Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 16, 2012

Today's text

Now it happened that at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole inhabited world. This census--the first- took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judaea, to David's town called Bethlehem, since he was of David's House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space (Luke 2:1-7).


Old photos float across my computer screen. Every few seconds a new one appears. Today, I see Rachel, my daughter, riding on a merry-go-round.

She is not a child but a mother. She stands beside a wooden horse looking down on a dark-haired little boy whose face is electric with wonder. Ethan is two, and life is new. Each fresh experience awakens his tender soul to the startling joy of being alive.

Older eyes grow jaundiced, having seen it all, the exhilaration of living, sadly, worn off. But not these eyes. These eyes are alive to the wonder of living, filled with joy that it can be so good.

But he is not most the arresting face in the photo. That accolade belongs to Rachel, who looks down at him, her gentle eyes and smile filled with a love she probably didn’t know she could feel until she first felt the stirring of new life in her womb.

She transports me to the manger. Hers are the eyes of Mary, the eyes of a mother moved beyond words at the miracle of bringing forth new life and cradling it in her arms.

Our eyes are hungry for Christmas. We need to see it … to feel it. We need Christmas to fill us with the miracle of the love that shines in Rachel’s face. We need it to come and transport us beyond our world-weariness and re-awaken the joy of the little boy in this old photo.

So we come to the manager, open the eyes of imagination and watch Mary pick up her child. She wraps him in strips of cloth, not because she is poor but because she loves him more than she has words to say.

We look again into her eyes and see shining there a love beyond her own, the love who brings Christmas, the love who hungers to fill our souls and make our hearts supple and new once more.

Mary wraps her child and looks down into his sleeping face. We’ve seen such scenes before. So look again with the eye of memory and imagination.

See the heart of God nestled by a human heart. The sight will awaken you to the wonder of the Love who humbly comes, resting in a donkey’s feed box, swaddled in human love, hungry to be held … by you.

For prayer and reflection

  • What thoughts, memories and emotions did today’s reflection awaken in you?
  • Where do you see and feel Christmas re-awakening your heart this year?
  • Remember a Christmas when you wanted and needed your heart to be made new. What happened?

Another voice

Silent Night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy Infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.
(“Silent Night”, text: Joseph Mohr, music: Franz Gruber, 1840)

December 15, 2012

Today's text

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men. … The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4, 14).


God speaks into the silence of night. It has always been that way.

In the beginning, there was nothing but silent darkness. Then God spoke and worlds exploded into existence. Physicists tell us a big bang sent matter screaming through space at unbelievable speed, scattering into distant corners that hadn’t before existed.

Over billions of years a universe came to be--immensity and beauty, life and intelligence, where nothing had been. God spoke in the silent darkness awakening life and wonder.

That’s the way it always is … and certainly at Christmas.

Christmas comes in the deep silence of night when few are awake to notice the birth of divine life in human flesh. Songs of the season transport us to the night Jesus was born to listen to all God is saying … and know.

 “Silent Night, Holy Night; It Came upon a Midnight Clear; O, Holy Night; other songs carry us to the dark streets of Bethlehem that we might see and feel the light of life entering our world and our souls

But the silence of night is not always our friend. It does not always bring grace.

The wee hours are times when memories haunt and fears attack. In the dark hours, restless hearts are perturbed by past wounds and mistakes, and the looming future holds as much threat as promise.

But here, too, God speaks in the silence of our night. God invites us to the stable that saw Jesus’ birth that we may imagine and look into his fragile infant face.

Imagine yourself there. Place yourself in the stable, standing near an exhausted Mary, fitful, trying to sleep. Joseph kneels at her side and holds her arm, and you stand close, cradling an infant wrapped in strips of cloth, enfolded in your arms.

Put yourself there … and listen. Listen to your heart. Listen in the great silence of your soul where fears come and you wonder what life is about.

Listen … and look at this child. What does God say in the silent darkness of your all-too-human heart?

Whatever else comes, hear the tenderness at the heart of the God who hungers to be held and loved by you. In the deep silence of your days and nights, God whispers a love that comes for us and always will.

For prayer and reflection

  • What emotions, thoughts and memories were stirred by today’s reflection?
  • When do you most need to hear what God is saying through the birth of Jesus this year?
  • Where and when is it most possible for you to hear God speaking to you?

Another voice

Cold are the people, winter of life. We tremble in shadows this cold endless night. Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping. Flowers that will echo the sunrise. Fire of hope is our only warmth. Weary, its flame will be dying soon.
(“Night of Silence,“ Daniel Kantor, 1984)

Friday, December 14, 2012

December 14, 2012

Today's text

The Word was the real light that gives light to everyone; he was coming into the world. He was in the world that had come into being through him, and the world did not recognize him. He came to his own and his own people did not accept him. But to those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, … born not from human stock or human desire or human will but from God himself (John 1:9-12).


Peggy and Michael met in the prayer corner last Sunday morning. I saw them as I stepped from the Lord’s Table. Communion distribution was done, but holy communion continued as they sat knee-to-knee, their hands and hearts folded into each other.

The scene was just right. It was perfect: A prayer minister with cancer held the hands of a father living in prayer for his seriously ill child and the struggle of his family, which has endured many deaths.

Who knows how to pray for him like she does? I can’t imagine anyone as qualified. They need each other more than the rest of us can understand.

They sat together, the worn and worried, receiving the warmth and grace of the other, joined so closely in prayer that you could not see where one pair of hands left off and the other began.

It was the meeting of hope and fear. Hope won. Peace prevailed. Christmas came once more. God became flesh as the grace of two Christ-filled hearts blessed each other in Sunday morning light.

It couldn’t have happened if our congregation didn’t have that prayer space in the front corner of the sanctuary for needy souls to care for each other.

It certainly wouldn’t have happened without the grace of hospitality, the open-hearted willingness to receive the need and soul of another into one’s own heart.

They could have isolated themselves in their private pain as so many do, protecting their hearts behind thick walls lest anyone see how vulnerable they are. But they surrendered to the possibility that God’s magic might happen if they opened themselves to receive the grace and pain of others.

They accepted what each other brought, receiving the flesh of God, becoming truest children of God.

Christmas is about this kind of hospitality. God takes our flesh into himself as Christ, the heart of God, puts on mortal flesh. Our need and weakness is received into God in an ultimate act of hospitality. The life of God and the need of our bodies and souls are folded into one, like hands in prayer. Life and grace, blessing and need pass between us.

Hospitality is present throughout the Christmas story. Mary and Joseph depend on the generosity of strangers as they traveled to Bethlehem. Mary gives birth to Jesus in a cattle stall provided by someone who invited them inside.

In the ancient world, life depended on the hospitality of others. Looking at Peggy and Michael, I see that it still does.

For prayer and reflection

  • When have you been blessed by the hospitality of others, or by your own acts of hospitality?
  • What keeps you from sharing yourself like Peggy and Michael?
  • How might you show greater hospitality to others in your life during this season?

Another voice

What child is this, who laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the king, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe, the son of Mary!
(“What Child Is This,” William C. Dix, 16th cent.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December 13, 2012

Today's text 

This is how Jesus Christ came to be born. His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph; but before they
came to live together she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being an upright man and wanting to spare her disgrace, decided to divorce her informally. He had made up his mind to do this when suddenly the 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 she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.' Now all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: Look! The virgin is with child and will give birth to a son whom they will call Immanuel, a name which means 'God-is-with-us'
(Matthew 1:18-24).


Do not fear. What you need will come, and you will know I am with you and always will be. I am
Immanuel. I will come to save you in all your perils.

We have no way of knowing what ran through Joseph’s mind as he walked Mary to Bethlehem. But I
hope words like these echoed in his depths as he made his way into an unknowable future.

Joseph is a lonely figure. He never speaks in Scripture. We never hear his voice or learn what is in his
heart. Tradition suggests he was older than Mary, so much older that he may never have seen Jesus into

He never gets much attention, even at Christmas.

With Mary at his side, he trekked over hills and through rocky valleys searching for places to rest and
sleep, to eat and find the warmth of hospitality on the way to Bethlehem. Long hours of heavy silence
hung between the two travelers, leaving Joseph too much alone with his thoughts:

“Can it be? Is this a child of God’s own spirit? Was the angel’s message real or a foolish stretch of my
imagination because I need to believe Mary is true?

What will come next? How will it end? Can anything good come of this?”

And who could Joseph tell about his dream? Who would believe him or think him sane?”

Joseph is silent, alone with his thoughts. But he isn’t, of course.

Many travel this road. They live with haunting questions and fret over sick or troubled children. They
doubt their judgment about decisions made and others yet to come. They wonder what will happen next to
their families and lose sleep trying to find ways to fix their troubles.

Joseph’s sole comfort came from words in a dream to which he clung: “Do not fear. I am sending you
Immanuel, God with us. Wait. Trust. Watch.

Immanuel will come, and you will know you are not alone and never will be.

For prayer & reflection

• What thoughts, feelings and memories were stirred by today’s reflection?
• What questions plague you and make you wonder whether God is with you?
• When have you experienced Immanuel, God with us?
• What does the promise of Immanuel mean to you this year?

Another voice

God of Adam, God of Joseph, God of sowing, soil and seed. Thank you for your world of promise: Milk
and honey, wine and bread. Thank you for all men entrusted with the charge of fatherhood, and for those
who have no children, yet are parents under God.
(“God of Adam, God of Joseph,” Fred Kaan, 1989)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

December 12, 2012

Today's text

The angel [Gabriel] answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. And I tell you this too: your cousin Elizabeth also, in her old age, has conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.' for nothing is impossible to God.'  Mary said, ‘Here I am. The servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her (Luke 1:35-39).


The Christmas rush is on, too much to do and too little time. But it is not just this season.

I have been in a hurry much of my life, and I am not alone. We are driven by the awareness there that we have too little time to do, see and accomplish what we want or think we should do.

I take on too much and habitually underestimate the amount of time each new task requires. Completing one job I speed to the next, which accounts for a number of traffic tickets I’ve received, including one for a stop sign last week. I thought the red sign was merely a suggestion.

But the longer I live the more aware I am that life cannot be forced, love cannot be hurried and the human heart requires time to know itself and the wonder of God. Spiritual depth and truest life can’t be rushed but must be welcomed and received.

But it can only be received by those who refuse to force the future, those who live Mary’s prayer, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

So let us do what we can to live and love, conforming our lives to our limits and knowing that what happens today, in this place and time, in each of our lives, in this holy season, is not entirely up to us.

More is happening than we can know, so the humble and wise pray, “Let it be.”

A medieval painting of the angel Gabriel greeting Mary is indelibly imprinted in my mind.

Gabriel bows before Mary not daring to look at this thin slip of a girl, as he tells her the darkness of her womb will bear the Soul of the Universe, the heart of the unimaginable God.

Mary bows from the waist, too, facing Gabriel. Looking down in humility, her posture, matches the bent body of the great angelic messenger. They are matching bookends, bowing before the beauty and wonder of the other--and before the mystery that their lives are not their own. Their stories belong to the story of God’s love for a broken world.

They bow, conforming to whatever God requires of them in this great saga, little knowing what will come, what they must do or the pain and joy each day may bring.

Their whole posture whispers quiet faith, “Let it be,” a prayer we need every new morning.

For prayer and reflection

·         What images, ideas and memories were stirred by today’s reflection?
·         For what in your life do you need to pray “Let it be?” What makes this payer hard for you?
·         When and where does the rush of this season prevent you from resting in God’s will and care?
·         Do you have a favorite or most meaningful picture of Mary or of the Christmas story?

Another voice

“Let it Be” and in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me.  Speaking words of wisdom, Let it Be.  And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me.  Shine until tomorrow, Let it Be.
(Let It Be,” Paul McCartney).

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

December 11, 2012

Today's text

When all the people asked him, 'What must we do, then?' he answered, 'Anyone who has two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same.' There were tax collectors, too, who came for baptism, and these said to him, 'Master, what must we do?' He said to them, 'Exact no more than the appointed rate' (Luke 3:10-14).


Gwen sent me an e-mail today. She wants help buying two goats for her grandchildren.

The goats aren’t for them but will go to a needy family to provide milk and presumably little goats to sell and produce income. Gwen says her grandchildren love the idea that somewhere in the world a family will receive two goats, given in their name.

I also hope they learn how to see the way the way their grandmother sees. Gwen sees through God’s eyes.

She sees a world hungry for the kingdom of God to come. And she bears a holy instinct that knows God’s new world appears every time justice is done for the needy, even if it looks as inconsequential as two small goats.

We live in a world where children toil in sweat shops so we can buy cheap goods, a world where tens of thousands perish of hunger every day, where most people must drink polluted water that sickens and kills, a world where two goats can save the lives of children in an African village.

Christ is born into this world, not a world more perfect than the one we’ve got. He comes
to overturn the reign of sorrow and death that casts its long shadow over human hearts and nations.

John the Baptist leaves little doubt about how to get ready for this new world. Give your extra coat to someone who needs it. Don’t oppress or take advantage. Don’t take more than your share. Don’t be addicted to your wealth or way of life. Feed the hungry. Spend less. Share more.

Keep your eyes on God’s future, the one where compassion rules and justice covers the earth like the waters cover the sea.

Then look at the world as Gwen does, and become the warmth of Christ for which you hunger in this and every season.

 For prayer and reflection

  • What do you want Christ to turn upside down in our world? In your life?
  • Who or what helps you see the injustice of this world?
  • How can you be involved in works of mercy, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, clothing the poor, etc.?
  • What desire to serve or help others has been awakened in you this season?

 Another voice

Long Lay the World in sin and error pining, “til he appeared and the soul felt it’s worth. A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices. As yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
(O Holy Night, Adolphe Adam, 1847)

Sunday, December 09, 2012

December 10, 2012

Today's text

A voice cries, 'Prepare in the desert a way for the Lord. Make a straight highway for our God across the wastelands. Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be leveled, every cliff become a plateau, every escarpment a plain; then the glory of the Lord will be revealed and all humanity will see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken’
(Isaiah 40:3-5).

The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).


Abby cried into my robe on Saturday. She pushed her wild head of blond hair into my side, and I wrapped her in my robe to chase away her shame.

I don’t know what she received, but she made my heart ready for Christmas morning.

It was her first time as acolyte, and she was wired (as usual), eager to do everything right. But things didn’t go right.

She lit the candles at the Lord’s table, but the wick in the lighter wouldn’t retract far enough to extinguish the flame. It grew longer and brighter, reaching perilously close to her eyes and wispy bangs.

Her front-pew father was quickly at her side and blew out the flame on the lighter. A teary Abby took her place by me on the bench at the front of the church, weeping. I wrapped her in the folds of my robe and held her, as she felt every eye in church on her.

This wasn’t how she planned it. This precious girl, so alive with a lightening quick mind and a heart of gold, wanted only to serve and smile. She wanted to feel the goodness of giving herself to God and the people of our congregation, sharing what is in her.

Instead, her embarrassment drew me to give what was in me. She awakened a love that wanted only to comfort a child in danger of forgetting how precious and beautiful she is.

Abby and I shared a moment of giving and receiving the love who holds us both.

It was still November, but Christmas had come. The love of God took flesh in both of us, and we felt its glory.

Readiness to love and receive the love of God wherever it appears is truest preparedness for Christmas. For we never quite know when Christ might come.

Sometimes he comes humble in a manger, and sometimes in little blond-haired girls.

Come, Lord Jesus, and let us receive that love which holds us and all things.

For prayer & reflection

  • What keeps you from receiving and giving love to others?
  • Is there someone you might reach out to this year with a special phone call or a letter, a lost friend, someone you have not told what they mean to you?
  • What practices help you prepare the way of the Lord, opening you to receive and share Christ and his love? Does listening to music help? Solitude and quiet? Meditating or praying for others? Serving in a food pantry and helping others?

Another voice

To us, to all in sorrow and fear, Emmanuel comes a singing. His humble song is quiet and near, yet fills the earth with its ringing. Love be our song, and love our prayer, and love our endless story. May God fill every day we share, and bring us at last into glory!
(“Awake, Awake and Greet the New Morn,” Marty Haugen, 1983)