His name is Franklin!
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Tis the gift to be simple, tis the gift to be free, tis the gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right, ’twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d, to bow and to bend we shall not be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight, ’til by turning, turning we come round right.
Traditional Shaker Hymn, Joseph Brackett, Jr.
Do no harm.
Tell the truth.
Clean up after yourself.
Take care of God’s creation.
The basics of a good life are not particularly complex. Jesus put it this way: Love God, Love Neighbor, Love Self. That’s it: six words that open the door to a beautiful, holy life. Why do we do our best to make it more complex, adding unnecessary and often harmful additions and provisos? If I had to guess, I’d stake my money on another basic truth:
Simple and easy are not the same thing.
At My Feet
If the sun hadn’t glanced off the field as I walked to town, I’d have missed it. But it did. Condensation + Sunlight + Vantage Point = Illumination.
At first, I saw only the sparkling. Then, the amazing variation in color and form. Finally, abundant and sacred life with its own purpose. A whole world of wonder at my feet that asks of me nothing but attention.
Soon, the winter will bury the field in snow, and these blades will crumble into the soil, making way for next year’s growth. It won’t last, just as my own life won’t. But isn’t it amazing? And isn’t it enough?
All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, the flower falls, but the world of the Lord endures forever. I Peter 1:24-25
Concluding in the Middle
Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
It’s an odd thing, this conclusion in the middle of the day. I’m used to it at the end of a Sunday service (or a Saturday night one, for that matter) – it’s the beginning of the week and the end of a communal gathering. But noonday prayers are scattered throughout the week.
Perhaps that’s the whole point. Blessing God and offering thanks is a recognition of how and what life is – a gift that I neither earned nor requested. Offering these words are a way to end the chapter of the morning before beginning the afternoon’s chapter of this book that is my life.
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. I Cor 13:12, NRSV
What looks to us a huge flaw seems inconsequential to someone else; to someone who loves us, it may even be endearing. And it’s usually the insufficiencies that we see in our reflections, because we look only on the imperfect exterior. It’s a dim view of ourselves we see when we don’t look with loving eyes.
But this short-sightedness is a temporary condition. Some day, we will see ourselves and each other as God sees us: beautiful, unique, beloved. We won’t be able to separate the spirit from the flesh because love holds all things together.
Sometimes, we get a glimpse of a fullness out of the corner of our eyes. It’s just a glimpse of all things in their beloved totality. Perhaps it’s just enough for the love in our hearts to encompass everyone and everything, ourselves, and God. Perhaps, it’ll do for now.
And So It Begins…
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
Words have the power to shape reality, pointing us to what is good and holy and staring us in the face. Words have the power to maim reality, and wound all that is good and holy and seeking life. What I say to you and about you, what you say to me and about me – these words matter.
As I write, the airways are full of words and the Ukraine full of violence. A string of words from a powerful leader, words without love or thought for the lives that will be lost and damaged, has put this whole world on a dark path. The noise of gongs and the crashing of cymbals, the whistle of bombs and report of gunfire are in that string of words without love.
What words can I say or write? How can I speak a quiet word of love in the cacophony of loveless syllables? Without love, my words will add to the destruction – no matter how beautifully or cleverly I craft them.
I best watch my tongue and do my best to speak love in this time that most desperately needs to hear it.
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.
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
Readings: Psalm 126; Isaiah 35:3-7; Luke 7:18-20
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then shall the lame leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of the jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. Isaiah 35:3-7, NRSV
Why is it that I’m inclined to ask for vengeance when I am afraid of someone else? Can I get to a place of peace that doesn’t require some return for the hurt others visit on me?
The great strength of the psalms – and our faith in God: we leave such vengeance and smiting to God rather than take things into our own hands. God, in great mercy and patience, gives us time to rethink such vengeful requests. God grants us grace until we get to the point where we wish only good things on others – especially those whom we fear.
Readings: Luke 1:68-79; Malachi 3:5-12; Philippians 1:12-18a
I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.
Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment. What does it matter? Just this, that Christ is proclaimed in every way, whether out of false motives or true; and in that I rejoice.
More than once I heard each of them preach. Both had taught at Princeton Seminary, and both had served in churches. One preached out of love for Jesus, God-With-Us; the other as a form of public speech. One made time to listen to the life stories of others; the other was too busy running a large church and left the pastoral work to his assistant. One had a deep and abiding prayer life; the other didn’t think much of that kind of thing, and mocked those who did. These two preachers were different in almost every way except one: they revealed the Gospel whenever they stood in the pulpit and preached.
Does it matter, the motives of these preachers? Both proclaimed Christ to a world desperate for hope and love. Paul figured the motives weren’t so important – false or true, the Gospel was offered.
I’ll do my best to remember that, and to remember that Jesus can shine through my own imperfect and mixed motives.