Advent 4 – Gabriel Shuffles In

Luke 1:26-38The 4th Sunday of Advent – for December 21, 2014

“When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee.” (Luke 1:26)

She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. “The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, God is honoring you.”

“Mary,” in the sheltering darkness of the room, is alone but doesn’t feel lonely. She leans forward, alert.

Why does this moment feel different?

“Gabriel” slips unnoticed into the building, as hesitant as he is hopeful. With curious eyes, he scans the unfamiliar surroundings.

Is this the moment that will make a difference?

*       *       *

With apologies to It's A Wonderful Life, I think Wim Wenders' Wings Of Desire is the best movie about angels...
With apologies to It’s A Wonderful Life, I think Wim Wenders’ Wings Of Desire* is the best movie about angels…

In several of the churches I served, I asked a young woman—maybe fourteen or fifteen years old—to read Luke’s familiar verses where Mary was informed about her impending pregnancy. I wanted a reminder that the first Christmas story hinged on the voiceless. In the so-called Bible times, all women were considered property; Mary’s identity would always be based on which him she married. She was merely some man’s future wife from a ho-hum village in a meaningless region that barely appeared as a dot on the sprawling map of the empire. Like a million other female nobodies, Mary lived in an era when the powerful trampled the weak, and the haughty rich acquired more treasure while the humiliated poor spiraled deeper into poverty. (Though it’s always been and still is this way.) Continue reading →

Advent 3 – The Usual Suspect

John 1:6-8, 19-28The Third Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 14, 2014

“This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, ‘Who are you?’” (John 1:19)

90_20_15---Three-Advent-Candles_webThis is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?”
John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.”


When the “Who are you?” Gospel question is proclaimed from pulpits on Advent’s third Sunday, a few pew dwellers might quietly complain, “How come grouchy John is still hanging around when we’re this close to Christmas?”

Isn’t Advent preparing us for the birth of Mary’s child? And yet here’s a bit from John the Baptist, thirty odd years after Jesus was born, prattling on about who he was not.

Are you the Christ? Nope.
Are you Elijah? Nope.
Are you the prophet? Nope.

 So negative!

Who was John? Well (to extend the negativity), he also wasn’t much of a conversationalist.

However, in today’s preparation for Christmas, the writer of John’s Gospel—no relation to John the Baptizer, aka John the Nope-ster—did offer a powerful Advent question . . . Continue reading →

Advent 2: Of The Roses Singing

Isaiah 40:1-11The Second Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 7, 2014

“A voice is crying out: Clear the Lord’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!” (Isaiah 40:3)

two+candlesA voice is crying out:
Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!

Some say, fervent and sure in their beliefs, that Isaiah predicted a voice in the future: a John the baptizer that would cry aloud in the literal wilderness, a harbinger for Jesus’ ministry.

Some say, fervent and sure in their beliefs, that Isaiah was not predicting a some-day future of John and Jesus, but shouting an every-day truth in the metaphoric wilderness: a longing for God to transform a wounded world.

Either way, when modern hearts and minds read Isaiah’s ancient cries, there is a belief that from the wild, from beyond our safe homes and familiar streets, a change will come.

American poet, Mary Oliver penned,

Ordinarily, I go to the woods alone, with not a single friend, for they are all smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.

I don’t really want to be witnessed talking to the catbirds or hugging the old black oak tree. I have my way of praying, as you no doubt have yours.

Besides, when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned. I can hear the almost unhearable sound of the roses singing.

If you have ever gone to the woods with me, I must love you very much.

The second Sunday of Advent has arrived. Come walk with me into the woods, in the wilderness of yesterday’s Isaiah and today’s faith . . . but only if you are not one of the “smilers and talkers and therefore unsuitable.” Continue reading →

Advent 1: A Dark November Night

Mark 13:24-37First Sunday of Advent – For Sunday, November 30, 2014

“Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming.” (Mark 13:33)

advent2-300x225Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming.

The first scriptures of Advent are unsettling. I don’t like them. I’d prefer to hurry to the next week’s readings, to arrive in Bethlehem as quickly as possible. Joseph and Mary and the shepherds and the magi and the angels are familiar. They are safe. After all, I put their ceramic figurines on my mantel.

The scripture that shouts at me to Watch out! never feels safe. I dread the questions these fierce apocalyptic verses cause me to ask.

*      *      *

Will I ever be healed?

I weary of waiting to be healed. First, I’m talking about my body. Once, as a youth, I felt immortal. I did. Embarrassing confession: in my twenties and thirties, I didn’t think I’d age like others. Even after a wrenching broken leg, even after a first and second knee surgery by my late forties, I thought I’d be . . . different. I’d never be the one with the cane or walker or the one whose doctor warned you have to count calories or reduce cholesterol. I would forever disdain the elevator and bound up the steps.

But aging gets the last laugh. Judgment wears clever disguises. Continue reading →

Advent 2013: The Usual Suspects

oil_lampA few thoughts after posting 2013’s fourth and final Advent reflection . . .

This year, my reading of the familiar—oh so familiar—scriptures inspired me to imagine a few moments in the lives of Advent’s “usual suspects.” As always, I didn’t know exactly what I’d write until each essay was finished. But I was confident Isaiah would make an appearance, initially assumed Mary or Joseph (or both) would be ignored, and had no idea a Pharisee would encounter John the Baptizer. Ah well . . . humans plan, the Holy chuckles.

As the digital dust began to settle, these questions nudged me . . .

  • What caused Isaiah to claim the imagery of turning swords into plowshares?
  • What made John the Baptist’s message compelling, but inadequate, especially in the eyes of a “religious authority?”
  • Wouldn’t self-doubt and confidence accompany Mary’s anticipation of birth? And . . . could Mary have heard Hannah’s song/prayer for inspiration?
  • Why did Joseph, key to the nativity stories, vanish from the verses that followed?

Behind all the questions is a core belief: Christmas is a myth. The facts about Jesus’ birth are sparse and pedestrian. He was born. He had parents and siblings. And from birth to death, Jesus lived under Rome’s brutal, corrupt government. Continue reading →