Advent Day 10

If our lives are ruled by the spirit of Advent, this loving expectation of God, they will have a quality quite different from that of conventional piety. For they will be centered on an entire and conscious dependence upon the supernatural love which supports us; hence all self-confidence will be destroyed in them and replaced by perfect confidence in God.

Evelyn Underhill

Ah, self-confidence.  It is necessary and it is not sufficient.

Some of us struggle mightily to develop self-confidence.  Given our upbringing or our gender or our situation in life, sometimes we make a conscious effort to throw off the constraints that would make us small and choose instead to move with confidence into whatever the world might hold.

We work with our children to build a sense of their confidence.  Sometimes, in an attempt to protect ourselves from remembering our own young wounding, we seek to cocoon our children in a failure-free chrysalis, thinking that by shielding them from pain we are protecting and growing their beings.

Self confidence is a good thing.  And it is not sufficient, because we and our children are going to fail.  We are going to fall in spectacular ways off the pedestal of our own or our parent’s construction.  We will spend time wandering and wondering and nothing will feel familiar and in just such times the presence of something larger than our own surety is gift beyond price.

There will be times in life where self-confidence is laughable and confidence in God the only power that we draw upon; breath by breath, step by step.

We are Advent people.  We live – sometimes even mindfully – with a sense that there is more to life and star dance than our own will and being.

And we ground our very lives upon that love beyond us, don’t we?

As you mark this Advent day of waiting in the mystery, remember and give thanks for those times when you were lost and broken and frightened and somehow somehow somehow the song of the angel and the presence of God-With-Us led you to wholeness.

We walk in the mystery of Holy presence.

Thank God.





O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May the swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace.

Then shall the wolf dwell with the lamb,
nor shall the fierce devour the small;
as beasts and cattle calmly graze,
a little child shall lead them all.
Then enemies shall learn to love,
all creatures find their true accord;
the hope of peace shall be fulfilled,
for all the earth shall know the Lord.

                                  Carl P. Daw, Jr.

The long-awaited snow fell through the night on Saturday.  It was a given: whenever we schedule our Service of Lessons and Carols we can count on a big snow dump to challenge worship attendance.  It did.

But there we were on Sunday morning, hearty Minnesotans assembled to hear ancient words of promise paired with music meant to open hearts to wonder.

The service held many moments of shimmer, but two took me over.  The first was after hearing the words from Isaiah about God’s vision for a world in which war was no more.  We heard the words of scripture, and then we sang the words to the hymn printed above. All hearts present leaned into the prayer for a world released from the madness of war: O Day of Peace, give us the courage to let the swords of hate fall from our hands.

The second soul gasp came when one of our younger members read the scripture from Luke telling of the birth of the Prince of Peace.  To hear those words spoken from the pulpit by a young voice brought home the simple and radical event meant to change the world.

It also brought to mind a tradition in our family.  When we lived in Duluth, we hosted a yearly Christmas party with more people than our house could hold in attendance.  Together we ate and savored and shared the gift of singing Christmas Carols and then one of our children would read the story from Luke about how it was there were shepherds abiding in the fields, watching their flocks by night.

Somehow the pairing of the young voice with the resonance of the ancient song of hope cracked open the harried hearts present and we were together as one, kneeling at the manger in wonder.

And so it was yesterday at Richfield United Methodist Church. And so it is every day when we pause long enough to set down our overwrought sense of the “musts” of life and inhabit instead the story that gives us life and meaning.

The angels sing yet.  Peace is God’s longing.

We are not alone as we seek to live justice, truth, and love.



Advent Day Six

“Today we remember the shepherds among us, back-breaking laborers on whom our economy stands, those we overlook or rarely see, yet rely on for our very survival, the ones who have much to teach us about watching for God in the darkness.”


The candle-lighting liturgy for this coming Sunday speaks of the gritty and dusty work of the shepherds.  Through the liturgy we honor them and the many in our midst who work in often non-glamorous conditions to tend essentials.

Tonight is our church staff party.  We’ll gather at my home to eat and play together.  This is good.

This is good because, like the shepherds of long ago, our staff does sometimes invisible and non-glamorous work day after day in order that “the flock” is fed and watered.

To a person they are amazing grace.

Working in the fields of this church are people who engage in ministry with people of all ages, people who polish and make ready the ministry tool that is our building, people who pray with the sick and keep our finances in such a way that empowers ministry and people who help to share the Word through clear communication and shimmering music.  There are some 50 children blessed by the ministry of our child learning center Caring For Children.  Day after day, seven days a week, Richfield UMC is tended by amazingly patient and soulful shepherds.

So tonight we’ll celebrate and give thanks for our shared ministry.

As I’ve ironed table cloths (a family sickness) and made ready my home, I have given thanks for each staff person who ministers on this stretch of field.  I feel so blessed to be in ministry with incredible colleagues.

You have such people in your life.

As you live this Advent day of heart preparation, may you too know the gift of naming those who work with you in order that tending happens.

Give thanks on this day for the co-shepherds in your life:  partners and friends and co-workers and anyone who joins their heart with your own in order that light shines in the darkness.

Give thanks and thank them;  thank them for being by your side as you go about the sometimes boring and non-glamorous work that is uniquely yours to do.

On this day and on all days, give thanks for those who help us to watch for God in the darkness.

Advent 5

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee. 
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

                                                                                              Charles Wesley

On Sunday our church is offering a Service of Lessons and Carols.

Through sumptuous scripture and song, the salvation song of faith and love will be spun out during our 9:00 AM worship service.

Last night during rehearsal for Sunday’s service I was moved by the beauty of it all.

In the sanctuary were some forty people who gave their voices and instruments to the intensely personal thing that is expressing faith publicly.

The organ held us, the oboe wrapped us, the strings danced us and the voices wove a witness that rolled through the sanctuary and into my heart.

Come, thou long expected Jesus.  Come, set us free!

Set us free from our so-small sense of what is possible.

Set us free to move into the huge of grace and the life-shift of fully throwing in our lot with you.

Take up the spaces in our heart colonized by cynicism and shine instead the light of hope.

As we spend this fifth day of Advent intentionally breathing Holy Presence, may we each honor the prayer of our hearts:

  • From what do we long to be set free?
  • How can our freedom spark a movement of healing in this, God’s world?
  • What keeps us from saying “yes” to freedom and why would we waste a minute more in bondage?

Light a candle, sing a song, breathe ten intentional breaths, take a walk and smell the air.  Do whatever it is that will remind you that you move and have your being in the company of a God who calls you to freedom.

Pray with heart:  Come thou long expected Jesus.

Advent Day 4

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

Robert Frost

We picked up our Christmas tree in the rain.

We live in Minnesota.  Christmas tree choosing is usually accompanied by dancing on snow crunch in order to keep warm .

Not this year.

We await yet the muffle and wrap that is snow in this season. When snow lays on the ground the earth is gentled under a blanket of snow and we feel gentled, too; slowed by the necessary adjustments snow demands of us.

Not this year.

How are we impacted by the earth’s “presentation”?  Profoundly.

Theologian Sallie McFague speaks of the earth as God’s Body.  The earth is living breathing alive fertile and challenged by our stomping upon it.  Hurricanes and droughts and snow warp are signs of a trampling creation can sore afford.

In this season of the Word Become Flesh, how do we live as those mindfully and awe-fully embraced by God’s Body?

As we go about this soul-stretch of Advent, may we consider what it is to live on the earth as Christ-followers.  Perhaps these questions will bless us and creation:

  • What practices might we adopt in order to tread more gently on the earth?
  • Is there a way to festoon our homes and gifts without unduly straining the earth?
  • How will we find time to go outside and breathe in the gift of the “lovely, dark and deep” (Robert Frost) earth?

Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay

Advent Day Three

O Come, O Come Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel,

that mourns in lowly exile here

until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee,

O Israel.

 Somehow my soul has always leaned into the mournful power of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”.  Even as a child growing up, I felt the shiver of mystery whenever the above song of longing was sung.

The hymn begins with a prayer so deep we seldom name its power:  O Come, hope.  O Come, deliverance.  O Come, Dayspring from on high.

To begin the season of Advent, we name our soul longings.  Surrounded by the many stuffs of our lives, we name the places of echo and want.

We name the longings for peace in our world.

We name the loneliness that sounds in our soul.

We name the hunger we feel for compassion made food for the hungry.

We name the near desperate sense we have that the antidote for all the brokenness in creation seems so long in the coming.

O Come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer

our spirits by thy justice here;

disperse the gloomy clouds of night,

and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee

O Israel.

 In the midst of the bustle of this holiday preparation marathon there is melancholy.

There ought be melancholy.

The promise and the gifting that is Christ Jesus is light and witness to answered prayers and gut sung entreaties.

And we know him not; not really.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

On this day give to God these questions:


For what does my soul long?


Who will I pray for during this Advent season?


How will I know my own call to live the vision of Jesus?



Rev. Elizabeth Macaulay

Advent Day Two

Primary Wonder
Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes:  the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void:  and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.
                          Denise Levertov

Tonight our children will be at our house for a time of hall decking. 

We will put on the must-haves:  Julie Andrews and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Boxes will be hauled from the basement, ornaments created in kindergarten will be unwrapped, the unspeakably ugly elf will be placed on the top of the tree, and we will make the house ready for Christmas.
Rituals matter.  
Truth be told, we have all been tempted to ditch the hassle, haven’t we?  Some years it feels almost impossible to summon the energy to adorn anything.  We can sometimes feel tired or overwhelmed and summoning the energy to festoon our homes feels like too much heart work to be borne.  Fold in grief over losses and shifts in our hearts over the years, and inertia is understandable.
But sometimes going through the motions brings healing.  We discover that while much in our lives has changed, some things remain constant: the wonder of Emmanuel, God With Us.
Jesus, born to make us free. Jesus, hope made flesh.
As you consider how it is you ready the home of your heart for this season, hold these questions:
What essential rituals help you to remember the power of the hope given in Jesus?
How will you deck the halls of your heart in order that hope and wonder might shine?
How will you remember the “Primary Wonder” of Emmanuel?