Sunday, December 29, 2013

Collect for the First Sunday after Christmas Day

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of
your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our
hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The First Day of Christmas: Aretha sings about Angels

The First Lady of Soul sings Angels We Have Heard on High during the Racheal Ray show.

Merry Christmas!

Music for Christmas Morning

O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen. One of my all time favorite Christmas songs.

Christmas Blessings to you all!

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Eve of Christmas Eve

This is a picture of one of the windows at Tiffany's on Fifth Avenue in New York City. I love all the store windows in Manhattan during the holidays.

I don't know about you, but today was the day I needed to think about gifts!

Starting tomorrow, I'll be posting or reposting music and photos from years past for Christmastide. Thanks for visiting my blog this year and Merry Christmas and God's Peace to all of you!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Story of a Baby

We are counting down the days until the baby is born to us again in Bethlehem. Soon and very soon, Jesus will be found in the manger with Mary and Joseph, attended by angels and shepherds.

 My own baby, my youngest child, was born nineteen years ago today.  We brought him home on Christmas Eve.  He jokes that having one's birthday so near Christmas is really hard, because Jesus is pretty hard to compete with.

I would never confuse the two - my son and Jesus - but I have for these last nineteen Christmases especially identified with Mary during the holiday seasons.  The story of the baby born at Christmas seems more personal to me since I've had my own "Christmas baby."

In celebration, here's a really wonderful and heartwarming (without being schmaltzy and precious) and my very favorite narration/dramatization of the Christmas Story told by the children of St Paul's Church in Auckland, New Zealand. I've watched and posted this several years in a row now, and it never gets old.

(P.S. Happy Birthday, Jeffrey!)

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.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Friday Afternoon Snowy Travel Break

Happy Friday! Many people are headed over the river and through the woods in the next few days. Which made me think of this scene from a trip I took last year through one of those late wet snows with thick flakes that didn't ice up the roads too much.

Traveling mercies to all who are on the road today and for the next few days!

Psalm for Friday in the Third Week of Advent

Psalm 67

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Mixing it Up

As we get deeper into the season of Advent, it becomes harder to ignore the fact that even if we are trying to live into this season by preparing our hearts and realigning ourselves with God, many of us still have to prepare for Christmas.

There are presents to buy (because, let's face it, shopping during the Twelve Days of Christmas just doesn't work for many of us), homes to decorate (even if we don't decorate until Christmas Eve - we have to get the stuff out of the attic and set aside the time), parties to attend, etc.

Last month when I was in Manhattan, I visited the beautiful St Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue. As I walked up the steps, I saw this! What looks like bright lights inside the narthex and a neon character that looks like a present with arms, eyes, and a Christmas hat waving at me!

Is that the light of Christ shining through?

No, it was a reflection of the Fendi and Tommy Hilfiger stores across the street in the glass doors. But that's what it feels like to me during this season: reverence and holy awe sprinkled with dancing packages and flashing lights.

As much as I might decry the overcommercialization of Christmas, businesses depend on people spending. It's no wonder they try to extend the season as long as they can and employ whatever eye- or ear-catching means they can. Many of us learn to deflect their efforts, but sooner or later, most of us do have to engage in the busy-ness of getting ready for guests, for meals, for parties, for gift-giving even while we are singing our Advent hymns and reading Advent reflections.

And yes, sometimes it even gets in to the church, that busy-ness and flashy stuff.

I'm ok with that. We Christians say we live in two worlds, and never is that more evident that in the waning days of Advent. We are not called to live in isolation but to live in this world as witnesses to what God has done and is doing and will do. It's not easy to do that (living in isolation would take away the distractions and temptations, sure, but with a few exceptions, that's not the calling most of us have), to keep our focus amid the temptations and, equally importantly, to look at the world and see that joy and wonder might well be found in unusual places. (See, e.g., the Birth of Jesus).

Here's a shot of the stores across the street:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Isaiah

This is part of the art deco decor on the buildings in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan. Love this image of beating swords into plowshares. Wish we would actually do it.

Psalm for Wednesday in the Third Week of Advent

Psalm 85:8-13

8     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.

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

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

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

12     The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,*
            and our land will yield its increase.

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Mary Monday

On the third Sunday of Advent, many people light a pink candle in their Advent wreath.

There is a lot of stuff out there about why we do this, but the best explanation comes from Fr. Tim Schenck on his blog Clergy Family Confidential. So head over there and read all about it.

(And although the third Sunday is called Gaudete Sunday, the beautiful Midaeval Christmas hymn Gaudete! Gaudete! Christus Est Natus is not actually the right song for Gaudete Sunday, just to confuse matters more. That song is about rejoicing at the actual birth of Jesus, which hasn't happened yet on Advent 3.)

Either way, here is a lovely figure from one of the 5th Avenue stores in Manhattan that was being decorated for the holidays. I'm going to assume she is Mary, perhaps a Matryoska Mary.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

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 13, 2013

Friday Afternoon Fountain Break

This lovely fountain is outside of the large regional hospital in Newport News, VA. I call it the overflowing healing waters fountain. Just what is needed at a hospital.

Psalm for Friday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 1

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!
2     Their delight is in the law of the LORD,*
       and they meditate on his law day and night.

3     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.

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

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

6     For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,*
       but the way of the wicked is doomed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Slowing Down

The pressure is mounting to do more and more as Christmas approaches. All of a sudden, I am feeling a pull that is as strong as a tractor beam toward the mall..... I. Must. Shop!

I'm not part of the Advent Police who want to go about telling everyone they are wrong for skipping over Advent and going straight to Christmas. I happen to want to observe Advent because I believe I need it, but I don't think engaging in the Advent Wars is a worthy use of my already limited time. What's the point of setting aside time for reflection if it is about reflecting on either a) how wrong everyone is (or at least some people are) or b) how great I am. It's the Pharisee and the tax collector all over again.

Still. I need to keep on my path of trying to be still and quiet for at least a few minutes a day, to carve out the time, if necessary by giving up some other busy-ness/business, to slow down and breathe deeply and let my spirit seek connection with the One who is to come among us again very soon.  I still need to look around me and see those who are grieving, who are struggling, who are suffering and remember that it is for those that Jesus came - to bind up their wounds and to release them from the captivity under which they are bent over. I still need to name, and hopefully then let go of, the things that keep me from welcoming Christ into my life and that keep me from being Christ's hands and feet in the world.

And so, this is a reminder to me, and maybe to you, too, that even as things are getting busier and we are being pulled in many directions, to slow down, if just for a few minutes today, and contemplate the majesty and grace of the one who is coming to make things right and bring forth a new heaven and a new earth and to prepare our hearts to make him room.

This installation is in the Rumsey Playfield in Central Park, NYC

Psalm for Thursday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 145:1-4, 8-13

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

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

3   Great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;*
     there is no end to his greatness.

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

8   The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,*
     slow to anger and of great kindness.

9   The LORD is loving to everyone*
     and his compassion is over all his works.

10  All your works praise you, O LORD,*
     and your faithful servants bless you.

11  They make known the glory of your kingdom*
      and speak of your power.

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

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Snow

It's not snowing here, but if it were, I wish it would look like this.

A lovely Advent scene. Happy Wednesday!

Psalm for Wednesday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 103:1-10

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

2    Bless the LORD, O my soul,*
      and forget not all his benefits.

3    He forgives all your sins*
      and heals all your infirmities.

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

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

6   The LORD executes righteousness*
     and judgment for all who are oppressed.

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

8   The LORD is full of compassion and mercy,*
     slow to anger and of great kindness.

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

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

Tuesday, December 10, 2013


I will be the first to admit that the quiet and reflection I try to do during Advent is mostly about me. How I need to change; how I need to seek God in my neighbor and seek to notice God's work in the world around me; how I want to deepen my spiritual self and grow my soul.

(And of course, as I have been saying, I find it very hard to "do" Advent and make time for quiet to begin with.)

But this week I am really thinking about other people, a lot. Often we have a number of deaths in our parish after the holidays, but this year those deaths have started much earlier. Parishioners or parents and friends of parishioners are slipping away.

And other pastoral concerns have come to the fore, and not just in my parish but among friends and family, too. There's a lot of grief out there, a lot of sadness and fear. Things that are just going to have to be borne, somehow.

This is when community is so important. I've never been one to believe the saying that "God never gives us more than we can bear." For one thing, I don't believe that God takes away our parents or our children or our friends thinking that we can bear it. I don't believe that God takes them away to begin with. God grieves with us. This isn't a test of our ability to "handle things."

But I do believe that God wants us to be in community for this very reason. The community helps us bear the unbearable by just being with us. Perhaps bringing food, perhaps just sitting silently with us. Friends tell about their own losses, their own struggles, and the troubled person realizes that he or she is not alone. This is how we bear one another's burdens - not by taking them over or by trying to fix things but just by offering a shoulder, a hand, a touch, a knowing nod.

And so, today, cast your gaze outward and your prayers, too. Pray for the dying, for the bereaved, for the sad, for the frustrated, for the fearful, for the ones who are at their wits' end.

Psalm for Tuesday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 96

1    Sing to the LORD a new song;*
      sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

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

3    Declare his glory among the nations*
      and his wonders among all peoples.

4    For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised;*
      he is more to be feared than all gods.

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

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

7    Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples;*
      ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

8    Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name;*
      bring offerings and come into his courts.

9    Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness;*
      let the whole earth tremble before him.

10   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.”

11   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.

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

13   He will judge the world with righteousness*

      and all the peoples with his truth.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Another Shameless Plug

Forward Movement publishes one of these "day books" most every year. I've had the privilege of writing for the last couple of them, and I give them for gifts. People tell me all the time how much they enjoy reading the short daily reflections and meditations by a variety of authors (of course they tell me they like mine the best, which is sweet but completely wrong - there are a number of wonderful, thoughtful people who contribute, this year including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori). 

This year's daybook is Seeking God Day by Day and it has this fabulous cover.  I've already read a number of the mediations and am looking forward to reading them all year. They really do make wonderful gifts, and I hope you'll consider buying one for yourself and for friends and family. The cost is $16 or $12 each if you order 5. Such a deal! To order, click here or call Forward Movement at 800-543-1813.


Psalm for Monday in the Second Week of Advent

Psalm 85:8-13

8     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.

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

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

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

12    The LORD will indeed grant prosperity,*
        and our land will yield its increase.

13    Righteousness shall go before him,*
        and peace shall be a pathway to his feet.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Fire and Light

St Thomas, Fifth Avenue (NYC)

John the Baptist is my favorite Advent character! (Said no one, ever!) I'll bet none of you have a John the Baptist figure as part of your Nativity set. Can’t we just get on to the angels and lovely Mary?

And yet, John was a very important person in the story of Jesus.  All four Gospels start off with him. In Matthew he appears as a kind of wild man, standing in the wilderness, calling people names. 

John is dressed like another wild man, the prophet Elijah, who famously called down fire from heaven and was supposed to return as the harbinger of the dreaded day of the Lord, according to Malachi, the last book in our Old Testament. And so John appears in the first book of the New Testament and does his prophet thing, warning everyone to repent, for the Kingdom of God is near. 

Repent, of course, means turn back. It means to reorient yourself toward God.  God is coming soon and we want to be ready.

So John is an important figure for us during Advent, the time when we are to prepare ourselves for the Lord's coming. In fact, we have to go through John to get to Jesus.   

John exhorts us in a pretty blunt way, but his star will fade, and Jesus will carry the message much further. John baptizes for repentance; but Jesus will bring healing and the forgiveness of sins. That is where the story ultimately goes. We may start with repentance, but we will end up with forgiveness.

Some of us, however, have never gotten past the message of John. Our history is filled with preachers like Jonathan Edwards, whose sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" was required reading back in the day, or my day at least - those preachers made sure that everyone heard the message of John. God is coming with fire and is planning to throw most of us in it. Even today people will flock to hear someone tell just how hot the fire will be, perhaps with their list of people they hope will burn.

(Jonathan Edwards said a lot of other stuff too, good stuff, but this is what we tend to remember.)

But John is only the beginning of the story of Jesus. We start with him, but we don't stay with him. John testified to the light, but he was not the light.  It is Jesus who shows us God. And Jesus heals the sick, restores sight to the blind and makes the lame walk. Jesus brings about transformation - from suffering into the fullness of life. Jesus exhorts us to care for the poor and vulnerable, to welcome the stranger and the alien, to visit the sick and imprisoned - to bring life to others because God has brought life to us.

But what about that fire, you ask? What about Jesus and that winnowing fork? What about the wheat and the chaff?

Well, yeah. We all have chaff we need to get rid of. Chaff is the outer layer, the husk, on a head of wheat. Our chaff is our junky outer layer that we hide behind - resentment, self-absorption, fear - stuff that keeps us from being vulnerable. It builds up, like plaque, from living in a world that is not kind to the vulnerable.

If we are going to present ourselves to meet our Lord either at the manger or at the end of time, though, well, that junky stuff has got to go. We will want to present our real selves to the Lord. And the Lord knows that only our real selves can go about God’s business in the world. Our self-absorbed frantically busy selves will not have what it takes to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and work for justice and peace.

And so the chaff has to go. We need to realign ourselves with God’s vision. It’s for our own good and for the good of the world.

Still, I wish I didn’t have to go through this again every year. I find it hard every time. I don’t want to let go of my self-protection and my resentments. I don’t want to be vulnerable, laying myself open to be transformed. Transformation might hurt. I already feel broken enough and fear being swept aside. 

And I don’t want Jesus to see my real self which is misshapen by my foibles and my pride and my fears. I’m afraid that I’ll be thrown in the fire. So, fa la la la la, I can’t hear you, John the Baptist.

But remember the power of forgiveness, which is where this story is ultimately going. Forgiveness is just about as powerful as anything that exists in the world. This week we are reminded of what kind of transformation forgiveness can bring about as we remember the work of Nelson Mandela and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. That was a hard thing, it seemed impossible, for people to face one another and speak hard truths and confess wrongs and to forgive and be forgiven. And yet they did, and the people were changed and the world was changed. The people made themselves vulnerable before one another, and they were not swept away but instead given the power to transform themselves and their society.

We don’t get to the reconciliation part until we do the repentance part, until we can name and face the truth about ourselves, about the parts of us that we’d rather keep hidden - in both our personal selves and our society. Some of us may have been trying to hide some pretty big parts, too. But now, right now, comes our chance to shake off the chaff, to hear the hairy prophet and turn ourselves back toward the Holy One in expectation that God can and will do a new thing with us and through us, as misshapen and broken as we are. 

Don’t be afraid of John’s message. God is coming to us soon, bringing light and life. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. We will not be shattered by God’s power but broken open so that love can get in and love can come back out and utterly change the world.

Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Not Just About Children

It's the feast day of St Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra and patron saint of children.  I am sure you already know all the stories, which are lovely, especially the ones featuring a donkey and chimney sweep and a chocolate boat called "The Congo."  But I won't reiterate any of them here.  (That's what Google is for.)

Instead, you get my St Nicholas Day Rant.  I posted this the last two years and decided I wanted to post it again.

I have a complaint about how we separate children from their families.  We want to do things for children, especially at the holidays.  Forget those lazy, undeserving, guilty parents.  We just want to help the children.

At any children's hospital, however, the staff will tell you that there is no such thing as a solitary child.  Children come embedded in families.  Treatment for children must include their families - for the families are the ones who care for the children, who give them medicine (or not) and make sure they are safe.  The families are helped so that they can care for their children.

Further, educational studies show that children's test scores are directly related to the educational level of the mother.  Other studies show that if you want to help a child in any way, you need to do so by helping the parents care for the child, by helping them with the resources they need so that they can care for their own children themselves.  It takes a village to raise child, as the African proverb says.

But when it comes to Christmas, we just want to help the children.  Not their families.

There is a shameful period in our country's history (not that long ago, either) when Native American children were taken away from their families and put in boarding schools so that they could be "regularized."  Christian missionaries of various denominations propagated this program, following the European missionary pattern from the age of exploration in which the spread of the Gospel was thought to be best done by spreading Western European Culture.  Conversion was not just to Christ but to European style Christendom.  So, the Native American children were removed from their cultures and expected to adopt another, "white" culture. They were removed from their parents, who apparently were deemed not to be able to raise them correctly, given Anglo names and haircuts, and forbidden to speak their native languages.  Some of them were adopted by Anglo couples, who told the children that they loved the children more than their biological parents loved them.

Because they just wanted to help the children.

My plea on this St Nicholas Day is that we be mindful that children are not solitary individuals but part of a family, part of a community, and that we repent of our misguided ideas that we can help them by separating them from their parents in any way. If we want to help a child, let us remember that the way to do so is to help and support the child's parents.

Thank you, and I hope you found some chocolate in your shoes this morning.

Psalm for Friday in the First Week of Advent

Psalm 27:1-6, 17-18

1   The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?*
     the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

2   When evildoers came upon me to eat up my flesh,*
      it was they, my foes and my adversaries, who stumbled and fell.

3   Though an army should encamp against me,*
     yet my heart shall not be afraid.

4   And though war should rise up against me,*
     yet will I put my trust in him.

5   One thing have I asked of the LORD; one thing I seek;*
     That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life;

6    To behold the fair beauty of the LORD*
      and to seek him in his temple.

17  What if I had not believed that I should see the goodness of the LORD*
      in the land of the living!

18  O tarry and await the LORD's pleasure; be strong, and he shall comfort your heart;*
      wait patiently for the LORD.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thursday Afternoon Advent Hymn

The Ely Cathedral Choir sings Creator of the Stars of Night.

If, like me, you are finding it hard to be very reflective and quiet this Advent, take two minutes to listen to this beautiful music. I hope you find it restorative.

Psalm for Thursday in the First Week of Advent

Psalm 118:19 - 24

19    Open for me the gates of righteousness;*
         I will enter them; I will offer thanks to the LORD.

20    "This is the gate of the LORD;*  
         he who is righteous may enter."
21    I will give thanks to you, for you answered me*
        and have become my salvation.

22    The same stone which the builders rejected*
        has become the chief cornerstone.

23    This is the LORD's doing;*
        and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24   On this day the LORD has acted;*
       we will rejoice and be glad it it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Nearly Wordless Wednesday: Brrr

Grandboy wanted to go over to the beach during his Thanksgiving visit, even though it was only about 42 degrees and very windy. We saw this ring-billed gull keeping its beak warm. (And yes, Grandboy got wet.)

Psalm for Wednesday in the First Week of Advent

Psalm 23

1   The LORD is my shepherd;*
     I shall not be in want.

2   He makes me lie down in green pastures*
     and leads be beside still waters.

3   He revives my soul*
     and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.

4   Though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I shall fear no evil;*
     for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5   You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me;*
     you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.

6    Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,*
      and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What are We Waiting For?

Madonna and child in St Thomas Episcopal Church, Fifth Avenue, NYC
The readings for Tuesday in the first week of Advent in the Eucharistic lectionary include Isaiah 11:1-10, a portion of Psalm 72 which was posted earlier today, and Luke 10:21-24. One of the motifs in the OT and Gospel, if not the Psalm, is children and infants. Another is the theme of expectation and to a certain extent, imagination of a world we do not yet know. The wolf shall live with the lamb and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and a little child shall lead them.

During Advent, we talk a lot about expectation and preparation. Many of us long for some time of contemplation and quiet during the season. Most of us live such busy lives that the thought of quiet time is refreshing. We long for it.

But what are we preparing for, really? Is it the baby? 

Those among us who are parents have had the experience of preparing for a baby. There is definitely preparation: painting the room, setting up the crib, buying linens and clothes and baby accessories. Choosing a name. And there is longing and imagining, too. What will the baby be like? What books will we read to the baby in the rocking chair? 

But then the baby comes, and life is suddenly different. Maybe having the baby in the house plays out as we expected. But usually that doesn't happen. And furthermore, and to my mind more importantly, we are changed because of the baby among us. We are transformed. Sometimes we are transformed into sleep-deprived grouches; sometimes we are transformed into people who suddenly would willingly lay down our lives for another. Who knows what will happen, but we will be transformed. And it doesn't come without a cost.

It is transformation that we are preparing for, expecting, waiting for. Not just the birth of the Christ Child, as wonderful as that is. We are called to prepare for change, again, to be expectant about what new thing God may be calling us to do. And so we try to make space in our days and in our lives (and yes, being quiet and listening is a good way to do that, even if we can only manage a few minutes a day) to listen out for God's call to us in this place and at this time.

Transformation is not without risk and pain. We in the church aren't really into that. I've heard more people than I can count explain that the church is the one thing they can count on that will never change. They value that because the world is so chaotic. But a church that doesn't change, or a Christian that is not willing to be transformed, is dead. 

If our God is a living God, and the Christ Child will come again and again, and someday the Lord will return and expect to find us not sitting and waiting but alert and working for the Kingdom, then the pain of change is going to be part of the equation. Transformation seldom happens without at least some discomfort and disequilibrium. 

And so, this Advent, may we be ready to risk giving up the notion that it is simply a season of sitting by the fire in our slippers with soft music and twinkling lights at hand, all wonderfulness and sweetness. May we be willing to expect no less than transformation.

Psalm for Tuesday in the First Week of Advent

Psalm 72:1 - 8

1    Give the King your justice, O God,*
      and your righteousness to the King's son;

2    That he may rule your people righteously*
      and the poor with justice.

3    That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people,*
      an the little hills bring righteousness.

4    He shall defend the needy among the people;*
      he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

5    He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure,*
     from one generation to another.

6    He shall come down like rain upon the mown field,*
      like showers that water the earth.

7    In his time shall the righteous flourish;*
      there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.

8    He shall rule from sea to sea,*
     and from the River to the ends of the earth.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Quiet and Reflective?

So, Advent is now here. I found my candles and made my wreath. Church was glorious on Sunday.

Now it's Monday and I'm busier than ever. 

Our preacher on Sunday admitted that there wasn't much point in reminding everyone that Advent is a season of quiet and preparation. Because it pretty much isn't that in many of our lives. People with families are simply overloaded in December. 

The church itself is incredibly busy during the season. 

I can't even keep my calendar straight.  And I haven't read today's readings for Advent - although I've still got time. Maybe. When I'm in bed.

All of this reminds me that we are not perfect. And we will never be. But we strive toward our ideals nonetheless, which I think is a fine idea, so long as we don't use those ideals as whips with which to flagellate ourselves when we fall short. We are always falling short.

If you have been able to begin Advent with quiet and reflection, I congratulate you. And I will try to do it tomorrow and the next day and the next. And if you haven't, join the club. The clubhouse is pretty full. But it will all be ok. A full life is still a wonderful thing, and we have four weeks in which to make room again in our full lives for the wonderful awesome thing that is the incarnation.

Psalm for Monday in the First Week of Advent

Psalm 122

1    I was glad when they said to me,*
"Let us go to the house of the LORD."

2    Now our feet are standing*
within your gates, O Jerusalem.

3    Jerusalem is built as a city*
that is at unity with itself.

4    To which the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD,*
the assembly of Israel, to praise the Name of the LORD.

5    For there are the thrones of judgment,*
the thrones of the house of David.

6    Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:*
"May they prosper who love you.

7    Peace be within your walls*
and quietness within your towers.

8    For my brethren and companions' sake,*
I will pray for your prosperity.

9    Because of the house of the LORD our God,*
I will seek to do you good."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, 
now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; 
that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; 
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


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