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Dec 31 19

Into winter woods and out again

by davesandel

Into winter woods and out again

New Year’s Eve, Tuesday, December 31, 2019

He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,
but his own people did not accept him. 

To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God. And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only-begotten Son, full of grace and truth.

– From John 1

The classic words of John draw me into their spell, win me over with their rhythms. The poet in me responds to the poet in John. 

What was missing for so long, however, was anything more. “He gave us power to become children of God.” I think I wanted to find my way to be an adult in God, skip the milk and go straight to the meat. Before, during and after college I chased down several spiritual paths too much of my own choosing.

Nothing satisfied. I hitchhiked around the country, and in California I joined the Creative Community Project, a fancy name for Rev. Moon’s Unification Church. After two years and an agonizing decision I left to return to our farm in Illinois.

I thought it better not to tell anyone except my parents. The forecast was for rain the night I left. My alarm rang at 2, I picked up my bag in the woods where I’d stashed it, and walked to the main road. 

The rain fell gently, and I felt newly baptized. It took awhile to get a ride, and I imagined how I could “save the world” from the ground up, rather from the rarified theological realms of the Unification Church. I’d be a boy scout leader and a Little League coach instead of a preacher.

Mom and Dad picked me up in Rhode Island at my cousin’s wedding. We drove home in autumn rain. Back in Lincoln I lost myself in hard work setting concrete forms for our cattle lot. My friends called and asked me to come back. I thought about it all the time.

Soon I met Margaret at a Sunday School weiner roast. She agreed to attend a Bible study focused on Hebrews with my parents and I. Every time the author of Hebrews referred to the divinity of Jesus, I argued with him and with them. Jesus did not need to be divine to be the son of God.

After Christmas Dad invited me to a retreat called Kogudus. This weekend of renewal changed him; Dad had fallen in love with Jesus. I drove into the woods to a park cabin. When I left the Unification seminary it rained. Now the forecast was for a blizzard. We had plenty of food, and the cabin was warm. 

The retreat speakers worked their way through the Apostles’ Creed. “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered … died, rose again and ascended into heaven.” I had been talking quite a bit in our small group, but now I went silent.

We were completely snowed in by the next morning. We had an afternoon break for couple of hours, and I went for a walk into the woods. In the woods something quiet happened inside me. I walked into the trees certain that Jesus was not divine, and I walked out of them certain that he was.

Paul said it so well. This sounds like foolishness to others but “to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1). I felt lighter than air. A feather could have knocked me over. My eyes have seen the glory. 

That was forty years ago. Nothing about that experience has faded away. Intellectual doubts, and there are always many, gain little traction in the presence of my remembrance. I was “given power to become a child of God.” How thankful can I be?

With your touch I can believe in you, Holy Spirit. I believe in the holy catholic Church and the communion of saints. I believe in your forgiveness of our sin, the resurrection of our bodies, and life everlasting with you. Amen.

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Dec 30 19

More family stories

by davesandel

More family stories

Monday, December 30, 2019

Joseph and Mary came to the temple to present Jesus to the Lord. In the temple there lived a prophetess called Anna who was advanced in years, and now as a widow she never left the temple. She worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer. She saw Jesus and gave thanks to God. Anna spoke about the child to all.

And the child Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom, and the favor of God was upon him.

– From Luke 2

From the rising to the setting of the sun the kids around us rocked and rolled.  Aly practiced new judo moves with Aki, and Miles jumped on top of both of them. Jasper smiled, eyes wide, at everybody holding him. And he cried with everybody holding him. Jack watched football and basketball. Bravo Bears! The Illini got a win. The Forty-niners pulled it out.

It got pretty noisy sometimes. And sometimes the living room felt completely full of peace.

Aly and Miles went to his Sunday School class together. She was his “helper.” Jack came with us to the adult service, where we listened to Albert Tate rock his church, and ours, with a Lazarus sermon. We opened gifts, lots of candy and Legos and books, ate pizza and fried chicken and most of us took long naps.

Our kids left on a double date, while Margaret and I spent a couple hours with four grandkids. Simple, right? There were various reasons why, but in the midst of two kids crying Aly said, “Wow, I have such a headache. My head just burns!” We prayed for her. Jack and Aly prayed for the crying boys. They kept crying, but everybody felt better. At least I did.

Miles and I spent a while together in his bedroom, reading about a mouse who wants a cookie. I told him a story about spending a day on the garbage truck with Bert and Ed, complete with lunch his mom made for them. We sang songs. “Let’s go riding in a car, car. Away in a manger. Go tell it on a mountain.

Aly kept doing all she could. She played, and cuddled, she changed a diaper and tried to explain two games to Miles. She kept her cool, and she didn’t give up. Eventually her headache went away. We figured out the new bottle Jasper was using, so finally he could get some milk while his mom was away. We never did understand the swaddling clothes. But after the milk he laid there happy until his mommy and daddy got home.

Watching Aly, I thought of Anna in the temple, who lost her husband before they had any kids. She dedicated her life to serving God, caring for the priests, maintaining the candles, sweeping the floor of the temple, whatever there was to be done. And on this day of Jesus’ dedication she held the baby.

Anna must have been surprised when her heart leaped. Like that unborn baby John, she too knew Jesus in a heartbeat. And like Simeon a moment before, she could sing with certainty, “Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace. For mine eyes have seen.”

Blinded with tears, rolling with laughter, quiet with sleep, our eyes have seen. Right into the midst of our own holy family, God reaches down and reminds us all just how much he loves us.

These wonderful simple days, Lord, full of joy and praise, full of leaping and laughing, we are so thankful as this year ends and another beckons, that you are here.


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Dec 29 19

Family stories

by davesandel

Family stories

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Now Herod has died, and behold, the angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” So Joseph departed, not for Bethlehem but for Nazareth, in the region of Galilee.

– From Matthew 2

So Jesus will grow up in Nazareth, Joseph and Mary’s home town. Perhaps his parents would have returned to Jesus’ own birthplace, but in yet another dream God warned Joseph that Herod’s son now ruled in Judea, and he was as dangerous as his father.

Jesus does not see Bethlehem again. His infancy, his time as toddler, his early education all took place in the village of Nazareth. Not far from an important Roman road, his town would be visited by soldiers and officials. Joseph the carpenter (Greek texton, which means builder, craftsman, woodworker) would often build and repair Roman and Jewish homes, furniture and wagons. The Romans needed him when their royal carriages collapsed. And he must also have been required to build a cross now and then.

Jesus helped, of course. As time passed he and his father worked together all day, pausing for meals, pausing for an afternoon nap, pausing to pray. As he grew older and his mother taught him to read, Jesus studied the Scriptures.

Jesus became a 12-year old scholar who confounded and amazed the teachers in Jerusalem. His father knew him as both an engineer and artist, who took his responsibilities seriously most of the time. His mother watched him think, like she did, of the deep things. They were quiet while they kneaded dough for daily bread.

Today we are with our grandkids, who are ten, seven, three, and six months old, just like Jesus when he was growing up.  He was six months, he was three, he was seven and then ten. Out of the corner of my eye, I like to watch Jesus watching them …

*           *           *

I imagine that one of these days, when these four children are somehow living in a village on the Galilean road, they will hear the cry, “Jesus is coming, Jesus is coming!” In spite of the roughness of his disciples, they decide to struggle through the crowd up beside the village well where Jesus is resting from his journey.

Jack carries Jasper, and Aly grabs Miles’ hand. They push through. And then there is Jesus, sweaty, dusty Jesus. They all sink down and sit on the ground beside him in the dust, their strong young backs warmed against the bricks.

The big people around them Familyresent the space they take up, but Jesus reminds them that “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such children as these” (Matthew 19). Just watch see the children’s chests swell up with pride.

Jack reaches his arm around those dusty knees. Jesus puts his hand on Jasper’s head in blessing. Aly, with Miles on her lap, reaches up and touches Jesus’ fingers. Her eyes are wide. They touch each other’s fingertips, and Miles laughs. He rubs his cheek against the robe. They are all in this together.

*           *           *

Dallas Willard reminds us that Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived. After his resurrection he told St. John, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21).

The carpenter has come a long way. But he is still a lover, still a friend, still a scholar, still an engineer and artist. Sometimes he is still a little boy who needs his mom, and Jesus’ mother Mary travels now beside him, from town to town, kneading bread and always praying for her precious son.

Touch us, Jesus, make us new. Bless us while we play. Keep us safe in the sleep you give us, and lead us in the way that lasts forever.



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Dec 28 19

Crouching in a cave

by davesandel

Crouching in a cave

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. We escaped with our lives like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare was broken, and we escaped. Always, our help is in the name of the Lord, maker of heaven and earth.

– From Psalm 124

How many times do I remember that night, standing in the mouth of the cave with Joseph, hearing Mary and baby Jesus rustle in the dark behind us, and listening with every ear for the sound of Roman soldiers! We are on the road to Egypt. Another dream that carpenter had, that Joseph!

He’s getting to be a regular mystic, my friend Joseph. God spoke to him again. “Rise and take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you” (Matthew 2). Herod’s paranoia is getting the better of him. He’s terrified and determined to kill the baby who threatens his throne.

Joseph knocked on my door last night at midnight, and we were gone by one. The stars shone as bright as they could shine. They marked an easy path for us but also for the soldiers. We ran and tripped in fear, crushed by our imaginations, of soldiers roughly grabbing Jesus … leaving nothing left for us but stains of blood on simple swaddling clothes.

O for the safety now of their simple manger! They told me the story, and I wish I’d seen those animals breathing in the cold night, shepherds surprising them and falling on their knees beside the manger, the star that stayed in place above, until the family left.

The angels heard Mary’s magnificent call for justice, but so I fear, did Satan.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. (From Luke 1)

 Satan has been whispering in Herod’s ear.

But we stop to pray four times a day. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth, who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, who will not leave us or forsake us, who is our help in time of trouble, who will never grow weary, never grow faint. God keeps Joseph and his family a step ahead of trouble.

Jesus must be a pretty special baby.

Morning breeze comes cold and fresh. Dawn birds start their singing. I wrap my blanket a little closer, now I lay me down to sleep, for an hour or two. I close my eyes, but But Joseph still stands, silhouette against the start of morning, standing beside the angel.

I only know what Joseph tells me. One mystic is enough for this trip. But in the heart of me, I know that God is near.

There might be wolves too, Lord, not just soldiers. Without you, we would not last an hour, but with you we can cross the desert and live. Our help comes always in your name, Maker of heaven and earth. You are our hiding place.

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Dec 27 19

A Christmas debate

by davesandel

A Christmas debate

Friday, December 27, 2019

What we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life. And we are writing this so our joy may be complete. ­

– From 1 John 1

In his Christmas message Ron Rolheiser invoked Karl Rahner’s beautiful sentiment tying together Christmas and Easter: “Do not be afraid to be happy.”

Rolheiser resists a bit. “The meaning of Christ and Christmas is hardly the stuff of our Christmas lights, carols, cribs, and Santa. Does Calvary cast a permanent shadow on Bethlehem?”

But Rahner insists. He reminds us with imagined words of Jesus:

I am the blind alleys of all your paths, for when you no longer know how to go any further, then you have reached me. And then say only one thing, “I am here,” and that is Christmas for you. Don’t say anything more, only “I am here.” Because I am there with you, and it is Christmas. Light the candles. They have more right to exist than all the darkness.

 Rolheiser agrees at last and sternly rejoices. “The crib trumps the cross, even as the cross does not fully disappear. Christmas invites us to be happy, and this demands of us an elemental asceticism, a fasting from our adult cynicism and a discipline of joy. This will hold the cross and crib together so we can live in a joy which no one, and no tragedy, can take from us.”

Mary Magdalene walked straight into the darkness of Jesus’ tomb, and it was empty. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb!” she said. (John 20) But they took no pause to remember Jesus’ promises of resurrection. His body had been stolen, and they did not know where it was. Their tragedy, their own blind alley, left them stranded and utterly alone, bereft of even the remains of Jesus.

But you and I, and Rahner too, have heard the end of the story. Jesus will not leave us alone, not from the moment of Christmas birth to the moment of resurrection, to the moment of ascension, to our own moments of transfiguration. We are not bereft, not caught napping, not held captive down some dark alley.

I remember Warner Sallman’s famous picture of Jesus standing outside the cottage door with his right hand raised. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The painting hung for years and years on my parents’ bedroom wall. Rahner’s Jesus, knocking, hears me say inside the house, “I am here.” He walks in and we are here together.

Savory smells waft out from the kitchen. Jesus sits down and asks for something to eat. I look sharply at him, surprised for a moment. But then I see. Jesus wants to eat with me.

I can’t wait to share. Rolheiser knows this. “Despite all the disillusion within our adult lives, Christmas still offers us depressed adults that wonderful invitation. This allows us, as John Shea poetically puts it, to jump headlong into the pudding!“

Your words, Lord, whisper in my ear. They rinse my soul and call me in to rest. “I am here, David.” Nothing more, nothing more I need. Forever and for always, Lord, you are the God of me.

 Ronald Rolheiser column,, December 21, 2015

Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year: The Best of Karl Rahner’s Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations. Quoted by Rolheiser and also by Matt Emerson, America Magazine, December 30, 2013

John Shea, Starlight: Beholding the Christmas Miracle All ¥ear Long, 2006

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Dec 26 19

What am I pondering

by davesandel

What am I pondering

Thursday, December 26, 2019

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

– From Matthew 10

On the Feast of St. Stephen, remember Mary’s Magnificat, her reflection of God’s desire for family, for neighborly-ness, when the high are brought down and the low, raised up.

See Saul standing straight, silhouetted there on the rim of a western hill, killers’ coats all around his feet. Saul’s harassing, biting words drove the Jews into a frenzy and here they are now, defeated in debate but victorious in their kangaroo court. Watch them rush headlong into this killing field. The men, of course. Always the men.

They find jagged rocks and hurl them like simple snowballs at the head of Stephen. They are protecting something – their families? Their traditions? Their God?

But God does not need their help. Nor mine.

Saul called it blasphemy and treason, but it was not. Stephen’s new power to heal, accompanied by words given to him just when he needed them, brought joyful prayer to the mouths of the people. Their hearts turned soft and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Stephen claimed the presence and the grace of Jesus, who was not dead after all, and Saul screamed, “No!”

Years before, Mary pondered all those things that filled her life and would change the world. Saul, so magisterial on the hill in his self-righteousness, will soon be hurled from his beast on the road to Damascus, brought down into the ancient dust to discover God in the words of Jesus. “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” And Saul was blinded by the sight.

When Saul’s sight was restored, he pondered his revelation in the desert for a thousand days.

But Stephen is our hero today.

See Stephen in his cell, candles dead in the darkness, staring in spite of himself into the hate-filled eyes of Saul. But then, this night before his murder, God removes this remembrance from Stephen’s mind.

Stephen prays, Stephen ponders. O Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. O Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! O Jesus! We can watch him pray all night, as we pray too.

What am I pondering? I see myself, and Christmas bells, which along with their holiday had yet to be invented, and invite Stephen across the centuries to sit beside me while we listen.


These bells that play

On Christmas Day

Their ringing settles me


Deep and wide and wild and sweet

Sounding my soul, listening for

Evidence of Relationship


Sobs, bursts of song,

Long silences sometimes

For kin we are and kin we will remain


Can I claim this brotherhood with Stephen? He’s the martyr, not me. He’s today’s hero, not me. He is the one raised up, in God’s good time, from the devil’s dirt and death invoked in rocks and hate.

Stephen calls out his forgiveness, I call out mine. He joins the family brought together by our Father, neighbors all. There is Herod, there is Saul, there is Peter, there is Paul. Here we are, just smell that turkey! We wait together for our Savior, we wait for Jesus to come and bless his holy family at our meal.

I’m alone today, Lord, and calling out your name. O Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me! My backyard birds fly up in flocks to feed, and fly away again, together. As I sit you fill me with remembrance of all those others too, who sit down too, who love you too, because you always first loved them. We’re in this all together.

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Dec 25 19

On Christmas Day in the morning

by davesandel

On Christmas Day in the morning

Christmas Day, Wednesday, December 25, 2019

When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.

And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.

– From Luke 2

You take the apple, I’ll eat the orange!

Can we have marshmallows in our chocolate, Mommy?

When will daddy get in from the barn?

Can we open our presents now, Daddy? “Settle down right there, kids.” It’s finally time.

I got a chess set and a book to show me how. Johnny got an ‘lectric train, and Mary Kay a grown-up dollie. We made gifts for Mom and Dad, and couldn’t wait to share them. Open it! Open it now! I made mommy a snowflake to put in the window. Johnny made a special sculpture out of corn and straw. He wasn’t sure what it was, but everybody loved it.

Mary Kay made daddy a holder for his pocket pen and notebook. In the spring he wrote down all the kinds of corn and beans he planted, and when he planted them. When he opened it he had a happy smile. “Thank you, Mary Kay,” he said.

Mommy made turkey, and mashed potatoes, and green bean casserole, and the winter sun shone through the west window. Our kitchen was warm as toast. The cows would need to be milked again in not too long, but just now in the lazy afternoon, we let them be.

We Lutherans spent some time in church at Christmas. First, practices for the pageant and then the show itself, starring us, always performed on Christmas Eve. My cousin Jan remembers these nights like I do, we could hardly breathe and then we sang and said our words so carefully, and then, such relief!

There’s a brown paper bag with an orange, and chocolate candy, and sometimes a quarter. There was a card just for me. My favorite teacher Mr. Read handed us our bags. His usually quiet smile burst out into his cheeks. He talked and talked in Sunday School, but tonight he just smiled at me and said, “Merry Christmas, David. Jesus loves you.” That was enough for me. I felt so happy in the dark, sitting side by side by side with Mary Kay and John in the back seat of our car.

Then next morning, after all those gifts and Christmas breakfast, we went to church again. We sat still in the wooden pews and sang the songs of Christmas, our Lutheran songs: All My Heart Again Rejoices, From Heaven Above to Earth I Come, We Praise You Jesus At Your Birth, and a bow to the Methodists, “Joy To The World,” with a just a few changes in the words.

Of course our cows got milked. Dad wore his barn coat and rubber boots. Lowell Thomas read his Christmas news from the fly-speck radio. I helped milk, and sometimes so did John, and the work was done. Our Grandma Brummer Christmas dinner beckoned. Grandpa sat in his huge wood rocker and Aunt Mary gave us great hugs and sang “Let me go! Let me go!” while she held on tight.

More presents! And more wrapping paper. On the day after Christmas, I loved to burn the trash and watch flames scorch the colored paper, and turn it black. It was warm beside the burning barrel, and warmer still because my back was cold.

Christmas has come again this year, and my memories rise up, shadows in the fireplace flames, along the edges of my rushing mind. It’s good to ponder them, learning to think like Mary did, letting God do what God does, and wonder about it all.

After the madhouse comes this quiet, Lord. Now I can ask questions and take time to listen to what you say to me. I feel so much warmth and love from you as I remember these family things. I want to carry that on and out to others. How, for me, is that to be, Lord? Will you show me how, and then again?

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Dec 24 19

Mass in the morning

by davesandel

Mass in the morning

Christmas Eve, Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Zechariah, John’s father filled with the Holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:

“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; for he has come to his people and set them free. He has raised up for us a mighty Savior, born of the house of his servant David.

Through his prophets he promised of old that he would save us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to set us free from the hand of our enemies, free to worship him without fear, holy and righteous in his sight all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way, to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

– End of Luke 1

On this fine, final day before the Day, some of us will go to 7 AM mass, and many more to another Christmas Eve service at a more civilized time, and we will sing the songs as Zechariah did, full of hope and future glory. The words will echo in the church, like a bell ringing even louder in the silence between its peals. And our hearts have every right to open, because this is the dawn on high. The light of Jesus breaks upon us.

The holy family is moving on, away from the attentions of Elizabeth and Zechariah and the months of Mary’s preparation. These barely-grown-up Hebrew children who bear God’s child turn down the path to Bethlehem, being from the house of David. Along with their relatives, they must travel days to sign their names in the presence of a Roman accountant. They must render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

And to God, what is God’s, because it is in the palm of God where they read their heritage and their future. Zechariah’s words sing to them with every footstep. God “sets them free from the hand of their enemies, free to worship the LORD without fear, free to be holy and righteous in God’s sight all the days of their lives.”

Can this be always, always true? Are we too indeed set free?

I know I feel darkness in my dwelling place. I sense the shadow of death, never far from me. I am afraid. But Zechariah’s words challenge these close illusions.

The breath of this priest’s sudden words strengthens my soul.

My fears and schemes and desperate grasping hands, all these phantoms fade in the tenderness of God’s promises. With a whisper, with a gentle touch, my father guides my feet onto the path of peace.

My controlling spirit takes a step back today. My friend speaks of choosing happiness rather than getting her own way, even when her own way matters. She just needs a moment.

I hear her, I learn from her, I can make that choice myself. The armor of the Lord is never designed to protect my ego, but my spirit.

On this day we can wait together beneath the tent first of sun, then stars. Outside the little town of Bethlehem, we sit together on the cold ground, that ancient dust from which we came, and share our own sweet stories of God’s compassion, the gift that rests on all of us, in time and time, forever more.

Above our deep and dreamless sleep, your silent stars go by. But in our dark streets, shining, your everlasting light, our hopes and dreams, of all the years, are met in thee … tonight.

 *           *           *

And on a somewhat different note, you might like to watch 4 or so minutes of the best Christmas pageant ever (to steal a phrase), from Southland Christian Church in Kentucky:

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Dec 23 19

I will send you Elijah

by davesandel

I will send you Elijah

Monday, December 23, 2019

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard
that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.

When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, “No. He will be called John.” But they answered her, “There is no one among your relatives who has this name.” So they made signs, asking his father what he wished the baby to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, “John is his name,” and all were amazed.

Immediately Zechariah’s mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, “What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.”

– From Luke 1

Joseph came for Mary a few days earlier, and they returned together to Nazareth. Now the time was accomplished for Elizabeth to bear her son. Her midwife told Zechariah how to help, and he brought hot water, he warmed cloths, he prayed and worried and listened to the unheard-of noises from the next room. The baby squalled and Zechariah heard. He began to cry. The midwife beckoned him, and he went in to Elizabeth.

“Here is our son,” she said to her husband still mute. “Here is our child from God.” He touched the baby’s cheek with his ancient fingertip. Zechariah’s breath came quickly, and at last he began, with his wife and son, to rest. In the darkness alone, now, they slept.

In the morning the neighbors came. The women oohed over the new baby, and the men smoked cigars, perhaps, with Zechariah, who remained still, who spoke not a word but whose proud smile spoke volumes. They brought food, and all of them laughed together, amazed that God had given these old people a brand new baby.

Then it was eight days later, there in the hill country only a few miles from Jerusalem, as the flowers bloomed and olive branches waved in the summer breeze. Now it was time for the baby’s first surgery, and for his christening. But the name seemed wrong, at least to everyone except Elizabeth and her husband.

Then it was, at last, when Zechariah’s clear obedience to the words of Gabriel broke through the long silence. As he wrote the words, his mouth also began to move, the words rise up in his throat, the sound of joy bearing that new name, “His name shall be called John!”

Yes, John, just as the angel had said, the same John about whom his cousin Jesus would say, “Elijah has already come,” Malachi’s prophesy accomplished. This tiny baby boy will prepare the world for Jesus, for “the day of the Lord, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:24).

“What, then, will this child be?” the neighbors ask, eyes wide. God bides his time, but not for long. The morning is about to dawn, even in the middle of the night. Songs of joy echo in the hill country.

In this time, Father, time of quiet and stillness too, let me listen to your birds sing, as they always do in their joy and satisfaction. As your times are accomplished and your babies born, life is brought to fruit, and we’re made whole.

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Dec 22 19

Joy of their coming

by davesandel

Joy of their coming

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22, 2019

The angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit hat this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

– From Matthew 1

Despite Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph heeds his dream and takes Mary for his wife. This brings him peace and great joy, and patience with the gossip of his family and neighbors. Mary, though, has a tougher time with the wagging tongues, so while Joseph works, she travels to the house of her relative Elizabeth. As she arrives Elizabeth sings for joy and the baby within her jumps for joy. At last Mary can relax and know her own joy. She sings from the bottom of her soul, praising and glorifying God:

My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.

From now on all generations will call me blessed,

 for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.

His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.

 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;

he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.

 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.

 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.

 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful

 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors. (From Luke 1)

Mary’s was not a visit for the afternoon. She stayed three months before returning to Nazareth. I guess there was no hurry. They told their stories, they made bread, they harvested olives, they dried fish, they ate and slept and ate and slept.

Zechariah might have been a bit of a scholar. He was a high priest. He read his scrolls. His prayers might have been longer and more complicated. He offered no complaint about Mary spending time with Elizabeth. Their meals were pleasant and rich with conversation.

Nobody had to put their phone away when it was time for dinner. There was nothing on TV to watch as the house grew dark, no radio shows, no newspaper. Their conversation covered the events around them, what was happening to the people in their community.

And then … perhaps at times all three were caught up in remembrance, those shocking, amazing words brought by Gabriel. They did not make this up; the babies he left behind made that clear as clear.

All this was illuminated in Mary’s song of liberation and equality. They followed after their Father, and hope filled their hearts.

Did these mothers expect their sons to become Nazarites, join the strange men of the desert who ate locusts and honey, let their hair grow like Samson, and dedicate themselves to God by leaving the city, leaving the world?

As their babies grew inside them, did they imagine these boys growing and teething and crawling and rolling over? Of course they did. These mothers already knew the names God picked out for their boys, and in their minds they watched them walk, and play, begin to read the Torah, ask questions about the words of the prophets, listen to the old men and dream their own young dreams.

Jesus and John would grow in stature, and in God’s own good time move the mountains of their Hebrew world, ushering in a new one. “I am the voice of the one calling in the wilderness,” John called. “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” Jesus cried out.

All this will come. For now the sun sets, the moon rises, the stars shine bright and cold in the night. The candles are extinguished, covers pulled up to their chins. Pray, sleep, wait, wonder. And each day, awaken once again.

I’m free, Lord, to remember your morning even in the darkness of my night, to feel the warmth of your arms, the gentle embrace of my God. Even as sleep falls, so too do dreams come, so too do you whisper in my ear. Not sweet nothings, no, but joy and joy and joy.

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