26 December 2006

Two More Things: Eragon

The book: GREAT. I'm about 3/4 of the way through Eragon and I'm really enjoying it. I should say I'm not actually reading it - Eragon is my running book at the moment. But even in audio form I'm really enjoying this book, and I'll likely buy it sometime this week. Looking forward to Eldest, also - that should come up next, I suppose.

The movie: BLOWS CHUNKS. Even for those who haven't read the book, the movie is a short, rushed, incoherent movie that barely scratches the surface of the book. It's truly unfortunate, because the movie offers some great acting talent. I put the movie's problems squarely on the shoulders of the screenwriter and director. At some point someone should have piped up and asked if the screenwriter was even reading the book - it bears only a small resemblance to the text. Granted, Peter Jackson et al set the bar very high with the Lord of the Rings series, but shouldn't their excellent work serve as an example? The further I get into Eragon the more disappointed I am in the movie - both for its lack of faithfulness to the book and for the way in which the director and screenwriter squandered the wealth of acting talent available to them. Two thumbs WAY down.

Christmas Holidays and a Delicious Moment of Humor

We were flipping channels last night in a post-Christmas dinner stupor when we came across the National Spelling Bee. We didn't watch long - seeing 14 year olds wither under spotlights is just too emotionally charged for our tastes (this from a former state finalist - wonder how my parents handled it?). But during the short while we were watching, I swear I heard one of the commentators say the word "examinating."

The National Spelling Bee? "Examinating?" Seriously? Delicious.

In other news, Beloved, Little Miss and I made a "test run" to the hospital on Saturday. Seems Beloved might have overdone it on our treadmill that morning - she went for a 30 minute walk and must have encouraged LM to think it was time to go. Nothing major - small contractions and likely a stretched ligament in Beloved's tummy. But we discovered a few things that will be helpful to know when the blessed day does come, such as:
1. The maternity ward's selection of magazines isn't spectacular. In a word, for daddies, it blows. Threw a couple of books into the birth bag when we got home just so I'd have something to read. For AFTER, of course - do you really think I'll read DURING labor? (Mom, don't answer that one.)
2. When you pre-register at the hospital for labor & delivery, they can get you to the maternity ward quicker than Ruben Stoddard devouring a Philly Cheesesteak. If that's the case (and I'm not saying it shouldn't be), can someone explain why it took four hours to get from triage to a room in the ER last Christmas holiday?
3. The greatest benefit of small communities is the personal interaction you get with folks. Our maternity nurses were wonderful, especially the one with whom we had mutual friends. We're hoping she'll be on call when the delivery comes. AND the doctor with whom we were originally going to deliver came by to check on us when she heard Beloved was there. We're not her patients anymore, but she checked anyway. How cool is that?

In other news, we are headed to Nebraska for some much-anticipated family time. With the proper amount of rest and care, Little Miss won't be a native-born Husker; let's hope that's the case. Grandma Janke celebrates her 90th birthday on Saturday and we're spending time with friends for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day (another baby shower? Okay!). I won't be blogging much more until we return on the 2nd. Go Huskers!

24 December 2006

Sermon for the 4th Sunday in Advent - "Christmas Means Change"

Preaching Text: Luke 1.39-55

Brothers and sisters, grace and peace to you from God our Creator, Jesus Christ our Redeemer, and from the Holy Spirit, present and active in our midst this morning. Amen.

First, turn to your neighbor and take a minute or two to answer this question: what are the things you need to feel like you’re celebrating Christmas?

For me, it seems like food plays a big role. Kristin and I were in Alex yesterday and on a whim I looked for potato sausage at the market. Lo and behold, I found some, so now I’m excited to go home tonight and cook up my first batch of potato sausage. Next year I’m going to try to make ostkaka, the Swedish cheesecake my grandmother always made for Christmas dinner.

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Advent, but it’s also the day before Christmas, so naturally our minds and hearts are moving ahead already to the celebration soon to come. I know that some of you have already welcomed family home for the holidays – and I know that many more are on their way. Some of you already have meals cooking for tonight’s Christmas Eve feast. You’ve been shopping for those things that make Christmas special, the traditions that have come to mean so much to you and your family. This week of the Feast of the Nativity is a week loaded with meaning and tradition and celebration, and it is a time that the church and the world considers blessed deeply with God’s presence.

But no matter how much we might try to hold on to those special traditions, we know that nothing lasts forever, don’t we? My family will hold a different kind of celebration this year, because my grandmother, Ruth Johnson, died just after Christmas last year. There’s no celebration at Grandma’s house this year; no ostkaka, no lutefisk, no potato sausage, no wassail steaming in the pot on the counter. Yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of my Grandpa Johnson’s funeral, another time of great change for us as a family. For us, Christmas has marked changes over the past ten years, and it’s been a time when we’ve sometimes found it difficult to celebrate.

However, not all change is painful. This Advent has been a very special time for Kristin and me, as we look forward to the advent of our own little one and the massive changes she will bring into our lives. When we went to see “The Nativity Story” we were both struck by the new emotional connection we made with Mary and Joseph; this year, more than any other, we understood the fear and the awe they must have felt as they waited for the arrival of their baby boy. Kristin was moved to tears more than once, and even though it was a good movie, I think the emotional connection with our soon-to-arrive family was the difference. Our friends Nate and Audrey are celebrating a Christmas unlike any other this year: in March they adopted brothers from Ethiopia and brought them home to Minnesota. Now Bereket, who’s 5, and Eshetu, who’s 2, are going out of their minds waiting to see their first snow. This is a year of massive change for them, and these changes have brought out deep joy in Nate and Audrey – we think it’s a wondrous thing to behold.

We tie all kinds of traditions and special remembrances on to the arrival of Christmas, traditions we’d like to get set in stone if we could. But the advent of God’s Son into flesh and bone and blood was a titanic upheaval in the order of things, and nowhere in scripture do we see this more clearly than in the Magnificat, Mary’s song praising God for the change that is soon to come into the world. In the eyes of the world around her, there was nothing remarkable about Mary. She was a child of a devout Jewish family, a daughter born to be married and be the mother of a family in Nazareth. Her betrothal to Joseph must have been the occasion for great celebration for her family; in her marriage to Joseph, she was making bonds under which she would live for the rest of her life, sheltered and protected from a world where women without husbands or children had to rely on begging to survive. She was not the daughter of a noble house, or the daughter of a poor family; what we can tell from scripture suggests that in today’s world she and Joseph were solidly middle-class citizens, content but not rich, average in every sense of the word.

That was before her pregnancy, however – and that pregnancy would have changed everything. In the eyes of the world, Mary would have been greatly shamed by her pregnancy, and it could have ruined her betrothal to Joseph. Joseph had the right to have her stoned to death for breaking the covenant of their engagement. In some ways, the mercy of Joseph the carpenter prepared the world for the mercy of Jesus; as this baby Jesus was saved from a death by stoning, so would the man Jesus save others from stoning. Joseph’s willingness to believe God’s promises and Mary’s faith in what God was doing through her pregnancy brought great change into the world; the first change was the out-of-wedlock, commonplace birth of the king of kings.

Mary’s song praising God for what is about to happen reveals change upon change upon change, for Mary, for her cousin Elizabeth and for the world in which they live. Mary begins by praising God for this shameful, dangerous pregnancy that has put her in a very delicate situation with her family and her husband-to-be: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” We read this knowing that in centuries to come, Mary was indeed called Blessed, but in her time and in her world that certainly wouldn’t have been the case. Mary believed God’s promises more than she believed the world around her. Mary believed that the world would change before God’s promises would change, and her song continued to declare to the world how that change would come about: “God has scattered the proud…God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty…” Again, Mary is singing of changes that are yet to be – and in many ways God is still bringing those changes into the world. We know for a fact that the rich are still rich, the powerful are still powerful, and the poor and hungry still struggle to survive. Mary knew this, too – but she sang praises to God for the changes her son would bring into the world, and she believed with all her heart that the God who was carrying her through her pregnancy would bring about the changes of which she was now singing.

There is a sense of deep awe and majestic wonder in Mary’s Magnificat. Deep awe because God chose her, a common, unremarkable virgin, to bear God’s only Son; majestic wonder because if God could do this, what could be impossible for this child in her womb? The mystery of what was happening was made stronger and deeper by the reaction of Elizabeth’s unborn child to the presence of Mary and her own unborn child. As the world would one day leap for joy at the coming of the Christ Child, so John leapt for joy at the advent of his cousin and his Savior. Elizabeth herself was filled with awe and wonder when she realized what was happening: “Why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” It was revealed to Elizabeth that a great and mighty change was coming, and that nothing would ever be the same again. In those moments, Elizabeth became a prophet because she saw clearly what was happening, and she gave voice to what God was doing through herself and Mary.

Today, two millennia after the birth of Jesus, it can be difficult to think about how the birth of Christ changes everything. After all, the poor are still the poor, the hungry are still the hungry, and the rich and powerful are still the rich and powerful. We are the rich and powerful, even though we fool ourselves into believing otherwise; after all, do we not have the luxury of fighting to maintain our Christmas traditions? If Mary’s song is to come true in our lifetimes, we are in for a change, but we might not think that change is so good. But the far greater change we should consider is how the presence of Christ is transforming our lives. Advent is not a time to think only of the coming of Christ two thousand years ago – Advent is a time to prepare for Christ coming into our lives in the present, and the change that presence will work in us. Christ is alive, brothers and sisters, and through the Holy Spirit Christ will change your life forever. No dead traditions here – no empty observances without meaning or substance – Advent is a time to pray for Christ to bring the deep awe and majestic wonder of Mary and Elizabeth into our lives, today, here and now.

When I told you that I need food to feel like it’s Christmas, I was only telling you part of the truth. I need the Magnificat to know that Christmas is drawing near. I need Mary’s song of wonder and joy because I hear in her words the promises and changes I want God to make in my own life, and I pray with Mary for the fulfillment of all of it. Christmas is coming, friends, and Christmas means change. May your lives be changed with the coming of the Christ child. Let us pray:

God of humility and innocence, God of wonder and miracle, we give thanks today for your power and presence in our midst. In Jesus – his birth, his life and ministry, his death and resurrection – you have shown us that greatness can emerge out of vulnerability, and that with you, all things are indeed possible.

This morning, God, we ask that you guide our journey to the stable. May all your people gather this night around the Holy Family, bringing hopes, fears, joy, sorrow, delight and most of all love into our circle of adoration. May we hear the song of the angels as the birth is announced and may our voices ring out with praise at the miracle of it all.

Eternal God, in the name of the tiny babe of Bethlehem, we pray for all humankind…for the strong and the weak, for the poor and the wealthy, for oppressed and oppressor. May all kneel together at the manger, seeking help, healing and hope.

God of comfort, swaddle us in the safe closeness of your divine embrace, and bring us peace. May your name be praised and glorified on this day of wonder, and forever more.[1] Amen.

22 December 2006

Festive Foods Friday Five

Well friends, we've covered advent, music, and movies/TV--but we here at F5 HQ would be remiss if we did not acknowledge that quintessential holiday topic... fooooooooood.

1. Favorite cookie/candy/baked good without which, it's just not Christmas.
Hmmm - I'd say that I have to have the lovely Scandinavian sweets to which I've grown accustomed since moving to Minnesota. Rosettes, krumkake, that kind of thing. There's also Ostkaka, Swedish for "cheesecake," though it's nothing like American cheesecake. I may try to make Ostkaka this year, if I can find the ingredients and the time to do some baking over the weekend. Since my Grandma died in January, it's going to fall to us to maintain some traditions we want to maintain. (Though I bet no one's making Lutefisk this year...)
I would be remiss if I didn't mention potato sausage as another treat without which it just ain't Christmas. Hopefully my Mom has tracked some down for our feast this year!

2. Do you do a fancy dinner on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, both, or neither? (Optional: with whom will you gather around the table this year?)
Since Beloved and I are still settling into this marriage bit (two years and counting) and our families are widely separated (my family in Nebraska, my in-laws in Eugene, OR and the Twin Cities) we don't have a family tradition yet. This year I'm making something for Christmas Eve just for the 2.75 of us. Christmas Day our church hosts a Christmas Dinner for those who wish to join - usually there's about 20 people there.
That having been said, this year will be special. We're returning to Nebraska for my Grandma Janke's 90th birthday on the 30th, and on the 1st my sister-in-law and some good friends from college are giving us a baby shower (right after the Nebraska-Auburn game, of course - priorities!). Should be a lovely trip home.

3. Evaluate one or more of the holiday beverage trifecta: hot chocolate, wassail, egg nog.
Hot chocolate - delicious if it's made strong enough and mixed thoroughly. Dark chocolate melted into milk is especially good. I used to dream about the river of chocolate in the Willy Wonka factory - I could imagine just how creamy, warm and chocolatey it would taste.
I don't know if it's "wassail," exactly, but I do think that spiced cider is also delicious. My grandma used to sometimes mix it with orange juice for a bit of a kick; it's definitely a different taste than straight cider. But what I most especially love is a German concoction called Gluhwein - mulled wine served warm. It's also known as fusswarmer or "footwarmer." Yummy.
Egg nog. Warm milk and eggs, booze optional. What's to like, again?

4. Candy canes: do you like all the new-fangled flavors or are you a peppermint purist?
Peppermint, definitely - otherwise, what's the point?

5. Have you ever actually had figgy pudding? And is it really so good that people will refuse to leave until they are served it?
Nope, never had it - but I'd like to try it sometime.

Edited to add: Well, I am APPALLED with myself that I forgot to include a question about the crown prince of holiday foods--the fruitcake.

Feel free to add your thoughts on this most polarizing holiday confection.
It's been YEARS since I've had fruitcake. Honestly, I don't know anyone who makes it anymore - is it becoming some kind of urban myth, like the people who wake up in their bathtub on ice with a big stitched-up scar where their kidney used to be?

21 December 2006

A Christmas Version of I Corinthians 13

From RevGalBlogPals - I know it's a woman's voice here, but it's true:


If I decorate my house perfectly with plaid bows, strands of twinkling lights and shiny balls, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another decorator.

If I slave away in the kitchen, baking dozens of Christmas cookies, preparing gourmet meals and arranging a beautifully adorned table at mealtime, but do not show love to my family, I'm just another cook.

If I work at the soup kitchen, carol in the nursing home and give all that I have to charity, but do not show love to my family, it profits me nothing.

If I trim the spruce with shimmering angels and crocheted snowflakes, attend a myriad of holiday parties and sing in the choir's cantata but do not focus on Christ, I have missed the point.

Love stops the cooking to hug the child.
Love sets aside the decorating to kiss the husband.
Love is kind, though harried and tired.
Love doesn't envy another's home that has coordinated Christmas china and table linens.
Love doesn't yell at the kids to get out of the way, but is thankful they are there to be in the way.
Love doesn't give only to those who are able to give in return, but rejoices in giving to those who can't.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

Video games will break, pearl necklaces will be lost, golf clubs will rust, but giving the gift of love will endure.

Further Signs of, Well, Something Ridiculous

This story just keeps getting better and better. You gotta watch out for those Muslims emigrating from Detroit, Congressman - they're gonna GETCHA!

I was remiss in neglecting to mention Matthew 5.33-37 the last time I wrote about this:
‘Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.” 34But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

Think maybe this mess is why Jesus said, "No swearing. On Anything. Period." in the first place?

It's the Most Awfullest Time of the Year...

Just a quick post about life in Minnesota right now: IT BITES. According to Paul Douglas, the weather columnist for the Star Tribune, this year marks the latest date with less than one inch of snow on record. Everything is brown, the lakes are barely frozen and no one has the energy to do anything around here. Christmas parties are flopping right and left and we collectively have one last frayed nerve remaining. I'm sure some Minnesotans saw the news of all the people stranded at Denver International Airport and got angry because at least THEY have snow.

I'm not a native Minnesotan, but I've lived here long enough (seven years? how is that possible?) to love winter. I don't snowmobile or ice-fish, and I can barely ski, but being outdoors when there's snow on the ground is a magical thing nonetheless. Without snow, lots of my congregants are growing tired, ill-tempered and decidedly un-merry, and I'm afraid I'm joining them. Everyone says "what wonderful weather we're having," but I don't believe a word of it.

So, that's life in Minnesota right now: brown. Yuk.

18 December 2006

Baptist Belly Button...lint (cont.)

Damn - there's not a single word for "lint" that starts with "b." So much for more funny alliteration.

The auction for RLP's year-long collection of belly button lint is ending soon. T(A)PD alerted me to the questions about said lint, which just adds to the fun. Check them out. You'll need to log in to your eBay account to see all of them.

17 December 2006

Sermon for the Third Sunday in Advent - "Rejoice!"

On Thursday morning, Joel Beckrich was sentenced to at least 30 years in prison for the murder of Nancy Everson, the mother of Grant Everson, who had planned the murder of both his parents. Grant’s father, Tom, survived the attack but has struggled, for obvious reasons, during the trials for the murder of his wife. The Minneapolis Star Tribune story included this sentence in Friday morning’s edition: “[Tom Everson] said he doesn't hate Beckrich but also doesn't have the power to forgive him.”[1]

I can’t imagine what Tom Everson must be going through this Christmas, but I know it must be horrible. Any pastor worth his or her collar would never question Tom Everson saying that he doesn’t have the power to forgive. For us, forgiveness is a work of years, a practice developed over time through dedication and commitment. Forgiveness is not a one-time thing.

All too often, we think that forgiveness needs an act of repentance before it works. At the very least, “I’m sorry” seems to be a minimum requirement – after all, without both parties acknowledging that sin has happened, there’s no point to forgiveness, is there? How can you forgive someone who isn’t sorry in the least for what they’ve done to you?

But today’s readings from Zephaniah and Philippians paint a very different picture. Not once does God demand repentance through Zephaniah or Paul before forgiving sins and rejoicing over their forgiveness. God does not stand over Israel like a scolding mother, demanding that the people “say you’re sorry and MEAN IT!” Read these verses again:

“The Lord has taken away the judgments against you…the Lord will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near...”

God is not after an apology here, though if anyone is due an apology from us it would be our Creator. You and I know far too well how easily we stain the lives God has given us with sin. It’s not a matter of apologizing to God – in our case, it would first be a matter of knowing where to start.

But God doesn’t demand an apology – God does something far more reckless. Instead of standing with arms crossed and one foot tapping, waiting for the stammered apology of sinners who know they’re in the soup, God does what God wants to do: God forgives. No apologies. No conditions. Nothing but a promise: “I will rejoice over you with gladness, I will renew you in my love; I will exult over you with loud singing.” And if God does so, just because God chooses to do so, is there anything preventing us from doing the same thing toward God?

This Third Sunday in Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday – a Sunday for rejoicing. You’ve already heard our children rejoicing over the coming of Jesus. But the miracle of Christmas is far more than carpenters and virgins, shepherds and kings and a baby in a stable. The miracle of Christmas, the miracle over which we rejoice again today, is the birth of forgiveness itself: Jesus Christ, the anointed Forgiver of God. In Christ forgiveness took on flesh and bone and walked the earth. Jesus created a community grounded in his Father’s everlasting love, and the Holy Spirit works to maintain that community of forgiveness today. Therefore, we rejoice: for God has come near in forgiveness and we are made whole again.

So I say to you, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Some of you haven’t been with us in a while – but I’m glad you’re here today, to hear again about the coming of Christ, the coming of forgiveness. Come back again soon, and bring your kids – because you won’t hear the message of God’s forgiveness anywhere else. But most importantly I tell you this: Rejoice! Some of you have been here every week – but maybe you haven’t heard this word of forgiveness for far too long. You’ve begun to look at everyone around you as if they weren’t worthy of forgiveness. Maybe you look at yourself as if you weren’t worthy of forgiveness. I’m glad you’re here today to hear about the coming of Christ, the coming of forgiveness. Rejoice! Some of you come carrying heavy burdens of grief, or perhaps someone has sinned against you and has not asked for forgiveness. You don’t have the power to forgive – yet. You will: trust in Christ and his promises. Forgiveness is coming – Rejoice! Some of you have sinned greatly against another, so greatly you’re afraid to ask for forgiveness, and so you’re living apart from your sin as if you could run away from it forever. Forgiveness is coming – Christ is coming – rejoice.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.”

15 December 2006

YIPPEE - Hate Mail!

Oh, trust me - I'm awake now.

I received this letter in response to an earlier post about U.S. Congressman - elect Keith Ellison, which I also sent to the editorial page of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. They published it on Sunday, 3 December.

In regard to the argument of the letter (which totally missed the point of my own, I might add), I would say the following: I think the country we'd have today, if 'founded' upon the Qu'ran, would bear a suspicious resemblance to the totalitarian state our more zealous Bible-beaters would create for us. I'm glad that I live in neither - and I'll continue to fight to keep it that way. The Bible does not bear everlasting truth of its own accord - it bears the everlasting Word of God, Jesus Christ, and from the Bible I learn far more about my own sinfulness and my need for Christ Himself than I do about the sinfulness of the world around me. If more people would actually listen to Jesus' words rather than looking for self-justification in God's word, then maybe the body of Christ would be seen more charitably.

I don't think I need to explain myself any further in regard to the post. I will, however, note that this unsigned letter arrived at our house in a holiday-theme envelope imprinted with a festive holiday wreath, a Jesus fish sticker in the return address location, and another imprint reading, "God's best to you! Christ's blessings on you!" (Philemon 1-3 The Message). Please also note the extensive clip art work, including the layering of the circle/slash over the Qu'ran AND the multicolored type. This was not some slap-dash bit of unsigned commentary - it took some work.

In the end, I still feel pretty good about this. Apparently I'm still pissing off the right kind of people.

Yuletide Friday Five

For this mid-December Friday Five, let's explore some Yuletide favorites.

1) It's a Wonderful Life--Is it? Do you remember seeing it for the first time?
I'm sure I will - when I finally do see the whole thing. I've never watched this movie from beginning to end; I've only seen the last scene, and that only once.

2) Miracle on 34th Street--old version or new?
Again, having only seen the new version, I'd have to go with "new." But apparently we were so busy having Swedish & German Christmas celebrations as kids that we missed much of the "American" experience. I did, however, see Rudolph and Frosty and Charlie Brown numerous times.

3) Do you have a favorite incarnation of Mr. Scrooge?
Ahhh - great question. Lately Patrick Stewart has been my favorite. George C. Scott was also great, although Scro
oge really should be close to emaciated, right? Michael Caine is a great actor, but the Muppet version was just too nice for my taste - "A Christmas Carol" is not a happy story until the very end.

4) Why should it be a problem for an elf to be a dentist? I've been watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for years now, and I still don't get it.
It's called a plot device - without it Hermie has no motivation for leaving Santa's shop. English majors, can I get an "Amen?"

5) Who's the scariest character in Christmas specials/movies?
* The Bumble
* The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Muppet Version
* That Mean Magician Who Tries to Melt Frosty
* Your Nomination
My Nomination: Santa from "A Nightmare Before Christmas." Those eyes just creep me out, man.

14 December 2006

Not a Heretic: WHOOPEE!

You scored as Chalcedon compliant. You are Chalcedon compliant. Congratulations, you're not a heretic. You believe that Jesus is truly God and truly man and like us in every respect, apart from sin. Officially approved in 451.

Chalcedon compliant




























Are you a heretic?
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Navel Gazing? Naaah - Novel Uses for Navel Lint!

There are some who will say this whole weblog thing is just an exercise in navel-gazing (ya feel me, Jeremy?) Here's evidence to the contrary, courtesy of Real Live Preacher, his propensity for odd gifts, and a completely twisted individual who obviously knows how to use eBay.

You can't make this stuff up - and I'll warn you, swallow that coffee before you start reading.

13 December 2006

Christmas Meme

1. Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate?

Hot Chocolate, for two reasons: first, I love chocolate and second, the thought of drinking warm eggs is not particularly appealing to me. I've dreamed about the river of chocolate from Charlie & the Chocolate Factory; is that wrong?

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

I'm not sure - Santa has us on the "Soon to be Added" list for Christmas 2007. Guess we'll find out then, eh?

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

White lights on house and tree and everything else. White lights on the house when I can get up off my lazy butt and put them up (like next year).

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

Nope - wouldn't even know where to get it.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

Beloved is a "soon as the Thanksgiving turkey is cool" decorations person. Me, I'd prefer to wait - but with no specific reason other than I'm a charter member of the Society for the Preservation of Advent.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish?

Mmmmm - potato sausage. Mmmmm - ostekaka. Mmmmm - Grandma's Swedish tea ring. Mmmmm - krumkaka. Mmmmm - lefse. Mmmmm - lutefisk - WAIT, NO! BLECCCCHHH!

7. Favorite Holiday memory as a child?

First, the Christmas Eve service, which should be held at 10:00 or later - bedtime be damned. Singing "Silent Night" with only our candles to light the dark sanctuary. Smell of pine and beeswax and the snow outside (not to mention mom's chili in our stomachs and on our breath - wonder why no one would sit in front of us?)

Then we would go to my grandparents house on Christmas Day - either to my mom's parents in Winside or my dad's parents just a mile from our farm. All my cousins would be there, and we would badger our uncles to come outside and play football. Usually we'd play Monopoly if it was too cold for football.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

I honestly don't remember. I'll have to ask my parents. I think in some small way I still believe in Santa; at least, I believe in a good-hearted saint who gives children gifts to celebrate the birth of Christ. Maybe I actually believe more in St. Nicholas than Santa? Hard to say.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

Yes - and I'm not sure how that tradition will continue once Little Miss makes her arrival. Right now, we've opened "our" gifts on Christmas Eve every year, but next year we may wait until Christmas morning to share it with our little one.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas Tree?

We would need to HAVE a tree in order to decorate. This year with all the rush and bother of Impending Parenthood and the annual Trip to See the Family we just decided not to have a tree. I'm wondering when I wandered into a John Grisham novel...

11. Snow! Love it or Dread it?

LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE snow. Biggest disappointment about Minnesota thus far has been the wimpy winters we've had in most of the time I've been here. I honestly can't get enough of the stuff, even when I have to shovel it by hand.

12. Can you ice skate?

Will I fall down lots? No. Am I Brian Boitano? No.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

This is going to sound weird, but one of the most meaningful gifts I've received was from my ex-wife while we were dating. As a summer camp site manager I had taken some neat pictures of Tipi Village - she got them enlarged & professionally framed, and even now, ten years later and thousands of miles apart, those pictures still hang in my house. Not a favorite gift - those would be too many to mention. But a meaningful gift nonetheless.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?

Time with family, without a question. It's such a treasure because we're so far away from family; Beloved's in Oregon, mine in Nebraska (with the exception of Beloved's sister & her family in the Cities). The Christmas flight to Eugene or drive to Wakefield is about the longest day of the year.

15. What is your favorite Holiday Dessert?

All of them - except mincemeat or sour cream raisin pie. I may try to make ostekaka this year, if I can find Grandma Johnson's recipe.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Probably soup & songs on Christmas Eve. A few years ago I taped a couple of Lutheran college Christmas Concerts on public TV and I like to pop that video in while we make supper. Hopefully they'll have new ones on this year, since our congregation is only having one Christmas Eve service - we'll be home together all night and we'll have lots of time for singing.

17. What tops your tree?

I bought an angel at a local gift shop the first year I was in Barrett. It's technically an ornament, not a tree topper, but it's beautiful and we like it. See above for why it's not up this year.

18.Which do you prefer giving or receiving?

The only thing I don't like about giving is not knowing if I've done well. Like this year: my brother's present was an easy one, but Beloved's has been very difficult to figure out.

19. What is your favorite Christmas Song?

I actually like a lot of Advent songs more than Christmas songs. "E'en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come" is a favorite, as is "Comfort, Comfort Now My People" "Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying" gets me every time. "The Promise" and "Immanuel" by Michael Card, and also "Don Oiche Ud I mBeithil" by the Chieftains and Burgess Meredith. "Of the Father's Love Begotten" and "Once In Royal David's City" are also beautiful Christmas songs. I used to love "O Holy Night" but the overkill has done me in this year. Can we pass a moratorium on that one for a few years so my ears can recover?

As for "secular" songs, I heard an Elmer Fudd version of "Blue Christmas" a few years ago that never fails to bring me to tears of laughter.

20. Candy Canes! Yuck or Yum?

Yum, I guess - but no great desire either way, TBH.

Now you've read this - now you're tagged. Your turn!

12 December 2006

Jan Edmiston - Addiction & Hitting Rock Bottom

Think this is a post about drugs or alcohol? Think again - it's a thoughtful post about churches addicted (dare I say in bondage to) their picture of who they should be. This is some insightful thinking here - please read it.

10 December 2006

Sermon for 10 December 2006 - "Small - Painful - Good"

That’s quite a list of persons in the reading from Luke this morning. Tiberius was the second Emperor of Rome, the adopted stepson of Augustus, the first emperor and the successor to Julius Caesar. Tiberius’ mother, Livia, schemed, plotted and murdered to elevate her son to the throne. Tiberius was a person of great importance.

Pontius Pilate was given the unenviable task of trying to stand between the Jewish faith and the Roman government he served. By most accounts Pilate was a harsh man in a harsh situation, with the power to order the execution of troublemakers if he deemed it necessary. Pilate was a person of great importance.

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, the ruler of Judea who threatened Jesus’ life just after He was born in Bethlehem. Herod Antipas and his brother Philip were part of a family that held on to its power by any means necessary. Herod the Great is known in history for killing his own sons to maintain his power. Antipas was a person of great importance.

Lysanias was supposedly the grandson of Ptolemy, one of several men who fought for power after the death of Julius Caesar. Lysanias was the ruler of Abilene, a district between Damascus and Galilee. Lysanias was a person of great importance.

Annas and Caiaphas were high priests of the Jewish faith, the leaders of their religion and responsible for the well-being of their people and the care and maintenance of the Jerusalem Temple. Annas was the father of Caiaphas and several other men who served as high priests. Annas and Caiaphas were people of great importance.
Yet after listing all of these great and important people, God says to us, “my word came to John, son of Zechariah, in the wilderness.” God started small by starting with John.

Listing all of those people of great importance was indeed important. In the time Luke was writing, history was recorded in reference to the people of great importance and their rule. So identifying the time as the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius was necessary – it tells us what time Luke was describing and what was going on in the world. You do this yourselves in this community: this church building was built when Art Wickstrom was the pastor.

But in the gospel of Luke, God used the great as a reference for the small, who are the main actors in God’s story. God used Tiberius, Pilate, Antipas, Lysanias, Annas and Caiaphas to frame a picture of what God was doing – and in the center of that frame was God’s small-time hero, John the son of Zechariah. Zechariah, a priest from a town so small that history can’t remember its name. Zechariah, whose name means “the Lord remembers.” John, whose name means “the Lord shows favor.” In the time of great emperors, governors, tyrants and priests, God remembered God’s people, and God showed favor to them. God’s word came to the small, the forgotten, a man dedicated to God from his birth and living in the wilderness. God did not forget the great and mighty; far from it. God simply chose to speak to the great and mighty through the voice of those who are not. God started small.

But the message was not one that was easily heard. The message John the son of Zechariah brought was one of pain and sorrow. For years the people, great and small alike, delighted in knowing that they were the covenant people, those whom God had chosen. But the people were confused and mistaken. The people, great and small alike, thought that the covenant was the thing which would be their salvation. The people had forgotten that GOD was the one who made the covenant with them, and the people forgot that God Himself would be their salvation. Instead of clinging to God, the people clung to the covenant, and so they thought that if they offered the right sacrifices and avoided the wrong kind of people, the covenant would save them. The people were painfully wrong.

The people lived in this pain for generation upon generation. The people brought this pain upon themselves by mistaking the covenant for God Himself. God reminded the people that the covenant was indeed important and a source of great delight – but God wanted the people to love God, not the covenant God had made. The people thought that with the covenant, they could work hard and make themselves holy in the eyes of God through their righteousness and holiness. God wanted the people to be righteous and holy, of course, but the people made their righteousness and holiness more important than their neighbors or their friends. The people made their righteousness and holiness more important than God. The painful truth was that the people had become their own worst enemies. When John the son of Zechariah came to speak God’s word to the people, he came like one who refined and purified silver: he brought a word from God that burned the people and all of their hope in righteousness and holiness. John the son of Zechariah came preaching words that rescued the people from their worst enemy: themselves. Every time God had sent prophets to the people, their words had painfully burned in the people’s hearts. Now John had come, the last of God’s prophets, and John’s words painfully burned them again.

But some pains serve a good purpose, and some words burn in order to purify. When God told the people to be ready, to repent and believe and look for the coming of God’s anointed, the world began to change. This small prophet, this John son of Zechariah, who came baptizing in repentance, brought good to the people through his painful words. Some heard God speaking through John and repented: they turned away from their never-ending pursuit of ritual and sacrifice and turned toward a living relationship with God.

The small change that started in a few people here and there began to infect the world, and in a few short years many had heard the good news that God was among the people in Jesus of Nazareth. He was Emmanuel – God with us – and He was God’s own Son, living and walking among the people and teaching what it truly meant to be God’s covenant people. Jesus also started small; he was raised in Nazareth, an unremarkable town far from the seats of power in Jerusalem or Rome. Jesus also spoke painful words: he taught that the covenant was nothing unless its author, God the Creator, was everything.

Jesus taught the people that holiness was worthless if the people around suffered. Jesus taught that righteousness was worthless if the people around you lived in poverty and fear. Jesus taught that the covenant was a thing God had kept even when the people had broken it. Jesus taught that the key element of the covenant was not power or strength or might or revenge or justice or even holiness: it was love – overwhelming, steadfast, unending love. These words and these teachings were small – given in personal conversation or private moments. These words and these teachings were painful – they showed the people how long they had lived apart from God. But most of all, these words and these teachings were good.

Long after Jesus’ time, a man named Paul who followed Jesus wrote a letter to a church in Philippi. In this letter Paul said, “the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” Paul knew that the beginning of that good work among those people had been small: Paul had started it himself with just a few people listening and learning about Jesus. Paul knew that the beginning of that good work had been painful: whenever people heard of Jesus and what He had done, their hearts burned within them and they knew that their sins were many. But Paul knew that the good news, which often starts small and causes pain, would bring about a good work in the end. Paul knew, as Jesus had known and John had known, that God’s word is always a call to a people living in darkness to step into the light and begin a new journey. Paul knew, as Jesus and John had known, that the refining and purifying word of God is worth the pain it causes and much greater than it may seem at the start. Paul knew, as Jesus and John had known, that all people, the great and mighty and the small and insignificant alike, were God’s people, children of the same heavenly Father and continually being refined, purified and changed by the small, painful, good word of God. So Paul told his beloved community that God was still beginning a good work in them, and Paul prayed that their “love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight.” Paul prayed that what God had started would continue in the people until the day when Jesus would come again.

So here we are today, the covenant people of God. Many think that we come together to impress God with our deeds of righteousness and holiness – that we wait for God to come again so that we will be vindicated and sinners will be condemned. But we know better. We know that the power of God within us started small: a word, maybe a song, a friend holding out a hand in a time of sorrow or an enemy offering forgiveness when we did not deserve it. We know that the power of God within us has caused pain at times: realizing we have sinned, feeling as if we were unworthy of life itself, wondering if we could ever be what God wants us to be, feeling as if God does nothing but judge and condemn us for our wickedness. Most of all, we know that power of God within us is good. We are God’s covenant people because God’s covenant is love itself, unending and always beginning a good work in us. We know that God’s Advent is love incarnate: Jesus born into frail flesh that can be wounded but can also bear the burden of love on the cross. This is God’s word from the wilderness: make your hearts and lives ready for the small, painful, good word of God to begin a good work in you.” Amen.

09 December 2006

Fa-la-la-la-la, La Friday Five

Reverendmother here... those of you who read my blog know I have a love-hate relationship with the 24/7 Christmas music we're subjected treated to in stores and radio (in the U.S. at least). It gets too sentimentally sticky-sweet sometimes, yet I find myself unable to resist it. Nothing says "it's Christmas" to me like John Denver and Rolf the Dog singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." So...

1. A favorite 'secular' Christmas song. Wow, that's tough. I suppose "Christmas in the Trenches" by John McCutcheon might qualify. Other than that, I pretty much despise all of them. Oh, wait: the "Elmer Fudd" version of "Blue Christmas" is great, for comedic value only.

2. Christmas song that chokes you up (maybe even in spite of yourself--the cheesier the better) "The Music of Christmas" by Steven Curtis Chapman. Just seems to get me every time. But it's certainly not a "secular" Christmas song. And I agree with Reverendmother: Rolf and John Denver do choke me up quite a bit, in spite of myself.

3. Christmas song that makes you want to stuff your ears with chestnuts roasted on an open fire. "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer," "It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas," "Little Drummer Boy" and anything you hear in every Christmas movie where the name Jesus is only mentioned as a profanity. Fa-la-la-la-la, indeed.

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas: is there *any* redeeming value to that song? Discuss. Sure: the Muppets recorded it on the aforementioned Christmas album. Miss Piggy singing, "Five - GOO - OLD haRINGGGGGGGS ba dum dump" is comedy gold. Not to mention the janitor foghorning his way through "eleven pipers piping." "Is nothing sacred?"

5. A favorite Christmas album. I do like "When My Heart Finds Christmas" by Harry Connick, Jr. Also the Stan Kenton Christmas album (can't remember the title): hearing the Kenton Orchestra blazing through "Angels We Have Heard On High" is just COOL. But my favorite Christmas album by far would be "The Bells of Dublin" by the Chieftains. Beautiful music, great guest singers (Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, etc) and two tracks featuring Kevin Conneff singing sean nos: "O the Holly She Bears a Berry" and "The Wren in the Furze." The only blemish on this album is a CLUNKER of a recording of "O Holy Night." It's so bad I've considered dubbing a copy CD without the offending track. But otherwise it's a gem of an album.

07 December 2006

Well, You Learn Something New Every Day

We went to breastfeeding class tonight. Of course, considering that only one of "we" has the requisite equipment, "we" made jokes about the fact that "we" were going to breastfeeding class.

It seems that "we" were wrong. According to our instructor (and Wikipedia), it is possible to induce male lactation through stimulation over a period of months. Men have all the necessary equipment: mammary glands, nipples, etc - we just don't have the storage capacity that women have.

I'll admit that I shut up right quick with my smart-assing the moment our instructor dropped this particular bomb. Then some other guy said "Don't even think about it" to his partner, we laughed, and the moment passed.

So, that was the lesson for today. Thankfully, I convinced Beloved that today's lesson could remain untested.

Character and the Legacy of Bonhoeffer

The December edition of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics is entitled "Character and the Legacy of Bonhoeffer." It includes articles by Martha Stortz and Lisa Dahill, among others. Find it here.

06 December 2006

"The Nativity Story" (In Which a Movie is Discussed and Marketing Jesus is Pooh-poohed)

Becky Garrison, senior editor of The Wittenburg Door and all-around cool Christian writer, wrote a review of The Nativity Story and some thoughts on her experience at a pre-screening complete with a pitch for selling the movie. Find it here.

Beloved and I also attended a pre-screening, one week ago today, to be precise. We were invited by the local movieplex. They gave us free popcorn & soda (minor whine: why is it that the free stuff comes in tiny little cups - do they order them just for freebies?) and pointed us in the direction of the theater showing the movie. Afterwards, the manager told us there were posters, trailer DVDs and other stuff up front if we wanted them - but we weren't pressured to take them, nor did I ever get the feeling that this was more than a local theater owner giving us a chance to check out the movie before our people asked us if they should bring their families or not. It was nice, actually, and I appreciated the gesture.

On the whole, I thought the movie was great. Outside of the strange accents (I don't even know what an Aramaic accent would sound like, but I'll bet it doesn't sound like the Queen's English), I felt like the director/producers captured the feel of the times. I especially appreciated the depiction of the perilous environment into which Christ was born. 21st century Americans have no way of understanding the danger of living under foreign occupation; this movie captured that danger and made us understand that Jesus was born in fragile times. God-with-us meant that God became fragile and dependent; in Jesus the Creator of the world needed to be sheltered from that very same world. It's a remarkable thing to consider, and the movie made me think of it in a new way. No one movie/book/illustration can ever capture the wonder of the birth of Christ - and maybe that's a good thing.

04 December 2006

Birthday Meme

Courtesy of Carmel.

The Rules:
1) Go to Wikipedia
2) In the search box, type your birth month and day but not the year.
3) List three events that happened on your birthday
4) List two important birthdays and one death
5) One holiday or observance (if any)

My Birthday: May 5
My Events
1260 - Kublai Khan becomes ruler of the Mongol Empire.
1891 - The Music Hall in New York (now known as Carnegie Hall) has its grand opening and first public performance, with Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky as the guest conductor.
1925 - Scopes Trial: John T. Scopes is served an arrest warrant for teaching evolution in violation of the Butler Act.

People Who Share My Birthday
1813 - Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher (d. 1855)
1818 - Karl Marx, German political philosopher (d. 1883)
1943 - Michael Palin, British writer, actor, and comedian
1944 - John Rhys-Davies, Welsh actor
(I know that's four, but Michael Palin & John Rhys-Davies are two of my favorite actors. Imagine: I share a birthday with Gimli and K-K-K-K-Ken!)

People Who Died on my Birthday
1525 - Frederick III of Saxony (b. 1463)
1821 - Napoleon I of France (b. 1769)

Holidays & Observances
Cinco de Mayo (duh)
International No Pants Day
(In honor of my brother earning his Master's Degree on my birthday in 2007, I shall NOT be observing International No Pants Day this year.)

100 books No. 60

Anansi Boys is a wonderfully entertaining novel set in the universe Gaiman created in American Gods, though the connection is only through common characters, not a shared plot or anything like that. Gaiman's writing is, as always, sharp, witty and fresh - nothing feels cliched or even mundane in his rich, humourous writing.

The plot will be obvious, so no need to summarize here. What really charmed me was the audio version I downloaded. Lenny Henry is an incredible vocal talent: in a cast that required fully a dozen separate voices, Henry was always spot on in his inflections and accents and brought an already engaging story even more to life. 5 stars for the novel, 5 stars for the audio version.

03 December 2006

Sermon for the First Sunday in Advent - "Ready for...What?"

In a recent episode of the television show Grey’s Anatomy, a group of male doctors embark on a camping trip together. Burke and Shepherd, two youngish, virile, single doctors, are taking a fishing trip. They are going off to be mountain men in the wild, complete with a vehicle that looks, as one commentator put it, “kind of like a jeep and kind of like something the Australian army would drive to fight off a kangaroo invasion. Drs. Burke and Shepherd pull up to the front door of a swanky Seattle hotel to pick up The Chief, the head of surgery for the entire hospital. Drs. Burke and Shepherd are ready for a real camping trip: they’ve brought backpacks, hiking boots, hip waders, tents, sleeping bags, the whole nine yards. The Chief walks out of the hotel in a polo, khakis, loafers, carrying a picnic basket and pulling a small suitcase on wheels behind him. He hands the suitcase to Dr. Shepherd and remarks, “This is my first camping trip.” No, really? Within an hour of arriving at their campsite, the Chief realizes that he’s packed for an afternoon in the park, not a night in the wild; the Chief doesn’t have a tent OR a sleeping bag, and he’s going to be VERY uncomfortable because he wasn’t really ready for what was coming.

Every year around this time, we in the church begin to get ready for…something. But while we are looking forward to one thing, it often seems that the world in which we live is getting ready for something else entirely. It makes the difference very uncomfortable at times, more so because we’re not always sure what it is we’re supposed to be prepared for. Someone is showing up for the Advent journey with a picnic basket and a wheelie suitcase, but we’re not sure if it’s us or if it’s the world around us. Maybe it’s both? Hard to say.

Let us pray: Stir up your power, Lord Jesus, and come. Come to us in ways we cannot expect. Come to us in hope when we feel despair. Come to us in comfort when we feel pain. Come to us in wonder when our minds are dulled and deadened by our world’s brokenness. You who came to us once as a child, come to us children now, who are longing to see your face and hear your voice and follow you. Amen.

This First Sunday in Advent isn’t really limited to remembering the birth of Christ. The Latin word “Advent” literally means “coming to.” Advent is a season to remember that just as God once came to us as a child in a manger, God comes to us today in other ways we cannot expect or explain. The Holy Spirit comes to comfort and sustain us in times of trial. God gives us wisdom and courage through the Word that we cannot decipher by ourselves. We live in a time of constant Advent, a time when God’s kingdom has already come to earth in Jesus Christ and has not yet come because Christ has not yet returned to judge the living and the dead. Advent is a new day for the church – the church’s New Year’s Day, if you will, and another step closer to the day when God will bring this world to an end and create a new kingdom, one in which God the Creator, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit will rule in truth and justice forever. We believe that this Advent is coming, someday, and we gather today to remind ourselves that Christ is coming soon. We gather to make ourselves ready.

But ready for…what, exactly? What are we getting ready for? The world around us is certainly getting ready for something, and it seems vaguely aligned with the coming of the Christ, but are presents and eggnog part of the preparation for the Christ Child? There have been riots at electronics stores over the newest video game systems – released just in time for purchase to celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace. Victoria’s Secret is holding a Christmas sale – am I the only one who sees the irony in selling lingerie to celebrate a child born of a virgin? The day after Thanksgiving is now known as Black Friday, and it is celebrated as a de facto national holiday. Retailers depend on Christmas to bring their finances into balance for the year. Is this how we get ready for the return of Christ?

But - do we need to do the opposite? Do we stand next to the Salvation Army bell ringers and berate every shopper for neglecting to honor “the reason for the season?” Do we boycott retailers who refuse to say “Merry Christmas” in their promotions? Do we make jokes about the fact that the song “White Christmas” was written in June by to a swimming pool in Los Angeles by a Jewish songwriter? Do we throw hissy fits about not decorating the house for Christmas the day after Thanksgiving? (That was one of my own contributions last year, but the way) Is this how we get ready for the return of Christ?

No matter how we might try to get ready, I get the feeling that all of us are showing up for the Advent journey with a picnic basket and a wheelie suitcase. It’s not our first trip into this particular wilderness, but no matter how hard we try, we can’t get the packing done just right. You see, we’re not the ones leading the trip, and every year the destination changes. One year Advent comes with joy: a new birth in the family; a first Christmas together for a young married couple; a year of unexpected prosperity for a family accustomed to scraping by. The next year Advent comes with sorrow: someone you love is not with you anymore; a tight financial year for a farming family; the breakup of a marriage means it’s the first year the kids have to work out who’s doing Christmas with whom. Every year the scenery, the directions, the street signs, the whole trip is different, and it is impossible to get ready correctly if you don’t know exactly where you’re going. So here we sit, picnic baskets and wheelie suitcases at the ready, smiling nervously and saying, “No, it’s not my first trip – but I don’t know if I’ve brought everything I need.”

But here’s the good news for today: you don’t need to worry about what to pack. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got the latest high-tech moisture-wicking lightweight waterproof Gore-Tex camping gear or a canvas tent that was sewn during the Eisenhower administration. We are not in the Boy Scouts, and God is not calling us to be prepared – we are simply called to be ready. The prophet Jeremiah tells us the days are surely coming when God will fulfill the promise God has made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. Jeremiah goes on to say that God will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and God will execute justice and righteousness in the land. God is the actor; God is the subject; God is the object; God is the one accomplishing God’s work.

Jesus also says that we need have no fear for what the future may bring: we need only be ready. “There will be signs,” Jesus says, and the signs certainly sound terrifying. But in all of that long passage from Luke’s gospel, the only thing Jesus orders his disciples to do is to be ready and know that redemption from God is drawing near. Jesus talks about the fig tree putting out its leaves and its fruit: do any of us cause the trees to sprout leaves in the spring? No – but we are ready for it when it happens, and we know that change is coming by looking carefully at the world around us. So also Jesus reminds us that God is constantly coming into the world, that we are always in Advent, and that one day the advent of God will be the last advent. But we don’t need to be ready to strike out into the wilderness on our own: we need only be ready for that great and glorious day when it comes.

Traditionally, December is a month of great festivity, especially for Americans. Offices hold their Christmas parties; radio stations play Christmas tunes the whole month long; friends and family travel from far and near to be together; as winter closes in, we raise our lights and warm our houses to keep out winter’s chill. But December is also a month when depression and loneliness also grow to their strongest. The coming of winter itself threatens some of us with Seasonal Affective Disorder – the lack of sunlight actually causes depression. Some of us grieve the loss of loved ones for the first time. The mindless vacuum of consumption and consumerism can suck the joy out of what should be a season of delight. Those far from family and friends must celebrate alone. This year our military is stretched across the globe and the forecast for their safe return isn’t what we wish it could be. Some who struggle with these things and more answer that struggle with more consumption, more alcohol, more attempts to deaden the pain by any means necessary.

But Jesus warns us that this is not the way to “be ready” for the days that are surely coming. Eugene Peterson, who translated the Bible into a contemporary version called “The Message,” translated Luke 21.34 like this: “Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise…”[1]

This Advent we cannot be sure exactly what it is we should be ready for. How is Jesus coming to us today? We can’t know for sure. But we can be ready. We can be watchful for the times and seasons when Jesus comes among us, through His Word, by the Spirit’s power, or in the clouds of heaven to signal the end of the age. The promise is God’s promise, and also God’s work: what is coming is God’s surprise for us, and it will be marvelous to our eyes, I’m sure. We need only be ready. So my prayer for you is that you may be ready, and, as Paul says, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may God so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” Be ready, brothers and sisters, for days are surely coming. Amen.

[1] Peterson, Eugene. The Message. © 2002 by Eugene Peterson, published by NavPress Publishing Group, Colorado Springs, CO. p. 1904