This Fragile Season

John 1:1-14CHRISTMAS – for December 25, 2016

“In the beginning was the word . . .” (John 1:1)

I will call him John, if only to honor the Gospel writer that annually beckons me at the most (and for too many, the least) wonderful time of the year.

In the beginning was the Word

                  and the word was with God

                  and the Word was God . . .

For a few years at a church I once served, John sang Ava Maria at the Christmas Eve service. Sometimes, his name was listed in the worship bulletin; sometimes he unexpectedly appeared and we’d let him sing. Of course we would!

It was a United Methodist congregation, and yet there was John, crooning the most Roman Catholic of songs about a maiden and her child:

Ave Maria! maiden mild!
Listen to a maiden’s prayer!
Thou canst hear though from the wild;
Thou canst save amid despair.
Safe may we sleep beneath thy care,
Though banish’d, outcast and reviled –
Maiden! hear a maiden’s prayer;
Mother, hear a suppliant child!
Ave Maria!

John may have been a drug addict. He occasionally worshipped in the non-Ava Maria seasons, present for a few Sundays in a row, perhaps singing in the choir, and then—for months—disappearing. He randomly worked, with a mix of rumors that his family was wealthy and sent him money. The then thirty-something John drifted here and there. I’d worry about him. I’d forget about him. I have wondered, especially during Decembers, what happened to John? I recollect the last time I saw him was the last Christmas Eve I did at that small rural church. Continue reading →

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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 →

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Tattoo Truths

John 1: 1-18  – The Second Sunday following Christmas – for January 5, 2014

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

The light shines in the darkness...
The light shines in the darkness…

I promise to write the truth, but muddle the facts.

I’ll try, and try is all I can do, to honor the old scripture that inspired me, and the new story that also inspired me.

Scripture (the easy part) first . . . The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. That’s the fifth verse of the first chapter in the fourth Gospel. These are words within the eloquent opening of John. They are more poetry than prose, more theology than history; they are forever an inadequate and yet honest description of, and declaration about, Jesus’ ministry.

I have opened my Bible to this passage on the coldest, darkest days of December, most often near midnight on Christmas Eve. In a sanctuary, dim and expectant, I’ve shared these words with strangers, friends, family and visitors, all crowding the pews, their hands gripping a simple, singular wax candle. They await permission to light that candle and to celebrate the birth of Christ. First, they hear words. First they sing carols. First they squirm, uncomfortably sitting too close to people they’ve never met or contentedly resting on the shoulders of persons they’ve longed to spend these moments with. At some point, as the proclaimer of good news, I’ll whisper enough prayers, quote enough scripture, and finally invite them to light those expectant candles.

One light becomes many; a symbol flickers and expands. If only for a few seconds, with none of us strangers, we will all feel brave enough to believe in the light of Christ that shines into the darkness. Continue reading →

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