Thursday, December 31, 2009

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

....we went out of our way, way way out of our way to hear Someone We Love play in a band. We drove for a long way in the dark, almost got lost, got stuck in the snow, regretted it for a few moments.

Then everything changed when we walked into the Church/Music Center and saw Someone We Love, gave him a hug, and heard him play.

We may be off-line for the next few days.

We wish you a merry 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Days of Christmas.

May you be in awe of the incarnation.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

On the Fifth Day of Christmas...

....we are getting ready to go to a Warm Place with Beaches for a few days.

.....just for a few days, though.

....I am still working on homemade Christmas presents. The presents are late, but they will be done.

.... I read The True Gift, by Patricia MacLachlan, while sitting in Large Chain Bookstore eating soup. (this would be book #48.) It made me cry.

....I am thinking about how I can help other people tell their faith stories, make the connections between their stories and God's story. I would like to do this.

Monday, December 28, 2009

On the Fourth day of Christmas...

A directory scarves made this Christmas (and other projects mixed in)

1. Red Cable Scarf for me -- last spring
2. Winter White Cable Scarf for Husband -- Christmas eve
3. White Ribbed Keyhole Scarf for neice
4. Lavendar fingerless gloves for neice
5. Variegated wool Keyhole scarf for mom
6. Blue Keyhole Scarf for brother
7. black and gray keyhole scarf for nephew
8. brown keyhole scarf for stepson #2
9. Blue keyhole scarf for mother-in-law
10. prayer shawl
11. pink baby blanket
12. Red fingerless gloves (practice)
13. Blue keyhole scarf for colleague of husband's
14. autumn colors keyhole scarf for (to be determined)
15. Green ruffle scarf for (to be determined)

In progress:
1. Keyhole gloves (blue)
2. Black and gray prayer shawl for my dad
3. Blue scarf (pattern from One Skein Wonders) (I am beginning to love that book)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

On the Third Day of Christmas....

....we welcomed Stepson #2 back from sunny Southwestern State, where he spent Christmas. Sadly, he leaves again tomorrow on tour with his band (Northern Howl). We miss him already.

....we had just one church service at 10:00 this morning. At 9:45, it looked like it was going to be pretty thin attendance (the van got iced in and several of our elderly members could not get rides), but at the last minute, and after the last minute, truthfully, attendance filled out nicely.

....I told the story "The Mitten" for most of the sermon today (left off the ending, where the bear sneezes), and ended with the incredible small mitten stretching, and the incredible small baby in the manger which contains the immense love of God, stretched beyond our imagining. Inside this love, I said, there is room for the mole and the owl, the rabbit and the fox, the bear and the mouse, the friend and the stranger, you and me. I love Jan Brett's illustrations, but I found the story great just for telling, because of the repetition of the different animals going into the mitten, and the ones inside who are sure there is no more room. Makes me want to do more story telling.

.....I noticed that the church looked a lot more full whenever the people stand up. Why is it that the same group of people look much more impressive, larger, more powerful, when they are standing than when they are sitting down?

....when I was distributing communion, every once in awhile I gave someone a little shock when we touched. mom brought my dad home for the afternoon. We visited him, had banana bread, and joined in random conversations. He seemed a little worried about God today. I kept reassuring him that God forgives everyone, even the bad people. He doesn't just love the Good People ( whoever they are).

....whoever they are, I know I'm not one of them.

.....whoever you are, you bad people, Jesus came for you, too. Even for you. Especially for you. and for you good people, whoever you are, whether you think you are good or not, Jesus came for you, too.

On the Third Day of Christmas, Our True Love Came For Us.

I think he was singing, "You may or may not be good, but I think you are beautiful."

That's what lovers think, you know.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

On The Second Day of Christmas

.... we slept late after a small Christmas Dinner with a few family members yesterday.

We woke up with sore backs after shoveling so much wet, heavy, slushy snow yesterday. However, it was better than the alternative, which would have been another foot of snow.

I started a prayer shawl for my dad.

We did a little shopping with our gift cards.

I did a little bit of story-telling (The Mitten) for my homily tonight.

Tonight, it's icy. On the side streets, if you stop, you have to burn a bit of rubber to get started again.

It's the 2nd day of Christmas. For most of the world, Christmas is over. 24 days of Christmas music in the elevators, shopping, parties, fake and real trees, decorating, baking.

But Christmas began in earnest on the 24th, with the lighted candles and the story of the baby in the manger. Now, for the next 12 days, we contemplate the incarnation.

We contemplate the incarnation in the midst of icy roads, or empty cupboards, or shopping malls, or Alzheimers. Or we contemplate the incarnation while troops land in Afghanistan, families count their pennies, turn out their lights to ward off bill collectors. We contemplate the incarnation while we knit prayer shawls, make supper for homeless families, teach English. Or we contemplate the incarnation while we worry about immigrants (or welcome them), move away from our bad neighborhoods, fear our neighbors.

We contemplate the incarnation in the midst of real life, while God is busy hunkering down in our real life.

Somehow, God is redeeming the world, and somehow God is using us, our flesh, to redeem the world, but when I look at us, I doubt it.

On the 2nd Day of Christmas God is hunkering down in the real world, the real, cold world: the world where cancer and cruelty, joy and goodness exist.

When I think of this, I believe.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve 3:00: A Big Mess

Based on Luke 2:7

For the past few years we have begun this new tradition here on Christmas Eve, called “Strawing the Manger.”
As we just did, we invite the youngest children up to put the straw in the manger – to prepare a soft bed for Jesus to lay.
When we first thought of it, I had never heard of it, and thought it must be an old German tradition.
But no, I was told later, it’s just an idea someone had – the hay has to get into the manger somehow, why not let the children put it in?
And the idea is that just as the children need to help prepare the manger for the baby Jesus,
so too we need to help prepare a place in our hearts for the child who comes to us this night.

This works out a little differently every year, depending on who comes up, and how eager they are to fill the manger with straw,
but one thing that we can count on every year is: a big mess.
There is straw in the manger of course, but also straw on the steps and in the chancel, and perhaps even a little straw on a few Christmas dresses and on pants legs.
I don’t know, but you can check.
And whoever climbs into the pulpit at 5:00, at 10:00 tonight, or in the bright light of Christmas Day will also see the straw, the product of our children’s efforts to welcome Jesus, to prepare a place for him tonight.

A big mess.

Have you ever wondered about what it must have been like on the first Christmas?
Of course we like to paint a picture in our mind.

The songs we sing and the artwork we see help us: “silent night, holy night” makes us think that it must have been very calm indeed,
and all of the creches make Mary and Joseph look so serene, and the worshiping visitors look appropriately, well, worshipful.
So in our minds we have a serene and holy scene in Bethlehem, on the night of Jesus’ birth.

“And Mary 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.”

Think about this verse, so often recited, and known by heart.
What about this verse says calm and serene to you?
It’s only because of all of the songs that we have sung, and all of the manger scenes that we have seen that we can possibly think about this verse and think of anything quiet.
Think about it: why do you think there was no place in the inn?
Not because the innkeeper was an old grump who had something against Mary and Joseph.
No, it was because Bethlehem was full; on this evening the little town of Bethlehem was bustling with activity,with chaos, with all kinds of people scrambling to find a place to stay, all kinds of people displaced by the census.
Everyone was going back to the town of their birth; Bethlehem was full of visitors, more than they could use, more than they had room for.
It was anything but quiet in Bethlehem on what we call the holy night.

In fact, I have a suspicion that it was, in its own way, a big mess.

A big mess.
That’s something perhaps that most of us can relate to on this Christmas eve.
Oh, perhaps there are a few people out there, the ones with perfect houses, perfect children, perfect jobs, perfect lives
– but most of us have lives, like the streets this Christmas eve – that are a big mess, in one area or another.
We have cleaned the house and made it ready for the guests, but there’s a closet that we hope that no one knows about!

Or, we have cleaned and decorated the house for no one in particular, because we will not be celebrating with loved ones this Christmas.
Or we are grieving or wondering or doubting, or we have made a mess of something that we really really wanted to turn out well.
Despite our best efforts, there is straw all over the floor, there is the empty chair at dinner, there is the person we really want to apologize to but can’t, there is the person we know we ought to love, but don’t.
It’s a big mess, and part of us wants to be home, trying to get everything right, or just being by ourselves,
but instead, we fought the snow and the cold and the ice to be here, singing carols about that not-so-calm and serene night, the night the Son of God came into our messy lives.

“And Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid in him a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.”

I heard a story recently about a woman who was expecting company.
I don’t know if it was Christmas, but she was having some Very Important Guests over, and she scrubbed and cleaned like crazy, trying to get everything right.
But in the end she was not quite prepared, and (this was the era before dishwashers) she hit upon the bright idea that she would hide some dirty dishes under a cupboard, where nobody would know.
Everything seemed to be going along quite nicely until her little daughter tried to impress the guests by opening the cupboard and showing everyone what was there.

A big mess.

Like the woman welcoming guests, like the children with the straw, we really do, with all of our hearts, want to prepare a place for Jesus.
We want to prepare a place for him in our hearts.
We want to prepare our lives for him and for his presence.
We want to do justice for the least of these; we want to bring the little ones in from the cold; we want to welcome others into our lives; we want to heal relationships and pray the cancer away.
We want to prepare our world for the coming of the Holy One, the little Lord Jesus. Don’t we?
But despite our best efforts, it often comes out to be a big mess.
Dishes undone. Burned casserole. Hard words. Straw all over the place.

And yet.... “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger....”

And yet, he comes, and he comes not in the quiet and peace of a silent night, but he comes in the pain and joy of birth, new birth, new life.
He comes in the pain and joy of birth, and he is placed into human arms, our arms: unto us a son is given, a child is born – unto us!
In the messiness of our lives he comes to give us life, new life, and peace, to prepare our hearts, to welcome us.
Here he is, among the lowing cattle, on the slippery streets, in the manger, among the poor ones, in the chaos, in our arms, on the cross.
Here he is.

He came down to earth from heaven who is God and Lord of all
and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall;
with the poor and meek and lowly, lived on earth our Savior holy.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's Snowing

Ir's not quite Christmas eve, and I'm headed to bed. We were out a bit tonight, and it seemed like we were getting some serious snow. But we'll see. We're tough here in the Twin Cities and we hardly ever cancel anything, not like those rural areas you hear about.

Now of course there are reasons for this, reasons I knew nothing about until I lived in one of those (I thought) wimpy rural areas. Two reasons I can think of right away: 1. visibility. 2. blowing and drifting snow. Then there's the chance of getting stuck or going off the road when you are miles from anywhere, instead of two blocks away from a mall or a gas station. Maybe those rural people aren't so wimpy. Maybe they respect nature.

I kind of miss living in a rural area, and the adventure of serious snow. I miss getting snowed in. I miss having a break from the schedule, an opportunity to sit and read and knit (although in rural South Dakota I was doing counted cross-stitch) and watch romantic movies. I miss having my neighbors help me push my car out of a snowdrift.

It's snowing here, and it's almost Christmas eve. We'll drive slowly and safely to church anyway, and we'll shake the snow off our coats, and we'll sing the songs just like every other year.

But even if it's just a winter storm, and not an official "blizzard", it won't be like every other Christmas eve. This year will be its own year, the year more troops went to Afghanistan, and some sort of health care passed, but we didn't know if it would be a good thing or not. It will be the year a lot of us didn't have jobs, the year some of us were hanging on by our fingernails. It will be the year the kids didn't come home, the first year without grandpa, the year of the homemade scarves, the year we didn't have homemade cookies. It will be the year the euphoniums played at church, or your granddaughter sang a solo, or your grandson read the lesson at church. It will be the year you hold a candle and suddenly realize it is a "holy night", the year you yearn for peace, the year you wondered what it all meant.

And it will be the year it snowed. And snowed. And snowed.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

My Dad and Christmas

My mom went to visit my dad at the nursing home today. We're not sure what to do about Christmas, with the possible 1-2 feet of snow in the forecast. At one time we had hoped to bring him home for Christmas Day, but for a lot of reasons (1-2 feet of snow only being one of them) this doesn't look possible.

My mom told my dad that it was only 3 days until Christmas. "We'd better get some shopping done!" he said. However, he doesn't know Christmas is coming unless we remind him.

I associate Christmas with my dad, probably because he knew and liked to sing all of the songs from the old Bing Crosby Merry Christmas album. (We also thought he sounded a little like Bing.) We would always sing "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" when we went to pick out a tree. (This often coincided with the coldest night of the year.)

Most men don't like shopping (they say), but my dad seemed really to enjoy Christmas shopping. However, I had to do all of his wrapping for him, until I passed this task along to my more gifted sister. I used to really enjoy watching my dad pick out gifts for my mom for Christmas. He wasn't very good at picking out clothes, but you could tell he thought she was really good-looking.

One year my dad made a doll-house for my sister and me for Christmas. There were four floors, complete with carpet, furnishings and a doll family to live there. It's possible that my sister discovered this secret when she was snooping around the basement.

My dad also had a hard time keeping secrets. It made my mom a little mad, I think, when he gave so many hints one year that I knew I was going to get a record-player before I opened it.

I think Christmas was his favorite time of year. He liked the sentiment, the singing, the food, going to church (I can still hear him singing the baritone on the three-fold amen), and presents. For the last few years, though, he has taken to saying that "he really doesn't need anything."

This year it appears to be true. He doesn't really need so much. He doesn't go out, so he doesn't need a new scarf. And he just got new slippers. I would like to make him a prayer shawl, but I hear that everything has to have his name on it.

In any event, I won't get done by Christmas. I'll still make him one, and give it to him when I can. In the meantime, I'll remember that it's really true this year what he always says, "I don't really need anything."

Except the same thing that God always gives us: Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

4th Sunday of Advent

Today the worship coordinator (who was featured in last week's story about the advent candles) told me she had another one for me today: "This one is more funny", she said. She began by noting how many people name the Advent candles for the different Sundays in Advent. I was familiar with this tradition, after which she said that she heard that the 4th Sunday in Advent is sometimes called, "Panic Sunday."

But then she said that her mother always told her, "Christmas comes, whether you are ready or not."

"That's supposed to be good news," I said, smiling.

"It's all we need," she answered.

It's really important for pastors to hear the gospel from the parish members, I think.

Today I preached at three services, a message about Mary and what she believed, in whom she believed, and the difference it makes. I think it was a decent message, if I do say so myself; but I think the worship coordinator preached a pretty good sermon to me, too.

Today I got to hold a baby, not quite two weeks old; I spoke to a young couple, just moved to Richfield. She had heard of the book I mentioned in my sermon (Half the Sky); the authors had been featured on Oprah. Today I watched adults and children get the sanctuary ready for Christmas, with paper chains and blinking lights and all kinds of greens. Today I wondered about the importance not just of worship, but of community; I wondered what it would take for us to realize how important we are to one another. I have heard that we are hungry for real community, and that is one thing that the church can do. But, to be truthful, I'm not sure that I see evidence of that hunger very often.

Today after church we went out to dinner with my mother-in-law, my oldest stepson and his girlfriend. This might be the only Christmas we have with them, until sometime in January, when we hope we can all be in town and together. I'm still knitting. Maybe I'll be done by that "sometime in January" date.

Today I am bone-weary, done with some things, but still "in the middle" of others.

Christmas comes, whether you are ready or not.

It's all I really need.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Everything Will Work Out .... Somehow

So the other day we were studying the Magnificat at my Bag Lunch Bible Study. Well, we were studying the Magnificat and the scene before that, the scene where Mary and Elizabeth meet, and Elizabeth's baby leaps in her womb, and Elizabeth speaks all these things about Mary (blessed are you among women....).

We were focussing no the magnificat for awhile, trying to get our brains around this song, this poetry of Mary's, trying to figure out whether it was good news for us, whether we were the rich who were going to go away empty or the poor who would be filled. We all felt more on the poor side, truthfully, but recognized that it was complicated, and that there were people with hands emptier than ours.

And the people kept talking about this wonderful, marvelous thing that had happend to Mary, what a privilege it was, how special, how great.

My eyes and ears kept going over to the last thing Elizabeth said to Mary, before Mary burst into praise:

"Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord." (vs. 45)

"Blessed is she who believed...."

So what is it that Mary believed?

First, she believed that she was going to have a baby. She was really going to have a baby.
Second, she believed that through her, and through this baby, God's vision for Israel, God's vision for the whole world, would come true. She believed it so much that in her song, she sang as if it had already happened, "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." Has that happened yet, even now? And yet Mary sings as if the poor have hands full of blessings, the lowly have been empowered, even now.

And then there's three, one perhaps we forget in the midst of wranglings about the importance of the virgin birth, or the work of doing justice
Third, she believed that everything would work out.... somehow. She believed that somehow God would work out the fact that she was pregnant and not married, and all of the complications and messiness that would mean for her.

"Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

Anyway, that's what I think. What do you think? And what difference does it make?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent 3: In the Midst

Before worship this morning, I saw our worship coordinator struggling with our church's Advent wreath. We've always had some issues with advent candles. In the past, we had the traditional Advent wreath with four candles up in the chancel area. I always liked to have the children help me light the candles, except that the candles were notoriously difficult to light. And sometimes, even when lit, you couldn't see them.

A few years ago, someone got a brilliant idea and fixed up an Advent wreath contraption that is hung from the ceiling with pulleys. The candles are four blue votives inside four small lanterns hung from the wreath. But it's a little bit of a trick getting the candles lit and inside of the lanterns on Sunday morning. And if you're tall, you might accidentally bump your head on the wreath as you walk into church in the morning.

It means that there is no opportunity to light the Advent candles with the children, something I'm a little sad about.

So I stopped to chat with the worship coordinator. In the midst of her struggle, "I hope I have them in right!", she said. Then she added, "I kind of like it, though. I like the advent wreath like this, in the middle of the sanctuary. It's just like God, dwelling in the midst of us."

What a great insight! I'll look at the suspended wreath differently from now on. As the little blue lights increase, I'll see hope increase with the lights, and I'll see that the hope is coming from the midst of us, where God dwells, where God has promised to come.

"And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth...."

We had the children's Chrismas program this morning. So wonderful to sit and listen and hear the story as the children told it, full of warmth and sincerity and grace and truth. I have known some of these children since they were babies. Today they sang and sneezed and said their lines with feeling. Knowing the children as I do, I know a little about their lives, and their families. I don't know them as perfect children, but as people who have sometimes had to deal with tragedy and difficulty, even at their age. And yet they told us about the baby, and believed in his coming.

"And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth....."

In the midst of the congregation, the lights shine.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Still Reading after All These Months....

A short update on books I have read:

43. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman. Just happened to see it in a bookstore in Red Wing on the day it won the National Book Award (or was it the Newberry?). I was reading around All Saints' Sunday and mused on the idea of being taught by the dead.

44. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, by Shaffer and Barrows. This was our November book club book, a charming and multi-layered book about the occupation of the Channel Islands during World War II.

45. Dog On It, by Spencer Quinn. I love Chet, the crime-fighting dog, and his partner Bernie. The next in the series comes out in January; I hope I get a gift card so I can buy it.

46. Christmas in Harmony, by Philip Gulley. A short trip to Harmony, Indiana, and an account of the first and only "progressive" Nativity scene.

47. I will soon be done with Kevin Kling's wonderful book of stories/essays Holiday Inn. And yes, it is named for the Bing Crosby/Fred Astaire movie. Kling's a midwestern version of David Sedaris; just as funny with about half the cynicism. Just like Sedaris, he's as funny to listen to as he is to read. (I believe he also graduated from my alma mater.)

will I get to 50? I'm pretty close, anyway. You'll have to admit, it's an eclectic list. And that was as much the point. I'm happy with the variety of reading I've done so far this year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gold Stars for My Dad

My mom and I had a conference at the nursing home on Monday. I've never been to one of these before; we get together with all of the different people who work with him, in various capacities, and they give us an update on how he's doing. The occupational therapist started. She talked about how my dad could do things like dress himself, brush his teeth, and other daily activities, but that he needed a lot of prompting, and that he has problems with being very distracted as well.

The physical therapist has been working with him every day, and believes he is getting stronger physical, but his mental decline has contributed to physical problems sometimes. He has strength and flexibility, but between some of the Parkinsons symptoms and dementia, he doesn't always remember the sequences in which he should do things. It was pretty much the same all around the board; the general consensus was that my mom could take him home, if she wanted to, but that he would need constant supervision.

Before his first hospitalization, in late August, he was dressing himself, and doing most things for himself, even though it took a lot of time. That has changed.

Then, the dietician and others spoke. They said he has adjusted well to living there. He doesn't ask when he will go home. He sleeps well at night. He works hard at his physical therapy. He's pleasant and social; he doesn't spend much time in his room. They enjoy working with him; he tells jokes and speaks in various brogues. He likes music and watching TV and gets along well with his roommate. He has lots of gold stars for good behavior.

My mom told me that the last time she had him home, he tried to show her that he could do things himself so that he could live at home. That was one of the times he fell.

He seemed glad to see me, and remembered my name. We talked for a little while, and then he needed to go to physical therapy.

One of the aides is a man from Sierra Leone. He says he hasn't seen his family in ten years.

His name is Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Looking toward Christmas

This Sunday morning at our 10:00 Service we had a very brief Pre-School Christmas program right in the middle of the service. The children basically read the Christmas story, in its traditional form, interspersed by songs like "Angel Band" ("there was one, there were two, there were three little angels..... 10 little angels in the band.") I saw Mary holding the baby Jesus tightly. She wouldn't let him go for anything. I preached, but the program, which took the place of the children's message, was definitely a tough act to follow.

I didn't recognize a couple of the children until I saw them with their parents, and realized that I had baptized them a couple of years ago.

I don't get to spend enough time with the children.

I know that Christmas is about the incarnation: "Christ was born for you", and all that. But the part of me that still wishes for a sentimental, family-oriented Christmas still feels a little bereft that we don't have loud noisy Christmases with lots of small children.

This year, in fact, is going to challenge my image of Christmas on many levels. It will be our first Christmas without my father-in-law this year. My dad will probably be spending this Christmas at the nursing home, although I'm sure we will visit him. It looks like, the way things are going, neither of my husband's boys will be with us on Christmas Eve or Day (long story). They will both be in Another State, it seems. My brother works the late shift on Christmas Eve this year. My sister is never with us (or we're never with her, by her perspective); they live in Another State.

So, we'll have to try harder than usual to remember the True Meaning of Christmas: that it's not about presents, or huge family gatherings, with lots of children. It's about the the God who is willing to walk with us here, somehow, despite our willful, hard-hearted ways; it's about the Baby God places in our arms, not just at Christmas, but at any time we have the opportunity to carry the Word of God and the work of justice in our small corner of the world.

Help me to remember that, as Christmas approaches.

Friday, December 4, 2009

My Sister's Birthday

I'm pretty sure, if I'm counting correctly, that this is a significant one for her.

As always, I'm late getting the present in the mail, but I've been thinking about the fact that my mother always told me, when my sister and I were fighting, that "someday I'd appreciate having a sister." In that spirit, I'd like to share ten gifts my sister has given me:

1. She painted a picture for me when she was in 8th or 9th grade. The picture shows children holding balloons. It's a narrow, long picture; entirely unique.

2. She baked me a Boston Cream Pie once, and sent it with my mother when she was visiting me at college.

3. She deigned to share an apartment with me for a short while just after I graduated from college; a little brownstone one bedroom with hardwood floors. It was my first apartment.

4. When we were young, we shared a room; she used to listen to my insomniac whisperings until she fell asleep.

5. She played the guitar and sang songs with me. Favorite duet: "Whispering Hope." (She sang alto.)

6. She let me take the crock from Grandma's house that said, "Jackson Creamery" on it.

7. She thought my stories were good (usually).

8. When we played Tarzan with the little boy down the street, I got to be Jane. She was Cheetah.

9. She let her daughter come to the North Shore with us, one of my favorite vacations, ever.

10. Laughing and singing are my favorite memories: it is good to have a sister.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Come, Thou Unexpected Jesus, Part II

When I first got out of college and started working, I used to love to go into greeting card stores. I loved to look at cards, pick out cute ones, look at the various categories. My favorite category was "Love." I liked to look at the cards for lovers, even though I didn't have anyone to give such a card to at the time. I would pick out cards that I thought it would be fun to give, in the event that I ever had someone in my life to give it to.

I particularly remember one card, because, even though I didn't have anyone to give it to, I bought it anyway. I remember the message on the front of the card. It read: "You are the answer to my prayers."

On the inside it read, "You're not what I prayed for, exactly, but apparently, you're the answer."
Come, thou Unexpected Jesus....
You're not what we prayed for, exactly, but still, you are the answer to our prayers.
Come thou Unexpected Jesus, even though, like Zechariah,
we prayed for you, but didn't believe the angel

Come thou unexpected Jesus
Even though we didn't expect you among the poor
and didn't expect you among the weak
and didn't expect you to die.

Come in the unexpected moment,
our unexpected celebrations
and our unexpected tragedies
our unexpected meanness
and unexpected grace.

You weren't what we prayed for, exactly
(not even close)
but you are the one who can heal our pain,
and turn us from ourselves
and raise us again.
and again.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Come, Thou Unexpected Jesus the theme of our Advent service series this year. I know, the name of the song is, "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus". It's all about our yearning for the Messiah, a yearning that comes from the promises we hear in the prophets, promises for a new day, when all will be put right. "Come thou long-expected Jesus".

Yes, we long for the Messiah, but when he shows up, he's not what we expected.

I opened the Sunday bulletin one advent morning to find this mis-print in the bulletin. Was it the parish secretary's slip-up, I wondered. Or was it a subconsciously theological moment? I'll never know.

Zechariah and Elizabeth and Mary and Joseph: all were yearning and hoping and long-expectant. But they were still surprised.

come, thou unexpected Jesus.
Surprise us.
Even now we need your life.
An old woman needs to laugh
because she is going to have a baby.
A widow needs to receive her son
We need to find a mysterious coin
in those empty pockets
and a gift we never expected
under our tree.
Come thou unexpected Jesus.
Be born in a barn.
Live among the poor.
Open our hearts.
Create out of nothing.
Raise the dead.
We dare you.