Truth With A Bow

Christmas Card, 2021

I might enjoy what’s in the box, but nothing in it could be the perfect gift.

The true present? That something, almost anything, given with love and received with gratitude, delivers what I most desire in life:

The awareness that this life, all aspects and instances of it, are capable of drawing me into the love of God.

Today, that’s my working definition of Joy.

Reverence

Pilgrim Press Christmas Card, 2022

When the snow falls just right, with enough heft to coat the branches but not enough to break them, something like an outdoor hallway is revealed. I’ve come upon them in many places – the library walkway, Buckmanville Road in New Hope, and Prescott Park in Portsmouth. But none were quite as magical as the ones a few miles up Birch Hill Road in New Durham. Dirt roads leading to the summer cabins on Chalk and March ponds, abandoned in Winter, were natural cathedrals when adorned in white. I spent many hours walking in these sacred spaces, and am much richer for it.

Healing, justice, love. A song, a branch, and a path. If I approached them with the same reverence as a snow-created wonder, surely the world and I would be much the richer for it.

Surprise!

2021 Christmas Card

It begins with the Magi following a star to a baby born king. Intelligent and dedicated, they head to Jerusalem – the place you would expect to find a child king. But the baby wasn’t there, so they move on to the dreary little town of Bethlehem. In a humble home, they find a toddler. They are filled with joy, making the months long journey a small price to pay for the experience. A gift giving and dream later, they take an alternate route home, better for their journey.

Some interesting things about their story…

The Magi have been folded into the Christmas story, with Sunday school pageants and Christmas cards showing them trekking to the manger. But Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in a house, not a barn; Jesus wasn’t a newborn – most likely, he was around two.

The gospel never mentions how many Magi made the trip, but tradition landed on three. Casper, Balthazar, and Melchior are names given to the Magi, but those aren’t part of the original account, either.

The Magi weren’t Jewish when they set out to follow the star, and they didn’t convert. They were most likely Zoroastrian scholars, and their country of origin may have been Persia – another thing not made clear in the gospel.

How is it that our picture of the Magi has diverged from their original story? How is it that this version of the story is so prevalent and powerful that we read back into the gospel these elements?

Epiphany is a day, true, but it’s also a season that begins as Christmas ends and ends as Lent begins. It is an opportunity to remember that God’s chosen arrival into our messy human world didn’t fit into an expected time, place, or social station. If we aren’t careful, we can easily gloss over the difficulties that a journey across desert terrain entailed; we can omit that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph fled to Egypt for survival – political refugees. We can overlook that a response to God’s arrival in our world may be fear and violence rather than awe and joy.

I love this card. It’s a beautiful depiction of the Magi arriving to worship Jesus. It’s also a good reminder that if I’m not careful, I just might mistake profound joy and divine revelation for pleasant prettiness and fleeting happiness. Epiphany is a season because it may take longer than a day for me to see that the incarnation cannot and should not be reduced to a Hallmark moment.

Season of Wonder

I’ve spent the better part of the afternoon looking out the window, hoping that the expected snowfall will come. But now the sun has set and the street lights shine on bare sidewalks. No snow yet. But I still have hope that the wonder of snow is on its way, so I’m keeping the inside lights to a minimum – just the Christmas tree lights and the bookcase lights.

Wonder is a freely given gift, but an easily overlooked one. I can’t be too preoccupied with my own things or sit in a spotlight if I want experience the wonder all around me. I’ll miss snowfall, starlight, new life, and God knows what else if I forget to look beyond myself.

Epiphany in Images

It’s just a day into the new year, but Christmas season is still with me – the twelve days don’t end until the 6th, and our festive decorations are still brightening up the house. Included in those decorations are the Christmas cards that hang between the kitchen and living room. Walking between rooms, I pass under the well wishes of friends, family, and a few institutions – an arch of love and care that has been constructed card by card for decades. It would be a shame to let the cards go before giving them more than a passing glance…

You might want to share some of your favorites as well…

About the Authors

Many thanks to all who contributed to this year’s Advent Devotional offerings. They are:

Bill Albritton is a retired consultant who offers his gifts as a choir member and church leader at Saint John the Evangelist Episcopal Church in Duxbury, Massachusetts. He leads Coffee & Conversation, a weekly study that explores the Bible, church, prayer, and the many other aspects of faith life.

David Anderson is an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, currently working for the uplifting of those in need in the Philadelphia area. He is the author of Losing Your Faith, Finding Your Soul and Breakfast Epiphanies. He and his wife, Pam Anderson, live outside Philadelphia.

Riley Anderson was in college when she created the image for the passage about Jesse. It continues to be a wonderful part of the Advent devotional.

Ann Fowler is a spiritual director who offers her considerable and prayerful wisdom in the Plymouth, Massachusetts community.

Jill Fredrickson is a retired teacher and business leader from Canon City, Colorado. She continues to grow in love and wisdom, seeking the presence of God in the stillness of the desert and in her family life.

Debbie Hill is a musician, poet, and visual artist who offers her gifts to the Christ Church community in Plymouth, Massachusetts. With her husband, Don, she provides music for the Saturday evening service once a month – and for several other services throughout the year.

Margaret Hill is a singer and visual artist who shares her prayerful images with her Christ Church community.

Jeff Jones is a retired Baptist minister and author of several books, including Facing Decline, Finding Hope. He lives with his wife in Florida.

Robin Nielson is a retired educator and parishioner of Christ Church in Plymouth, where she serves as the head of the Altar Guild. She and her family live in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Thom Nordquist offered his images to his Christ Church family throughout his life. He is remembered fondly by the parish community, his wife, Ellen, and his family.

Parting Words

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told about this child; and all who heard it were amazed what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:8-20, NRSV

May we never be afraid of holy messengers.

May we treasure these words in our hearts.

May we ponder their meaning in our lives.

May we return to home and work singing the praises of God.

Welcome, Jesus.

Angel by Margaret Hill

Fear Not

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

by Thom Nordquist

Do not be afraid; for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Luke 2:10-11

In grateful thanks for the life of Thom Nordquist, and the art he shared with his Christ Church family.

Yes

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55; Micah 4:6-8; 2 Peter 1:16-21

Ages reaching down to present.

All knowing seeking innocence.

Awaiting fulfillment of the Word,

generations to come and kingdoms

teeter on the brink of the response.

The complex mystery of the Alpha and the Omega

bending to purity and simplicity.

Combined breath of universe

and totality of holiness,

in stillness and silent reverence

listen for her answer……

and in a moment for all time,

in complete surrender to love,

She replies, “Yes……

Offered by Debbie Hill to light the path to Bethlehem

Walls

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55; Micah 4:1-5; Ephesians 2:11-22

So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision” – a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands – remember the you were at one time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, the he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; In whole you are also built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. NRSV

For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.
Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)

The Gentiles, who were at one time welcomed into the temple (I Kings 8: 41-43), are no longer allowed into the temple under penalty of death; the wall of hostility divides the Jews from the non-Jews. The writer of Ephesians proclaims peace and unity are now here through the broken body of Jesus.  

Last Sunday we lit the 4th candle, the candle symbolizing peace—the culmination of our journey to Bethlehem. Peace on earth, goodwill to all. And yet there remains so many walls of hostility.  The Body of Christ introduces a fundamental perspective of community as organic, not structural, organizational or doctrinal—forms of community against which Jesus struggled. These artificial communities, with their rigid systems, were exactly what Jesus sought to replace. He welcomed people into  relationships that allowed for differences, tolerated uncertainties, and respected the dignity of every human being. May we do the same as we pray a prayer for unity from the Book of Common Prayer:

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Offered by Bill Albritton, a light on our path to Bethlehem.