Advent Prayers [Mon 12/11/17]


Opening Prayer

Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O LORD, make haste to help me!
-from Psalm 70:1

-silence-

The Gloria

Glory be to God the Father,
God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, so it is now,
and so it ever shall be, world without end.
Alleluia- Amen!
-the “Gloria Patri”

Scripture Reading

Isaiah 11:1-5
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

-silence for reflection, meditation-

Prayer

-pray for yourself, your loved ones, friends, enemies, the church, and the world-

Prayer for the Week

God for whom we watch and wait,
you sent John the Baptist to prepare the way of your Son:
give us courage to speak the truth, to hunger for justice,
and to suffer for the cause of right,
with Jesus Christ our Lord-
Amen

[From the Liberti Church 2017 Advent + Christmas Prayerbook. Photo by Monica Ayers.]

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Advent Reflection by Alyssa Mallgrave [Sun 12/10/17]


A couple of months ago, I went camping alone, totally isolated somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania. Dirt roads, no signal, completely in the dark. I thought it would be a cool spiritual experience – it was not. Instead of the perfect night’s sleep I had hoped for, I laid awake for hours. The sound of every falling leaf reminded me that I was alone, causing my imagination to devise ridiculous scenarios of what I assumed was an inevitable demise at the hands of a bear, a murderer, or some other unlikely adversary. I was terrified, and as soon as morning came, I scrambled back to civilization.

Scripture talks about the wilderness a lot, and this is how I picture it: alienated from society, totally vulnerable, and constantly on edge. But you don’t necessarily need to travel very far for this kind of experience. For some of us, the wilderness is right here in our city, our homes, and our everyday lives. And regardless of where we find it, we all know that this is a world that’s deeply broken and in need of redemption.

Long before Christ was born, God spoke words of comfort to the Israelites through the ancient prophet Isaiah, assuring them that a messiah would one day come to rule and to serve them in a glorified world, where valleys rise high and mountains bow low. But they’d need to get ready – in the wilderness, they’d need to prepare the way for this coming Lord. Continue reading

Advent Reading [Sat 12/9/17]


The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment. The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell. The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move. Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor. But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart. For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.

-Frederick Buechner, “Salvation Army Santa Claus Clangs His Bell”, from Goodness and Light: Readings for Advent & Christmas

[From the Liberti Church 2017 Advent + Christmas Prayerbook. Photo by Monica Ayers.]

Advent Reflection by Lauren Clausen [Sun 12/3/17]


When I think about the Advent season this year, I feel a bit overwhelmed. Not only does it mean that there are Christmas presents to buy and wrap, parties to attend, cookies to bake and decorations to put up, but it means that the weather is turning, the light disappearing and the cold creeping in. As the days grow shorter my inclination is to turn inward, to hunker down in the coziness of home and use the chill as an excuse to stay in. And in the midst of this season—this combination of frenzied holiday preparations and cold that makes you want to just hibernate for a bit—we are supposed to spend time contemplating our sin, the darkness of the world, our need for the light of Christ. Sometimes it feels like a lot just to focus on all the trappings that come with Christmas, but we are called to more. We are called to Advent as a time of recognizing that we dwell in darkness until the arrival of the One who set things alight.

Thank goodness for Scripture, which gives word to the realities whose existence we sometimes find it easier to forget. This passage in Isaiah does just that, calling on God to “rend the heavens and come down” because “we have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” Come down, Lord, here where we are so sinful that even our good deeds are filthy. Come down here where we are selfish. Here where we ignore you, here where we’re mired in sin. Come down here where there is “no one who calls upon your name,” where were find it easier to pretend you don’t exist.
Continue reading

“Darkest Before the Dawn” [a sermon]


church-philly-bw-cross-market-eastDuring the Advent and Christmas season, my church did a sermon series going through the key texts of Handel’s Messiah.

I got to preach during that series and only recently realized I never posted it here.

I’m beginning to see that light and darkness are constant themes through my preaching, and in this sermon, those themes are explicitly in the text. God’s people have returned from exile to their homeland, but it still hurts. Things aren’t the way they remembered, and they keep encountering difficulties and old temptations at every turn.

And so God acknowledged the darkness, but promises light. Is that enough, though? How do we not just sit back and say, “yeah, yeah yeah–I’ve heard this all before” and then continue on steeped in our cynicism? In this sermon (as with others I’ve preached), I try to press more deeply into the darkness to see what God might say. The text is Isaiah 60.1-3, and here’s the sermon audio. Feel free to send me any thoughts, questions or concerns:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast. If reading is more your style, here are my notes for your perusal. Continue reading

Demand a Miracle (Merry Christmas) [from W.H. Auden’s “For the Time Being”] 


Flickr-Advent-Candles-rabasz

This is from the Advent portion of W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio, For the Time Being. The full text is under copyright, but it’s in this book, if you’re interested.

From Part I:

[T]ime never moves and nothing can ever happen:
I mean that although there’s a person we know all about
Still bearing our name and loving himself as before,
That person has become a fiction; our true existence
Is decided by no one and has no importance to love.

That is why we despair; that is why we would welcome
The nursery bogey or the winecellar ghost, why even
The violent howling of winter and war has become
Like a juke-box tune that we dare not stop. We are afraid
Of pain but more afraid of silence; for no nightmare
Of hostile objects could be as terrible as this Void.
This is the Abomination. This is the wrath of God.

Part II, Chorus:

Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.

Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

My Grandfather’s Passing (Hope in Death?)


peep-paul-dance-2Today is the sixth anniversary of my Grandfather’s death. I am reposting this reflection I wrote at the time.

This past Sunday, the day after Christmas, I watched my grandfather die. This is the first death I’ve experienced of someone very close to me. I’ve known people who had died, sure, but no one as close as this.

This man walked with me and I with him for my entire life. I sat on his knee and was tickled by his hands. I grew up hearing legends about him, and I walked in a general sense of awe and disbelief when in his presence.

His name was (is?) Lester Travis Williamson, or as I knew him for most my life: Peep (a mispronunciation due to the first grandchild’s toddler lisp).

Peep represented for me a tenacity and determinedness of love that great stories of tragedy and triumph are built upon. As their old pastor said during the funeral, he was a man that if you asked for a crumb would give you the entire loaf and then chase you out the door to give you another loaf for the road.

But this is not to be confused with the contemporary pictures of the sentimental, gratuitously giving man–cheerful, talkative, jocular, and always-optimistic. If Peep was anything, he was the quintessential man of his generation–America’s vision of a “real man”–quiet, determined, and strong. He spoke with intention in every syllable, meaning what he said and saying what he meant.

Continue reading

A Theology of Clean Water, Christmas, & Advent


Tomorrow is my 31st birthday, and instead of any gifts or Facebook Wall well-wishes, I’m asking people to give $31 on my campaign page at Charity: Water to give access to clean water to those in developing country.

But it is also Advent and Christmas season, giving an even deeper and fuller reason to give, especially if you would call yourself a Christian.

Yes, as Christians we ought to care about the pain and suffering of the world no matter what chapter and verse we can cite on a particular issue. But water, however, is uniquely theological and full of meaning.

A Theology of Water & Advent

Water is an essential and mystical part of the Christian story and message, giving us unique motivations and resources for addressing the issue of clean water. The Israel story begins with God creating the world out of the murky depths. The Israelite people are set free from bondage to a prince of death and find their redemption by passing through a Red Sea, which would have held certain death and return to bondage; they enter the Promised Land in a similar fashion. God promises to sprinkle clean his people with the waters of redemption. It is by more than one water well that Patriarchs find their wives and Christ finds a woman in need of redemption. It is in the world to come that the Tree of Life is seen once more, and a River of Life flows from its roots offering life and salvation to all who drink.

Continue reading

Forget Gifts. Give Clean Water for My Birthday


israel-en-gedi-1[TL;DR: Instead of gifts for my birthday, I’m asking for donations to Charity: Water to give clean drinking water to those with none. Give on my Campaign Page.]

The picture on this post is from my trip to Israel earlier this year. It’s from En Gedi, an oasis in the the desert, near the Dead, Masada, and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. It is literally a random spring in the middle of the vast Israel wilderness.

I thought of this image as I was listening to a recent episode of The Liturgists podcast on suffering. They offered interviews, art, music, and poetry about the pain and injustice which exist on a global scale.

They lamented that many such programs leave us with no ability to do something in response. But they offered a way. They interviewed the founder of Charity: Water, a non-profit that focuses on delivering sustainable clean water wells in underserved parts of the world.

One of the best ways they have found to raise money is to ask others to donate their birthdays to Charity: Water. Instead of getting gifts, people would encourage others to give that gift-money to Charity: Water.

So that’s what I’m doing for my 31st birthday on December 20th. 

Continue reading

My Sermon on Christ in the Darkness (John 1)


chagall-exodus

During the Advent season, I preached a sermon on John 1.1-5,10-18, the famous Logos. In the sermon, we talk about Jesus revealing himself in the midst of the darkness of this world and our hearts, and so encouraging us to press all the more deeply into darkness rather than running from it. Looking back on it, I think it’s a very “Lent-y” sermon and so I’d like to throw it up here this week during Holy Week. It was my first sermon I preached without a manuscript, so there’s no version to read (sorry). But here it is for listening:

You can also download it here, or subscribe to our podcast here.

[Image credit: “Exodus”, by Marc Chagall]