Catching a Glimpse

The first Christmas comes and goes, and most people don’t notice. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and a few others catch a glimpse of what is happening, but they’re just a handful.

Crossroads: The Angel Candle/Candle of Love

Today we light the last purple candle. This candle is the angel candle, or the candle of love. This candle reminds us of the love God has shown us through Jesus.

Formations 12.31.2017: Christ(mas) Has Come!

On the Christian calendar—as opposed to the secular calendar by which stores began decking their halls shortly after Halloween—the Christmas season began on December 25th and will end twelve days later on January 5.

Connections 12.31.2017: Jesus and the Elderly

I turned forty this year, and I’m grateful to be able to say that I still have one living set of grandparents. My father’s parents, known to me as Mom and Pop, are age eighty-three and ninety-three. They’ve been a huge part of my life since my birth.

Flame: Advent Prayer Bags

Lately, I’ve seen a variety of lovely ideas online for helping children and families to get involved with the Advent season. Drawing on some of the ideas I’ve seen, I’ve come up with a little bag of items that will take children through some of the main Advent themes.

Facing Grief, at Christmas and Always

I am neither a nihilist nor a pessimist. For heaven’s sake, I am pastor of America’s home of Positive Thinking. I am, however, a realist. And as such, I have a theory about life. Here it is: Life is not the last five minutes of the movie.

Crossroads: The Shepherd Candle/Candle of Joy

Welcome to the third week of Advent! Advent is a time of preparation, when we wait and prepare for the Christ child. Each week, you will light a new candle as we recognize the things that Christ brings to this world: hope, peace, joy, and love.

Formations 12.24.2017: A Song of Joy and Sorrow

Because I live a few blocks from a hospital, ambulance sirens, and the occasional helicopter, form one pitch in that harmony of creation I hear. For what they signal—coming help and immediate danger—these sounds are above all interruptions demanding drivers to make way.

Crossroads: The Candle of Bethlehem/Peace

Welcome to the second week of Advent! This week, our focus lies on Mary and Joseph, a couple who were waiting for the changes that come with a big transition: a new baby.

Connections 12.17.2017: The Light of Christ

At this time of year, we marvel at the beauty of Christmas lights. Our family enjoys getting a special treat and riding through our town, admiring neighborhood light displays while we listen to Christmas music. We love to decorate our own house as well.

The Night Before Advent

The calendar gave us an early Thanksgiving this year and it seems like it has been an eon between turkey and Advent. But I am ready for Advent. I need Advent right now. I need it more than I need Christmas.

Crossroads: The Candle of Prophecy/Hope

Welcome to the first week of Advent! Advent is a time of preparation, when we wait and prepare for the Christ child. Each week you will light a new candle as we recognize the things that Christ brings to this world: hope, peace, joy, and love.

Formations 12.10.2017: Improvising on a Common Theme

The first standard I ever learned was the Sonny Rollins composition “Oleo.” As a drummer, this didn’t require much more than learning to sing the melody. But my friends, who played trombone and guitar, really had to know it. To solo, they had to understand how every note fit, or didn’t fit, into each chord.

Formations 12.03.2017: The Lights of Christmas

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is the lights. We deck our houses with tiny electric lights. We drape lights on Christmas trees. We go to services on Christmas Eve where the light of dozens of handheld candles bathes the sanctuary in a warm, amber glow.

Connections 12.03.2017: Wake Up!

In the Gospels, I identify much more with the disciples than with the people who are in awe of Jesus, scared of him, or threatened by him. The disciples, like me, are comfortable with Jesus. They feel secure enough in him to question his ideas, criticize his actions, and even fall asleep when he wants them to stay alert.

DIY Nativity Advent Calendar

If you’ve ever thought of making your own Advent calendar but wondered if it would be too tricky, this is the post for you! Here you can make your own Nativity-themed calendar that can hold candy, small toys, or personalized daily Advent activities.

Crossroads: The Christ Candle

Merry Christmas! In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we have explored what each group was waiting for. Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus and, as we celebrate, we remember that Jesus waited for just the right time to enter the world.

Formations 12.25.2016: God Is Born and Don’t Own a Car

This week, after a month and some change of waiting, Christ comes. Luke introduces us to the one who brings hope, love, peace, and joy, the one we’ve come to call God, as an infant lying in a feeding trough.

Connections 12.25.2016: Ridiculousness

The whole thing seems ridiculous to me. God Almighty cares enough about this world and the people in it to come down and spend a few years in it and with them. And when God Almighty comes, it’s as a helpless baby who has to be protected, fed, and burped.

Coming, a Prayer for Advent

Come to us, Lord Jesus,
in every purple-patterned life,
every wrap of loving arms
in shivering December.

Helping Each Other Grieve

As well as being a joyous time, Christmas can be difficult for people touched by tragedy or loss in the past year. Grief is isolating. While the rest of the world seems to be celebrating, tragedies years and decades old resurface.

Formations 12.18.2016: A Glimpse of Holiness

Angels almost always appear on the biblical scene saying, “Don’t be afraid.” And they are indeed frightening creatures, at least in the book of Revelation and other apocalyptic writings.

Connections 12.18.2016: Father of the Forerunner

Two weeks ago, I encouraged us to put ourselves in Mary’s shoes—to truly feel empathy for her when she heard the news that was both devastating and life changing. Can we do some imagining about Zechariah, too?

An Advent Prayer

O God,
As you come to us, please come bearing faith, hope, and love.
We need to trust, hope, and love more.

Formations 12.11.2016: Even in this Place?

John the Baptist heard the train coming before anyone else, but today he’s in prison. By the river he proclaimed, “Here comes the kingdom of heaven!” (Matt 3:2). Now he sends some of his disciples to find out if he got it wrong, if they should start looking for someone else.

Connections 12.11.2016: The Upside Down

I came—and that I come—to Mary’s song as a person of privilege. My late parents would have scoffed at that statement. They worked in textile mills. They bought very used cars. We lived in a small, two-bedroom, one-bath house. But still—we never missed a meal, we always had decent clothes, and the house was warm and dry.

Meditations on Mark: Prepare the Way

This is the promise John the Baptist makes in the opening chapter of Mark’s Gospel. Mark doesn’t begin with the story of Jesus’ birth. Rather, he jumps into the middle of the story with Jesus already as an adult, ready to begin his ministry. This is the urgency in Mark: The Messiah has come.

Formations 12.04.2016: Pace Yourself

I was late coming to Advent. The church of my childhood and youth never observed a season of preparation leading to Christmas day. We were left, then, to “get ready for Christmas” the same way secular people did.

Connections 12.04.2016: Imagining the Details

This account about Mary unsettles me because it seems to leave out a few things. I remember, very early in my marriage, worrying about getting pregnant too soon. John and I were still adjusting to living in the same apartment.

A View from the Pew: Thanksgiving, Advent, and Missions

It’s a season for thanksgiving and anticipation, but I have a confession to make: celebrating abundance and extending a call to give at the same time feels incongruent. I have mixed emotions, and it’s hard for me to sort it all out.

Formations 11.27.2016: Paying Attention

As we enter Advent, we don’t only remember Ancient Israel’s hope and longing for God to rescue them. We also recognize our own hope that Christ would come as a fuller part of our world.

Formations 01.03.2016: Baby Names of 2015

Jackson and Sophia are the most popular baby names of 2015, but there are some interesting trends further down the list. According to a USA Today report, the gender-neutral name Royalty is up 90% this year.

Crossroads: The Christ Candle

Light the three purple candles, the pink candle, and the white candle in the center. Say: “Today we light the white candle, the Christ candle, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

A View from the Pew: What Are We Waiting For?

I wasn’t introduced to Advent as a season of spiritual reflection and anticipation until well into adulthood. But for nearly 20 years now, this season has enriched my spiritual journey leading up to Christmas.

It’s so Hard to be Humble

This past year, I have started a new job, moved to a new town, enrolled my children in a new daycare, and bought a new house. That’s lots of “new”, which has brought with it many opportunities to be completely unsure of what I’m doing.

Crossroads: The Angel Candle or Candle of Peace

Today we light the last purple candle. This candle is the angel candle, or the candle of peace. This candle reminds us of the peace Jesus gives to us. We also light the other two purple candles, candles that remind us that Jesus brought hope and love to the world.

Formations 12.27.2015: Only the Beginning

This December, we reach the 150-year anniversary of when the United States officially ratified and adopted the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution.

Uniform 12.27.2015: A Generous Gift

I have a confession to make. There was a time when I thought Christmas was about me. Now, don’t think I was worse than I was. I knew that Christmas was really about the birth of Jesus.

Christmas Time

When I was a child, I was very confused by the tense of the verb “to be” used in the Christmas hymn “O Come All Ye Faithful.” We’d sing, “With angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem!”

An Invitation to Joy

If we relied on Mark, we would have to stretch to get a story worth a Christmas carol. Mark has no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no Mary, no Joseph, no manger, no wise men, no Herod.

Crossroads: The Shepherd Candle or Candle of Joy

Today we light the pink candle, known as the candle of joy. We also light the candle of hope as well as the candle of love. Today we remember that Jesus is the hope of the world.

Uniform 12.20.2015: What Can I Bring?

Our unit title is “What We Bring to God.” Have you ever thought about that? Often, we focus on what God gives to us. The list is both lengthy and weighty: salvation, grace, a Savior who identifies with us, a Scripture text for guidance, the Earth with all its provisions.

Formations 12.20.2015: A Disturbing Story of Peace

It was a Wednesday-night Bible study in December. I was walking my parishioners through the Christmas story in Luke, making a point of how Jesus entered our world in lowly, unassuming, even harsh surroundings.

Crossroads: The Bethlehem Candle or Candle of Love

Mary and Joseph waited for a miracle to happen for nine months. They knew that Jesus, the Son of God, would change their whole lives. And so they waited with anticipation for Jesus’ birth.

Formations 12.13.2015: Freedom to Hope

Zechariah’s song leads us through the second week of Advent in celebration and hope. But in this Scripture text, Zechariah’s song is almost as important as his months of silence leading up to it.

Flame: Advent Wreath Craft

We’ve now entered Advent and I was thinking of how families could use the tradition of the Advent wreath at home in a craft and prayer activity. Of course it’s great to have the real candles to light, but here’s an alternative to make and do.

Crossroads: The Candle of Prophecy/Hope

Welcome to the first week of Advent! Advent is a time of preparation, when we wait and prepare for the Christ child. Each week you will light a new candle as we recognize the things that Christ brings to this world.

Formations 12.06.2015: The Cost of Poverty

About forty workshop participants recently learned valuable lessons about the realities of poverty by taking part in a simulation called The Cost of Poverty (or COPE). In the simulation, participants are matched together at random and given roles based on real-life poverty scenarios.