Dear Folks,

The wise men were trying to unravel the mystery of life.  They had studied the ancient books and searched the stars.  They had plotted their journey using the best techniques available to them and planned for a lavish reception at its conclusion, yet they almost missed the news unfolding before their eyes.  The magi were probably high-ranking political advisors to the rulers of their countries, modern day Iraq and Iran, so it makes sense that they would travel to Jerusalem, the capital city, and confer with the leader there, King Herod.  But the answer they were seeking turned out to be nine miles away, in a backwater town named Bethlehem.  When their wandering led them to a poor baby, born of parents in questionable circumstances, they probably bickered about taking a wrong turn somewhere.  What child is this?

Their everyday world was parochial and given to violence, so it must have been bracing to encounter this small tribe of people whose prophets spoke of beating their swords into ploughshares and welcoming the stranger as a holy visitor. In W.H. Auden’s poem, “For the Time Being,” the wise men say it this way: “To discover how to be human now is the reason we follow this star.”  Who was the first to kneel in his sumptuous clothes at that impossibly humble manger?

Given their revelation, it comes as no surprise that the magi “left for their own country by another way,” according to Matthew’s gospel.  On a certain level the wise men were simply being careful as they traveled.  One or more of them had had an unsettling dream that suggested they better not retrace their steps or come into contact with Herod again, so they took an alternate route home.

But consider further who they are and how far they have traveled.  These counselors are learned philosophers from the so-called fertile crescent, whose libraries and religions are much older than that of the Hebrew people they have met.  They have followed a star for many months through a dark desert, carrying symbolic gifts for the one who would be king, and they probably had a pretty good idea of who and what they would find.  I imagine they expected the king to embody some version of “might makes right” or “only the strong survive.”  But the king they discover is vulnerable and arguably powerless, born in a borrowed room with animals nosing around him.  Of course these wise men will go home by another way—everything they were counting on has been turned on its head.  What will home be when they get there?

The star they are following illumines the deepest mystery of life: each fragile human person embodies the power to topple kingdoms of greed and violence.  Love is born at Christmas.

Happy Epiphany.

David

‘Twas the night before Christmas,
and here in this place
the excitement is rising,
in every child’s face.
 
The greens on the walls
have been swagged to and fro.
There’s holly and cedar
‘neath candles aglow.
 
The choirs are all practiced,
the ushers in line,
guilds altar and flower
have made this house shine.
 
The costumes are ready,
the lines learned by heart,
for Inn-keeper, Gabriel,
and Narrator’s part.
 
The grandmas are swooning,
the moms a bit tired,
The dads do their part
‘cause the children are wired.
 
All praise for Miss Maggie,
Miss Viv and LaPlant,
who loved us and taught us
to never say “Can’t.”
 
On Drama! On Donuts!
On Scripture! On time!
Kids teaching each other
makes chaos sublime.
 
And what do you think
Of the Ravens these days,
With Jackson as QB
And running the plays?
 
We’ve got the momentum,
The defense, the spin.
And Harbaugh has said,
“Baby, we just need to win.”
 
But it’s been a tough year
for many nearby
with sisters who passed
and brothers who died.
 
The schools need our help
with funding, in-kind,
so each child progresses
and none left behind.
 
Some streets are too dark,
some jobs are too few.
But B’more can rise
with me and with you.
 
We’ll marshal our forces
and build where we can.
We invest in the future
when we reach out a hand.
 
So we sing the old carols
and tell the sweet tale,
of shepherds and angels
and Jesus’ Noel.
 
He was born in a stable
where the animals fed,
with straw for a blanket
and a manger his bed.
 
And wise men arrive
with gifts that they bring.
What swaddling child
could be praised as a king?
 
But the story is clear
if you listen real close:
the least and the last
meet the heavenly host.
 
And Christmas arrives
when enemies wed,
when the poor are brought in,
and the hungry are fed.
 
It comes without ribbons,
or boxes, or bows.
It comes without presents,
or stockings, or shows.
  
It comes when we welcome
the stranger as guest.
It comes when we offer
each other our best.
 
It comes when there’s peace
in our hearts, in the land.
Christmas comes when we love
each child, sister, and man.
 
~David

Today the PreK – 3rd graders played some Christmas games in Hale Auditorium while we waited to see the Drama and Donuts class production of “The Visit of the Magi”.  I know, I know – it’s not Epiphany yet. But their version was so sweet, such a gift from them to the younger children, that I can’t get caught up in those kinds of details.  They enjoyed performing it and the younger kids enjoyed watching and then getting to participate the second time through as they are always invited to do.

I get it though. The wise men from my crèche at home are still very, very far away, all the way across the room from Mary and Joseph in the stable, waiting to join them on January 6. The baby Jesus won’t be in the manger until I go to bed on Christmas Eve. I always tell my husband where I have hidden him when we set up the crèche so that hopefully one of us will remember. 

The kings had such a long way to go to seek the Lord. I was struck this week by the contrast of their special journey to find the new king with Mary and Elizabeth who were both just going along with their everyday lives when God came to them with the blessing of a new baby. And truth be told, their story resonates with me more than that of the Wise Men. It may be because they are women or because they are from a “lower” station in society than the learned Magi. But I think I relate to them more because of what has been my experience of God. My “a-ha” moments rarely happen when I set out to seek the Lord. They tend to blindside me right where I am at.

I confess that this job does not come as naturally to me as teaching Algebra did. I do a lot of googling! And during this time of year, I come across a lot of Advent calendars in my net surfing. A particular one that was developed by a non-profit design company, saltproject.org, seemed to be in use by quite a few churches of different denominations. The design was sweet, but what drew me were the suggested meditations for lighting the different candles on the Sundays in Advent and the Christ candle on Christmas Eve.

Hope looked down and saw despair. “I will go there,” said Hope.

Peace looked down and saw war. “I will go there,” said Peace.

Joy looked down and saw sorrow. “I will go there,” said Joy.

Love looked down and saw hate. “I will go there,” said Love.

God looked down and saw you. “I will go there,” said God.

I loved Caroline’s message today about blessing every circumstance, both expected and unexpected. Being asked to do this job for our parish was a bit unexpected for me, but today I very much want to bless the circumstance in which I find myself. I praise the Lord for the opportunity to serve the families of this parish. I am very happy because you trust your children with us each week. God has shown care for me by meeting me and blessing me right where I am at!

I wish you and your children a wonderful Christmas holiday full of hope, peace, joy, love and the presence of God. I hope to see you in a couple of weeks when we celebrate Epiphany!

Kathy

Gabriel’s Annunciation

For a moment

I hesitated

on the threshold.

For the space

of a breath

I paused,

unwilling to disturb

her last ordinary moment,

knowing that the next step

would cleave her life:

that this day

would slice her story

in two,

dividing all the days before

from all the ones

to come.

The artists would later

depict the scene:

Mary dazzled

by the archangel,

her head bowed

in humble assent,

awed by the messenger

who condescended

to leave paradise

to bestow such an honor

upon a woman, and mortal.

Yet I tell you

it was I who was dazzled,

I who found myself agape

when I came upon her—

reading, at the loom, in the kitchen,

I cannot now recall;

only that the woman before me—

blessed and full of grace

long before I called her so—

shimmered with how completely

she inhabited herself,

inhabited the space around her,

inhabited the moment

that hung between us.

I wanted to save her

from what I had been sent

to say.

Yet when the time came,

when I had stammered

the invitation

(history would not record

the sweat on my brow,

the pounding of my heart;

would not note

that I said

Do not be afraid

to myself as much as

to her)

it was she

who saved me—

her first deliverance—

her Let it be

not just declaration

to the Divine

but a word of solace,

of soothing,

of benediction

for the angel

in the doorway

who would hesitate

one last time—

just for the space

of a breath

torn from his chest—

before wrenching himself away

from her radiant consent,

her beautiful and

awful yes.

—Jan Richardson 

There is someone shouting in the desert:“Prepare the way for the Lord. Make the road straight for him… Change your hearts! And show by your lives that you have changed.”      Luke 3:4b, 8a (Easy-to-Read Version)

Dear Parents,

Last week we heard about the birth of John the Baptist. This week we heard about the man he grew up to be, a messenger who came to help people prepare for the coming Messiah. We talked about how it was not just an outward preparation with baptism but that he wanted us to prepare our hearts. We took a crumpled up pipe red pipe cleaner and “made it straight” and then shaped it into a heart to remind us of John’s message to share what we have with others, work without grumbling and to be honest and kind. We also shared a snack of “bugs” made with donut hole bodies, pretzel stick legs and antennae and chocolate chip eyes!

This week right when my mind was full of John’s message because of preparing the lessons as well as lighting the peace Advent candle each night, something that rarely ever happens for me anymore happened. I had a fight with the love of my life, my beloved husband of 32 years. I wish I could tell you that it was over something of huge significance. It wasn’t. It was over something small at the end of a long, somewhat annoying day for both of us. We were tired and hungry and trying to get dinner on the table, and seemingly out of nowhere, we each said some unkind things and hurt each other. Dinner followed in an unbearable semi-silence only broken by brief, monosyllabic conversation. It was awful. Inside I felt I was in a desert, dying of thirst, yet so caught up in my anger and hurt that I couldn’t seem to find the way out. I thought of John’s message, and slowly began to try to see my husband’s point of view. It prepared me for when we sat and talked the next morning to come from a place of understanding and compassion instead of anger and pain, and he responded in kind. Our relationship was healed and I would argue stronger than it was. 

Leaving all my friends and family in Texas and coming to Baltimore where I knew no one felt like a desert too. But every time I walk through the doors of Redeemer, I change and I grow in this wonderful community that has welcomed me in. As David said in his sermon this morning, I am learning to turn from my small mindedness, my hardheartedness and my fear. What am I being prepared for here? God with me.

We challenged the children to think of one change they could make this week to share with or be kinder to someone else. You can reinforce this at home by noticing when they do and acknowledge how they are living out their faith. Maybe you can also pick something that is currently difficult in your life, and allow yourself to have a positive perspective shift and notice if anything changes.

I wish you a wonderful week full of joy and hope to see you Sunday!

Kathy

Editor’s Note: Each week that Sunday School is in session Kathy LaPlant, Director of Children’s Ministries sends an email to parents of young children through grade 3 as a follow-up to the morning’s lesson. We will publish them on this blog on Monday mornings.

Dear Folks,

As a four or five-year-old, I used to stand at the door and watch.  Whenever our parents were gone in the evening, I would plant myself at a window by the front door and peer into the deep blue darkness, looking for signs of their returning headlights.  We had a 1960 Chevrolet, with great big globes in the front and wide, thin lights in the back that curved like raised eyebrows, and I would scan the horizon of our front yard for a glimpse of its familiar and comforting silhouette.  Waiting, watching, wondering when the “master of the house” would return, in the words of the Advent reading—a pint-sized sentinel looking out with his nose pressed against the window pane.  I was an ambivalent lookout man, eager for the mischief that my brother and I got into, and also happy for the order that arrived as my dad steered back into the driveway. I wonder if Isaiah ever felt that way, or John the Baptist, or Mary?

I can conjure up the longing I’d feel as a boy on those December nights, a funny combination of excitement and worry, of vulnerability and promise.  We liked being left to our own devices.  But there was fear in it, too, of judgment or being caught unawares or a sense that my siblings and I had been offered a gift that we might squander or break.  “Be good,” my mother would holler, as the screen door slammed behind her, knowing how much trouble we could stir up.

The kingdom of God is like that, both already present and not yet here, like the house your parents left you in while they were out for a party.  The family is everywhere you look, if you have eyes to see it—in rules tacked up by the refrigerator,pictures on the bulletin board, brothers and sisters or neighbors across town,relationships built or broken and waiting for repair.  I would stand at the window worried about my parents’ absence, and my brother Paul would draw me into a game, reminding me without saying anything in particular that the cadence of my father’s voice was in my brother’s stories and laughter, that my mother’s attentiveness was even sweeter in Paul, that our sister was watching with eyes she borrowed from them.  The healing of the human family is in our hands.

What are you looking for this Advent?  Christ has no body but yours, no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.  God is already here.

I hope you’ll be with us this season of Immanuel.  I’ll be at the door looking for you.

Love, David