Sunday, December 31, 2006

Christmas 2006 Blog


Oh, I'd sort of been working through a few blog ideas for Christmas but ultimately gave up, so on this early New Year's Eve afternoon these three amazing texts win, rather than my own imaginings. Maybe you know Martin Luther loved the letter to Titus? All texts NRSV

Christmas Eve: Titus 2:11-14

titus - grace has appearedFor the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

Christmas Dawn: Titus 3:4-7

Hebrews 1:1But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Christmas Day: Hebrews 1:1-4

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

A Very Blessed Nativity to All Creation!

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Friday Five: Adventually

As this Fourth Sunday of Advent moves into Christmas Eve afternoon I'm posting playing Rev Gal Blog Pals Friday Five for Advent 2006. On that Friday either I wasn't quite on board or wasn't checking the site regularly, but I wanted to complete my own collection of Advent Friday Fives.

From Friday, 01 December 2006:

Here are five questions about Advent for this first of December:

1) Do you observe Advent in your church?

Yes, and during my years in the Church (meaning late teens into adulthood, since I didn't grow up in the church) I always have; the congregation where I first became involved was liberal American Baptist that was beginning to adventure into a somewhat liturgical lifestyle. One of the earliest recreational activities I attended there was an Advent Wreath (and Candle) workshop.

2) How about at home?

Yes, but not intensely or intently.

3) Do you have a favorite Advent text or hymn?

BOTH!!!!! The first lesson from Year B, Isaiah 64 (RCL, of course):
1 O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—2 as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil—to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3 When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4 From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5 You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. ...
Lots of hymns, but for now I'll mention «Macht hoch die Tür»—"Lift Up Your Heads, Ye Mighty Gates." From Volume I, Erste Teil (of course, Christmas and Advent) of his Großes Orgelbuch I love Ernst Pepping's big organ version of the hymn with cantus in the pedal; the hymn is lots of fun to play on the organ accompanying congregational singing, though I haven't done so for a long, long time. By Georg Weissel; here's Catherine Winkworth's elegant translation:
1. Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates!
Behold, the King of Glory waits;
The King of kings is drawing near,
The Savior of the world is here.
Life and salvation He doth bring,
Wherefore rejoice and gladly sing:
We praise Thee, Father, now,
Creator, wise art Thou!

2. A Helper just He comes to thee,
His chariot is humility,
His kingly crown is holiness,
His scepter, pity in distress,
The end of all our woe He brings;
Wherefore the earth is glad and sings:
We praise Thee, Savior, now,
Mighty in deed art Thou!

3. O blest the land, the city blest,
Where Christ the Ruler is confessed!
O happy hearts and happy homes
To whom this King in triumph comes!
The cloudless Sun of joy He is,
Who bringeth pure delight and bliss.
We praise Thee, Spirit, now,
Our Comforter art Thou!

4. Fling wide the portals of your heart;
Make it a temple set apart
From earthly use for Heaven's employ,
Adorned with prayer and love and joy.
So shall your Sovereign enter in
And new and nobler life begin.
To Thee, O God, be praise
For word and deed and grace!

5. Redeemer, come! I open wide
My heart to Thee; here, Lord, abide!
Let me Thy inner presence feel,
Thy grace and love in me reveal;
Thy Holy Spirit guide us on
Until our glorious goal is won.
Eternal praise and fame
We offer to Thy name.
4) Why is one of the candles in the Advent wreath pink? (You may tell the truth, but I'll like your answer better if it's funny.)

A pastor I served with always described pink as "a diminutive of purple"—the feminist in me dislikes almost anything "ette" or "ita" meaning smaller and less significant than the larger, but I'll draw on my mixed memories about serving that church, because my experience there convinced me to go to seminary. Okay, "The Mary Candle," or "Mary's Candle," one of the usual explanations, still has currency.

5) What's the funniest/kitschiest Advent calendar you've ever seen?

It's not especially funny or kitschy, but I like the one with orange cats I got a few years ago at the on-campus bookstore of one of the local churches.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Festive Foods Friday 5

Another Friday 5 meme from RevGalBlogPals.

Today's Festive Foods features a tamely serious selection of questions and answers.

1. Favorite cookie/candy/baked good without which, it's just not Christmas.

In general I'm not into sweets, though I do enjoy pie (sometimes I tell people I like my fruit inside a crust with ice cream on top); having said that, Richard's mince pie comes closest—he trained as a pastry chef in Germany and his crust is even better than my Midwestern grandmother's!

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?)

These days, neither—I'm not formally serving a church and I don't have family in town, so for the past few years I've celebrated Christmas in Tucson, where we'll be having traditional turkey, etc. I'm anticipating a dozen or more of us will gather around the table.

3. Evaluate one or more of the holiday beverage trifecta: hot chocolate, wassail, egg nog.
  1. Hot Chocolate: I've sworn off both HC (not Holy Communion, though) and its analog, Hot Cocoa, due to memories of waking up the morning after the evening before with a migraine.
  2. Wassail: to my knowledge I've never had it.
  3. Eggnog: Yes, yes, amen! Ideally the real thing, homemade, but with only vanilla flavoring—no rum and no rum flavoring, either.
  4. Glögg or Glugg: great memories! I discovered it when I was musician for a Lutheran congregation of Swedish origins. The senior pastor gave everyone on staff bottles of glögg plus a portion of the fruits that'd been soaked in the spirits.
4. Candy canes: do you like all the new-fangled flavors or are you a peppermint purist?

Not so much into eating the candy canes as into using them to decorate, so any flavor or color works for me, though you need to have at least a few traditional red-and-white striped.

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?

Yes, many times I've had it served with hard sauce, which I don't like, but I love FP with lemon sauce, which I'm willing to make myself.

Is it really all that wonderful?

I've never experienced anyone refusing to leave before being served FP, but don't most legends develop out of fact?
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 any fruitcake, but I do like the kind that's mostly cake batter - either light or dark - with just a few fruits. I detest the kind loaded with fruit.

An additional note from moi: since I wasn't on board for the Advent Friday Five, I'm planning to answer it anyway at some point (maybe not until after Christmas) in order to make a quadrivium.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Advent 3: Holy in our Midst

Zephaniah 3:14-20 | Isaiah 12:2-6 | Philippians 4:4-7 | Luke 3:7-18

Holy in our Midst


God of all creation, as again we anticipate your Holy Presence among us not only in the Bethlehem manger but also in our neighbor next door, the homeless family in the park, the clerk at the convenience store and the conflict across the world, may we bring to all of these the joy of the Bethlehem baby; in the name of the Bringer of hope and Author of peace, amen!

May grace, peace and joy be multiplied to you, from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ!

It is an immense joy for me to be here worshiping with you once more. In some ways it seems only last week that we were together, but in reality it was late last winter during another of the church's typically more somber seasons, the season of Lent. The popular view of Advent sees it as solemn and reserved, but during the past couple decades the liturgical color for Advent has switched from purple, both a penitential color and a royal one, to blue, the color of hope. Every one of the lectionary texts today talks about joy—in fact, historically this third Sunday in Advent has been called Gaudete, after the entrance antiphon telling us to "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice!" Because "The Lord is near."

I'd like to read from several of the lections—first, from Zephaniah, one of the Book of the Twelve found in the Hebrew Bible. Likely you know Zephaniah is one of those prophets sometimes called "minor," but only because we don't have extensive material from them—their words to us are anything but unimportant!
Zephaniah 3:14-18a

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem! The Lord has taken away the judgments against you, he has turned away your enemies. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more. On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands grow weak. The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory; he will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.
Then, in place of the Psalm there's an option for a passage that's been included with the writings of Isaiah of Jerusalem:
Isaiah 12:2-6

You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.

And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
In a word for us today, Zephaniah tells us our Lord, Royal Sovereign, even Warrior - to embarrass those of us who flinch at militant descriptions of God - is right here with us, giving the victory to us, renewing us in love and rejoicing over us, the people called to rejoice in the Lord! And now, not only need we not fear disaster: we shall not fear disaster any more.

And you know Paul's own joy in the churches he knew and visited:
Philippians 4:4-7

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 made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
In reconsidering today's texts, I was very aware that three years ago I preached about Luke's telling us to become givers of gifts and to practice justice and righteousness in order to prepare for the approaching reign of heaven on earth. As recorded in chapter 3 of Luke's gospel, the crowds asked John the Baptist what they should do in order to prepare for the forthcoming reign of heaven, and John answered: "Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise." He said to the tax collectors who came to him for baptism, "Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you." To the soldiers, John instructed, "Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages."

This time Luke's lectionary year again is upon us, but I'm too aware of something else, and that's my own need to halt all the compulsive, restless activity on the inside and out, at least for a while, and to take in the gracious gifts around me so I can be filled by receiving and become ready to be a gift-giver again. Recently in more than one conversation, I've mentioned wanting to make the soon-upon-us winter a time of near-hibernation, and on a basic level I feel far too depleted to risk much giving or much reaching out.

Give gifts? That was for 2003; for this Third Advent Sunday of 2006 let's try "receive a gift" or "receive gifts."

Here's more from Luke's account of John the Baptist by the riverside:
As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, "I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire."
So we hear about a threefold immersion: baptism in water, in Spirit and in fire. In the process of becoming God's people, whether by John's wilderness surroundings or here in this city, it looks as if we need to receive gifts water, of Spirit and of fire in order fully to be received into the Reign of God. We began with two prophets from the Hebrew Bible telling of the nature of Salvation among us: this God here with us rejoices over us, gives the victory to us, in love renews and restores us. This God brings saving waters and healing to us. But on another level, what does the world expect, what do our nearby neighbors expect from people they see going to worship and various church activities? After all, presumably people who attend church are somehow connected to heaven, are insiders to the Divine?! Do our neighbors and does the world out there expect to meet a baptized people?

Many non-church people know something about baptism as a kind of religious ritual; in fact, many who don't regularly attend worship have had their own babies baptized or blessed or dedicated, due to pressure or strong suggestions from relatives, nostalgia or whatever. John the Baptist tells us the Coming One will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, which sounds like anything but a perfunctory social ritual! In the same sentence we hear about the wind of the Spirit and fire: around these parts we know a lot about winds that stir embers into flames that in turn generate their own breezes and currents. John baptized with water and we still baptize with water. Today I'm asking you if the waters of baptism quench the Holy Spirit's pentecostal fires? Think about it!

On its first Pentecost, the Church first received the Fire and Spirit promised by John; that Day of Pentecost we read about in the book of Acts was the same day the synagogue commemorated and celebrated Moses' receiving the Ten Commandments, the Sinai Covenant with visible signs of fire and smoke.

Spirit and fire both are able to insinuate their way into the tightest spaces – even into our own too-often resistant bodies, minds and spirits. But then the Fire and Spirit of Life radiates outward from us, again making its way into other tight, cold spaces and places. The Fire and Spirit of Pentecost that inspired the nascent Church still longs to in-Breathe, to in-Spire us, the Church of the 21st Century. This Pentecostal Spirit still is able to Breathe new life and inspiration into us!

Give a gift? Give gifts? Yes, of course, just as in any other year, let us give gifts, and particularly to our nearby neighbors let us especially give the gift of gracious, un-condemning presence showing them that we, the People of God, do not consider ourselves "holier than they are," showing them we are an inclusive rather than an exclusive community, reborn of water and fire – yes! - yet reborn into the biography of the Bethlehem baby, Jesus, Who baptizes with Spirit and with Fire, bringing hope and new life to all the world. We're moving up to the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas Day; one week from today will be the Fourth Sunday of Advent in the morning and Christmas Eve in the evening. For just a word in anticipation of the coming observances of Lent and Easter, being acquainted with the paradox of the God Who fills heaven and earth starting life among us in the winsomeness, the inevitable powerlessness and other finite limitations of a human baby helps prepare us to recognize the scandal of a crucified God on Calvary's cross.

Be givers of gifts? First, before we can be gifts or give gifts to another, we need to receive the astonishing gift of God's amazing unconditional gracious love that both blazes and insinuates its way into the world and into our lives in Spirit and in Fire, re-creating, re-forming and re-filling each of us so we can become the joy-filled Presence of the Holy in our communities and in our churches and families, bringing the same hope the Bethlehem Babe brings to us, so like Jesus of Nazareth, we can be givers of gifts. May we become and may we be bringers of hope carrying the Spirit and Fire of new life to others—


Friday, December 15, 2006

desert spirit's fire logo

In process and progress—I'm designing a new letterhead, etc.—identity package (old one is for my designing identity...); I did these in Illustrator (sort of, and partly in Photoshop) and made png versions to blog; currently I'm working on the final product plus title page in InDesign—Go Adobe?!

desert spirit's fire logo desert spirit's logo - gold

Friday Five: Yuletide Favorites

Friday, December 15, 2006
Friday Five: Yuletide Favorites

This week's RevGalBlogPals Friday Five asks about our Yuletide faves:

After jumping in with both feet for my first play last week, this time is a washout.

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've never seen it either first or subsequent times (not a movie fan)

2) Miracle on 34th Street—old version or new?

I saw a scratchy version of the old one as a little kid or maybe that was in junior high, but wasn't aware of an updated one.

3) Do you have a favorite incarnation of Mr. Scrooge?

Don't know who you're referring to...

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.

Another one I've never seen, but I'll attempt a lame logical answer by suggesting any elf's being vertically challenged means they'd have lots of problems reaching the patient.

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

Not familiar with any of the above...sob, sob, sigh!

The only Christmas special I know (and yes, make a point of watching it every year and really love) is Charlie Brown Christmas. No one scary there!

I cannot believe I'm posting this on my theology blog!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Friday Five: Christmas Music

Friday Five | 8 December 2006

As you can see from my sidebar, recently I joined a bunch of blogrings, and here's My First Friday Five. Friday Five is a regular feature of the intentional online community at RevGalBlogPals. This is so exciting!!!!!!!!

1. A favorite 'secular' Christmas song.

"Celebrate Me Home" – Kenny Loggins

2. Christmas song that chokes you up (maybe even in spite of yourself—the cheesier the better)

"Do You Hear What I Hear?" by Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne.

3. Christmas song that makes you want to stuff your ears with chestnuts roasted on an open fire.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" – I didn't know about the "artiste" my original linked to, soulful celebration messiah CDalthough I thought s/he needed to be nuked off the planet, but my search for the lyrics revealed such favorites as James Taylor, Coldplay and Carly Simon have recorded it! Aaaccckkk

4. The Twelve Days of Christmas: is there *any* redeeming value to that song? Discuss.

The dramatic performance of the song with occasional piano semi-accompaniment at the party I attended last Saturday at a friend's church redeemed it somewhat. No time to blog more about it at the moment.

5. A favorite Christmas album

Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration – Quincy Jones, Take 6, Tevin Campbell et al.

PS I've kept the song titles, though I've been deleting all YT links from this blog because of the way YT vids come and go.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Advent 1 C

  • Jeremiah 33:14-16
  • Psalm 25:1-10
  • 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
  • Luke 21:25-36
I'm getting this blogged and online late, considering it was supposed to be about last Sunday's text—delay mainly due to my home puter acting up, though last night I finally thought to run disk cleanup and defrag for the first time in almost three months, so it's doing better. However, I am so hankering after the laptop that'll support the design software I need.

It's Luke's lectionary year again! I love Luke—probably my favorite gospel, but I'm beginning to appreciate Mark, mostly from reading Say to This Mountain straight through and using Binding the Strong Man as a commentary and resource the last couple of Year Bs (or is that Years B?!).

Signs in the skies, the sun and the moon and the stars; excitements on earth, with roaring seas and splashing waves—after all, the Lord of the planets, the moon, and galaxies, mountains, hills and rivers, Creation's Sovereign draws close to us, so let's stand up, look up and take notice! Our redemption and creation's salvation, Righteous Branch of David's root appears in grace, dwelling among us and living as one of us while performing justice and righteousness right here, on earth, in this land, while his righteousness, heaven's holiness, becomes ours!

This amazing hymn is part of my email sig—not that I'm writing many emails these days:
Zion hears the watchmen singing,
And all her heart with joy is springing;
She wakes, she rises from her gloom;
For her Lord comes down all glorious,
The strong in grace, in truth victorious.
Her Star is risen, her Light is come.
Ah come, Thou blessed One, God’s own beloved Son:
Alleluia! We follow till the halls we see
Where Thou hast bid us sup with Thee.

–Philipp Nicolai, 1597
Of course I'm hearing JS Bach's Cantata 140, Wachet auf, as well as his Schübler-Chorale version; Paul Manz wrote at least two wonderful settings, so right now in my imagination I'm playing all of those on an organ of my dreams—possibly Haarlem's St. Bavo, or maybe a newer instrument?!

Originally I'd planned to reflect on last Sunday's pericopes, but on Sunday Pastor George S. Johnson gave me a copy of his book, Beyond Guilt: Christian Response to Suffering and inscribed it:
Isaiah 58:10-11

And if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, and like springs of living waters that never fail.
That may be one of Pastor George's default inscriptions, but whatever, it exactly fits where I am right now and it goes perfectly with this Advent 1's RCL, too, but I don't need to belabor the obvious. These passages remind me of days bygone when I sometimes sort of hung out with a group that included some anti-Lordites. I was born opinionated and besides, I'm an ENFJ without a single shy or reticent cell in my body, which can make me seem assertive, plus I've been known to inform people "I crave an audience like an addict craves cocaine." Nonetheless, I did my level best calmly to try explaining to the group nothing substitutes for "Lord"—it's the heavy, solid and substantial theological and political word as well as forming continuity between the Hebrew Bible and the New Covenant scriptures. So what have we here, for the first Sunday of a new liturgical year? Ownership, mastery, presence, authorship and authority; power to designate, to control and to delegate. A unique relationship to creation and to creation's stewards (us). This Lord has formed us, has bought us back, and literally owns us. We answer to this Lord, to this One we soon will meet again, strong in grace and victorious in truth, the apparently power-less newborn infant in the Judean manger! In faith and in baptism this Lord's biography - from cradle to cross to grave to Easter dawn - becomes our life story. Now what?