REMEMBERING OUR JOURNEY: When Things Began to Change


Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel

Scripture Text:  Luke 1: 30a-38

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Think back.  Think back to that time when things began to change.  Think back to the announcement.  Think back to the point where our world as we know it was rocked to its foundations as God revealed the very Godself to us, bursting into our world, the world that we thought was the one.  For us, it began the mystery that is Jesus Christ, the mystery that brought us here, the mystery that will take us to Jerusalem.  But in this moment we remember, the fog lifted and there before us was the bridge between the human and the Divine.  This IS the beginning of Jesus Christ.  We often sort of skip over that sometimes, choosing not to get much beyond that night of mangers and stars and visiting field hands.  Think about it.  Jesus was fully human and this human Jesus, like all of us, had to be grown and nurtured in the womb before the miracles started.  March 25th (that would be nine months before Christmas) is celebrated as The Feast of the Annunciation, the veritable turning point of all human history.  It is was in this moment that God stepped through the fog into humanity and, just like every human before and every human since, must wait to be fully birthed into this world.  So, let it be…

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.  Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. (Genesis 1: 1-3)

And in some traditions, March 25th is regarded as the first day of Creation.  (Now, really, I don’t even begin to see THAT as a real date!  But it’s a good thing to remember and that date is as good as any, right?)  So, let’s go with it.  March 25th marks the beginning, when God’s Spirit moved across the face of the waters bringing Light into the Darkness.  So the Annunciation…the announcement of the coming of Christ, the coming of God, into our little world…is that day when once again the darkness begins to fill with Light.  So, begin at the beginning and count forward…to the birth of God into the world. Like Creation, the coming of Christ was the Light pushing the darkness away.  It was when things began to change.  The world was with child.

So on this first day of the week leading up to the entrance into Jerusalem, we realize how close we really are, realize that, once again, things are about to change.  It is scary as the ground beneath us begins to shift and the shadows around us begin to move about.  But think about that moment when things began to change.  Can you imagine what Mary must have thought?  She was young, she had plans, she had her whole life ahead of her.  “How can this be?” we read.  In today’s vernacular, it would read, “Are you kidding me?  I had my whole life planned.  It was safe.  It was known.  It was figured out.”  And, if only for a moment, God and the world waited expectantly in the silence.  And so as everything she knew and everything she planned toppled around her, she said “yes” and entered the mystery of God.  And we, those who would follow, those who come into this sometimes maddening, always-changing world, those who are tempted to play it safe and planned, will also say yes.  And in that moment, once again, God’s Spirit will sweep over the face of the waters and bring Light into the darkness.

Hope holds with it the promise that God always answers our questions by showing up, not necessarily with what we ask for but with remarkable gifts that change our lives and the world.   (Mary Lou Redding)

So as things begin to change, envision Light, envision the Light as it moves into the darkness.  What does it mean to follow?  What does it mean to say “yes” when the world is rocking on its foundations?


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,



Pointing to the Light

zechariah-elizabeth-and-john-the-baptist-the-other-nativity-story57Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her. 59On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him. (Luke 1: 68-80)


We don’t always pay attention to this story. It is not the story of a manger. It is not the story of an angel appearing to a young maiden. It is not the story of a star that leads its followers to the place they are called to go. It is the story of another baby, a baby named John. Born to older parents, parents who had never thought they would have a child, parents who were related to the young Mary, who held her in their arms after her encounter with the angel and told her that everything would be alright, that she was blessed, that she was not alone.


And so he became John. And, it says, they pondered what he would become. Of course, every parent does that, wonders what this child they hold will become. I’ve done it when I’ve held a baby that is only an hour old. You hold the baby and there is a sense that you are holding all the hopes of the world, the chance for things to change, to move just a bit closer to what God envisioned they could be. What then will this child become?  They may have dreamed that he would become a learned rabbi or a great leader or a successful businessman. They probably did not dream that he would make his way into the wilderness, cover himself with animal skins, and live off of the earth. They probably did not dream that he would place himself in the position he did that would eventually get him executed. They probably did not dream that this child they were holding would be the one that got it, would be the one that would point people to the Messiah, would be the one that would be the forerunner of the Messiah.


So, why do we read this during Advent when we are supposed to be preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ, for that manger birth of our Messiah? Because Jesus was not born out of or into a vacuum. Jesus, fully human just as he was fully Divine, had a mother and a father and, later, even siblings. And he had this cousin. Maybe they grew up together, played together, schemed and dreamed and played with their first-century toys. Maybe they came in muddied and torn and their mothers wondered where they’d been. See, God seldom sets us up to work alone. Even Jesus had the one that pointed people his way. His name was John. He was not the One, but he pointed to the One. So, “what then will this child become?” What the child became is exactly what God called him to be—the messenger, the forerunner, the One who would pave the path that God had outlined, who would give all that he was for Jesus and for what Jesus would bring the world.


So, then, why do we read this during Advent? Maybe because Jesus is not an historic figure for us to emulate; Jesus is not some future image that we aspire to one day meet; Jesus is God-With-Us, Emmanuel, here, now. And what, then, will we become? THIS Advent, let us become the one who points to the One, the one who helps pave the way for the world to know the Christ that comes. So are you almost ready?


I cannot create the light. The best I can do is put myself in the path of its beam. (Annie Dillard)


Grace and Peace,




Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth
Painting in the Church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador

(Advent 4C)


39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” (Luke 1: 39-45)

Remember the story. Mary, the young maiden, betrothed to Joseph, probably planning her wedding and dreaming of her life to come, was approached by an angel. Now the Scriptures seem to lead us to believe that an angel coming was not that extraordinary but I’m thinking that angel-coming stories are grossly over-represented in the Bible because, frankly, it’s at best a little surprising and, to be honest, downright disconcerting. So, the angel, after calming her down (our clue that this was NOT an ordinary incident), asked her to do one thing—just one thing—to birth the salvation of the world. (Sure, no problem!) Just one thing. But here’s the catch, Mary: your life will never again be what it is now; your life will be one of extremes—incredible joy and the most profound grief that you can possibly imagine; your life will be nothing like what you’ve planned for it to be. Your life will be one full of moving from place to place and really never again feeling at home. There will be times when you are running from things and times when you are searching. And it may be lonely, oh so lonely. And, no hurry, except that we really need to have an answer now because, frankly, all this time that we’ve waited, all this time that we’ve hoped, all this time that we’ve prepared has now ended. Now is the time. But, other than that, no hurry. Take your time. And the world stopped, if only for a moment…

So, Mary, not really sure of what she was getting into, agreed. This young maiden who the world doesn’t even know will birth the Savior, will become part of the redemption of the world. So, the angel left and Mary stood there. What in the world have I done? I mean, I love God and all, I want to serve God, but what in the world have I done? So, she runs. She runs to a place where she knew they would take her in, where they would hold her, where they would love her. Elizabeth would have been surprised. After all, it’s not like Mary could text her and tell her she was coming! And when Mary entered, she knew. The child inside her knew. The world knew. The angels’ gossip line was going crazy! After all, the world was with child.

And then Elizabeth took Mary in her arms. After all, this was not going to be easy. The world expects so much and is sometimes incredibly unforgiving, expecting too much, No one knew the road that lay ahead for the young girl but it didn’t matter. Elizabeth would be with her, to hold her, to love her, to listen to her as she worked things through.

You know, that’s really what it means to be blessed—not to be showered with riches or surrounded by happiness or, God forbid, to have our lives turn out the way we plan, but rather to be held and loved as you walk this journey that God has laid before each of us. Mary’s journey mirrors ours. God calls us to change our lives, to sometimes let go of our plans and our dreams and trade them in for what God envisions that we can be. And it is there that we will be blessed. So, THIS Advent, may you be truly blessed!

Here is the God I want to believe in: a Father who, from the beginning of Creation, has stretched out his arms in merciful blessing, never forcing himself on anyone, but always waiting; never letting his arms drop down in despair, but always hoping that his children will return so that he can speak words of love to them and let his tired arms rest on their shoulders. His only desire is to bless. (Henri J.M. Nouwen)


Grace and Peace,



The Next Chapter

Manger and cross

(Advent 4C)

5Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; 6in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).” 8When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. 10And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrew 10: 5-10)

So why did God come? Why did the Divine make a way into the ordinary? Why did the Creator of the world, the Maker of all that is, come and dwell within Creation and hang around with the muck and mire of the world? So many times this passage is read as if God somehow traded one world for another, as if God somehow felt the need to start over on the grand plan that God had previously proclaimed as “Good”. Does that really make sense? Did Christ come into the world as a “do-over”, as if what God had so lovingly begun had somehow failed?

I don’t think God is throwing away the old order; I think God is continuing to create it. God is always continuing to create, not to exchange one way of being for another but to change one way of being into another. God was always coming into the world. There were incarnations all along the pathway, if we had only dared to open our eyes and notice. But then it was time for the next chapter for those of us who were called to that part of the story. And what had begun with God’s goodness and God’s mercy and the holiness of the Divine continued, bringing a new order to the whole story.

Christmas did not begin nor end with the manger. The shepherds and the visiting kings did not drop their baby presents off and go back to their lives. As Christians, Christmas is our entrance into the story, into something relevant, into faith, into a story that will take us to Golgotha and then home. It does not replace the part of the story that Abraham brought to us; rather, for us, it brings us into it. And from there, we continue on. So, in a way, Christmas is our birth as much as it is Jesus’. So, in eight days, on that holiest of nights, when you light your candle and sing “Silent Night”, do not look at it as the beginning of the story, but rather the chapter in which you come to be, the very dawn of redeeming grace spilling into a waiting story-filled earth.

Christmas did not come after a great mass of people had completed something good, or because of the successful result of any human effort. No, it came as a miracle, as the child that comes when his time is fulfilled, as a gift of God which is laid into those arms that are stretched out in longing. In this way did Christmas come; in this way it always comes anew, both to individuals and to the whole world. (Eberhard Arnold)


Grace and Peace,





ItFor I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. (Isaiah 65: 17-18)

On the twelfth day of Advent, my true love gave to me…Ugh oh…it’s not Advent, the song is about Christmas. The two are so easily confused in our world. Advent is not Christmas. Christmas is about the manger and Mary and Joseph and the shepherds and the beginning of life again. Christmas is about God’s coming into our little world to shake things up and change us and everything around us. But Advent? Well, Advent is about looking toward the horizon, looking toward that time when, yet again, our little world will be shaken to its core and we and everything around us will be changed. Do you see it? There…there just over the horizon. The light is beginning to peak over the clouds and dawn is beginning to come.

So, Advent reminds us that what we see, what we know, what we have so carefully constructed in our life is not “It”. (Sorry, it’s not!) Advent reminds us that there is always, always a horizon. When Jesus came into this world, God incarnate, so long ago, as much as we Christians with all our pretty lights and our comforting Christmas carols try to make that “It”, I don’t think it is. The “it” that happened in that manger on that dark night in Bethlehem was not “It”. It was not really the things for which the world had waited. Rather, it was the beginning of it. It was the thing that pointed to “It”.

You see, if our celebrations stop at Christmas (or, for that matter, even START there), we have missed it all. If our celebrations stop in the manger, they are nothing more than an historic remembrance of a beautiful, incredible night when God peeked into the world. But if we begin to see the manger as the beginning, as the “it” that points to the “It”, as the beginning of what we will find just over the horizon, then the coming of God, Emmanuel, into our little world is everything that it was meant to be.

So, on this twelfth day of Advent, raise your heads beyond the gift-buying and the tree-decorating, and all that this season holds. And open your eyes and see just over the horizon. There “It” is…we can’t see it all yet, but “It” is coming to be. There…there just over the horizon. That is “It”.

The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end in all of us that is not yet Christ. (Thomas Merton)

Grace and Peace,