Saturday, December 24, 2011

my Christmas prayer

Christmas Eve 2011

Dearly Beloved, we are gathered tonight to share in the greatest of wonders: the birth of Christ on earth. We look not on his awesome majesty, his mighty Divinity, and his impenetrable Holiness: We look on his humanity, his innocence. For he came to us in innocence – as a baby born as babies are, to a mother. But what a mother: a young woman who had given her self, her own body, to be the home of God.

For the Holy One took on flesh and dwelt among us, not flaunting equality with God or shielding himself from the troubles of the world.

He came among us, as a Baby.

And he calls us to come to him, not as a Judge, called to account for our deeds and omissions, but to come to him as Savior, Messiah — come both to comfort and to challenge us, calling us to come home to him.

And when we come home, when we come to his Table, we are to come as ones made free — free from sin or the burden of conscience, guilt, and self-assigned un-forgive-able-ness — as we confess our faults and receive his grace.

As you approach this his Table, for the first time or the thousandth time,

Hear again the invitation:

Lay aside the burden of sin or guilt or fear—

For he did not come into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him; and he said, Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.

Lay aside that burden, leave it at the foot of the altar, and

Take on new birth, new life, in Christ.

May the Christ Child born in Bethlehem be born anew in your heart.

Take Jesus in— take him in and let him dwell within you; changing you, filling you with hope. That his grace and his gift of life be yours: that is my Christmas prayer. AMEN.

one night

If you would be a Christian, be as the Shepherds were;
following their calling faithfully,
until called to a higher purpose
one night
they became apostles, prophets, saints, martyrs,
witnesses to the wonder of the coming of the One true God,
maker of all things,
come to dwell among us, men and women and girl and boy:
for us and for our salvation,
that the life we live now,
we live not by our own lights,
but by him who is Light—
the light of the world,
and through living in Him,
shepherd or saints or both at once,
we might bring that light to our corner of the world
and glory to God in the highest heaven.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Annunciation

"The Annunciation" by Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898)

"But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse and from its roots a bud shall blossom." (Isaiah 11:1, New American Bible)

“When you think you're at the very end, the rotten stump, in decay, something grows. You keep tending to the thing that seems dead or not working, and, with your tending, something new and beautiful sprouts up.”—Father Rick Frechette, in "Children's Champion", Financial Times, House & Home, December 17/December 18 2011, p.2.

"Then a shoot shall grow from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall spring [Heb., bear fruit] from his roots." (Isaiah 11:1, New English Bible)

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us... (John 1:14)

Th' angel went awei mid than/Al ut of hire sighte;/Hire womb arise gan/Thurw th'Oligastes mighte./In hir wes Crist bilok anon,/Sooth God, sooth man in fles and bon,/And of hir fles/Ibore wes/At time,/Warthurw us kam good won;/He bout us ut of pine,/And let him for us slon. 

With that, the angel went away, out of her sight; her womb began to swell through the power of the Holy Ghost. In her Christ was straightway enclosed, true God and true man in flesh and bone, and of her flesh was born in due time, whereby good hope came to us: he redeemed us from pain [of hell] and allowed himself to be slain for us.

Angelus ad virgenum, 13th C. Arundel ms. English version. (tr. E. J. Dobson, adapted). In Hugh Keyte and Andrew Parrott, eds., The Shorter New Oxford Book of Carols (Oxford, 1993) 7.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John 1:14)

See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them. (Revelation 21:3)

There is a stump out back,
behind the Sunday School
by the Boy Scout shed.
A tree was cut down last spring,
rotten in the core of it,
so down it came – and now look!
Go look! New growth is springing up
like crazy, like weeds, all over the place.
You never know with life, with God.

There was an old country that had been around too long,
said some. It had the heart
rotted out of it, nothing left to say,
nothing left to give—haul it away!
But somehow a stump gave birth to something new.
And emerging from that old ruin came new growth.
Out of the stump of Jesse sprang
a branch, bearing fruit—

(As the prophet Isaiah says, in chapter 11, verse 1:
Then a shoot shall growth from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall bear fruit from his roots.)

The old tree was Israel and the stump its old ways
of doing things— so when the prophet came,
bearing news of new growth, it was good news.

And when the angel came to Mary
centuries later, and said,
Hello! Favored one of God,
something new is happening.
Can you bear it?
Can you bring forth— give birth to—
the Son of God?

God plans for you to do it,
to be the bearer of God,
of new Grace
shone upon the world.

It’s up to you— will you bear it?
Will you bring forth the good news?

Mary was incredulous.
How can this be? A son?!
I’m only 15 years old—
and not married yet.

Oh, Mary, said the Angel.
With God anything is possible.
Your cousin Elizabeth, like Hannah
who bore Samuel in her old age,
you own cousin Elizabeth is pregnant,
with a son to be borne 3 months from now.

She’s six months along!
And so— will You bear the Child,
the One who will redeem
his people? And she said Yes.

An impossible answer to an
impossible request. Yes.

To all that will be, Yes.

And that is how it began.

With that the angel went away—

With that, the angel went away, out of her sight;
her womb began to swell
through the power of the Holy Ghost.

In her Christ was straightway enclosed,
true God and true man in flesh and bone,
and of her flesh was born in due time,

whereby good hope came to us:
he redeemed us from pain  
and allowed himself to be slain for us.

This one, this child, was the eternal Word,
and in the flesh incarnate, come to dwell among us—
come to ‘pitch his tent’ with us—
to use the literal meaning of the word.

He came among us as of old
he walked alongside the caravans
of the people fleeing Egypt.
He walked among the trees of
the primordial Garden.
But here he is walking with us
as one of us! for the first time
taking on our poverty, setting his
wealth aside, not counting
his godhood a thing
to be grasped—

In this poor peasant girl
the richest of kings
God himself
found a home.

He’d promised he would
make a home for the
Son of David,
and establish his house forever,
his dominion,

But did he say he would
live in it himself?

Somehow now the Son of God
became Son of Man

and that is where our hope lives
as we live in him
and he in us

so that we too in turn are
becoming the home of Jesus.

Learn to welcome him
in the stranger;
to make him room,
and when we find him homeless,


even as we need to make home
for his kin— the poor ones of Haiti
lost homes in the earthquake—

in them we see the face of Jesus
— and the need for shelter.

So too through all the projects
of good work through World Concern
(thanks for all the fish!)
ERD and others,
we seek to serve Christ in all persons

as our Baptismal Vows call us to do—

we seek to see in the homeless
and the forgotten
the One who made his home with us
the One whom Mary made home for,
in her womb,


bearer of God,
she bore him
who welcomes us home
whenever we stray from God
calling us to find our home in him.

May we open our eyes to see him.
May we open our homes to welcome him.
May we open our minds to know him.

May we open our lives to bear him.
May we open our hearts to be his home:
Jesus, Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

read up! books on worship

The Bible (we read from the New Revised Standard Version Bible in worship)

The Book of Common Prayer (1549, 1552, 1559, ... 1979...)

Saliers, Don E. Worship Come to Its Senses. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996.

Galli, Mark. Beyond Smells and Bells: The Wonder and Power of Christian Liturgy. Paraclete Press, 2008.

Gray-Reeves, Mary, and Michael Perham. The Hospitality of God: Emerging Worship for a Missional Church. New York: Seabury Books, 2011.

Morris, Clayton L. Holy Hospitality: Worship and the Baptismal Covenant. New York: Church Publishing, 2005.

Pierson, Mark. The Art of Curating Worship: Reshaping the Role of Worship Leader. Minneapolis: sparkhouse press, 2010.

Baker, Jonny. Curating Worship. London: SPCK, 2010.

The Iona Community. Iona Abbey Worship Book. Glasgow: Wild Goose, 2001.

Gelpi, Donald L. Charism and Sacrament: A Theology of Christian Conversion. New York: Paulist Press, 1976.

Hatchett, Marion J. Commentary on the American Prayer Book. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995.

Saliers, Don E. Worship and Theology: Foretaste of Glory Divine. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.

Lathrop, Gordon W. Holy Things: A Liturgical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Plantinga, Cornelius, Jr., and Sue A. Rozeboom. Discerning the Spirits: A Guide to Thinking About Christian Worship Today.  Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003.

Van Dyk, Leanne, ed. A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.

Wren, Brian. Praying Twice: The Music and Words of Congregational Song. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000.

Wainwright, Geoffrey. Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

Start at the top! and work your way down through the list.

The top two books were recommended by the Rev. Janet Campbell, Canon for Liturgy, for our discussions at St. Alban's. Mark Pierson is a friend of Christine Sine and Mustard Seed Associates. The others include books by friends and teachers of my own, including Clayton L. Morris, Donald L. Gelpi, S.J., and Susan Marie Smith, and a gift from the people of St. John's, Lakeport, Calif. -Fr. J.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

good news for everybody

An image – an icon – of the Mother Mary and the Child Jesus – may seem simply art, displayed in a museum, floating in a strange context of white walls, spot lighting, hushed voices … and the occasional photographer’s snap. A lot more is going on, though – even in museums. For icons are images that function as windows to the sacred, entryways into the eternal. And so they depict figures and scenes most likely to help us move out of the time and space we currently occupy and deeper in and further on into the domain of God.

And yet these very windows turn us back – into the world where the eternal Word took on flesh and dwelled among us. And this is good news - the good news – the news that humanity and creation are so beloved by the Holy One that his only Son came to us in human form to bring us into full, right, and loving relationship with God. And Mary, blessed Mother, was there to receive him and give him birth, nurture him, and mourn him – and to greet him anew in resurrected Life.

Mary’s story begins with a visit from the angel – the messenger of God – who brings to this young woman unexpected news. Good news! Says the Angel. And as herald proclaims the arrival of a greater power than any imperial herald could ever announce.

You (who have never known a man) are to conceive and bear a son – and he will be named after Joshua, the deliverer of his people.  This child will be more than mortal witness can bear – for he will carry upon his back the burden of all our faults, our frailties, our betrayals, our false confidences, our little tricks and major crimes, our sins.

He will save us from the powers that be – great or small – that conceive of themselves as the rightful organizers and commanders of this world’s chaos. He will come to us, some day, in great power. But that will be the sequel. The victory is here: in the birth of a baby, the walk of a man among people of village and town, the teaching of a rabbi in Temple and synagogue, the stooped stumble of a condemned prisoner, the last breath given over to a prayer of forgiveness, and then – but that is another story of Mary.

Today, this month, this season of Christmas, from the Eve of pageant and carol, the quiet morning of the breaking-in of the New Day, through the days leading to the Epiphany of the magi and on to the presentation of our Lord in the Temple (Candlemas), we gather to celebrate the arrival of the great good news – God is with us.

Shepherds, marginal people, dwellers on the edge of society, are drawn into town. They are the ones who bring Mary the revelation of her child’s meaning and purpose. It is not an ordinary child: God is with us – incarnate in this infant boy. What tentative, quiet beginning is this, the Messiah arriving among us, swaddled and lain in a manger.

Later other ‘greater’ visitors will arrive – from beyond the borders of empire. They too will herald the mystery – and yet the mystery is right in front of us: a child.

So the good news is embodied and revealed: God is with us. God loves us - so much as to send his own Son. Not to take us out of the world to some fleshless place, some eternity of disembodied intellect. To take us where we are and bring us into his kingdom here and now. The new order of the ages now begins – and it begins with a child.

And this is Glory to God in the highest – and Peace on Earth.

It’s good news for everybody. God does bless us, every one. 

—Fr. John

Christmas 2011

Come join us at St. Alban’s in the celebrations of the season.

Christmas Eve 4:00 p.m., Family Eucharist – Children’s Pageant
Christmas Eve 10:00 p.m., Festive Eucharist – Lessons & Carols
Christmas Day 10:30 a.m., Carols & Communion

Sundays in January 2012 - 8:00 & 10:30 a.m., Holy Eucharist
Sunday, January 1 –The Feast of the Holy Name
Sunday, January 8 – Epiphany Sunday (The Visit of the Magi)
Sunday, January 29 – The Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas)

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and glorified to the ends of the earth. Amen.

St. Alban's Episcopal Church, 21405 - 82nd Place West, Edmonds, WA 98026 
Telephone: (425) 778-0371 Email: Website:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Lift your heart and raise your voice - faithful people, come rejoice!

Lift your heart and raise your voice, faithful people, come rejoice:

When I was sweeping out the Gaithersburg Post Office in my first job after high school, I’d hear the letter carriers listening to oldies radio: “Do you remember when this song was a hit – in 1952?” (Well, no! Though it seems to me we’ve sung that song before.)

The church is full of discovery – of fresh expressions of faith, new opportunities for witness and service, and unexpected gifts of prayer and celebration, alongside well-worn ways of worship that reveal new dimensions every time we return to them. Together with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs beloved of old, we find new songs to sing to the Lord.

One of our discoveries in the weeks leading up to Christmas was a new contemporary worship songbook, “Sing Praise: Hymns and Songs for Refreshing Worship” published in London last fall by Hymns Ancient & Modern and the Royal School of Church Music. With that provenance, you’d expect it to have some tradition to it – and it does.

Sing Praise provides songs for all occasions of the church year, from Advent to All Saints - including Candlemas and Ascension as well as other major feasts and events of parish life. What is something of a surprise is that it includes many of the new worship songs we have sung in the past three years, by John L. Bell and Graham Maule from the Iona Community, Kathryn Galloway, Keith and Kristyn Getty, Michael Perry, Brian Wren, the Taizé Community, Bernadette Farrell, Christopher Idle, and Graham Kendrick, as well as others from the worldwide Anglican Communion and our sister churches.

Once and future hits include: “Lift your heart”, “Jesus, come! For we invite you”, “O Christ, the light who came to us on earth”, “Jesus is risen, Alleluia!” and “You are my salvation; I trust in you.”

The Vestry authorized purchase of these new songbooks with undesignated Memorial Funds. First, though, the singers and musicians will be trying them out. And the songs – many of which will resonate as familiar in message and music – will be printed in upcoming worship service bulletins. Then what we would like to do is invite people to make donations (Memorial if you like) to provide copies for everybody to use. We will all be singing from the same songbooks but the words and music will be modern. 

Would you like to come to a potluck and sing-along of Sing Praise songs? Stay tuned!

—Fr. John and the worship and music people

a new year's greeting

Open house on New Year’s Day is an old New-York custom. One New Year’s Day in Brooklyn, our fellow parishioners opened their homes to friends and neighbors. You came, greeted and were greeted, shared holiday cheer, and went on to the rest of your day – and year.

Open house during the holidays – giving and receiving visits and holiday greetings and good wishes for the New Year – is an older and wider custom. On the Sea Islands of the Carolinas, as I recall J. Herman Blake telling the story, people travel from house to house offering greetings and good wishes.

Wiser than simply sitting on the couch, listening to the forced-air heat, watching the football games and parades, and surfeiting on sliced ham, the custom of holiday open-house reminds us of the giving and receiving we do among each other in all the parts of our lives and all the days of the year.

And then we remember: all we have and all we give comes from God. As David prayed, “all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.” (1 Chronicles 29:14b)

This New Year begins a little differently than most: the Feast of the Holy Name (January 1) falls on a Sunday and so takes precedence over the usual readings. We remember the giving of the name of Jesus to our Lord. It was a giving to him – and a gift to us – for what it means is: God saves! The meaning of the holy Child’s birth, and his purpose in life, is announced in his very name.

Joshua, the Hebrew form of the name, gives us a hint and an expectation. God delivers! This is the one who will deliver his people. But of course the Savior who arrives is not always the Savior we expect. He has come to deliver his people not merely from human oppressors but from their sins. The good news is that he does – and that we are included among his people.

Jesus leads us, his people, into a new reign of freedom. In his name we move forward into a New Year, rejoicing in God’s grace and goodness, bestowed on us in the darkest nights of the year, and renewed on the brightest of days.

God – through Jesus – does more than save us from – he welcomes us to: he not only gets us out of the traps of our own old ways of doing things, he invites us into a new way of life, a new community, a new family of humankind, where all are welcome at his Table.

So holy hospitality – radical welcome – is in the Church’s DNA. When we extend a welcome to others – when we share the hospitality of the holy table – when we greet the friend and the sojourner among us – and when we seek out and invite others to share in the hospitality of our fellowship – we are following an old custom, not merely of the New Year, but of the New Testament.

Let’s rejoice! And be of good cheer. In this New Year, let’s extend a welcome to all in the name of Jesus.—Fr. J.


For the Gospel Grapevine, parish newsletter of Saint Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington (January 2012).


Sunday, December 11, 2011

the hope of ages

Yesterday morning in Yakima it looked like Narnia – when it was always winter but never Christmas, in C. S. Lewis’ children’s story, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Frost hung in all the trees, gathered there overnight from the frosty breath of the sky, as the cold ground fog crystallized into wintry shapes along all the twigs and branches. Among them were some frost-gilt leaves left from last summer, hanging like Christmas ornaments among the snowy branches.

As I walked along under mighty oaks I found a handful of acorns. Squirrel munchies – or a future forest? And on the branches of some of the trees you could see the buds already in place, sheltering within them the start of fresh new leaves awaiting next Spring’s word: Arise! Shine! For your light has come.

Winter looks like the end - and it is the end of the old year – but it is also, underneath, the beginning of new life. The buds of next year’s green growth, already forming, are a promise of something new growing even as the old passes away.

This is what John proclaims – as the harvest came into abundance so he reaped a ‘crop’ of souls as he baptized them in the Jordan, proclaiming repentance for forgiveness of sin.

He was the greatest and the last of the prophets of the Old Covenant, the old way of God and humankind in relation to each other. He was the culmination and fulfillment of a long line. At the Jordan – in camels’ hair – he called to mind all the old prophets of Israel. And yet he did not hold himself highly: he humbly pointed beyond himself and ahead.

You have been asking the wrong question, he said, for the question to ask me is not “Who are you?” Ask rather “Who is coming?”

There is one standing among you whose sandal-string I am not worthy to untie.

Something new and wonderful is coming into being – borne into life by Mary, nurtured by Joseph, anointed by the Holy Spirit – the fulfillment of hope of ages is upon us.

The day of the Lord is coming – the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

What is old is passing away; something new is come.

And so it is with the church year. We are in the top of a season, the end of a cycle. One year is passing away. Our season of Advent looks back, and it looks forward too. Advent began with psalms of abject penitence then awakening hope and gradually moving toward the realization that a new source of joy is just about to spring into being.

And so it is with the life of the church. Every year, every season of the life of a church, includes an ending and a beginning. And in between we often find a muddle! This is how our own lives can be as well. As we progress through phases of life and growth in Christ we confront new issues and leave old ones behind, leaving them to God to integrate into a new season’s paradigm of meaning and purpose.

A church begins and grows, reaches maturity, and takes a characteristic shape of its own, and then, begins – quite often, not inevitably – a gradual decline or slump. There may be reforms or redevelopment efforts that take the church back to a state of new growth.

Unarrested decline can continue and the congregation may find its old form disappearing altogether. At that stage what happens is – the nurturing of new growth, the beginning of hope in a new form. The old way of being, the old way of doing things, no longer lives; but the word of God abides forever. It finds fresh expression. What was once the main growth may begin to function like a nurse log in the rain forest; providing the foundation, the host, and the nutrition for the beginning of new life. Or the old can become a ‘nesting congregation’ – home to some new entity getting ready to strike out on its own. Or what was is transformed in the mysterious work of the Spirit into a new way of being itself.

And so we find ourselves in a state of transition. Gradually what we have known is transformed – and we find ourselves in a renewed and hopeful new phase of life.

For God is steadfast; his loyalty is a rock; his faithfulness is forever. He knows the plans he has for us, plans for our welfare and not for harm, to provide for us a future with hope.

This is his Church. It is the house of God. We live in it; we care for it; we celebrate in it. We welcome others into it – and bring them with us deeper in and further on in the life of faith. From it we go forth to love and serve the Lord. And at the last we pass along what we have received, that others may take up the tasks and receive the joys of his Kingdom.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise the words of prophets, but test everything; hold fast to what is good; abstain from every form of evil.

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 grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(1 Thessalonians 5:16-24, 28)


For the Episcopal Church of Saint Alban, Edmonds, Washington.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Jerusalem we must build

Writing about the Old Testament lesson for next Sunday, Herbert O’Driscoll wrote: “What does need to be said again and again is that God is with us whatever the situation. We possess everything that any former age possessed. We possess the word of God, the sacramental food and drink of God, the presence of the Holy Spirit of God, and the presence of the risen Christ. The Jerusalem we must build will not be the same as the Jerusalem we remember, but the point is that we should build it.”— The Word Today, Year B, Vol. 1 (Toronto: Anglican Book Centre, 2001) 19.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Leave the Cake, Take the Tamales

Candlemas, if you look it up, has lots of traditions and celebrations tied to it. For one, if you got the prize in the Epiphany cake, you get to bring the tamales and chili to the feast on Candlemas (Candelaria). Another custom is to take down the last of the Christmas holiday decorations the night before. And the last of the Christmas revels cease. It's a quarter of the way to summer already. But it all comes back to Jesus. Our Lord, presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph, is greeted by the prophet Anna and the righteous, devout Simeon. At last! At last! they say. The light that lightens all the world is come among us at last. Now I can rest my soul and go in peace. And so Candlemas, the feast of the blessing of the lights, is the feast of the Presentation, a major feast, a feast of our Lord. It is more than the end. It is the last feast of the great season begun the first Sunday of Advent, with its highest feast the Nativity of our Lord (Christmas). It is more than the end; it is a turning point. It is the beginning of something new, the beginnings of the dawning in our minds and hearts and lives in, yes, ordinary time, of just what that great season means: the light has come and lives among us. It is the light of all. Hallelujah! Now we go forth into the world, sent forward with the light shining before us on our path. Illumine our way, O Lord: may your Word be a lamp to our feet and light on the way. Amen.

We celebrate the feast of the Presentation, Candlemas, this year (with the bishop's permission) on the last Sunday in January.


For St Alban's Episcopal Church, Edmonds, Washington.

Fr. J.