Wednesday, December 13, 2017

“A voice calls out: In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord”

In our Gospel reading from this past Sunday (Mark 1: 1-8) we encounter John the Baptist in the wilderness. This is where it begins, we are told. The wilderness. A space set apart from the hustle and bustle. Just a few lines later in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus travels from Nazareth to be baptized by this wild prophet who wears camel’s hair and eats locusts and wild honey.

Before he can begin his ministry of loving the world, Jesus too goes to the wilderness. And during his time in this space set apart Jesus sorts out what his ministry will be. It is in the wilderness that Jesus comes to understand what matters most, what God is calling him to and who he is.

While listening to the readings this past weekend, I couldn’t help but be reminded words from Trappist Monk and Catholic writer Thomas Merton:

“…there is a pervasive form of contemporary violence… activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. More than that, it is cooperation in violence. The frenzy of the activist neutralizes [their] work for peace. It destroys [their] own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of [their] own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”*

Merton’s words remind me that allowing myself the time to retreat from the hubbub of the world and instead follow the voice of God into the wilderness is so important. I know that without making this space, it is so easy to get caught up in the all-consuming frenzy and violence of overwork.

It is in this space set apart where we can more fully connect with God, with ourselves and with one another. In the wilderness we listen to the voice of the still speaking God. We are then able to to reenter the world recharged, reconnected and reinvigorated in mind, body and spirit to live faithfully. We are better able to stay awake to Christ’s presence in our lives and to lend our own voices to the work of love and justice that Christ calls us to.
Post by Dana Capasso Stivers
*Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Page. 81

*Photo is Dana’s

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”

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From Psalm 28:
        The Lord is my strength and my shield;
                    my heart trusts in him, and I have been helped;
        Therefore my heart dances for joy,
                    and in my song will I praise him.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” says one popular song you’ve probably heard lately.  But as I go about my daily life, I’m struck by how much it’s sounding like Christmas. Our world right now is saturated with music looking forward to Christmas. It’s everywhere you go, as the song says—in shopping malls, on the radio, in elevators and doctors’ offices, in television commercials and at the movie theatres. I even had Christmas-themed hold music on a phone call yesterday.
These songs—both the secular ones and the traditional Christian hymns—go a long way towards getting is un the holiday spirit.  They remind us of warm, cozy evenings spent with family and friends; they invite us to be jolly and cheerful; they offer solace for people who struggle with anxiety, loneliness, or fear, particularly in this time of year. Many cherish attending a performance of Handel’s Messiah, or of going to a local parish’s service of Lessons and Carols. And I’m sure I’m not alone in looking forward to hearty singing at a midnight service on Christmas Eve.
The world—and the church—often uses music to set a tone, to get us in a particular mindset or mood. But how can we use the music in our lives more intentionally, as a way of responding to God? In Psalm 28, praising God in song is a response to God’s steadfast love. The psalmist, thankful for God’s grace and protection, offers not faint praise but jubilant dance and song.
St. Augustine famously wrote that those who sing, pray twice. In this season of preparation and renewal, consider which familiar songs embody how you might respond to God’s working in your life. Perhaps, this Advent, the quiet expectancy of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” reflects your sense of anticipation. Or perhaps the majesty and awe of “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending” speaks to your yearning for Christ’s glorious reign. In this season filled with so many familiar songs, which songs can you use in your own prayer life?

Post by Jett McAlister

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Best Way

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This is what the Lord God showed me” (Amos 7:1)

This line begins today’s Old Testament lesson from Amos, a line that is repeated in the section for today three times, as God shows Amos three different visions.

Prophets are seers, people who see things that others cannot. They can see big, cosmic events and they can see small, mundane things. They are the voices that call out to us about all the things we have forgotten. We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten who we serve. We have forgotten where we are going. We have forgotten why we are doing what we are doing.

Prophets are uncomfortable people. Just think of our favorite Advent prophet, John the Baptist, with his strange clothes, strange diet, and his position out in the desert. Where was he pointing to? What vision did he, like Amos, receive from God?

Jerome Berryman in the Godly Play story about the Prophets explains them this way:

“There are… people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what God wants them to say and do. These people are called Prophets. They know the best way.”*

Prophets see the world, at least temporarily, through God’s eyes. They see where we got lost on the road. They see the burdens that slow us down, or make us want to stop. They see the path ahead and point us along the way.

We don’t always accept their wisdom. Often we don’t realize we are lost, and we reject them. They are, after all, uncomfortable people.

But God is close to them, and they are close to God. They know the way, and if we listen, prophets can point us toward a place of renewal, a place of clean hearts and clear steps forward on God’s path.

Post by Carrie Combs

*Berryman, Jerome. The Complete Guide to Godly Play volume 2. New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 2017.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

In Chaos There is Renewal

I had four weeks to prepare and yet there I was, walking downtown at the last minute on Christmas Eve day to get one last gift for my wife. A charm for her charm bracelet.

It had rained the night before. The rain mixed with the snow on the ground and created puddles of slush that I jumped over successfully until I landed in the one I wasn’t able navigate around. I had four weeks to prepare and there I was, with wet feet and soggy socks, heading downtown to buy that one last gift for my wife.
I reached the town green and for some reason it was crowded. The crowd bustled and shuffled along. Big steps then littles ones. Shoulders ran into shoulders. People buzzed along, looking more at the tasks they needed to complete than what was in front of them. In order to avoid one person I sidestepped and ended up bumping into another. I had four weeks to prepare and yet there I was, walking downtown with wet shoes and a sore shoulder saying sorry to the man I bumped into. He grumbled some guttural mumble. It seemed the joy of the Advent season on that day would be a gift left unopened until Christmas morning.
I crossed the green and made my way to the jewelry shop to buy that last minute bauble for my wife and then before I reached the door of the store, I saw them. A man and his daughter glided through the crowds, unimpeded by those around them. They walked smoothly and with grace towards a restaurant for what could have been a late lunch or appetizers before dinner. They smiled and spoke to each other. Her right arm ringed around his left arm bent at the elbow. They were alone in the world together sharing a story, perhaps a memory of some Christmas past. As I got closer to the store that sold that one last gift that I was to buy my wife, they passed me by. And quickly then, they vanished into that restaurant.

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Two people alone together unbothered by the hubbub around them. Two people in a storm of last minute madness, were perfectly calm as they shared their story and their love. And as they passed me by and as I continued on my way with my damp shoes and sore shoulder, I reflected on that instant of calm and entered into the shop to buy my wife that last minute gift, unhurried.
As this season progresses, we must remember to seek out the calm that resides within the chaos and the crowds. The calm reminds us we are loved. The calm reminds us to look away from the clutter and look instead toward God. In the calm we can make space for the holy. Amidst the rush of the season, we can pause to remember our Lord. Amidst the mayhem, we can find renewal.
Post by Matt Handi

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Clothed in Righteousness

‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”’ (Mt. 22:11-13)

On Wednesday night, Yale Divinity School hosted its annual Advent party, an affair characterized by lively celebration (to say the least) before folks have to buckle down for the rigors of finals. The invitation to the event this year, just like last year, requested participants to wear formal attire. And just like last year, I completely forgot about this request. After studying in the library and deciding the music was too loud to let me work anyway, I went over and found, to my chagrin, that my bright green shorts, yellow polo, and boat shoes stood out in a room full of suits and formal dresses. Unlike the gospel reading from this morning, however, no dean or professor came over to cast me out into the outer (and bitterly cold) darkness, and my classmates were more amused than offended by my inadvertent faux pas.

The words we find this morning are harsh for what seems like a similarly minor offense, wearing the wrong clothing for an important gathering. What is this garment that seemingly matters so much to the king—who Matthew understands as analogous in some way to God—that he is displeased with the apparent intruder? After all, it seems unlikely that Jesus, who spent so much time among those on the margins of society, would really care all that much about what people are literally wearing. Something else must be going on.

The New Testament talks about clothes in various places, but two stand out for their potential relevance to us here. We find the first in Paul’s discussion of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul writes that in the last day “this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (v. 53). In most Spanish translations, the connection is clearer: the perishable must be vested, clothed, dressed, with incorruption. There’s something important, essential to eternal life, essential to joining at the banquet, that the man in our story doesn’t seem to be wearing.

The second reference to clothing that comes to mind may shed some light on that problem: toward the end of Romans 13, Paul writes words that we resonate throughout Advent:

Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Paul invites us all to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” so that, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, we may “great rejoice in the Lord” who “has clothed [us] with the garments of salvation” and “covered [us] with the robe of righteousness” (61:10). This is a righteousness that comes not from ourselves by our own strength, but that comes from the grace of God alone, given to us by the Holy Spirit. Through the Spirit, we put on the Lord Jesus Christ and set aside sinful habits and desires in our lives in gratitude to God, who shows us what it means to live in fullness of life. Through the Spirit, we are able to walk with God, not merely as servants, but as friends, and, when we fall, to return to God “with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The parable this morning is just that: a story about the way that God engages with us that surprises and shocks at every turn, not a story about what has actually already happened in history or what things will look like exactly in the future. We needn’t worry about the man at the banquet because, at the end of the day, the point isn’t that God is looking for reasons to cast us out from the wedding feast. On the contrary, our gospel reading starts with God’s invitation and our choice to respond or not to respond to that invitation. Our lesson asks us to consider two important questions as we go through our lives: How is God inviting us to participate in what God is up to in the world around us? And do our lives testify that we have put on the Lord Jesus Christ and the righteousness made possible by faith in him?

Post by Armando Ghinaglia 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Rest and Renewal

While in college I had a friend who observed Shabbat strictly. From Friday evening through Saturday she rested, read for pleasure, played and attended services. She didn’t use any sort of electronics during this period, which meant that she sometimes had to sit outside of her dorm for 20 minutes before someone would walk by and electronically “swipe” the door allowing her to enter. On Saturday afternoons when many of us sat studying and stressing in the library, she would come in with board games and convince us to put aside our work for a few minutes to play with her.  

At the time I remember being in awe—how could she take a full 24 hours off?

I asked her about this and she sort of smiled at me… not fully in a condescending way, but in that way where someone has a secret that they feel like you should know but you don’t… and she told me that Shabbat wasn’t a time of deprivation. Instead, it was a sacred pause that allowed her to recharge and be more prepared in mind, body and spirit to do her work and live faithfully the rest of the week.  

It can be so easy to get caught up in the constant rush of our world. I find myself so tempted to forgo the critical practice of sacred pause in order to accomplish just one more task. Carving out space for peace and renewal in our lives is so countercultural.

Yet if we are to ask both our health care providers and scripture about the importance of rest, we receive the same answer: it is paramount.

We are reminded of this in the Genesis creation story—creation is not finished until God rests.  As Walter Brueggemann notes in his book Sabbath as Resistance, God’s resting on the seventh day of creation makes clear that: “YHWH is not a workaholic and… that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.”*

The well-being of creation does not depend on endless work. This is an important reminder, perhaps especially during the hectic holiday rush.

In this season of waiting and watching as we prepare ourselves for Christ’s coming, may we hear the invitation to sacred pause and the invitation to be found at peace. Perhaps we won’t engage in a full 24-hour Sabbath; but even if for just a few sacred minutes, may we take the time to recharge and reconnect with ourselves, with God and with one another.

Post by Dana Capasso Stivers
* Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, pg. 6.
** Photo is Dana’s taken at the Incarnation Camp Chapel.

Thursday, December 7, 2017


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In the Eucharistic readings for the Feast of St. Ambrose (today, December 7), we hear Christ instructing his disciples to “Be dressed for action, and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” (Luke 12:35). This echoes a familiar refrain from the past few days and weeks. Keep awake! Be ready! You do not know the hour when the master will return!

In this season, it can sometimes seem like there are too many things to get ready for. As Christmas approaches, many experience the pressure of putting on the perfect holiday gathering for family or friends, or of getting just the right gifts for everyone.  Others feel the seasonal weight of lengthening nights, or an impending loneliness as they look towards a Christmas apart from their loved ones.  Students may be busy preparing for final exams, or looking forward to the college application season or the job market, with all the uncertainty these provide.  Add to that the news of a world so baffling that it’s anybody’s guess how best to be prepared for what may come… It adds up.  It takes its toll.

And yet here we are, at the beginning of Advent, called by Christ to keep awake, to be ready, to be dressed for action. With all the hubbub and bustle of our lives in December, how on earth are we supposed to do that?

Another of the readings appointed for today’s feast gives us an answer:

            You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy;
                        do not stray, or else you may fall.
            You who fear the Lord, trust in him,
                        and your reward will not be lost.
            You who fear the Lord, hope for good things,
                        for lasting joy and mercy.
                                    (Ecclesiasticus 2:7-9)

Wait, trust, hope.  To be prepared for Christ is to trust God, to hear the Good News that in God we will find joy and mercy.  When the world expects us to be always busy, to be always on the go, it’s happy news indeed that in Christ, to be ready may simply mean to pause, to wait, to understand that our hope is in God’s saving grace and not in our own hectic preparations.  Have your lamps lit, yes, but remember who it is who gives us the fuel for those lamps.

Post by Jett McAllister