Sunday, December 28, 2008

in the city of the shepherd-king

One Christmas I got something unexpected in the mail – a shoebox, for women’s pumps, black, size 7-1/2 B.

Inside the box were three half-pound packages of coffee from Old Bisbee Roasters in Arizona.

There was a note, from my friend Colleen. When she bought the coffee for me, as a Christmas gift, she’d told the roaster that I was a minister. So he’d said to make sure to tell me that he ‘wants to have a personal relationship’—with me.

There was also a Christmas card. The outside had a cartoon of a little boy, presumably in a Christmas pageant, with a blanket on his head. It was captioned “What Christmas is really about.” Linus, Charlie Brown’s little brother, was reciting from the 2nd chapter of the Gospel of Luke:

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them… And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

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…

The shepherds are not passive viewers; they take an active part in the story. And this is their action moment, when they speak, “Let us go down to Bethlehem…” and move toward the promised Child.

What did they go into the City of David to see?

Was the Child a nascent hero, like Hercules? Children’s books say that when Hercules was a baby he was already a super-hero. He strangled snakes in his cradle. And who knows what he got up to when he began to walk – but:

The Christ Child was not Superbaby—he was a real baby. He was vulnerable and soft. His surroundings, warm and fragrant from the animals, were none of his choosing. He was dependent on those around him. Joseph and Mary looked after him. But as we know from the story of the shepherds, he was already drawing toward him those who sought the peace of God.

There in the City of David the Shepherd-king of old, not in a wayfarer’s inn but in a stable, there the King of all shepherds in a manger lay, offering himself as manna, bread of heaven, bread in the wilderness, bread of life – offering himself in obedience and offering that obedience as savior of all; and offering that obedience, to all, as the way that salvation led.

He was the promised Child, the shepherd-king of Isaiah 40:

Comfort, oh comfort My people, Says your God.

Like a shepherd He pastures His flock: He gathers the lambs in His arms

And carries them in His bosom; Gently He drives the mother sheep.

(Isaiah 40:1,11 JPS)

Long ago and far, far away another shepherd abiding in the fields was keeping watch over the flocks by night: Cuthbert, a young man of 9th century Northumbria in northern England. He used to sing the psalms to the sheep at night.

And then one night, at the age of eighteen, he had a vision, or perhaps a dream, and the next morning he went down the hills to Melrose, where he became a monk. The story goes that that was the very night when Aidan, founder of Lindisfarne Priory on Holy Island, had died.

After some years as a monk, Cuthbert was sent to take Aidan’s place. And so he traveled on Cuthbert’s Way, over the hills again, to the Holy Island. There he found behind the priory a beach and across a small inlet of the North Sea a very small rocky islet. At night when the tide was low he would wade out to it, gaze back across the water to the priory where the monks were sleeping, and as they slept he would sing the psalms. “Like a shepherd he pastures his flock…”

The call to Melrose and the call to the priory were moments of decision for Cuthbert. He took action, and got involved in the story. He became a shepherd of men. In doing so, he recalled to mind the Lord that he served – that we serve: Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

The same Lord calls each of us – from field or from home – to come witness the coming of the Christ Child, to adore him, to receive him into our hearts, to share in his life – the obedience, the innocence, the hope – and to bring to the world hope and peace, joy and love, justice and mercy.

The shepherds of Bethlehem went into town to see if Jesus really was the Messiah they’d been waiting for. And they found him:

The Shepherd King,
Who calls each of us by name,
Who watches over his flock,
And sings to them of Paradise.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A Christmas Carol
Christina Rossetti

Before the paling of the stars
Before the winter morn
Before the earliest cockcrow
Jesus Christ was born:
Born in a stable
Cradled in a manger,
In the world His Hands had made
Born a Stranger.

Priest and King lay fast asleep
In Jerusalem,
Young and Old lay fast asleep
In crowded Bethlehem:
Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass
Kept a watch together
Before the Christmas daybreak
In the winter weather.

Jesus on His Mother’s breast
In the stable cold,
Spotless Lamb of God was He,
Shepherd of the Fold:
Let us kneel with Mary Maid
With Joseph bent and hoary
With Saint and Angel, Ox and Ass
To hail the King of Glory.

Christina Rossetti: The Complete Poems (2001) 564-565.


Friday, December 26, 2008

After Christmas...

After Christmas…

After Christmas… we put the presents away, recycle the wrappings, and store the boxes in the attic or garage.

After Christmas… the child Jesus grows up.

After Christmas… we try to get our minds around the mystery. Who is this child?

After Christmas… we wonder what will change. What will we do differently? What will we see differently?

After Christmas…

Good King Wenceslas looked out, On the feast of Stephen,
When the snow lay round about, Deep and crisp and even;

Brightly shone the moon that night, Though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, Gath'ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me; If thou know’st, telling—
Yonder peasant, who is he? Where and what his dwelling?”

“Sire, he lives a good league hence, Underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

"Bring me flesh, and bring me wine! Bring me pine logs hither!
Thou and I will see him dine, When we bear him thither."

The saint in the carol sees a way to serve Christ through the poor – and acts on it. He and his page go out into the snow to invite the man to dine.

After Christmas… will we see differently? Will we act differently? Will we walk out into the cold in the footsteps of Wenceslas to seek out the poor? Will we speak out on the causes of poverty? Will we be working to transform the world into the image of Christ’s kingdom – a kingdom of peace and not of poverty, of abundance and not of scarcity; a kingdom turned not inward in self-preservation but outward in charity?

Page and monarch forth they went, Forth they went together,
Through the rude wind's wild lament, And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now, And the wind blows stronger;
Fails my heart, I know not how, I can go no longer.”

"Mark my footsteps, good my page, Tread thou in them boldly;
Thou shalt find the winter's rage, Freeze thy blood less coldly."

In his master’s steps he trod, Where the snow lay dinted;
Heat was in the very sod Which the saint had printed.

Therefore, Christian men, be sure, Wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor Shall yourselves find blessing.

--J. M. Neale (1818-1866), The New Oxford Book of Carols, Hugh Keyte & Andrew Parrott, eds., (Oxford, 1992) #97.

A Franciscan Benediction:

May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of all people, so that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain to joy.

May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world; so that we can do what others claim cannot be done.


The English word GOSPEL (Anglo-Saxon, godspell, ‘God-story’) is used to translate the Greek euangelion, ‘good tidings’.* As Christ’s hands and voice in the world we strive to proclaim the good tidings of Jesus in our words and embody his gospel in our deeds.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Luke 4:18)


*Alan Richardson, A Theological Word Book of the Bible (Macmillan, 1950) p. 100.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

In those days...

In those days, Rome was strong, and young in its strength. It had a ruler so powerful he was called a living God, king of kings, and prince of peace. He was called the Emperor Augustus, and he was Emperor of all the world we knew.

His Legions, each five thousand strong, tramped the straight roads of empire, leveling high places and raising the low before them, arrow-straight through the heart of the nations, ruling them all and binding them all, in the darkness of imperial power. He closed his fist in his might, his boots trod across the world.

And he made peace: the peace of Rome, the quiet of empire, the velvet night of unchallengeable authority.

There was no questioning who was in charge… of this world that we knew.

Who were we?

We were just ordinary workingmen trying to make a living – shepherds, staying out in the fields all night, tending the sheep, guarding the flock, keeping watch.

We had seen a lot of strange things, at night, out in the fields. We had our share of bear stories, wolf stories; we'd fought lions.

But we had never seen anything like this. Right in the middle of an ordinary night, right in the middle of an ordinary job, something broke through from a realm beyond our sight.

A choir of heavenly messengers filled our eyes. Unto you, they sang - unto you!

Salvation comes, the king is born, and God has fulfilled his promise. Go and see: go into the town and look for a baby, an ordinary baby, all wrapped up and ready for bed, but sleeping in a manger – that's him.

That BABY is God incarnate: a baby lying in a manger, gently breathing, his folks standing by. This is the sign of God that everyone has been waiting for. This is the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Son of David, Christ Almighty – don't you want to tell somebody about it?

We're no angels. We're just shepherds, working the night shift on a far hillside. The mother herself saw no angels tonight, only us -- bringing the message, confirming what she knew in her heart, that today, in the City of David, is born a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

He had come, the Savior, the Messiah we were looking for – but not as we were looking. He came to us as a helpless infant, a baby: the hope of the world wrapped in swaddling cloths.

And this child, born to marginal people in a marginal town in a marginal province on the distant edge of the greatest empire the world had ever seen, quietly moved to the center of life. Humble and obedient, Joseph and Mary became more exalted than Herod had ever been; and their son, their Son, was in his infancy more powerful – though invisible in his majesty – than any Caesar would ever become.

Somehow, through this child, peace and righteousness and justice began to work their way in the world, the world that – after all – God, not Herod, had made. And into God’s world he sent his own Son, who became for us the Bread of Life.

We were ordinary workingmen, leading a workingman’s life. Into the very fields where the sheep lay came the extraordinary messengers, bearing glad tidings.

“On earth peace, good will toward men!”

Our lives were changed. Even after, later that night, as we trudged back up the frosty hill-paths to our flocks, we knew that the dawn that was breaking that morning was a new day indeed, for us, for our people, and for the whole world.

How then on an ordinary day are you to recognize the Christ Child? How is he born in your life – in your town?

You go about your business in your ordinary way – and yet: something extraordinary is happening even now, in your heart, in your life, in your will.

Christ is being born. God has sent his Redeemer to you, to establish the way of peace, to bring righteousness and peace to the world he has made, to the person he has made, to you.

Unto you is born this day a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

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!


Fred B. Craddock et al., Preaching through the Christian Year (Trinity Press International)

Herbert O'Driscoll, The Word Today (Anglican Book Centre)

Hugh Keyte & Andrew Parrott, eds., The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford, 1993) No. 53.


Saturday, December 20, 2008

a woman clothed with the sun

A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (Revelation 12:1)

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

One fall Friday evening fourteen years ago, after a banquet, a group of Jesus Scholars stayed up late talking together in a hospitality suite in the convention hotel – and began to play a parlor game together. They asked each other, if you were going to make a movie about Jesus, whom would you cast as Jesus? As Mary of Magdala?

I had all sorts of ideas – but just as someone turned to me and asked, whom would you cast? The door opened and in walked a Hollywood director who was indeed planning a movie about Jesus. I got a little tongue-tied and lost my chance at fame.

Since then, I’ve turned the question over in my mind and I’ve even thought up a plot device to frame the story – one I thought that director might like. Things like that. It’s a fun game to play.

But here’s a part for you to cast, one we didn’t really discuss that night so thoroughly. Maybe it was too tough a problem for a late-night bull session.

Who would you cast as the Mother of God?

Who would you cast as the Bearer of the bearer of our sins? The one to give birth to the One in whom are born our hopes for new life?

What qualities would she have? Where would you find such a person? How would you break the news to her? What kind of family would she have?

What we know about Mary is that she was a girl living in a poor village. She was the promised bride of a man named Joseph, a workman who worked with his hands. And there was certainly work to do.

The poor village lay in an obscure corner of a mighty empire – not so obscure but that its power could be felt. The Romans had indeed been by – flexing their power, the Imperial troops had laid waste to a nearby town, a center of rebellion. They didn’t like those things, no, and they blotted them out. They’d leave no stone unturned until they’d rooted out the last nugget of resistance.

We know this of Mary: she said Yes. May it be so with me as you have promised. As you have promised my people from long ago – send us a Savior. Send him to me; I will bear the mystery.

I will raise him, and teach him. And he will raise up his people and teach them the way – the way of the Lord, the way of justice, and righteousness, and mercy, and peace.

Courage, faithfulness, and hope. Innocence and obedience.

A girl who had never known a man was declared to be the perfect mother. No wonder she ran to consult her cousin Elizabeth, who at least had some idea of what was going on. Indeed, as the once-barren bearer of the greatest of the prophets, the mother-to-be of John, the voice calling in the desert, one who had spent long years waiting for her womb to bear its fruit, for new life to begin and grow and come to time, she would be the best to know.* To know what it meant to bear the greater mystery, the coming of the Christ – as a Child.

O little lady, you are not least among the women of Israel, for from you shall come the greatest of Kings – greater than David his ancestor. The hopes and fears of all the years will meet in him.

What were you expecting, O people of God? A baby? Or a warrior, a prince, a king, a deliverer? One to lead you to triumph? One to set you free from those who made you captive, to heal you from all infirmity, to comfort you from all sorrow, to set you up once again as the peak of all the nations, the highest mountain in the whole range of hills, the one all would turn to – to regard as the greatest of nations?

And yet, you get a baby, an infant meek and mild, vulnerable, tiny, just a beginning, a birth, a new life, a small package promising greater things – so fragile: but not to worry.

She is up to the task. Let it be to me according to your Word.

And now you and I are called to bear this fragile message into the world. In each of us to bring it forth, give it a new place to begin to grow, to nurture it, to give it a new start, and let it grow, and carry it into the world.

In innocence of our experience,
In obedience of our misgivings,
In the strength of our fragile hopes,
To take him in our turn, the burden and the message,
To conceive the new life in us,
To know the Christ in us, the Hope of Glory,
To take that little light of ours, and give it to the world, and let it shine,
And to be willing to say to God:
Here we are, the servants of the Lord,
Let it be with us, according to your Word.


*[Meredith Long shared this insight with colleagues at World Concern while leading prayers one Thursday this past month.]

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas Present

John is a voice calling in the desert wasteland, make ready the highway: the people of God are returning from darkness, into the light of a new day, led by the one who himself is the way and the light and the home-safe harbor they seek.

John, holy human - in the line of the prophets the last and greatest - was sent by God to bear witness to the Word, and to point to the Light.

In our gospel reading today, we see clearly that he is a witness - Greek: a martyr - who testifies to the Word made flesh and come among us. He calls us to testify to the promise of God made real in human form.

"I saw the Light" - as Hank Williams sang - no more darkness, no more night. No more sorrow, no more strife - because, praise the Lord, the Lord is come, to set his people free.

John is a sign, pointing - this is the Way, the Truth, the Life - follow him and believe.

Jesus had a surprise for the people in the synagogue at Capernaum. As he read the words of Isaiah they were fulfilled. The savior, the Messiah, the king - was present - is present, among us here and now.

Salvation is a quality of life here and now: the kingdom of God is all ready here in the hope we have in the Advent of Christ the King. It is Jesus who is coming. All hopes and fears are met in him - and the long vigil of waiting and watching for his arrival is almost over.

Salvation is a quality of life here and now: good news, healing, liberty, release, comfort; this is the jubilee year of restoration and abundance. God's deliverance is real here and now.

The world as it should be, what we have come to call God's kingdom, the reign of God, is already among us.

Our mission to the oppressed, the heart-broken, captives and prisoners, those in mourning, those faint of heart, is to be a sign of God's blessing. We witness to his presence among us with our lives: living as a people of Good News, of freedom proclaimed and lived, of justice and mercy made real. We are the people who sing of God's grace poured forth in overflowing measure, of comfort and joy.

Rejoice - rejoice with real joy, bought indeed with tears of sorrow for what is lost, hard-won Advent joy, not the quick prosperity flash of consumer culture. Sow in sorrow, but reap in joy. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing: always give thanks: the one who calls you is faithful. The one who calls you is faithful.

Christ in you, the hope of glory; faith in the love of God shown in Jesus' word and deed.

He makes all things new.

Let us pray that he gives us grace to see the present through his eyes.

May we rejoice in the Lord always, confident in our hope in Christ.

May we pray without ceasing, steadfast in our faith in Christ.

May we give thanks in all things, celebrating the love shown in Christ.

May we answer the call of God to be his faithful people, knowing that the One who calls us is faithful.

It is time for rejoicing - for ashes to be traded for garlands, for mourning to give way to gladness, for faint spirits to turn to songs of praise.

His people are oaks of righteousness.
However small the acorn, the seedling, the sapling tree, it is tenacious, durable & hearty.

When my father and I and a neighbor pulled down an old blue spruce that was keeling over, we thought we had a bare patch there where it grew; but no, there was a sapling growing, an oak, before you knew it. You could still see the acorn, but it was already tenacious, durable, and hearty. That is how faith grows. It surprises us; it holds fast.

The apostle Paul makes clear to us what we can do, knowing we have a loving God, who loves justice and peace and mercy: rejoice, pray, and give thanks.

It's like this:

A fisherman went down to the Sea of Galilee carrying his net. When he got to the beach, he cast it in. As he drew it back to shore, he found he'd caught a lot of little fish - no use to him - and one good big one. He kept the one good big fish and let the small fry go.

(Gospel of Thomas, 8, para.)

That is what the kingdom of heaven is like; that's what Paul's instructions mean, when he says, do not quench the Spirit or despise the words of Prophets, but still, test everything, and then keep what is good and let go what is evil.

Keep an eye on what the Lord is doing, and may the God of peace sanctify us, keep us sound and blameless.

Think of it: John says, no, I am not the Messiah; no, I am not the Prophet; I am a voice, crying out to you, prepare the way of the Lord - for among you stands, already, the Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

And so, today, we let the celebration peek in - we get a foretaste of the great feast to come -
knowing full well that it is already but not yet the time of the coming of the Lord: and we celebrate his imminent arrival, and his ongoing presence among us.

This can be a bit disturbing, as our friend Ebenezer finds out. He has been warned, by Marley's Ghost, to anticipate the visits of three Spirits: the Ghost of Christmas Past has already come, and horrified Scrooge with his visions...

"Spirit! Remove me from this place."

"I told you these were shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost. "That they are what they are, do not blame me!"

"Remove me!" Scrooge exclaimed. "I cannot bear it! Leave me! Take me back. Haunt me no longer!"

As he struggled with the Spirit he was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom. He had barely time to reel to bed before he sank into a heavy sleep.


Scrooge awoke in his bedroom. There was no doubt about that. But it and his own adjoining sitting room, into which he shuffled in his slippers, attracted by a great light there, had undergone a surprising transformation.

The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove. The leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that petrifaction of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone.

Heaped upon the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and great bowls of punch. In easy state upon this couch there sat a Giant glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and who raised it high to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

"Come in, -- come in! And know me better, man! I am the Ghost of Christmas Present. Look upon me! You have never seen the like of me before!"


"Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these late years?" pursued the Phantom.

"I don't think I have, I am afraid I have not. Have you had many brothers, Spirit?"

"More than eighteen hundred."

"A tremendous family to provide for! Spirit, conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learnt a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have ought to teach me, let me profit by it."

"Touch my robe!"

Scrooge did as he was told, and held it fast.


The Cractchit Home

In came little Bob, the father, with at least three feet of comforter, exclusive of the fringe, hanging down before him; and his threadbare clothes darned up and brushed, to look seasonable; and Tiny Tim upon his shoulder. Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!

..."And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit.

"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember, upon Christmas day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see."


At last the dinner was all done, the cloth was cleared, the hearth swept, and the fire made up. The compound in the jug being tasted, and considered perfect, apples and oranges were put upon the table, and a shovelful of chestnuts on the fire.

Then all the Cratchit family drew round the hearth, in what Bob Cratchit called a circle, and at Bob Cratchit's elbow stood the family display of glass, -- two tumblers, and a custard-cup without a handle.

These held the hot stuff from the jug, however, as well as golden goblets would have done; and Bob served it out with beaming looks, while the chestnuts on the fire sputtered and crackled noisily. Then Bob proposed: --

"A Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!"

Which all the family re-echoed.

"God bless us every one!" said Tiny Tim, the last of all.



Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.


May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

The blessing of God be upon you today and forever. AMEN.

Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, text for public reading

December 14th, 2008:
The Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Psalm 126
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28


Sunday, December 7, 2008

the long highway

The Seattle Times reports that members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation have put up a sign at the state capitol building in Olympia that reads, in part, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."


Just imagine if another group were to put up a sign with this message:

Put no trust in rulers, or in any mortal, for they have no power to save. When they breathe their last breath, they return to the dust, and on that day their plans come to nothing.

Would the state police launch an investigation?
What radical group would dare say such a thing?

It’s from Psalm 146: vv. 2-3 (Please turn, in your prayer book, to page 803.)

It goes on...

Happy are those who have the God of Jacob for their help, •
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
Who made heaven and earth,
the sea and all that is in them; •
who keeps his promise for ever;
Who gives justice to those that suffer wrong •
and bread to those who hunger.
The Lord looses those that are bound; •
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; •
the Lord loves the righteous;
The Lord watches over the stranger in the land;
he upholds the orphan and widow; •
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
The Lord shall reign for ever, •
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations.


What wondrous love is this? The love that led Israel through the wilderness, that fed manna in the desert, that made straight the highway of our God, that led them home.

The foundation of our hope, that the day will come when steadfastness and faithfulness, righteousness and justice and peace will come together, is Jesus – in whom indeed God’s steadfast love and faithfulness are manifest, in whom righteousness and peace have already met. Good news: God is here among us; welcome the coming of his presence.

“Good news” before Mark got ahold of the term meant the tidings of victory and triumph; the birth of an emperor, a famous victory; it meant Caesar’s peace, the peace of Rome; the peace of empire, of rulers; of the kings of mortal men.

Mark turned it around, and gave the words a new breath of life: “good news” became the glad tidings of the coming of the Savior, of Christ the Lord. It is the good news of God’s power, mercy, and grace; of the peace of Jesus Christ.

John came calling, calling the people into the wilderness, the place where God is close, the place where Israel had always been called, from Exodus to Exile, to be drawn away from its familiar haunts and day-to-day rituals into the desert, the place of intimacy with God.

Just so the Word of God draws us out of familiar paths and ways of living to places where we may encounter strange adventures and find our way home to a place of new beginnings. Through Christ God comes into our lives, making the world new.

This is good news, a voice of comfort, tender hearted in the best of ways: He feeds his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms; he gently leads the mother sheep.

In the times of John, as in the times of old, so it is now. Much has been lost; there is much to build. Rest assured: God is with us wherever we are.

We have his Word, the sacrament of the food and drink of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the risen Christ: we have the same gifts that all the people of God have had for ages and ages.

Even when it seemed impossible to go on, God has been with us, like the pillar of cloud in the desert sky, like a quiet voice in the wind, encouraging us, and giving us the bread we need and the grace that fills our hearts.

Deep is the hunger, in each of us, for a life worthy of its maker; deep is the hunger that calls us into the wilderness, to be baptized and prepared for the coming of the kingdom; to hear the Word of God, to take in Jesus and make him the centre of our lives.

Wake up! John cries: Jesus is coming. Rouse yourself from your pastoral torpor.

‘What time would you like your wake-up call?’ the hotel clerk asks. John is not so nice! Nobody asks you—it just comes!

…like grits…

ANTICIPATION & PREPARATION – the themes of Advent

Advent, once thought of as a time of penitence, has become for us a time of watchful waiting.

What of our friend? For him, our old friend Ebenezer Scrooge, in the story so far as we have read it, it is easily both….

(Stave 2: the Ghost of Christmas Past)

A looking back that is not nostalgic, far from it, but a baptism of fire, a burning away of impurities, looking back to Moses and Elijah and the great ones of the past; looking back on our own prides and follies, and on the good times we’ve had in the blessing of God: yearning now for God’s presence; yearning for fulfillment of our lives in God’s promise.

The cry in the wilderness is a cry to the people of God to come out of their houses, out of their common places, to be renewed and refreshed and reborn in the river of Jordan, to enter again into the mystery of the story of the love God has for God’s people:
they are called to take their place alongside Moses and Aaron and Miriam, Joshua and Rachel, and alongside Isaiah and the people as they return from exile in Babylon,
to pass again through the waters of the river where Abraham led his flocks and Jacob wrestled all night,
the mysterious boundary that will lead them, once they turn around, back into the Promised Land;

For their every day common places turn out to be the kingdom of God.

Once they have gone into the wilderness to see— whom? Not a prince in his palace, surely? But a prophet as of old, dressed like Elijah or Moses or a wayfaring stranger.

John has called them and they answer. They come in crowds, one by one, many at a time, to take, each of them upon their own heads – and all of them together as God’s people, the sign of baptism, of repentance: they are turning away from their own sins and folly, they are taking on again the kingdom seal, and they ask him: what’s next?

He tells them: turn around! Repent! Turn around! And see: the Promised Land is stretched before you.

Go forward – not into reverse, not into nostalgia for a lost cause, but into the future of God’s covenant, that he will not abandon you, he will put faith into you, and he will be there with you, present with you, to guide you as you live into your vocation.

You are called to be the salt of the earth, the leaven in the loaf, the light that shines in the dark. You are called—take God’s promise and make it your own.

That should be interesting, when Pharaoh hears about it. That should be interesting, when Pilate hears about it. That should be interesting, when they hear about it in the Capitol.

In the dark of night when the days grow short and cold, there is yet something growing, something stirring, something moving forward: it is the coming of the kingdom of God.

The people of God are making their way, once again, into the story of the love of God, into the redemption song. And what’s next?

What is the crying at Jordan?
Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark our hearts
and shut to mystery.

Who then shall stir in this darkness,
prepare for joy in the winter night?
Mortal in darkness we lie down,
blind-hearted seeing no light.

Lord, give us grace to awake us,
to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility
is hid all heaven in a little room.

Now comes the day of salvation,
in joy and terror the Word is born!
God gives himself into our lives;
O let salvation dawn!

--Carol Christopher Drake (St. Mark’s, Berkeley) #69 in The Hymnal 1982.

Praise the Lord, O my soul:
while I live will I praise the Lord; •
as long as I have any being,
I will sing praises to my God.


Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8


Saturday, December 6, 2008

read this sign

The Seattle Times reports that members of the Freedom From Religion Foundation have put up a sign at the state capitol building in Olympia that reads, in part, "There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds."


Just imagine if another group were to put up a sign with this message:

Put no trust in rulers, or in any mortal, for they have no power to save. When they breathe their last breath, they return to the dust, and on that day their plans come to nothing.

What radical group would say such a thing?

Psalm 146:2-3

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.

Psalm 146:5-7



The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. … For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2, 6)

Dear Beloved in Christ:

The days are getting shorter and darker and colder, and yet there is something growing every day, coming closer every day, becoming brighter and warmer every day: the coming of the Christ Child.

God’s self-giving love is shown to the whole world in his beloved Son, and the joy and peace that he brings us from God the Father, so that we, believing in him, may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

God comes down to us at Christmas; we anticipate this joyful event every day of Advent, and spend the season of waiting and watching in preparation for his coming into our lives and hearts.

As the days grow closer, as we reach the fulfillment of expectation in the joys of Christmas, we remember those we love, those near us and those far away, those who came before and those who are yet to come, and we think of the other people that God loves, that he knows and we have not known, and we bring them all before the Lord’s Table.

We offer our prayers and thanksgivings for the blessings we have received, and our intercessions for those who have gone without. We remember them, and know that even if we forget, God has them close to his heart. We know this, because Love came down at Christmas.

God has come to us, in the person of a person like ourselves, a little one, an infant, helpless and wailing, like any other; defenseless, humble, a servant. And yet in this very moment he showed his glory— glory not as the world knows it, but glory in the strength of the Spirit of God, a glory that is so strong it can give away its power, so bright it can carry through the dark, and so big that it can make itself as tiny as a whisper— a still, small voice, through which God can speak.

From the smallest of voices to the loudest hosannas, we gather each year at this time, to thank God for the gift of hope, of joy, of peace, and of love, that we know in Christ: unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…

Merry Christmas everybody, and God bless us, every one!

The Rev. John Leech, Priest and Rector

You are always welcome at St. Alban’s!

Worship with us this Christmas season:

St. Alban's Christmas Worship Schedule

Sunday December 21 –
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (traditional)
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist (contemporary)

Wednesday December 24 – Christmas Eve
5:30 p.m. Family Eucharist with Children's Pageant
(All children are invited to take part!)
10:30 p.m. Festive Eucharist

Thursday December 25 – Christmas Day
10:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist

Sunday December 28 –
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (traditional)
10:30 a.m. Lessons & Carols, with Eucharist

Sunday January 4 – The Epiphany (observed)
8:00 a.m. Holy Eucharist (traditional)
10:30 a.m. Holy Eucharist (contemporary)

St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
21405 82nd Place West (near Five Corners)
Edmonds, Washington 98026
(425) 775-0371

Holy Eucharist every Sunday at 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m.
Healing Eucharist every Wednesday at 9:00 a.m.