Am I Not Entering Holy Ground?

Did my red socks display jolly Santas, lush Christmas trees or singing angels?

I don’t remember. I’ve worn and worn out many festive socks over the years.

Toes are getting a bit thin from these "veteran" socks!

Advent’s Third Word: WITNESS!

But I recall the snow, my December breath adrift like a miniature cloud, the long tramp from the driveway to their house. An hour or so outside of Madison, Wisconsin, the brittle night air contains the smell of cattle from the barn as my footsteps crunch on the icy path leading to the front door.

I also don’t remember who answered. His teenaged daughter? His wife? His brother from the next farm over?

“I’m Larry,” I say. “I had called and asked–”

“Yes, of course, come inside before you freeze. We’re glad you came.”

I entered a home I’d never been to before, and shook the hand of a stranger. In my faulty memory I can’t be sure if the friendly hand grasping mine was the daughter, wife or brother, but I certainly felt welcomed. Other family members voiced their greetings. An unseen Christmas tree cast splinters of red and green light against the wall. Evidence of baking, maybe cookies, teased my nose.

Someone offered to take my coat. Then, after a cleared throat, one of my greeters quietly asked, “Could you take your shoes off?”

They gestured toward the entryway floor. Work boots, clogs, running shoes and other footwear rested on a throw rug. I shrugged off my shoes and added them to the mix. Especially in a Midwest winter, a season of mud and snow and ice, this wasn’t unusual. Removing shoes helped in the battle for a clean house.

With my Advent/Christmas socks obvious, I padded into the living room, accompanied by members of the family. Everyone glanced at my feet, at those Santas or singing angels prancing against a bright red background. A Christmas tree anchored a corner, across from the fireplace. There was a sofa, several chairs and a hospital bed.

His wife said to me, eyes unblinking, voice strong, “This is John. He’s so looking forward to meeting you.” Continue reading →

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We’re Never Ready

Mark 1:1-8 – The 2nd Sunday of Advent – for December 4, 2011

“‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…’” (Mark 1:3)

When I write the opening sentence of these musings, I’m about four mouse clicks away from a file on my hard drive labeled Backpacking. There, I could find a list of 90+ items essential for a multiday hike. It’s a checklist, with gear like liner socks, tent stakes and water filter. I know where all the 90+ objects are stashed for easy access.

Let’s say you called right now and lured me with, “Let’s go for a three-day hike along California’s Lost Coast*. But we have to leave tomorrow morning, crack of dawn.”

My reply: “Who’s driving?” I’m ready to rumble. I’m . . .


Advent’s Second Word: PREPARE!

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An examination of my legs would find miniscule scars and smooth divots encircling both kneecaps. On four occasions I’ve been wheeled into an operating “theater” to snip and reshape a torn meniscus. Arthroscopic surgery is relatively simple, using precise, minimally invasive tools to repair damage. At each procedure I observed machines ready to monitor my status, the coolness of the room, snippets of dialog between the surgeon and nurses. Before drifting into unconsciousness, I sensed their readiness. They were . . .


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4 5-oz pieces of salmon
2 scallions
14-oz can of chopped tomatoes

Okay, fine, I borrowed this from Ms. De Laurentiis’ website to hope a few more extra web visitors would read about Advent.

I took that list (and more) on a supermarket excursion for a recent meal. Giada De Laurentiis’ “Salmon Baked in Foil” was on my mind and soon to be on the table, along with rice pilaf and sautéed kale. Sometimes I “hunt” for groceries without much of a list, but when I’m planning a nice meal for friends I like to be on thyme and . . .


 *     *     *

The second Sunday of Advent whispers, “Prepare!”

Actually, it seems to shout the word. Isaiah—deutero or second Isaiah for you Biblical scholarly types—declared the importance of preparing the way of the Lord, “make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah wasn’t talking about an asphalt ribbon slicing through Death Valley’s harsh landscape for a weekend retreat in the desert. Instead, Mr. Isaiah, as familiar with a real desert as he likely was, demanded believers to prepare their weary souls for hope, good tidings, God’s guidance . . . even when everything around the Israelites seemed as bleak as, well, a desert. Continue reading →

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Long Fly Ball

Mark 13:24-37 – the 1st Sunday of Advent – for November 27, 2011

“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33)

Mark’s Gospel begins Advent season with a smack against the back of the head. Stay alert.

Stay. Alert.

Stay alert!

As always—for even if Mark 13:24-27 is read for the first time, almost everyone knows about end times, the coming of Christ, the last days of the late great planet Earth, the rapture—we’ll declare, “Sure, I’ll try to stay alert.”

Advent’s First Word: ALERT!

However, will your declaration have an undertone of confidence, sarcasm or boredom? After all, Mark was written over 1,900 years ago. Whoever served as Mark’s first audience, they may very well have tried to stay alert, inspired by the Gospel scribe’s urgency. But those first century believers are dead and gone. Nonetheless, every generation has experienced enough of the worst of the world to be convinced the end’s approaching. Families in the last two millennia have buried children, seen a farm foreclosed or had a spouse’s betrayal cause those particular persons to feel as if the end was not just near, but crashing through their front door. Since Mark first wrote “But in those days…” we’ve had genocide, pogroms, crusades, slavery, depressions, plagues and millions of precious humans riddled by the swords, muskets, bazookas or rocket propelled grenades of war. Is the end near? It feels like we wake up with The End sipping coffee in our kitchen every morning.

Stay alert? Sure, but only because we want to survive the commute to work or the ride home from school. Or we want to make sure we keep the job we almost like in this lousy economy or finish school so we can search for a job that will likely keep us from spending time with our beloved spouse and kids . . . but we have to keep food on the table and gas in the car. On we go.

Can we believe in this ancient warning on this year’s brand new first Sunday of Advent? Continue reading →

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