Advent Cessna

Luke 1:47-55The Fourth Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 20, 2015

“He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.” (Luke 1:52-53)

"The Annunciation" - He Qi (And yes, I know the annunciation doesn't happen on Advent-4, but I felt an emotional tug for this He Qi painting...)
“The Annunciation” – He Qi (And yes, I know the annunciation doesn’t happen on Advent-4, but I felt an emotional tug for this He Qi painting…)

The preacher turns the page or ponders the screen and there it is: And Mary said, my soul magnifies the Lord.

What can modern proclaimers of Mary’s good news announce that will be relevant for this year, for this moment?

Advent has obligations. Christmas is habit. Here comes Mary again.


Does the preacher quietly consider these words in the heat of a fading summer, diligently outlining the sermons she’ll proclaim four months later? It’s good to be organized, and Christmas obediently arrives on the same date every year. Might as well organize for the inevitable.

Does another preacher desperately scan Luke 1:46-55—also known as Mary’s Magnificat—on the night before facing his congregation? His Advent days have been frantic, the church demands relentless. Next year he’ll plan better.

Whether in the calm of an August day of long-range sermon preparation or a panicked gaze at those holy nouns and verbs, both share a nagging thought: What to say? Continue reading →

Advent Cougar

Luke 3:7-18The Third Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 13, 2015

“Then John said to the crowds, who came to be baptized by him, ‘You children of snakes! Who warned you to come to escape from the angry judgment that is coming soon?’” (Luke 3:7)

cougarA handful of years ago I pedaled toward a sign stapled on a fence. I slowed, then stopped and chuckled.

According to local news reports, several people claimed they’d spotted a cougar around this area. Warnings were posted, like the sign on the fence.

The sign had a grainy photo of a “big cat.”

There was a smidgen of nervousness in my laughter because yours truly was the only obvious biking or walking warm body in that section of Fresno’s Woodward Park. The asphalt path continued east, paralleling open fields, copses of trees—excellent cover for large, sneaky felines—and the San Joaquin River.

I felt . . . alone, isolated. Continue reading →

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 →