Sunday, December 31, 2006

Anna Pictures

Here are a couple of pictures from this morning.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Come, Listen, Rejoice with Anna

This wonderful depiction of Anna is a quilt. See more about the artist, Larkin, here. Can you see the words? "Come, listen, rejoice"?

The following is a monologue I will be sharing tomorrow, in costume, at church. Please forgive my fumbling attempts at Hebrew.  Wrote it out phonetically so I'd not fumble too much.

Can you take a moment to hear the story of a widow who has seen much?

I was not always this old woman you see today. I was young once! And I was beautiful. At least Levi told me so.

Oh, my dear Levi!

After all these years, I am not lonely for him, but his memory is bittersweet, even now.  We were married with the hopes that all young couples have. Happiness, honorable work to do, children, long life.

Well, I am certainly blessed with a long life!

But poor Levi was not. He died so very young, and we had no children.

Oh, how lonely and frightened I was! It is not easy for a woman alone. Many widows beg or work as prostitutes to survive. Once it was suggested to me that it was a profession that would be an easy way, since I was still quite young.

I refused, and I prayed hard!

I determined to seek the face of Hashem -- the Holy One-- in the Temple courts. So I went there and I stayed, pouring out my heart to the Lord.

I will speak the truth about first, what came out of my heart was mostly anger and sorrow.

Why did the Holy One of Israel, the One who holds us in the palm of His hand, allow this to happen to me? Even though only a girl, I had listened many times as my father and his friends discussed the scriptures. Sometimes I suspect that father knew I was there, just around the door, but he never spoke of it. He was a kind man and he knew I had a longing to know of holy things.

So I know from the Psalms of David, a man after God's own heart, that the Lord is not angry at us for honestly speaking to Him. So I poured out my anger and pain and fear.

I felt so far from the Lord Almighty. Even though I was angry, sometimes I would look towards the beautiful temple and long to approach, to reach closer to the presence of the Lord. I sometimes envied the men who went up to a higher courtyard, a place where they could watch the priests going about their holy work.

Once I cried aloud, causing those nearby to stare, “O Maker of Heaven and Earth, can you not see me, your daughter, the creation of your hands? Can you not hear me? I cannot bear this misery!”

But over time my heart softened and my prayers began to focus on others.

The court of the women was as far as I was allowed to go, but that did not mean only women were there. Many passed through this court every day. The temple treasury was in the women’s court, and many rabbis also taught there on the steps.

I was moved to pray for those who came to the temple courts. And when I did, the Lord revealed the focus of my life and the purpose of my sorrow. As I looked at those who came, whether to celebrate a feast, for purification after childbirth or the dedication of a firstborn son, I was given words of prophecy from the Almighty Himself! Because I had no other responsibilities, I heard the voice of God often.

And I was cared for. Some brought me food, and I was even given a place of shelter, provided by those who also loved the Lord.

The pains of my own soul allowed me to see suffering in the faces of others, and I often spoke words of comfort.  Perhaps because I had never borne a child, it seemed I was drawn to the women with their little ones, and I tried to bless and pray for as many of them as I could.

There was someone I saw often at the temple area. It was Simeon. He also was very old, and like me he heard the voice of God. He longed to see the Coming One.

He always treated me with respect. Though it was unusual for a man to speak to a woman not of his family, because of our callings we occasionally spoke briefly. One day he quietly shared with me that the Lord had told him he would see the Lord’s Anointed with his own eyes!

A hope was born in me. Simeon was not that much younger than I. Might I see the promised one too?

Long years passed.

One morning I was compelled to walk to the steps where I could see people approaching. There they were….something drew my attention…a kind of knowing inside. Then I first saw the baby Yeshua and Joseph and Mary. I saw Simeon and I heard----he was prophesying over the child with great joy--and I knew!

I waited until Simeon had finished blessing them, for that was proper. Trembling, I approached, spoke to them and looked at the tiny baby. It was the Lord’s Christ!

It was the consolation of a mother's heart. I, who never had the privilege of a child of my own, had now seen The Child, the One for whom the whole world had waited.

Yes, the Lord God had seen me, all the long years alone, praying and seeking to know the Holy One. He has blessed me beyond measure, and I cannot be silent!

Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melekh hah-olam,
She - hecheyanu veki – ye - manu
ve- higianu lazman hazeh

Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe,
for keeping us alive, taking care of us, and bringing us to this time.

My life is complete, my suffering insignificant and my joy overflowing!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Little Christmas Collage

I'm back home. There are not many thoughts from me at the moment, profound or otherwise. We visited Como Park, cooked, wrapped presents, went to the I Max and to church, ate, opened presents, played games, and laughed. Here are just a few pictures. I will be posting in a few days, maybe.

I'm not mad in the picture. I am just resting and enjoying the "jungle."

If you go to Minneapolis, don't miss Como Park's Conservatory and Zoo. Wonderful, wonderful place, especially when coming in out of winter's chill. And you only have to give a donation. The Minnesota Zoo is wonderful, and much bigger, but Como is one of our favorite places too. I will post some zoo pics in a few days.

Kris is still waiting. Trinity Ann should be arriving in daylight almost any day.

Josh is being his funny self.

The basset hound pup is Josh's. The hound/great dane is Kris and Daryl's. "The boys" as we call 'em, are great buddies, and they spent their time together begging, wrestling, running, clowning, and staring at us while we ate. They were active non-stop.

Till they crashed.

Daryl used to be overwhelmed by our family, I suspect. But he's getting used to us ;-) and had a great time opening presents. Here he tries out a pair of shooters earmuffs. We love Daryl, and he is going to be a wonderful daddy!

Back at Josh's place, J.J. the basset pup curled up on the couch, looking like a tired toddler. We all felt pretty much the same way.

It was a good few days. How was your holiday?

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Light - Part V

Darkness...and light. I can't stop thinking about it.

Darkness has a place in the natural world. Darkness has a place in our physical lives too. What about our spiritual lives?
In our largely urban,
high-tech, lit up world we sometimes lose the natural flow of things; nonetheless, there is often something calming about night. Things slow, light grows gradually more dim, we stop work, and grow more ready for rest, we settle in our homes, children yawn and eyes grow heavy. In warmer months I like to sit on my little deck and listen to the sounds of darkness. Muffled traffic, occasionally an owl or other nocturnal creature, quiet voices, crickets "singing," and frogs croaking.
I love to travel in the car at night when on a long trip, especially if I'm in a large open area like America's great plains region. The moon rises. Clouds drift across the sky. Voices and music or drama emerge from the static of the car radio, stations from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Kansas City, Kansas, New York City...have you listened to the radio at night in the open? Once on a long and and sad trip to Texas, my father and I (for the first time on such a trip it was just we two) passed the hours by trying to identify the radio station locations by the accents or local patter of late-night radio jocks. As we crossed the vast emptiness of Arizona's desert we listened in amazement to jazz from New Orleans. We began the trip with battered emotions and anxious hearts. No, the long night drive across the land did not cure us of our pain. But it did help to calm us and help us, for a while, step our of our narrow little world.
Genesis says God "separated" the light and the dark, calling one day and the other night. Thus, the darkness of night is good, as creation is good. Knowing this, I looked to see if I could find instruction for us, as God's beloved sons and daughters, to seek darkness. I wrote in an earlier post of the "treasures of darkness" that Isaiah speaks of, wondering what those might be. But overwhelmingly I see scriptural references to God as light. Even Isaiah does not tell us to seek darkness, only that God can bring treasures from things we might see as dark.
When I say we need darkness, I do not mean "Darkness" (which is one way I think of evil, Satan, wicked forces and that which is not of God, "in whom is no darkness at all" as the book of James puts it. Here is the way Eugene's Peterson's "The Message" rends that well-known passage.

James 1:16-18 So, my very dear friends, don't get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.
What beautiful imagery! The "Father of Light!" And God's good gifts are pictured as rivers of cascading light. If you have been to Yosemite National Park perhaps you have witnessed what they call the "fire fall" in the evening. Man-made, the fire fall is nonetheless a spectacular sight, a river of fire cascading down a steep cliff. It can be seen from long distances. I thought of that when reading those words. Cascading rivers of light.
Someone recently said to me that God, being the creator of all, must have created spiritual darkness and sin. No, darkness is not a thing in and of itself. It is simply the absence of light.
Sin is simply the absence of holiness and goodness.
"For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light... have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret"
Eph. 5:8-12.

Paul reminds us that we were once darkness - without Christ, the Lord. It is good for us to remember the darkness sometimes, not to revel in it, but simply to remember our lost and hopeless condition without Christ. Even the "good" darkness that is night would be difficult to endure were it not for the certainty of dawn.
If we realize the depth of the gifts God has given us, we can walk with hearts thankful toward God-- and it can help keep us humble too! I don't always feel like a child of light. Sometimes I'm distraught , discouraged, disillusioned, distracted (and occasionally just plain ol' dumb). But, thanks to Christ the Lord, I can walk as a child of light. You can too!
How to do that? Ah, that is the question! A few things I'm working on doing right now are these:
  • Take time to specifically recall the faithfulness of God in past darkness.
  • Thank God for the faithfulness shown in those times.
  • Be still and know that "He is God." If I don't choose stillness deliberately, the chaos (and darkness) of this world can be overwhelming.
  • Use the faith I have to see myself as a child of light, a beloved possesion of the "Father of Light" whether I feel all shiny or not!
  • Think on good things. Avoid negative thoughts and negative people when I can.
  • Remember that I can only remain in the light as I remain "in Christ" on a practical, day by day walk, chosing, living, and making room for God's light in my life.

My foolish selfish nature sometimes seeks to do this apart from God. It doesn't work for long.

I Want to Be in the Light
I keep trying to find a life
On my own apart from you
I am the king of excuses
I've got one for every selfish thing I do
What's going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicion
That I'm still a man in need of a savior
I wanna be in the light
As You are in the light...
If you click on the link you can listen to the song, "I Want to be in the Light." It's not Bach or Handel or even Fanny Crosby. But it expresses my feelings pretty well. I can only live in the light, only be a child of light, as I walk with Jesus.
It seems I have come back to the beginning of where I started with this little series I wrote for myself. "The people who walk in darkness will see a great Light...on them the Light will shine."
May the Light of Christmas, Jesus Christ, fill you with hope, peace, love and joy.
I wish you all blessings and good gifts from above!
I'm off to Minnesota!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Light - Part IV

I recently read an A.P. article (published a few years ago) which reported the results of a first-of-it's kind study on the effects of "religion" on prison inmates.

According to the article, the study found that prisoners who come under religious influence while they're behind the walls do better once they're back on the outside and in society than those who lack such influence.

The findings of the study on the rehabilitative effect of religion on prisoners could have wide implications for the prison system, although more study is needed, the researchers say. "The results are phenomenal," said John Gartner of Baltimore, a clinical psychologist who headed the five-member research team. "There haven't been any findings of effectiveness that were this strong... religion "may be a powerful, and until now neglected, method of rehabilitation." Gartner said that researchers have ignored the spiritual part of a person. "Religion is a gap. It's a blind spot in the social sciences, not even consistent with the spirit of science." A blind spot? Really? (Insert sarcastic tone.)

I strongly believe in giving an inmate education and job skills. We must do this. However, if we teach him to read and then educate him, teach him a trade and show him how to dress and interview for a job-- and if we ignore the spirit of that inmate-- we will end up with educated, skilled, well-dressed criminals.
Chaplain Ken George
Since the beginning of the Advent season I have been pondering and praying about light overcoming darkness. This happens to a certain extent every year, but this year my thoughts have been more focused and persistent, as have my conversations with God. I keep thinking of the scriptures I've included here in previous posts. I keep visualizing light and darkness. I keep thinking of the prison where Ken works. This is the first Christmas in about 15 years that we will not spend conducting worship in the prison chapel. It is a wonderful experience. I posted about it last year. This year we will be travelling to Minnesota for Christmas since our daughter, being "great with child" cannot travel here. However, we will participate next Tuesday night in a prison service of readings and carols. Ah, that sounds charming and old fashioned. At the prison it will be loud, a bit off key, and fun.

This year our church participated, once again, in the Angel Tree Project sponsored by Prison Fellowship. This program helps contact families of prisoners who wish to give a gift to a child back home. The gifts, given in the name of an incarcerated parent, are being delivered to the children this week, along with love and a smile and a simple gospel message.

There is also the Salvation Army's Toy Lift Project. Along with other needy children, inmates children can receive toys at the Holidays.

Prison is dark. And yet, in the darkest places the light sometimes shines the most brightly.

I recall walking down the street in Milwaukee a few years ago on a drizzly day in winter. I passed a plate glass window and glanced inside at restaurant patrons as I continued down the sidewalk. Suddenly, a young black man leaped to his feet and ran to the window. He smiled broadly and gestured dramatically. I stopped, puzzled. He kept smiling and waving and pointing to himself. I grew more puzzled. Finally he signed for me to wait. He ran out of the building and dashed up to me, eyes sparkling in joy and recognition. "Don't you remember me, Miz. Chaplain George?" I smiled, understanding that he knew me from the prison, but had to admit I had no idea who he was.
When he said his name was Leon, recognition came, and I stepped back in amazement. "Wow! You have changed." I remembered Leon as a faithful attender at chapel worship services. I knew he also attended Bible study, prayed with some of his fellow Christians back on his "unit" and sang in the prison choir. I also recalled him as depressed, with long and generally unkempt hair, shuffling as he walked and with dull eyes. Now he looked great. His hair was neatly braided, he wore a clean pair of pants and shirt and his eyes shone with life. "I'm good. You tell Chaplain that. I got a job." He gestured towards the window. "Those folks work with me. We are having lunch together today. I'm still with my wife, and we found a good church to go to. The pastor helped me get the job." I gave him a hug, something I never did when he was "inside." "I'm so glad to see you" I said. "It is wonderful to see you standing straight, looking me in the eye and smiling." He grinned back at me. "It was Jesus. It was the chapel and the brothers and the chaplain. You tell him that." "I will" I promised.

Such stories are all too rare. But the value of a life--even one--how can it be measured?

I am the Light of the World. Whoever follows me will no longer walk in darkness, but will have a life of light. John 8:12

Thank you, God, for the people of Prison Fellowship, and the Salvation Army and other organizations who reach out to those who are in dark places. Thank you for chaplains, and volunteers, and churches, and gifts of love. I pray for love to break through the darkness, even today. Amen

Oh, if you are wondering what the picture of me in the pulpit has to do with anything, our church's pulpit was made by the inmates. I seldom stand behind it without at least a quick thought and prayer for those "inside."

Christmas Misc.

"His Singer" over at His Unfinished Work tagged me with a Christmas meme, so here goes.

Angels atop my dining room buffet.

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? I don't know how people can drink egg nog! Way too rich. Wisconsin is known for frozen custard and I don't like that either. Egg nog is sort of liquid custard. Yeech. Hot chocolate please, nice and creamy, with mini marshmallows floating in it.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? Santa lives at my house when not working with elves. He does not wrap presents. He finds others to do that work, but Santa uses those handy dandy Christmas bags.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? Colored! Our tree is not a thing of pristine beauty. It is a mish mash of styles, eras, and colors, but we like it. Colored lights on the house too, but some older homes look lovely and classy with greens and white lights. Nor ours though.

4. Do you hang mistletoe? No need. Plenty of kissing happens without it.

5. When do you put your decorations up? When the kids were home we tried to decorate right after Thanksgiving. Now, well it happens piecemeal, depending on our schedules. If I had my preference the decorations would go up the Friday after Thanksgiving, and then they would magically put themselves away on January 2nd.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? I have a hard timing picking absolute favorites. Maybe I'll say "pull aparts" which is a hot yeast roll we make by dipping the raw dough into butter with garlic and other seasonings and then piling them into a bundt pan to rise. When the are cooked and then popped out onto a platter they make a golden mound on a plate, and the smell......mmmm mmmmm. I love yeast breads.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child: Trips to Texas. I've written about that quite a bit already.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? You mean the weight problem thing? I think I've always known Santa has a problem with overeating. (I copied HS's answer here because I thought it was funny. I never believed in Santa so it wasn't an issue.")

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? Usually, especially if there are lots of smaller presents. Only one though.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Ken...uh I mean Santa...puts the lights on, and Mrs. Santa does the rest. Last thing to go on are strings of little paper flags from Norway. That's been a tradition since Ken was a little boy, so we kept it up. (His grandfather lived in Norway.) We also have a Christmas troll that we set out that he remembers from long ago. It's ungly, as trolls are known to be, but it represents Juleknissen (not sure I spelled that right) who leaves toys and candy in the shoes of little Norweigans on Christmas Eve. Here is a picture. If you click to enlarge the picture I can almost promise a laugh, or at least a smile.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I live in Wisconsin. We SHOULD have snow for Christmas, since we live in a cold climate. But this year the weather is whacky, so who knows? Bitter cold is alternating with spring-like temps. We are confused up here.

12. Can you ice skate? ME? I can hardly walk and chew gum at the same time.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift? My diamond engagement ring was a Christmas gift. It came in a little musical jewelry box that looked like a Swiss chalet and played (ironically) "Oh How We Danced on the Night We Were Wed." It still sits on my dresser, a bit worse for wear.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you? I love it all. I love the lights, the music, the gifts, the food, the gatherings, and the church services. All of it is part of the expereience for me. I especially like it if I am able to minister somewhere out of my usual ministering in the inner city, or at the prison. The prison is a highlight of my Christmas. I posted about it here. All of it is part of drawing me to the Christ, the babe in the manger and the suffering savior and the coming King of Kings.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? I don't think I have one. I like almond flavored butter cookies, and nut bread. We have a family favorite. No, not pumpkin, cranberry or banana. It's orange nut bread. And I make a fabulous fudge. We only have it at this time of year.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? See #14. It's hard to choose just one. Anything involving candles and music does it for me.

17. What tops your tree? A kind of funky little angel. Maybe you can see it in the tree picture.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? Giving--but receiving is fun too. ;-)

19. What is your favorite Christmas song? I already said I am not good with "favorite." I love "O Come O Come Emmanuel." I also love "Angels We Have Heard On High" because of the "Gloria" part. And overdone or not, the "Hallelujah Chorus" is just...well....glorious.

20. Candy canes?: I love them. To look at, to eat, to stir the marshmallows in my hot chocolate and to put on the tree.

21. Favorite Christmas movie? "It's a Wonderful Life."

22. What do you leave for Santa? I make Santa his favorite Norweigan Christma bread, Jule Kage. It is a bit like German Stollen, yeasty and full of fruit and nuts, and braided before baking.

I will tag anyone who still has enough Christmas "oopmh" to play. Maybe let me know in the comments.

Where the cat, Patches, has been spendng her time this lasat week! She believes the tree is one giant cat toy, but so far she has just batted a few bells and gazed upward. No leaps into the branches. Whew

A small detail of my nativity set from Bethlehem, a gift long ago.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Prayers in Private and Southern Baptists

I just read an article, courtesy of Dr. P., that has me flummoxed. If you want to take a look, click on the link below and then come back. If you don't this post won't make sense. I'm just ranting anyhow. :-(

Why should SBC folks in power care how someone prays in PRIVATE? Are they not defenders of what the Bible says, after all? I heard that many times sitting in Sunday School and Training Union as a child, teen, and young adult. These boys, frankly, frighten me.
Last time I checked, I Cor. 14:39 still said, "Do not forbid speaking in tongues."

Apparently Paige Patterson doesn't want any Southern Baptists to have the opportunity to listen to any sermon that might disagree with what other Southern Baptists think--or maybe just what he thinks. But I see that, thankfully, some others are taking a stand for freedom of expression. Lord, strengthen and help them and remind them of what Church really is.

Whatever! Thank God that some of those "disenfranchised Baptists" are speaking up...Uh oh, hopefully only in English, even in private.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

My Christmas Trip to the Dentist

I have already told readers of this blog how I feel about going to the dentist. I, in a moment of dubious "inspiration" compared it with how some folks must feel when they go to church.

Today was the day for my six-month teeth-scraping- gum-poking-and-bleeding visit. Once again I sat in a chair that then was raised so my feet were higher than my head (really!) and a bright light shone in my eyes, increasing the pounding headache I came in with. The rest was pretty much the routine that is a dentist visit.

I have one thing to add to what I posted last June. There I was, feeling acutely vulnerable, listening to the chirpy hygenist-- AND HORRIBLE CHRISTMAS MUSIC! How many bad versions of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" exist, fer cryin' out loud?

And one more song I could add to my last "Friday Five" question about stuffing roasted chesnuts in my ears? Walking in a Winter Wonderland. I never ever want to hear that song again. Especially not the hopped up Motown version.

It was torture. But my teeth are gleaming.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Light - Part III

One of the ways we kids knew Christmas was coming was that my father found the box of lights and, after a bit of untangling the snarl, stretched the strings out on the living room floor to see if all the lights worked. Remember when one burnt out bulb meant they all went dark and it was necessary to check every one?

Each year when he did this he would turn to me and say, "I remember when you were a baby. You scooted along looking at the lights. It was one of the ways we realized you had a serious vision problem, because you put your nose almost on the bulb, and then your face would break out in a smile. I was afraid you were going to burn your poor little nose." He thought it sad but rather endearing. As for me, I did not like the story, even though I knew my father meant it kindly. I found it distressing and a bit disturbing. After all, that was me he was talking about.

At some point I learned that my first word was not "mama" or "dada." It was "light." My mother recalled holding me on her lap and watching as I gazed up at the lamp beside us, saying "yite." Later, at Christmas, it became "pitty yite." (Years later, my own daughter also said "pitty yite" at Christmas time.)

The medical profession was not much help (this was the 50s), but after much prayer and searching, my mother discovered Dr. Louis Jaques, an extraordinary optometrist who said he would try to help. He did, thank God. Long story. But I remember this dear old man, who retired at 90, once telling me what it was like when he tried out a pair of glasses on a four year old me, and my world changed forever. He would get misty eyed and give me a kiss--which was sweet but embarassing. I loved him, and the feeling was mutual. He did all he could to help me keep what he called, "your precious vision." He has been deceased for many years, but he will always remain one of my favorite people.

But what if my parents had ignored the obvious signs? What if they figured that I'd get by? Or decided a little bit of light was plenty? Or simply told me to make the best of it, or that I was blessed and "special"... and left it at that (as quite a few eye professionals had seemed only too happy to do)? In that case, I would have been needlessly living by the light I had and thinking it was plenty, never realizing that there was so much more!

When we see someone stumbling in spiritual darkness, do we care enough to say, "There is so much more for you!" When a man or woman is living in "light" that is actually darkness only they don't realize it, do we simply say, "Ah, they will get by"and avoid risking a relationship?

Do we remember what it was like to stumble in darkness?

Luke 11:35-36
Make sure that the light you think you have is not actually darkness. If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.”

God of Light and Life, thank you for sunlight, moonlight, starlight, candlelight, lamplight--and Christmas lights, and eyes to see them with. But thank you even more for the One who was the Light of the World, the One who came to show us what God is like. Give us loving hearts and grace-filled words to reach out with light to those who may be stumbling in darkness of heart and spirit. And send us someone to help when our own spiritual sight gets a little dim. Amen

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fa-la-la-la-la, la Friday Five from Rev Gals

Not One of My Favorites.

Here's a Friday Five post from Reverendmother, who says, "Those of you who read my blog know I have a love-hate relationship with the 24/7 Christmas music we're subjected treated to in stores and radio (in the U.S. at least). It gets too sentimentally sticky-sweet sometimes, yet I find myself unable to resist it. Nothing says 'it's Christmas' to me like John Denver and Rolf the Dog singing 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.' So..."

1. A favorite 'secular' Christmas song.

I love "Feliz Navidad." Not every version, but the original one by Jose Feliciano. It always makes me feel cheerful. The prison choir (where my husband is chaplain) belts it out every Christmas--the "Gospel Choir" and the "Spanish Choir" singing together. I LOVE those guys when they sing that song, smiling and singing with amazing gusto, if not always skill. I wish you could all see and hear them. It is a moment of joy and delight in my Christmas season.

I also like the Beatles singing "A Wonderful Christmas Time."

2. Christmas song that chokes you up (maybe even in spite of yourself--the cheesier the better)

Hmmm. "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." NO, not really. But I couldn't think of one. "O Holy Night" doesn't choke me up, but it does give me chills when it is done well.

3. Christmas song that makes you want to stuff your ears with chestnuts roasted on an open fire.

Hee hee...for me that one would be "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" followed closely by "All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth." Especially the old version with the lisping "child" voice. Aaarrrrgh!

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas: is there *any* redeeming value to that song? Discuss.

Not much for most people, I suppose, but "The Twelve Days of Christmas" has redeeming value for me. Those of you who read regularly--God bless both of you-- know that I have two older sisters. On one of our rare trips to visit "the family" in Texas at Christmas, my two sisters had just learned all the words. So they taught the song to me, and we three practiced it all the way from California to Texas, no doubt planning to sing it in the "Christmas program" that happened at Grandaddy's house. That meant a procession of cousins entertaining the grownups in various ways. I'm sure my mom and dad were heartily sick of that song by the time we arrived. However, I can never hear it without a moment of nostalgia and love for the girls that we used to be, singing in the back seat of our car as we crossed the desert, the mountains, and the plains.

5. A favorite Christmas album

Just one? I can't pick just one. I have many. This is hard. Hmmmm.....

All right, I confess, I like John Denver's Christmas album. I love "The Messiah" and Kenny G.'s Christmas album...and Harry Connick Jr.'s album, and Ella Fitzgerald, and Johnny Mathis, and Amy Grant's Christmas album, and one from a church choir I used to sing with, and then there is anything by Mannheim Steamroller, and there is an old one from Burl Ives, and one called "An Old Fashoned Christmas" which features hammered dulcimer and pipes, and there is the one by Carman.....and...oh, sorry.

And now I am off to the basement to find the ornaments and the box of Christmas music, which includes vinyl albums, cassettes, and compact discs. I did throw away the 8 Tracks, though it made me sad to do it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Light - Part II

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread,
Are big with mercy, and shall break,
In blessings on your head.

William Cowper, Light Shining Out of Darkness, 1772

Before the Light could come, there was a time to be in darkness, a long time of waiting. About four hundered years passed with no "word" from YHWH. And the waiting was much longer if you consider the passage of time from the prophets' original pronouncements. I find the whole process strange and somewhat inexplicable, but it can serve, if nothing else, as a reminder that God's timing and ways are not like ours.

When darkness comes, to whom do we look? Do we get angry because we believe God is obligated to make life easy for us?

I am more and more aware these days of how diffirent the life, the perspective, the hope, the aspirations and beliefs of Americans are (and other westerners) from much of the Church in other parts of the world.

It seems to me that only here, in stunning affluence, would someone say (as was said in my hearing recently), "Look, Jesus provided a parking place right next to the entrance!" If we believe Jesus is providing ease for us, would it not follow that if we walk through slush in wind and sleet to a faraway mall entrance that Jesus is somehow failing to pay attention to us? I think so, and I think the level of such foolish, self-centered attitudes are astounding--and all too common. Such thinking sets us up for trouble when darkness comes--and it does.

God is love. I believe that God desires connection with mankind. And the Bible tells us that Jesus is our "elder brother" and he calls his disciples his "friends." Amazing! But has this led us, rich as we are, to think of the Lord, Creator of All, the I AM, the Holy One--as some sort of buddy who exists to make life good for us? Is this why we seem so prone to believing that God has somehow done wrong by us when we go through a dark time?

Was part of the purpose of the "darkness" to increase mankind's longing for "light?" Is that true in our lives as well?

Praise God for promises that we are children of light, and that we will not always walk in darkness. The Lord is the source of light.

Psalm 8:28 "You light a lamp for me. The Lord, my God, lights up my darkness."

Micah 7:7-9 "As for me, I look to the Lord for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me... though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light...The Lord will bring me into the light, and I will see his righteousness."

John 1:4-6 The Word gave life to everything that was created and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

John 12:46 I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.

II. Cor. 4:6 For God, who said, “Let there be light in the darkness,” has made this light shine in our hearts so we could know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.

In this dark world, cause our hearts to long for you, O God of light and life. Help us, the people who claim to have Your light, to shine brightly in whatever ways we find to do this year. Even as we ourselves sometimes wait for light, shine through us to others. Thank you that the darkness can never extinguish the light.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Light of Hope - Part I

If you have candles on an Advent wreath at home, or if your church observes Advent customs, you know that the wreath holds four candles. Each week an additional candle flame is lit till at last all four candles shine together. Some add a fifth candle on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, called the Christ candle. The others stand for Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. Last Sunday, the candle of hope was lit in many churches and homes around the world.

There were hundreds of years between the writing of the final book of the Old Testament and the birth of Jesus Christ, the first event of the New Testament. All that long time, people kept waiting and wondering and praying—looking for the promised Messiah.

The Prophet Isaiah wrote some amazing words of hope. His powerful imagery spoke of the One who would someday come. The Messiah...the Light.

The people who walked in darkness
Will see a great light.
Those who live in a dark land,
On them the light will shine.
You will increase their gladness
Like the gladness that comes at harvest....
For unto us a Child is born,
Unto us a Son is given,
And the government shall be upon his shoulders.
And his name shall be called: Wonderful Counselor,
Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to his government, or of his peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom forever.

In our church yesterday we lit the Hope Candle as the congregation sang “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” The words of this beautiful old carol (my personal favorite) are rather melancholy and the minor chords add to the sense of waiting, longing, in darkness. When I hear it I always think of Isaiah’s words...the people are waiting in darkness for the light to come. Listen with me:

O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

O come thou Dayspring,
Come and cheer,
Our spirits by Thine advent here,
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And earth’s dark shadows put to flight...

And the joyful words of the chorus ring out in contrast:

Rejoice, rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel.

Hope seems easy when all is going well. What about when we walk in a dark valley, a valley of waiting? Emmanuel—“God is with us.” Are you in a valley of some sort and feeling in need of renewed hope today? Rejoice! Emmanuel has come! God is with you!

Prayer: O God of Light and Hope, shine on us. Our way is not clear, and our thoughts are sometimes dark. Help us, like Isaiah did, to abide, to live, in confident hope for the day when the waiting ends and the light bursts forth. We will wait confidently for you, knowing that Jesus Christ has come and you, God, are with us! Amen

Saturday, December 02, 2006

A Late "Friday Five" on Advent

Rev Gal Songbird says, "Although it comes as late as it can this year, Advent is upon us. Some of us grew up observing it, while to others (including this childhood Baptist) it was even more foreign than Lent!" This childhood Baptist and adult AG girl concurs.

Here are her five questions (and my five answers) about Advent for this week's Friday Five.

1) Do you observe Advent in your church?

Yes, not because very many Assemblies of God Churches do, but because I learned about Advent from my mother-in-law and then my former pastor observed it. I loved it immediately, so I instituted an Advent observance when I arrived at my current church several years ago. I hope others have enjoyed it too.

2) How about at home?

Not every year. Occasionally we do. And we did purchase those little Advent calendars when our children were small.

3.) Do you have a favorite Advent text or hymn?

Yes, which I will be using Sunday and then posting, so you will have to check back in!

4) Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.)

Because I look pretty in pink, of course. Most of us lady clergy look pretty in pink, don'tcha know? I'm sure it was a female who started that sweet pink candle thingy. Haven't you heard we are out to feminize the church? (Oooh, [giggle] guess I shouldn't have let that slip.)

5) What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen?

My M-I-L, years ago, bought me one where the little doors for the days were Norweigan trolls. I can still see it in my mind. I had no idea what Advent was, and here was this bazarre little calendar with -- uh--trolls? Makes me grin to remember.