December 31, 2008

Sixth Day of Christmas

On the sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six geese-a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

Geese are interesting creatures. There are several families that live at a local park. For generations they have been laying their eggs across the road at a golf course. It is so cute to see the little goslings walking around after their parents in the early summer. I have wondered how they golfers deal with the nesting birds. After all, geese are rather possessive of their area. However, they seem to co-exist and the geese return to the Park and the Golf Course every year. (Some don't even leave for the winter.)

Geese are adaptable creatures. They can live on forage and are excellent at weed control which pecan and cotton farmers have known for years in southern NM. The birds are amazing guard animals as well. There is record of the geese in the temples alerting Roman soldiers to the approach of Gallic troops in 390BC! Of course, geese supply eggs, meat, down for blankets and pillows, and, for those who like it, the delicacy of pate foie gras. Geese have been domesticated for over 4500 years when Egyptians first raised the fowl for food. To the Celts, geese were a symbol of winter’s arrival. Geese were supposed to assist in the Wild Hunt where the Chief Hunter gathered up the lost souls. The cries of the geese led the lost to their eternal rest.

With such a broad range of talents and such a long history, it is no wonder that the Six Geese a-Laying can be interpreted as the six days of creation.

1st Day: Creation of light and darkness
2nd Day: Creation of the firmament and dividing of the waters
3rd Day: Collection of waters (sea) and formation of dry land (earth); creation of plants
4th Day: Creation of heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars)
5th Day: Creation of sea creatures and birds from the waters
6th Day: Creation of cattle, creeping things, and beasts from the dry land; creation of mankind, male and female

When God finished creating everything, “God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.” Gen. 1:28-31.

I am always struck by the pride the Lord God takes in creation—‘indeed it was very good’. How often do we really take pride in our accomplishments? A good new year’s resolution might be to see ourselves through God’s eyes and remember that we are VERY GOOD.

December 30, 2008

Fifth Day of Christmas

On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

The symbolism of the Five Golden Rings as the first five Books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy) is especially fitting, I think.

Gold symbolizes wealth and enduring quality, worth, and even truth. It is used for awards (gold medals and trophies). Gold is mentioned early in the Bible—in relation to the location of Eden. “A river flows out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there.” Gen. 2:10-12.

Gold is used as a measure of Abraham’s wealth. Rebekah is given golden earrings as a betrothal gift. Joseph’s brothers bring gold to Egypt to purchase grain during the famine. The tabernacle and all the furnishings for it are covered with gold.

Sadly, not every use of gold was for good. During the Exodus, the Children of Israel used their gold jewelry to create the golden calf and the people had to drink the ground gold as part of their purification. Before settling in Canaan, the people are warned against the temptation of the gold of the inhabitants of the land or their golden idols.

Jesus condemns the Pharisees for trusting more in gold than in God. "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred?" Matthew 23:16

A ring is a circle. Rings have been found in ancient tombs. The circle is the symbol of completeness, eternity, infinity, and God. Most religions use circles—think of Stonehenge, the Wheel of Life, halos. The Celtic cross has a circle in the center representing the sun. We talk of being part of the ‘inner circle’ or having a ‘circle of friends’.

There is the well known poem by Edwin Markham that epitomizes the way God works:
He drew a circle that shut me out--
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

As 2008 draws to a close, it might be a good time to think what counts as gold in our lives and what circles we draw.

Are you bringing people into the enclosure of God’s love or drawing a closed circle to keep them out?

December 29, 2008

Fourth Day of Christmas

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
I think ‘calling birds’ fits with the understanding of these birds as the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Each of these men both fulfilled their calling by writing the Gospels and in that record issued a Call to each person down through the centuries to respond to the Call of God on our life.

Matthew was called by Jesus from his job as a tax collector. He was also known as Levi. It is unclear if he was martyred. His ministry may have been in Ethiopia. In icons Matthew holds his Gospel and is often accompanied by an angel. Scholars say that his gospel was addressed to Jewish readers.

It is not entirely clear who Mark was. Probably he was one of the companions of Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys. He is revered as the founder and first Bishop of the Church in Alexandria, the first church in Africa. Mark was martyred in 68AD by being dragged behind horses. He is symbolized in paintings and icons with a book and lion.

Luke, surprisingly enough, was a Greek not a Hebrew man. He was also a physician. His Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles were written for a more Gentile audience than the other three Evangelists. From the book of Acts, it can be inferred that he was a companion of Paul. A bull is often used in iconography with Luke.

St. John is usually considered to be the “Beloved Disciple” who leaned close to Jesus at the Last Supper. His ministry was in Palestine until the Dispersion of the Jews in 70AD. He was exiled to Patmos (where he received the vision that became Revelation). The Book of Revelation and three Epistles were also written by John. His symbolism includes a cup of wine with a snake rising out of it, based on the tradition that when he was offered poisoned wine, the poison was drawn out of it by his prayer.

While we probably won’t write a gospel, we ARE called to be ‘Good News’ to those who have never read the Bible. Remember ‘Gospel’ means ‘good news’. It is our actions that really tell the story, don’t they? What story is your life telling others?

Recently I ran across discussion about whether these birds were ‘calling’ or ‘colly’ birds. There apparently isn’t really a bird named the ‘calling bird’, but a ‘colly bird’ is an old English name for blackbirds. So the argument goes that the intention was to sing colly bird and it got distorted to calling bird.

Blackbirds can be interesting. This past summer I watched a family drama play out in the neighbor’s yard with a baby grackle, a type of blackbird. The little guy fell out of his nest and it took a couple of weeks for mom to encourage him to learn how to fly. He fared better than many of the little birds who fall out of the grackle nests (and many do each summer). Because of his mother’s care, he survived and learned to fly. Her loving attention reminded me of the way God encourages us to ‘try our wings’ and provides nourishment until we are strong enough to take off.

In what ways is God calling you to tell the Good News?
See you tomorrow on the 5th Day.

December 28, 2008

Third Day of Christmas & The First Sunday after Christmas

On the third day after Christmas, my warm fuzzy feelings are often brought up short by the remembrance of the Holy Innocents. As Matthew 2:16 says: “When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.”

From the beginning salvation has come at a cost. Whether it is the lives of the little ones around the world who suffer still or our own self denial, there is a need to remember how great a cost is required of those who would follow the Christ.
Our song tells us On the third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.

These rather ordinary birds are considered to be the three virtues listed in I Corinthians 13: Faith, Hope, and Love (Charity). Isn’t it interesting that these three things do require self-sacrifice.

There is a lovely video at With beautiful images it goes through I Cor. 13 slowly enough that you have to really think about the words. I was struck by how nothing matters without Love. If we don’t act out of self-giving love, then it is empty show. Pretty powerful!

Not only that, but “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I Cor. 13:4-7

It’s true we can’t perfectly love all the time, but it is a goal to aim for each day in each interaction. The collect/prayer for today (First Sunday after Christmas) gives us a way to move forward in love, reminded that it is only in the Light of God that we can hope to achieve anything.
Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

There are still innocent children (and adults) in the world who suffer under tyranny of some government or some greedy company or rapacious person. Pray for guidance to learn what you could do to ease their pain. How can the Love of God shine more in your life today?
Tomorrow is the Fourth Day of Christmas.

December 27, 2008

Second Day of Christmas

On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree.

The two turtle doves are a reminder that there are two parts to the Scriptures. There is the Old Testament about the interaction of the Jewish people with a Faithful God and the New Testament, which is the fulfillment of all that the Holy One of Israel promised throughout the ages.

The turtle dove is a summer resident of England. Like most doves, the soft cooing sound is soothing and reminds me of the doves that roost in the trees around our house in the summer. The dove also reminds me of the carol “The Friendly Beasts” in which each of the animals tells how they helped Mary and Joseph and the Infant:

Jesus, our Brother, strong and good,
Was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around Him stood,
Jesus, our Brother, strong and good.

“I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown,
“I carried His mother uphill and down,
I carried His mother to Bethlehem town;
I,” said the donkey, shaggy and brown.

“I,” said the cow, all white and red,
“I gave Him my manger for His bed,
I gave Him hay to pillow His head;
I,” said the cow, all white and red.

“I,” said the sheep with curly horn,
“I gave Him my wool for His blanket warm,
He wore my coat on Christmas morn;
I,” said the sheep with curly horn.

“I,” said the dove, from the rafters high,
“I cooed Him to sleep that He should not cry,
We cooed Him to sleep, my mate and I;
I,” said the dove, from the rafters high.

Thus all the beasts, by some good spell,
In the stable dark were glad to tell
Of the gifts they gave Emmanuel,
The gifts they gave Emmanuel

If you don’t know this song, you can actually hear the music here:

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments there are references to doves. The first is in the story of Noah and the ark. You may recall that Noah sent out a dove to see if the water was receding “but the dove found no place to set its foot, and it returned to him to the ark, for the waters were still on the face of the whole earth. So he put out his hand and took it and brought it into the ark with him.” Gen. 8:9.

Noah sends out the dove twice more and when she doesn’t return the third time, he knew that the ground was dry enough to leave the ark. Of course, our sign for peace is taken from the dove’s second return to the ark, with an olive branch in her beak. This time between Christmas and Epiphany is a good time to focus on peace and to pray for peace in the world.

You can easily make a dove to hang in your window as a reminder of the need for peace in our lives and in the world.

Cut a dove body shape from cardstock. Depending on how big you make them, you should be able to get at least 4 from an 8 ½ x 11 piece. If you are really conservative, you can get a whole flock of doves from one sheet of cardstock. A pattern can be found at: (or you can go to my website and follow the link from there).

Then cut slits in the body where indicated. Cut a piece of regular copy paper in quarters and fold each piece in a fan shape (you can get wings and tail for 2 birds from each piece of paper).

Insert one through slit in center of body for wings and one at back for the tail. Flair out the wings gently. After you insert the tail through the slit, fold it in half toward the back of the dove.

Add eyes with a marker, if desired, and string, ribbon or yarn to hang the dove. If you string them together like I did, you’ll need to punch a hole in the top and bottom of each bird. Try to be sure the holes in the body are lined up, otherwise, your dove will be flying at an angle. Make a knot in the ribbon at the bottom of each dove so they don’t slide together.

The dove symbolism continues into the New Testament. All four Gospels bear record of the descent of a dove onto Jesus, born the Prince of Peace. When He is baptized “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Mk. 1:10-11

In this time after Christmas we are reminded that God’s Spirit is present. God says to each one of us, ‘you are my beloved’. Can you think of a time when you felt like God’s beloved child?

Tomorrow we will visit the 3rd Day of Christmas, which is also the First Sunday of Christmas.

December 26, 2008

First Day of Christmas

The 12 Days of Christmas refers to the time between Christmas Day and the Feast of Epiphany. Epiphany is traditionally the time when the arrival of the Magi at the manger is celebrated. Lectionary readings during the season of Epiphany focus on the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.

There are some who claim that the Christmas song “The Twelve Days of Christmas” refers to symbols of the Christian faith. That may or may not be completely factual, but in this series of Christmas mediations, I’d like to explore the tenets of faith that could actually be represented by the verses of the carol. Even if they aren’t, it doesn’t hurt to take a close look at what we believe—at least once a year.
Let’s first consider the idea that “My true love” refers to God and “me” is every baptized person in the church. How marvelous to be reminded at Christmas that our God is passionately in love with each of us. God loves you and me, no matter how we may fall short of perfection in our own eyes (and certainly in comparison to the Almighty Creator).

As we work through the 12 days, keep in mind that the Love of God is the reason for our life and our salvation. Christ became incarnate in order to reconcile the sinful world to the sinless One.
Now, on to the song: On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a partridge in a pear tree.

What might this verse be referring to? The pear tree could be a reminder of the wood that formed the manger in which the Infant was laid. It is possible that the manger was actually a stone trough, but there are other trees in the history of our relationship with God, too. At the very beginning, the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil caused the rift in the relationship between Creator and the creation. Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden so they wouldn’t eat of the Tree of Life and live forever in separation from God. The Cross is often referred to as a Tree as well. It was on that Tree that our relationship with God was reestablished.
Who do you think the Partridge is? Who but Jesus, the Infant Redeemer? A partridge is related to the pheasant, but is smaller and more subdued in coloring. Interestingly, a chicken is also of the same family of birds.
To me this brings to mind, Jesus’ lament before his entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 23 and Lk. 13): "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

I have always thought was a lovely image, being gathered into safety from the storm under the wings of the mother bird. God is with us to protect us from the storms of life. Too often we are too busy insisting that we don’t need protection or help, esp. from God. Sometimes we end up rushing around fearfully because we don’t want to be helped or feel we aren’t worthy. All the time, God wants to gather us close because we are precious to God. So precious, in fact that He was willing to become human and die to bring us back into right relationship as a righteous people.

How does it make you feel to think about a God who wants to gather you close?
Come back tomorrow and see what the 2nd day has in store.

December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

I hope that in your celebrations with your family, you are able to take time to offer thanksgiving for the Birth of the One "born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."

Almighty God, you have given your only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him, and to be born of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

The unsuspecting shepherds were the first to hear the Good News. They left their flocks, something no conscientious shepherd would do, in order to "go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the angel has made known to us."

Something new was happening and is still happening in the hearts and lives of men and women who strive to follow the Light born in Bethlehem. I give you this prayer for the Nativity from the Book of Common Prayer. May your Christmas Eve be filled with the True Light.

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.
Blessings to you and yours this Holy Night

December 23, 2008


Ever wonder why we use poinsettias as a symbol of Christmas?

It’s only been around since the 1830’s as a holiday plant. A few years earlier the US Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Poinsett, a botanist, brought a plant back from Mexico to his greenhouse in South Carolina. For a while the plant was known at the “Mexican fire plant” until the scientific name became poinsettia pulcherrima (in honor of Poinsett). December 12 was named as National Poinsettia Day in his memory.
In Mexico, the plants grow wild along the roads and in fields. The sap had been used for generations as medicine and the red leaves were used for dye. As the native Aztec people of Mexico were converted to Christianity, they embraced the red leaves as a symbol of Jesus’ love.
Soon legends grew up, the most famous being that two children with nothing to give the baby Jesus picked green weeds on the way to church. When they arrive at church, they laid their weeds at the feet of the Christ Child and the plant blooms with the red flowers that eclipse the other gifts.

The star shape of the red flower is associated with the Star of Bethlehem and also a reminder of Herod’s killing of the children of Bethlehem, as well as a foreshadowing of Christ’s own crucifixion.

Churches, businesses, and homes are decorated with this lovely flower that blooms in December as a reminder, recognized or not, of the birth of the Savior into the world. If you have a poinsettia in your home, I hope this will enrich your enjoyment of it.

See you tomorrow.

December 22, 2008

Friendship and Accountablity

The Christmas season reminds us of the value and love of friends. We each need to have a circle of friends to share experiences with. Sometimes those friends are members of our family. Sometimes we find them at work or church. Sometimes they are people we grew up with or share common experiences with.

I have a group of women whose friendship I treasure. We have supported one another through many life changes. There have been traumas with children, health issues, job changes, challenges to faith, and just life in general. Some of these women have moved away, but we still keep in touch. Most important is the way we hold each other accountable for our actions. When someone makes a plan, we help her remember what it was. If one of us is discouraged, we offer support and let her know she isn't alone. When anyone in the group is seeking answers, we pray with her.

Even Jesus had his closest companions—the 12 disciples. And within that group were the ones nearest his heart—Peter, James, and John. There were many who followed him as Rabbi, but it was these special few that He entrusted with His true identity and mission. Do you follow Jesus as a wise Rabbi or as the One whose birth we celebrate in 3 days--the "God Incarnate, Man Divine" (as the hymn puts it)?

Hopefully you, too, have friends you can laugh AND cry with. You will find your life journey enriched by the friends who walk with you. I’m sure you already know how much they support you and hold you accountable to your calling in life. Take time to say “Thanks” to the special ones in your life, this and every season.
See you tomorrow.

December 21, 2008

Advent Four

This is the Fourth and final Sunday of Advent. All the candles are lit in anticipation of the imminent arrival of our Lord.

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation,that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The prayer for today from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer reminds us that God comes to us daily, not just at Christmas. We are also reminded to be a dwelling place -- and not just any dwelling, but a MANSION. Think about what images come to mind when you consider 'mansion'.

Is it a place where the rich and famous live?
Is it a medieval castle?
Is it an old haunted place?
Is it, like the photo above, a house that has been turned into a bed and breakfast? (

What about your own Mansion--what space do you have in your heart for our Lord?
See you tomorrow.

December 20, 2008

Don't forget yourself

The weekend before Christmas can be a hectic time with everyone trying to do all the last minute things: shopping and decorating and baking and cleaning and polishing and on and on. All this can leave us stressed and exhausted before we ever get to the actual Day.

To be counter cultural and not ‘do’ any of these things is probably not an option for too many of us. Children and family members and friends all seem to have expectations. And it is fun to see the surprised or delighted faces when they open a special gift.

I would suggest, though, that you carve out a time for yourself. Give yourself the gift of an hour or two where you can sit quietly and hear the angels sing.

Maybe that will involve sitting down to watch a favorite Christmas movie.
It could be a walk through the zoo or along a nature path.
How about reading “The Gift of the Magi” or some other lovely old Christmas story?
Perhaps simply ordering pizza instead of cooking dinner is what you need.
Soaking in a warm bubble bath with scented candles in the room can be relaxing.
You could read the Bible account of the birth and sit with the story for a while, thinking about how you would have felt if you were present.

My husband and I plan to go to the River of Lights this weekend--a display of figures all made of strings of lights. Some seem to move and it's always fascinating to see the craftsmanship.
See you tomorrow.

December 19, 2008

The Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree has a long history. Like the luminaria, the symbolism originated in the darkness of the change of seasons. The evergreen branches were used to ward off evil spirits and to bring prosperity. These customs were esp. important to the Roman December celebration of Saturnalia. For centuries the Church prohibited use of evergreen boughs in Christian celebrations because of the pagan connection.
The current custom of Christmas trees seems to have originated in Germany. Legend has it that Martin Luther noticed how lovely the stars looked amid the evergreens in the forest and brought one home for his children to remind them of God’s creation. Despite opposition by Calvin and other Reformers, the tree was here to stay.

The Christmas tree came to England when Prince Albert (of Germany) gave Queen Victoria a tree in 1841. German immigrants to America brought the tradition to the United States. Soon ornaments, paper chains, candles (and then electric lights) were found on the trees.

Whether your tree is artificial, freshly cut or living, the beauty and symbolism brighten homes and businesses throughout the season. The addition of a few baubles and tinsel transforms the most scrawny tree into a thing of beauty.

As Linus so eloquently put it, "I never thought it was such a bad little tree. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love."

Maybe we all need the reminder that we are not ‘bad little trees’, all we need is a ‘little love’ to become beautiful in adoration of the Holy Child.

See you tomorrow.

December 18, 2008


Yum-one of my favorite things about the holiday season is eggnog. You can get it almost year 'round now, but for me it's one of those things that says Christmas. We have special cups we use for the nog and it's the only time of year they are even used.

Eggnog is easy to make and if you make your own, you can make it, ever so, slightly lower in calories. Here's my recipe. It's best if you make the custard part (eggs, sugar, & milk) the day before so it can chill thoroughly.

Easy 'Lower Calorie' Eggnog
1 1/2 c. milk (2% or whole)
1-1 1/2 c. sugar (depending on how sweet you want the eggnog)
6 egg yolk
2 t. vanilla or rum flavoring
6 egg whites (optional--they make the 'nog a bit fluffier, but aren't required)
1 c. whipping cream
3 c. milk (2% or whole)

Mix the 1 1/2 c. milk with sugar and egg yolks in a pan over low heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved and then every minute or so after that until it thickens and comes to a simmer. Cook slowly or it will scorch. When it is pudding like, turn off the heat, stir in flavoring. If you have any little lumps in the pudding/custard strain it and return to pan or bowl.

If you are going to add the egg whites, beat them stiff and fold into the hot mixture--this will cook the egg. (Adding the whites just makes it a little fluffier)
Chill at least a couple of hours. Overnight is best.

When ready to serve. Beat the whipping cream stiff. Mix the custard thoroughly, if it separated. Fold in the whipped cream and add the remaining milk. Serve in mugs or glasses with nutmeg on top. Some like to add a couple of tablespoons of rum or whiskey to the nog before serving.

Sit back in front of your tree or fireplace and enjoy a nice rich cup of eggnog, while preparing for the last few days before Christmas.

See you tomorrow.

December 17, 2008

Christmas Stocking

I had an entirely different meditation planned for today, but then I ran across an article in The Anglican Digest that I want to share a bit from. It's written by the Rev. Richard Tudor, St. Barnabas', Florissant, Missouri.
Tudor notes that this time of year is known for the many 'old favorite' movies. Among them The Bishop's Wife in which the Bishop preaches a sermon. Tudor doesn't quote the sermon word for word and I will not include all his article, but I found it a moving reminder of the real Reason for the Season, as they say, and a call to offer homage to the One we often forget.

"We still remember that night. We will gather in our churches on Christmas Eve to celebrate that birth. We put a star atop our Christmas trees and sing carols, the songs the angels sang. And as a part of the Christmas Season and Spirit, in imitation of the Magi, we give gifts. We work our way frantically through stores picking up presents so our parents, children, brothers and sister, nieces and nephews, cousins and friends, all those close to us, will have a gift from us on Christmas morning. Everyone's stocking gets filled, except one. That stocking belongs to the person whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, the Christ Child.

That empty stocking needs to be filled with gifts from each of us. What gifts can we bring to the Christ Child?...We can give him precious gifts which he and this world desperately need: human kindness, love, and compassion for others! These are the only gifts which will fill the empty stocking of the Christ Child.

When that star in the East hung low in the heavens and drew those people to the manger in which the Christ Child lay, it shone as a beacon of hope to all, to you and to me. That hope, born again on Christmas, is a realization of what it means to be one of God's children...When we look into the manger, we see an innocence which was once ours, an innocence of goodness and trust to which we are summoned to return.

It is so simple and yet so complex and confusing. Jesus is born into a world of power and might but these are not the possessions he craves. God enters the world on Christmas in the person of the Christ Child--weak, humble, and defenseless. And he gives the world the priceless gift of appreciation of these qualities. May we, I pray, come away from our celebration of Christmas with a personal awakening of the Godly power of these timeless values...

I hope that on Christmas morning you will find your stockings filled with all that you want and need. But I also hope that you will hang up the stocking of the Christ Child and in this coming year, will try to fill it with the gifts God give to you--human kindness, love, compassion for others. Christ's stocking canot remain empty if there is to be peace on earth. When the stocking of the Christ Child is filled, ours will be filled too."
See you tomorrow.

December 16, 2008

Toys are for Kids

The holiday season brings out the desire to share what we have with others, esp. with children. One organization that helps out is the Toys for Tots campaign run by the Marines. Do you know it was started in 1947 because the wife of a Marine major couldn't find an organization that collected toys for needy children? That first year, 5000 toys were collecting in Los Angeles alone. The success of the 1947 drive was the start of the nationwide Toys for Tots organization.

In 1980 Toys for Tots started collecting only new toys and 11 years later formed the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. It is estimated that over 370 million toys have been distributed since the beginning of Toys for Tots.

Of course there are now many other organizations that also collect toys and food for children and needy families. Tomorrow night St. John's will be boxing up presents and dinner supplies for over 80 families which will be distributed on Saturday.
I'm sure there are churches, hospitals and other organizations near you who would love a small donation--not only to help a child, but to feed your soul. Certainly there are Toys for Tots drop boxes in many locations and you can donate online as well. (

Of course, it's also fun to give gifts to the little ones you love and know personally! May you find blessing in helping one of the least of these this holiday season.
See you tomorrow.

December 15, 2008

The Creche

If you haven’t yet had a chance to set up your Nativity scene, tonight would be a lovely time to gather as a family to do this. Styles vary from the traditional scene used for years at St. John's, to the more modern set used one year in the chapel of the church.

Another name for the Nativity scene is ‘creche’ and the tradition has been around for centuries. Painted frescos depicting the birth of Christ have been found in catacombs, dating from the 2nd Century! Three dimensional representations didn’t appear until the 13th Century. By then, the elements of the scene, as we know it, were established as Mary, Joseph, and the Infant, with ox, ass, shepherds and Wise Men. St. Francis of Assisi is credited with the first live Nativity when he filled a manger with hay and added live animals to the scene in 1223.
When I was growing up, we always put out the entire crèche scene when we set up the Christmas tree. Some families start with just the stable and perhaps a few sheep and shepherds. Over the next 10 days more and more participants will gather at the manger, until on Christmas Eve, the Christ Child is placed reverently in the manger. Even then the scene isn’t complete because the Wise Men don’t arrive until Epiphany (January 6).

Our tradition is to include not just the traditional sheep and shepherds, but also animals and figures that mean something to us as a family. There is the ceramic horse I’ve had since High School, a small ceramic elephant from my childhood, and some foreign dolls given me by my uncle from trips overseas. (This is just a portion of the entire scene.)

We do put up the entire scene at the start, except that some years we haven’t put the Christ Child in the manger until Christmas. I’ve always thought it would be nice to develop the tradition of adding to the scene over the days before Christmas, but there is so much else happening, that we never did.

However you do your Nativity, let it be a time of peace and remembering the reason for our preparations and a reminder of the coming of the Prince of Peace.

See you tomorrow.

December 14, 2008

Rose Sunday

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice; let your forbearance be known to all, for the Lord is near at hand; have no anxiety about anything, but in all things, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. Phil. 4:4

Today is the 3rd Sunday in Advent. You light 2 purple and the one rose candle. Liturgically the day is called Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a translation of the Latin word for ‘rejoice’, which is found in the antiphon of the service today—taken from Philippians 4:4. (The Advent wreath in the photo is from several years ago at the Cathedral.)

We are reminded that our Lord is drawing close and we are to be active and JOYFUL in our waiting and watching for that coming.

The prayer today is from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. I love the words that invoke God's presence among us.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might comeamong us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins,let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliverus; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you andthe Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen
See you tomorrow!

December 13, 2008

St. Lucia

Today is the feast of St. Lucy--Santa Lucia.

Lucia lived in 3rd century Rome. She was martyred for her faith after rejecting marriage to a pagan bridegroom. Her feast is celebrated mainly in Scandinavian countries with crowns of candles and Lucia bread. Her name means light and the celebration of her saint’s day was originally linked to the start of lengthening days, esp. in Sweden where the days are very short in the winter, but in December they start to get longer, again.

As with most saints many legends grew up around her. It is said that she appeared during famine with bread, so her day is celebrated with the specially shaped bread. It is either formed into a ring and candles can be added, or into smaller rolls that resemble animals.

Family celebrations can also include having the oldest daughter dress in a long white dress with a red ribbon around the waist. She wears no shoes and a wreath with candles on her head. Any other children in the household also wear white robes with shiny ribbons around their waist and head. Girls carry a lighted candle and boys a baton with a star. The children serve bread to the adults while singing Santa Lucia. They can also take bread to their neighbors and teachers.
Simple Lucia Bread can be made using store bought bread dough and kneading in a little orange rind and some spices. However, the purist would want to make the bread from this or another recipe.

St. Lucia’s Braided Bread
1 1/2 cups milk, warm but not boiling
2 1/4-ounce packages active dry yeast
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
6 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
2 large eggs
1/4 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Spices (cardomon, cinnamon, saffron) and yellow food color
Mix yeast with 3 cups of flour, orange rind sugar and spices. Stir in milk and butter. Add eggs, orange juice, and yellow food coloring. Blend in remaining flour to form a soft dough. Let rise until doubled. Punch down and form into rolls or ring.
For rolls, divide dough into 30 pieces, roll and shape into rolls.
For braided bread, divide dough into 3 parts. Form three strips of dough, braid together, shape into a ring on a baking sheet.
Let rolls or bread rise. Bake at 350o until done (15 minutes for rolls and ½ hour to 45 minutes for bread).
Top with Glaze and Garnish made by mixing 2 1/2 cups confectioners sugar with 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 tablespoons orange juice. Drizzle over bread ring when cool and top with 1/3 cup dried cranberries.

Enjoy your Lucia Bread while you think about the One who came as Light to the World. How can I be a light to others on the path?
See you tomorrow.

December 12, 2008


Mid Advent is a wonderful time to get together for a special time with friends. Set aside all the Christmas preparations and meet somewhere for a cup of coffee, tea, or as a couple of us do, for appetizers at a restaurant. We've been meeting for birthdays for many years. This Christmas one of the group is moving away, so we all gathered for a chat to wish her God Speed.

Even if your friends aren't moving away, taking a respite from the busy schedules we all have this time of year, is a nice way to boost your energy by sharing laughter and stories with them.
See you tomorrow.

December 11, 2008

Holiday Symbols

What are some of your favorite Holiday Symbols?
What comes to mind when you think of Advent and Christmas? Most Christmas symbols are easily created. In fact many of them are included in the Chrismon decorations.

Some of my favorite holiday symbols are:

Bells—that ring in the good news.
Angels—who proclaim glad tidings.
Sheep—remind us of the Shepherd who came and the shepherds who adored. (I’ve recently come across a new way of making a sheep’s head. Lay your hand on a paper, with the 3 middle fingers together and the thumb and little finger sticking out for the ears. It's similar to the way you make a turkey from your hand, except you keep the 3 middle fingers together.)
Evergreen wreaths and trees—represent eternity and are found everywhere this time of year.
Candy Canes—symbolize the purity and blood of Jesus.
Stars—foretold the birth to the Wise men.
Holly—foreshadows the crown of thorns and drops of blood.

However, the main focus of all the decorations and symbols is, of course, the Nativity and Manger. If you are looking for something to do with the youngsters in your life to help them learn about the story, have them use their fingerprints to create the scene. (It can also be a creative spiritual aid for you as you think about the role each person and animal played in the whole story.) Remember a couple of years back when making animals and other real and imaginary creatures using your fingerprints was all the rage…well, here’s how to make the complete Nativity scene with the same craft.

You’ll need a white paper, some colored ink pads (you can use black, but I think it’s a bit more fun with the colors), and a damp cloth or paper towel to clean your fingers. You will also need markers or pens to complete the figures.

Practice making the animals and people before you make your scene. Here are some of my practice ones, including my first, not so great attempt at a camel. Looking at tit now, I could perhaps have turned the smudges into a cow by adding ears, legs, and horns. In reality, I don't think there are mistakes with this art form. While it may not look like anything at first, once you add eyes, legs, etc., they do take on a life of their own.

Sheep: Index finger for body, and tip of the pinky finger for the head. Add eyes, nose, ears, legs, and tail with markers.
Donkey: Thumb for body, end of pinky for head. Add ears, nose, legs, tail, and eyes.
Camel: Thumb for body, pinky for head (like Donkey). Make the hump from your index finger at right angles to the body.
King: First 2 joints of your index finger. Tip of index finger for face. Add arms, crown, hair, beard, and eyes. You can add a gift in his hands, too.
Shepherd: Like the King, except add a head band and shepherd’s crook
Mary: Index finger for body and second print at right angles for her to kneel, Index finger head and pinky print for her veil. Add hair, arms, eyes, mouth, and halo.
Joseph: Similar to Mary, except add beard and halo
Angel: Like Shepherd and King, with index finger wing. Add halo and outline wings and gown.
Infant Jesus: Index finger for swaddled baby, pinky head. Add eyes, halo, hair, a few lines on the body to indicate the bands of cloth.
Sketch a manger under the Baby and add straw on the ‘floor’.

While making the scene with the children in your life, have them tell you the story, if they are old enough. If they don’t know all the details, you can help them out.

Have fun! Remember it’s the creativity that counts, not the perfection of the result!

See you tomorrow.

December 10, 2008

Think about Joseph

"Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus." Mt. 1:18-25

In the Christmas story, Joseph tends to be overlooked. We should remember that if he made a different decision the story we know would be very different. According to Jewish law, he could have had Mary stoned for infidelity, but instead he made the decision to accept her and claim the child, which was not of his blood, as his own.

By his acceptance, Joseph let the neighbors think that he had overstepped the betrothal boundaries and had relations with Mary. She was exonerated and he took on the shame of her pregnancy. Only the pair knew the whole truth of the angelic visitors.

Joseph is usually portrayed as a much older man. In truth he would have been older than Mary (who was probably only 13 or 14), but to me that doesn’t mean he was aged. I like the images I found online that show him as a younger man--I think the second one is from "The Nativity Story" movie.

I would urge you to take time to read and re-read the passage from Matthew.

Think about what your reaction would have been to Mary’s astonishing announcement.

What would you have done?
Could you have accepted her and the child, knowing it was not your own?
How would you have felt when you were visited by the angel?
Would the announcement that Mary’s Child was ‘conceived from the Holy Spirit’, have been reassuring or not?
Why do you think Joseph believed the angel and took Mary as his wife?

Enjoy your reflections. See you tomorrow.

December 9, 2008

Luminarias Light the Way for the Christ Child

Here in the SW, luminarias are an ever present symbol that Christmas is coming. A luminaria is a paper bag with the top folded down sand in the bottom. A votive candle is placed in the sand and lighted on Christmas Eve to light the way for the Christ Child to your home.

Luminarias have quite a history. Throughout the centuries, light—whether from a fire or candle—has been used to ward off the darkness and ‘evil spirits’ that resided there.

Nearly all cultures have some kind of celebration of light. The Hebrew people used candelabras filled with oil in the Temple, modeled on the golden candelabra used in the Tabernacle built during the Exodus. The Feast of Hanukkah, in December, is, of course, the celebration remembering how one day’s worth of oil, lasted for 7 days when the Macabees rededicated the Temple in 167 BC.

The ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia by giving wax tapers as gifts to one another and to Saturn. Celts used bonfires as part of their religious observances. The December celebration, welcoming the Sun at the solstice, included fire in the form of the burning of an oak log and may have involved participants leaping over the fire to obtain protection from evil forces. German and Irish custom dictates the placing of a lighted candle in the window on Christmas Eve as a welcome to the Christ child.

In Spain, a tradition named “Hogueras” (bonfires) is still in evidence in some places. It started long before Christianity as part of the observance of the winter solstice (and probably originated from their ancient Celtic roots). The celebration includes people jumping over the fire to obtain protection against illness.

It is easy to see how the luminaria tradition grew up in what is now the Southwestern United Sates. Spanish Conquistadors and the Franciscan friars brought the tradition from their homeland into the new country.

The bonfires of Hogueres grew smaller in the new world where wood was scarce. The first luminarias were indeed small bonfires formed from a 3’ cube of crisscrossed pinon branches. Only when paper and paper bags became readily available did the luminaria take on its current form. (In fact, not so long ago--maybe 40 years, there was still great debate over which was the ‘real’ form of a luminaria—the bonfire or a paper bag with candle.)

Now, luminarias are an expected part of Christmas here, with tours of decorated neighborhoods. The tradition has been carried home by visitors, too, so you can find luminarias nearly anywhere--some are fancifully cut out and decorated for other holidays, too--a far cry from the original purpose. You can even get electric luminarias, but I don’t think the effect is quite the same.

If you put up luminarias, I hope you’ll remember that you are guiding the Holy Infant to your home and heart.
See you tomorrow.

December 8, 2008

Give Unto Others

This time of year there are many, many groups seeking donations. Food pantries are esp. hard hit because the need is greater over the holidays. Some groups collect food and money to provide Christmas dinners for needy families. Other organizations are collecting clothing or coats or blankets for the less fortunate in our communities. While the collections go on year round, many depend on the Christmas season generosity to fill their shelves and coffers.

At our church we have an Angel Tree with the names and desires of children of families who frequent our Food Pantry on a regular basis. It is heartwarming to watch the (about) 250 tags disappearing from the tree and the many wrapped gifts reappearing under the tree. We also provide a Christmas dinner for each of the families through donations of turkeys, hams, green beans, pumpkin and other items.

If you have extra time to volunteer, or the ability to purchase a can or two (or more) of food to donate, any of these groups will be grateful for the help. And an added benefit will be a warm feeling in your heart this Advent season. We usually take a tag or 2 off the tree and bring a food donation, too. While that has sometimes stretched our budget, it is a reminder that others are less fortunate and that really, we are very blessed.
See you tomorrow.

December 7, 2008

Second Sunday of Advent

Today’s prayer is taken from the New Zealand Prayer Book for the Second Sunday of Advent. The Advent wreath is the new 8' wreath in the Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, NM. (My husband Ken made it.)

“Praise and honor to you, Living God; your chose the Hebrew people and brought them step by step to look for a redeemer , and hope for the Christ. Give us grace to see our need and recognize salvation when it comes.”

I pray your Sunday worship and your Sabbath time today will be a blessing to you and yours.
See you tomorrow.

December 6, 2008

St. Nicholas Day

There really was a Nicholas. He was Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor, born about 260AD. He served at the Council of Nicea (when the Nicean Creed was formalized). Nicholas was imprisoned

Later, legends grew up around his generosity and help for the needy. He is said to have provided dowries for three daughters of an impoverished father. One of the more miraculous things attributed to Nicholas is the restoration of life to 3 boys chopped up and pickled by an innkeeper. Because of his action in calming a storm and saving sailors, he is the patron of sailors.

Nicholas has many traditions and symbols including leaving your shoes outside the door on December 5, (the Eve of St. Nicholas). You can include a note and carrots and hay for his horse in the shoes. When he visits, Nicholas leaves fruit (an orange), candy (gold coins), and other treats.

As these traditions moved from country to country, Saint Nicholas or Sankt Niklaus (German) or Sinterklaas (Dutch) gradually became Santa Claus in America. Clement Clark Moore, a professor at the Episcopal General Theological Seminary in NY wrote A Visit from St. Nicholas ('Twas The Night Before Christmas) in 1823 and established Santa Claus as an icon in the popular culture. Thomas Nast, a caricaturist, created the familiar plump look for Santa Claus in 1881.
There are still those who maintain some of the Saint Nicholas traditions like making a St. Nicholas Garden. You plant wheat on St. Nicholas Day (December 6) and they should sprout by Christmas. Put a white votive in the garden to light on Christmas Eve.

Santa Claus is known for giving presents, however, St. Nicholas himself was more interested in helping those in need. Maybe there is someone you can “be St. Nicholas for”.

See you tomorrow.

December 5, 2008


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “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. Luke 1:26-38
Today I invite you to consider the visit of the angel to Mary as recounted by Luke. Read the Biblical record at least a couple of times. Sit quietly and let yourself imagine being in the scene.
Think about how you might have felt if an angel came to you.
What would you have experienced? Heard? Felt? Seen? Smelled? Tasted?
Mary was very likely a young teenager at the time—how does that change your impressions?
Would you react to an angel visit differently now than as a younger person?
The Annunciation has been a favorite theme of artists through the years. I’ve included a variety of their images for you. Look at all the pictures—perhaps one of them really speaks to you. Maybe you find yourself drawn to sketching your own impressions of the event.

Let this be a holy time of listening to God and relating to the story in whatever way your heart is led.

See you tomorrow.