A Season of Waiting
By |   December 16, 2013 |   in Advent, Blog

I so need Advent this year. Advent is the Church’s answer to the Hallowthankmas madness, otherwise known as the “holiday season.” Advent is about quiet and reflection, not excess. Traditionally, Advent is a penitential season like Lent only less intense. It is a time to reflect on the three comings of Christ: as a baby born in Bethlehem, as Christ the King in his Second Coming, and his daily coming into our hearts through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Advent is “more through less” vs. the commercial holiday season which is “excess leading to emptiness.”

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Surviving the Holidays
By |   December 13, 2013 |   in Advent

It’s that time of year. I keep hearing complaints (and reading them on Facebook) that the retail market has turned October through December into one big “hallogivingmas” holiday. It’s exciting! Stimulating!

And too much.

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Grace and the Venn Diagram
By |   December 11, 2013 |   in Advent

I substitute-taught a class the other week called “Discovering your Design.” The course uses personality assessments to help people uncover what they were created to do. This class in particular, on “values,” included a Venn diagram illustrating how our ideal values only partly match up with the way we actually live our lives. The page in my teacher’s handbook showed two circles overlapping in a small oblong area in the middle. The first circle was our current reality; the second circle was a future ideal. I told the students that their goal was to push these two circles together until they were a single circle drawn around twice.

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Holiday Syncopation
By |   December 9, 2013 |   in Advent

Syncopation: you either love it or you hate it.

In musical terms, syncopation is a break in the established time signature or rhythm of the song. I remember playing a jazzy blues tune that I liked for a friend in college. Three-quarters into the tune, the music broke rhythm and a couple of seconds of syncopation ensued. My friend said, “I really like the song except for the part toward the end.” He was referring to the syncopation. He then said: “It felt like a ‘hic-up.’”

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Two Cheers for Santa Claus
By |   December 6, 2013 |   in Advent

It’s easy to deplore the excesses of American commercial Christmas with its formidable combination of Santa Claus, credit cards, and Toys R Us. Yet, sometimes I wonder if the giddy excitement my siblings and I as children felt on Christmas Eve is a strikingly good picture of the spirit of Advent—the joyful anticipation of a coming gift. What if the Santa Claus fable functions like one of Jesus’s parables: a secular story that captures our imagination and embodies what it’s like to live in the kingdom of God?

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An Active Waiting
By |   December 4, 2013 |   in Advent

There really is no better time than Advent to talk about the mystery of waiting. Under the best of circumstances, the delayed gratification of waiting is not something we embrace easily. The culture we have built bullies us into thinking that unless we have the next trinket, the next job, the next vacation, the next relationship, right away, our lives are somehow incomplete.  What compounds the situation is the fact that we have effectively done away with waiting through “no monthly payments, no interest for a year” or “buy now, pay later” or “sleep with me now and I’ll still love you” or “let’s order pizza since there’s no time to make dinner.” And on and on it goes.

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Babylon and Egypt
By |   December 28, 2011 |   in Advent

A reading from John Chrysostom

But why was the Christ child sent into Egypt? The text makes this clear: he was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, out of Egypt have I called my son. (Hos 11:1.) From that point onward we see that the hope of salvation would be proclaimed to the whole world. Babylon and Egypt represent the whole world. Even when they were engulfed in ungodliness, God signified that he intended to correct and amend both Babylon and Egypt. God wanted humanity to expect his bounteous gifts the world over. So he called from Babylon the wise men and sent to Egypt the holy family. 

Besides what I have said, there is another lesson also to be learned, which tends powerfully toward true self-constraint in us. We are warned from the beginning to look out for temptations and plots. And we see this even when he came in swaddling clothes. Thus you see even at his birth a tyrant raging, a flight ensuing and a departure beyond the border. For it was because of no crime that his family was exiled into the land of the Egypt.

Similarly, you yourself need not be troubled if you are suffering countless dangers. Do not expect to be celebrated or crowned promptly for your troubles. Instead you may keep in mind the longsuffering example of the mother of the Child, bearing all things nobly, knowing that such a fugitive life is consistent with the ordering of spiritual things. You are sharing the kind of labor Mary herself shared. So did the magi. They both were willing to retire secretly in the humiliating role of fugitive. (The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 8.2.)

Two thoughts come to mind: first, how may I become mindful of “the long-suffering example of the mother of the Child” in my spiritual journey? Second, I’m reminded to pray for those who know to well the countless dangers of following Christ in a hostile world—in particular to pray for those Christians living in Egypt and Iraq.

Born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
By |   December 23, 2011 |   in Advent

A Reading from St. Augustine 


We believe in him that he was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary. Each birth of his, you see, must be considered wonderful, both that of his divinity and that of his humanity. The first is from the Father without mother, the second from mother without father; the first apart from all time, the second at “the acceptable time;” the first eternal, the second at the right moment; the first without a body “in the bosom of the Father,” the second with a body, which did not violate the virginity of his mother; the first without either sex, the second without a man’s embrace. (ACCS IVa:56)

Early church writers like Augustine juxtaposed seemingly incompatible ideas to illuminate the miracle of the birth of Christ. Lingering in this tension between the eternal and the temporal, we receive a glimpse into the mystery of the eternal love of God as revealed in history.

A Matter of Perspective
By |   December 22, 2011 |   in Advent

It wasn’t until I served in an interim role at a Lutheran church that I really understood the significance of liturgical seasons like this one. Since that time, I have come to appreciate the historical (since the beginning of the early church) and global practice (with Christians from around the world) of joining the common prayers and reflections of a given season in the church calendar.

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Giving Birth to Our Dreams
By |   December 12, 2011 |   in Advent

I held Madonna in my hand–a small figure from our Nativity. Her head was slightly bowed; posture tipped forward, as if bowing her heart, as well. I studied her, something of her form speaking to me about myself.

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