Friday, December 31, 2010

On the Sixth Day of Christmas

....we hung out at the hotel, because it got up to 72 degrees, and it was good just to relax and not have any goals or purposes.

I exercised.  I sat by the pool.  I wrote a little.

I finished a book called Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. 

I didn't read as many books as I had hoped this year (though I knitted a lot, and that's something).  But one result of having a goal:  I did get some books in that I might not have read otherwise. 

I regret that I stopped recording books somewhere during the year.  I think in 2011 I won't try to have a goal, but I'll try to be better at recording the books I read, which is the most interesting part.  It turns out to be an eclectic list.

Besides Little Bee, I recently read an historical novel called Forge, by Laurie Anderson.  (really recently:  on the plane.)  It's the second of a planned trilogy (at least, I think it will be a trilogy) about young African Americans seeking freedom in the era of the Revoluationary War.  The first book was called Chains, and featured a young girl named Isabel who was promised freedom when her master died.  Her new master reneges on this promise though.  The second book features her friend, Curzon, who escapes and serves with the revolutionary forces in Valley Forge.  I will admit it took me awhile to get into Forge, but by the end I was eager to find out what happens next to Isabel and Curzon. 

And though it hardly qualifies as "reading", I really liked a present I got from my husband, a book called Beautiful Oops.  I grew up thinking it was a sin to make a mistake, so I think I need to keep this book by my bedside and read it every day for awhile.

On the 5th Day of Christmas

We pretty much spent the day at Epcot.

We did not get up in time to get there early, so all of the lines for popular attractions were long.  We didn't ride in the big golf ball, or on the popular Norway ride, which boasts a 70 minute wait.  We have been to Epcot before, with the kids.  We even got in on a few of the Millenium activities ten years ago.  Epcot is my favorite part of Disney, I think.  Probably it's the brief, around the world tour, most of all.

I loved going back to Japan, if even for a few minutes, via a large department store.  Ten years ago we enjoyed the Japanese Taiko drummers, heard the Fab Four in England, and had Chinese food.  This year we heard Old Befana tell her Christmas story, ate Moroccan food, and heard Mariachi singers.  We walked and walked and walked, seeing the Norwegian Stave Church and the Eiffel Tower and the Seine.  We heard a man on a cell phone, saying, "We're going to Africa," and we laughed and laughed.

No, it's not like really going to another country, or countries.  Yes, it's really artificial, in many ways, and there is something unsettling about that.  No, it's not how I envision spending Christmas, though, to be honest, it is nice to get away from the cold for a few days.  But I love hearing all the different languages, and I love the music.  I think we are going back again.  Maybe we'll get on a couple of rides this time.

On the 5th Day of Christmas I heard many different languages.  I heard many languages all in the same place.  Some of them I recognized.  And though it was really a result of the triumph of capitalism, to me, it was a gift.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

On the Fourth Day of Christmas

....which was two days ago, but who's counting....

We arrived here, rather late in the evening, with our baggage.

In the morning, we finished laundry and packing.  We shoveled a little more snow.  Odds and ends. 

At noon, we dropped Scout off at the sitter.  Gave her the vet's number, just in case.  On Tuesday, though, when we left her, Scout did not look lethargic or sick in the least.  In fact, she looked like her usual happy self, despite having eating a whole bunch of cookies, some of them with raisins.  Let's all hope this comes out okay...

In the afternoon, we set out.  My husband said that the best thing about the plane ride is that the person in front of him did not spend the whole flight trying to make their seat recline.  She tried it once, realized that the seat wouldn't go back, and lived with it. 

My husband is a tall person, and his knees usually come right up to the seat in front of him.  Sometimes (more often than not, truth be told), he has to endure someone in front of him who tries, off and on for the whole flight, to try to put their seat back.  The person seems never to make the connection that the immovable force behind him is someone else's knees.

It makes me consider how this is such a small thing, but part of a larger thing:  how we seldom see a picture larger than ourselves.  The person on the plane doesn't think about anything bigger than their desire to recline.  We see our own situation, our own seat, but not the people our lives affect, or who affect us.  Why is that? 

On the fourth day of Christmas I think about my own spot, and how I don't live in isolation.  When I push, I might hit someone's knees.  Or not.  Maybe when I push someone else gets the right to sit down on the bus.  When I push, I make things better or worse for people around me.  It might be good to look around, acknowledge that I'm a part of other people, and they're a part of me.

Monday, December 27, 2010

On the Third Day of Christmas

....I began packing.

We are leaving tomorrow, not so early, actually in the afternoon.  So I began packing today, but I did not feel the urgency to finish.  I packed a couple of pairs of socks (the handknitted ones in the carry-on), but didn't get a whole lot further than that.

I got a call this morning from the church office.  An elderly man from the church had called because his wife was in the hospital.  So I went over for a little while.  Her son and daughter in law relayed this conversation:  Hospital worker:  how long have you been married?
Wife:  66 years.
Hospital worker:  What do you love about I.? (her husband)
Wife:  I love.... I love.... I just love I..

I went over to the church, to tie up some loose ends.  I hope I tied them up good!  Called new parents, made a couple calls about a memorial service when I get back, sent out an email and a letter. 

When I got home, I found out that Scout had eaten almost a whole tin of cookies.  Unfortunately, some of them were raisin cookies.  So she and I were at the vet for awhile this afternoon.  They think she's going to be okay, but they can't be sure.

My throat still hurts.  Sometimes I don't want to talk.  so tonight I'm taking the cure suggested by a bartender, sipping a little blackberry brandy.  I'll let you know how it goes.

I think I'll pack a couple more odds and ends, maybe a book.

On the third day of Christmas it doesn't even seem like Christmas any more.  What happened?  All of a sudden it is just December again, cold, with big snow drifts (I shoveled), a possibly sick dog, and a little blackberry brandy, a suitcase.  How can I remind myself that even though it's an ordinary December day, in God's time, it isn't?  

Right now the possibly sick dog is on her back, with her paws in the air, playing the "shake my paw" game and wagging her tail.  Maybe she will be okay. 

It's the third day of Christmas, and God is among us. 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

On the Second Day of Christmas

....I got a sore throat.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. 

On the second Day of Christmas I got the day off.  I am sort of, unofficially, on vacation.  The interim Senior Pastor decided that I would preside and preach on Christmas Day, and he would preside and preach today, and we would each get the other day off. 

On Tuesday I will be officially on vacation.  But, since I was off today, I went to church with my mom, who doesn't get to go to church with anyone usually, since my dad is in a nursing home.  Before that, I got up early to make blueberry pancakes for my husband, who was going to play for three churches at his church.  I watched the movie Pollyanna, which is coincidentally one of my dad's favorite movies.  There was a great line that I hadn't noticed before, when the townspeople go to the pastor for help when no one else will speak up, because, as Pollyanna says, 'no one owns the church.'  It seems to me that this is still one of the big responsibilities of the church, to speak up when no one else will, because 'no one owns the church.' 

On the second Day of Christmas I heard the Pollyanna sermon, and I heard a great sermon at my mom's church too, all about the Incarnation as God's deep presence in the suffering of the world.

My mom and I visited my dad in the nursing home.  We put up a little Christmas tree with a few small bulbs, listened to Bing Crosby and looked through a memory scrapbook my mom is making.  I saw a picture of my dad with his army buddies for the first time.  He remembers a funny picture of me when I was little, would like a picture of that in his scrapbook. 

Later on, I came home, started the fourth pair of cable footies (I still have all this yarn and presents I didn't get made).  I do think I need a new project, though.

And tonight, as I'm getting ready for bed, and getting ready for "official" vacation, which starts on Tuesday, I realize that my throat hurts and I'm a little achy.

On the First Day of Christmas....

... On Christmas Day, I didn't write a blessed thing.

Well, that's not exactly true.  I got up very early to amend my Christmas Day sermon, to delete a story, and to insert a new story that I had read in the local paper a couple of days ago.  I wondered about the wisdom of making this last-minute change, since I had been up rather late Christmas eve watching a DVD with the stepsons (who really wanted us to experience "Family Guy Star Wars.")  But during the sermon, I saw a few nods of recognition from people who had read the story, about reconciliation between enemies.  (the link is here.)

It was a small attendance for Christmas Day (it always has been so), but big voices, and the handbells played "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming", which was wonderful.   And since Christmas Day was Saturday, we shared the building with a large group of Hispanic 7th Day Adventists, who were also celebrating Christmas on their regular holy day.   Right before I went into worship, I saw a large group of small children, dressed up like angels.

I hurried home, and discovered my husband and his two boys had been doing some incredible jamming while I was gone.  I got in on just a little of the music before we went over to my mom and dad's house for dinner, presents and a mean game of Scrabble.  We all got CD's of Christmas music from my nephew, a talented musician, and it was great to spend some quality time with his girlfriend, too.

I got two (count 'em) two gift certificates to my favorite yarn store, Linden Hills yarn.  So, Now I'm thinking:  do I spring for the yarn and really attempt a sweater?  Or....

On the first day of Christmas I thought back to Christmas Eve a little bit, how it looks to gaze over the congregation, sitting in the dark with candles glowing.  It's an incredible view.  And I thought about what it was like to light the candles on the aisles while everyone began singing Silent Night.  I heard one man singing it in German -- all three verses.   On the first day of Christmas I thought about all the glimpses we get of the light shining the darkness.

They are glimpses, and sometimes they don't seem to be enough, but then again, they are.  Just hearing Silent Night in German, or seeing the small sharp points of light, just hearing the carols or singing them with shaking voices,  just that small piece of bread in our hands, somehow, it's enough.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

What I'm Thinking About

It's the night before the night before Christmas eve.  We bought a little food for the simple Christmas eve dinner tonight.  A little earlier, while I was at church, a man walked in with a bag of hay for the manger. 

This is my office right now:  boxes and wrapping paper, some old sermons, a stack of books of stories, three illustrated books of carols on the floor, files of worship materials, notes paper-clipped together, a pair of shoes shoved in the corner.

This is my house right now:  the angel is on top of the tree, but the coffee table needs to be cleaned off.  The stockings are hung by the chimney, a poinsettia on the small dining room table.  There's an old bill that needs to be paid right away.  Junk mail.  A creche.

Some things are settled.  Other things will be settled, in some way or another, whether to my liking or not.  Some things will never be settled. 

For some reason this year, I found a few of my old Christmas sermons.  I re-read them, perhaps in a fit of nostalgia, perhaps looking for some fresh inspiration.  I don't really know. 

You know what struck me? 

Despite all the changes in the world in the last several years, many things don't seem to change.  Lately, bubbles have burst, and unemployment miseries are high.  The future is uncertain.  We are at war.  Some people are grieving, others are rejoicing.  Common themes:  tears, joy, children, straw. 

The well of human misery is deep.  I am always struck by this.  Perhaps there are a few people who sail through life without experiencing much hardship, doubt, or loneliness, or failure.  But I haven't met many of them.  Start listening, really listening to people, and you hear stories:  stories of all the ways people can be broken, stories of all the ways people can stumble.

And yet, I don't think this is what life is all about.  The well of human misery is deep, and that experience binds us together, but it is not who we are. 

It is the night before the night before Christmas eve.  The future is uncertain, except that in two days, ready or not, the baby will be placed in our arms, the angels choirs will sing, the shepherds will shade their eyes.  In two days the weary couple will find shelter.  In two days people will be singing Silent Night in the dark, clutching a candle.

That is who we are.  The well of human misery is deep, but this is who we really really are:  we are the ones who sing in the dark, who clutch candles, who hold the baby in our arms, and look into his eyes.

Christmas Letter

I have not written a Christmas letter for many years, but if I wrote one, this is what I would say:

Dear friends and relatives,

Merry Christmas to you from snowy Minnesota!  It is only December 22, and I am already worried about where I am going to put more snowfall.  There are snow mountains in this prairie land, and it's going to be white for a long time.  I suppose when I think back on 2010, that is one thing I will think of:  it was "the Year it Snowed Too Much."  I don't know about last January through March (can't remember back that far), but this last snowy month of the year has qualified this as one of the year's headlines.  What would be the other headlines for me, of the year 2010?  It was also:

The Year We Went to Mexico
I had never vacationed in Mexico before.  This was just five days in January, but it was different than anything I had done before.  (Well, it was little like our one-and-only cruise back in 2001).  We left on New Years Day and came back on Epiphany.  It was nothing I ever expected to do, but a suggestion from someone else.  And sometimes an idea that I didn't think of but someone else's suggestion turns out to be the very best thing.  (See:  Paris.)

The Year I Learned to Knit Socks
Yes, I finally made a pair of wool socks with size one needles.  I have wanted to learn to knit socks for about 30 years.  There was some barrier to learning in me, and now I am making other knitting projects too.  I have also knitting two lacey scarves, 3 pairs of mittens, two baby blankets, three pairs of cabled footies, and one hat.  I am wondering how to apply the lessons of knitting to other areas of my life.  Because there are other barriers too, that I would like to break down.

The Year of the Lonely Summer
My colleague retired on June 6, after 42 years of ministry.  Throughout June, July and August, I served as the solo pastor of the congregation.  An interim senior pastor arrived right after Rally Sunday.  I learned a lot during those three months as solo pastor.  I learned some gifts that I didn't know I had.  I took some risks in preaching, and I learned how important pastoral care can be, done right.  I am still learning lessons, and wondering how the lonely summer will make me a different, and a better pastor.

The Year I Got Published
I got a two-page article published in Word and World magazine, a quarterly journal from my seminary.  I also got two blog posts recognized by the Christian Century blog.  cool.  How can I do more of that?

The Year of Vacations
Each time away was short, but besides Mexico, we visited Arizona, San Francisco and the North Shore of Lake Superior.  oh yes, and three days in Atlanta.

A year of light in darkness:
In a time of transition in my congregation, I was amazed at the great attendance at three midweek advent services.
I rejoice in new babies born this fall.
I recognize new challenges and people who will help me rise to the occasions.
I connect with young adults who have not given up on the church.
I give thanks for the talents and gifts of my husband and two stepsons:  musicians and deep and thoughtful thinkers.  The world is a better place because they are in it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Baby Watch": a sermon for Advent 4

For the past couple of months, I’ve been engaging in a sort of unusual activity for me – but one somewhat appropriate to the season, anyway.
I’ve been waiting for some babies to be born – three to be specific.
I was told, earlier this year, that three young women from our congregation were going to have babies.
Coincidentally, all three of them were due at just this time of the year.
One of them, in fact, was supposed to have her baby on Christmas Day.
(By the way, she had her baby just this past week.)
I was especially interested because I was the officiating pastor at all three of their weddings, and – let’s be frank,
I was also interested because of the timing: Christmas! – what a great time for a baby watch!

I remember 18 years ago when my niece was born on December 23, two days before Christmas.
I remember visiting her in the hospital almost right after she was born, and how she came home on Christmas Eve, a tiny tiny baby who fit in the crook of our arms.
Both parents got violently ill during the holidays, so the rest of the family took turns caring for her, holding her, watching over her.
It gave new meaning to the word “baby watch” for us.

But I digress – for the words “baby watch” usually refer to the watching and waiting before a baby is born, which is our situation right now, a few days before Christmas.
We are watching and waiting for a baby to be born, aware both of how much there is to do before Christmas, and how much is out of our control.
It seems that before a baby is born there is so much to get ready – there are all the ways that we prepare for the coming of a new baby into our lives, our homes, our hearts.
There are cribs and diapers and clothes to buy, there are books on parenting to read, there are parties to attend.
And there are so many things that, no matter how much we prepare, we are never ready for, and we can’t control.
Two out of three of those babies that I have been waiting for have now been born – and I am mightily resisting calling up the third prospective mother and asking parents grow to hate, “Well? Have you had that baby yet?”
In fact, Once a mother-to-be with a good sense of humor referred all of her well-meaning “baby watchers” to a web site: “”
Just so you know, the answer is always, “Nope.”

It is the 4th Sunday in Advent – just a few days before Christmas, and here were are, on a different kind of “baby watch.”
But I can’t help thinking that there are some similarities between waiting for a baby to be born and waiting for Christmas to come.
There is the same watching and waiting, there are the hopes and joys of anticipating new life and promise – and there are the worries about whether we will be ‘ready’ as well.
I remember one year one of our worship coordinators was lighting the 4th candle on the advent
wreath, and telling me a secret story before the services.
She said, “You know how there are four candles on the advent wreath and they have names?”
“Yes,” I said. “And sometimes the names are: “Hope” or ‘Joy” or “peace”? Yes, I said.
“Well, there’s another name for the 4th Sunday in Advent. It’s called ‘panic Sunday.’”
We both had a good laugh about that, how as Christmas comes near, the time is shorter and the list is longer, and – sometimes a sense of panic does set in.

Will we be ready? Will we have a ‘good and meaningful Christmas?”
will we get the right presents? But ready or not, Christmas always comes.
Ready or not, God comes down ... the child in the manger.

It is the 4th Sunday of Advent now, Both our Old Testament and our Gospel reading are about a certain kind of “baby watch”
– although there is a different slant in each case. The prophet Isaiah speaks to a king and tells him that God will give him a sign.
The prophet actually is inviting the king to trust God – to trust God as he is in a spot, threatened by invading armies.
But this particular king isn’t interested in signs, or in trusting God.
He already knows what he wants to do.
The prophet gives him a sign anyway: “The young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
And the meaning of the sign, “God is with us.” God goes ahead and gives the sign anyway.

In our gospel reading from Matthew Joseph has received unexpected news.
And at first, the news is not altogether pleasant either. Joseph is reminded of that promise long ago – and still good -- “A baby will be a sign.”
Mary is on a “baby watch” – and he does not know what to make of it. Poor Joseph.
This is not what he expected.
This is not what he had hoped.
But he is a compassionate man. To his credit, he doesn’t even consider calling her out and letting her be stoned by the community, which he could do, within the law. Instead, he decides to ‘divorce her quietly.’
Then he gets the message about the baby. The baby is a sign – an unexpected and not entirely welcome sign from God – “God is with us.”
He is to trust God and take Mary for his wife.

And he does.
He takes Mary for his wife, not knowing what it will mean for them, for him, for their lives, simply trusting God’s promise: “God is with us.”

You know, we don’t know very much about Joseph.
We know that he is descended from King David. We know that he worked as a carpenter, so he was a poor man.
We know that at least twice, in dreams, he heard God’s call.
And we know that he was a righteous man.
He took Mary for his wife, even though it might mean that other people would think he was a fool, that he had been taken advantage of.  He took Mary for his wife, despite his fears, his misgivings, his own hopes and disappointments.
And he trusted God’s promise, “God is with us.” –

“Baby watch.” As Christmas draws nearer, it is good to remember that we are on a
‘Baby watch’ – watching and waiting and preparing for the child who changes our lives.
“God is with us” – that is the meaning of the sign.
But it is good to remember as well that this is an unexpected sign – Joseph did not expect God’s promise to be fulfilled in this way.
Jesus is an unexpected blessing, and like every baby, his coming will change our lives.

Anna Quindlen wrote a book several years ago called, simply, “Blessings.”
The central character is a young man who lives in a little apartment and works for a wealthy family.
Late one night, a newborn infant is placed on this young man’s doorstep.
Though he knows nothing about caring for babies, he takes this newborn into his life – and as you might imagine
– it turns his whole life inside out and upside down.
Suddenly his life has a new center and he has as new purpose for living.
There are many complications in his life because of this unexpected gift.
For one thing, he tries to keep the baby secret for a long time, which is not an easy task.
There are many twists and turns, but it is a fact that this baby changes his life, changes his life direction.

And friends, as Christmas approaches, it is the same with us.
The coming of this little one we are watching for – changes our life.
The coming of this long-expected unexpected one changes us.
He doesn’t make our lives less complicated.
He doesn’t make our lives trouble-free.
He doesn’t make us prosperous or “rich” in the eyes of the world.
In fact he turns our lives inside out and upside down.

For he changes the focus in our life.
It’s just like the pictures I’ve seen of one of the families with their new baby – everyone is looking at the baby – they have fallen head over heels in love.
Suddenly the focus of our life is not ourselves – but the little one
the focus of our life is not ourselves but the Little One
The one who came unexpected into our lives

God with us
not just in our joys but in our sorrows, not just in celebration but in grief and loneliness
God with us
the great God of heaven and earth
who became little for our sake
Who loved us so much
who loves us so much
is willing to live in this complicated, cold, lonely world with us.
To live with us, to die for us, to live in us.

“Baby watch.”


Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Five: Christmases Past

Jan at Revgalblogpals gives us this simple Friday Five:

Share five Christmas memories.

Here goes:

1.  When I was very little, we went to spend Christmas on my grandparents' farm in Southwestern Minnesota.  I was so little then that my mother's younger sister was still living at home, in the big upstairs bedroom that all of the girls shared.  I was also very worried that Santa Claus would not find me way out there.  I remember that I slept in the bed with my aunt, who told me scary stories and warned me that I'd better not try to get out of bed and check on Santa Claus. 

2.  One year, my sister and I got a joint present from my grandparents on Christmas Eve:  the game Twister.  When it was time to go to bed and wait for Santa Claus, we of course had the hardest time going to sleep.  We counted to 100 a few times and told a few stories, and then decided it must be close to morning.  So we quietly got out the game, turned on the light and started playing.  We thought that we were being pretty quiet, but pretty soon my mother appeared in the doorway, looking bleary-eyed, and she proclaimed:  "Santa Claus has NOT come yet.  And he won't come if you don't GO TO BED."

3.  When I was in 9th grade, my father's business failed, and the next year at Christmas, he worked stocking merchandise at the Big Store with the Red Circles.  (He eventually got a sales job at a big department store.)  I remember being very happy that I got a Supermax Blow Dryer as a Christmas present that year.  It's not bad to have simple tastes.

4.  When I was living in Tokyo (where I didn't have a car, and I didn't know about any Christmas Tree lots), I bought a little potted fir and made little paper decorations to go on it.  I played all of my Christmas music on our boom box.  All of us missionary-teachers-in-training went to our churches for a Christmas program, meal and later a Christmas eve service.  I looked around at the rest of the people in my church, and realized that this was their Christmas:  no huge family reunions, no turkey, no big stacks of presents under the tree.  When we came home, we opened presents with the family who lived next door to us.  It made me realize that "Christmas is all about spending time with you family" is nice, but not really what Christmas is about.  Christmas is about Jesus coming into our world. 

5.  My first Christmas in my little churches in South Dakota, I told the story about my Christmas in Japan on Christmas Eve.  I was invited over to a parish member's house.  Their traditional Christmas Eve dinner was soup:  oyster soup, chicken noodle soup and chili.  I had brought presents for them, but it turned out that they didn't exchange presents on Christmas eve.  I remember going home, wrapping packages and finishing my Christmas Day sermon, and packing the car so that I could leave straight from church and get home in time for some Christmas with my mom and dad, and my brother and his two children.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snow Day, or "Why Do I Live Here?"

They kept saying, this will be the biggest snowfall since the Halloween Blizzard in 1991.  People around here scoff sometimes at rumors of blizzards, because there are times that the promised snowfall turns out to be rather underwhelming.  Besides, we are hardy folks, and a few inches of snow does not bother us. In fact, we laugh (hah!) at a few inches of snow.

However, this time they were correct.  We had about two feet of snow here in one day yesterday.  It started at about 10:00 Friday evening, took a short break during the wee hours of the morning (but after five or six inches had already fallen).  It started again at about 7:30 a.m. (or so), and kept snowing until late afternoon.  It was that light, fluffy snow that is easier to shovel (although after the first foot or so, who cares?), but is also easier to drift.

I didn't have a real harrowing day yesterday, as I did not end up going out so much.  I went over to the breakfast Bible study early in the morning, but no one showed up, so I went back home.  I did a bunch of phone calling when I got home, because our Children's Christmas Program was cancelled for today.  No way they could hold the pageant without a dress rehearsal.  There were a few other details to be worked out with cancellations for the day and evening.  And there were regular forays out to the driveway to try to keep up with the snow accumulations.

Not such a dramatic day.

We did have an idea in the early afternoon that it might be good to get out for a little while.  We backed the car out of the driveway and down the block on the way to a local bookstore.  But when we approached the intersection, there were a couple of other cars at suspicious angles.   We slowed down, got stuck, discovered that we couldn't back out, and spent the next forty minutes trying to get one another dug out of the end of the block.

One thing about Minnesotans:  we do stick together in blizzard.

After this we pretty much had a quiet evening at home.

Some churches did cancel their services this morning; we operated services on a skeleton crew, and with fewer than normal attendees.  Some reported that the roads were fine; others thought this was not the case.  As I was very tired and sore from shoveling snow, I can't find it in my heart to judge too harshly those who might have been able to show up, but didn't. 

Tonight the temperatures are going waaaay down.  The 17-20 odd inches of snow we got is not going anywhere, for the rest of the winter.  That's life in Minnesota. 

So, why do I live here?

Good question.

My brother moved to San Diego when he was a young man.  At the time, he reported that "Minnesota is uninhabitable", and I'm sure that a few people agree.  But he moved back here a few years later, and I think he even bought mittens (possibly after his car stalled at work on a cold winter night).  I've never asked him why he moved back, but, I'm glad he's here.

Why do I live here?

There are a few down sides.  For example, it's going to get below zero tonight.  And tonight is not the only night that it will go below zero.   And while I do think the snow is beautiful (I really do), right now I am wondering where to put it.  I'm not sure if people who don't live around here even understand what I'm talking about, but I'm serious.  When I'm shoveling approximately two feet (but who's counting) of snow out of the driveway, I start wondering just how high I can pile it.   The wall of snow becomes a depressing metaphor for all obstacles to success, external or internal.   And, to make matters worse, I'm not a big fan of any winter sport, really.  I'm not a skiier or a ice skater or a hockey player. 

Why do I live here?

Well, for one thing, I like sweaters.  And thick wool socks.   I like scarves too.  I am not ashamed to say that wool does not bother me a bit.

I think that summer and fall are exquisite here, and I appreciate them when they arrive.

In the winter, I don't think anyone here labors under the delusion that we don't need our neighbors.  And I think, in the winter at least, that very few of us labor under the delusion that we don't need the big trucks that come by to plow and salt and sand the roads.  (You know, the trucks that our tax dollars support.)

Whether it's neighbors with their shovels digging each other out, or the big trucks coming to plow the streets, it's all about community. 

That's why I live here, I guess.  This is not just a collection of individuals.  It is a neighborhood, a community, and we know we need each other.  Especially in winter.

Don't we?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Advent Pause

So, it is the second week in Advent already, and I have some confessions to make:

1.  I have not put up an advent wreath yet.  (not sure where it is.)
2.  I just put out an Advent calendar in my office, and opened 7 windows at once.  (This is the one I bought at The Cloisters a couple of years ago (3?) when we were in New York).
3.  I haven't done a lot of Christmas shopping yet, although I am making a couple of presents.  Clearly, I should have gotten started earlier.
4.  I don't know for sure what we are doing on Christmas eve, or day, who we are entertaining, and therefore have not planned any menus yet.

Arg.  That is my very profound thought.

The first week of Advent kind of got away from me, to be honest, and I'm trying to slow it down a little, now that I'm practically in the middle of the second week of Advent.  Maybe it's not too late to find the wreath and light a candle or two and pause for a moment and consider not just my headlong attempt to check everything off the list by December 24.  Maybe it's not too late to light a candle and pause for a moment and consider where God is taking us. 

Tomorrow, I am supposed to do a devotion for a short Matins service that we have every Wednesday.  Usually I am not at a loss for themes for short reflections, but I was scratching my head this morning, and trying to think about what to say.  I looked up some verses in the daily lectionary, and one of the suggested Scriptures was the story of Ruth.

And what is Ruth telling me in this season of Advent?

The book of Ruth is a love story, but not just in the ordinary ways.  Of course, Ruth is a Moabite who marries an Israelite.  That's one part of the love story.  But after her husband dies, she decides to go to Israel with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and live among strangers rather than with her own people.  That's another part of the love story.  And then there's the part about Boaz, and Ruth finding a new husband.  That's yet another part of the love story.  And then there's the fact that the foreigner Ruth gets into the geneology of King David, and Jesus. 

That's part of the love story, too. 

Love stories.

So I light an advent candle (or two), and consider that advent is a time of waiting, of longing, of exptectancy.  And the sighs I hear are the sighs of love.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Five: December Survival Edition

Kathrynzj over at Revgalblogpals offers us this Friday Five:

Whether a RevGal or a Pal most of us in this cyber community have enhanced responsibilities during this time of year. We also have traditions - religious and secular - that mark the season for us in a more personal way.

For this Friday Five please let us know five of the things that mark the season for you.

And the bonus? Tell us one thing that does absolutely nothing for you.

Five things that mark the season for me:

1.  Music.  Especially good choral music.  True, they play the Christmas songs a little too early, and a lot of the renditions you hear are especially schmaltzy elevator arrangements, but I live for hearing some good choral music in Advent.  It does get me through the season.  And though I love "O Come O Come Emmanuel," there are sooo many good Advent songs that I wish were well-known:  "Fling Wide the Door," "Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers," "Savior of the Nations, Come," "Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus", "Hark the Glad Sound."  Well, you get the idea.

2.  Getting Christmas Cards.  I'd say sending them, too, but I haven't sent them in a long time.  I do miss sending them, but I love getting Christmas cards, still.  I used to like to write letters, and I miss the absence of any form of personal mail.  Except at Christmas. 

3.   The annual Christmas program -- given by the children.

4    Decorating the Christmas tree.  with all of the different ornaments accumulated over the years and in many different places.  (putting it up is a big hassle, but decorating -- calms my heart.)  I don't need to have lights up on the house, but I do like to have a lighted tree in the window.

5.   Snow.  My relationship with snow is complicated, and it doesn't make my life easier, but truthfully, it would not be Christmastime, at least around here, without it.

6.   Having family around.  I feel especially peaceful if I know my husband's stepsons are going to be with us, and I enjoy finding one small, but unique gift for each of them.

And I can live without....

.... most of the baking.  Unless it's a team effort.  Then, we'll talk.

It Starts with a Stump

I want to remember that.

I've been reading that passage from Isaiah 11 all week, off and on.  It's a wonderful, soaring vision of the Messiah, and also of the new world, the reconciliation he brings:

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

and then:

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear -- but with righteousness he shall judge the poor...

and then:

The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid... a little child will lead them..." 

But it begins with a stump.

We read this passage at this time of year because we believe the shoot from the stump is Jesus, our hope and expectation, the one we are waiting for, the one who came, though at the time, hardly anyone noticed.  Can we say that?  He came, but at the time, hardly anyone noticed.    But during this Advent time, waiting is our game, so to speak, and we remember that we aren't just waiting for, and hoping for the baby in the manger.  We aren't just waiting for the presents on Christmas eve, we aren't just waiting for the family to gather for a great feast, we even aren't just waiting for that great Christmas eve services where we light the candles and sing our favorite songs and hear the angels sing.  We are waiting for what God has promised in the end, when the whole world will be set right, and they will not hurt or destroy on God's holy mountain, for the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

But it begins with a stump.

And that is why today, we have John the Baptist, appearing in the wilderness, shouting out "Repent!" and saying things that are not designed to attract new members, such as "You brood of vipers!" and "Who warned you to flee?" and "Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees."

Because it begins with a stump. 

Which is to say, It begins with repentance.  It begins with turning around.  That's what it means to repent, to turn around.

I don't know about you, but I do feel stumpy right now, and from time to time.  I read these words -- the words of John and the words of Isaiah -- between funerals.  I had one yesterday, and I am preparing for another funeral tomorrow.  I am serving a congregation in transition, which means we are wondering what our direction for the future will be.  And I live in a community in transition, by which I mean a community which is changing, a community which has new challenges as well as new possibilities.

Here's the deal in Advent:  God promises life from the stump.  There's this shoot, Jesus, and the Spirit of the Lord is upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 

And here's another deal in Advent:  God promises this same spirit, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord -- to us, in our baptism.

But it begins with a stump.

Now, I have to go and write a sermon about that.