Saturday, December 29, 2007

Guess Who Found Her Daddy's Lunch Box?

Trinity is on the way here, with her mommy and daddy. Her daddy will be speaking in church tomorrow, and then again at prison. (I'll be staying home this time to babysit.) Trinity is about to be one year old, and we'll have a slightly early birthday celebration on Tuesday.

Friday, December 28, 2007

An "Auld Lang Syne" Friday Five

It is hard to believe, but 2007 is about to be history, and this is our last Friday Five of the year. With that in mind, share five memorable moments of 2007. These can be happy or sad, profound or silly, good or bad but things that you will remember. Bonus points for telling us of a "God sighting"-- a moment when the light came through the darkness, a word was spoken, a song sung, laughter rang out, a sermon spoke to you in a new way--whatever you choose, but a moment in 2007 when you sensed Emmanuel, God with us. Or more particularly, with you.

1. I am sure this will surprise no one, but the first one has to be what happened on January 7th. I rushed to Minneapolis, rushed to Kris' house, rushed to the hospital, and in a disconcertingly short time I watched little Trinity Ann come into the world, red faced, yelling, black hair stuck to her head, sucking her fist. And capturing my heart totally. I became one of the annoying people called a grandparent! The picture was last February.

2. Another memorable moment was sitting in the cemetary at St. Norbert's Abbey Church, watching the sun set, listening to honking geese as they passed in formation overhead, pondering life and being struck anew with the reality that someday I won't be above ground and I deeply want my time here to count for something eternal. It was not a sad moment. It was an awakening kind of moment.

3. My mom's stroke, on my birthday, during a trip to see "the kids" in Minneapolis. We were far from home, it was scary, and I knew things would change. It has been a difficult time watching her deteriorate, and seeing her become angry, combative, ever more lost in the fog.

4. Sitting in a newly painted and decorated prayer room at church, silently waiting for God, and welcoming the presence of my friends in the faith who sat in candlelight and prepared to pray. I am SO glad this walk of faith is not always a lonely one. Sometimes, but not always.

5. Tasting sushi and finding I liked it!

And the "God moment" was at the Nashotah House chapel while I was at Cedarly Pastor's Retreat in Delavan, Wisconsin. I will never forget sharing liturgy and the eucharist with Episcopalian seminarians, and the sweet sense of God's presence. I stayed in the chapel for a long while after everyone left, while tears fell and I wondered why. I still don't know what was happening. I just know something was. I want to go back there sometime.

That was kind of serious, wasn't it? Well, it has been a mostly serious kind of year. Except for when it wasn't. :-)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Prison Christmas -- 2007

As usual, our day in prison was a highlight of Christmas. (If you missed the link a few posts below and would like to read about why I love going to prison for worship, you can read about it here.)

The gospel choir sang as inmates entered: "I came to praise the Lord, I came to stomp my feet, I came to clap my hands, I came to worship God, I came to jump and shout...." They currently have a lead guitarist, a bass guitarist, a keyboard player and a drummer that are all amazing. The little chapel was filled to capacity and they did sing, clap and shout praises. It made for a rousing worship time. I wondered if we could be heard at the units.
Earlier, I wasn't so sure it was going to be a good day. In the 2005 post to which I linked, I was relieved that things had gone smoothly at the gatehouse. Such was not the case this year. I will spare you the annoying details; the result was that Ken went to the chapel and I cooled my heels in a tiny building just outside the fence where visitors wait to be called to the gatehouse.
I use the word "cooled" loosely. The building, lined with benches, was stifling. It was crowded with people waiting to be processed through the gatehouse for a holiday visit with a loved one in the large visiting room.

Squeezing into a spot on the bench, I smiled at the people around me. A few returned the smile. Others gazed forward, blank-faced. A woman about my age smiled and attempted cheeriness as she addressed the assembly. "So, has everyone had a good Christmas so far today?" A few voices assented. I considered suggesting we sing Christmas songs, but decided against it.
Time passed. I fidgeted.
Down from me on the bench sat a young mother. Her tiny baby appeared unnaturally pale, but slept soundly in a carrier. Looking at the grey-tinged little face, I decided it would be more productive to pray than to stew over grumpy prison guards.

The majority of the visitors were women. Most of them appeared exhausted. Some appeared "hard." Several had rimmed their eyes with heavy coatings of liner and mascara. The make-up only accentuated the weariness of their expressions. A couple men waited, mostly keeping their eyes down. One middle aged couple wearing Packer shirts were about to see their son for the first time since he had been incarcerated. They looked out of place and embarrassed. They asked questions of the cheery woman.

The door opened, admitting a welcome blast of cold air and a couple with two toddlers. The little ones pranced around between the benches, smiling at everyone. This provoked a few smiles and comments. The people sitting next to me asked "Wonder how long we'll have to wait? What is your visit number?" When I said I didn't have a number but was waiting to go to chapel, they perked up and told me a little about themselves. They live about 30 miles north of me and attend a mega church. A nice young couple, they had come to see a nephew and they eagerly told me his name. He was, they said, "a new Christian." "We hope we can encourage him." I hoped so too.

Another woman with a child entered the crowded room. They wore dirty coats and smelled strongly of grease and cigarettes. The cute little boy had a shy smile and a mop of curly red hair. He coughed, a deep rattle in his chest, again and again. I pictured microbes flying through the overheated air. His mother began a conversation with a blond in tight jeans who looked about twenty and held a small girl on her lap.

I leaned my head back and closed my eyes, praying silently for the babies, the children, the sad-eyed women, the men, the woman who was trying to be jolly, the confused parents, the Christian couple...and all the others like them in hundreds of prisons, taking time on Christmas to go to a drab and depressing place. I thought of the inmates who would not be visiting anyone today, and the ones who were on a bunk trying to sleep till this miserable and lonely day was over, and the ones who could soon come to worship God with us at the chapel.

"Chapel volunteer to the gatehouse!" squawked a boxy speaker. I waved to the mega church couple and wished the others a good visit as I stepped out. The cold was a welcome relief, and I took a deep breath of the crisp, clean air.

Later, following the last Christmas service, I stood at the chapel door and shook hands and wished inmates a blessed Christmas as they exited for the walk back to their units.

One, a tall black man with a wide smile and an inner-city accent, said, "I don't care what else happens today. I am having a wonderful day!" I asked why. He replied, "Well, we had a good time in church worshippin' Jesus. And earlier today my wife and son was here. They doin' well and so I feel okay. And if I start gettin' blue I go to the happy place." He nodded his head as he continued, "Remember in the book Peter Pan they had to think happy thoughts and go to the happy place in they minds? I do that." I asked him his son's age, and I was surprised when he replied, "28." I said he looked too young to have a son that age, and he smiled as he headed out the door and down the steps. "Ms. George, that is because I go to my happy place! I told you. See, it keeps me young." Someone snorted scornfully, but it didn't seem to dampen his spirits as he headed off, singing "Joy to the World."
We drove home through snow covered farm country and watched a glorious purple sunset.
Lord Jesus, I pray not only for prisoners, but for broken, disappointed, lonely families. For women, children, babies, parents, victims, all whose lives have changed in irrevocable ways. Give us eyes to see them--really see them--ears to hear them and hearts and hands willing to bless them as you would have when you walked this earth. Thank you for groups like Prison Fellowship and the Salvation Army and victim assistance programs. Thank you for the chaplains who minister inside prison walls and for volunteers who help them. Shine a light of hope into the darkness, I pray. Amen

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Meditation: The Crimson Thread

The first words in the Bible are “In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth.”
The book of Genesis goes on to tell us that God created the light and the darkness, the stars of the sky, plants, and animals, water, the fish of the sea, and the birds of the air.

God pronounced it all, “GOOD.” Last, God fashioned mankind, the crown of creation, male and female. The man and woman were said to be made “in God’s image.” It was good, God declared! But mankind had an enemy, a fallen angel named Lucifer. The Bible goes on to tell us that temptation, sin and sadness entered God’s creation.
It was a dreadful day when the man and woman were separated from God’s presence, expelled from Eden, and told that the earth was cursed because of sin. But even on this dark day, a promise was given.

The Lord God told the woman that she would be especially hated by the enemy, personified by a serpent. But God would send someone, a man, a descendent of the woman. The enemy would hurt and bruise him, but this man would crush the enemy under his heel. Even at the beginning of time, God had a plan to redeem us! The crimson thread of redemption began.

Dark days came to the world, days of sin, sadness, and separation from God. The Bible tells us that one day God spoke to a man named Abraham. God made a covenant with Abraham, and told him he would be the father of a great people, a people who would be numerous and prosperous. And even more wonderful, through these people, who later became known as the Jews, God would send a Savior who would be the light of the whole world.

Through the generations, God sent leaders to guide his people. One was Moses, who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt. A system of sacrifices to atone for sins began, but the blood of goats and sheep was only a temporary picture of what was to come. The crimson thread wove its way through history.

As the years passed, God sent special messengers, called prophets, to tell the people His word. One of the greatest, Isaiah, had much to say about the Messiah, the Savior who was coming into the world. In the Book of Isaiah we read:

“Comfort, comfort my people," says your God. A voice calls in the wilderness, "Prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined...the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].

What a strange prophecy! How long would it be? When would the Son of a virgin arrive? No one knew, but God’s people began to watch and wait in hope for a Savior.

Song: Oh Come O Come Immanuel

Long years passed. Hope dimmed. The Romans conquered the known world, and the people of God suffered. When would Messiah come? Then one day it happened!

The angel Gabriel visited a young woman named Mary. “Hail Mary, full of grace!” the angel said. Mary was astonished when he told her she was the chosen one to fulfill the ancient prophecy. She would bear a son who would save his people from their sin. “How can this be” she asked, “since I am a virgin?” The angel explained that the child would be conceived by the Holy Spirit. “The power of God will overshadow you” he said. The baby would be called the Son of God!

The Angel also visited Joseph, Mary’s future husband, reassuring him that Mary had done nothing wrong. The angel told Joseph that Mary was carrying the long hoped for Son of God.

Song: Allelujah

Caesar Augustus issued a degree that everyone in the Roman world would be counted in a census, and would also be taxed. Every man was to go to the home where his ancestors had come from. Joseph was a descendent of King David, and Bethlehem was his appointed destination. Poor Joseph must have been worried as he journeyed to Bethlehem with his pregnant wife. But God had a plan…the crimson cord wove its way to Bethlehem.

The inns were packed to capacity as families arrived at their ancestral homes. There was no room for them in the inns of Bethlehem, but Mary and Joseph were allowed to take shelter in a stable. A stable? What kind of birthplace was that for the Son of God? In the darkness of a stable, with only Joseph and the animals for company, Mary brought forth her first born son and laid him in a manger of hay.

Song: A Candle is Burning

Out in nearby fields, shepherds dozed as they watched their flocks. Suddenly the night sky was filled with light as an angel appeared. The shepherds were afraid, but the angel said, "Do not be frightened. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the city of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." A great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. They spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Song: Angels We Have Heard on High

The crimson cord of redemption wound to Babylon, far to the east. Wise men called Maji saw a star, a star that told them a great King had been born. We don’t know for sure, but perhaps these Maji were Jews, descendents of captives who had been taken to Babylon generations before. We do know they began a long journey to find the Promised One. When they arrived in Bethlehem, they presented the child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And they bowed down to the earth and worshipped the child with great joy!

Song: What Child is This?

The beautiful story of Christmas, how God came in flesh to walk this earth with his creation, is not the end of the story of the crimson thread of redemption. The prophet had told us, “He will save his people from sin.” The baby grew to childhood and then to be a man. The crimson cord of redemption wound its way through Judea as Jesus of Nazareth taught, and healed, and raised the dead, and called us to follow him in a brand new kind of Kingdom—the Kingdom of God Almighty!

The Apostle Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians that Jesus Christ, the Eternal God, emptied himself of all his divine privileges so that he could take the penalty for sin upon himself, setting us free. Jesus, the eternal Word, the creator, the Savior, went to the cross for us.

The manger of Bethlehem led to Calvary, as Jesus completed the plan and became our sacrifice for sin. As the song told us, nails pierced him through—the cross was borne for me and for you. As Jesus cried out from the cross, “It is finished!” the crimson thread of redemption was complete! We look back to the stable, to reflect on the mystery of God becoming one of us and stepping down into our world. We also remember the purpose of it all, that people would be saved from sin.

The night before Jesus was betrayed, and ultimately sent to a cross, he shared a last meal with his followers, telling them to observe it from that time on until he returned for them. Let us remember his first coming, and his sacrifice with thanksgiving, and praise.

Two thousand years have come and gone, and still we wait. We wait just as God’s people did the first time, for the ancient promises to be fulfilled.

Song Allelujah as people come forward for bread and cup. After blessings and all partake:

We rejoice that this is not the end of the story. Jesus is not dead, he is alive! He appeard to his disciples and others, and he assured his followers even as he left to return to Heaven, that he would be with us till the end. Even now he prepares a place for us, and as we wait He gave us work to do—share the good news! Some day, he promised, he would return. The next time, according to the Book of Revelation, he will not come as a humble servant. He will come as a conquering King, a glorious ruler of righteousness, and of his kingdom there will be no end.

Song: Joy to the World

May the blessings of Christmas fill your hearts and homes as we celebrate his first coming and anticipate his return. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Devotion for the 4th Sunday in Advent: The Forgotten Figure at the Manger

Matthew 1:18-25
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered 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 home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us." When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Have you ever mistaken Joseph for a shepherd when arranging the figures of a nativity set? I have, more than once. Joseph seems a little nondescript sometimes, often a bit forgotten in the fanfare. Joseph is the relatively ordinary one in the extraordinary nativity play. Everyone else seems larger than life. A pregnant virgin! Shepherds arriving after listening to an angel choir! Wise men traveling a long distance over desert--to follow a star!

And Joseph.

He received distressing news, and his choice was difficult. And then came the angel in the dream, to remind Joseph of the long-ago prophecy of Isaiah, "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son and his name shall be called Immanuel." The child that Mary carried within herself was God made flesh.

What would you expect Joseph’s thoughts to be? Excitement and joy? Concern and a little fear? Anticipation? Love and sympathy for Mary? Wondering if he would be a good enough man to be the earthly father of such a Son?

Do you think he daydreamed about how it would happen?

Perhaps he envisioned Jerusalem, the temple, trumpets sounding? An extravagant welcome for the Lord's Anointed, surely. After all, he would rule forever, the angel said.

People would be rejoicing in the streets! Mary would be helped by the finest midwife team to be found.

The reality was different.

When Joseph heard that Caesar was levying a new tax which required him to travel to Bethlehem, do you think he wondered what God was doing? As he began a difficult journey with a heavily pregnant Mary, do you think he wondered again? Do you think he wondered again when Mary went into labor and there was no room in the crowded inns of Bethlehem? Do you think he wondered again as he made a bed for Mary on straw, among animals? And again, as he paced and Mary groaned in pain?

Did God know what He was doing?

Joseph helps us remember that God's plans may be glorious, but there is always work to do, practical problems to consider, hands-on realities of bringing God into the world. Joseph did the hard thing, and he did not know how it would turn out. We don't know what happened to Joseph, but he disappears from scripture sometime after the visit to the temple when Jesus was aged 12. Mary endured the agony of watching the crucifixion, but she also experienced the joy of resurrection. Not Joseph--at least not from an earthly vantage point.

Sometimes God’s way seems to make no sense. Can you imagine how lonely Joseph must have felt on the glorious and terrible night that the Savior was born?

Take heart as you do the lonely task, take the more difficult way of obedience, seek to bring God into the world around you. God know what He is doing even when it makes no sense to us. Someday we, like that good man , Joseph, will understand.

"The hardest task
The most difficult role of all
That of just being there...
And Joseph,
dearest Joseph,
stands for that.
Don't you see?

J.S. Barrie

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Five: It's Almost Christmas!

RevHRod of RevGals invites us to have some fun and tell about our favorite Christmas memories. She asks:

1. What was one of your favorite childhood gifts that you gave?
I got one of those loom thingies where you weave loops of cloth back and forth to make potholders. If you make a bunch and hook them together you have a a large one suitable for setting hot dishes on the table. Are you excited yet? I was. My eight-year old mind saw these things as beautiful. I gave them to every adult woman I could. Men did not, of course, cook in 1958. I also recall a "decorative" wooden holder for a salad fork and spoon. I sanded, measured, sawed, varnished and applied the little hanger thing on the back. That valuable and essential piece of kitchen decor hung on the wall for many a year, getting stickier and dustier. Funny thing, my kids made the potholders too. Do they still sell those little looms?

2. What is one of your favorite Christmas recipes? Bonus points if you share the recipe with us.
Okay, my relations were Texans. No southern feast is complete without some sort of Jell-o dish, and this one really is a family favorite. If I suggest we make something different my husband howls in protest. It originated with one of my aunts, hence the name.

Aunt Maxie's Jell-o Salad
Dissolve one large box of orange or lime flavored Jell-o in two cups of boiling water.
Add one large package cream cheese, chopped in pieces, and whisk till mostly blended. I like to leave it just a little lumpy. Add two cups cold water and chill till syrupy.
Add one large can crushed pineapple, drained well, 3 small carrots (grated), 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans, and about 1 1/2 cups white miniature marshmallows. Mix well and chill till set.

I know, it is just Jell-o, and I'll bet you are thinking, "carrots?" but I have never made it without compliments and someone asking for the recipie.

3. What is a tradition that your family can't do without? (And by family, I mean family of origin, family of adulthood, or that bunch of cool people that just feel like family.)
In my family my father always read the Christmas story on Christmas Eve. Churches in southern California (at least Baptist ones) rarely had Christmas Eve services. We continued that when we had our own family and Ken read the story to us each year. That changed when we started having Christmas Eve candlelight services in church. That has become my favorite service of the year, except just once I'd like to sit in a pew and relaxt. My family always opened gifts on Christmas Eve, but when I had my own family we always opened one small present on Christmas Eve and saved the larger ones for next morning. Present opening waits till after breakfast, which always consists of orange nut bread (another family recipe) and Norweigan JuleKage.

4. Pastors and other church folk often have very strange traditions dictated by the "work" of the holidays. What happens at your place?

Christmas Eve is a candlelight communion service, a sort of "lessons and carols" event. My husband and I spend Christmas Day at the prison where he is a chaplain. It always irritates me to have to interrupt my own plans to go off to the prison for a large portion of the day, but once I arrive I am always glad, and I feel bad for complaing. It is one of the best parts of my Christmas. I posted about it here a while back, if you'd like to read why.

5. If you could just ditch all the traditions and do something unexpected... what would it be?

Well this year I'd go to Minnesota and spend it with our kids and the grandbaby, and we would go to the Guthrie Theatre and see "A Christmas Carol."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mary Visits Elizabeth: A Reflection for the Third Sunday in Advent

Many thanks to Pastor Mary of First Baptist Church of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania for some of this material.

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Luke 1:39-55

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

And Mary said: “ My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has regarded the lowly state of His maidservant; for behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed. For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. And His mercy is on those who fear Him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, in remembrance of His mercy. As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months, and returned to her house.

Two very different women. One was from a family of limited means, a young and inexperienced girl just embarking on her future. And--pregnant! The other was mature, brought up in a priestly family, probably of at least some means--a righteous woman. But she was unable to have a child. To a casual observer, about the only thing these two had in common was faith in God.

Most people would have assumed that Elizabeth's childlessness was a curse from God. It is likely that there was speculation about hidden sin, something "not right." Zechariah and Elizabeth must have prayed for a child. As she grew older, hope dimmed. I wonder, did Elizabeth search her heart, wondering what she had done? Did she question God? Did she cry in the night, or was she always strong? It wasn't easy, that we know. A woman's purpose was to bear children, especially male children. She must, at least sometimes, have felt flawed, useless.

Then a miracle was announced! A baby, who would be called John, was on the way! This little baby would grow to be the one who heralded the coming of Messiah. If Elizabeth and Zechariah had welcomed a child into their lives when they were young, would anyone have thought anything about it? But this was God's work, and they both knew it—and it got attention.

Having seen the miraculous power of God in her own life, it is likely that Elizabeth began to see everything through the eyes of a renewed faith and hope. When Mary came to call, Elizabeth knew what had happened to her without a word of explanation.

Who could understand or believe Mary’s fantastic story? Young Mary must have rehearsed her story many times as she journeyed to visit her relative, Elizabeth--and then she did not have to say a word! Because she had seen God’s work in her own life, Elizabeth was able to give affirmation of God’s work in Mary.

Elizabeth's miracle boy, John the Baptist, would prepare the way for Jesus. John turned out to be no ordinary guy. Elizabeth had to raise a son who could stand firm in his faith despite criticism, rejection--even prison and death. God had prepared her to be the mother who welcomed such a special son into the world.

God had also prepared her to be a blessing to Mary, the promised virgin who was to conceive and bear a son--Emmanuel--God with us! John prepared the way for Jesus, but in a very real way, Elizabeth prepared the way for his mother, Mary. She believed Mary's crazy story because she had a story of her own. All her life, God had prepared her, not only to be John’s mother, but for Mary.

Is God preparing you in your own season of questions?

May we learn from Elizabeth and Mary to look at life with the eyes of faith – expecting to see God at work--trusting divine promises more than even our own eyes. And may we, in the process, experience the joy that true faith will bring.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friday Five: Rejoice!

Rev Gal's Mother Laura hosts this week's Friday Five. She says: Can you believe that in two days we'll be halfway through Advent? Gaudete Sunday: pink candle on the advent wreath, rose vestments for those who have them, concerts and pageants in many congregations. Time to rejoice! Rejoice in the nearness of Christ's coming, yes, but also in the many gifts of the pregnant waiting time when the world (in the northern hemisphere, at least) spins ever deeper into sweet, fertile darkness.

What makes you rejoice about:

1. Waiting?
Anticipation is one of the best things in life. The anticipation of a longed-for journey, anticipation of a friend's visit, planning for special occasions--that is sometimes the best part of the event. Baking cookies and filling the house with fragrance is more satisfying than eating them. For me, this Advent season is like that. The waiting makes the arrival all the sweeter.

2. Darkness?

I rejoice that in the darkness, the light of one small candle shines all the brighter. Darkness comes before dawn, and darkness makes us appreciate the light. Here in the upper midwest, days of dreary, gray "darkness" are all too common. However, they serve to make days like today (bright blue sky, sparkling sunshine on snow) all the more welcome. Without having been in darkness we would never know just how wonderful the light can be.

3. Winter?

I'm sensing a trend in my answers. Again, it is the contrast. I grew up in sunny Southern California. Spring is lovely almost everywhere, but I had no idea what spring can be like until living in a very cold climate where spring is longed for like a lost love. I've posted many times on this blog, proably too many, about how I long for spring. Without the deep white snow, the frost, the cold, the ice, the apparent "death" of all that is green and growing, spring would be--well nice. But here spring is so much more than nice. It transforms our world, ignites our hope and energy and brings smiles to faces.

4. Advent?
As a Southern Baptist in California, I never heard of Advent. Then as a Pentecostal in the south and on the east coast I never did either. The first time I recall seeing an Advent wreath was visiting a Lutheran church with Ken (who had been invited to speak to the youth group). This was about 1975 in Washington DC, and they had an enormous one hanging from their vaulted ceiling. I gazed up at it and I remember wanting to know what it was about. So I did a little research and that was that. Much later, here in Catholic/Lutheran Wisconsin, I learned more about Advent at our former (Assemblies of God) church. I loved the traditions that church maintained, and I've continued similar ones here. Some AG churches here have Advent customs and Advent wreaths. Most probably do not--but that is sad to me. It is the pondering, the waiting, the sense of light growing each week as the the celebration of Christ's coming draws nearer--it is the best part of the holiday season. It makes Christmas all the more joyous. Our Advent wreath has white candles this year, and the Christ candle is red--but that's for another post.

5. Jesus' coming?
It changed everything. It still does, for those who open the door and allow him in. It changes everything. The words of an old song I first heard many years ago at Angelus Temple in Los Angeles (my first visit to a Pentecostal church, and I was scared, but the music....oh!). It wasn't that it was so skillfully done, it was the heartfelt love and emotion in the voices and faces of the youth choir that sang:

Without Him I would be nothing,
Without Him, I'd surely fail,
Without Him, I would be drifting,
Like a ship without a sail.

Okay, it is perhaps not great poetry, but it is so true for me. Withouht Jesus Christ, I would have nothing. It's not a cliche. It is true. I could tell you stories...

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Art Quiz

Well, what a surprise. No, not really. This has been my favorite style of art since I was grown enough to know what it was called. How nice to know (grin) that it is my personality too. Or maybe it had more to do with be extremely nearsighted--and that was pretty much the way I saw the world?

You Are Impressionism

You think the world is quite beautiful, especially if you look at it in new and interesting ways.
You tend to focus on color and movement in art.
For you, seeing the big picture is much more important than recording every little detail.
You can find inspiration anywhere... especially from nature.

Monday, December 10, 2007


Questing Parson said this today, in a post which is part of his daily Advent offerings:

"As I’ve grown in ministry and in living, I’ve come to realize that folks do feel themselves free to do all the things they’d truly like to do."

If this is true, and I think it probably is, I should just stop wondering why people do not do certain things that I feel are very important, often telling me that they just can't find the time. The truth is, we will do what we truly want to do.

People do not attend church because they do not want to. That also applies to work days, prayer meetings, fellowship, Bible studies....People find time for what they truly want to do. No amount of preaching, prayer, pleading, or persuasion will make a difference for long without a change in what we value most.

Think about this. Or not.

Is it just me, or do you find this a bit frightening?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

The Three Tenors

Ah...a relaxing Sunday evening. It had been a long day, and the sky grew dark as I ate some supper and then stretched out on the couch--pulling an afghan up to my chin.

Beyond the picture window a new dusting of snow sparkled on the sidewalk. It was chilly outside, but inside the warmth and the afghan were a relaxing comfort. Patches the cat curled up next to me, purring with contentment.

On television I saw Zubin Mehta begin to cue the orchestra. It is wonderful to see someone who passionately loves what they do. He seems to conduct the orchestra with a sort of exaltation.

Like everyone, I hate Public Television's pledge drives, but I have to admit that the recent offering have included an interesting selection of programming. Earlier this week I enjoyed Eric Clapton's guitar the soaring voices of Jose Carrera, Placido Domingo and Luciano Pavarotti filled the room.

I confess, I like the later section of the program the best--the one where the three famous tenors sing together and make sure to include more familiar works. I marveled at the ease with which the late Pavarotti sings--making those soaring notes seem easy. I closed my eyes, seeming to float on those glorious voices, savoring the sense of contentment...



Patches had chosen that moment to bite HARD on my toe.

Did she know it was my toe? Was she hungry? Was she mad? Confused? For crying out loud, was I bleeding?

Princess Patches sat licking her whiskers and looking aggrieved from the top of the couch, no doubt wondering why I had kicked her so hard.

Darn cat!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Reading for the Second Sunday in Advent

Our congregation will be reading this antiphonaly, right side and left side, but it could be easily done other ways as well.

A Responsive Reading for the Second Week of Advent -- Adapted from Isaiah 40

“Comfort, comfort my people," says your God. A voice calls in the wilderness, "Prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God."

Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!"

The Sovereign LORD comes with power. See, his reward is with him! He tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.

Who of us has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand… or marked out the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on his scales?

God sits enthroned above the circle of the earth…He stretches out the heavens like a canopy.

Lift up your eyes to the heavens: Who created all these? Who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name? Because of his great power, not one of them is missing.

Why do you complain? Why do you say, "My way is hidden from the LORD; God is disregarding me”?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary.

Even youths will become weak and tired, and young men will fall in exhaustion. But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.

They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”

(Pause for candle to be lit.)

All: We light our second candle to remember the one who prepared the way of the Lord. Together, we also will prepare a way for the Lord’s coming. In this season of waiting on the Lord, we will find new strength together. We will see the glory of the Lord together. Together we will shine His light.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Friday Five--Preparation, preparation.

Sally from Eternal Echoes asks the following questions:

1. You have a busy week, pushing out all time for preparing worship/ Sunday School lessons/ being ready for an important meeting ( or whatever equivalent your profession demands)- how do you cope?

Cope? Who says I do? Well, okay, I make a list. One small step at a time. Slow but sure wins the race--all that sort of thing. Or else I just run around like a maniac and then collapse at home.

2. You have unexpected visitors, and need to provide them with a meal- what do you do?

Spaghetti, every time! I always have spaghetti ingredients on hand. How can you miss with a yummy red sauce? I make mine various ways, but my favorite is a combo of ground beef and Italian sausage. If guests are vegetarians, we can have the same thing with mushrooms and peppers instead of meat. I have been making spaghetti dinners since I was about 17. I think it's a major reason my husband married me.

Or else we just take them to the nearby Mexican place. It is yummy!

Last minute tip--want something really fast? Try heating Hormel (no beans) chili, pouring it over the pasta and adding a slice of cheddar cheese while it is still hot. Quick, and easy, and surprisingly good.

Three discussion topics:

3. Thinking along the lines of this weeks advent theme; repentance is an important but often neglected aspect of advent preparations.....

My former pastor used to speak often about slowing down and eliminating stress before Christmas. I took his words to heart, and I try to make our time before Christmas more reflective, include times for silence, or for repentance, even during the church service. If we don't talk about it, and don't make it a priority, it simply will not happen. Each year I seem to long more for silence and contemplation and a season of waiting and repenting and pondering. I hope my church folks have picked up at least some of that.

4. Some of the best experiences in life occur when you simply go with the flow.....

Absolutely! Why do you think I am Assemblies of God and not Episcopalian? LOL!

5. Details are everything, attention to the small things enables a plan to roll forward smoothly...

Sigh...yeah, that's what they tell me. I'm trying, really I am.

Bonus if you dare- how well prepared are you for Christmas this year?

Christmas is not frantic for us. Our family members are not nearby, and while we are sad about that it does mean we are not juggling schedules in order to include everyone. We don't buy as many presents as we used to, and Christmas cards are a thing of the past for me (except for a very few). That said, I'm about halfway ready.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thoughts In a Cold Winter Morning

It's cold here this morning. I woke to a purple-pink tinge on the horizon, a sunny day in the offing. The floors were chilly as I padded to the kitchen in my bare feet to pour myself a cup of the fragrant coffee my husband had thoughtfully set to brew as he headed off to the prison chapel. I pulled my blue fleecy robe tighter as I took myself and my cup to the rocker in the living room, absently humming the Simon and Garfunkel tune..."It's a winter day, in a deep and dark December...I am alone...". Blanket over my knees, I glanced at the thermometer. Minus 2! Brr.

I rocked, sipped coffee and watched the sun change the monochrome scene outside my window. The picture was my view out the front door as the sun rays tinged the house across the street with a slight yellow glow.

I was feeling melancholy this morning. Advent often brings to mind Charles Dickens's words from A Tale of Two Cities "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times." I think many (most?) of us experience a sort of juxtaposition of emotions this season. I love Christmas. I love reading Isaiah's prophecies, lighting candles, pulling out the CDs I only play in December, smelling the fragrance of evergreen boughs, baking, anticipating.
And I was sipping coffee and feeling deeply alone and wondering why. Then I realized that I was doing something I can visualize my sweet sister, Darlaine (now in the late stages of Alzheimer's disease), doing so many times. For years she has owned an old wooden rocker. It sits in her room at the group home now. I have a clear picture of her in the morning, wrapped in an old white, fleecy robe, sipping from a cup (tea, in her case) wrapped in a lovely rose-patterned afghan crocheted for her by our beloved Aunt Robbie, gone many years now. She is reading a book as she rocks, and she occasionally chuckles. My sister has an indescribable chuckle, half throaty, half girlish giggle. She often chuckled as she read, totally immersing herself in the story. If I close my eyes I can see her clearly--reading, sipping, rocking--and I can hear her chuckle and the sound of pages turning.
I thought of my mother, just a mile away in the nursing home, but so much farther away in her mind. She is forgetting my name sometimes. To my greater sorrow, she is forgetting where she is from--being a Texan is woven into the fabric of her being--how can it slip away? And she has forgotten the sweet visit with Trinity, just a few days ago.
Here they both are, two years ago in Washington. Both were already suffering from significant dementia, but both were able to take joy in the sunny day, the forest, the rushing river, the picnic, the family. Now they have forgotten one another. My mother often asks for my father these days. He has been gone for two decades. At a healthy 72, he died from an aneurysm after three days in a coma. It was December 20th, and I recall "Silent Night" playing as hand in hand my other sister, Paulette, and I left the hospital to head for the airport, our grief in stark contrast to the sunny San Diego day.
A wave of melancholy washed over me, and tears fell, and a bit of anger came with them.
Life is fragile.
You know what else? Life changes.
I don't like that much.
This year will be the first that neither of our two children will be here for Christmas. Ken and I are pondering what to do that is completely different on Christmas Day so that we can start making some kind of completely new tradition. I'm working on Sunday's service, and thinking of the years that have passed, each year marked by planning Christmas services. Time is passing at an alarming rate. I recall my father saying, "Life begins at forty!" and the child me thinking he little senile to even say such a foolish thing.
Here I am at 57, wondering what has happened to me! When did my hair get white? When did the skinny me become the rotund version? When did I start aching when I got up in the morning? When did I lose the sense that I had all the time in the world to accomplish whatever I needed to? What happened to Christmas mornings where our sweet little Josh slept on the floor in his sister's room so he'd be sure to wake her up first thing, "Krist, Krist, [his name for her] come on! GET UP! You gotta SEE what is in our stockings!"
I'm off to my office now. Later I'll put up a small Christmas tree. No big tree this year. Ken has a broken foot, is hobbling on crutches and can't haul it up the basement stairs, and I don't want to even try. My knee aches. I have an appointment with an orthopedist later this month. RIDICULOUS!
What happened to the dark-haired California girl who used to sit on the fence and listen to the traffic and wonder where life would take her? Here she is, rocking on a sub-zero morning in rural Wisconsin.
Life happened, that's what happened. Hmmm.You know, that is something to rejoice in, isn't it?
Life happened.
Isaiah 40: 3-8 NKJV
Prepare the way of the LORD;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
The glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
The voice said, “Cry out!”
And he said, “What shall I cry?”
“ All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”
Life happened.
The kids will be here, sooner or later. I'll enjoy candlelight and carols on Christmas Eve. Ken and I will have a wonderful time at the prison chapel on Christmas. I'm feeling like withering"grass" this morning, but I think I'll take my Messiah CD to church to listen to the wonderful pieces of music taken from Isaiah 40.
The Word of our God stands forever. Thank you, Light-Giving Father, for sending Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

A Prayer for the First Sunday in Advent

From the Prophet Isaiah:

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them has the light shined...the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel [God with us].

Father in heaven, our hearts long for the warmth of your love.

Light of the World, shine on us!

We are searching for the light of your Word. Increase our longing for Christ our Savior and give us the strength to grow in love

Light of the World, shine on us!

May this season of light coming into darkness find us rejoicing in your presence and welcoming the light of your truth. As we light our first candle, may we begin to ancipate the change you will bring to us.

Light of the World, shine on us!

May selfishness or greed not be found among us. May it not damage the joy of seeking You.

Our joy is in You, Jesus Christ.

We look forward with longing to Your return at the end of time. Prepare our hearts and remove the sadness that hinders us from feeling the joy and hope which Your presence brings.

Our hope is in You, Jesus Christ.

All-powerful God, Your Eternal Word became flesh on our earth when the Virgin Mary placed her life at the service of your plan. Help us during this busy time to remember that true peace only comes as we surrender our lives and our plans to you.

Our peace is in You, Jesus Christ.

Light of the World shine on us. Open our hearts and minds to receive you as the Holy Spirit prepares us for Your coming.

We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen