Joy to the World!


1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)


Joy to the World , the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ; While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as, the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness, And wonders of His love, And wonders of His love, And wonders, wonders, of His love.

(Isaac Watts, 1719)


The day has dawned!  Sometime in the night, God tiptoed into the world and made a home.  And the world will never be the same again.  Most of us barely noticed.  Most of the world woke this morning and went on with their lives.  That’s OK.  If God had wanted fanfare, then I supposed God would have come with a bit more flourish and drama, perhaps calling ahead or something.  But instead, God enters as one of us, quietly slipping the Divine into our midst with as little noise as possible.  (Although I suppose it’s hard to enter quietly with a multitude of angels in tow!)


When Isaac Watts first wrote the familiar Christmas carol “Joy to the World”, he didn’t mean for it to be a carol at all.  The words were originally written to celebrate the triumphant second coming of Christ rather than the birth that we celebrate this morning.  I think that’s the reason it works, though.  God’s coming into the world is not merely something that happened more than 2,000 years ago.  Today is not the celebration of the anniversary of Jesus’ birth as if it is some sort of historic relic that we hold; rather, today–THIS day–IS the coming of God into our midst, the realization that even now, Heaven is spilling into our lives, making a home, and Heaven and Nature are singing together.


God comes quietly, tiptoeing into our lives each and every day of our existence.  A new Light has dawned and every day is Christmas!  So when the Holy and Sacred dawn in our life, are we called to join in loud acclaim, or are we called to silently open our our lives and let the Divine spill in?  With all respect to Mr. Watts, I’m not a big watcher of the “Second Coming” of Christ.  I don’t know what that looks like and the Scriptures are not that specific about it.  I think the point of Christmas is that the Lord is come (as in already)!  God came quietly into our world as the Christ child more than 2,000 years ago.  It was the First Day of the new dawn.  And the Light has been rising each every day since.  And for every heart that quietly opens and makes room for God to tiptoe in and make a home, the Light becomes brighter.  Rather than waiting for God’s coming, let us see that God is here.  Let us see that every day is Christmas.  (And, along the same lines, perhaps every day is the triumphant coming for which we are looking until God’s Kingdom and the recreation of all is complete!)  Joy to the World!  The Lord is come!


The Lord is come!  Let us now go and see this thing that has taken place!


The Christmas spirit is that hope which tenaciously clings to the hearts of the faithful and announces in the face of any Herod the world can produce and all the inn doors slammed in our faces and all the dark nights of our souls, that with God all things still are possible, that even now unto us a Child is born! (Ann Weems)

Merry Christmas!



Thank you for joining me this season as we prepared ourselves for this glorious day!  Now it’s time for me to take a little break!  I’ll be back every day during Lent (which is incredibly soon this year!) and perhaps I can get my act together to post some other posts in the meantime!  Have a joyous Christmas! (Because THAT season has just begun!)   And keep dancing to God!

Grace and Peace,



O Holy Night


And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2: 1-14, King James Version)


Mary and Joseph have arrived.  The crowds are almost too much to take, pushing and crushing as the couple makes their way through them.  Mary doesn’t feel well.  She really needs to just lie down and rest.  And when you don’t feel well, the last place you want to be is somewhere that is not home, somewhere foreign, somewhere so crowded, so unwelcoming.  They need to hurry.  There is not too much time left.


They stop at a small inn up on the hill overlooking the shepherds’ pastures down below.  Joseph leaves Mary for a moment and goes to make arrangements for a place to stay.  But when he returns, his face looks frustrated, almost in tears.  He tells Mary that the inn is full.  In fact, the whole town is full.  There is no place to stay.  There is no room.  But he tells Mary that the innkeeper has given them permission to at least go into the stableroom to keep warm.  He’s freshening the hay now.  He actually was very nice and was trying his best to make them comfortable.


So Mary and Joseph entered the stableroom and, surrounded by animals, tried to get some rest.   They could still hear the crowded city outside.  They could hear the Roman guards yelling as they tried to control the crowds.  It made the place feel every more foreign, even more foreboding.  But directly overhead, was the brightest star they had ever seen.  It was as if the tiny little stable was being bathed in light.  So Mary laid down and closed her eyes.  She knew that the time was almost here.  She knew that the baby was coming into the world.


And on this night of nights, into a cold, dirty stable in a small town filled with yelling and pushing crowds, into a place occupied by soldiers, into a place that did not feel like home, into a world that had no room, God comes.  The door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven burst into our little world, flooding it with Light and Life.  And yet, the child in the manger bathed in light, the very Incarnation of the Divine, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Messiah, is, still, one of us.  God takes the form of one of us–just an ordinary human–a human like you and me–to show us what it means to be one of us, to be human, to be made in the image of God.


God comes into a world that is unprepared for God, that has no room for God.  God comes into places that are unclean, unworthy, unacceptable for us, much less for the Divine.  God comes into places that most of us would not go, out of fear of the other, out of fear of the unknown, out of fear of the darkness. And there God makes a home.  The Divine begins to pour into the world and with it a vision of the world pouring into the Divine.  This night, though, is not the pinnacle of our lives but, rather, the beginning of a new chapter.  God comes, bathed in Light, in the humblest of disguises imaginable, into the lowliest of places we know, into the darkest night of the soul, that we might finally know that all of the world is of God, all of the world is bathed in the Divine.  God comes so that we might finally see life as we are called to see it and live life as we are called to live it, filled with mercy and compassion and awareness of our connectedness to all the world.  God comes so that we might finally be human, so that we might finally make room.


Perhaps the world will never be completely ready for God.  If God waited for us to be completely prepared, God would never come at all.  But this God doesn’t need our preparation. This God doesn’t need to come into a place that is cleaned up and sanitized for God.  Instead, God comes when and where God comes.  God comes into godforsakenness, into a world that is occupied by foreignness, where the need for God is the greatest, into a world that cries out for justice and peace, and there God makes a home.  God comes into the darkness and bathes it in light.


The time is here.  In this moment, the door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven are now bursting into the world.  If you stop and listen, just for a moment, you can hear the harps eternal in the distance as they approach our lives.  Can’t you feel it?  Doors opening, light flooding in, the earth filled with a new vision of hope and peace.  Maybe, just maybe, tonight will be different.  Maybe this is the night that the world chooses peace and justice and love.  Maybe this is the night that the world takes joy. Maybe this is the night when the world realizes that it is already filled with the Divine.  Maybe this is the night when we become human.  Maybe this is the night that we make room.


It gets darker and darker…and then Jesus is born. (Ann Lamott)


Merry Christmas!



Bethlehem: The Road Ahead

Journey to Bethlehem-FinallyIn those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.  (Luke 2: 1-5)


They felt like they had been climbing forever. The desert mountains seemed to be getting larger. They were doubting that they would make it in time. The looked up ahead and the mountain seemed to flatten out at the top. That would be good. It would give them a time to rest and try to get their bearings. As they stepped up to the flat part, they saw it. There…there it was…Jerusalem off in the distance. But there, right there, was Bethlehem. And in the still-darkened morning light, they saw a star that seemed to be right over the city. It was as if heaven and earth were coming together at that point. These hard days of journeying were coming to an end. But they also knew that things were changing. They knew that at this point they could never go back. But today…today would bring them to Bethlehem.



Think of this day so long ago.  Bethlehem was in reach for this scared young couple who were so unsure of exactly what the world held for them.  They were rounding the final peaks of their journey.  But this day they found themselves no longer a part of their old lives and yet they didn’t really know what tomorrow would hold. But now, now they were traveling through a foreign land.  It was the land of Joseph’s family.  He had been there often as a child.  But the place was different somehow, full of those who followed this emperor, nothing like he really remembered.  The road was packed with travelers returning to the place of their ancestors to make their presence known to the government.  Joseph felt like he should know these people and, yet, they were all strangers to him.  Mary and Joseph did not feel like they were part of this new world and yet their old world did not exist.  There didn’t seem to be any room for them at all.


We are indeed standing on the edge of a brave new world, perched on a place that gives us view of what was and what is to come.  Oh sure, we do this once a year whether we’re ready or not. Once a year, the night of nights comes and we sing Silent Night and we light our candle and once again welcome the Christ Child into our lives.  Why is this year any different?  Because, in this moment, standing on this edge between who we are and who we will be has the possibility of changing everything.  This is the moment when we decide whether or not to turn toward Bethlehem or to turn and go back.  Standing in this place, a threshold of sorts, we see both roads, fully in our view.


We are not that different from that scared young couple or the myriad of folks that have answered God’s call through all time.  We find ourselves pulled between the life we’ve so carefully created and the life we’ve been promised.  It is hard to not hold so tightly to those structures that give us power and prestige and security.  And yet, God doesn’t call us to leave our lives behind but to live all that we are and all that we have within that vision that God holds for us.  And it is in this moment, standing here between the two ways that allows us to see how to do that, that allows us to see our lives the way that God sees them and journey on.  It is in this moment that God gives us new eyes and asks us to follow the star.  And if we do that, this year WILL be different.  We are standing in the threshold between a waiting world and one in which the Divine has already poured into our midst.  We live in the already and the not yet.  But for those who see with new eyes, the road ahead is the only one that makes sense anymore.  Because that is the way to Bethlehem.  Let us go and see this thing that has happened.  There’s a world about to be born in the form of a baby who is Christ the Lord.


This text speaks of the birth of a child, not the revolutionary deed of a strong man, or the breath-taking discovery of a sage, or the pious deed of a saint.  It truly boggles the mind:  The birth of a child is to bring about the great transformation of all things, is to bring salvation and redemption to all of humanity.

As if to shame the most powerful human efforts and achievements, a child is placed in the center of world history.  A child born of humans, a son given by God.  This is the mystery of the redemption of the world; all that is past and all that is to come.

All who at the manger finally lay down all power and honor, all prestige, all vanity, all arrogance and self-will; all who take their place among the lowly and let God alone be high; all who see the glory of God in the lowliness of the child in the manger:  these are the ones who will truly celebrate Christmas. (From Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ed. By Manfred Weber)


Go humbly, humble are the skies, and low and large and fierce the Star; So very near the Manger lies that we may travel far. (G.K. Chesterton)


Grace and Peace,



The Wilderness: Led Through

Journey to Bethlehem-Wilderness

52Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. 53He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies. 54And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won. (Psalm 78: 52-54)


Mary and Joseph eventually came to a place near Jericho down the Wadi Kelt.  Jericho was warm and almost balmy, comfortable really.  It was probably a place of welcome.  And at that point Mary and Joseph would turn and head straight through the wilderness toward Bethlehem near Jerusalem.  The temperatures dropped and that added to the feeling of this forsaken desert that they had to traverse.  It was hard to stay on track in this wilderness.  The sands would blow with the wind and the pathway seemed to move beneath their feet.  It was the last part of their journey, but it would be the most difficult.  Temptation to get off the path met them at every turn. Most of all, they were tired, oh so tired.  And yet, there was a strange sense that they were being led, guided on the pathway by some unseen force.  They knew that God was with them, guiding them to the place that they were called to go.  All they had to do was walk and listen and trust that God was with them.  “Be not afraid,” the angel had said.  It was now that those words were needed more than ever.  The holy city was beckoning but the journey was one that they had never walked before.



The wilderness seems to be a repeating theme, doesn’t it?  The wilderness is always there, sometimes between where we are and where we are called to go.  Sometimes, we, too, have to turn, change our course, and head straight into the wilderness.  And there, God leads us through—not around, but through.  There are no shortcuts.  God leads us through, helping us navigate the rough paths and the difficult sightlines, even when the sands seem to move our pathways beneath our feet, and, when the time is right, God brings us home.  Like sheep, we follow God to the place that we are meant to be.


But, like Mary and Joseph, sometimes we have to turn, to head down a pathway that God leads us.  Sometimes we have to go through a different place to get to the place that is home.  Sometimes that home makes no sense without our journey through the wilderness.  Three decades later, the child born to Mary would find himself again in the wilderness.  It would be his very undoing and then would be the place where he would begin again, the place where he would become who he was called to be and claim it for himself.  The wilderness is a place of Creation, much like the formless void that started us all.


So, on this journey to Bethlehem, perhaps God was leading Mary and Joseph to their beginning. And in the wilderness, before they arrived, they were being given a new way to see what God was about to do.  In this last of their Bethlehem journey, Mary and Joseph were becoming who God called them to be.  The wilderness is not often a place that we choose to go; rather it is a place that chooses us and through which we must follow so that we can arrive and on that holiest of nights know what part of it is that is ours to play not just for that night but forever.  In this moment, Mary and Joseph’s lives were changing.  There was no way they could back, no matter how tempting it was to control their own destiny.  God was calling them forward.  The Salvation of the World was waiting.


In the spiritual tradition, wilderness is the place where we leave the world behind and place ourselves at God’s disposal.. (Daniel Wolpert)


Grace and Peace,


The Jordan River: Renewing Waters

Journey to Bethlehem-Jordan

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over mighty waters… 11May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!  (Psalm 29: 3,11)


When Mary and Joseph got to the Jordan, it was such a relief.  The waters were calm and beckoning, as if they contained something life-giving, as if they contained life.  The river was a welcomed site.  It meant that the path that they had taken was the right one and for at least a while, the waters would be their guide.  They walked along the waters and listened to their voice.  It was as if they were giving them something more, washing away fear and hesitation, perhaps again telling them, “Do not be afraid.”  Somehow, this River Jordan, this simple body of water, called them in and sent them forth at the same time.  They stopped every now and then and drank the cool water and as it trickled down their throats, they felt renewed.  Things were going to be OK.  And somehow they knew that the River Jordan would be important for them, would somehow be the source of life.



Three decades later, these waters would hold and give life yet again.  These same waters would be the ones that would claim Jesus, the baby yet to be, as God’s Beloved.  They would be the same waters that would send Jesus back into the wilderness to become who he was.  And then, the waters would give us life as well.  Water is the source of life in every way.  Creation began in the waters, swirling and forming until it was ready to emerge as the lands of the earth.  We began in the waters, protected in a watery womb until we could live.  And then we were given life again through the waters of baptism.


In a way, it is the waters that connect us all—Waters to land, oceans to continents, Creation to Life, Jesus’ baptism to our own, Bethlehem to Jerusalem.  We do not live hearing this story over and over again.  We are instead invited to become it, to enter the water and feel its power, to live the story and become someone new.  Perhaps it really is the waters that hold God’s voice.  We just have to listen as they swirl around us.



As Jesus stood, dripping with the waters of the Jordan that poured back into themselves, everything indeed changed.  In that moment, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Creation and Eternity, manger and Cross, all who came before and all who would follow, were one.  In that moment, all that was and all that would be were almost indistinguishable from each other.  In that moment, all of those who were there that day and all of those who were part of the past and all of those who would come later in this walk of humanity, were swept into those waters, swept into the memories of what would be.  Remembering means that we realize that we are part of the story, that we, too, emerge dripping with those waters.


This time of waiting, this time of journeying to Bethlehem, is not to hear the story again but to become someone new, to change, to receive new life so that we can begin again.


The future enters into us in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens. (Rainer Maria Rilke)


Grace and Peace,



Jezreel Valley: Traveling in Darkness

Journey to Bethlehem-Darkness2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. (Isaiah 9:2)

Only one day into the journey, Mary and Joseph were feeling the weight of their trip.  As they left the familiar area surrounding the Lake of Galilee, they entered the Jezreel Valley.  Mary was tired, oh so tired.  The weather had changed and the world was dark.  It was hard to see the pathway they were on.  It was difficult to be assured that nothing was coming toward them from the side.  She so wanted to stop and rest.  But they had to keep moving.  And they of course could not go back alone.  It would not be safe.  So, they had to keep moving through the darkness.  The air was cold and damp, as if the darkness had wrapped around her.  She said a silent prayer for light, for light that would somehow push the darkness away.  Once again, she remembered the angel’s words.  “Do not be afraid.”  But the fears were consuming her.  Where was God?  God be with us.



Tonight is the longest night of the year, the day of darkness.  We don’t do well with darkness.  We don’t do well with the unknown, with not being able to see our pathway.  And yet so much of our faith journey is made in darkness.  In fact, so much of our faith journey actually begins in darkness.  Creation begins in darkness.  Seeds sprout in darkness.  Birth begins in darkness.  Even light begins in darkness. And on this day of the longest night, we begin to turn a corner.  As the season of winter begins, we are reminded that the cold and the darkness does indeed wrap around the new life that will come to be, protecting it until it is ready to spring forth.

But we try our best to dispel the darkness, to light our lives with whatever artificial light we can find.  And we fill our lives with enough light so that we will never experience the darkness.  And because our lives are so full, there is no place to begin.  There is no room for light.  In my old neighborhood, there is a house that is an old French colonial with wonderful verandas lining both floors of the house.  For years, the house would outline the verandas with twinkling Christmas lights.  It was beautiful.  Then, for some reason I’ve never completely understood, they began to add more and more lights.  They started by stringing lights across the verandas three, five, seven, fifteen times.  Then the next year, they did the same to the house.  They must have had 50,000 lights!  I would describe it as a veritable blob of holiday lights—so many lights, in fact, that you could no longer see the lines of the house itself.  The house had been overtaken by light.  And, let me tell you, it was no longer beautiful.  Light is not pretty or comforting or even helpful alone.  Light is at its best when it illuminates the darkness and creates shadows and contrasts so that we can truly look at the light.

Part of our Advent journey is traveled in darkness.  It is a darkness where we wait for what is to come, not really knowing how or when God will come, but knowing that the light is just up ahead as we journey down this Holy pathway, never alone.  Traveling in darkness means that we must look to the One that guides us.  And, here, in the darkness, we will be able to see the light as it dawns on our world.

In every beginning, there is darkness.  The darkness of chaos seems eternal, Yet form emerges: light dawns, and life is born..  (New Union Prayerbook.)

Grace and Peace,



Galilee: Faith Migration

Journey to Bethlehem-Galilee2In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. (Luke 2: 1-5)


Mary awoke early that morning. She laid in bed, heavy in both body and spirit. She was close to giving birth. She could feel it. But they had received word that they had to go to Bethlehem to register with the Roman government there. It didn’t make sense. This was their home. But Bethlehem was where their names were known. The world was changing so fast. It didn’t used to be this way. But the land was no longer their own. They were considered trespassers, immigrants, really, even though they had lived here their whole lives. So she got up and began to pack. The desert trek would be treacherous and unforgiving. She thought back to what the angel had said: “Do not be afraid.” There was no choice but to go, so she packed both her fears and her faith and began to ready herself for whatever might come. They would leave Galilee and head toward Judea, to a foreign land, an unwelcoming land. Go with us, God.



For most of us, our faith journey is fairly easy. We live comfortably. We live in a place that feels like home. But once in a while, we are forced to go, to go into the unknown. And that is where our faith comes to be. Maybe these treks are God’s gentle way of nudging us along on our faith journey, lest we get too comfortable, lest we begin to call a place home that is really not ours.


You know, if you read the Bible, it is a story of immigration, of moving from one place to another and sometimes back again, journeying from one way of being to another. The Bible stories are full of those who found themselves in places that they did not really belong—strange utopian gardens, searching for Promised Lands (“So, here’s the deal Abe…if you’ll leave your country and journey to a place that you’ve never seen and that you don’t know, this is all going to turn out.”), and 40 years of lost wilderness wanderings, just to name a few. And in those places, alone, without the comforts of home, they found God and, perhaps just as importantly, they found who they were supposed to be. And now this Bethlehem tale. We know they’ll get there and there won’t be a place (AGAIN!) They won’t build a mansion and settle into a dream home. They will keep journeying to the place that God calls them to go.


Our journey is no different.  There’s never a place.  You see, God does not call us down roads that are paved with our plans and our preconceptions.  God calls us instead to travel through the wilds of our lives, to journey with our eyes open that we might see this new thing that God is doing.  T.S. Eliot once said that “the end of all our exploring…will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.”  There’s never a place.  We never really “arrive”.  The journey does not end. It’s always new, re-created.  That’s the point.   After all, even Mary and Joseph turned and made their way home.  But they were never the same again.  And the baby that is coming?  Well, he was never meant to settle down and stay put.  And there was never really room for him at all.  God didn’t intend to show us how to build a house; God revealed the journey home and threw in traveling mercies on the way. So, let us go and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us!


God travels wonderful paths with human beings; God does not arrange matters to suit our opinions and views, does not follow the path that humans would like to prescribe for God.  God’s path is free and original beyond all our ability to understand or to prove.  (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Christmas With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Manfred Weber, ed.)


Grace and Peace,