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December 24, 2017

DECEMBER 24

The Fourth Sunday of Advent

Proclaiming

“John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness,

proclaiming a baptism of repentance

for the forgiveness of sins.”

Mark 1: 4

Reflecting on the text

It’s almost Christmas; in fact, you may be lighting this last candle on Christmas Eve.  John the Baptist is an odd addition to the faces at the manger!  But before we turn to angels and shepherds and magi, Mark’s Gospel holds before us the good news that will continue to break:  “Repentance” means “to turn around.”  The Common English Bible translates the Greek as “changing … hearts and lives.”  That’s the turnaround in our wilderness, toward “God with us.”

Lighting the candles

Light the first, second, and third candles

on the Advent wreath;

light the fourth candle (purple) for the coming of Immanuel,

“God with us.”  

December 23, 2017

DECEMBER 23

It is easy joy to prepare for the birth of a child.

Parents delight in making a place for newborn in a home where family and friends all pitch in to make the birth a happy event and to be sure the child is welcomed into the world in love and safety.

We all want to hold a perfect, sweet human infant.

Time slows down for a moment as we revel in the glory of new life.

Matthew, Luke and John give us this experience for Jesus in their stories of the advent.

Granted, Joseph and Mary had to work harder to find a place for their child to be born.

And yet, we imagine the sweet hay of the manger and the innkeeper’s animals warming the air with their breath.

Oil lamps burn with soft light and out in the night sky, a great blazing star lights the way to a mysterious birth in Bethlehem.

The night is silent. Time slows.

Mark breaks our reverie with John the Baptizer, striding in from his desert wanderings, reeking of sweat, honeycomb, and animal skin, telling all who listen that there is One who w...

December 22, 2017

DECEMBER 22

If I were a prophet I’d tell the whole world,

You worry too much about money

And not enough about one another.

God made diversity

And said it was good.

You see your differences

And fear the other.

The other is a subconscious tool,

A way, a means of survival, a numbing way

To define the people you don’t want

To worry about.

Just kick them out or keep them out

Or lock them up or move away from them

Or close your heart to them.

Because that explains everything;

If only we can protect ourselves

From them, all will be well.

If I were a prophet I’d yell it from the rooftop

That God loves everybody, not just the people

Who look like you, and dress like you,

And pray like you,

And eat like you.

Or maybe I’d whisper,

“I love you…

 And God does too.”

To one lonely person,

And maybe she or he would

Pass it on, “I love you…

 And God does too.”

Mary Stetson

December 21, 2017

DECEMBER 21

Preparing by rote:

As a child raised in the Catholic Church, I was trained to “prepare for Communion” by going to confession on Saturday whether I had sinned or not.  It was embarrassing to go out into the pews and say prayers in penance, especially, if they involved a whole rosary.  There were a lot of jokes about who finished praying first. The longer the penance, the more sins you must have confessed!  My family also got good at figuring out which priest doled out the most or least prayers at confession.

Preparing in the wilderness:

My first deeply felt “preparation” for the Creator was experienced in a mini vision quest in the wilderness.  We met as a group after sunset and participated in a Sacred Native American Pipe Ceremony in silence.  We then walked in silence to a Sacred Hill and found a private spot to sit and pray.

We had been instructed to “open our hearts, and allow the Creator to see all of us, and to understand nothing would be hidden.   We were b...

December 20, 2017

DECEMBER 20

I just have to watch the Newshour at 6:00 pm or read the New York Times daily briefing to come to the conclusion that our world is covered with millions of acres of wilderness-and not much consists of thick green vegetation. And how many voices are crying out, or seeking a path-to some peace, to shelter, to food, medicine, basic human needs.

Imagine the terror in Egypt as terrorists branch out to a mosque, killing over 300 men, women, and children, as they are in prayer. The sound of weeping is thundering.

And then there is the picture of the Muslim Rohingya on a miles long path, trying to escape the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military. Ethnic cleansing and/or genocide are words used to describe what is happening in that country. Who knows where that path ends?

Those events are just the tip of the iceberg.  Look what is happening in parts of Africa, Syria, Ukraine, North Korea, and many other countries, too many to list: famine, disease, lack of shelter, extreme povert...

December 19, 2017

DECEMBER 19

My Bible study group happened to study the beginning of Mark's gospel just a couple of weeks ago.  We talked and talked about what John the Baptist's quote from Isaiah, 'prepare the way of the Lord' means, and what 'make his paths straight' means, and what these phrases mean again and again for us as Advent approaches every year (Mark 1:3).  We all engage in a lot of Christmas preparation: decorations, presents, cookies, cards, etc.  Are those examples of preparing the way of the Lord?  We often prepare to do extra giving at this time of year to worthy organizations that support others.  Is that preparing the way of the Lord?  We are often more attuned to the carols of the season and to the nativity scenes, and we may attend church more regularly during Advent.  Is that preparing the way of the Lord?  We receive Communion on the first Sunday of Advent and on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  Is that preparing the way of the Lord? We focus on family and on showing our love an...

December 18, 2017

DECEMBER 18

Crying Out

    "... the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

'Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.' "

Mark 1: 3

Reflecting on the text

The herald cries out in the wilderness; the Common English Bible translates "cries out" as "shouts."  And the wilderness shouts out its joy when the Messiah comes; it rejoices and blossoms like the desert rose.  The symbol of the rose recalls the prophetic vision of  Isaiah 35.  Growth, joy, life - the birth of the Messiah transforms all creation.  In art, literature, and poetry over the centuries, Jesus Christ himself was symbolized by a rose.  The custom of using the rose as an Advent symbol can be traced back to the 13th century.  It was Martin Luther's favorite symbol of the Christian faith.  It blooms among us as a sign of hope and joy at the center of our Chancel cross.

                                   +          +          +...

December 17, 2017

The Third Sunday of Advent

DECEMBER 17

Crying Out

    "... the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

'Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.' "

Mark 1: 3

Reflecting on the text

The herald cries out in the wilderness; the Common English Bible translates "cries out" as "shouts."  And the wilderness shouts out its joy when the Messiah comes; it rejoices and blossoms like the desert rose.  The symbol of the rose recalls the prophetic vision of  Isaiah 35.  Growth, joy, life - the birth of the Messiah transforms all creation.  In art, literature, and poetry over the centuries, Jesus Christ himself was symbolized by a rose.  The custom of using the rose as an Advent symbol can be traced back to the 13th century.  It was Martin Luther's favorite symbol of the Christian faith.  It blooms among us as a sign of hope and joy at the center of our Chancel cross.

Lighting the candles

Light the first and second candles (purple)

on the Advent...

December 16, 2017

DECEMBER 16

Sending

"As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

'See, I am sending my messenger

ahead of you,

Who will prepare your way ...' "

Mark 1: 2

Reflecting on the text

Who are God's messengers today?  What are God's messages today?

Why are the prophets so important to the story of Jesus Christ?

          

Who has prepared your way, going ahead to make a path?

                                   +          +          +

  

If there were ever a time that needed a "God's messenger" like John the Baptist, it is now. The Bible is full of warnings from the Prophets about the dangers of tribal politics. My favorite is Amos. He makes one trip to warn the Israelites, is admonished, and then returns home.

While I struggle to see God's messengers today, I do sincerely believe that one is coming. We see an explosion of writers...

December 15, 2017

DECEMBER 15

Sending

"As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

'See, I am sending my messenger

ahead of you,

Who will prepare your way ...' "

Mark 1: 2

Reflecting on the text

Who are God's messengers today?  What are God's messages today?

Why are the prophets so important to the story of Jesus Christ?

          

Who has prepared your way, going ahead to make a path?

                                   +          +          +

  

Over the last year my work as a journalist has taken an unexpected but deeply satisfying turn. In writing for a new-to-me publication (albeit one more than 100 years old), I've been meeting and talking to a host of messengers of peace, justice, and reconciliation.

Last April I had the chance to interview Shane Claiborne, one of the leaders of a Philadelphia urban Christian community called The Si...

December 13, 2017

DECEMBER 13-14

Sending

"As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

'See, I am sending my messenger

ahead of you,

Who will prepare your way ...' "

Mark 1: 2

Reflecting on the text

Who are God's messengers today?  What are God's messages today?

Why are the prophets so important to the story of Jesus Christ?

          

Who has prepared your way, going ahead to make a path?

                                   +          +          +

  

As a boy of five or six in La Crosse, Wisconsin, I was in the age of innocence. We played games of "Statues For Sale," "Kick the Can," "Hide and Seek," and, at times, soldiers in "The Game of War." This was just after the Korean War resolved, General Douglas McArthur seemed to be a hero, and "I Like Ike" President Eisenhower presided over a fairly calm and prosperous country.

Our family attended...

December 11, 2017

DECEMBER 11-12

My mother died in October after a long and difficult decline.

She had been a messenger in Mark's sense all her life, and she'd let God teach her new ways of looking at the world. Over the years, she expanded her outreach from her family and church to people and communities that had been invisible to her. Her family dinners became populated not just by her husband and children, but by the old, the infirm, the lonely, the far-from-home. Her house was a community gathering place, where someone might stop by, at almost any time of the day, and find her ready to listen.

In her last months, Parkinson's disease robbed my mother of the ability to form a sentence, and she spoke so softly she couldn't be heard. It was a cruel loss for a woman whose gift was communication. Still, day after day, week after week, as I pushed her wheelchair through the halls of Saint John's, nearly everyone we passed stopped to greet her. She would smile, take their hand, and say something that couldn't...

December 10, 2017

The Second Sunday of Advent

DECEMBER 10

Sending

"As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

'See, I am sending my messenger

ahead of you,

Who will prepare your way ...' "

Mark 1: 2

Reflecting on the text

Who are God's messengers today?  What are God's messages today?

Why are the prophets so important to the story of Jesus Christ?

          

Who has prepared your way, going ahead to make a path?

Lighting the candles

Light the first and second candles (purple) on the Advent wreath,

giving thanks for those who go when sent, and who open our eyes and ears to the coming of Christ among us.
 

December 8, 2017

DECEMBER 8-9

My first and strongest memory of my faith beginning isn't related to a family member, or participating in a sacrament, or witnessing a miracle. Strangely enough, it's about the emotional reaction I had when someone said something about me.

I was in fifth grade and had recently moved from the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago to the northern suburbs. I was attending a new church and new Sunday school class with kids I didn't know and a teacher who was the father of one of my classmates.

On one particular day that I don't recall the rest of, after a Sunday school lesson I don't remember the topic of, my teacher walked over to my father and exclaimed, "Boy, she sure asks a lot of questions!"

My father chuckled.

I, on the other hand, was paralyzed with fear.

Heart racing.

Blood rushing to my face.

Naturally, questions bubbled up in my mind at lightning speed. Was he suggesting I was a skeptic? Scolding me for not knowing my religion? Or was it a compliment?

This moment was pivotal f...

December 6, 2017

DECEMBER 6-7

When I think about how my faith journey began, I think of the opening lines of Simon and Garfunkel's "My Little Town":

In my little town

I grew up believing

God keeps his eye on us all.

And he would lean upon me

As I pledged allegiance to the wall.

Lord, I recall

In my little town....

I knew only what the nuns told me Monday through Friday, and what priests said Sunday -- no context, all in rote from the catechism, half of the rest of it in Latin. I remember the altar boys' first words of each service: Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.  (Meaning roughly: I go to the altar of God, the joy of my youth. Some irony there.)

              

The world intervened. How such an otherwise beautiful religion could simply refuse to allow the equal participation and status of women, bar the option of the clergy to marry, and refuse to honor non-terminal attempts to employ birth control, began to astound me and sap my loyalt...

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