Even though it's a rare 2nd Sunday after Christmas January 4, we're going to slide into Epiphany on January 4 this year. See my former post on the Gift of the Magi for thoughts on the Matthew text.
And, though it commits the usual sin of melding Matthew and Luke's nativity stories, I'll be reading my kids Humphrey's First Christmas as the Magi approach. Humphrey is a child-like camel who wants nothing more than a blanket like the other camels -- until he is moved to give it to the baby Jesus.
Our ace nanny gave this book to my son, who treasures his blankie above even his trains. The illustrations are what really make this book a treasure -- something about camel's teeth brings home the way the Incarnation is a gift to all creation.
I absolutely think a change of adminstrations will be good for the country, but it's also clear that it's going to make things very very busy for our family for awhile.
Will's group is busy trying to make sure the stimulus package doesn't all go into paving over the universe and instead investing in clean energy and more transit choices.
Nate Silver at 538 rightly points out that this is not a narrow agenda, but one very fitting with the platform Obama ran on: energy independence, cleaner air, reducing greenhouse emissions, etc. Unfortunately, it still sometimes gets labeled in the press as a hopelessly granola-y dream. (We do make granola homemade at our house, but that's beside the point. . . ).
My public apology: I've been a little grumpy about how much time this new effort is requiring of my beloved. When I had to leave the family to tend to a pastoral care crisis this afternoon, we were both thinking the same thing: "Don't complain about my work, and I won't complain about yours."
Will and I regularly have to remind ourselves that meaningful jobs, left to their own devices, can quickly devour family life. We also have to remember that we're both serving the Lord.
It is the night before the night before Christmas, and all across the land, mother-pastors are wondering whether to work on their sermons or get busy decorating the house, which shows no sign of being ready for a holiday celebration.
But maybe we should all just go catch some snowflakes on our tongues.
Most years it seems -- pastorally -- that this time of year is more likely to produce funerals, crises and general difficulties in the flock.
This year its more personal -- one friend received a very hard cancer diagnosis last week and another just died last night after a four year struggle with cancer. Two vibrant, bright, strong women in their 40's.
I don't really know whether the anecdotal evidence that this all happens more around the holidays is true. I suppose it's just true that these events SEEM much harder in the sparkly, tinkly, making-merry atmosphere that our culture imposes on Christmas.
What do you do when you are facing trouble? You sing.
I thought of this as I sang, again, the words of the
Magnificat at vespers last week. Every year these words gain another layer of meaning
for me as I sing them in worship, both on Advent Sundays but perhaps more so on
Wednesday evenings when we gather by candlelight. Perhaps
it’s the candles that make us all lower our guards, secure that others can't see every expression on our faces.
But I am being watched – in fact I sing the annunciation as
a solo -- and I still find myself choking up some weeks.
"My soul proclaims your greatness O God, and my spirit rejoices in you. You have looked with love on your servant here and blessed me all my life through." (Holden Vespers)
I remember singing these words, pregnant, full of a secret
hope I had not yet shared with the congregation. And I remember the miscarriage
that followed on its heels.
I remember singing them again the next year, very heavy with
child, unsure if I’d be there the next week to sing them again.
I remember singing them the week our choir director’s
two-year-old son died.
I sung a few minutes after announcing at worship the sudden
death of a long time member.
I continue to sing them, week after week, looking out at
people struggling with cancer, addictions, and painful relationships, and I
think especially of my own friends who face this Christmas with very different
hopes than last year’s.
How is it that the same words can possibly fit all these
occasions? Surely there are times when we would just say, “no, not tonight.
Tonight we cannot say, “You have looked with love on your servant and blessed
me all my life through.”
But we do sing those words, no matter what the circumstances
And why not? Mary wasn’t exactly looking at a pile of
blessings realized either. Here she was, no different than before the angel
came, except that now she was pregnant.She
had nothing more than the angel’s promise to go on that this unlikely pregnancy
would be for the good of all God’s people. "Blessed among women?" she might well have asked, "that remains to be seen."
Is it possible that in singing them, the church has claimed
that same promise for ourselves? In praying Mary’s words we link ourselves in
to that blessing which is still now-and-not-yet, not because we “feel” blessed
or see blessing in every circumstance, but because we trust that God can work
through all things, that, really, “nothing is impossible with God.”
Warning: this is just a gripe. I have no constructive solutions. . . yet.
I love, love, love the season of Advent and its imagery of darkness and light, waiting and hope. But I hate, hate, hate the way the lectionary throws us around in this season. It's bad enough for those of us who understand how it all fits together, but imagine the poor soul who might reasonably be expecting some kind of linear progression.
We begin the season on Advent 1 announcing a new start to a new year, and, behold! a different Gospel for the year! But then, -- and it's worst of all in this Year of Mark -- they get Mark 13, then Mark 1, then John the Baptist AGAIN in John 1, then Luke 2, then John 1 again, then Luke 2 AGAIN, then John 1 AGAIN, then Mark 1 and John the Baptist AGAIN!
Maybe most people aren't in church enough to be irritated by the skipping around and the repetition, but it sure doesn't encourage them to come back and feel like the pieces of the puzzle are fitting together.
It's enough to make one think those churches that are just preaching the "meaning of Christmas" in four parts for the month are on to something. . .
The World Without Us, recommended to me by a number of friends as "more hopeful than it sounds." In parts, it is. There are many places which are a testament to human ingenuity and the resiliency of nature. But there are places where I've just had to stop reading. I understand why most people find it easier to deny climate change.
So, as recovery, I'm re- reading a book I already knew I liked, Leaving Church. I was irritated the first time around that Barbara Brown Taylor had, in the end, left parish ministry. I'm still not happy about that, but this time I can read her spot-on descriptions of parish life and simply enjoy the good writing. For example:
"On my worst nights I lay in bed feeling like a single parent, unable to sleep because I knew I did not have enough love in me to go around. God was the boundless lover, but for many people God was the parent who had left. They still read about him in the Bible and sang about him in hymns. They still believed in his reality; which made it even harder to accept his apparent lack of interest in them. They waited for messages from him that did not arrive. They prepared their hearts for meetings that never happened. They listened to other Christians speak as if God showed up every night for supper, leaving them to wonder what they had done wrong to make God go off and start another family."
One of the things I love about Advent is that the season of waiting is a time we're allowed to acknowledge our sense of orphanhood, our worry that God has indeed given up on this world. I know it is not true, but I also know the worry, the longing , is so very, very real. It's good to hear a writer as gifted as Taylor acknowledge it.