Steadfast

Readings: Psalm 124; Isaiah 54:1-10; Matthew 24:23-35

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,

but my steadfast love shall not depart from you

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”

Says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10, NRSV

My Dear Child,

I love you no matter what.

Mount Washington will wear away, but my love never will.

The Atlantic may sweep Beacon Hill out to sea, but my peace will hold you fast.

There is nothing you can do that could make me stop loving you,

No words you can say will make me wish anything but peace for you.

I’m in this forever. XXOO ABBA

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

The Break

Readings: Psalm 124; Genesis 9:1-17; Hebrews 11:32-40

The Break

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If it had not been the Lord who was on our side – let Israel now say-

If it had not been for the Lord who was on our side,

when our enemies attacked us,

then they would have swallowed us up alive,

when their anger was kindled against us;

then the flood would have swept us away,

the torrent would have gone over us;

then over us would have gone the raging waters.

Blessed be the Lord,

who has not given us

as prey to their teeth.

We have escaped like a bird 

from the snare of the fowlers;

the snare is broken,

and we have escaped.

 Our help is in the name of the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come

Offered by Riley Anderson, artist, college learner, seeker of the Christ Child.

Birth…and pain, and death

Readings: Psalm 124; Genesis 8:1-19; Romans 6:1-11

What then do we say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.   Romans 6:1-11

I admit it seems odd: all this talk about sin and death and even resurrection when we are supposed to be thinking about a birth of a baby in a stable, surrounded by shepherds and magi and celebrated by a heavenly host. It might cause you to wonder what was going on in the heads of those who chose this passage to be read during Advent. What kind of malcontents insist on putting a damper on this holiday season, when the new regime has promised us that even store clerks will be able to say “Merry Christmas” once again? But I think they knew what they were doing and what they were doing is particularly important for us in these days. It’s not the baby that should be our focus in these days before Christmas: it’s the incarnation. And that’s why death and sin and resurrection are all important to keep in mind in this season when we are plagued by persistent pulls toward petty piety.

I have often thought I would like to play a video of a real birth at a Christmas Eve service. It would help us ground the birth of Jesus in the often harsh realities of the real world. Mary may well have pondered many things in her heart that night, but it was only after she had endured real pain and worry and fear. And that is what incarnation is about. It is about God coming to the pain of our lives. It is about God becoming part of a world in which worry and fear are never far from us. It is to suffer and to die. But as this passage from Romans reminds us, it is also to be raised from the dead and to walk in newness of life. The truth is we can truly experience that newness of life only after we know the reality of pain and suffering and fear. This Advent, let’s understand that this is at least part of what preparing for the birth of Christ is all about. It is only through the pain of childbirth that new life happens. So, let’s acknowledge the concerns and worries we have for ourselves, for those we love, for our world that are part of living in these days. We don’t need to wallow in them, but neither should we ignore them, thinking that somehow they undercut the merriness of Christmas. They are, after all, the reason we need a savior. The incarnation reminds us that God is with us in our all our concerns and worries and suffering, so it is possible to face them. And God leads us through all this to new life. This is our faith. This is our incarnation/resurrection hope.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered by Jeff Jones, author, teacher, seeker of the Christ Child.

Waiting Time

Readings: Jeremiah 33:14-16; Psalm 25:1-10; I Thessalonians 3:9-13; Luke 21:25-36

Look at the fig tree and all the trees. As soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near.

One thing Jesus did so well was to speak in the language of regular people. He talked about farming and shepherding and the natural world, stuff that everyone understood. He pointed to the turn of the seasons and the food coming from the land.

As a farmer, I, too, appreciate Jesus’ words about seeing things coming into season. I look for the first signs of potatoes sprouting up out of the cold ground in the spring. And I long for the blackberries to finally ripen into bursts of sweetness. The kale tastes that much better after the first frost.

It’s a little harder for us now to appreciate Jesus’ agrarian words. Asparagus no longer just appears in the spring when it is growing outside, but all year round. Crisp apples no longer just show up with the crisp fall air.  But we do still see the leaves bud out on the trees. The leaves fall in the autumn and we are reminded of the turning of the seasons and the pattern of the year.

As our natural world cycles so, too, Advent comes to us again, reminding us of the season of waiting, of anticipation. We may no longer have to wait for the season of asparagus or apples, but we do still wait for Jesus, for the Incarnation, for the birth of joy and hope into our broken world.

This year, amidst a fractured world, torn by ugly elections, ongoing war in the Middle East, and moving through the inevitable shortened days of our northern hemisphere, we once again wait. We wait for hope. We wait for light to return. We wait for a Savior who will come and show us again and again what it means to love as God loves and to work for the kingdom of God. We wait. And we shall know the kingdom of God is near.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered by Karen Gale, farmer, minister, seeker of the Christ Child.

Things Handed Down

Were he still alive, my father would be 76 years old today. With his birthday being so close to Thanksgiving, it’s a simple thing for me to remember him with deepest thanks. Because of him, I am a part of a loving family. I didn’t choose them and they didn’t choose me, but this unplanned life has been nothing but a blessing.

My mother is 76 years old. Because of her, I am a part of a loving family. I give thanks for such a blessing every day.

The same can be said of all those who came before me, unfamiliar names on a family tree that handed down my particular genetic pattern. How can I be anything but thankful  – to those with me, to those who came before me, and to the God who made us all?

Marc Cohn, The Things We’ve Handed Down, The Very Best of Marc Cohn, 2005

Thanks for the Inconvenience

My husband and I were up late on Monday assembling our new Ikea bed. After measuring the room and trying several different models, we chose a Hemnes. We threw in the four large underbed storage drawers, making the bed a space saver as well as a comfortable place to sleep. All the boxes fit in the car, the directions were easy to understand, and we managed to get the whole thing together before midnight – quite an accomplishment for two spatially challenged individuals.

My husband was the first to notice the problem. While the bed fit into the space beautifully, there wasn’t enough room on the sides to pull the drawers out. Either we give up the storage drawers or we reconfigure the room for the first time in five years.

We haven’t decided what we’ll do yet. One way or the other, it hasn’t turned out the way we thought it would. It’s certainly not a devastating dilemma, just an inconvenience and an opportunity to choose storage or furniture placement status quo.

We’ve been laughing about the whole thing these past couple of days – an unexpected blessing courtesy of our spatial shortcomings. The chance to enjoy inconvenience together doesn’t happen so often that I don’t recognize its benefits.

Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul…

Prayer at the Beginning of the Day, A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1991, p. 20

Big Blue Marble

The Earth’s a big blue marble when you see it from up there

The sun and moon declare her beauty’s very rare.

Big Blue Marble theme song

It’s a little over two miles from where we parked to the end of canal. With sunny skies and a brisk breeze at our backs, we set out for the farthest point on the Cape Cod Canal path. A few cyclists, the odd fisherman, and a handful of other walkers shared this extraordinary place and time with us.

A cormorant fanned her wings, standing on a seaweed covered rock; seagulls caught updrafts, skillfully hovering in place. Almost invisible sparrows emerged from the sea grass just a few feet away from us. We left the Sagamore bridge at a bend in the path before we could see the beacon that marked the path’s end. Spiderwebs filled the spaces between the breakwater rocks, sheltered from the ocean currents, blowing sands, and gusting wind.

We spoke a few words out on the breakwater, sharing a few amazing particulars in the vast beauty of ocean, sky, and land. Most of the time, we listened to the wind and water, two small creatures keeping silent before the mystery of nature.

On the walk back, we gathered up the pieces of our everyday life we’d left along the way. Lunch ideas, guesses on when we would get back to the car, and afternoon plans were reclaimed as the bridge and traffic sounds reappeared. The couple of hours spent walking settled into place, a piece of the day among other pieces. Time moved us along its path.

But our walk wasn’t just a way to get from one point to another, and it wasn’t just a photo opportunity – nothing so common as either of these. When the blindness that prevents us from seeing the beauty of this place is healed, when we know we are a part of Life’s story, and when we bow down in gratitude for our small and fleeting part in it? It’s a walk in Eden and a glimpse of heaven.

I am grateful beyond words.

In the company of friends

All who live and visit here shall be friends.

Kindliness and harmony shall be the watchwords.

Welleran Poltarnees, A House Blessing (Seattle, Washington: Blue Lantern Books, 1994) p. 6

For the past few Halloweens, friends have come for dinner, relaxing, catching up, and enjoying the visiting witches and ghosts that brighten our door. There were ten of us this year. For some, it’s the latest in a long line of Halloweens spent together here or there; for others, the first time. But it would be quite a trick to tell them apart. It was a room full of good listeners and good storytellers, with a natural give and take among those who were meeting for the first time and those who’ve known each other for decades.

When the last friend headed home, I looked around the room with its candles, books, origami bats and pumpkins. I cannot say why, but I knew that something of God’s presence had come to dinner. The kindness of friends, a time set apart, a little something to eat and drink. Just your garden variety encounter with the love that binds the universe together found in the company of friends, family, and holy strangers at the door.

halloween 2015

How to begin?

Mickey Cray had been out of work ever since a dead iguana fell from a palm tree and hit him on the head…

…”Me, too, Lucille.”

[Carl Hiaasen, Chomp, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf), 2012, pp. 1, 290]

Like real life, it’s full of secrets and sacrifice. Money and fame change people, but so do kindness and courage. The second rate reality star gets chomped by a long list of critters and insects and stumbles into helpfulness. A family faces medical bills and two young people become friends for life. Not too dark, not to sweet.

There’s an art to starting a story, and how we begin telling our own tales can intrigue or bore ourselves and others. If we think our lives are dull, we will use flat words written with broken pencils. If we see our lives as adventures, a dead iguana may start the whole thing moving. This goes double for our faith stories: how we feel about them will come across in how we tell them to ourselves and others. Are there a few dead iguanas, flashes of light and thunder, brave children foiling evil plots, something that we can’t quite tame that makes the heart beat? I certainly hope so!

How will you begin your story? How will you tell me all about your sacred life? I wonder. There’s no real beginning and no real end, but there are always places to start and specific chapters to end. If I were telling you my story, I’d begin like this:

Is an eighty-six year old man strong enough to get my head above water? I hope so, because Pastor Chase is taking a long time, and this is only the first of three dunks in my Merrymeeting Lake baptism…