Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A vsion for the new year

Okay, so somewhere seven swans are swimming. The lectionary Gospel passage is the beautiful first chapter of John.

It's also New Year's Eve. What thoughts are appropriate there? I went over to youtube and searched "New Year's hymns," and among the results was the lovely song, "Be Thou my Vision." I watched a few videos but couldn't find one where both the visuals and the singing pleased me. So here are the words -- sing them yourself, if you choose:

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

It's a worthy prayer. May God bring it to fruition in all of us in the coming year.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Old lady

Well, and today is simply the 6th Day of Christmas, not, apparently, anyone's Feast Day. The Gospel passage tells the story of Anna the prophetess, who, like Simeon, adored the infant Christ when he was presented at the temple.

There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer. And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they [Joseph and Mary] had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Luke 2:36-40

Gotta love a story about an old lady who knows what's what.


Funny thing about Christmastide. It comes right at the darkest time of the year. Did you ever notice that?*

I've mentioned my struggles with waking up when it's dark out, my general non-morning-personness, and my night-owliness. It's been particularly bad for me lately. Yesterday, I was sleepy all day, even dozing at the computer, so I finally lay down in the evening to go to sleep and little by little I woke up until I was quite perky as the night wore on. So I went on an internet search engine and searched: during the day I can't stay awake and at night I can't sleep.

I followed a link to an article at Lifehack called Tired in the morning and awake at night? Here is a REAL solution. The author wrote about his own sleep pattern:

It’s truly a bizarre pattern of dead tired mornings, walking around like a jet-lagged zombie, followed by a tortuous afternoon in desperate need of a nap, and finally an evening where I start to wake up.

That sounded exactly like me, and he offered the diagnosis Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome. Sounds impressive. He even called it a sleep disorder. Everything has a diagnostic label these days. People used to be larks or night owls, but now night owls have a sleep disorder. Just like a kid used to be pesky but now he's got ADHD, and people used to be odd or eccentric but now there's a DSM-IV code for any weird way you might be. I don't know if that's good or bad, or if I really have a sleep disorder, but I do know my sleep issues make life more difficult for me.

Oh, what a beautiful morning.

The lifehack dude recommended a light therapy device. I've heard of these as treatment to help your mood if you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (yet another disorder!) but not to help regulate your sleep. Since this guy's story sounded so much like mine and he testified that the device was helpful, I ordered one from Amazon. I don't know how long ago he wrote his article but I got the impression that the specific device he mentioned was obsolete, so I ordered a later model. It should arrive in 5-8 business days, so then I'll give it a try and see if it helps. I've seen other light therapy tools that were considerably more spendy, so I'm glad this one was not astronomically expensive.

I remember once watching a Today Show segment about how to wake up more easily, and one thing they kept saying was "Look to the light" and, every time they said it, they would show a little film clip of curtains opening and sunlight streaming in. Trouble is, in the wintertime around here, if I throw open the curtains when I wake up, it's still total darkness outside.

I had a friend at my previous church who used a light therapy device. She said her young son called it her Lite-Brite.

Anyway, we'll see if it helps.


* Yes, I know that's on purpose. The date for the celebration of Christ's coming was chosen for its symbolic value. Under the calendar of the time, it was winter solstice, so that as soon as the church celebrated the incarnation, the light began to increase. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Sunday, December 29, 2013


Today is day 5 of the 12 days of Christmas.

The focus is on the Holy Family (Joseph, Mary, and Jesus), and the Gospel passage is about the flight into Egypt -- to escape Herod's attempt to kill Jesus.

When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt,and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son" [Hosea 11:1]....

When Herod had died, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”

He rose, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel....

And because he had been warned in a dream, he departed for the region of Galilee. He went and dwelt in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazorean" [unknown reference].

Matthew 2:13-14, 19-21, 22b-23

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lully Lullay

Today is day 4 of the 12 days of Christmas.

In the traditional church calendar, it is the feast day of the Holy Innocents, commemorating the victims in one of the saddest stories in the Bible:

When the magi had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.” Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, "Out of Egypt I called my son" [Hosea 11:1].

When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi. Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet:

     A voice was heard in Ramah,
     sobbing and loud lamentation;
     Rachel weeping for her children,
     and she would not be consoled,
     since they were no more.
        [Jeremiah 31:15]

Matthew 2:13-18

One of the most poignant tunes of the season, the Coventry carol comes from a medieval mystery play and commemorates this heartrending event:

Friday, December 27, 2013

Eagle and sun gaze at each other

I went looking on the web for a poem related to St. John the Evangelist and found that Christina Rossetti had written a number of Christmastide poems. I am not sure whether the following is one poem written in two stages or two poems on the same subject.

It helps when reading to know that, in iconography, John the Evangelist and his Gospel are often represented by or accompanied by an eagle. Each of the Gospels has a symbol: Matthew, a man; Mark, a lion; Luke, an ox; and John, an eagle. It also helps to know that people used to believe that the eagle was the only animal that could gaze into the sun (information from this article: The Man, The Ox, The Lion, and The Eagle, by Marian Therese Horvat, Ph.D.).

St. John The Apostle

Feast Day: December 27

Source: The Poetical Works of Christina Georgina Rossetti, with a Memoir and Notes by William Michael Rossetti (1904), page 159

Earth cannot bar flame from ascending,
Hell cannot bind light from descending,
Death cannot finish life never ending.

Eagle and sun gaze at each other,
Eagle at sun, brother at Brother,
Loving in peace and joy one another.

O St. John, with chains for thy wages,
Strong thy rock where the storm-blast rages,
Rock of refuge, the Rock of Ages.

Rome hath passed with her awful voice,
Earth is passing with all her joys,
Heaven shall pass away with a noise.

So from us all follies that please us,
So from us all falsehoods that ease us,–
Only all saints abide with their Jesus.

Jesus, in love looking down hither,
Jesus, by love draw us up thither,
That we in Thee may abide together.

Before 1893

'Beloved, let us love one another,' says St. John,
Eagle of eagles calling from above:
Words of strong nourishment for life to feed upon,
'Beloved, let us love.'

Voice of an eagle, yea, Voice of the Dove:
If we may love, winter is past and gone;
Publish we, praise we, for lo it is enough.

More sunny than sunshine that ever yet shone,
Sweetener of the bitter, smoother of the rough,
Highest lesson of all lessons for all to con,
'Beloved, let us love.'

Before 1886


Day 3 of the 12 days of Christmas and the Feast Day of St. John the Evangelist.

The lectionary contains this passage from the First Epistle of St. John:

What was from the beginning,
what we have heard,
what we have seen with our eyes,
what we looked upon
and touched with our hands
concerns the Word of life —
for the life was made visible;
we have seen it and testify to it
and proclaim to you the eternal life
that was with the Father and was made visible to us—
what we have seen and heard
we proclaim now to you,
so that you too may have fellowship with us;
for our fellowship is with the Father
and with his Son, Jesus Christ.
We are writing this so that our joy may be complete.
I John 1:1-4

I love that he addresses his congregants as "beloved"and "little children":

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. I John 4:7

My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. I John 3:18

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Feast of Saint Stephen

It is day 2 of the 12 days of Christmas, the feast-day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59

Stephen, filled with grace and power, was working great wonders and signs among the people. Certain members of the so-called Synagogue of Freedmen, Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and people from Cilicia and Asia, came forward and debated with Stephen, but they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke.


When they heard this, they were infuriated, and they ground their teeth at him. But he, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked up intently to heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said,

“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

But they cried out in a loud voice, covered their ears, and rushed upon him together. They threw him out of the city, and began to stone him. The witnesses laid down their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul. 

As they were stoning Stephen, he called out,

“Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”


It is the night that Good King Wencelsas looked out and, under the bright moonlight that shone on the deep, crisp, even snow, saw a poor man gathering wood.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Sometimes called the Angels' Candle.

Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel [God with us].
Isaiah 7:14

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Third Sunday of Advent

Sometimes called the Shepherds' Candle.

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Today's readings seem to have the recurring theme of the healing and freeing of the disabled and imprisoned, and in general relief to the suffering:

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.

Isaiah 35:5-6

The LORD God keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
The LORD gives sight to the blind;
the LORD raises up those who were bowed down.

Psalm 146:6-9

Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates.
Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,
the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

James 5:9-10

Jesus said to them in reply,
“Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.
And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

Matthew 11:4-6

Last week and this week the Gospel readings were related to John the Baptist, which is not conducive to a sentimental, cozy enjoyment of the Christmas season. That is because the world's calendar and the church calendar are not in sync. By the world's calendar (using the world to mean popular culture in my own world), we are currently in the Christmas season. It starts the day after Thanksgiving and ends by dinnertime on Christmas. It is about buying presents, decorating the house, going to parties, and opening presents. After the presents are open, the decorations are messy, the kids are screaming, and you have to go back to work tomorrow. Christmas is over, though "the holidays" linger until New Year's, the aftermath of which is still more dreary because there really is no more holiday ahead.

But by the church calendar (and here I am relying on the Roman Catholic Church -- my fellow members of the catholic church), Advent is a penitential season, like Lent. The church's Christmas Season starts on December 25 and lasts through January 5 (the twelve days of Christmas).  January 6th is Epiphany, and that is the day the Wise Men come. The season of Epiphany lasts until Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

So, anyway, some of the readings do seem more penitential than celebratory, and that is why.

John the Baptist, for me, is not comfortable reading. He's odd, for one thing, wearing animal skins and eating locusts and wild honey. Is that really necessary? And his rhetoric is distasteful. Always calling people hypocrites and broods of vipers, talking about axes and fire. But, there he is, in the Bible, in the Gospels, commended by and loved by Jesus, so we've got to read about him and at least listen to him and hope it does us good.

(I am back-dating this post, because I did not get to it on the actual Third Sunday of Advent.)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Second Sunday of Advent

I've heard it called the Bethlehem Candle.

Today's lectionary readings have the common theme that salvation is for the gentiles as well as Israel. God's salvation in Christ is for all people -- every nation and every tribe.

The earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord, as water covers the sea.

Sunday mornings

For quite a while, now, I'm having a hard time getting to church on Sunday mornings. It started when they changed the worship time. We used to have two morning services, one with contemporary music at 8:30 a.m. and one with traditional music at 11:00 a.m. I went to the 11:00 a.m. traditional service. Both the time and the liturgy suited me. I loved having a leisurely Sunday morning.

The church leaders, quite reasonably, made a decision to have just one morning service. They thought it would be better for congregational unity -- we were in danger of becoming two congregations instead of one. Also, I can imagine that preaching twice every Sunday morning was demanding for the pastor. Preaching really pulls it out you. And having to staff the nursery and children's worship twice every week would stretch our resources. So it was all a very reasonable, probably wise, decision, and I totally see the point.

The one worship service we now have is at 9:30 a.m., and I would say that the contemporary style dominates. That was always the more popular service.

I have never quite made the adjustment, even though it has probably been a couple years since the change. It is not so much the worship style that is driving the problem, it is the earlier time. If I am going to attend a 9:30 worship service, I need to set an alarm, strictly get myself up at a particular time, move briskly to get ready, and get out the door promptly.

Instead, I sleep until I wake up naturally. Then I move slowly. I find that quiet morning at home delightful. I drink a cup of coffee and look out the window at the yard. I don't have any noise and I often don't turn on the lights for a long time, just let the sunlight -- whether bright or overcast -- do what it will. I don't want to go anywhere, not even church, and frequently I don't -- until later in the morning, around 11:30, when certain family obligations call me. It's like a little hidden time for me.

That's where I am right now.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Tomorrow is Friday

This week, Friday has been a long time coming. And when it comes, will it be worth the wait?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

First Sunday of Advent

The prophets' candle.

Advent is about awaiting the coming of the Lord. We re-live the anticipation of his birth, but we also continuously live the anticipation of his return. The first Sunday of Advent is focused on the Second Coming. The Gospel passage, Matthew 24:37-44, is not about the manger, or the angel, or the shepherds, or the wise men, or anything else we connect with the Baby Jesus. It's the Man Jesus warning of his unexpected return.

Prophets foretold his coming both in the humble form of a suffering servant and in the majestic form of a triumphant king.

Jesus himself prophesies about his own coming: ... keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.... be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

We await the great and glorious Day of the Lord by living as people of the light. Another passage for today is Romans 13:11-14.

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.