Twelfth Day of Christmas and the Magi … Finally!


It’s the final day of Christmas. The magi following the star to pay homage to the child Jesus may not seem like the climax of the Advent-Christmas experience, but it is. The revelation of this holy season isn’t the birth of Jesus. The revelation is the confirmation of his identity.

There are a lot of things about the magi we can focus on. We can focus on their profession and where they’re from. We can focus on the planetary science behind the star. We can even focus on the gifts they brought. But what I find compelling is their response.

Matthew tells us in his gospel that these men from the east observed a star rising in the sky. They knew the star signified the birth of a king, specifically the king of the Jews. How they knew this we don’t know. We can speculate and research the scholarship on the matter, but we still really don’t know. We know only what Matthew tells us: they saw a star, they rounded up their camels, and they hit the road for Jerusalem bearing gifts for this newly-born king of the Jews.

We also don’t know why they made the detour to see Herod. We only know that they did. This news frightened Herod and “all Jerusalem with him.” Herod called together all his experts, including the Jewish leaders whom he tolerated, to gather as much information as he could. Then he called back the magi for a second conversation to compare the information he got from his experts with the information these outsiders brought.

Herod, being the despicable person he was, told the magi an bold-faced lie. He told them to come back with information on where this child was so he could also pay homage to him. We learn later just how threatened he really was and to what extent he would go to assure himself that there were no threats to his throne.

We also learn that the magi continued on to Bethlehem, to the house where Jesus and his parents were staying. Matthew tells us “they were overwhelmed with joy … and they knelt down and paid him homage.” They also presented him with the gifts they brought with them.

After their visit, having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for home by another route. Sort of reminds you of Joseph and his dream, doesn’t it? Just like Joseph, the act on their dream as though it were real too.

Sometimes, when I’m trying to discern the meaning of a biblical passage, I look at the verbs. Asking, observed, came, pay homage, frightened, search, find, set out, stopped, knelt, offered, warned, left. These are all the action verbs Matthew uses in this passage. There’s a progression from wonder, to belief, to action, to confirmation, to response.

Although the magi follow a completely different belief system, the signs they see through the window of their own religious worldview compel them to consider and respond to the beliefs of this other faith tradition. They see that the divine in this child is not only present, but powerful. Seeing Jesus for themselves confirms he is of whom the prophets spoke. They experience something real and joyful. They respond by kneeling in worship.

The magi offer a wonderful close to the Advent and Christmas seasons. They are the first outsiders who experience and respond to Jesus as a divine presence in the world. It is confirmation that his power frightens those in worldly power. If Jesus can be revealed as Lord to leaders of other religious traditions, then he can be revealed to anyone. His birth is a marvelous gift. What, then, can we say about his life?

Merry Christmas!

Eleventh Day of Christmas and the Festivities Are Wrapping Up


The Christmas festivities for most have probably been wrapped for while. We are the only ones left on our street with Christmas lights still up. And we still have them come one each evening. Our Christmas tree is still up and we still turn it on every morning. Our kitties, Takuma and Midori are still enjoying the tree. Amazingly, they have not taken any ornaments off or pulled the branches out. The tree skirt does get straightened everyday and one of the Magi has been dragged underneath the tree. Midori has a special fondness for him. She also likes the camel. She pulls him by his leash (I don’t think that’s quite the word) and he’s usually with the one Magi. The camel and one Magi have had several Midori adventures on their way to the nativity.

The festivities may be coming to a close, but the faith journey is just beginning. We have one more day of Christmas which is dedicated to the Magi. Then it’s Epiphany on the January 6. After that, we’ll see where the journey leads.

Magi tissot

Tenth Day of Christmas and Keeping God’s Love Uncomplicated


The Christmas story is uncomplicated. Jesus is uncomplicated. Our lives, on the other hand, have gotten really complicated. How, then, do we keep God’s love uncomplicated?

Keep Theology in Its Place

If our theology isn’t pointing us to loving God and loving others, we’re focusing on the wrong theology. Jesus’ entire message was about loving God and loving others. Period.

Good theology is not about institutional doctrine, categorizing others, qualifying who is our neighbor, or wondering who is deserving of God’s love. Our theology should never be academic, data or information obsessed, or distracting analysis. Solid theology points us to God and strengthens our relationship with God and Jesus.

Keep Religion in Its Place

Religion should help us deepen our relationship with God. Religious communities, churches, and leaders are supposed to serve, not co-opt, our God-focus. Religion and religious tradition must never be a replacement for the relationship we have with God and Christ.

Keep Politics and Opinion in Their Place

Our love for God and our understanding of biblical principles should inform and inspire us to make wise decisions and choices. The gospel is never intended to be a platform for political ideologies or to be manipulated to fit secular agendas. Political and religious opinions should never hijack the gospel’s message of love and inclusion. Jesus never withhold his love from those who held different political, social, religious, and cultural beliefs. Neither should we.

Keep Money, Career, ad Security in Its Place

Our culture is obsessed with wealth, fame, fortune, and comfort. Jesus, on the other hand, instructs us to help the poor, feed the starving, care for the sick, defend the weak, and love even the stranger. Cultural success holds up working for ourselves, acquiring money, status, and fame, and disregard others for self-security. Following Jesus requires immense dedication and real sacrifices of time, money, and energy. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Keep God’s Love Uncomplicated … and Radical

Jesus was uncomplicated, but he was radical. He broke all social rules by building relationships with criminals, prostitutes, the outcasts, ignored, alienated, and persecuted members of society. He did not care one whit about maintaining appearances or what others thought. Nor was he apathetic. He radically loved others.

Jesus gives us an uncomplicated example of how to love others: everyone is created and loved by God. There is no “them” or “those people.” Everyone is an individual created and loved by God.  Uncomplicated. Now, more than ever.

Ninth Day of Christmas and All Truth God’s Truth


I don’t remember what class it was, but the president of the seminary was teaching so it had to have been a psychology or ethics class. A classmate was being particularly ornery and obnoxious about one of the books we were required to read. Dr. Gordon let the person finish his rant and, in his usual soft-spoken manner said, “That may be, but all truth is God’s truth.” I can’t tell you how useful that tidbit of wisdom has been.

I came across some quotes of the Dalai Lama I had saved as I was cleaning up some apps. They’re perfect for the start of a New Year.

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.”

“Love is the absence of judgment.”

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”

“Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.”

“When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways–either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

“A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.”

“Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.”

“People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost.”

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”

“World peace must develop from inner peace. Peace is not just mere absence of violence. Peace is, I think, the manifestation of human compassion.”

“All major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness … the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”

Eighth Day of Christmas and a New Year!


Happy New Year! Every year I let the Eternal Scheme algorithm select for me a word for the year. Last year my word was Healing.

I’ve always had a goal-oriented word for the year that I picked based on whatever I wanted to focus on that year. My sister used angel cards. She would draw a card on New Year’s Day and put it in her sacred corner. When we moved back to California, she and I each drew a card when we got together for New Year’s dinner. Saint Sam participated, but he could never remember his word! After I wrote the Eternal Scheme Daily Word, we started using it, letting the algorithm do its magic.

Once I have my word, I put it in places where I will see it on a regular basis. I write it in my journal. I put it in my ToDo app on my iPhone. I book mark it in my Eternal Scheme Daily Word ebook and add the link to my bookmarks bar in my browser on the MacBook Air. I try to read it every week, to keep it in my consciousness as I move through the year.

Saint Sam and have our words for 2017. Sam has Comfort and I have Creativity. My son, Luke, has Inspiration, granddaughter Maia has Bless, and granddaughter Aliya has Expectancy. Not sure how much a 6 year-old can relate to that, but she’s an old soul and has wisdom beyond her years! Granddaughter Keana had her appendix out and came home from the hospital today, so she’s already asleep. Daughter-in-law Sarah has yet to get her word. I’ll be checking in with my sister and parents later today to see what their words will be their’s for the year.

If you want to have a word for the year, just go to the Eternal Scheme website. You can’t miss the Get Your Daily Word button. Click and a word will come up with a beautiful picture (mostly photos taken by my sister) and some food for thought. Be sure to write your word down so you can reflect on it throughout the year. Let it be inspiration for a new path, new focus, wonderful adventure, or much needed grounding. The Daily Word was designed to be just that, a word for each day as a simple spiritual practice. It’s amazing how taking a few, spiritual moments each day can set the direction for your day.

I am excited about my word. I have been sensing creative urges bubbling within. My culinary creativity has definitely been surfacing. I made a Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise for our anniversary dessert. I am looking forward to exploring my creative side as well as seeing what new vistas open up creatively.

What about you? What are you looking forward to this New Year?

Seventh Day of Christmas and New Year’s Eve


It’s New Year’s Eve [day]. The final day of weird 2016. Maybe it hasn’t been a weird year for you. It’s been a weird year for me, although I’m not sure I can fully articulate why. Regardless, I am grateful for the new beginning each new year brings.

Every day, Saint Sam gives me an update to Armageddon. We’re at t-minus 21 days and counting. Many are preparing for what, we don’t know. But the concern and uncertainty is motivating people to mobilize. It’s an opportunity for us to re-examine those things that are important to us, asses those ideals and principles we hold dear, and recommit to our faith.

Watch Night began with the Moravians, a small Christian denomination in what is present-day Czech Republic. The first service is believed to have been held in 1733. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, picked it up from the Moravians. Methodist Watch Nights were held once a month, with the first service in the United States taking place in 1770 at Old Saint George Church in Philadelphia. These services continue today, usually being held on New Year’s Eve. The purpose of the service is for one to annually renew their covenant with God.

Watch Night services are also strongly associated with African-American churches where it is known as “Freedom’s Eve.” Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was being enacted on January 1, 1863. It stated, “[O]n the first day of January … all persons held as slaves within any State, or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

The Emancipation Proclamation did not end slavery at the moment it was issued, but it did proclaim some slaves as free. The nature of that year’s Watch Night within the African-American and abolitionist communities most certainly added a second layer of what was being watched for: the coming of freedom at the stroke of midnight. Among African-American congregations the coming of freedom is permanently woven into the fabric of the original, making New Year’s Eve Watch Night services as much now about remembering the end of slavery as it is upon personal reflection on the state of one’s soul.

John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer is often considered a form of  New Year’s resolutions, but ones that emphasize the importance of doing and being as much as believing. It asks questions of our faith and demands that we examine our relationship with God. The prayer represents a commitment to being a disciple and putting God first in our lives and in everything about our lives: what we do, what we say and who we are. It is both a surrender to, and a trust in, God.

Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

Maybe you will find a few moments this evening, before 2016 ends and 2017 begins, to sit in silence and maybe even pray this prayer. I’m sure there will be something in this prayer that will be easy to say and something that will be difficult to say. That ease / unease is a good tension. Tension stretches us.

If this has been a weird year, next year might be a wild year. I know I will be spending a few silent moments tonight. The Covenant Prayer will be part of my New Year’s Eve … along with celebrating my anniversary to Saint Sam!

Sixth Day of Christmas and Word of the Year


Oxford Dictionaries has selected the 2016 Word of the Year: post-truth.

Definition:Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief:

‘in this era of post-truth politics, it’s easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire’

That pretty well sums it up this year, doesn’t it? I remember when post-modern was newly applied to Christianity and all the hoopla it generated in seminary academic circles. I was too preoccupied with babies, preaching, and my work as a hospital chaplain to get caught up in academe.

This, however, is scary. The word of the year might be post-truth, but I know this: facts are real, evidence does exist, and civilized people can find common ground. I’m also reminded me of a passage from George Orwell’s 1984:

“The Ministry of Peace concerns itself with war, the Ministry of Truth with lies, the Ministry of Love with torture and the Ministry of Plenty with starvation. These contradictions are not accidental, nor do they result from ordinary hypocrisy: they are deliberate exercises in doublethink.”

It’s time to be vigilant and seek truth .

The Psalms can also bring us comfort in times like this. I’ll take whatever I can get this penultimate day of 2016! The Psalter for today is Psalm 146.

Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Fifth Day of Christmas and Oh NO!


Oh NO! That was all I could muster after losing thirteen months of exercise data on my Apple Watch. I still can’t talk without feeling like I’m going to cry.

Today was the day we changed cell and data service providers. There’s a lot you have to do to move providers, especially when you’re bringing an existing device. Sam did a lot of preliminary legwork because he knows how much I hate this kind of disruption. Well, I like to think that’s why he did all of that research. In reality, he does that for everything. By the time Tech Sam makes a move, he knows exactly what’s going to happen and he’s prepared for every possible contingency.

The last time we got new iPhones, I thought I was backing up to iCloud, but later found out I wasn’t. I did lose some pictures, but nothing I couldn’t get from someone else if I really wanted it. The only thing I was sad about were the texts I had on my iPhone from my brother. We texted a lot and I had our conversations up until the day he died. I was sad to lose those, but 140 character conversations don’t really preserve the greater essence of who someone is.

So, knowing I hadn’t been backing up to iCloud before, Tech Sam made sure I, not only had backed up, but that when I unlocked my iPhone and restored, all the data I was expecting to be there, was there. All my Watch data was there when I restored so I didn’t think anything more about it.

You’re probably wondering why this is such a big deal? After all, it’s not like I haven’t had to start over learning to walk and building strength after surgery. This time was different. When it took two surgeries instead of one and I was in a cast longer than anticipated, I knew it was not going to be a slam-dunk recovery. I knew I was going to need something to help me stay motivated to do the hard work over the long haul. The Watch was my gift to myself to help achieve that. And it has. I am highly motivated to close up those circles and get those little achievement icons for daily, weekly, and monthly consistency. It’s especially hard when you have to do those walks on crutches and not all of your effort counts because I don’t have a normal gait anymore. Everything I do in my physical therapy classes has to be modified by the therapist and everyone in the class prays they don’t end up like me.  I also have a titanium nail working its way out the bottom of my foot that even my special orthopedic shoes can only help so much (The only thing that keeps me from looking like I’m wearing geezer shoes is mine do not have velcro!) There have been other issues that have arisen as a result of being on crutches long term and I’m working especially hard trying to build enough bone and strength for the next surgery. It’s been a l-o-n-g, slow, slog with no end in sight.

I think Walking Sam got tired of hearing me say, “Boy, I’m sure glad I have this Watch. If I wasn’t motivated to close up those *%!@ing circles, I would not be doing this!” Or “It’s a good thing I’m am determined to have a perfect day (or week or month), otherwise it would be so easy to skip this!” No doubt he could think of better things to do with his 50 minutes twice a day. Poor guy had to go with me because sometimes I would get stranded somewhere. I told him with the entire neighborhood watching my progress, someone would alert him as to where I was! That’s when you learn that all neighbors spy!

Well, a new year is just a few days away and I can start with a clean slate. Just as I learned, and check, to make sure my iPhone is backing up, I will now verify my Watch is backing up! I’ll get to experience the joy of the achievements showing up on my iPhone and Watch … again. I will continue to have gratitude that I can see results with these small goals and efforts. I do not take any mobility for granted. I know how hard it is to maintain and how fragile it is to keep. I also have learned that healing comes from the inside out. All the hard work happens between your ears first and works it way down and out from there. Sometimes there’s a limit to physical healing and the best we have to work with is managing what we have. Finally, the Christmas season is a perfect time to have this “oh NO!” experience. I am living into the God-is-with-us-and-God-is-for-us experience in a very safe and sheltered place. Amen.

Fourth Day of Christmas and the Massacre of Innocents


It’s the fourth day of Christmas and we’re “celebrating” the massacre of innocents. The murder of children. Can you imagine?!? That’s about as un-Christmasy as you can get!

You might be wondering how we get to the massacre of children before we’ve had the visit of the Magi? Well, tradition has the Massacre of Innocents being commemorated on December 28. The Revised Common Lectionary, Year A has this passage for January 1. But because of how the calendar falls and Christmas fell, this Sunday, January 1 is Epiphany Sunday, and therefore, the Magi are the focus. I’ve opted to stay with the traditional fourth day of Christmas theme and talk about the Magi instead on Sunday. Besides, do we really want to start the year with death and destruction?!?

Maybe this jarring and horrifying story is more familiar than we want to think. 2016 has been a dark, difficult year, full of tragedy and death. So many shootings. So much terror, unrest, division, and tension! A short strong of cities brings to mind some of the violence, death, and destruction: Orlando, Dallas, Nice, Brussels, St. Paul, Aleppo, Berlin, Chicago, are just a few that come to me.

Here’s what the gospel writer Matthew has to say:

The Escape to Egypt
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

The Massacre of the Infants
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

The Return from Egypt
When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.” Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, “He will be called a Nazorean.” ~ Matthew 2:13-23

I put the Scripture passage in here because I want us to be fully aware how chillingly timely this passage is. The horrors we experience are not new. Matthew knew that his audience would recall Herod’s murder of children Pharaoh’s murder of Jewish children in Exodus . I think that’s Matthew’s point. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. The God we meet in Jesus is not exempt from the tension, fear, and violence of our world. Instead, God is in the midst of the tension, fear, and violence with us.

Do you think Joseph, Mary and Jesus were alone on their journey or do you think there were others fleeing with them?

Most likely there were other refugees with them. Being surrounded with other refugees reminds us that these people were forced to flee. How poignant that God in Christ truly identifies with everyone who has been driven from their homes by threat of terror, or displaced because of violence, or any who flee with hopes of a better future where they are going. The Syrian crisis certainly fits these circumstances.

Matthew tells us that God is not only with us, but God is also for us. God promises to bring us through the difficult times to the other side. We may not be unscathed, but we will still survive. Matthew structures this passage around prophecies, demonstrating that even the darkest portions of Jesus’ story are part of the larger narrative of God’s providence and protection. Nothing is beyond the bounds of God’s love and activity that everything is also redeemable and even used by God. Yes, we are part of that story too.

God is with us in the darkest of times. God accompanies us in every journey, when we’re fleeing in terror or because of violence, or just because. We might not know how to begin to comprehend the horrifying circumstances befalling ourselves or others, but we can put our hope in the One is with us and for us. Now. Always.

Third Day of Christmas Trauma


I’m going to tell you all about my third day of Christmas trauma, but first let’s talk about the spiritual side of the third day. It’s all about perspective (smile).

We move from martyr (Stephen) to gospel writer, John the Evangelist this third day of Christmas. History, tradition, and the gospel of John all suggest that John died of natural causes in old age. It is believed he was the only original apostle who made it to old age and who did not die a martyr’s death. We know almost nothing about John the man, but we know quite a bit more about what he proclaimed of Jesus.

John’s gospel is the most Christological, the branch of Christian theology relating to the person, nature, and role of Christ. I find it helpful to read other reliable translations when delving into passages. A contemporary translation I like is The Voice. Often the editors include some background information to help bridge the 21 century historical-cultural context chasm. The Voice has an excellent commentary on the first chapter of John that’s worth checking out.

Now for my third day of Christmas trauma. Actually, this experience occurred on the second day, but seeing as I had already posted that blog, it became fodder for today.

After thorough research and vetting, Saint Sam decided it was time to move our cellphone and data service to another carrier. That meant I needed to back up my iPhone, which I have not done in at least six months. Since I was going to be doing that little bit of tech housekeeping, I thought it would also be an excellent time to get rid of the few apps I don’t use and, for philosophical reasons have decided to permanently delete.

How hard can that be?

The app I thought would be the most difficult to delete turned out to be easier than the app I thought wouldn’t be difficult at all. Actually deactivating each account was not difficult. Requesting to have my data deleted was a nightmare. Customer service in the before-technology era was unpleasant, but some customer service in the technology era is virtually not existent. It should not take a web developer (Saint Sam) and me forty-five minutes scouring a website to access a support ticket! Even though Sam had completed the same request a couple of days ago, he did not have the same trouble then that I had today. I wanted to scream.

I have been contemplating my stance on social media use for a couple of years. There are pros and cons to all things this side of eternity, including technology and social media. I find that social media does not encourage or enhance deepening relationships or personal connections. It is a great tool for “looking in” on people or speaking to people, not with people. It’s also a great broadcasting tool, much like the old-media tools of newsletters, flyers, and advertisements.

There is always room for our faith and message to expand. Certainly God saw the need to reach humanity in a new, fresh, surprising way in the Person of Jesus! New audiences were reached when Jesus was born and Jesus was the master in turning questions into conversations and building relationships during the normal course of life: around the dinner table, walking the dusty roads, and the local well.

I will not be giving up technology anytime soon. How can we use technology to expand our circles and deepen our connections?

Second Day of Christmas


Happy second day of Christmas! I wonder how many of us realize that the twelve days of Christmas actually come after Christmas? Sales and marketing types are always looking for ways to get people to part with their hard-earned shekels and the Christmas season offers the perfect opportunity! With Christmas decor coming out immediately after Halloween, most have totally tapped out their holiday cheer by the time Christmas finally rolls around, no one wants to see it extended any longer.

If the historical fiction of the medieval time period I’ve read is correct, we’re really missing out on a time of true festivities by eliminating it. Those kings and queens knew how to party, even if there was political intrigue and deception always going on. The Lord of Misrule (or Abbot of Unreason, Scotland or Prince des Sot, France) was responsible for the revelry which was usually raucous and irreverent, much to the chagrin of the bishops of the Church!

The early church, if fifth century is early, started incorporating feast days of saints into the twelve days of Christmas. To start is off in right jolly form, they selected a martyred saint to begin the festivities. Sometimes I do not understand church thinking!

Actually, there really was a purpose. Whereas Advent is a time of preparation and reflection prior to the birth of Christ, the twelve days of Christmas are a time of celebration and reflection of what the the Incarnation means in our lives.

The Martyrdom of Stephen has been celebrated the day after Christmas since at least the fourth century in Jerusalem. Stephen was one of the first deacons in the nascent Christian community. He was the forerunner of all who show the love of Christ through generosity and service to the poor and needy. Traditionally, it’s been a day to give leftovers to the poor, much like is described in the carol “Good King Wenceslaus“. Stephen’s death reveals the violence and persecution the life of the Incarnate One and his followers might expect.

People of faith, any faith, have faced discrimination and persecution over the centuries. It’s the 21st century and people of faith around the globe still face violence and persecution. Maybe the message from the life of Stephen does have its place during the twelve days of Christmas.

Christmas Day ~ A New Beginning


In the beginning was the Word. So begins John’s gospel, a riff on the opening verses of Genesis.

John audaciously puts it out there that he’s writing a new Genesis, a new beginning to God’s story. This new story tells of God’s new interaction with humanity. Jesus’ birth is the beginning of that new story. Jesus is God’s reinvention, rebirth, and renewal of all of creation and God’s own self. It’s the story of God making manifest God’s enduring love for and commitment to the world through ordinary, finite flesh.

That’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? Especially after all the warm and fuzzy holiday cheer!

John, however, has a purpose: what we see in Jesus is what we can expect from God. Jesus isn’t just the messenger. Jesus is God, creating and redeeming only as God can. John has only two things he wants us to know: (1) the Eternal and Divine Word took on human flesh in the person of Jesus, and (2) this Jesus introduces a new chapter in God’s story, grace. While God “as God” is beyond our comprehension or knowledge, Jesus reveals God’s heart, making known to us the character and commitment of the One who can create and redeem.

John goes on in his gospel using all kinds of metaphors for the grace upon grace, beyond what we could ever imagine, that God has to bestow on us: grace so abundant it’s the best wine offered; rivers of living waters overflowing from our hearts; unending growth on the vine and branches on the tree of life.

Why this passage is used every year during the Christmas season is to reminds that it’s really our own new birth and beginning that augments Jesus birth story. God coming in flesh gives humanity hope that we are more than the sum of our parts. God in Christ makes sacred our created lives and frees us from those things which hold us back in our frail and fragile selves. The Word becomes flesh so that we all may live into our identity as God’s beloved children. We are part of the Christmas story!

Christmas Eve ~ Peace


There is something comforting in familiar stories. The familiar story of Jesus’ birth as told in Luke’s gospel is particularly comforting for our predicament this year. I find it helpful to read the story aloud since it is so familiar.

The Birth of Jesus
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
 and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. ~ Luke 2:1-20

What do you notice? What jumps out?

The first thing that popped out at me was the detail of who was ruling where. Luke mentions the Emperor Augustus and the governor of Syria, Quirinius. Augustus was the grand-nephew of Julius Caesar and Emperor of the Roman Empire. Quirinius, on the other hand, was a Roman aristocrat who rose through the ranks and, having garnered the favor of Augustus, was assigned to Syria. Yes, the same Syria that’s in our current news.

I don’t think this is by accident. It’s as though Luke is looking at the nativity through a wide-angle lens. He backs out far enough to set the historical context by identifying the Emperor and Governor, only to zoom in to something no Emperor or Governor would ever have noticed: an unwed teenaged mother, homeless for the evening, finding make-shift shelter in a barn, giving birth to her first-born son with only her fiance’, and some shepherds who wandered in, to assist.

The other thing I notice is this odd assortment of people who are brought together who don’t have any connection with one another: shepherds who have been working out in the hills, an out-of-town couple, an innkeeper, an angel, and a terrifying heavenly host. Their lives intersect in a powerful encounter as they witness an extraordinary encounter together. Their common experience bridges those things that would otherwise separate them. They’re able to find temporary peace in that awe-struck moment.

Lastly, the whole thing is a hectic situation. The diverse group of characters contributes to the hectic-ness, but it’s the collision of multiple and diverse scenes that all intersect at this particular moment, in this particular place, at this particular time: the census that caused a young couple to travel a great distance across deserts and mountains on the week of their child’s birth; the “no vacancy” sign at the only inn in town; the shepherds terrified by the angel of the Lord appearing and speaking out of the night sky; the heavenly host praising God; and the child being born in a stable and laid to recover from the birth experience on a bed of hay in a manger, surrounded by his parents, animals, and curious and overwhelmed shepherds.

A little chaotic.

Out of the craziness and frenzy of the world situation, the political process, and the holiday season, comes a sign of peace. The birth of Jesus – his life and teaching, his death and resurrection, his promise to come again – is a sign from God. It’s divine communication from God to all people. It is a promise of hope for the world.

The good news is that on this day, in the city of David, a Savior was born. He is the Messiah, the Lord, the Prince of Peace.

This is good news, not just for a select group of people, but for everyone who has ears to hear it. It’s not a general message blasted out there. It is a very personal and specific message for every member of the human family.

For those who are struggling with with illness or personal problems, it is the promise of healing. For those who follow Jesus, the Christ, it is a glimpse of God’s love for all God’s children.

For those who feel that the world is in the throes of violence and confusion, it is a moment of respite and reflection.

For those who live in darkness and fear, it is illuminated with light and that a new day, a new week, a new year, a new life is coming for each and every one of us.

For those who thing the world isn’t worth saving, it speaks of hope.

And for those who find themselves at odds with someone or something, it offers the promise of peace which surpasses all understanding.

Merry Christmas!