Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Song of Simeon and Prophecy of Anna

Luke 2:25-38

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
I have always wondered why Luke records what Simeon said, but doesn't give us the words of Anna. What words would come in the presence of the newborn Savior?

Here is the dawn of righteousness
which the LORD has provided from His great mercy;
The Lord has sent us his Chosen One
as a sign of his great favor to Israel.
This child will be known as a Wonderful Counselor,
and establish justice as the foundation of earth.
Thus will the LORD’s compassion
spring forth to all nations
and all voices sing eternal praises to God.
From the soft cry of this baby
will come the mighty trumpet of salvation,
Drawing forth all eyes to Jerusalem,
and all hearts to the worship of the Almighty One! Alleluia!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

That a King Would Follow

How miraculous--
that a king would stoop
to enter the world
of the ordinary,
of the commoner,
of His subject,
of woman.
But God did this. Why?
Because humility,
even the lowliest of the low,
always rises---
and triumphs--
over everything else.
And didn't that woman know the greatest happiness?
Cleaning up the ugly first mess,
in its place she set a beautiful bouquet:
the Flower from which the sweet perfume
of virtues flows.
--------Hildegard of Bingen, Songs

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Moving right along....

I'll be hitting the road soon from my beloved Tulsa to go back to St. Louis in time for Christmas Eve services at Holy Communion in University City and warmth of hearth and kin. Especially the hearth part-- it's cold down here! The HC choir will be singing a lovely cantata at 9:15 pm before the service starts at ten.

I just want to tell all state troopers that I hope they have a Merry Christmas, especially those that might be on I-44 for, oh, say the next few hours.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Last week a dear friend, the mother and grandmother and great-grandmother of dear friends, passed away at the age of 98. She has been precious to me, a source of laughter and wisdom, since I was a twelve-year-old little lost girl. She then became precious to my children and my husband. The news of her passing, though expected and dreaded, still was a blow. Even though she lived an amazing life through amazing times, you really are never ready to lose someone you love from your life. Like all of us, she was a beloved child of God, and she was beloved by all those whose lives she had touched.

At the funeral, I was honored to be asked to read this selection from the 8th chapter of Romans:
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption as children. And by him we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
As I read this, I looked over at the grieving family. These people adopted me into their lives because they have the biggest of hearts and are always willing to make room for more people to love. I trust in that love that I have always received from them. It uplifts me and sustains me and has led me through all kinds of joys as well as sorrows.

And then I thought of this reading. How much more, then, can we trust the promises of God to love and hold us and protect us and comfort us? Family is not a matter of blood. It is a matter of love. And Christ, whose birth we are so ready for, brings the love that is God into the world and, if we let him,  into our hearts.  Then we, as children of God, are expected to also carry that love into the world. The only thing that can separate us from the love of Christ is ourselves. Our own lack of faith, our own fears, are all that can separate us from the love of Christ, for that love is always present. When we do not feel that love, it is because we have hardened our hearts. God loves us unceasingly, and we will always be assured of this, if only we will allow that Love to rule over us and guide us and protect us.

If we rest on the promises of God's love for us, but do not act on that love toward others, we have nothing. The only thing that can separate us from the love of Christ-- besides terrifying encounters in Christmas traffic, but that's a story for another time-- is ourselves, if we do not trust that love of Christ enough to understand that it is demanding that we work for the love of others. And by others, I do not just mean our own families, tribes, or nations. That is easy discipleship. That kind of love responds to our own instincts and preferences.

No, we are also called to love those whom the culture of our time despises, for they also are loved by God as surely as we who are more fortunate are. I wish that those in power or seeking power who constantly trumpet their Christian credentials would be asked this one question: If you are a Christian, what have you done for the least of these? What have you done to not just feed the hungry at a photo op but to help the hungry be able to feed themselves, or clothe themselves? What have you done to end poverty, to end disease, to end oppression? For those who are led by God are the children of God. Those who are led by the love of Christ know that they are Christ's own without making grandstanding claims about belonging to this church or that church. The love of Christ does not gain us membership in an exclusive country club heaven, but enjoins us to build the kingdom of heaven right here on earth, right now,
and sustained
and imbued
and animated
by love.

Love that is waiting to be reborn into the world not just as we celebrate on Christmas but that is born into the world every time we comfort someone who is suffering or in sorrow or in want, every time we truly care for another.

Our adoption lays on us responsibilities for loving our neighbors as ourselves as we love the Lord our God. That is why these are the two great commands we subject ourselves to when we open ourselves to the love of God.

"The creation waits in eager anticipation for the children of God to be revealed." And the children of God will be revealed in us and to us and though us by that love.

We are children of God when we realize that all those around us-- every single person from the beggar on the streets to the job-seeker desperate to sustain her family to the person who feels friendless and alone to the ones who love and treasure us no matter what physical ties we have to each other-- are the children of God as well. We have to love those who we feel deserve it as much as those who we tell ourselves don't deserve it, because certainly God loves us when we don't deserve it. It is when we aren't very lovable that we need to be loved most of all. We are "more than conquerors" against all the troubles in the world through the One who loves us as surely as I love my children or my friends or my family.

All we have to do is love. Love is Everything. Love will abide within us if we leave open a space in our hearts, at Christmas and every day. It is through our love that we are known as a Christian and as a human being. Amen.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Let it be with me according to your word.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

I love this story because it illustrates Mary's humanity. An amazing thing is announced to her-- by an angel, no less-- and Mary reacts in a completely understandable way.

She's confused, and can't understand what is happening. Now, she doesn't scream, or run away, nor does it say that she doubts her sanity. But she does wonder what kind of greeting this is. What does it mean to be marked out by an angel as "favored?" Until this point, Mary was undoubtedly living a normal life, and suddenly is confronted with an apparition promising that God is with her and her life is going to change the world irrevocably.

The life she expected is no longer the life that is being predicted for her. Although a simple peasant girl, she is told that she will be the mother of One who will "restore the fortunes of Zion," one who will inherit the throne of the greatest of Israel's kings, and rule an unending kingdom.

How does Mary know that she can trust these promises? She doesn't really. "How can this be?" she asks. Oh, the angel points out the miraculous birth that is anticipated in her kinswoman Elizabeth's family. And yet, the announcements of miraculous births is certainly not limited in scripture to Mary. As the Angel Gabriel reminds her, Elizabeth's child is the result of a miracle. Isaac's birth to Sarah was certainly a miracle. My mother insists that my birth was a miracle, after 16 years of marriage and being told that she would never have children.

Mary is just like us. We like to think that today, believing in miracles is impossible. Even as Christians, many of us discount miracles as being allegorical in Scripture, or being descriptive of processes that today could be explained by science that was unavailable to those living in Biblical times. What was demonic possession in the year 25 of the common era we now describe as mental illness, for example.

We pride ourselves on being modern people immersed in a modern era. We think we live in a world circumscribed by natural laws that are immutable. And yet, miracles-- real miracles, not Tim Tebow's-leading-the Broncos-from-the-jaws-of-defeat-miracles, but-life-changing,glory-be-to-God miracles!-- happen even today. I mean, it probably COULD be called a miracle that I was not stopped for speeding this morning while trying to get my son to an appointment, and it probably COULD be called a miracle that it was only later I saw not one but FOUR police cars along that same deserted route, but once again the modern tendency toward hyperbole begs me to remind myself that we should be careful about diluting the meaning of important words, like love, or evil or miracle, through applying them where they do not belong. Miracles are rare. Miracles change the world.

Some miracles are incredible-- there's a Dutch parathlete named Monique van der Vorst who was an Olympic competitor in handcycling. She was involved in an accident with a bicycle last year, and afterwards, the feeling began to return to her feet and legs. Although she had been paralyzed from the hips down for 14 years, since she was 13 years old, she is now not only walking but is attempting to transition to being an athlete on the Rabobank women's professional bicycling team. No one can explain how she regained the full use of her legs. Then there's the story of Gabrielle Giffords. Although shot in the head from close range, she survived and is continuing her recovery. Her own doctors referred to her survival and recovery as "miraculous."

But miracles can be the dawning of a new day after a time of trial,the laughter of a longed-for baby or the clasp of the hand of a loved one in times of loneliness or fear, an incredible sunset over the Rockies that burnishes everything it lights in tones of scarlet and gold. Seeing a student who was struggling academically or emotionally suddenly not just survive but thrive has always been a miracle for me. The sound of our choir singing carols next week has always been a miracle for me.

The miracle in this story, to me, is Mary's acceptance and willingness to do as she is being asked by the unknown power that confronts her. True, we watching this narrative unfold know that this miraculous "yes" of Mary's will not mean that there is no heartbreak. Although Mary is confused, and has to try to puzzle out what originally is meant by what the angel says to her, in the end she makes herself the servant of the Lord. She gives the control over to God, and through her the entire universe is shifted and re-ordered. The miracle is the trust she has in God. The miracle is the faith she manifests. These are miracles especially to our modern eyes.

Nothing is impossible with God. NOTHING is impossible with God. Especially if we let God work through us, as Mary allows God to work through her. We can answer the call of God in our lives by being brave enough to trust in the promises God makes to us. In all times, not just now, being willing to let God move the world through us is how miracles happen. But first, we have to let go of our need to control everything in our lives, as Mary was and is. The miracle in this story is the softly murmured "yes" of Mary. Let it be with me according to your word. This is the ultimate example of faith. This is the ultimate example of God's love for us working THROUGH us. This is the love that frees us, that magnifies God's love and makes it present in a world that so needs it, now more than ever. Love that turns the powers of the world to dust, that establishes justice for the oppressed and comfort for the sorrowful. Love that inspires Mary to sing, as we hear in the Canticle of Mary later in the account from Luke:

And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How Christians are perceived...

First, I read this really great post from 2009 by Richard Beck at his blog. It's called "The Bait and Switch of Contemporary Christianity." Here's a key section, although I recommend the whole thing:
The trouble with contemporary Christianity is that a massive bait and switch is going on. "Christianity" has essentially become a mechanism for allowing millions of people to replace being a decent human being with something else, an endorsed "spiritual" substitute. For example, rather than being a decent human being the following is a list of some commonly acceptable substitutes:
Going to church
Spiritual disciplines (e.g., fasting)
Bible study
Voting Republican
Going on spiritual retreats
Reading religious books
Arguing with evolutionists
Sending your child to a Christian school or providing education at home
Using religious language
Avoiding R-rated movies
Not reading Harry Potter.

The point is that one can fill a life full of spiritual activities without ever, actually, trying to become a more decent human being. Much of this activity can actually distract one from becoming a more decent human being. In fact, some of these activities make you worse, interpersonally speaking. Many churches are jerk factories.

Amen, brother. Some of the biggest bitter, vindictive, angry, unpleasant twerps I have ever known have trumpeted their self-identification as Christians. They follow everything on that list (You know, I've got 1-5 and 7 down, but after that, I am not doing so well.) and yet not one bit of the Great Commandment do I see coming from their actions. And God knows I certainly am not perfect. Unfortunately, I have a wi-i-ide streak of smart-ass in me that just refuses to be tamed.

Mr. Beck makes a great point. I am reminded of this when I consider the publicity that right-wing groups get when they pressure retailers like Lowe's into pulling its advertising from "All-American Muslim" because they believe that all Muslims are terrorists and bent on destroying the West. They demonize all Muslims, and then Christians are all tarred with the brush of being intolerant from the actions of this group of badly behaving people who use the cover of Christianity to justify their actions.

Let's face it: often the loudest, most outrageous practitioners of any faith are the ones that become the face of that faith. Instead of generalizing from a random sample of a certain population, those who engage in demonization of various groups hypothesize from the behavior of the worst members of the group. The argument then runs, if some members of a group are evil, then all members of a group are evil. This is a common tactic used against many religions.

And Christianity certainly is not immune. Nor is it monolithic. The world sees the Rick Perrys and Newt Gingriches and Michelle Bachmans and, yes, the Jimmy Swaggarts of the world crowing about their Christianity and then judges an entire group by their actions, and all Christians become a watchword among the nations.  The other day, a neighbor asked me to explain creationism to her. When I stated that I didn't believe in creationism, she looked confused and said, "But... I thought you were a Christian or religious or something...?"

It seems that hymn I grew up with was wrong. They don't seem to know we are Christians by our love. They seem to know we are Christians only if we proclaim our status, especially if there is a disconnect between our proclamations and our actions. Then, because of our "personal relationship with Jesus," we can do whatever we want, since we are "4given 4ever," as I saw on the bumper of a gigantic pickup truck the other day. I mean, when gang members wear rosaries and crucifixes become fashion statements, what is left for the Christian who seeks to invest her energy in trying to be a "more decent human being," in Beck's words?

Those of us who actually try to live the Gospel and follow the teachings of Jesus have to make ourselves more visible. Our actions need to not only whisper but shout.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Prayer for Trouble

Almighty and Loving God, who has promised that when two or three are praying, You are among us also: uphold, we pray, your servant ____ in all the cares and concerns of this life, and grant your mighty aid to him/her and his/her family this day and every day. Amen.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Like Those Who Dream

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy;
Then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."
The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses of the Negev.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing,
Shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
--Psalm 126

It's a hard time of year for many of us. The darkness of short days seems not just a fact of nature but a metaphor for feelings of loneliness and loss.We dwell upon the wish for sun as some of us rise before the sun and return home after the subsiding into night again, so the sun evades us like a debtor but darkness lingers like an unwanted visitor. This time of year is a time of darkness, and we dream of a glorious return of spring with its promise of so many possibilities.

It is the third week of Advent, and we wait upon the point of a memory of new life that was and is and ever shall be.

We know our waiting holds forth the promise of life for the barren fields and the promise of love for our barren hearts, as the Lord of Love Himself asks us to make straight the way in the wilderness of all our willfulness and selfishness and pettiness. If only we allow ourselves to remember, we could know that the snow and ice of winter will subside to leaf and bloom. If we let go of the chill that invades our hearts as we feel so lost and alone in the darkness, we know that He is coming indeed just when we need him the most.

We long to be like those who dream, who trust that when the Morning Star rises we will again remember the joy that merely waits for us to open our hearts and let it reign over us. We will awaken after our long night into the Light given to us through the grace and love of God. God be praised, our waiting is almost fulfilled. Alleluia!

Thomas Merton

Today is the 43rd anniversary of the death of Thomas Merton in Bangkok while at an interfaith monastic convocation, and it is ALSO the 70th anniversary of his entry into the monastic life when he arrived at the Abbey of Gethsemani on December 10, 1941.

Father Merton is remembered today as one of the most important Roman Catholic writers of the 20th century. It is fascinating that at the end of his life he was acutely interested in ecumenical work, reaching out to Protestants (Merton had been baptized in the Church of England) and finding common cause with monastic Buddhists.

The words I want to dwell upon today by Father Merton reflect upon a concern that is ongoing: the concern about the role and function of the Church in a "post-Christian" age which many believe has already overtaken Europe. In the text I include, Merton is discussing those like Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Anglican Bishop John A.T. Robinson who had been advocating consideration of a "religionless religion."

"I honestly think there is a presence of Christ to the unbeliever, especially in our day, and this presence, which is not formally "religious" and which escapes definition (hence the inadequacy of terms like "invisible Church" or "latent Church"), is perhaps the deepest most cogent mystery of our time. The Lord who speaks of freedom in the ground of our being still continues to speak to every man. The thing that Christians must understand about this is that there is no use whatever trying to "get these people into the Church" or to make "believers" out of them. There is perhaps no way of bringing them a specifically Christian comfort which would in any case only disturb or confuse them. What is needed is to love them with a love completely divested of all formally religious pre-suppositions, simply as our fellow men, men who seek truth and freedom as we do. This love is not simply an act of benevolent, condescending, and tolerant charity on our part. It can also be for us a means of knowing Christ better, by entering into the mystery of the hidden encounter which marks the lives of these others in a way that neither they nor we can understand. We cannot understand it, but by means of love we can experience its reality nonetheless." (from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander)

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11

The scripture Jesus read in the synagogue as he began his ministry, which he declared fulfilled in the presence of those who were hearing him, shocking them all. Jesus waits to bring us salvation, salvation rooted in the here and now, salvation that we do not have to wait for until we get to heaven, but salvation that helps us deal with the sorrows of this world: oppression, sadness and heartbreak, freedom, strength, justice, renewal. God offers us this today, not in some distant future. Alleluia!

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. 

They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.... 

For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 

Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Prayer for Those Who Mourn

Almighty God, under whose tender love we are sheltered and protected; remember, we pray, our beloved sister who now abides in everlasting peace with you; and comfort us and all who mourn, for you have been and remain our refuge and Beloved Friend from age to age, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent and Commerce

I find it fascinating that the Christian season of Advent also coincides with the most cut-throat and strongly hyped season of consumerism. It is estimated that 40% of all retail spending is completed during the approximately five weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This spending is allegedly done in an attempt by people to allegedly observe a secular tradition that has grown up and overtaken a Christian holiday like kudzu has taken over the Southern US. What irony!

I think the thing that troubles me the most about this is people spending money they do not have on stuff they do not need, and worse feeling that if they do not do this for their children as well then they are failures. And so they will pay twice as much for something they don't really need by buying it on credit and streeeettttching out those payments for months.

And all this is going on during Advent, a time when reverence and waiting-- not fulfilling our desires now now now!-- should be our attitude.

Maybe that this is a time of year when some of us-- myself in particular-- have a hard time seeing the beauty around us. It's cold. It's dark. This crap called "snow" comes down and makes life miserable, at least for me. I long for sunlight and warmth. And it's at this time of the year that the church chooses to celebrate the birth of our savior. But perhaps it's at this time of year that I am called to pay attention most of all. There's nothing else to distract me, after all. And is the darkness, the glow of a candle burns with a purpose.

Barbara Brown Taylor tells a story in her book An Altar in the World. She talks about how she was taking care of a neighbor's cats while the neighbor was away. The house was full of fleas, and as she was carrying out the trash she could hear the fleas flinging themselves against the plastic garbage bag as she made her way to the garbage cans:
I could not wait to be shed of it, which was why I was in a hurry. On my way to the cans, I noticed a small garden area off to my left that was not visible from the house. Glancing at it, I got a whole dose of loveliness at once-- the high arch of trees above, the mossy flagstones beneath,the cement birdbath, the cushiony bushes, the white wrought-iron chair-- all lit by stacked planes of sunlight that turned the whole scene golden. It was like a door to another world. I had to go through it. I knew that if I did, then I would become golden too.

But first I had to ditch the bag. The flea popped against the plastic as I hurries to the big aluminum garbage cans near the garage. Stuffing the bag into one of them, i turned back to the garden, fervent to explore what I had only glimpsed in passing. When I got there, the light had changed. All that was left was a little overgrown sitting spot that no one had sat in for years. The smell of cat litter drifted from the direction of the garbage cans. The garden was no longer on fire.

'I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it,' says Shug Avery, one of the wise women in Alice Walker's book The Color Purple. I noticed the color gold, but I did not turn aside. I had a bag full of fleas to attend to. While I made that my first priority, the fire moved on in search of someone who would stop what she was doing, take off her shoes, and say, 'Here am I.'

So much about Christmas in our culture is about as appealing as that bag full of fleas, but we tell ourselves that this has to be done and that has to be done, forgetting all the time the real reason why there is all this gift-giving in the first place. As we rush from store to store, we forget all about the coming of that baby who will lay aside everything just for us, who will be God With Us, Emmanuel. We have been given a gift in Advent in being called to be watchful, and reverent, in making ourselves ready.

We are given a gift in the coming Son of God who will be with us always, if we don't barge right past him on the way to that holiday sale at the mall. The purple of Advent beckons quietly.

There is a voice I want to hear. The voice says, "Be still, and know that I am God." The God that loves all of us, that wants us to give our time and our attention.