…and He shall be called Jesus...
Luke 1: 31
Being born on December 25th has its own set of unique challenges! You get a lot of sympathy for being cheated on your birthday. I can say with all honesty that I have never felt cheated!
As a child, I was so proud to say Christmas was my birthday; and, I am still very proud today. I have always felt so special.
We must all remember that Christmas is for everyone...
The downtrodden and the uplifted...
The poor and the needy...
The rich and the famous…
Christmas is a time of renewal and hope... our gift of Christ. Our promise from our Father is that He will always be with us and always love us no matter our circumstances.
During this Advent and Christmas season, let's help family, friends, and friends we have yet to meet, to remember to celebrate the God who loves us and His Son who walks with us every day. Enjoy all the gifts we've been given. They're all around us!
Christmas is all in all.
God, give us your strength to do your will... to love one another as you love us... without conditions. May we share the love of your Son and celebrate His birth.
Allelujah! Christ is our answer and He is the Light of the world. Amen.
Daily Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-17
14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you[a] in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
Michael and I first attended a service here at St. Christopher’s in April of 2016. We both grew up in the Northeast and both had been raised Catholic. We tried several Catholic churches out down here and after being told we were not welcome to receive the Eucharist because we both had been previously married, we decided to look outside of the Catholic Church.
Luckily, I had heard about St. Christopher’s and so one morning in the spring, we ventured in to the 10:30 service where we were so heartily welcomed. The part I remember most vividly was the moment when Fr. Walt said, “If you are present in this hall, you are welcome at His table.” I remember the feeling of peace and acceptance at hearing these words. That day, Michael and I received the Eucharist for the first time in a while. The following week, we took the children with us to a 10:30 service as we felt confident that this would be our new home, and the older two received the gift of the Eucharist for the first time ever in their lives! It was so special for them and for us as a family. Each Sunday, I would look at our youngest, Liam, and ask if he too wanted the “special bread,” and each Sunday he would shake his head no and instead receive a blessing. Ironically enough, one of my favorite aspects of the Episcopal Church- the welcoming of all to the table, also took away what I thought was special for people and celebrated in other churches- their very first Communion. Nevertheless, we continued on and enjoyed going up to the altar as a family-four of us receiving the Eucharist and Liam receiving a blessing. For several months I stopped asking him if he were ready and felt that he would tell me when he was. In a true God moment, Liam turned to me at the
4:00 pm family Christmas Eve service last year and said, “Mommy, I’m ready to get the special bread.” Tears filled my eyes as I was so overwhelmed that he would choose this special night to receive his first Eucharist. Seeing a four-year-old (at the time) recognize what a special time of year this was and thus desire to eat at God’s table, was truly the best gift I could receive- better than a service in which he was made to take his first Eucharist. It’s funny how God’s plans are always better than mine. In this seas of waiting, may you rest assured that the Lord is with you – already.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10
11 A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
As a young woman raised in the Southern Baptist denomination, I knew nothing about Advent. As a teacher, I knew the meaning of the word, but it had no personal connection to my life. When I moved my family to Germany in 1969, our country was in turmoil with a controversial war in Vietnam, and riots in our streets. Teaching severely handicapped children at the American elementary school in Kaiserslautern was a step into a different world. I had invited new German acquaintances to join us for Thanksgiving; soon afterwards, they invited us for coffee at their home. In the center of the table was a beautiful Advent wreath. The couple explained that during the season, they liked to light the candles at home on Sunday afternoons as well as seeing them lighted in church. They lighted one candle and said a prayer. This simple ritual in their home touched my heart. German winters can be grey and cold. Lighting that candle truly expressed hope at a time when the world could look quite dark. I promptly bought small Swedish Advent candle holders of metal to send to all my relatives back home in the US. Lighting the candle weekly reminded us of the birth of a holy child who as a man spoke of peace and love for one’s neighbors. It brought the images of the sacred season to us in a fresh way. In Germany and France, one doesn’t see images of Santa Claus as often as we do here. There the Christ Child leads Father Christmas or Pere Noel sitting on the back of a donkey. These pictures speak to the true nature of the Advent cycle. Seeking a mindful experience of this sacred time allows us a deeper appreciation of the stories we hear and a clearer insight into the marvelous gift the world received in that long ago birth in Bethlehem. Let us light the candle and allow the light of love to shine in each of us.
Daily Reading: Luke 3:1-6
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler[a] of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler[b] of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler[c] of Abilene, 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”’
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” Matt 3:3
It was the beginning of Advent, a time for the children in this little Catholic Elementary School to begin preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was a time to do penance for their sins, the nuns reminded their students. “Give up candy until Christmas Day. Say extra prayers at bedtime. Say a daily Act of Contrition and ask for forgiveness for your many sins.” Sister Mary Anne, apparently, had different ideas about preparing her students for the celebration. These children were experiencing the Great Depression of the 1930s and needed a story about love.
On the first Advent Monday, Sister began reading a story to her students – A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Before lunch each day, the students listened to the saga of stingy Mr. Scrooge and how he learned to prepare for Christmas in a dream where a kind spirit (an angel?) took him on a journey into the depths of his soul. There he saw the many acts of unkindness that he routinely committed - an experience that changed his ways when he awoke. Sister Mary Anne had taught the children about a kind, loving way to prepare for the birth of Jesus, a way that reflects what Jesus taught us about loving our neighbor.
Daily Reading: John 9:1-7
9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3 Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We[a]must work the works of him who sent me[b] while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to spend Christmas in the hospital as a child? Most of us haven’t, but I’ve seen what it’s like.
I’ll never forget the first time my mother wanted to do something for a child in the hospital. It was Christmas Eve and she said we were going to the store. My sisters and I complained because we just wanted to go to the church Christmas pageant, but we went with Mom to the store anyway. When we got to the store, Mom bought a mini Christmas tree, lights, and ornaments. We also went to the toy section where she had us pick out some toys and movies.
Once back home, we decorated the tree, wrapped the toys, and made a card to be delivered to a child at the hospital.
After the pageant, my family went to the hospital and the nurse brought us into the pediatric oncology wing and let us into one of the children’s rooms. When we walked in, the child’s face lit up and so did her parents. Instead of a blank room, the child had a Christmas tree to jazz it up. Instead of a self-serving heart, I had a giving heart. After leaving, my family felt like we did something for Jesus and that sweet child.
Now, instead of complaining, my sisters and I look forward to our annual Christmas Eve hospital visit. So the next time you sit down in the comfort of your own home with your family and friends opening presents on Christmas, think about the children who have to be in a hospital during the holidays and how they must feel.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11
40 Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
6 A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;[a]
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,[b]
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
10 See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Three years ago on this day, as I anticipated the day of Christ’s birth and enjoyed the seasonal festivities, I received a phone call that would forever change my life. Someone with whom I was tremendously close to had passed suddenly and unexpectedly. The weight of those words as they came through the line instantly broke me to my core.
The past three years have been riddled with crippling guilt, regret, and the undeniable revelation that self-forgiveness and healing were seemingly unattainable. To say that time eases that pain you experience when you lose someone so cherished is indeed a cruel and fallacious platitude.
Then something remarkable happened five months ago. I met a rector as she officiated a wedding I attended and she made such a profound impact on me that I decided to attend her church. What I felt as I left St. Christopher’s on that first Sunday morning was a whisper in my soul that God had called me to this place where I could actually take the first step in my journey to forgive myself and allow God’s healing grace to begin trickling into my guarded heart.
Every Sunday as I walk to the alter to receive the sacrament, I bring with me a little bit more of this burden to place at the feet of Christ so that in His mercy, I may leave it there. This journey has been one that I have kept to myself though fellowship with St. Christopher’s congregational family has facilitated my every step. That being said, if you are reading this, you are a part of this journey, as well. It is with a grateful heart that I give thanks to God and to you for the love that has been shown so that I may in turn show love to myself.
Today, December 20, 2017, is a day in which God has reminded me of the importance of love. So in this season of Advent, I open my heart to receive and give love, even to myself.
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” ~1 Corinthians 13:8-13
Daily Reading: John 3:16-21
16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’
Several months after finding out we were expecting our second child I was talking to my mother about the changes ahead of us. How were we going to juggle two? Were we ever going to sleep again? How were we going to afford to put two through college? But most importantly, how were we going to be able to love another child as much as we loved the daughter we already had?
There were two things my mother shared with me. The first was an old saying: “Babies bring their own bread.” Loosely translated – somehow we manage to make enough to take care of them. The second thought she shared was even more meaningful. She told me not to worry because our love wouldn’t divide between the children, it would multiply. It seemed impossible at the time to imagine that, but she was right. It multiplied when our second AND our third child arrived. It multiplied again when our oldest daughter was married and we welcomed our son in law, and it multiplied exponentially as our three grandchildren have come into our lives. With each new person, our lives have become more wonderful and exciting and yes, sometimes, more challenging, but I can’t imagine my life without them or the friends that have come into my life as well. Love truly does multiply, if we let it. Much like God’s love does for us, I imagine. What would happen if we allowed our love to multiply in the world around us? What a wonderful season to try.
Daily Reading: 1 John 1:4-7
4 We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
God Is Light5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; 7 but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
Psalm 1:6 " For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous..."
Luke 2:8-9 "In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them."
The word watch is used frequently and often without much thought. Jewelers replace watch batteries, display watch batteries, and sell designer watches. New parents watch their baby as it sleeps to ensure all is well. Little children call out to anyone nearby, "Watch me!" Caregivers hold firmly to shoulders of a disabled loved one and mutter, " Watch your step!" And the words: tornado watch, hurricane watch, and death watch evoke fear. Each usage of watch brings different images to mind.
During this Advent Season the scripture reading of the faithful watch of the shepherds fills my mind with images of my Eastern New Mexico and West Texas childhood. Brilliant nighttime skies, without light pollution, illuminate the prairie. Subtle sounds from coyotes, owls, distant oil derricks, and neighborhood pets echo across the cold landscape. Meanwhile gentle folks on nighttime oilfield, hospital, or law enforcement duty diligently keep watch as they wait for dawn, the ending of their night watch shift, and a new day's beginning.
Now I, like the shepherds in Luke, wait and watch for Christmas. I wonder about the Angel who brought great joy to the shepherds and was joined later by a multitude of heavenly hosts. As I meditate on the scripture, I puzzle over the Angels in my life. Who are they? Do I recognize those who spread God's glory all around me? How may I learn to acknowledge them? If I can become more like an angel of the Lord will I be able to shine light upon someone else? As I quiet my mind a spiritual lullaby comes to mind, "All day, all night, angels watching over me my Lord, all day, all night, angels watching over me." And so, like the shepherds, I wait. I ponder. I keep watch. And I give thanks for the Lord and His angels who keep over me. I pray that I acknowledge and become more like them.
Daily Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. 6 For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
As I sit before my laptop facing a blank page, or, rather, with that blank page staring back at me, I am reminded of the emptiness I once felt upon moving to a state where I hadn't lived, to a city where I knew no one, and into a home with barren walls and a chapter of my life that had yet to be written. There were days (and many a night) when I felt that, yet again, I'd taken a wrong turn somewhere, had made yet another impulsive choice, and would surely regret my decision, for which I would pay dearly. The loss of a loved one often sends a soul into freefall, with no clear direction, and little guidance on which steps to take, and when they should be taken. But as I slowly gathered my strength, my resolve, and ultimately my 'spirit', the pieces of a shattered mosaic I once called 'my life' began to fall into place. I put pictures on the walls, frequented vintage stores for cheery (and marginally 'chic') accessories to brighten the barren spaces, and summoned the courage to venture out into a community where I started to meet people whose paths were not too different from my own. Funny how that goes!
Then one day I received a letter from a cherished teacher, now retired and living in Hawaii, who knew me as a child. Believe it or not, we've stayed in touch for over 5 decades, and counting! His words: "You must go to St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church and meet Mother Susan." It was all I needed to know, and so I did. And, from that day on, I've never felt like a stranger. And, I've never looked back. Finding my path through the forest of darkness, uncertainty, and doubts has been like an Advent in my own life on every level. Professionally. Spiritually. Personally. Perhaps even a 'renaissance' of sorts, and that is what has kept me going. This renewal, this Advent time, symbolizes everything I know from my relationship with the Divine, with Jesus, that if we remain faithful, steadfast and trusting of Him, there truly is light not only at the end of the tunnel, but also along the way. Even for me.
As I recently unpacked the last of the boxes still left in the garage (yes, I procrastinate!) I kept hoping I would find the missing gold St. Christopher medallion my late husband once wore, as it reminded me of the many ways God helped our marriage through many a tumultuous sea. And, although it might be gone forever, what I found was another piece of the mosaic that more than filled that empty space...a home called St. Christopher’s.
And, a home in my heart for God.
Daily Reading: Isaiah 60:1-3
1 Arise, shine; for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
2 For darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will appear over you.
3 Nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
Throughout history, there have been different interpretations as to what the season of Advent means, or should mean, to Christians. Advent, “derived from the Latin word "adventus," means "coming." In the fourth and fifth centuries, advent was a season of preparation by new Christians, through penance, prayer, and fasting, for being baptized at the January Feast of the Epiphany. There was little connection between Advent and Christmas. In the sixth century, Roman Christians tied Advent to the SECOND coming of Christ, NOT the FIRST coming of his birth in Bethlehem. In the Middle Ages, Advent was first linked to the First coming of Christ.
Today's church celebrates BOTH. We look back upon the miraculous events of his birth, ministry on earth, crucifixion, and resurrection. We anticipate his second coming in power and great glory, to establish His kingdom on the earth and to judge the world. The prayer for the Season of Advent (p. 378 of the Book of Common Prayer) says, "Because You sent Your beloved Son to redeem us from sin and death, and to make us heirs in Him of everlasting life, that when He shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may, without shame or fear, rejoice to behold His appearing."
To prepare our hearts for Advent, we remember and pray about the FIRST and the SECOND coming of Christ. My thoughts also reach out to what, for me, is the THIRD coming of Christ. It is the most important one to us as individuals as it embraces the FIRST and SECOND coming. This "third coming" is the coming of Christ into our individual hearts as we personally recognize and believe that He is the son of God. He came to earth and suffered terrible agony on the cross to save us from being justly punished for our sins. We acknowledge Him as the Lord of our lives. We acknowledge His divinity, His love and His sacrifice for us. We accept His Lordship over our lives. This frees us from much internal and external pressure so that we may dedicate our love, belief, and allegiance to Him in all things. Is this easy? Of course not! The aftermath of the recent murder of Christians at their church in Sutherland Springs, TX, showed in graphic detail what much of the secular world thinks of us. The 21st century has seen more ridicule, suffering, and death inflicted on Christians in all parts of the world than since ancient times. We are blessed to know that, regardless of all the terribly senseless violence and other wrong doing being done here, that God will, in His own good time, make all things right. The Serenity Prayer expresses it this way. "Trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will so that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with YOU forever in the next."
As we remember and celebrate His love for us, we are duty bound to remember the words of the Great Commission to ..."go...preach...make disciples...baptize...and teach." The weakness of the human spirit comes into play very strongly here as we think about our personal shortcomings in the way we spend our time, talent, and treasure. I have found a measure of peace with regard to my own shortcomings by working with Operation Christmas Child. Through it, my meager efforts are multiplied tremendously as OCC reaches out to needy children in foreign lands to tell them about the love and amazing grace of Jesus Christ. Jesus was the Original Christmas Child and the very first Christmas present. Sent from God the Father as a payment for our sins, Jesus Christ became The Greatest Gift of All - to all mankind - in all places - and for all times. We reach out to children to teach them about Jesus with Christian materials presented by Christian teachers. As a demonstration of our love, and more importantly, Jesus' love for them, we give them a "shoe box" filled with small gifts. These simple gifts of small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies remind them that Jesus has not forgotten them, and we haven't forgotten them either. This "missionary in a box," or "shoe box with wings to fly" is a wonderful way for us to teach children, their families, and their communities about the FIRST coming, and the much-anticipated SECOND coming, of Jesus Christ.
What better way could there be for us to show our gratitude for our material and spiritual blessings, as well as our salvation purchased by the blood of Christ?! When we reach out to share the love of Christ with others, we also show the importance of our love for, and belief in, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
To me, this is the true meaning of Advent.
Daily Reading: 1 Peter 2:5-9
5 like living stones, let yourselves be built[a] into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him[b] will not be put to shame.’
7 To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,[c] in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.