“He Leadeth Me”

December 31, 2021

Tonight we stand in liminal space and time.  We finish 2021, face 2022, and experience the day.  Some will sleep through the transition.  Some will shoot off firecrackers.  Many will watch the celebrations on TV.  Traditionally it is a partying night for young adults.  But somehow the day calls to us to reflect on the events of 2021.  Will we join the news people that label the year, “The Year of Covid”?  That carriers subtitles of the death of loved people whom we often could not visit to say farewell.  It carries a subtitle of financial instability though many regrouped and found a new way forward.  For students there is a subtitle of “school on zoom.”  Yup, all these things are true.

         Pastor Joseph Gilmore stood up to preach in the middle of the Civil War, March 26, 1862.  He wanted to turn the hearts of the people away from despair and help them find hope so preached on Psalm 23,

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures.

He leads me beside quiet waters,

He refreshes my soul.

That’s as far as he got for he was captivated by the thought of how God was leading.  Later at a friend’s home for lunch the discussion continued.  He scribbled down a poem and went home.  Three years later he was at a different church and opened a hymnal to find a hymn with his poem set to music by the famous musician William Bradbury.  That night he told his wife about finding his poem set to music.  She explained that she had sent the poem in to a Christian periodical that printed the poem.  Bradbury liked the poem so much he set it to music.  People have been blessed ever since.

     At the moment it is often hard to see the hand of God guiding our lives but as we look back at the crossroads and the choices we were faced with, the opportunities that popped up, the people who blessed our lives and even some of the surprise events, often we can sense the hand of God leading us.  Please enjoy this hymn as you reflect.  Happy and Blessed New Year.

Zoom out, Zoom in

December 30, 2021


Luke 2: 35-38

Yesterday we looked at Simeon who just “happened” to be at the Temple when Jesus was presented at 40 days.  He gave us the global perspective as he broke into praise and was able to see in this little baby being presented by a poor couple.  He sw the future light and salvation of the Gentiles.  Amazing.  At the same time a prophetess, Anna, was in the Temple and she came up and “gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.”  She gives a glocal flavor.  Luke ties her down by name, by tribe, by age, by profession and by place.  Global and glocal insights were in the Temple that day.  God works on the “big picture” and on the details in our lives.  Luke adds another interesting detail.  Anna had been waiting eighty-four years after the death of her husband for the answer to her prayer.

         God works on the big pictures of our lives but he is also working on those prayer requests that it is so easy to loose hope about.  I love the scene in Fiddler on the Roof when the father looks to heaven and speaks to God and asks that while God is over seeing famines and wars “and all those things that bring people together”, he asks if God could help his horse that has gone lame again-while he’s in the neighborhood.  Delightful.

         So as we look forward to New Years Eve and the end of 2021, in spite of the big issues that have confronted all of us, there are also the daily blessings that we often pass over as we wait for the answer to that prayer that is on the tip of our tongue.  Maybe it is for a wayward child or grandchild.  Maybe it is for the strength to weather a disease that is eating away yours or your friend’s strength.  Perhaps it is financial.  Let us make a list of the big and small prayer requests on our hearts as we enter 2022.  God is listening!  Blessings.

Simeon: “the big picture”

December 29, 2021

Luke 2:22-35

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”

About forty days after Jesus was born, Joseph and Mary traveled to Jerusalem and she was purified and Jesus was presented in the temple.  At the same time a righteous and devout man named Simeon came to the temple, led by the Holy Spirit.  He saw Jesus and realized who this baby was and what was happening.  He saw “the big picture.”  What did he see?  He saw a baby but he also saw beyond the baby to the promise of God being fulfilled.  He saw God fulfilling prophecy, bringing salvation, and giving light for revelation to even the Gentiles!  He “the big picture.”

         The people in the Christmas Narrative have the ability to see beyond the obvious and to comprehend that God is working in ways that will fulfill God’s purposes, not just make them healthy, wealthy and prosperous.  The shepherds look beyond the ordinary stable and all it’s humbleness and see God’s plan for peace between God and his creation.  The wise men follow a star that takes them to Bethlehem and they trust and worship a newborn king.  Simeon, a righteous and devout man, is able to see how God works miracles and his purposes even in the lives of a poor, humble young couple presenting their first son in the Temple.

         How do we see?  Are we like a mirror that highlights the wrinkles and blemishes or do we look through the eyes of faith at the world around us?  It is somewhat like asking if we see the glass half empty or if we see it half full.  A interesting challenge might be to fold a paper in half and on one side write some of the obvious “flaws” that have discouraged you about last year e.g., Covid, inflation, migration but then on the other side make a list of the blessings you experienced e.g. sunrises, birthdays, friends.  Take time to pray about the positive experiences and ask God to forgive any criticalness about the negative ones.  He is working but it is not always obvious.


December 28, 2021

Luke 2:22-24

         Leviticus 12 passes down instructions from God through Moses.  At 8 days circumcision of male babies was a custom that started with Abraham that was an initiation into the Jewish community.  For the next 33 days the mother was still considered unclean.  Whether we agree or not, a system was set up to protect women from another immediate pregnancy until her hormones settled and the baby had a chance to establish himself also.  At this time there was only the Temple in Jerusalem so Mary and Joseph traveled to Jerusalem.  It is difficult to imagine parents committing to a trip like that with a woman barely a month after birth but this couple did. 

         Commitment is a word that we associate with young adults shying away from marriage ceremonies.  Our lives are so mobile now that those deep communal roots are often found in rural settings.  Living together before marriage has become much more socially acceptable and the commitment of marriage seems more easily broken. Like marriage, I note that this purification was a public ceremony with people around at the Temple.  We will listen to the testimony of two of them in the next two days.  Purification was public and involved the bringing of a gift, a sign, a pair of doves as Joseph and Mary were poor.  There must have been a priest who said the words and received the doves.  This was a serious ceremony.

         So how serious are we about our commitment to our faith?  I have chuckled at the saying that someone is a “CEO Christian” – Christmas, Easter, and Other times like funerals.  I have also heard the title “Frequent Flyer” meaning that someone flaps through church periodically. As we finish 2021 and start 2022, let us think of spiritual disciplines we might commit to for the coming year.  We want God to be committed to our well-being.  What might we consider a good “spiritual gift” we bring – Scripture reading? Prayer?  Despite the stereotype, putting our money where our heart is may be a fair expression of our commitment. Church attendance, perhaps not every week but often enough to be a habit.  Sending our children to church?  Joining some group at church?  Then again, an exercise habit can add for instance a lap of prayer as I swim.  What will be your part?  It is true that relationships call for commitment, are public, and usually involve some sort of gifting to the other.  Let’s step up to the plate this coming year with our spiritual relationships!  Blessings.

“On the eighth day..”

December 27, 2021

Luke 2:21 “on the eighth day when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.”

The Christmas season tracts certain important events in the birth narrative of Jesus.  The two weeks following Christmas are considered Christmastide.  December 25 was set in the 4th century as Christmas Day as it corresponds to the winter solstice on the Roman calendar and is nine months after March 25, the spring equinox.  The Eastern Orthodox Christians go by the Julian calendar so Christmas falls on what is January 7 on western calendars. This is approximately 12 to 14 days later.

         Leviticus 12 gives instructions through Moses that a woman, after the birth of a son, is unclean for seven days and then on the eighth day the baby boy is to be circumcised and the mother then waits 33 days to be purified from her bleeding.  Mary and Joseph are following Mosaic Law that protected women plus circumcision of the child was an important ritual passed down from Abraham and noted by doctor Luke.  According to African tradition a circumcised person is considered a full member of the community and identified by name.  We would say the same about infant baptism.  Circumcision becomes a divisive topic in early Christianity.  Was it necessary for converts to be circumcised to be Christians?  Acts 15 talks about the Jerusalem council where this topic was debated. Quite a bit was said in Paul’s epistles, letters, about circumcision.

         Galatians 5:5-7 clarifies, “For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” 

Jesus was circumcised to follow Jewish tradition but the equivalent for us today is for our hearts to be circumcised to faith and love.  Our sinful selves are selfish and we are prone to wander but faith calls us back to focus on Jesus and love. Committing to relationship with Jesus is equivalent to circumcision of the heart.

         We are coming to the end of 2021 and one of the questions we might reflect about is the condition of our hearts – circumcised to love or struggling with selfishness and self-centeredness.  To whom are we committed in 2022?  And then who would we pray to be more loving towards this coming year? Set just one or two small, measurable goals that are achievable.  Perhaps “love” is too big a word and so you might want to use a different word like “tolerant” or “kind” or “forgiving.”  All point to improved relationship, not only with God but also with people around you.  You can always add more names as you work on this.  Blessings as you seek to grow in 2022! 

First Sunday in Christmas

December 26, 2021

First Reading: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26

18Samuel was ministering before the Lord, a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19His mother used to make for him a little robe and take it to him each year, when she went up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice. 20Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, and say, “May the Lord repay you with children by this woman for the gift that she made to the Lord”; and then they would return to their home.
  26Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favor with the Lord and with the people.

Psalm: Psalm 148

1Hallelujah! Praise the Lord| from the heavens;
  praise God in the heights.
2Praise the Lord, all you angels;
  sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.
3Praise the Lord, sun and moon;
  sing praise, all you shining stars.
4Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens,
  and you waters above the heavens.
5Let them praise the name of the Lord,
  who commanded, and they were created,
6who made them stand fast forever and ever,
  giving them a law that shall not pass away. 
7Praise the Lord from the earth,
  you sea monsters and all deeps;
8fire and hail, snow and fog,
  tempestuous wind, doing God’s will;
9mountains and all hills,
  fruit trees and all cedars;
10wild beasts and all cattle,
  creeping things and flying birds;
11sovereigns of the earth and all peoples,
  princes and all rulers of the world;
12young men and maidens,
  old and young together. 
13Let them praise the name of the Lord,
  whose name only is exalted, whose splendor is over earth and heaven.
14The Lord has raised up strength for the people and praise for  all faithful servants,
  the children of Israel, a people who are near  the Lord. Hallelujah! 

Second Reading: Colossians 3:12-17

12As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Gospel: Luke 2:41-52

41Now every year [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he said to them. 51Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.
  52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Turn to your neighbor and share where you were at age 12.  Does anything stand out in your memory?

Let us pray:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, My Rock and My Redeemer.


Where were you at age 12?  For most of us that puts us somewhere around grade 6 or 7.  When I was growing up, at age 12 my family and I made an important life decision.  My father and mother were masonic.  We were attending a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, and it was time for us to decide if I would follow my parents foot steps or would I go to confirmation classes.  The confirmation classes met three times a week after school for two or three years.  I could not do both.  We had to choose.  That choice impacted the direction of my life.

         Today is the first Sunday in the Christmas season. We sit in the afterglow of the Christmas meal, presents, phone calls and all that yesterday included.  For many it included the grief of death of loved ones and fear of the virus.  The Christmas season will be two Sundays this year and will carry us into the new calendar year and through Epiphany on January 6 when we celebrate the wise men.  Traditionally these two Sundays are dedicated to looking at the childhood of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel. from which we draw the texts for Sunday worship this church year, includes Jesus being circumcised, Anna and Simeon praising , the return to Nazareth and then it jumps to our text today, Jesus in the temple at age 12.  He is not quite an adult, no longer a child, what we call a youth. 

         Luke does not include the wise men, the slaughter of the innocents, the flight to Egypt.  We will have to wait until next year and the Gospel of Matthew to delve into those stories.  So why does doctor Luke include this story of Jesus in the Temple?  What is God trying to tell us today?  I would like to propose to you that this scene is a fore-shadow of what was to become formalized as a rite of passage, the bar mitzvah of Jewish boys.  Even as I at age 12 was making decisions about the direction of my life, we see in our reading today an important moment in the life of Christ and actually an important moment in our lives. Likewise we stand at the end of one calendar year and face into our futures and are making decisions.  The world will celebrate January 1 and the ball will drop in New York city.

         Rites of passage are ceremonies that involve mentoring, that officially recognize a status change in culture and signal a change in responsibilities.  Usually they are public and testify to the community. Baptism is probably our earliest experience.  In Kenya a baby was called “a little monkey” until about a year when a goat was killed and the child officially named and welcomed into community.  At baptism we welcome our children into Christian community and we ask sponsors to stand with the parents and we as a congregation pledge to pray and care for the child.  Pastors meet with the families before and explain the responsibilities associated.  Lutherans confirm their youth.  Kenyans circumcise boys at age 14.  Marriage, divorce, age 21, retirement and death are other ceremonies when we gather and walk with friends as they change status, life titles, and identities.

         I looked up “bar mitzvah” on line and learned that from about the Middle Ages, Jewish boys age 13 and Jewish girls age 12 go through this ceremony.  The child becomes a full-fledged member of the Jewish community, morally responsible for his or her actions, and the father is no longer held accountable.  Boys are counted as an adult for a prayer quorum and allowed to read from the Torah, own property and marry.  Luke tells us that Jesus is age 12 and this unique event in his childhood occurred.  Let’s look at what is going on.


46After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions

         Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Jerusalem yearly for Passover.  This is no small deal.  They traveled from the Galilee area in northern Israel to Jerusalem in southern Israel.  Jesus’ parents were spiritually responsible, exposing Jesus to the training of his faith, even though he had been circumcised and was “part of the Jewish flock,” and a special child.  There is no hint that Jesus is suffering from being “an illegitimate” child conceived out of wedlock.  It would appear that he has been incorporated into community and that his parents were not necessarily handling him with kid gloves because he was the son of God.  Joseph and Mary left Jerusalem traveling for a day, assuming Jesus was with his friends.  So our scene is one day of travel, one day of return, and three days of searching.  That is a total of five days of growing anxiety. It took days to retrace their steps with family and friends, racking their brains for where Jesus might have gone missing.  As a parent, I can feel the growing knot in their stomachs.

         “After three days they found him in the temple.”  Jesus has started the rite of passage.  He has secluded himself with the elders and teachers.  He was asking them questions and they were listening to him.  He is no longer a child being oooh-ed over, eliciting praises as with Simeon and Anna.  Jesus has now become someone with whom the teachers are interacting.  He is entering a new phase we know little about.

         So? I hear you asking, or I hope you’re asking.  How does that apply to me?  Can we let this text today speak to us and challenge us about how we identify with our church membership?  Are we like the child Jesus going to Jerusalem, going to church every Sunday for us, expecting the pastor to feed us an interesting sermon and the choir to thrill us with their songs, and  offering our financial gifts or are we interactional in our faith? I certainly understand the limitations of age and the restraints of family life and children but this passage confronts me as Jesus chooses not to travel home with the gang but starts to differentiate himself and define himself.  We are coming to the end of 2021 and possibly setting new year goals and so pondering where we are going to choose to sit this next year and who we would like to learn from and what our questions are.  Will we go with “the gang” or will we search out those opportunities to grow our faith?

         The scene also points to a Jesus who was listening.  I do not think he entered the temple like a cocky youth, setting his elders straight, but there is a sense of humbleness even at this early age.  Jesus was listening and interacting. I find great comfort that the God of the universe is listening and speaking into my human condition even if I have trouble grasping what he is saying.  Jesus is building a relationship with the teachers. It says he listened and they were amazed at his understanding of them!  What do you think that exchange was about over those days?  I wonder what it would have been like to be a fly on that wall!

         This is not a picture of an angry judge growing in his intolerance of sin but of the development of a Good Shepherd, who sat and learned from the elders.  Jesus is beginning to go through the rite of passage of becoming an adult.  He allows himself to be mentored and to learn. This tells us something about our God. I pray we may follow his example in the coming year, actively listening and actively seeking to go deeper in our faith.

Change of Status

Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

The parents don’t get it.  Their nerves are frazzled and they are exhausted with anxiety.  They are focused on the moment and not the big picture.  At times like that our mouths open and words come out, even in-front of the teachers of the temple, and often we sound a bit self centered.  Mary pulls the parent card that implied Jesus was being inconsiderate of his parents. Jesus responds with a rite of passage declaration.  “I must be in my Father’s house.”  This is a huge statement recorded by Luke.

         Jesus is stepping from childhood to adulthood.  Jesus is now acknowledging Joseph as his adopted father but God as his real father.  He is differentiating from birth family and owning responsibility for his actions.  It is the essence of bar mitzvah, of confirmation, of adult baptism, of marriage, of ordination.  In a rite of passage we change status.  We do not necessarily deny our previous status but we add a new layer to our identity.  In marriage I do not deny being the daughter or son of my parents but I publicly declare my new identity and allegiance to my spouse.  Jesus is not denying Joseph but is publically announcing and owning the truth of his identity.

         The passage is clear that Jesus did go home with Joseph and Mary and did obey them as a dutiful son.  But for those who would like to think that somehow the baptism of Jesus years later as an adult when the Holy Spirit descended on him was when he really took over the role as Christ, the text today would say that even as a child Jesus knew who he was and lived in the tension of being true God and true man.

         In our world today it is sometimes hard to figure out how to be transparent about our faith.  The United States has a veneer of Christian history and claims to be a Christian nation but mostly we are materialistic.  Tolerance is a value that is touted and we would certainly not want to be taken as judgmental and confused with some person yelling from street corners about “end times.”  How does our faith differentiate us from the secular world around us?    As we look into 2022, how will we go about our Father’s business and be in his house?  Are we living into our baptismal and confirmation identity?

         Some of us may spend three days … or three months… looking for Jesus this year but Jesus looks at us and says, “Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”  If we are looking, we will find Jesus in the Word, in worship, in sacrament, in prayer, in hymns, in places where God reaches out obviously and then perhaps in untypical places like nature, friendship and even the hard places of life – the nurse who is kind to us, the checker who is patient as we fumble for our credit card, and the AAA mechanic who rescues us when our car battery is dead.  Jesus, in this passage is claiming his status as Son of God.  We are challenged daily to claim our status as Christian, follower of Jesus.


52And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

         Jesus has gone to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover with his family. He has sat with the teachers of his faith, asked questions and learned. He is no longer a child but becoming an adult.  Jesus has declared this transition, this change of status, when he openly calls God his father. The rite of passage he is going through does not release him from former responsibilities as he returns with his parents in obedience but something has changed.  I think we no longer hear about the role of Joseph in his life but the gospels continue to insert scenarios involving Mary.  Even on the cross Jesus is aware of his responsibilities to his mother.  But our text today ends with Mary pondering in her heart and Jesus increasing in wisdom and favor. 

         For those of us who feel like God is distant and functions more like a judge or rule book, this last sentence is amazingly interactional and compassionate.  It challenges us to wonder how Jesus might “increase.”  What responsibilities is he adding?  The Bible does not explain but when put in the context of a rite of passage, it might imply how a marriage relationship grows (we hope) after the initial ceremony, or how we grow in getting to know and understand our children after Baptism, or the youth who is confirmed and joins the ushering team or reads Scripture on Sunday.  We are increasing not from ignorance but through a broadening of opportunities of service.  I learned this week that my first granddaughter got her drivers license.  For sure her father had been teaching her as well as driver’s ed and she studied the manual but in the first four days, she drove independently three times.  We as parents may have sweaty palms but she has “increased” her responsibilities.

         In the same way “wisdom” is the ability to apply what we know to real life situations and as Jesus grows he will meet more and more adult challenges and problems to which he will be given the opportunity to interact with as an adult.  His involvement with God and people begins to grow in new ways.  He is not in public ministry yet but he is becoming, growing, experiencing and developing skills. 

         It is hard for us to think of God as increasing.  We like to think of God as answering our prayers, a source of power and insight, more stable than growing but relationships don’t work that way.  Relationships grow and deepen and go through phases with our life challenges.  Even so Jesus, no longer a child, but living in obedience to his parents and to God, “increases in wisdom and favor before God and man.”  A rite of passage is just that, a passage from one phase of life to another.  We learn new skills from those who have gone before as we answer to new voices and step into new responsibilities.  Jesus grew.

         Are we growing as we step into 2022?  This is our last Sunday together for this calendar year.  I would challenge us as we reflect on our journey of faith this last year and now in the New Year, to ponder who we are learning from, who do we claim as our Father, and what business is he calling us to be involved with this year.  We at Bethany have been greatly blessed.  We grieve those who have passed this year but we also rejoice at the many challenges God has helped us face.  As we step into 2022 may we, like Jesus, “increase in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.”

The people of God said “AMEN!”

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

December 25, 2021

This Christmas carol, that seems so appropriate today, was based on the 1863 poem by American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  He wrote the poem “Christmas Day “ on Christmas Day 1863 during the Civil War.  His deeply loved second wife of 18 years had died in an accidental fire two years prior.  His son had joined the Union Army against Wadsworth’s wishes and been wounded.  The poem was set to music about 1872 by an English organist, John Baptists Calkin.  Bing Crosby recorded the song on October 3, 1956, reset to music by Joseph Mainzer in 1845.  Crosby’s version sold over 5 million copies, a success.  In 2008 Casting Crowns scored their eighth number 1 hit with this song on their Christmas album.  The words have changed a bit but as we listen to the news about our world, our wars may be subtler than the Civil War but “hate and wrong” are just as strong and mock the song of “peace on earth good will to men.”  Let us bow our heads and listen on this Christmas Day.  Blessings.


December 24, 2021

We have been looking at key players in the Christmas story during Advent: Zechariah and Elizabeth parents of John the Baptist, Mary mother of Jesus, Joseph who became the husband of Mary and fathered Jesus, and the shepherds who were the first visitors at the birthing scene.  In each of these scenarios that form the Christmas narrative angels come as messengers bringing confirmation of the unfolding events.  It is easy to get distracted trying to figure out the types of angels in the Bible.  Many people would like to think they will become an angel at death or that some animal is their angel guardian but we have no proof of that.  What we can say is that the angels at Christmas brought messages to each participant confirming that God is not distant and uninvolved in his creation but present and active, helping unfold a future for the good of his creation.

         On Christmas Eve the angels sang,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace to those

 on whom his favor rests. (Luke 2:14)”

God desires peace for us this Christmas Eve.  That peace, though, comes from relationship with him.  That message seems juxtaposed to the message of our world that yells for justice as we see it, that laments the inequalities of resources, and that feels helpless in the face of environmental destruction around us.  The angels praise a God who is bringing about peace but not through violence and legal systems but through a baby in a manger.

         So what is the message we are sharing with others tomorrow as we gather?  Will we be rejoicing about gifts we received, lamenting the missing loved ones, worrying about the credit card bills that will soon appear or will we too be able:

          to sing with the angels, glory to God,

         bow our head in thanks for the peace that the world does not give,    and feel gratitude for his favor that is not material but relational. 

As many of us go to church today, may we bow our heads and thank God for the message of the angels throughout history.  Amen.  Blessings.


December 23, 2021

Luke 2: 8

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”

While Joseph and Mary are delivering the baby Jesus in the stable, doctor Luke broadens the camera lens and we see shepherds.  What might that scene look like in our today.  Perhaps it would be similar to saying that while Mary delivered her baby in the ER because there was no room in the hospital that was full of Covid patients, shop keepers were working the evening shift in the suburban mall. 

         My mind travels back to Kenya and to driving a car full of women and children back from clinic during the rains and my car sliding sideways in the mud ruts.  My husband in our 4W drive car came up behind and he came to drive my carload of women and children home.  As I walked back to his car, I slid in the mud, fell and broke my wrist.  I went to the clinic nearby and the doctor set my wrist as I hung it over a plastic bucket and he drew warm water from the tap.  Suddenly he realized he had no cotton to wrap the wrist under the plaster and had to run to the shops.  A trauma on a muddy road involved not only my health but also a local doctor and a local shop-keeper.

         I wonder how Mary, who birthed Jesus in a stable, was connected to the shepherds?  All heard from angels, Mary, Joseph and the shepherds, but I do not think that formed a connection.  Mary and Joseph were visitors in Bethlehem and not part of the residents of the town.  The shepherds were on the fringes of the town’s society also.  The shepherds formed community for Mary and Joseph.  Their arrival, their familiarity with stables as a comfortable setting for them, allowed them to focus on the miracle unfolding before them.  How many of us are distracted from the core of the story by the details of the event?  The arrival of the shepherds who themselves had independently heard from angels God’s desire that Jesus would bring peace on earth, confirms again the journey that Mary and Joseph are on.

         Community confirms things that often go unnoticed.  The teacher who sees beyond the juvenile antics of a youth and confirms a “gift” might change the direction of that life.  A mother who requires her son to read two books a week as in the case of Ben Carlson and who believed in him changed his life.  That special person who opens up the option of being loveable is never forgotten.  The connection is not the setting but the affirmation.  Community has the power to see beyond the obvious, the birth in a stable, to the potential of our lives in a broader picture.  Who are you encouraging this Christmas as you see the miracle forming in their life?  God is working and your affirmation is important.  Share it.  Blessings. 

“…placed him in a manger…’

December 22, 2021

Luke 2: 6,7

A census from Rome triggered a massive shift of people around the Roman Empire as people journeyed to their roots.  For Joseph this meant that he had to go with Mary, his pregnant pledged wife, because both were descendants of King David.  David came from Bethlehem so to Bethlehem they went.  For most of us, we could return to the town of our birth but to return to the town of our great, great grandfather’s birth would be a DNA task. Many generations of people had been born since King David so Bethlehem must have been bursting with visitors.  No guest rooms were available and so Mary gave birth to Jesus, “wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger because there were no guest rooms available.”

         As I ponder this very familiar scene that is enacted by children in Christmas plays each year, the manger caught my attention.  At the risk of stating the obvious, the manger is where the food was placed for animals.  I believe animals drink from a trough and eat from a manger.  Baby Jesus is placed in a manger, a feeding place.  That seems terribly poetic.  As we sit down to our Christmas meals we will not eat from a manger but decades later Christians will hear Jesus say, “This is my body, eat in remembrance of me.”  We believe that as we grow in faith and internalize more and more about Jesus, we go from being baby Christians to being mature, discerning disciples.  Jesus as a babe in a manger is a picture of coming to faith that is helpless like a baby, to a savior who is gentle and loving to us like a baby, and who grows in our hearts.  A bit far fetched but as we eat this Christmas, let us remember that baby in a manger, food for our weary souls.

         “Away in a Manger” is touted as an original American Christmas carol loved by so many.  It appeared around 1888 and Martin Luther was given credit as having sung it to his children.   This is not believed now and the real author is unknown but the song still is a favorite for its gentleness and the sense of protection it evokes from a God who watches over us.  Blessings as you feed your body and soul this Christmas!