Skip to content

‘Twas the Week before Christmas…


‘Twas the week before Christmas…

               (Joseph’s Song)


‘Twas the week before Christmas and all through the place

                every person was caught in the holiday race;

The stockings weren’t hung; they’d not even been found,

                and the cards were not sent, and nowhere around

were the cookies that should have been all baked and ready;

                nor the ornaments made, nor the dinner plans steady.

And I with a sigh and Mama with a yawn

                wondered how we would finish before Christmas dawn.

There we sat, not so nice, on the living room couch;

                one tired and sad, and the other a grouch.


Perhaps we were snoozing; I don’t really know,

                but something or someone had startled us so

that we sprang to our feet to see what was the matter

                while our hearts raced ahead of their usual patter.

When what to our wondering eyes should appear

                but a village alive ‘neath a night starry clear.


“Come this way,” a voice seemed to lead us along

                through a close, winding street towards the sound of a song.

There were people all over, crushed shoulder to shoulder,

                so to stay with our guide we pushed on a bit bolder

until we were standing in front of a door

                that was open, revealing a bare, earthen floor

and a rude, little room set with a straw and a trough

                and a trio of doves cooing down from a loft.


“More water!” another voice hurried on by;

                then a shout, “He is here!” and a woman’s sharp cry.

And the song was replaced by a baby’s first squall,

                and a poor woman’s tears from her nest in the stall.

“He is beautiful!” now a man softly exclaimed,

                and his voice starting humming the song once again.

And taking his shawl, then the baby was clothed

                in the prayers of his father and the love of all those

who had gathered to marvel at this long-waited birth

                of a child and a promise and a hope for the earth.


“Yeshua is his name,” soft the voice of his mother;

                “God will save” was the murmur from one to another;

And the crowd backed away, and the babe fell asleep,

                and the man looked to heaven and started to weep.


“Forgive me for doubting” he pled to the sky,

                “all the words of the prophets from days long gone by

that you’d never abandon your creatures below.”

                And again came his song in a voice rich and low:

a simple refrain as his lullaby swelled,

                “I love you, my child, my Emmanuel.”


And then the dream vanished as quickly it came;

                and we wakened to find most our things much the same.

Still the presents and parties and jobs to be done,

                still the days over full and the work under fun.

But yet, in another way, subtle and true

                this frantic-paced waiting is changed and made new;

Priorities shifted, and new questions raised:

                Just what does it mean when the Lord of all Days

Comes to live ‘mongst his people and take as his own

                their sins to be healed, and their hearts as his throne?


While the motive behind all our busy-ness is

                to do just what is right; still the holiday’s His.

All our gifts and our getting can never compare

                to the gift of the child and the life that is there.

So I think of the song; may it fit to my voice!

                May there be no temptation, no darkness, no choice

that would keep my own life from attesting it well:

                “I love you, my child, my Emmanuel.”

Awaiting the birth…


As I write this morning, the world is abuzz with the great good news that the Duchess of Cambridge is in labor and that a third heir to the British crown is aborning. The crowds (media types and other well-wishers) are gathered outside the gate of the Lindo Wing of St. Mary’s Hospital in London. Sometime soon, it is expected that an official courier will emerge, be whisked to Buckingham Palace to announce the birth to Queen Elizabeth, after which it will be posted, tweeted, and made Facebook-official for the rest of us.

A part of me wants to go all snarky about this. The hoo-hah and celebrity fervor surrounding the situation strikes me as unseemly in a world where children are routinely aborted before birth because they are unwanted or die soon after birth because of the poverty and turmoil into which they are born. Is this child any more valuable than any other nascent human being? I think not.

But beyond that (admittedly self-righteous) reaction: I find myself thinking about the Duke and the Duchess…not because of their royal titles, but because they are young, first-time parents. No matter how much pomp and circumstance whirls about them, they will soon bear the great privilege of holding the child which they have (by God’s grace) made…and of coming to terms with the unspeakable joy and abject terror of being parents.

It’s a terribly mundane situation for those so high-born. And thanks be to God for it. All of us who have been blessed to be parents have stood in the place where William and Kate will soon stand…looking with love and wonder upon this tiny life, imagining what might lie ahead for the child, and worrying whether or not they are ready to take on such great responsibility. My heart goes out to them; my prayers ascend for them.

And it causes me to wonder. With what deep parental affection does God look upon each one of us? In that moment when we are claimed in Holy Baptism as children of the Divine, does the very heart of God blossom at the awesome possibility that is manifest in each one of us? Perhaps that’s much too anthromorphic a characterization of the Almighty. But maybe not. For in the rightly ordered love we bear towards our own children comes a glimpse of the extravagant self-giving love which God has demonstrated for us in Christ Jesus. So in that way, God, too, is awaiting a birth…the daily re-birth and renewal afforded all of us in grace.

Imagine, then, the Father looking upon his children. If you have ever doubted such grace and favor, this is for you: “Oh, little one…conceived and brought forth in love…what great gifts you have been given, and what magnificent potential is ready to spring forth in your life. I love you forever.”


All the time…


A word with special affection for the folks in Elmore.

Yesterday was a good, but difficult, day here at Grace…our first Sunday morning together since my resignation had been officially announced to the congregation. What a mixed bag: congratulations and good wishes on a new call, tears and hugs as befits the parting of friends, and concern about what a change in pastoral leadership will mean for a congregation that has grown comfortable (not complacent, mind you, but comfortable) with the same guy around for nineteen years.

Pretty normal stuff, it seems to me. There is some grief work to be done here by all of us. And not to deny that…but can I also share with you how confident I feel about this?

Nearly two decades ago this congregation took a chance on a thirty-something, second career, retread of a pastor with a wife and two little kids. We came to Elmore looking like deer in the headlights…knowing very little about what it meant to live in a parsonage or be adopted into a community or manage the somewhat fishbowl life that such a call entails. The people of Grace took us in, showed us the ropes, and loved us like we were natives.

As a result, the work of God got done in this place. We learned that we could trust each other…work with each other…sometimes fight and all the time care for each other. And along the way, God blessed us with insight and creativity and hard work and new facilities and more folks and an openness to the community that allowed us to speak and live the Good News we’d been given. Together, we got to be Church.

If you’ve been around a church or Sunday School much you’ve probably heard this: “God is good…all the time. And all the time, God is good.” Yes? Well…here amidst the corn and tomato fields of northwestern Ohio, we’ve had the great privilege of living this adage together for longer than we had a right to expect. And now, as the future unfolds in a direction we did not expect, we can look back on a blessed past with the confidence that the God who has walked with us walks with us still.

Taking leave may be hard. Trusting God to carry us into the future is not. We’ve been here before, and we know from experience that…all the time…we are in very good hands, indeed.


He must increase…


Today is the commemoration of St. John the Baptist…his birthday celebrated exactly six months before Christmas Eve. The reason for the date is linked to the Baptist’s own words from John 3:30: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” …a reference to Jesus and the necessity of his emerging ministry as John fades from prominence in the Gospel narrative. No surprise then that we celebrate his birth in these first few days after the summer solstice as the days decrease in length (here in the northern hemisphere)…just as we celebrate Jesus’ birth during the darkest days of the year as the days are beginning to grow longer.

The Baptist’s words, however, are more than just a convenient way for us to organize the liturgical calendar. They are also a call for those who would be the friends of Jesus in this day and age to humility and true discipleship…an opportunity for honesty about who we are and what we are called to do as God’s people in the world.

Case in point: I’ve had a hard time writing these blog entries recently. I’ve missed a couple of my usually posting days, after sitting and staring at a blank computer screen for a while…finally convinced that I just didn’t have anything left to say. (After reading this post, you may well conclude that the streak continues.)

Yeah…sure. Everybody hits a dry patch once in a while. But this has been deeper and has gone beyond blog writing: On one hand, there is the weariness and frustration that comes from preaching/teaching/working towards a goal that seems all too elusive. (The Kingdom of God, in case you hadn’t heard, has not yet arrived in Elmore.) And on the other hand, there is the hubris…me being convinced that somehow the whole project of being faithful church in this place rests on my shoulders alone. This is foolishness, of course…self-defeating and an absolute dead-end. But it took me re-reading the Baptist’s assessment of his own ministry to hear it.

Before I can do what God has called me to do, I must be what God in Christ has made me to be: one who has been granted a new life, a fresh start, a living hope. Who I am in Christ (a redeemed sinner) overflows into what I am in Christ (grateful, humble, ready). And what I am in Christ leads to what I can do with the gifts I have been given. My mistake was trying to run this little bit of logic backwards…trying my best to work my way into humility and thanksgiving. Take it from me: It doesn’t work. Christ’s ministry to and within me comes first; and then my response makes sense. “He must increase…”

Having sorted all this out, I’m feeling a bit better about myself and my call to ministry this morning. But somebody keep a copy…because I’ll probably forget all too soon, and end up back in the same grumpy and unproductive place. (I have a tendency to do that.) In the meantime, I invite you to examine your own ministry as one of the baptized. How is it that Christ must increase in you? And how might that increase set you free to be the person God has intended all along?


Life Comes At You Fast


This past week, in our quiet residential neighborhood, where the speed limit is 25 mph, a vehicle came to rest upside down in the middle of the road. I don’t know how it got that way, but I feel for the teenaged driver. Thank God he wasn’t injured. Mortified, yes. Embarrassed, to be sure. But physically okay. A few years ago, the tag line for a popular insurance commercial asked, “Life comes at you fast. Are you in good hands?” That’s an important question, not only for the kid in the upside-down car, but for all of us.


I can’t help thinking of the kid who was driving the car, standing there on the curb, waiting for the police to come. Waiting for his parents to come. Waiting for the whole ordeal to be over. We live so much of our lives in-between. In between brokenness and healing. In between the pain of offense and the ability to fully forgive. In between faith and doubt. In between paychecks. In between jobs. The mission congregation that my wife, Patti and I were planting here in Reynoldsburg was not able to become self-sustaining in the time-frame that we were given. So our funding ran out, and we held our final service at the end of May. Life comes at you fast. What now? What’s next? We don’t know. Living in between grief and hope, we wait.

I can’t help thinking of King David, who, when faced with uncertainty, asks, “I lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come?” – Psalm 121:1. The hills were where Israel’s pagan neighbors had altars where they went to worship their self-made idols. But  David knows that he needs more than self-help and more than false gods that can’t deliver what they promise. “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth,”  he concludes. We live in an unpredictable world where disappointments abound. Some are the result of circumstances beyond our control and some are the result of our own sinful actions. But either way, those who repent and believe  the gospel are in the good hands of Jesus.


Life came at our Lord fast. Falsely accused. Tried. Condemned. Beaten. Mocked. Crucified. Dead. Buried. Risen. Between Good Friday and Easter Sunday was Saturday. A day of waiting. A day of uncertainty. A day for trusting God’s promise and provision. A day in between. That’s where much of our lives are lived. Life comes at you fast. What now? What’s next? We want to get on to get on with it, but there are lessons to be learned in the desert, which is the bible’s image for “in between times.” God wants our trust. So like the Israelites of old, we pray, and wait for the cloud to move… and greatfully gather up the manna that comes each morning as a gift.


%d bloggers like this: