Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Steadfast

Be patient, therefore, sisters and brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door. As an example of suffering and patience, sisters and brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful. James 5:7-11

From Joseph's Diary

These winter nights have been long and I have had dreams that trouble me. It is probably from sleeping is a strange place and the noise of all these animals that bothers my sleeping mind. It could also be the worry for Mary and Jesus. I cannot help myself, I feel so responsible and so useless most of the time. The dreams come and go, like images from my past, of people long gone. So far, no messages from God. I am trying to be a solid, strong father, but I rally don't know what to do in this strange place.

Yesterday I went to see an old uncle who I met when I was a child. He was very kind, and gave me food to take back to Mary. He also suggested that I remember the stories of the prophets, the stories of the ancient ones who were blessed by God. They all had troubles, trouble greater than mine, and God brought them through, time after time. He made me laugh and smile, telling me stories of my father in their youth, and the foolish things they did. He reminded me that these troubles will pass. He was a great comfort and I realize this isolation makes it hard to find those who can help calm my spirit. One doesn't appreciate the real comfort of the familiar and family until they are not available.

I will endeavor to be strong and steadfast. I want to trust God in every moment but sometimes I am weak. God makes me strong for this day and the days ahead.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Shepherds

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside still waters.

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name's sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life,

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever. Psalm 23


From Joseph's Diary

There are incredible joys in being a father. The little boy reaches out his hand and takes hold, he leans into me when I hold him and seems to smile look at him. At the same time, I worry a lot about what is next for us as nothing is yet clear. The other night, after the shepherds came, I was so filled with hope and promise. They told us wondrous things and treated this little baby as if he was a king. And yet, as we continue to live here, day to day, our funds are running dry, we have no resolution yet, and I cannot seem to find work to help out. Mary is doing her best and the local women have been fantastic, but I still worry - a lot.

The shepherds reminded me of the famous psalm of King David. David had been a shepherd boy out in the fields and he made a song about our God being our shepherd. I learned it when I was very young. Mary and I have been reciting it and singing it whenever we get fearful and anxious. It seems to help a good deal and the baby likes it. I have so much responsibility and do not want to let them down. I try t trust God in everything but there are days when that is very hard. A strange city and no direction home is making it hard to be calm and trusting. So I will pray since there is nothing else we can do today.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Word Made Flesh



In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, "This was he of whom I said, 'He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'") From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
John 1:1-18


From Joseph's Diary

This little boy is so fragile. It is hard to imagine sometimes that this is the Son of God. He is so dependent upon us for everything and he needs so much sleep and so much food. I guess I expected a different kind of child, but since this is my first child, I really don't know what to expect. God is certainly not cluing me in every minute. I have to stumble around in the dark, hoping for new dreams and new directions. So far, no new dreams, no new directions.

I hope to finalize the registration tomorrow, pay the tax and head back home. The officials don't seem in any hurry, so we could be stuck here indefinitely. I heard there were people looking for a new born boy, something about the king wanting to meet him. I think these are just made up stories. People who wait around have plenty of time to gossip and make stuff up. I think I will just keep Mary and the baby under wraps. Soon, we will have to bring him out to the temple, but for now, we still can just fade into the woodwork. I do hope God sends me some dreams soon, so I can do something more than wait and watch.




The Collect

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.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Weeping For the Children

Thus says the LORD: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. Thus says the LORD: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the LORD: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the LORD: your children shall come back to their own country. Jeremiah 31:15-17

Weeping

Frightened rulers in distant governments
gathering up children whom they fear
vulnerable and innocent they play
knowing nothing of politics or power.

They dance in the cold and the wind
making up songs and taunting the weather
snow angels and frozen fortresses
all delight these little ones.

It is those with power and money
those who need nothing more
these are the ones that are frightened by joy
and have to squash the insurrection.

They play in the mud and sand
building castles only to destroy them
plastic armies that they put away
dreaming of far away fairy kingdoms.

But we would take their dreaming
turn it into commerce and sales
make the innocent pay for their fun
and charge the little ones for learning.

A selfish frightened king long ago
slaughtered the innocent children
selfish fearful rulers of economies
will enslave all the little ones today.

Oh righteous child of Bethlehem
born in a stable poor and gentle
teach us again to love the daylight
and to revel in the dreams of love.

Friday, December 27, 2013

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


Joseph's diary entry 2

So everywhere I go they ask about the baby. Word has gone out that the shepherds got a divine message and now everyone wants to see him. We are still housed in the stable, as the city is thronged with people. The government hasn't made it easy, everybody arriving at the same time and no directions as to where we go to register. Right now it is a waiting game. so gossip and talk are a great commodity. Everybody is curious about our son. The rumors are amazing - that he is magic, that he is surrounded by angels and light, that he can cure the sick - meanwhile, I am just trying to keep Mom and baby safe and fed. The innkeeper's wife has been very kind
and brings food to Mary all the time. She sits with her and advises her on baby care. She acts like a mother to Mary, which she needs right now, since I don't know what to do most of the time.

The days have been mild for which I am grateful. The stable is cool at night but we are relatively comfortable. Most of the animals are in outside pens so we aren't overwhelmed by their noise or smell. The women want Mary to rest and heal, but she seems ready to walk around and get back home. I try to caution her to be patient, because until we have completed our civic duty, we are somewhat captive here. She might as well rest as much as possible while we have the chance.

I really don't know what God has in store for us, so I try to keep calm and prayerful. It seems that revelations come in due time, and nothing ahead is clear yet. Maybe I will dream our course and timing. Maybe - God always has another surprise for us.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

My Strong Rock

In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame; *
deliver me in your righteousness.

Incline your ear to me; *
make haste to deliver me.

Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe,
for you are my crag and my stronghold; *
for the sake of your Name, lead me and guide me.

Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, *
for you are my tower of strength.

Into your hands I commend my spirit, *
for you have redeemed me,
O LORD, O God of truth. Psalm 31:1-5


From Joseph's diary.....

For all this time I have tried to keep my thoughts to myself and to be strong and faithful. It hasn't been very easy. God promised that things would work out, but it has been hard every step of the way. First the ridicule and the embarrassment at home, then the taxation and coming to Bethlehem, all ending with Mary having to give birth in a stable. Is this the way the savior of the world is treated? On the other hand, our little boy, Jesus, our little son, is a delight and a miracle. I cannot keep my eyes off of him. And Mary, well, she seems to know what to do and is so strong! Every time he cried I feel like the world is coming to an end but Mary seems to know just hoe to settle him down. The local women come by frequently to check on him, and he never seems to be put down when they are around. Passed from arm to arm, they talk and rock and coo all at the same time. I will never understand women but I am sure glad they are here for us.

We have to stay put for a time to make sure they are both strong enough to travel home. The crowding here in Bethlehem is atrocious have not been able to find us a better place to stay. I am ashamed about our accommodations but Mary seems to take it all in stride. The ladies keep bringing us food and casts offs from their babies, so we really want for nothing. I must be more grateful than I have been. I feel so responsible and so helpless at the same time! My hands are getting soft and my muscle weak as we wait around here until we can head back home. Pouring my heart out in written words helps but I am still at a loss as what to do. I hope God will give me a sign and a direction. I pray I can be strong and patient in the mean time.

My prayer these days has been, " make me strong enough when feeling weak, make me brave enough when I am afraid, make me loving enough when I am hurting and help me trust you completely in everything. Amen"

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Nativity Letter - Christmas Day




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


Dear Elizabeth,

Our baby has arrived! I didn't think I would survive the birth, the pains coming so fast and so intensely. The local women helped me through, kind strangers who knew what to do for me and Joseph. They felt for us and guided us step by step, although it seemed to last forever, this labor. They helped me to sit up and to breathe through the pains and I tried to be brave but sometimes I cried out. But at the end he came quickly, and he is healthy and beautiful. Everything that was before, all the pain and fear disappeared as we clung to each other and wept with joy. I guess every parent feels this way, so grateful and astonished at what beauty and love has come into the world. All our troubles faded away as we looked into his dark eyes and watched his hands tiny open and close. Such wonder and surprise.

A very strange thing happened just as we had settled in for our night's rest. The door of the stable was opened wide and many men and animals crowded in. We thought at first they were going to make us leave. Instead, they told us that angels had visited them and they came running to find our little baby. They wanted to carry the words that God had sent them - how this child is the long expected savior of the world. They stood and sang songs of joy and thanksgiving, sharing with us their food and their stories. Each in turn wanted to tell us how afraid they were at first and how delighted they were to find us. Once they had left we talked about how God's promises had come true despite all the trouble we have faced. I finally fell asleep after thanking God from brining us finally to this place, after so much challenge and fear.

Elizabeth, I already understand that I probably won't have time to write anymore. Our sweet Jesus demands all my time and attention. Please send someone to Momma and tell her we are find. She has a beautiful grandson! We still have to find a place to be for a time while the baby gets strong enough for us to make our return home. So far, the innkeeper has been very kind, although the commotion with the shepherds almost sent him over the line. He calmed down when we shared some of the food and treats the shepherds had brought to us. I will write again when I can. For now, give thanks that all is well and God has seen us through!!


Much love,

Mary



Collect
O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve - Advent letter Day 18

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;

God will help her when morning dawns.

The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;

he utters his voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Psalm 47:1-7


Dear Elizabeth,

I am so scared, excited and overwhelmed. Joseph was not able to fins any where else for us to stay and the pains have started. It looks like I am having my baby here in this stable. I so wanted to be home with Momma and the wise women of our village. They know me, and even though they all gossiped and criticized me, they would have been a great help. The dear innkeeper's wife, Ruth, has gone out to find her wise women to help with the delivery. She says it might be a while since this is my first child and I am so young. The pains are still pretty far apart at this point.

The innkeeper brought rags and blankets and other assorted necessities. He also found some sweet fresh water and brought food for Joseph. They tied several of the animals outside since the weather is good. This way there will be more room for us and the delivery process. I don't think I will be able to write much more, since the pains are long and make to write. I wish I was brave. I wish I had you to hold on to. Please pray for me, since I know that God listens to your heart. And pray for Joseph since he seems very upset and anxious. Ever time I have a pain he paces around and looks lie he will faint.

Send Momma word, if you can, and tell her the baby is coming. I cannot wait to show her the little one when we get back home.

Much love,

Carol

Monday, December 23, 2013

Restore Your Fortunes - Advent Letters Day 17

"The Lord your God is in your midst,

a mighty one who will save;

he will rejoice over you with gladness;

he will quiet you by his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing.

I will gather those of you who mourn for the festival,

so that you will no longer suffer reproach.

Behold, at that time I will deal

with all your oppressors.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you in,

at the time when I gather you together;

for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes

before your eyes, " says the Lord. Zephaniah 3:17-20


Dear Elizabeth,

we finally arrived in the outskirts of Bethlehem just as the sun was setting. The town is so crowded and I felt faint with the jostling and the choking dust. We knocked at every door, offering more money than the usual rate, but no one had any room. Finally one inn keeper took pity on us and let us stay in their stable. I wasn't feeling well and he could tell. His wife went and got some of the local wise women and they looked me over. They said the baby was coming very soon. I cried after they left because I really want to be home with Momma and Daddy. Joseph gets really upset when I cry. He promised he would get up early in the morning to look for a better place for us.

Elizabeth, I am so emotional and volatile. One minute I feel positive and secure and the next minute fear overwhelms me. My body is also not helping. Sometimes I am very strong and sometimes very weak. Strange smells really bother me and make me feel sick. I hope I can sleep tonight and tomorrow we can go out and find a better place. The stable is warm because of the animals but it is also quite smelly. This place is set back from the road so a least the crowd noise is kept at bay.

I know we will be all right and that God is watching over us, yet sometimes, all these challenges make me doubt a little. Please pray for us and for the baby that we can do what is right and keep him safe one he arrives.

All my love,

Mary

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Do Not Be Afraid - Advent Letters Day 16


Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,"
which means, "God is with us." When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
Matthew 1:18-25


Dear Libbet,

remember when I couldn't say your name right and I called you that? You would call me Mare since that is what I called myself then. I remember how much fun it was to visit you when I was small. You would let me do whatever I wanted as long as I didn't tell Momma and Daddy. Though long summer days when I could run barefoot and climb trees seem so long ago now. Everything is so cumbersome, I am so awkward, and everything is a big negotiation. Last night was a good example. The longest night of the year and we had to haggle to get a room. It took hours and I was frozen to the bone by the time we found a place.

We are getting very close to Bethlehem. Each village we pass is bigger and more crowded. The people are cranky with so many tourists and the prices they charge for everything is outrageous! We are a captive audience and have to ay what is demanded. The babe has been quieter today and seems to have moved down very low. I feel like I am waddling along when I walk. Joseph is afraid we won't make it back. At this point I am not afraid of not getting home, I just want all of this to be over! The big city looms in the distance and you the smell of people and animals packed together is overwhelming. I guess I am just whining but some of this trip has been a huge pain.

I miss you terribly and long for those simple old days when we would run in the fields and wade in the river. I hope you are playing with your little boy. I will spoil him when he comes to stay with me, just like you did for me!

much love,

Mare

The Collect

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


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Least of These - Advent Letters Day 15

“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.’" Matthew 25:31-40

Dear Elizabeth,

Today was a rough one but we made it through. The road took us over some rough high hills and there were lots of pebbles to slip and slide on. The donkey didn't like it much at all, but Joseph wanted me seated as we staggered through those hills. It was slow going and I am very sore from the day. It was very late when we finally got to a place where we could stay. The people were very rude and unkind to us, unwilling to even warm us some soup. We dug into our disappearing store of food and ate some fruit and bread, Nothing tasted quite as good as yesterday. We are so exhausted, and quite cold since they weren't willing to light us a fire.

As soon as we finished our humble supper, Joseph said a few night prayers and fell into a dead sleep. He is sleeping now, but I can't seem to sleep at all. Joseph looks so peaceful, but I know he worries a lot too. It is as if my mind is racing and every worry and fear flashes before my eyes. It doesn't help that this little guy night time to be most active. I am going to try to rest now, close my eyes and think of sweet things like home. Staying with these stingy people, I hope I can be more generous and kind when I have the chance. It seems as all the people we encounter are rough and rude. I pray that God will give me the grace to open my heart, even to strangers. I am learning so much about the world, although some of the lessons are very hard.

Much love

Mary

Friday, December 20, 2013

My People - Advent Letters Day 14


The word of the Lord of hosts came to me, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am jealous for Zion with great jealousy, and I am jealous for her with great wrath. Thus says the Lord: I will return to Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem; Jerusalem shall be called the faithful city, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts shall be called the holy mountain. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the Lord of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the Lord of hosts? Thus says the Lord of hosts: I will save my people from the east country and from the west country; and I will bring them to live in Jerusalem. They shall be my people and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness. Zechariah 8:1-8


Dear Elizabeth,

This was a better day than the one before. There was a light breeze as we traveled today and the road was not as crowded as it had been. Joseph suggested we walk slowly and stop often, and it went more smoothly than I could have hoped. I think the donkey enjoyed stopping more often too, and was more cooperative than usual. The fruit and bread we bought in Nablas were very fresh and tasty, as were the olives we had packed from home. I got a little teary eating the olives and thinking of Momma and Poppa. Joseph took my hand and promised we would get home again soon, we would see our people again.

Along the road we met a little boy with a few straggly sheep. He stopped and ran over to me and threw his arms around me. I asked him if he knew us, but he said no. He told me that he knew that God loves me very much and he wanted me to know that. I couldn't help but smile and laugh. After missing my family as we lunched, this sweet little boy was prophesizing of God's love. He was so honest and sincere, it made me so glad. The boy skipped off smiling with his little flock, and Joseph and I laughed with joy. It made our steps a little lighter as we made our way across the rocky ground.

Tomorrow the road get steeper, and there will be some big hills to climb. I think we can rest tonight with happy images of a smiling little boy with a great promise. Still missing my parents greatly but knowing that things will be alright on the morrow.

All my love,

Mary



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Our Soul Waits - Advent Letters Day 13

The Lord looks down from heaven;

he sees all the children of man;

from where he sits enthroned he looks out

on all the inhabitants of the earth,

he who fashions the hearts of them all

and observes all their deeds.

The king is not saved by his great army;

a warrior is not delivered by his great strength.

The war horse is a false hope for salvation,

and by its great might it cannot rescue.

Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him,

on those who hope in his steadfast love,

that he may deliver their soul from death

and keep them alive in famine.

Our soul waits for the Lord;

he is our help and our shield.

For our heart is glad in him,

because we trust in his holy name.

Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,

even as we hope in you.
Psalm 33:13-22


Dear Elizabeth,

After the fall yesterday, I woke up very sore and bruised. We decided to stay an extra night here in Nablus. There is a nice market here and a few places we can sit quietly. Joseph was so worried that the fall would have hurt the baby. I reassured him by having him feel the little boy kicking. He put his hand on my belly and felt a small little foot pressing against his hand. He started to cry. I feel so bad that I have been so moody and awkward. He has been so brave and kind through all of this. I hope I can make h8im proud. I held him my arms as he wept, and knew we are in this together and have to hang on tight to each other. We are all we have right now.

Tomorrow we hope to be moving early on the road so we can make up for lost time. The registration is upon us and we want to be heading back so I can give birth at home. I am going to try and be very grown up from now on, trusting that God will help us. I have to be strong for Joseph since he has been so strong for me. The aches are letting up as the day comes to an end. I wish I wasn't so unwieldy but this too shall pass. I have to start acting like someone's mother since my time is drawing near.

Elizabeth please pray that I can meet the challenges ahead. I am so weak at times and wish I was more like you, steady as a rock. I will try to remember all you have told me.

much love

Mary

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Remember - The Advent Letters Day 12

Remember your word to your servant,

in which you have made me hope.

This is my comfort in my affliction,

that your promise gives me life.

The insolent utterly deride me,

but I do not turn away from your law.

When I think of your rules from of old,

I take comfort, O Lord.

Hot indignation seizes me because of the wicked,

who forsake your law.

Your statutes have been my songs

in the house of my sojourning.

I remember your name in the night, O Lord,

and keep your law.

This blessing has fallen to me,

that I have kept your precepts.
Psalm 119:49-56


Dearest Elizabeth,

Today was a hard day on the road. I wanted to step out of my skin, return to being a child, do anything but bear this burden. My stomach hurts and my body aches, all the time. The foolish donkey decided today was the day to throw me off. I wasn't hurt badly, some scrapes and bruises, but I could barely walk after that. I sat on a rock and cried like a baby. I know it's selfish and so childish but I couldn't help myself. I sobbed for my Momma. We continued on for a little ways but stopped early today to look for a safe shelter for the night. We were dusty and bedraggled and Joseph was at wit's end. He was so upset when I fell and worried that I was terribly hurt. After my silly loud crying there wasn't much to say.

Elizabeth, Joseph did the kindest thing tonight. He sat by the bed and recited some of the psalms of King David. Ones about trusting and taking comfort in God's pr9omises. I remembered some of them too and joined him in reciting them. I was able to relax and think I will find some rest tonight. I had to wash up in a trough but it felt good to have some clean skin again. The dust is thick and unrelenting. I have yet to see much of the road ahead since so many are traveling to Bethlehem too. So much noise, dust and crowds. I feel so out of place but am hanging on as best I can.

I will keep you in my prayers if you will pray for me. I wish I wasn't so scared but I cannot help myself.

All my love,

Mary

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Be Ready - Advent Letters Day 11

“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


Dear Elizabeth,

the travel is much rougher than I expected and we are making very slow progress. From time to time, it seems as though this baby is ready to jump out of me, my belly is so tight, and my patience so little. I am long past ready for this child to be born. I really don't want it to be in the next days, I really want to be home with my Momma and the women I have known all my life. But I am ready whatever happens. The women where we stayed last night gave me some extra supplies and told Joseph what to expect, if there was an emergency and we were on the road. He was horrified! He looked like a frightened little boy and I tried not to laugh. We women are a mystery to men, aren't we? Sometimes we are a mystery to our own selves. I often don't know what I want or need and am very emotional these days.

I had a few contractions the other day. The women last night, who were all very helpful and wise, told me that in the last month that happens. It is a way to prepare the body, like practicing. I guess I will have to be ready for anything. God asked me to do this and I said yes. Now I am not sure I can handle what is ahead, but at least I am more prepared than I was. I want to be brave but the travel is making me weak and tender. Joseph has been very patient and kind with me. I am very grateful he is my husband and that I am not alone on this journey.

much love

Mary

Monday, December 16, 2013

Flight in Winter - Advent Letters Day 10

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. Matthew 24:17-23

Dear Elizabeth,

I fear we will never make it to Bethlehem. Although it is less than 100 miles between home and there, the going is rough and we are very slow. We have travel less than 8 miles so far, getting a late start after our first overnight with the cousins. I don't mean to complain but there home was very cramped and I slept very badly. To our surprise, when we woke in the morning, there was a blanket of snow. It never snows here, but it did! The elders were saying it only happens in very important years and they made extra prayers today. We took our time as the donkey wanted nothing to do with the snow. Most of it has melted away and the afternoon was warm enough for us to travel, but then it was so late, we made little progress.


we will stay with another relative, Simon and Ruth. You remember them, right? Mama says you all grew up together. and they are very warm people who have made us soft beds and delicious food. They knew our story when we arrived and took it in stride. Others have been less kind, but they seemed to think that saying yes to God is a noble thing. They have made us feel comfortable and told us not to be ashamed or fearful. They say that God will guide our every step. Well, God is guiding us very slowly! But I don't really mind. I am in no hurry to be in a crowded city. The slow progress gives us time alone to talk and to rest as we chose. Gives us time to be a couple together.

I am so tired all the time. I am ready to fall asleep but wanted you to know we are all right so far. I hope you will get my letters and smile. Please pray for us. All of the reassurances are lovely, but they can fade fast on these rocky and dusty roads.

all my love,

Mary

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My Soul Proclaims - Advent Letters Day 9

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever. Luke 1:46-55



Dear sweet cousin Elizabeth,

We made it out of town, just barely, although as the dark settled in we could hear them shouting curses from behind. We did not turn around, but kept our heads down and move along. Slowly we made it to his cousin's house, where I am writing from. The candle is almost out and the house, high in the hills, is very cold. We will huddle together for warmth by the hearth, although it has already been banked for the night. Glad I packed a few extra blankets. I am thirsty all the time and we had to stop a good deal so that I could sit a while. Riding the donkey is more uncomfortable than walking, although Joseph insists I ride.

I imagine you bouncing your boy on your lap, singing and laughing with him. I pray that I may know my child this way, that I may wallow in love and sweetness. Right now everything is a chore. Elizabeth, when we left Momma was crying. She is so afraid for us. Would you promise me, if we don't return, if something happens, you will go and comfort her? Will you promise to take your little one and remind her of God's promises. I fear this will not be a simple journey. There have already been twists and turns along the way.

Pray for us as we carry this holy burden and wonder what God has in store for us next.

All my love,

Mary


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 14, 2013

Enduring - Advent Letters Day 8

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 24:3-14


Dear Elizabeth,

Joseph came by early this morning to say we will leave right before sunset tonight and go as far as a cousin of his, just over the next hills. We will tarry there overnight and then be on our way. It will take many days to get there since I am so slow at walking these days. I think he also wants me out of here, Things get worse by the day, They called him before him before the council and tried to make his confess of some misconduct. They think we are lying. It will also be good for Momma to have me away for a little while. Having me around upsets her and she cannot hide her fear and worry. I know she loves me and wants the best. I guess she didn't raise me to be in the midst of such controversy.

I am restless being confined to my room. I don't know how much longer I can live like this, so starting on the trip is good news. It is also quite scary since my feet are already swelling just by standing and working in the kitchen, There will be a good deal of walking in my near future, Elizabeth, and I am very anxious I won't get very far. I do not want to let Joseph down, he has been so worried these days. Well, I have to start packing now. Please pray for us as my tie is so close by, I just want to be back home before the baby comes.

much love

Mary




Friday, December 13, 2013

Hens and Broods - Advent Letters Day 7

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“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 23:37-29

Dear Elizabeth,

I grow rounder and more unwieldy with every day and am confined to the house. At might I stand outside with my Dad and look at the stars. The night air is cool these nights and it feels so good on my always sticky skin. I try to get comfortable during the day, reading, sewing or helping with the chores, but nothing is comfortable. It seems I am watched all the time. The other night it was very breezy and we sat out, looking at the stars singing old songs. Daddy started humming the lullaby he always sang to me when I was little. It made me feel safe and secure. Do you remember that one, the one about the hens and chicks? It tells how our God always wants to keep us safe, remember? It brought peace to my heart, at least for a time. Momma came out and sat with us when she heard Daddy singing. I think she had a moment of peace too.

Joseph has borrowed a donkey so that I might ride part of the way to Bethlehem. His uncle offered it to us for our journey. It is old and very cranky but it is better than walking the whole way. I have never been so far away from home. Joseph has been to Bethlehem many times, since he has family there, but he has never gone with a pregnant wife! He is very nervous, so he puts all his energy into planning this trip so all will go well. Trusting God is hard for him, seeing as how the angel never said how hard this all would be. Joseph is good and faithful, but scared, like the rest of us.

Elizabeth, try to go slow and not do too much. Momma is worried that you will wear yourself out with your little one. I suspect you are having a blast and everyone is willing to help out. Write to me some time. The days get very long and lonely.

Much love,

Mary

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Be Still - Advent Letters Day 6

Fret not yourself because of evildoers;

be not envious of wrongdoers!

For they will soon fade like the grass

and wither like the green herb.

Trust in the Lord, and do good;

dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.

Delight yourself in the Lord,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;

trust in him, and he will act.

He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,

and your justice as the noonday.

Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;

fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,

over the man who carries out evil devices!

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!

Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

For the evildoers shall be cut off,

but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.

In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;

though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.

But the meek shall inherit the land. Psalm 37: 1-11



Dear Elizabeth,

I spent the whole day and night hiding in my room. Some men had come to the house and talked to my parents. They were shouting and very angry with them. At some point Joseph arrived and told the men to go away. There was a great argument and I was so afraid. I could hear Momma crying but they would not let her speak. Daddy was very clear as was Joseph. Finally they went away. After it was all done, they all came into my room and told me to keep to myself and not to go out any more. The men from the temple had come. They had a meeting a decided I was to be stoned because of my sin. They thought that Joseph should be punished too, but they had not decided yet how. I will have to stay hidden away until we go to Bethlehem. Momma said if I even go outside to relieve myself they might snatch me up and take me. Elizabeth, I am so frightened. Joseph is a wreck. Before he left he hugged me and told me he was getting everything ready and we would leave very soon. He really does love and care for me. But it is all so scary!

I was so overwhelmed after it all that I threw myself on my bed and cried. I cried so long and so hard that I must have worn myself out. I slept for a few hours in the middle of the day. Momma brought me my supper and Daddy came in and read me the words of King David. They love mw well, and want to trust that God is in this, but I could see how weary and sad they are. Sometimes it is all too much. Elizabeth, would you ask your community to pray for us? We need to get out of town and keep this baby safe. Please kiss your "boys" for me. Oh how I wish this was easier. I know you understand how complicated this is and thinking of you always helps me make it through the day. God bless you!

love

Mary

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Serving - Advent Letters Day 5

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

O Elizabeth I am so happy for you!

I got word yesterday that your boy had been born healthy and strong and that you were fine too. Momma was crying with joy when she got the news. She came in and told me and we cried and laughed together. It was the first time in a long time that she has held me close. When she did my little one jumped up to greet her. She felt it and her eyes got real big in surprise. I think she is softening and getting used to the whole idea. But she is still overhwlemed and scared for me. She tells me I will understand one day when I am a mother. I tried to tell her I already understand that my body has shown me that everything I am and do is in service to this little one. She is afraid because so many do not live through the birthing. She had been so afraid for you, Elizabeth, because of your age. I am young and strong and still she is afraid.

Joseph is making arrangements for our journey. He is afraid too. I thought God would surround me with cheerful, supportive people during all of this. I have days when the challenges are too great. Oh, I love carrying this little boy, don't get me wrong, but the world is such a cruel place. when they have heard the stories Joseph and I tell about angels they think us arrogant and mad. They think we are putting on airs. If they only knew what a sacrifice this is. We would never have chosen these roles, these burdens. I pray a lot when I get scared. The only thing I know to do some times is to pray.

I am still working on the gift for little John. Next time we see each other I will bring it with me. I hope we will both be carrying our sweet little ones in our arms together. God bless you all, dear Elizabeth!

much love

Mary

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Love's Command - Advent Letters Day 4

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.” Matthew 22:34-40

Dear Cousin,

I hope you are well and that carrying a child is not too hard for you. I am young and this is still a huge trial for me. I don't know how you do it. I guess it helps to have a husband by your side, even if he can't say anything he can hold you when you get scared and smile and laugh as the baby moves. Joseph is my husband but will not dwell with me until the child has come. He thinks it best that we live separately. It means I am in my parents house, treated like a child most of the time. Oh, they love me, but they cannot hide their concern and shame. They want to believe my story but don't think much of Joseph these days. He tries so hard, he works all the time and I want more than anything to make him proud. Though I would be much happier if he would just be around to hold me and to listen. It's so complicated. My girlfriends think we are intimate, and come around looking for details. They still live with their parents too and want some exciting stuff which I can't tell them. They think the truth is just a made up story to pretend nothing happened between us. Well, nothing did happen with Joseph but they just don't believe me!

The world grows colder as winter settles in here. I have spent some time helping Momma preserve the fruits and vegetables that we had in the garden. She set aside some food for us to take when we leave for our journey. I wish we didn't have to travel. I am so awkward, but it can't be helped they say. I think Momma will breathe a sigh of relief when I go.

Please take care of yourself! I miss you and pray we can see each other before long!

love

Mary

The Collect

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.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Afflicted - Advent Letters Day 3

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed,

a stronghold in times of trouble.

And those who know your name put their trust in you,

for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.

Sing praises to the Lord, who sits enthroned in Zion!

Tell among the peoples his deeds!

For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;

he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Psalm 9:9-12


Oh Elizabeth,

last night a rock came sailing through my window. A note was wrapped around it and there was blood on the cloth that surrounded it. The dog leapt up, when he heard the commotion, barking and dancing to be set free to pursue the person. I wanted, more than anything to be done with this. Run away or give this child away. I want God to take this burden away. I never slept again last night. Saying yes to God comes with terrible consequences. At once I am so thrilled to be chosen and yet people are so incredibly cruel. They think me selfish or stupid. I have ruined my family, shamed them beyond imagining. People say horrible things, especially the women. Momma tries to be positive but I can tell it hurts her. Sometimes I see her crying as she cooks supper. I never know what to do. She taught me to be obedient and to say yes to God. None of us knew the consequences we would have to live with.

I finally found myself reciting the words of king David, the old psalms we were taught as children. It helped me to be calm and to not let anger and hate eat away at me. Speaking of eating, I am hungry all the time! But when I eat, the baby starts jumping around! My belly is so swollen that it seems impossible that anything more can fit.

Momma says you are close to your time. I will pray for you. May there be good women to surround you as you deliver!

much love

Mary

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Shoot Shall Come - Advent Letters Day 2



A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:1-10

Dear Elizabeth,
I barely slept last night. The baby was restless and moving. Every time I would roll over he would start kicking or dancing...some sort of dance was going on within me. But maybe it was me too. As I walked down the street yesterday, coming from the market, laden with baskets of food, five young boys running through crowd knocked me down. Nobody would help me up and I struggled for several minutes to get up. I am so unwieldy. I was so ashamed. While I was on the ground some people shouted at me and they called me horrible names. Prostitute, whore, dirty little girl! Auntie, can you imagine? They think such terrible things - about me. I never asked for this. I have always been kind and obedient. People imagine the worst, don't they?

Joseph is a wreak making plans for our journey. He is terrified I will have the baby on the road and he will have to do the delivery. He's never seen a baby born and really doesn't want to. There are no wise women who can travel with us. He is sending word to family in Bethlehem, but we have no idea if they will help at all. I hope you are bearing. I know you always wanted a child, and me too at the proper time, but everything is bent out of shape - including me. Ha!

Keep me posted about your final days. I am making you a few small things for your baby. Mom gave me some scraps of silk which I am working with. Hope you like it when it's finished. I think of you and smile as I work. Thanks for loving me and being so understanding! What would I do without you!
love
Mary (the round)

The Collect

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 7, 2013

Paying Up - The Advent Letters

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

Today I am taking on a new challenge for this blog. My goal during Advent, is to write letters from Mary as she awaits the birth of her child, Jesus.


Dear Auntie Elizabeth,

you are the only one who will listen to me these days. I am huge, there is no hiding it and the people in our village just shake their heads. I am a shame to my parents. They are sympathetic but no longer go to the temple for their shame. Joseph has tried to work but most people, the ones who happily employed him before, now hem and haw and have excuses. It feels like they all just want us to disappear. Top it all off, a note came, slid under our door, that we should go register and pay taxes. Joseph is expected to go to Bethlehem. What horrible timing! We have so little to travel on. His savings are nearly gone. It is hard not to be afraid. You, Elizabeth, seems so calm with all that is happening. Do people stare at you like they stare at me? What does the doctor say about Zechariah's throat?

I miss you so much and wish we could be together for the delivery. It looks like we will have to make our way to Bethlehem, and we may not get home in time to have the baby here. Momma would rather keep the whole thing under wraps, but she has promised to help me. The midwife has seen me and says all is well. She shakes her head too and talks behind my back. Pray for me dear cousin. I am so cranky and sensitive these days. Are you very emotional too? I know I have God's amazing promise, as do you, but the day to day living gets harder every day. Some people think I am trash and others think I belong put away.

Please write to me and I will try to write every day. Joseph is helpless when I start to cry, and I cry a lot these days for no good reason.

much love
Mary

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.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Discernment

"The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son, and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come. Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’ But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:2-14


I am at a conference and today we are asked to focus on discernment - to examine how we have changed and how the world around us has changed. I don't know is my immediate answer. But the world has changed overnight. Nelson Mandela died yesterday. Things are very different than a few days ago. We all have an opportunity to reflect on the influences around us, on the people that have changed our world and what we are going to do to change our present world. The invitation is there to be a part of it all.

Jesus tells the people a story of a wedding feast that people are too busy or too distracted to attend. Most of us miss a lot when we are too busy or too distracted by the tasks in our lives. God is asking us to stop from time to time, to wash our faces, dress the part and be ready to change to the world. For each of us and many times in our lives, God issues the invitation to come and celebrate, to stand with the people and to declare God's presence here and now.

Today as I enter into this time of discernment, may my heart be open to God's invitation. May we leap with joy to the invitation from God, the world has changed and now is the acceptable time. May we like Nelson say yes to the divine urging to live for others, and to be willing to walk the hard roads for the healing of the world.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Faithful Care

“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”
Matthew 21:33-44


I am staying in the midst of California wine country at the Bishop's ranch. It is an extraordinarily beautiful place, chilly at night and warm during the day, surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye can see. I really don't know anything about the care of vineyards nor how to grow grapes. The process of making wine, average or great is a mystery to me. And yet, being here, in the midst of these vineyards, I understand how powerful the images of the parables, and the importance of their care and keeping. Many thousands of people are reliant for their survival on these vineyards.

Jesus tells the parable of the unfaithful tenants to remind us of how important our service is to God. We are given to the care and tending of others, the nurture and love and the most vulnerable. Their care and feeding is our obligation, and our faithfulness and respect is essential. God promises abundant blessings to those of us who are willing to put the care of others first, tenderly loving the most fragile of the vines. God invites us to rededicate ourselves to service today.

Today I ask God to give me the courage to step out in faith, expecting vineyards and gardens to tend. May we all trust that there are fields for us to tend, and abundant ministry ahead. May we be grateful for the places we have been planted and those who have nurtured our bodies and spirits with love and faith today.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Authority

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.


“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21:23-32


The Creator's Authority

Go out and look up
the words came clear
rising from my bed
foolish and alone
I ventured outside.

The shooting star sung
a sweet distant night song
watching she disappeared
shivering and silent
I followed her shadow.

The Creator calls in the night
to beloved scared children
with feet of frozen clay
who hold their broken hearts
and cry for healing in the dark.

When light is missing we see
clearly the painter's hand
the stokes of love and passion
across the night's sky
and feel the mending beginning.

From the depth of my soul
I cry out to my maker
and the answer is always love
the answer is always love.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Asking

In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he became hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside, he went to it and found nothing on it but only leaves. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once.

When the disciples saw it, they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.” Matthew 21:18-22


I left Sitka Sunday evening and arrived in San Francisco late morning Monday. After a day of mostly sleepless travel, I was cranky and weary, wanting only for a warm shower and a good rest. That I had last night. Before I went to bed, I got to visit with an old friend and stand outside under the stars. We don't often see stars in Sitka because of the clouds. It was as if the heavens were reminding me of God's great promises and my place within the heart of God.

Jesus was hungry and like many of us, it caused him to be cranky. When the poor fig tree didn't have any fruit he cursed the fig tree. I think it is such a human moment in the life of Jesus. His human need makes him angry. We can all relate. The anger of the son of God withers the tree immediately. Understanding that we can come to God with our needs, both out of joy and wonder and also out of hurt and anger, is a great thing. Jesus says if we ask God will provide. God will hear us and respond to our needs.

Today I ask God to give me the faith to boldly ask. May we feel secure in our faith so that we can lay every human need before God. May we never stop talking to God with both our dreams and our sorrows. And may our faithfulness be a sign of hope to those around us.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Keep Awake


Jesus said to the disciples, "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, 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 Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner 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 unexpected hour." Matthew 24:36-44

I have a long night ahead of me on this first Sunday of Advent. I am sitting in the Anchorage airport waiting on the next flight that will load after midnight. It seems that I am often red-eyeing when I travel to the lower 48. Staying awake can be a problem as can finding a comfortable place to wait in the airport. It is the modern human condition, wanting to be safe and warm while on the move, while being alert and on top of it all.

Jesus tells his disciples of their need to be awake and aware. In this season of preparation, as we balance between the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem and his anticipated return, we are always caught in this human condition. Wanting our old familiar safe and warm, while wanting to have the best ever holiday, the most robust returns...We want it all and God invites is to take time to focus and to stay awake and alert for the presence of God in the here and now.

Today, as the day folds into the deep night and the travel extends over miles and days, may I be awake and alert to God's presence with me in the most unlikely places. May we set aside the busyness and watch and wait, knowing that God is hovering nearby, always drawing close. May we listen and lean in, keeping our hearts open for the rustle of love in the wind.
The Collect

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.