the same yogurt I always buy and look for a parking space in the shopping center, and I would have missed this.

Getting stuff done is good and important, but it is not always necessary. Make the decision to feed your soul and pick up some yogurt on the way home from work.

What I saw at the beach last Saturday.

Psalm for Monday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 85:8-13

I will listen to what the Lord God is saying,
for he is speaking peace to his faithful people and to those who turn their hearts to him.

Truly, his salvation is very near to those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth have met together;
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth shall spring up from the earth,
and righteousness shall look down from heaven.

The Lord will indeed grant prosperity,
and our land will yield its increase.

Righteousness shall go before him,
and peace shall be a pathway for his feet.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Open the Way Again! The Lord is Coming!

This time of year, we are bombarded with images. Most of them are happy images reflecting the season - the smiling faces of children, holiday lights, glittering stars and snow, families gathered around the table or the tree or a roaring fire. Some of these images are sad - people without shoes or food, advertisements for Blue Christmas services.  Some of them are put out there to influence us  - happy shoppers laden with bags of gifts, abandoned animals needing homes - while other images are those of our own making - memories of our own Christmases past, present, and future.

All these images crowd around in our heads and hearts vying for our attention. There's so much going on in these days of preparation, it's downright dizzying.

But I would like to ask you to set aside all those images for a few minutes in order to consider the images offered to us today in the wonderful scenes from the Advent readings. I'd like to ask you to clear your minds of sugarplums and to-do lists and first consider the image of a road.

That's right. A road. Not Interstate 64 or the street in front of your house, but a road in the middle of a vast nowhere.  A road on which many feet have travelled, a road that might best be called "a way."  Like a pilgrimage "way."  A road that has seen throngs of people walking on it over centuries and centuries, time out of mind.  Once, the people walked slowly and sorrowfully along that road with their heads down and their feet chained together. Throngs of people were led away from their homes into captivity and exile along this road that seemed to close up behind them.

But then, one joyful day, the road was reopened for another use. See the road being cleared of hazards, the sorrowful twists and turns straightened out, the arduous hills smoothed and gentled, the rocks and roots dug out and cast aside.  Look toward the east, says Baruch, and see the formerly huddled and chained people now silently gathering in the dawning light, their heads lifted in awe and wonder as they cautiously emerge from a place of darkness, gathering to return home along that same road through the vast wilderness.

This is God's highway through that wilderness, a highway modelled on another old road: God's path from Egypt to the Promised Land, now ready to be trod again by God's people who have been crushed under the heavy burden of captivity to a world that seeks only to use them up and throw them away.  See God's people begin to slowly stream down the road toward home, see their trembling hands dropping their burdens, see the relief on their faces as their captivity melts away.  See how God has brought them safely home along this road.

It was the road to captivity and now it is the way of salvation for God's people.  See God's hand at work in the clearing and smoothing of the way. Hear God's voice gently gathering the people.  Imagine their anticipation. Imagine their relief at laying down the things that keep them in chains, assured that they will have everything they need from here on out.

No. Another image. See the world's powers gathered together in their strongholds. See the big names in their big offices, the important ones doing their important work with an eye toward how they might hold on to their power.  See how they huddle together, their backs to everyone else.  See how some of the religious figures huddle, too, tending their ideologies and their positions with care.

See how the people are distracted, caught up in the day-to-day pressures of life, burdened again by the world's demands and in thrall to their possessions. See how the people are really broken, walking wounded, floundering, some of them hungry and out of their minds, while others try to outrun the sense of despair that creeps along behind them like a shadow, by piling on more and more activities and possessions and dollars. See how they keep their heads down and arrange themselves with their schedules and their stuff in postures of defense.

But see, too, a lonely figure well outside the strongholds and seats of power. See him in the wilderness far away from the shops and the glitter. See him watching expectantly in the darkness and suddenly becoming infused with something that both the important ones and the people have either turned their backs upon or cannot see in their busy-ness, something that strengthens him and inspires him, something like fire that prompts him to call out: Open the way again! The Lord is coming! The Lord is near! Open the way of the Lord!

And now turn and lift your mind's eye to see the light that is breaking in the east and see the clouds and the glory streaming from them in the darkness. See now that the old highway that was built for the people's salvation long ago and time out of mind is now being prepared anew, this time for the Lord to travel upon.  See that the way is now being cleared for God to come to us.

God is planning to intrude on our busy lives, to interrupt us even as we tend to our defenses, to come to us in love as love that knows no boundaries.  Our salvation is drawing near.

And so let us take off our garments of sorrow and affliction and put on forever the robes of love that come from God and place on our heads the diadems of the glory of the Everlasting.  Let us stand expectantly in watch and open ourselves to the fire that will fill us with passion and burn away all the junk that captivates us.

Let us prepare the way, the old and ancient way, for the Lord to come and save us.


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