Saturday, December 31, 2011

Waiting at the Edge

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.
Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’” They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?” Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. John 5:1-15

Here we are on the edge of a new year. It's New Years Eve and all week people have been looking back and commenting on the year we have lived, who has been lost, and some make predictions for the new year. It has been a challenging year for many and for some, down right hard. We've had our share of bumps and blessings. We stand on the edge, between one year and the next, all regrets behind us and all possibilities waiting around the corner. It's easy to hope next year will be better. It's another to imagine what might be and put it in motion.

Jesus finds a man waiting on the edge of the healing pool, a man who has almost made it for many years. He wants desperately to be better. Folks around him condemn him as a failure, they don't help him, they just judge him. When Jesus finds him, he is still clinging to hope despite all of the evidence to the contrary. And so he is healed by Jesus and cannot contain his joy. The religious leaders condemn the act, since it was the sabbath, but everyone else understands that God touched him and that God's love and strength was among them. The hope and joy could not be contained. Jesus came near and everything changed.

Today, I want to enter the New Year hopeful and expectant. No matter how dire things get, I want to remember and live knowing God is close by and healing and growth are not far off. May this be a year that brings restoration and healing to all, and may we, who follow the way of incarnate love, be bearers of love and hope to others in the coming year.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Parent and Child

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way. As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering. So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.” The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” And he himself believed, and all his household. This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee. John 4:46-54

Parent and Child
I would give my life for you
who is my life my world
I watch you sleep your breath
rising and falling your sweet
fills my dreams and all my hope
invested in you.

I didn't know how to be a parent
but you taught me and I thought
I knew how to love but you showed me
needy and hungry you made me cry
with you and I will never be the same
because of you.

You learned to walk when I turned away
you ran away once and I chased you
the swings and slides became your world
and I found joy in those things again.

I roll on the floor these days
when I used to sit at a desk
we lie in the grass together judging
the cloud shapes life more profound
then when I stood a lectured students
you teach me everything and introduced
me to real life.

Child of mine, flesh of my flesh
tender and sweet, loud and angry,
your voice like the angels you reign
like a tyrant in our little world
and I would give you everything
just to see you smile.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Filling Up

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
John 2:1-11

I find one of the hardest thing about being a mom, now that my daughters are all adults, is hearing them talk down on themselves, and having them not see how wonderful and capable they are. Life is hard and it has been a very challenging year for all of us, but God blessed each of them with enormous gifts, intellect and compassionate personalities. And yes, it is easy to become discouraged. My job as a parent is not to correct them but to remind them how wonderful they are, what a blessing they are to so many, and to encourage their gifts. It is sort of like being a constant cheerleader and coach at the same time. They don't really need me, they are fantastic just as they are, but they need encouragement to trust and use the myriad of gifts they have been given.

I guess that is what Mary is doing in our Gospel today. She has watched this young man grow, remembers his first starry night, the wise men, the angels and the desperate flight into Egypt. Any mother would have done likewise for her child. She was carrying God's child, gifted with blessings beyond measure, God incarnate, and he was still having a hard time living into all of his gifts. She forced his hand a bit. He snarls back a bit, and like all mothers and grown children, relationship can be challenging. She knows what he can do, and yet her amazing child is reluctant. His humanity and doubt overshadowed his true gifts. Like us mere mortals, Jesus had to struggle with the challenges of life and find a way to use his true gifts and live as the savior he was made. We mere mortals don't have to be Jesus, thank God, but we are invited to fully use the gifts we have been given, with the promise that God will increase them and fill us, over and over again, to overflowing.

Today I ask God to help us all use the gifts and skills we have been given, for the good of the whole world. May we serve others our best, with love and compassion, so that others may see the touch and blessing of God in us, and in our handiwork. May our lives reflect the generosity of God, the fullness that overflows, day after day, loving and blessing each one of us and the whole world.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No Consolation

When the wise men had departed, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son."

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more." Matthew 2:13-18

We returned safely home through a driving rain storm last night. I was truly grateful it was not snow, but there was enough flooding that many have suffered. Traveling is always a challenge being on the road with no safe harbor, but for us, the threats are small, the tyranny only a little. I couldn't help but think of those who have to be on the road this winter. Those who have no home and have to keep on the move to find shelter. The many soldiers returning from Iraq who have seen too much tyranny for their young eyes, their bodies have witnessed too much pain, and the families of those who will not return are inconsolable.

Today is the feast of the Holy Innocents, when we remember the jealous rage of King Herod, a rage which destroyed a whole generation of children. I cannot even imagine what it was like, inside the walls of Bethlehem city, as soldiers took babies from their mothers arms. Terror and pain too deep for words, they make scars that will never go away. How one powerful man's anger can destroy an entire generation. God invites us today to understand that striking out in anger and revenge can only destroy innocents, and God aches instead for the healing and binding up of our world. God invites us to protect the weak, shelter the innocent and needy, be love and warmth when the world has turned away.

Today, I ask God to help me be an instrument of peace and healing. There is plenty to be angry about, but may God give me the strength to respond to hurt with compassion and forgiveness. May my life be a consolation, a hand in time of need, so that the world might see the love of God through me. May all of us today, remembering those young children slaughtered by Herod and all the innocent victims of war and violence, commit ourselves to be agents of healing and peace. May selfishness and jealousy be replaced with selflessness and tenderness this day.

The Collect
We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

No Darkness at All

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us-- we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:1-9

Waking up in a dark room strange city
a sorrow deeper than words or song
deep winter and shadows linger
cold seeps into bone at night sadness
lingers deep into day.

"In him there is no darkness at all
the night and the day are both alike
the lamb is the light of the city of God
shine in my heart Lord Jesus"

When sorrow too deep for words
cover me blankets my soul with sadness
music ancient and wild breaks through
singing me into the light of love.

When homeless and broke I turn away
limping down a bleak highway
seeking shelter with cruelty and anger
and sharing a meal with bitterness and greed
he follows me to my worst destruction
reaching a hand to lift me home.

"In him there is no darkness at all
the night and the day are both alike
the lamb is the light of the city of God
shine in my heart Lord Jesus"

When stomping away in hurt and fury
light to my back dank darkness ahead
walking through a tunnel moist with rot
trying to become disease and destruction
you reach beyond my deaden heart
and set your lamp of love within me.

Help me this day to stay in your shadows
help me to know your light surrounds me
help me to see beyond the horizon
your promises still to know to see.

"In him there is no darkness at all
the night and the day are both alike
the lamb is the light of the city of God
shine in my heart Lord Jesus"

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Feast of Stephen

Jesus said, "Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come upon this generation.

"Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'" Matthew 23:34-39

I never really thought much about St. Stephen, martyr of the faith, and his story somehow never really touched my heart. Then many years ago, on our first trip to Ireland, we visited St. Stephen's Green in Dublin on a fall Sunday afternoon. It was mild and the park was full of families, parents sitting on blankets and children running and playing. The children were more patient than any I had every seen, they were kind to their siblings and other children, took turns and watched out for the little ones - it was if I was watching a movie rather than real life, especially in America. I was carrying our eldest, and worrying a lot about being a mom. After that day in St. Stephen's Green I didn't worry so much anymore. Since that day I was always grateful St. Stephen and his affect on the children, however remote it might be.

This day after Christmas, I hope you had a chance to do what we did. We got down on the floor and played with our grand daughter. We shared precious time with our daughters, teared up a bit as they headed on their way, one to Boston, one to New York, and rejoiced in the love we have been given. May this be a day of tender embrace, of gentle thanksgiving for the love we share. May this be a day of laughter and rest, of playing and laughing and falling asleep with a baby in your arms. For God loves us, just like that, and loves nothing more than falling asleep, cradling us in strong, loving arms.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

God bless us everyone!

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:1-20

Bob Crachit abides in my heart as one of those characters from Dickens' A Christmas Carol who really teaches us the true meaning of Christmas throughout the year. He doesn't have an amazing change of heart like Scrooge. He has a heart of love all year long. He adores his children and loves his wife. He is tender and forgiving despite his lean circumstances. He doesn't curse or complain about his boss whose only care is money. He is generous and forgiving, living a wonderful, loving life despite many limitations. He rejoices in love and ignites love and joy around him everyday.

Today I invite us all to look around and take in the love and joy we have been given. For me, as I sat in church last night, I couldn't help but delight in my family all together, giggling and teasing in the pew. I am so blessed by God and surrounded by love. Riches in such abundance and no one can take that away - from any of us. God is love and right here, right now, with us, one of us, inciting love and joy all around. May we treasure the gifts we have been given and share that love where ever we go. Love came down at Christmas and stays with us all day everyday. Glory to God in the Highest! Peace to people Everywhere!

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Through New Eyes

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25

We are celebrating Christmas in Allentown with all of our daughters and their family. The tree is already loaded with presents and there are many more to add. This is Lilly's first Christmas, and somehow it makes it all new for us all. We can experience wonder and surprise through her eyes. Tonight we will travel to nearby Bethlehem to hear the ancient story retold. In the midst of all this wonder we will celebrate my birthday, which despite the challenges of the time of year, has always been a great time to be born. People are genuinely in a holiday spirit, and having a baby at Christmas always makes the experience much more real for people.

We hear the beginning of Mark's gospel, and the wondrous story of Jesus and his humble and remarkable beginnings in Bethlehem. The story doesn't talk of the complications and challenges facing the young mother, her new husband and the cultural and political pressures that surrounded them. We hear of the great promises from God and the simple wonder and joy that is a brand new child born to an anxious set of new parents in a strange new world.

Today, I ask God that I take in all the joy and wonder that is around me, delighting with new eyes and a new heart, in the extravagance of love and family that has been showered down upon us. God has made wondrous promises of love and new life for all. May we open our hearts and minds to the abundance around us and return to Bethlehem, seeing with all the love we share, this thing which has come to pass. Love is born into the world. Love in our midst. God is with us!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Guiding our Way

And his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying,
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has visited and redeemed his people
and has raised up a horn of salvation for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we should be saved from our enemies
and from the hand of all who hate us;
to show the mercy promised to our fathers
and to remember his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us
that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
And the child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:67-80

Today we are on our way to celebrate Christmas with our family in Allentown. Last night we celebrated with my mother, having a wonderful seafood dinner out followed up with a driving tour of the local Christmas lights. We had discovered a one half acre lawn with every inch covered with holiday displays. Lights and inflatable ornaments of Santa and other Christmas characters. After an awe-filled few minutes we moved through local neighborhoods, seeing how people decorated, multicolored lights and ornaments beyond imagination. On the one of the shortest days of the year people were pushing away the darkness with their lights. Some were very random, some carefully planned out, but all shining brightly in the darkness. We laughed with delight and became children filled with awe as we witnessed the displays.

Our Gospel tells of the ancient promises fulfilled by John, the one who would light the way for us, and lead us to the prince of peace, the living God made flesh, bringing peace and healing to the whole world. Through ancient words, promises that once were far off come alive and true and all of the darkness and hurt that we have suffered are lifted on the wings of love. We are reminded as Christmas draws close, that the uncomfortable will be made comfortable, the hungry fed, the suffering restored to health and peace will rule our hearts and our world. Despite ugly rumors to the contrary, God proclaims to the downtrodden that peace is nearby and God is moving right now in our broken world.

Today I ask God to guide our path with light and peace, each step of the way. May our journey be a journey of the heart, seeking light in the darkness and joy despite the cold and wind that try to break us down. May we be those who seek the God of a stable, the God who lingers in the dark and scary places so all may know the light and love of God.

Thursday, December 22, 2011


Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. And her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. And on the eighth day they came to circumcise the child. And they would have called him Zechariah after his father, but his mother answered, “No; he shall be called John.” And they said to her, “None of your relatives is called by this name.” And they made signs to his father, inquiring what he wanted him to be called. And he asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And they all wondered. And immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue loosed, and he spoke, blessing God. And fear came on all their neighbors. And all these things were talked about through all the hill country of Judea, and all who heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, “What then will this child be?” For the hand of the Lord was with him. Luke 1:57-66

The first time I saw the Aurora Borealis I was standing on the ground outside of the Fairbanks Airport waiting for a ride. The sky was perfectly clear, the night crackling with cold and then I saw on the horizon light that seemed to dance and move. I was transfixed and didn't want to do anything but stand there and the the sky. Music ran through my head, as if the light was communicating to me through rhythm and song. It seemed terribly sedate when my friends pulled the church van up to pick me up. I just wanted to stay there planted in the wonder of it all.

Elizabeth came to full term and bore her son John, the long awaited miracle child. It was quite the event and news story and people came to see if it was true - an old crone gives birth to a healthy little boy. After a full term of silence Zechariah could speak again after writing his son's name. The world had changed in a blink of an eye and everyone marveled and wondered. What was God doing? Is this a sign or a portent? I imagine Elizabeth had her hands full, as any new mother does, worrying less about the the religious significance and more about the vulnerable, needy little bundle. She was consumed with gratefulness, joy and utter exhaustion. And there was the messenger of God, the blessing in her old age, needing her completely. She was thrilled to be needed by God, thrilled to care for the miracle God gave her.

Today, I want to remember that God is constantly wondrous and marvelous, constantly giving us gifts and signs, constantly in care for us and presence with us. May we like Elizabeth rejoice in having our hands full and be grateful for the many gifts God has given us. As we are consumed by duty and responsibility may we remember that these same responsibilities are miracles and blessings from God. The ordinary becomes extraordinary and God is with us.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Signs of life

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; Luke 1:39-48

Expecting a baby is a wonderful thing, and it is also anxiety producing. I was 21 when I first found myself pregnant, and the huge responsibility for another life sometimes outweighed the excitement of having our first child. Because of extensive surgery as a child, they were not sure I would ever have the chance to be a mom. I wanted to be a mother very badly, but was also anxious about my health and the baby's health. I worried a lot the first few months and then she moved, fluttering and turning within me, and I was exhilarated and sure from that point on. She responded to live applause and laughing, and loved to kick when I walked up stairs. Turned out, both Mom and baby were totally healthy and strong.

Young Mary was early in her pregnancy when she fled to the safety of her old cousin Elizabeth. She was scared and carrying a burden so great. She was unmarried, pregnant and still a virgin. She was frightened for her life, expecting punishment and harm at every turn. When she shows up at her safe house, the reliable and ancient Elizabeth, she has another shock. Elizabeth is pregnant and the baby leaps when Mary arrives. That fluttering and turning that Elizabeth had long prayer for was within her, life moving beyond her wildest dreams. God brought these two women together, under the strangest of circumstances and gave them courage and faith to see their responsibilities to their fruition with faith and life. And God gives us signs of new life all around us, giving us also the courage to labor on, to follow Christ and to love and serve our neighbors.

Today, as the deep winter settles in and the skies are grey with rain, may we all understand the abundance of life around us and be full of courage and good cheer for God is drawing near. No matter how large our burden, God is putting new life within us, restoring our shattered dreams, mending torn hopes and relations, building new capacity within those of us who have been frail and hobbling along. May we share the love we receive today, may we rejoice with those who meet today and may we smile knowing God is dancing with delight in the love we carry for the sake of the world.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Fear Not

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38

Fear Not

I am kneeling from the blows
heart pounding tears streaming
hands covering my head waiting
for the storm to pass the light to shine
all I have done was for you for love.

Faithful and honest my reputation ruined
newly a woman, newly a bride, totally responsible
totally alone.

Send your angels to watch and care
the burden within me too great
the dangers too real, the sky full of clouds
I brace for impact and bury my head.

Faithful honest, totally responsible
totally alone feet bare water rising
I cling to the ring of hope you threw to me.

As the swelling became visible
new life within me growing and moving
halted steps and slow progress running
from the only home I've known to find
sanctuary with the old ones.

Faithful honest, totally responsible
totally alone I climb the Galilean hills
fear and anxiety rising like a tidal wave.

My heart is beating and yours within me
love shattering the glass barricades I built
I am to be a mother, I must carry God
the world needs my service, trembling weeping
I am not ready for this role.

Faithful honest, totally responsible
totally alone but no longer for two hearts beat
together for love of the world.

Yearning for release fearing a life of scorn
angels and archangels teach me lullabies
the ancients surround me with wisdom
and promise to guide me through.

I am the Christ bearer, mother to a new order
carrying the weight of the world God incarnate
my life will be full of pain and rejection
dark clouds and gossip where ever I go
and yet I will not fear for my child
is love made real for the healing of us all.

The faithful, the honest, the neglected and abused
bear the offspring of hope and love
never alone, neglected or despised, God with us
Emmanuel, the light of the world
the greatest gift from the heart of God.

Monday, December 19, 2011


Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.
Now while he was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.
After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.” Luke 1:1-25

Yesterday was the last Sunday of Advent and we went to church and thoroughly enjoyed the Christmas Pageant. I never tire of watching children tell the story, as they wiggle and lose their places, they somehow make God incarnate all that much more real. In the afternoon, we helped my Mom decorate her tree. She hasn't had a real tree in several years, so we all enjoyed pulling out the old ornaments, and sharing stories of past Christmases, the origin of some of the handmade ornaments and many laughs as we decorated together. It was hard to believe all the many years we have shared together, and some of the ornaments came from my grandmother's home, so that had seen more Christmases than even my mother has at 88. The blessings of life are amazing and unbelievable at times, and as we recounted our funny memories, we also were counting our many blessings as well.

We hear the beginning of Luke's Gospel and the extraordinary and unbelievable story he had to tell. We begin with the tale of Zechariah and Elizabeth, of angel visits and the impossible coming true. We also glimpse the real humanity of the story as Zechariah hears unbelievable news from an unbelievable source and struggles to understand. And in all of this fragile humanity we hear that, not only are two old people going to have a child, but that this child would, "turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children." God promises us through this story today that despite how beyond repair life, relationship and our world might seem, God is actively in the midst of our broken humanity and working for the reconciliation of all.

Today I ask God to help me be an instrument of reconciliation and to trust that the impossible and the unbelievable are possible with God. May our words and actions today bring a new sense of promise and hopefulness to the people around us. May we, like John, be comfort to our elders, shelter for the weak and faith for those who have lost their way. May God's light shine through us this day, so that the whole world might know that God is working to heal our broken world, mend our broken hearts and make the impossible possible in our time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Teenage Pregnancy

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38r

Years ago, when I was serving in a small town in Delaware, a group of clergy was getting together on a regular basis. We were trying to work together on the common concerns of our town. We had a speaker who came and talked about teens and how the most common time for girls to get pregnant was not at a party late at night or on weekends, but after school, between three and five. Most of us were taken aback. It motivated the group to work together and I am proud to say we brought together a group of community leaders who founded a boys and girls club, along with other helping organizations.

Today we hear the familiar Gospel story of Mary being visited by Gabriel. We hear fear, disbelief and concern in Mary's voice of so many years ago. We see a vulnerable teenage girl, trying to come to grips with a huge, unfair responsibility. She hadn't been bored and she hadn't fooled around but now she would suffer the consequences. If she was in school, she would lose that privilege. In her time, Mary would be shunned and physically punished. Her act of obedience to God brought shame on her family. She would be a refugee for the rest of her life. And she had only her ancient cousin Elizabeth for comfort and understanding, Elizabeth who was so old, way older than Mary's mother Anne, and so long married she would have forgotten what it was like to be so young. But God found a way to use the most unlikely people, old women and young girls to bring the living God into our aching and starving world. God used the most abnormal people to be heroes for all times. And that is surely good news to all of us who feel like the shunned, the forgotten, the unlikely, the refugee, and the abnormal. God calls these to carry the good news, to bring God into the world.

Today, may we recognize that God is calling all of us, however unlikely and shunned we might feel, to carry God's good news of love and forgiveness to our world. We might be refugees, failures and forgotten, but God never forgets us and needs every one of us to bring Christ to our neighbors, friends and enemies. We, like Mary, can feel inadequate, but may we answer today, like that child of old did, "here am I, servant of the Lord." God is inviting us this day, the most unlikely, to be part of the greatest love story ever told.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Stranger, Hungry and Thirsty

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

This Advent Journey

Shoving and pushing crowds desperate
for bargains for happy families hoping
to fill the home with smiles head down
anxious and worried in abundance failing
to see God's outstretched hand.

Late nights early morning and layaway
counting change for the bus rocking
a grandma and a small child shiver
the cold is not new set-in deep
in bones and frozen feet we pray
and miss the voice pleading with us
see the child, my child.

Lights sparkle mink coats and diamonds
so much plush and so little softness
the sound of aching and pain covered
by a cell phone and earphones
world shut out and God knocking
to be let in.

A groaning board expensive wine
complaints about slow service
and whining about how it used to be
when people were in their place
and poverty was kept far away
shaking heads at the street tramps
desolate right outside the window
the Christ child draws a picture in the steam
and someone calls for the police.

God is calling, knocking, aching
this day this season for us to see
abundance as a gift freely given
God asking us to share to see
to stop and welcome the child
the face and heart of God.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Buried Talents

“For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Matthew 25:14-30

When our girls were small we were always helping them dig in sand at the beach, building sand castles and unearthing treasures. Every summer we still love to dig in the warm sand and explore what is hidden below the surface. Now that it is no longer summer, I still enjoy walking on the beach, looking for treasures and detritus that has washed ashore. In our imagination there is always hope for finding buried loot, scoring a big prize and being secure because of some largess, accidental or otherwise. And yet we humans often don't use the riches we have been given, we hide what Gos has blessed us with and we bury our treasures and talents for fear of failure and loss.

Jesus tells his followers a story about a man who entrusted his servants with riches or talents while he was away. He wants them to understand that God showers us with gifts and we are to put those talents to use. Sometimes, we are reluctant, no matter how gifted and talented we might be. We let the threat of rejection ridicule and failure keep us from investing in that which was a true gift. Those gifts can atrophy and die because of our fears. But God would have us understand that even the smallest gift, the mildest talent is a blessing from God and God wants to bless us with abundance if we will but trust God and put those talents to use. In this season of over indulgence, we are reminded to be humble with what we have, sharing the blessings with those who need so that the blessings can increase across the board.

Today, I ask God to help me let go of the fear of failure and to trust that the small gifts I have can and will be put to use in God's kingdom. God needs us all and the blessings and talents we carried so that the world might see God's love alive and active in us. May we be windows to the world on God' heart, the place where love is compounding, where all are welcome and where there is more than enough and a home for all.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holding the Light

“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut. Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Matthew 25:1-13

I remember being very small the weeks before Christmas. As a small child time seem to go by so slowly and it seemed that Christmas took forever to get here. My Christmas anxiety and anticipation was worsened by the fact that my birthday falls on Christmas Eve. All of the present giving in my young life happened in a 24 hour period. My birthday parties often doubled as junior choir parties and we had to squeeze me in between services. I really didn't care, I love the season so much. It was a lot to wait for and I was not a patient child. I would try to be very good and behave perfectly as Christmas got close, but it was very hard for a curious and imaginative little girl. Preparation and waiting are hard when one is young, and it can be hard too when we are supposedly all grown.

Jesus tells his disciples a parable about waiting and preparation. It is like a story from my girl scout manual of my childhood - being prepared, having all the supplies and survival gear to always be ready. And yet we are all human, easily distracted, dozing when we should be awake and awake when we should be sleeping. Our curiosity and our boredom can get us into trouble. This parable from Jesus is really not a scout tale of preparation but an invitation for us not to get too comfortable, bored or used to the way things are. Jesus knew that everything changes, and that we must be ready for the changes of fortune that come our way. God's way is always outside the box, always larger than even our imagination, and it is never on the schedule that would make us comfortable. This story is an invitation to be watchful and ready, trusting God in every moment, every day.

Today I ask God to help me keep my lamps lit, to keep the fires of faith and trust burning, and to keep my heart open to the people I encounter today. The changes ahead I cannot anticipate. All we can do is use the tools we have been given and to be faithful as the world changes and the winds blow in all directions. We are safe and secure in God's harbor where the sun may set but God's light is alive in our hearts, if we but ask and receive it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Faithful Servant

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 24:45-51

When I was a young mother, there was a time when we didn't have a washer or dryer and had to do the wash by hand or take it to a laundromat. Going to the laundromat with a child in tow can be a challenge. You do meet lots of people, and can hear some interesting stories and share some interesting conversation. I remember one time when I had been asked by our Sunday School to do a puppet making project with the kid and we needed lots of socks. Buying socks would be expensive for such a large group so I spoke to the laundromat attendant I had gotten to know. I asked her if she ever had single socks left behind. She casually said she did and if I came back tomorrow she would give me what she had. I did return and she handed me two 40 gallon trash bags full of very clean single socks. We had plenty for the project and so many left over that when we moved we could pack all of our cups and glasses in them. We often take for granted the washers and dryers in our lives, the people and machines who take care of basic necessities. And yet will I never forget how much I learned from that one experience, and how grateful I am to have a washer and dryer at my disposal. They are always ready, never complain and do an onerous task for me.

Jesus continues his explanation of how we are to behave in this life - as faithful servants, always ready to respond to God and the people around us. We are instructed that in this season of preparation, opening our hearts and minds to God's spirit moving in and around us is the most important act we can do. And when the crowds press in and the holiday preparations make us weary, it is easy to close down and shut everyone out. Jesus invites us to live fully in the season, preparing for love to take us by storm, to make us new, and to renew the world around us.

Today, I ask God to help me slow down and listen, to breathe and let in the spirit. May hope fill me rather than anxiety and may all do be in the service of God and God's beloved people. May our words and actions stir love in others hearts, may our simple affection and tender caring be the marks of God's presence with us, here and now.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Learning from the Fig Tree

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one left. Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Matthew 24:32-44

One would have to be a recluse closed in and totally unattached from any media not to know that Christmas is coming. The music is everywhere, and the TV shows remind us of the shortness of our time until the day. We watched A Christmas Carol last night the Alistair Sims version, which is my favorite and always puts me in the Christmas spirit. Sometimes, it is hard to remain in Advent, in the season of contemplation and preparation, when the whole world is celebrating and spending, it is hard to hold oneself to prayer, preparation and humility while lights blink insistently.

Jesus is helping his followers to understand that our lives are faith are not a constant celebration, and when things are tough and challenges overwhelm us we are not to see ourselves as abandoned but rather as surrounded by God's love. He wanted them to know that the terrors and tortures were coming and that these were not a sign of failure but a sign of God's love and presence in our lives. We are invited to understand that God is infinitely able to help us through all the times of our lives, no matter how overwhelmed we get.

Today I ask God to help me have a humble heart, to be unmoved by the anxiety and greed of this world and rather be caught up in the nearness and love of God that is present today. May my Advent be a time of readiness, making room in my heart for more love and service, making space for the holy spirit and the enemies that become friends. May we all open our hearts this season, as we prepare for a new incarnation of God's love in our lives.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Looking to the Horizon

“So when you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains. Let the one who is on the housetop not go down to take what is in his house, and let the one who is in the field not turn back to take his cloak. And alas for women who are pregnant and for those who are nursing infants in those days! Pray that your flight may not be in winter or on a Sabbath. For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be. And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short. Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." Matthew 24:15-31

I woke up slowly today, tired and weary from the past few days. We had people gathered from all over, from all four directions. Family, friends and neighbors came to celebrate Mark's birthday. The world was full of food and laughter and great music for a time. I couldn't help but think how blessed I am to know and love so many. And to hopefully be loved in return. For all the challenges that we have faced, I wouldn't do much over again for from great challenges come great love, incredible friends and a family that is creative, lively and built to last.

Jesus is preparing his disciples for the hard times ahead. Not just for the end of time but for the blow back and terror that was upon them. The ardor of the people had stirred a great hate in the religious leaders and it would boil into terror and destruction. Jealousy often does. But his words to them are words to us as well. When the worst of the worst bears down upon us, God will stir up the power of love, sending angels to gather us from the farthest corners and making us whole again and better than ever. Native people have learned this lesson over and over again, that when people steal from us and send us away from beloved homelands, the Creator, the one God, will gather us all together and make us new, and restore the broken circle. We are invited as they days grow cold and the skies darken too soon, to turn and look, for God is coming and our salvation is indeed near. Love is breaking out despite all of the evidence to the contrary.

Today, I ask God to help me focus on the signs of the in-breaking of God's reign. May my eyes look to the horizon, to the beauty and love that is breaking through the cruel darkness and the heartless greed, and to the love which cannot be help back by our pain or failure. May my words and my song be always ready for the presence of love. And may we all look up for the reign of love is drawing near.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Crying in the Wilderness

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?" He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah." And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No." Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, `Make straight the way of the Lord,'" as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?" John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal." This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. John 1:6-8,19-28

The light falls out the sky
a dark blanket covers the earth
cold seeps like water through sand
and we are lost in the wilderness.

This darkness our own doing
we have turned from the light
we have stopped singing and dancing
we have let the fire burn down low.

The night long and brittle tears
drop slowly on our chilled red cheeks
we are sure of our failure our isolation
and we have forgotten the summer sweet fruit
the long twilights and the early dawn.

But you have not abandoned us our cries
are reaching beyond the vast night
our sorrowful keening slides through the shame
and touches your heart that formed us.

You stand and turn to us following
the smell of our fear and pain
in the wilderness you find us
and bind up our wounds reminding us
retelling the stories of love and sacrifice
the forgiveness and renewal we had forgotten.

With broken spirits we open our hearts
with nothing in our hands we reach our in love
with a song again in our hearts we dance
and drum through the full moon in deep water
fearing nothing but losing you.

The Collect
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.

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”
As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” And Jesus answered them, “See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:1-14

They started arriving late last night. Our three daughters with significant others and my sister-in-law and our granddaughter. The joy of family and friends gathering for a significant birthday is wonderful. It has also made me realize how much we have been through together in the past many years and blessed I am to have such a wonderful man for my husband. A brilliant writer, dreamer and friend, he has survived cancer, economic and job ups and downs to remain kind, loving, faithful and full of good humor. Enduring and renewing love is a true gift, one that I am especially thankful for today. For Mark and the many blessings God has showered down upon us through one incredible man.

Jesus is brutally honest with his followers. Some of his followers want things to be easy and clear cut. A life of faith is not like that, and he wants them to understand that when times are tough, despite how it looks, God is drawing close. We are now to be dismayed by the challenges we face, rather, we are to understand them as the invitation to trust God and to love others more fully.

Today, I ask God to help me give thanks for the challenges in my life, to be grateful for the opportunity to be alive, despite all that comes my way. God is drawing near, and we need but ask for God's loving touch and tenderness in the face of all that comes before us. God is drawing near, rejoice! We are not isolated or alone but surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who can show us God's love active right where we are.

Friday, December 9, 2011

O Jerusalem

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Matthew 23:27-39

We are getting ready to host a party. Dear old friends are gathering this weekend to celebrate my husband Mark's 60th birthday and it is very exciting to think about all of these people we haven't seen in too long. I wish I could keep them all with me, gathered together, singing and laughing, telling stories and cheering each other on. Some barely know each other as we have been so many places and met so many wondrous people. And our daughters are coming and their beloveds, so my heart is full with anticipation, and although they are all grown, I ache to have them gathered around forever, like dear friends and family, so that every day we would be together, safe, warm and loved every moment.

We continue to find Jesus full of passion, sadness, anger and distress for the misuse of authority and love that God has so freely given. We hear that God aches to gather us, as a hen her brood, to mend our broken hearts and to make us one family together. And yet we humans, who have been blessed in so many ways, hold tight to out pride, our arrogance and our control, so that we keep love and God at bay. We are invited ,in this Advent journey, to undo the fists, set down the burdens of prejudice and control, and to open wide our arms and hearts to God to aches to hold us and renew is, to bathe us in love and light.

May today be that day, where we all chose to live as a child of God rather than a tyrant of ou own devising. May our hands be empty enough so that we can hold those who need shelter, may our lips be silent so that we can listen to the cries of the poor and may our pride be put away so that we may open our hearts to God's love ready to rain down upon us and our needy and aching world.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Full of Woes

“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people's faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and by him who dwells in it. And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Matthew 23:13-26

We spent the morning in doctor's offices, waiting in a rooms full of people who had lives filled with woe - injuries and illness, damages and accidents - all hoping for healing and a cure to their pain and frustrations. While the televisions blared, I looked around and wondered about the lives of the folks around me, and how easy it would be to overlook most of these folks. Yet they are loved by God, have families and friends that adore them, and despite their challenges are doing their best to live and thrive in their limited capacities.

Jesus challenged the religious leadership for their failure to care for the most needy among them, and for their greedy selfishness and small-minded legalistic attitudes, when God's love had always been a free gift to them and they had been entrusted with the care of others. Jesus is his most critical in these moments, when he sees those who have been so completely blessed being so oblivious and insensitive to the needs around them. We are entrusted by God with many gifts, but they are not our to keep, rather we are compelled to share and be kind and compassionate with everyone that God sends our direction.

Today, as the Christmas frenzy gets louder by the minute, I ask God to help me listen to those around me, see them as God sees them, and share the gifts I have been given with those God sends my way. May my life be one of walking humbling, doing justice and loving God and others with all my heart. May the pettiness and small mindedness of this world not stand in the way of God's love we have to share.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Walking Humbly

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:1-12

We just returned from a wonderful although short trip to New York City. I had some meetings to attend, but in our free time we strolled the streets, taking in the holiday decorations, watching the crowds in Grand Central and thoroughly enjoying everything. The sights and sounds are amazing and the crowds overwhelming at times. So many people in such a hurry going so many places. Some are so important and busy that the jump over homeless people ling in their way and push past the elderly and those who walk more slowly than they do. So man people dressed to the nines, rushing and anxious, I wondered if there was enough important things in the world to take up their time. It was a great trip, with good conversations and I was glad to come home to the quiet humble space we inhabit.

Jesus had been raked over the coals by the temple leadership and the religious authorities. They paraded around, flaunting their importance and their power, and rarely noticed those who were lying on the street in pain, or those who needed their help. They were very busy, and had sacred knowledge and needed to be self-protective and above the world. And to all of their pomposity Jesus invites us to hear that those who would lead must serve. Those who would follow him must be humble, noticing the overlooked, the outcast, stopping and leaning in to be with the rejected and the scorned. God's reign is not for those who wear fancy clothes and be set apart. God invites us into the midst of the pain and messiness of the world instructing us to serve right where we are, without airs or attitude, powerless and unprotected. In this place we will see and know God's real glory.

Today ask God to help me to walk humbly today, to choose words and actions that serve others, and to live among the neediest of the world. May my heart be so moved and motivated by those around me that I know it a privilege to serve as Jesus served, to be rejected as he was, and to see God's grace in the weakest and the lowly. May we all use our time in service of others, so that through us, God's light might shine into our dim world.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,“‘The Lord said to my Lord,“Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’? If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions. Matthew 22:34-46

Today we celebrate the feast day of St. Nicholas, the bishop of Myra in the fourth century. Nicholas has many stories, legends and miracles attached to his ministry, but his care for poor orphans and children is among the most famous. He was said to have slipped money into the socks of three children in the middle of the might who were about to be sold into slavery. His spirit of love and care for his neighbor is the hallmark of his life and his spirit of love and care lives on in the spirit of our present day Santa Claus.

Jesus had been drilled by the religious leaders and each of his answers astounded them more.
He responded to their digging by answering them with love, with the care of others, with the holy actions of turning to face the world around them. We are invited by God today to live as people who make love our first commandment - the love of God and our neighbor.

Today, I ask God that, in this season of preparation, may I remember to turn to the world around us and make love my priority and my rule of life. May I have the strength and courage to see those around me with the eyes of God, with the eyes of love, with an open heart and a tender spirit. May we all, like St. Nicholas, who followed Jesus so many years ago, make our lives centered on love, caring for the least among us.

Monday, December 5, 2011

God of the Living

The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”

But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching. Matthew 22:23-33

The religious leaders were tussling with Jesus and trying to understand the afterlife. We all struggle with what becomes of us and those we love after we die. Jesus redirects the questions and points to God in the midst of the living and that the living - and the dead are not lost but part of a living continuum, or at least that is what I hear from him. So today, instead of my usual blog, since I am in meetings in New York, I offer the words to one of my favorite songs about death, dying and the grief we all bear as the living who have lost the ones we love.

Lyrics to God Is In The Roses
by Roseanne Cash

God is in the roses
the petals and the thorns
storms out on the oceans
the souls who will be born
and every drop of rain that falls
falls for those who mourn
God is in the roses
and the thorns

The sun is on the cemetery
leaves are on the stones
there never was a place on earth
that felt so much like home
we're falling like the velvet petals
we're bleeding and we're torn
but God is in the roses
and the thorns

I love you like a brother
a father and a son
it may not last forever
but it never will be done
my whole world fits inside the moment
I saw you be re-born
God is in the roses
and that day was filled with roses
God is in the roses
and the thorns

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Proclaiming Good News

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:`Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 1:1-8

I have been watching "It's a wonderful life!", the quintessential American film classic,about a gentle man who looses his hope for living in a financial crisis. It is a classic story, run regularly on television before Christmas, a story of hope, faith and community. Very schmaltzy, and dated and yet it speaks still. It is a proclamation of hope for revival, an announcement of more than survival and a vision of renewed community from a time when the world had been nearly torn in two by war. From a deeply wounded place we here this anthem, this trumpet thrill reminding us to hold on.

The opening of Mark's Gospel tells us of the prophetic promise becoming flesh and moving within the world. Mark's Gospel does not offer the sentimental, soft beginning, a stable and shepherds, but instead we hear the presence of God breaking into the world, new and vibrant. We are invited as we walk deeper into Advent to understand the invitation to embrace the gifts of hope, light breaking on the dark horizon. No matter how bleak the world is around us, God is calling us to remember that there is more for us to hope for, and that in each age God is drawing near.

Today I ask God to help me breathe in hope and exhale the fear and darkness that can invade this time of year. May we lift up our heads, and our hearts, as we draw closer to Bethlehem, as we seek the in-breaking of God's love anew in our lives. May we walk the way of peace and hope, expecting joy to surround us, knowing we are being held close to the heart of God.

The Collect for Second 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.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Trying to Box with God

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.
Matthew 22:15-22

We are already overwhelmed with conversation about the presidential election although it is almost a year away. A big topic of discussion is taxes and how high taxes have caused the financial problems in the US. Although it is not true, many like to see taxes as the source of destruction and evil, rather than what they are in a democracy, our participation in the cost of the common good for all people. We are not living in a occupied territory or a dictatorship but rather we all share in the welfare of our communities. Unfortunately, our wealthiest citizens pay the least amount of taxes so that the poor suffer even more severely in this country.

Jesus was living in an occupied territory and the people of Palestine and Judea were being gouged by the Roman occupiers. And Jesus also knew that the questions were coming from a place of politics and scheming rather than an honest concern. They were trying to nail him at illegal practices. And he reminded them that they were boxing with God, trying to fight a battle of wits, trying to ensnare him rather than learn r be transformed. We all try this sometimes, when we are hurt and frustrated -boxing with God. We want to lash out, but tenuously, hoping to still be loved after we have our little fit. Jesus understood and reminded them to give what is God to God. We all struggle to trust and love when we feel taxed, stressed and afraid. Jesus reminds us today that despite our attempts to lash out and tangle, we are loved and cared for, because of and despite our human frailty.

Today, I ask God to help me be more trusting and less testing. This season of Advent can put an extra burden of anxiety on many, especially those who have little and want to lavish their loved ones with much. May we trust that love is more than enough, that God will supply our every need, and that our little offerings are blessed and increased by God's endless and abundant love.