So how are you coming with your list?? We have a matter of hours to go and you’re either settling into a peaceful anticipation of Christmas or you have ratcheted up the stress level to new heights to pull off the celebration of your dreams. There are signs of the season that come at us from every direction. One place that changes this time of year is our mailbox. It starts with the delivery of slick catalogues even before Thanksgiving arrives. Then the Christmas cards start arriving. It’s the one time of year I look forward to opening up my mailbox! We write a Christmas letter each year—it’s not done yet but it will be soon. One year it became a “Lenten Letter” so I’ve learned not to stress over it. We try to recap the year for those who at least pretend to be interested in our lives! My friend calls these sorts of holiday mailings “brag and gag letters.” We include photographs that show off our best side and tell tales of great accomplishments and proud moments. This same acquaintance threatened to start off her letter one year describing the arrest of her daughter for belligerent and aggressive behavior at home while the other daughter had announced during the course of the year that she had switched from Christian beliefs to pagan tendencies. Now that’s the kind of letter that can either make you laugh because of its stark honesty or drain the joy right out of your holiday! Of course it’s no longer just at Christmas that we are subjected to the perfect portrayals of peoples’ lives. With the ubiquitous presence of selfies we have the potential to feel lousy about our own lives every day of the year as people upload photo after photo of winsome smiles in enviable locations. Our expectations for Christmas are peace and joy but sometimes it feels like pageantry of the perfect!

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So perhaps, on this Sunday that is just two days before the big occasion, we need to sit with Mary and Elizabeth for a while. There is a simple beauty to these two women, both expecting babies in unexpected ways! Elizabeth is past the child-bearing age and is childless. But God has blessed her and her priest-husband, Zechariah, with a pregnancy and a promised baby boy. Mary’s pregnancy—well, we know about that story. We’re just thankful that Joseph believed the dreams God gave him that 1) reassured him that Mary had not been unfaithful to him and, 2) urged the two of them needed to settle into this pregnancy with great anticipation. In the meeting of these two women in the remote Judean hill country, we see God working in deeply personal ways that promise to shake up the world!

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We don’t know what prompted Mary to travel to see her older relative after the annunciation by the angel Gabriel. She was told that Elizabeth was expecting in her old age and that may have been enough to coax her out of town. It’s also possible that Mary needed to get out of Dodge to avoid the stigma that would certainly come her way as her belly bloated before there hadn’t been a wedding. Whatever the cause, Mary’s arrival provides confirmation to Elizabeth that the Holy Spirit is at work. Her husband had been muted when he doubted the angelic announcement that his wife would have a child. So Elizabeth wasn’t able to hear about his holy encounter. Shut off from conversation with each other, Elizabeth must have pondered her pregnancy. When Mary arrives God gives confirmation through leaps in the womb that this baby is special. Elizabeth met God in those kicks and she, the wife of the silenced preacher, became the prophet. She pronounced the importance of these two babies who were linked by DNA but, more importantly, in holy purpose. Mary’s arrival at Elizabeth’s home confirmed to both that the Spirit was at work.
Mary had this remarkable encounter with the angel Gabriel, announcing to her that she would become pregnant with a child who was of the Holy Spirit. Mary and Joseph feared God—respected God’s great power. Yet Mary is unafraid. There is this paradox in the Christian faith that insists that we fear, respect, stand in awe of God’s majesty and might. But, when we encounter God in visions, dreams, through the words of trusted friends or in unsolicited thoughts that bring our attention to God, we experience God as merciful. Rather than being wrathful, Mary meets the God who has patiently led a stubborn people for thousands of years! Rather than meting out justice, God offers forgiveness. Mary empties herself to make room for the Messiah. Rather than chasing around after the next ten things on our list, Mary models for us the need to rest in God’s presence and promise.
After Elizabeth prophesies in the power of the Holy Spirit about these leaping babies, Mary sings a song for all generations. The words to her prophecy foretell a reversal of the order of things in our earthly lives. Charles Campbell states that her song “invites us beyond our realistic expectations and our numb imaginations.” Have we settled for realistic expectations? Have we given up on stepping out in faith to follow the leading of our God? Mary’s revolutionary words almost sound like a protest song of the sixties. But there is no anger in this young woman’s voice that cuts through the dark. She assures generations to come that Jesus’ arrival announces good news to the down-trodden and judgment for those who have replaced God with self. Charles Campbell writes, “In the women’s actions, the world is indeed turned upside down. Hierarchies are subverted. The mighty are brought down. Two marginalized, pregnant women carry the future and proclaim the Messiah.”

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This story is about two women who were expecting. But their pregnancies pushed them beyond the boundaries of their safe expectations for how their lives would play out. God brings them together to provide them the community they lack. They needed each others’ support. Their meeting revealed that God was powerfully at work in the forming of these infants. They were ordinary women of faith, ready to love the child God sent them, and to raise them to fulfill God’s plan for them. In humble Mary and Elizabeth, who were expecting something far beyond their wildest expectations, we encounter God’s upheaval to the comfortable status quo.
Like these two Biblical women who humbly lived the faith 2000 years ago, we are marginal people. That’s good news, actually. We may think that we are super important people because our lists are long this time of year and we are putting miles on our cars with errands and outings. But the drama of the world doesn’t hinge on our actions today. We are able to—and, more importantly, called to—listen and wait for God to break into our mundane routine. Mary and Elizabeth model for us, just two days before Christmas, what our focus must be. We must expect for God to show up and turn our carefully scripted plans upside down. We saw God in the faces of those who received our gifts yesterday at a nearby mobile home park. We expect to hear God in the voice of the difficult relative who always sits around our table at the holidays. We expect to sense Christ’s presence through the words of our church friends. Michael Bennett stated that, “Congregants need to sit for a while with a people—and a God—who will accept them as they are, not as they feel expected to be.” That’s what is available to you each Sunday! You don’t need to come in to worship with picture-perfect smiles and all the details to your lives in perfect order. You are invited to come as you are, with a spirit open to God’s presence. There’s no room in Advent for numb imagination and realistic expectations. Don’t come into worship unless you embrace an expectation to be changed! As Mary and Elizabeth discovered, God is at work! Anything is possible! Jesus is near.

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O Key of David

On December 20 I had the opportunity to preach at the Dominican Center at Marywood. They observe the tradition of the “O Antiphons” in the days that lead up to Christmas. Antiphons are names for Jesus from the Old Testament prophets. These evening services go back perhaps as early as the 6th century and were firmly in place by the 8th century. My passage was one I didn’t remember reading before and certainly had not much pondered. The title for Christ I was given was Key of David. Here’s what I offered to those gathered in the beauty of the chapel at Marywood.

A Reading from the Prophet Isaiah Is. 22:22-25
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; what he opens, no one will shut, what he shuts, no one will open. I will fix him as a peg in a firm place, a seat of honor for his ancestral house; On him shall hang all the glory of his ancestral house: descendants and offspring, all the little vessels, from bowls to jars. On that day, says the LORD of hosts, the peg fixed in a firm place shall give way, break off and fall, and the weight that hung on it shall be done away with; for the LORD has spoken.

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O brother. Oh my goodness. Oh dear! Oh baby! Oh no! Oh, for heaven’s sake. O LORD God. O Antiphons. Oh.
I learned that the “O” in “O Antiphons” is called a vocative particle. Who knew? Not me! A vocative is a word that let’s you know that you are being spoken to directly. It’s also an exclamative—to precede a word or expression with the word “O” turns it into an exclamation, more than just a statement of fact. The scriptures for December 20 directly address each one of us as we turn to one of the titles for Jesus: O Key of David.

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Have you even been entrusted with the key to someone’s house? Did your boss present you with a key to the business at some point, knowing that you wouldn’t abuse that privilege? We joke about how many people have a key to our church building for a variety of reasons. One woman who never slept very well would make her way down to the church in the middle of the night when wrestling with the weight of the world. She quietly prayed in the sanctuary. My only clue that she had been there was if I noticed that the big Bible beneath the cross had been opened to a new psalm, prophetic utterance or gospel reading. To be given a key is a privilege, a responsibility. It indicates that the key-holder has some authority and power. That makes janitors some of the most powerful people in the land! Have you ever felt how heavy their key rings are?

God speaks through the prophet Isaiah about a very important key—it gives access to the beloved King David. This key determines who will get an audience with the king! It ushers the bearer into the very presence of Royalty. In Isaiah’s time the Hebrew King was chosen and anointed by God. So this is not someone elected by popular vote of the people. The Key of David brings us before the throne of God’s Savior! Now that’s some privilege! O mercy me!
When we put this passage in context we see that it involves two men with authority, Shebna and Eliakim. The two are portrayed so differently that they almost become caricatures. From Isaiah 3:3 and 2 Kings 18:18, we learn that Eliakim is in charge of the palace. This pair of men represent varied forms of leadership and politics. Oh boy! Shebna was arrogant. He was overseeing a sort of public works project: the building a grand and glorious tomb for himself hewn out of rock. He abused public funds to ensure that his name would live on in memory long after he was gone. He reeked of vanity and made plans independent of God.
In comparison Eliakim was almost too good to be true. He set a high mark for the role and behavior of a trusted ruler, one anointed by God. The authority that had belonged to Shebna would be given to Eliakim and he would use it as a father uses his power over his son or daughter: with love and wisdom. He would not seek to preserve his own memory but would be given honor for the way that he led out of a love for and commitment to God. This change of leadership would bring about stability and security for Jerusalem.
Often we hand off a task to those who are already managing other chores. When we find a reliable, hard-working person, we hang more responsibilities on them. They perform admirably—until there is a breaking point. This was the case with Eliakim. He was a politician who first conferred with God to determine his course of action. He was a peg in a firm place and all the glory of the House of David would be draped upon him: descendants and possessions, generations worth of things. This was a great blessing but also an increasingly heavy burden. One of the commentators stated, “No human can bear what is meant to be rolled onto the LORD.” So Isaiah prophesies that the balance would shift at some point and the peg that had been so firmly in place would break because of the weight upon it. The responsibilities that had been suspended from that hook would fall to the ground in a heap. Oh my goodness.

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So what does it mean to be an Eliakim rather than a Shebna? To emulate Eliakim we stop sitting on our hands and begin to reach out in service. We don’t worry about how we look to others or what our image is in the mirror. We see ourselves through the eyes of God and reflect the Divine image to those around us. It is this Holy Presence that we know through the Son of God that equips us for all holy labors. John Oswalt, in the NIV Application Commentary reminds us, “Even in a broken body, our spiritual health may be radiant and robust, in spite of our carrying impossible loads. If we have learned how to carry those loads to the Master, and leave them there, we will not be broken by what we are called to shoulder for the sake of others.” Oh glory!
In this Advent season, as in our very lives, we have waited for Jesus. We have yearned for His presence, His power and equipping. We have run toward Him so that we can drop our load at His feet. In these long nights we have waited for His Light for what seems like an eternity. We echo the words from Isaiah and cry out in the darkness, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down—to make your name known.” Through the quiet beauty of the O Antiphons we hear the promise of Jesus assuring us, “Tomorrow I will come…”

Oh my God! Glory be! Amen.





Perhaps you saw the movie, Wild, which starred Reese Witherspoon in a 2014 film. It was based on a book written by Cheryl Strayed, a journalist who lives in Portland, Oregon. Cheryl based the story on a time when she lost her mother and was extricating herself from her marriage. Turning to destructive behaviors, including heroin use, she decided to channel her personal turmoil into a physical journey. With no previous hiking experience, she set out to walk the Pacific Crest Trail, stretching from the Mojave Desert up to the Bridge of the Gods in the state of Washington. The movie offers flashbacks into earlier portions of Strayed’s life that illuminate her present angst. In the course of her 1,100 mile solo hike through deserted terrain, Strayed faces her demons and arrives at the Bridge of the Gods ready to cross into a new life with a hard-earned peace.

We like these sorts of stories, don’t we? It starts young with stories like Cinderella, the girl charged with sweeping the cinders of the fire. Yet she becomes the princess of the most eligible bachelor in the land. We hunger to see wilderness areas become lush with flowers and streams. On the second Sunday of Advent we lit the candle of Peace. What makes for peace? On the First Sunday in Advent I invited the congregation to write down on a slip of paper what they were waiting for this Advent season. Out of 55 sticky notes deposited in the offering plate, 24 individuals expressed the desire for some sort of peace. The second place answer falls from 24 answers for peace to 5 wishes for a just government and global responsibility. A hope for joy brought in four votes—three of those naming joy that we find in the context of family. Four people penned a desire for healing: for grampa to get better and for the miracle of speech for an autistic grandson. Three people yearned for God’s love–an acceptance of one another. Work and employment needs weighed on the hearts of two people. Two other people simply wrote the word, “Patience” on their paper. The remaining answers from individuals were clarity, truthfulness, humility rather than selfishness and better communication. What an insight into the hearts of our congregation these sticky notes provided! However the yearning for Peace won by a landslide!

One person practically wrote the script for Wild and other similar hardship stories with their answer. On their small piece of paper they expressed the desire to get out of the quick sand; to know their place and use their gifts for God and the Church; and to know their journey. Which path should they take?

How many of us can relate to that at some point in our lives? It boils down to a prayer of Rescue me, Use me, and Guide me.

Amen. Truth told. Sermon given!

Another person wrote that they are waiting for a child. Two words on a slip of paper that speak volumes. We gather in our sanctuaries each week carrying in with us hopes and dreams and sometimes battling despair. Some requests we dare to speak aloud in the context of worship. Others are buried so deep in our hearts that we sometimes forget what it is that we most desire.

What are you waiting for in this Advent season?

The Bible texts chosen for this time of year often speak words of warning. We’re focused on Christmas gifts and parties and decorations. Who needs warning? While in England my sister noticed the packaging of Sterling cigarettes. On all but one panel of the box, words of dire warning are printed. Clearly the British government has mandated that producers of cigarettes warn the consumers that what they are buying could well hurt their health. Sterling cigarettes did not disappoint! Each time you light up you would see the image of this poor man who appears to be on his death bed and subtle messages like SMOKING KILLS: QUIT NOW! But folks buy these and smoke them in spite of the government-mandated truth-telling. It’s easy to look past what we don’t want to see. Maybe that’s why those who put the lectionary readings together put these passages in front of us as we begin a new church calendar and our spirits are merry and bright. WARNING: YOU MIGHT JUST MISS THE WHOLE POINT OF CHRIST’S BIRTH IF YOU’RE WAITING FOR THE WRONG THINGS.

The lectionary text for the second Sunday in Advent is Luke 1: 67-80. It brings us into the presence of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Earlier in the story we learn that he loses his voice because he doubted an angel’s promise. It was an absurd promise—he’d be a fool to believe it. The angel tells him his elderly wife is going to have a baby. He leaves the temple after his time of service and returns home to his wife, who had long ceased hoping for a child. Before long she is, indeed, pregnant and Zechariah is still muted in this gestational chapter of their geriatric lives. It isn’t until the child is born—a boy, as the angel had promised—that Zechariah’s speech is restored. So what does he have to say after nine months of silence? He preaches a sermon! He becomes a prophet who speaks in the power of the Holy Spirit. God’s voice had been absent for 400 years leading up to Jesus. No prophets or prophecies. No miracles. The yearning of the Jews for a reappearance of their God had deepened. So, as Zechariah emerges from the wilderness of being word-less, he breaks God’s silence with words of prophecy.

I like to play a game when reading scripture and that is “Find the verbs.” If you look at this sermon that old Zechariah preached, notice the verbs: Looked favorably upon, redeemed, raised up, spoke through prophets, remembered the covenant, rescued. The power of God’s Holy Spirit has broken into the world again and the awe-struck father of a tiny boy prophesies that things are about to change. The wilderness is ready to bloom!

Part II of his sermon moves toward his little boy. He will become a prophet of Yahweh, the God of the Jews. Remember what comes along with the job description of being a prophet: rejection, shunning, physical harm sometimes. Have you told your kids or grandkids that you hope they will become a prophet when they grow up? That you hope they will preach against the evils of their time, even stating the truth before leaders who will take offence? Probably not! Zechariah knows, in the power of the Holy Spirit, that his boy will somehow prepare the way for God’s anointed One. He will do it in such a way that folks will newly understand the salvation that God offers them. It comes in an unlikely way—not through memorization of scripture or performing a certain number of good deeds or because they have articulated a particularly beautiful prayer. Their salvation comes through forgiveness of sin!

Have you ever spent time in the wilderness of guilt, the desert of inadequacy, the forsaken land of regret? We can waste our lives stuck in these places! John the Baptist came to prepare the way for God’s Messiah who offers us forgiveness. After 400 years of God’s absence, Preacher Zechariah speaks of God’s tender mercy—not warnings of judgment! These people knew that they had strayed from God. They understood why God had left them to their own stubborn devices for four centuries. They had ignored the warning of the prophets for hundreds of years! The last thing they expected was for God to show up with mercy that dispels the darkness and brings about the dawn of a glorious new day. Zechariah prophesies that history is about to be rerouted and the path we are on will lead, not to our destruction or continued remorse over bad decisions; not to further wandering with no sense of direction. No! The presence of Zechariah’s God will guide OUR feet, all y’all’s feet, into the way of peace.

24 out of 55 answers expressed a desire for some sort of peace. These are a few of the prayers: National peace and compassion and morality. Peace around the world. I pray for peace, for people’s tolerance and understanding of each other. Waiting for stories of peace and love to be told on the news. Peace deep in my soul. Moments of stillness and reflection.

In Luke 3, beginning at verse 4. Luke quotes from the prophet Isaiah who foreshadows the arrival of a messenger who will prepare the way of God’s Savior. It will be hard work. Have you ever had to clear rocks from a field to prepare it for planting? Were you assigned to weed a garden? Did you lay pavers in your yard to create a path? Then you will appreciate how hard the job description was for John! He was sent ahead of Jesus to make the paths through the wilderness straight, to fill in the valleys and bring down the mountains. This is commanded long before backhoes could do this sort of back-breaking labor! Crooked ways will be made straight and rough places smooth. All who travel upon these newly paved roads (that part of an election campaign promise in our state recently!) will arrive at the same place: a vantage point of clarity, a vista that showcases that God is present and offering salvation to our world. Wow! Imagine how Zechariah and Elizabeth must have unpacked that sermon?!

The end of Zechariah’s sermon ends with a post-script that is succinct and startling: “The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.”

No stories about his first steps, his first word, blowing out the birthday candles or celebrating his bar mitzvah. Holy Spirit. Wilderness. Public ministry. That’s John’s life, in a nutshell. I suspect old Zechariah and Elizabeth had many sleepless nights worrying about their precious boy.

It is perhaps instructive to us that John’s preparation for his prophetic work took place in the wilderness. That was Jesus’ seminary setting as well! John the Baptist and the Son of God are not spared wilderness experiences in life. In fact, God intentionally sends them to wilderness camp trusting that, in that harsh setting, they will discover who and what they can rely on and who or what will let them down. The necessary training grounds for facing our hardships with holiness is a parched land devoid of distractions. Much as we seek to avoid wilderness chapters to our lives, it is in the trenches that we are most apt to experience God’s rescuing. How can God redeem, restore, save, forgive, liberate, and show mercy to us if we’ve never had to struggle? God sent John to pave the way for Jesus who would show us the way of peace.

Their earthly reward? John’s head ended up on a platter presented whimsically to Herod’s wife. We can only hope that Zechariah and Elizabeth had died before their beloved son met his end in this way. And Jesus? His earthly story ends badly as well—on a cross, crucified as a common criminal like a public lynching. So how does this lead our feet into the way of peace? Who would choose to enter into the wilderness if this is where it dumps us off?

The story that we read in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is a story of God’s love for us. The story is much greater than John the Baptist, even though he fulfilled his job description honorably. It’s even bigger than the human Jesus. Through Christ’s bodily death God’s power to bring life out of death was showcased. Sacrifice precedes peace. Working for peace takes….work! It’s a holy task that often plants us in a desolate area. No one is exempt from wilderness time. But if we invite God into those hardships, we can expect a word of hope to break forth. One person wrote on their slip of paper that they are waiting for a new beginning. Another said they were hoping for peace, a ray of it in the world and a light of it in my family. A life of faith will teach us that striving peace may require great sacrifice of us. But we discover that we’re in good company. We are thrilled when we see how much more we can accomplish when we work alongside of others who imitate God’s grace. In looking back at our lives we want to be able to say that we didn’t ignore the warnings, that we didn’t wait around for others to do the work, that we would never eliminate the wilderness moments because those are the crucible in which we do our most important work. Those are the steps that lead into the way of peace. Is that what you’re waiting for this Advent season? Amen.


Feed My Soul

While visiting Edinburgh, Scotland this past summer four of us sisters stayed on the Royal Mile while doing our genealogical explorations. Three of us stayed at the Grassmarket Hotel, an area historically named for its past as a marketplace that sold cattle and other goods. It was also the chosen spot for public hangings in the 17th and 18th centuries for early Scots Presbyterians called Covenanters. A pub near our modest hotel was named for a young woman, Maggie Dickson, who was hanged in in the square in 1724. To escape the humiliation of raising an illegitimate child, she killed her newborn infant and was hanged for it. She is remembered, however, because she resuscitated in the wagon when her body was being carted off to be buried! The astounded local officials determined that she had endured her punishment. She had been hanged. They just didn’t expect her to revive! So she was allowed to live out the remainder of her days. She lives on in legend as “half-hangit Maggie” who was regarded with some awe by the townsfolk who grew old alongside of her! A popular area for housing weary travelers like ourselves, Dorothy Wordsworth gave this report of Grassmarket Square in 1791: “Not noisy and tolerably cheap.”

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Three of us stayed at the Grassmarket Square with its ignominious history while another sister, the last to sign on for the summer adventure, lined up a lovely room at the local Radisson. We swung by her hotel each morning as mere peasants, looking in on a glorious lobby. The first morning she came out and showed us the “Do Not Disturb” sign provided for use in her room. They used different words to keep the cleaning crew and other unwanted visitors at bay. The door tag says, “Feed My Soul.” The pauper status of the other three of us was confirmed with this Radisson grand expression for “Leave Me Alone!”

Feed my soul. That just makes me want to sigh! Isn’t that the prayer on our hearts in this busy season of the year? Isn’t that our request of God when the troubles of our world seem overwhelming? What a different message that gives from “Do Not Disturb.” This is often our message of choice: Leave me alone! No solicitation! I’m busy. I’ve got enough on my own plate so don’t bother me to help with your troubles. Do not disturb!

But we will be disturbed in Advent! The lectionary Gospel passage for the first Sunday in Advent is from Luke 21. This is the last chapter in Luke’s gospel where Jesus is still teaching. Chapter 22 begins with Judas’ betrayal and moves quickly into the Last Supper. Jesus wants His disciples to understand that a final time will come when the whole world will be in turmoil. Terror will be the reaction to the events surrounding them and the Son of Man, an Old Testament title Jesus used for Himself, would descend from heaven to mete out justice. Jesus warned against lethargy and drunkenness. He urged His followers to be on high alert, to watch the signs of the times to know when the traditional rhythms to our earthly life were going to be disturbed. In Advent, as we await the birth of the Messiah, we are reminded that we need to be READY for His arrival.

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For 2000 years folks have tried to pin down the end of this era. Predictions have been made, communities of believers have camped out in full-readiness mode and those times have come and gone with no ultimate divine intervention. People have had good reason in every  age to think that the end is near based on the descriptions in the Bible: international aggression, natural disasters, solar and lunar eclipses, enmity between people and toward God. We certainly can fill in the blanks with our world today. We grieve over our southern border as tear gas and armed troops are used to stand guard between two countries. Small children and young parents run for protection. We look away from those images but find that we are looking at the next news report of entire towns wiped off the map from fires. Hundreds are unaccounted for and others have tales of terror, trying to escape what they describe as apocalyptic burning. Alaskans pick up from a frightening earthquake. Our military patrol puts their lives on the line by entering into generational hatred in the Middle East. Tensions mount as talks with Russia dissolve. Home-bred terrorism leads us to put safety policies in place at schools and other public places. We now lock our church doors during the week in response to the signs of our times. As Christmas approaches we spend money we don’t have for presents we don’t need all in search of a moment of peace. We don’t want to be disturbed but, in Advent, we will be. Jesus urged His disciples to be watchful and prayerful so that we are ready for what each new day will bring. We may think that our message is “Do not disturb” but our deeper prayer is “Feed my soul.” I beg of you Jesus, feed my soul.

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Mary and Joseph watched for the signs of God’s presence. Mary’s illegitimate pregnancy challenged both of them. They could have easily responded to this life-threatening circumstance by telling God, “Do not disturb us! We have a good life ahead of us. We love each other. We love YOU so let’s keep things just as they are.” But they don’t say this. Joseph reacts in an understandable way to the news of Mary’s pregnancy: he plans to quietly divorce her. He could have brought her before the religious authorities and had her stoned to death for infidelity. He was a man of faith and looked for the most peaceful resolution to the dilemma. But God disturbed his sleep and directed him through a dream to marry his fiancée, accepting that this child was of God. Joseph’s soul was fed and he became obedient to God’s will at great cost to himself and to Mary. The tyranny of Roman rule melted away as they held this precious child in their arms when a barn became their delivery room in Bethlehem. The earthly father of Jesus wasn’t given a speaking part in the Bible but we’re still talking about his righteousness today.

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I remember a conversation with the father of an autistic girl who was severely handicapped. She was almost 20 but would be forever frozen developmentally at about age three. Her parents felt the need to transition her from living at home to living in a long-term care facility so that she would be well-situated when they were no longer able to care for her. I talked with the dad a week or so before the transition was to happen. He told me that he deeply grieved the change this would bring to his daily routine. “I get up each morning at five so that I can have some coffee and get myself ready for the day. Then I awaken her and get her in the shower. I help her to blow dry her hair and get dressed. We eat breakfast together and then the bus comes to pick her up for school. I love our routine and can’t imagine not seeing her each day.” I was moved by the tender devotion this father showed toward his disabled daughter. Though they had never been able to have a verbal conversation, their love for each other was profound. Some people might have complained that their lives were disrupted by the demands of raising a girl who would never act older than a toddler. But this couple had invited God into their home when she was born and their souls were fed. Like Joseph, they acted in a righteous manner when entrusted with a child with unexpected needs. They watched for God’s presence in this hardship—and she became their blessing!

I wonder what you are watching for as you approach Christmas?  The world into which Jesus was born was violent, secular, divided and suspicious. Some things never change! What are you waiting for in this Advent season? We lit the candle of hope for the first Sunday in Advent. When watching the evening news or having a difficult conversation with a loved one or figuring out where the money will come from for utilities, let alone Christmas gifts, what are you hoping for?

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Advent is a time of waiting. It seems interminable to our children to wait for Christmas morning just as nine months can seem interminable to parents who are eagerly awaiting the birth of a baby in their family. We look in on our world and beg God to not disturb us, to let us continue as we are or to shield us from the injustices around us. But, if we keep watch and pray to the God who sent us the Prince of Peace, we will be surprised to discover that our souls are fed! Glory be to the Father! Amen.