Daddy Rabbit

My grandfather, Thomas Erskine Hite, “Daddy Rabbit” 

My grandfather, Thomas Erskine Hite, “Daddy Rabbit” 

“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God's Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, "Abba, Father." Romans 8:15

It’s something you remember, seeing your father cry. We had just left his office to go on a mail run. I had haphazardly agreed to be the receptionist at his law office one summer before going to college, and I welcomed any invite to leave the desk. (Later I would elevate this position to “Director of Telecommunication Services” on my first resume.)

Looking back on that job, I was less excited about answering phones and more interested in running in the same circle as my dad for once. My other siblings always seemed to have a different kind of access to our father than I did, almost by coincidence, since they had more in common with him. My brothers, with all their athleticism, could always find him in the stands, arriving early to set up his chair. My older sister was the first to follow in his footsteps as an attorney. She worked closely with him, getting her name added next to his on the door to the office. Looking back, I think I took that job as receptionist to have something in common with my dad, to be near him.

Don’t get me wrong. He wasn’t the buttoned-up, hard-to-talk-to type of dad at all. Yet, there was this energy about him that kept him pulsating just out of reach. He had (and has) a lot of hobbies, friends, and interests. He dislikes talking on the phone. I always knew he was proud of me, but being proud of me is different than having things in common with him. I always longed to be close to him like that.

That day on the mail run, we drove the few miles towards the post office and listened to his favorite classic rock station. I can’t remember what we chit-chatted about, but it was sunny, and we were both upbeat. He jumped down from the car to go into the post office and after a while, I remember wondering what was taking so long. When he came back out, I saw that his eyes were red and he was crying.  

I think my father loved being a father because he loved being fathered by his own dad so much. My grandpa, who we called “Daddy Rabbit,” was a legend in our small southern town. The high school football stadium was named after him. He was football coach and elementary school principal, and just like my dad, Daddy Rabbit had that magnetic and frenetic energy about him that people gravitated towards. There were stories of him being a gruff and strict coach and teacher, and stories of him being a tender, caring, and fiercely loyal friend, principal, and father. He cared deeply about justice. He refused to let the district send a child who had recovered from polio to another school, and he carried the boy up and down the stairs every day himself. He spoke out on behalf of people of color during the difficult days of integration in South Carolina.

Daddy Rabbit died of a stroke, after years of suffering with minimal use of one side of his body. I was only seven when he died, so these stories and his legacy loom larger than concrete memories of his actual presence for me. My dad has never said as much, but I think losing him was the biggest tragedy in his life. Dad was only thirty-eight when his father died.

In the post office my dad had run into a veteran in a wheel chair. My dad didn’t know him, so he was surprised when the man had called him over. He told my father that he had played football for Daddy Rabbit, that after high school he had been to Korea and lost his legs. He struggled mightily when he returned with PTSD and depression. He told my father that one day he had a gun in his mouth, ready to pull the trigger and end it all. Before he did, he saw Daddy Rabbit in his mind’s eye, talking to him like he used to back in high school, with his aggressive tone, saying, “Only cowards give up, and you are no coward, son.” (Disclaimer: suicide is not cowardly.) He decided not to kill himself that day, and it was the memory of my grandfather yelling at him on the football sidelines that saved him.

Even though I’ve only known the love of a stable, caring, and inspiring earthly father, I sometimes find the image of God as Father troubling. I can imagine for those whose fathers were abusive, absent, or worse, that this image could be triggering. Yet the fact remains, Jesus calls God father. (“Abba,” actually, which means something closer to “Dad.”) There are lots of images of God as mother in the Bible too, but why does Jesus call God father and not mother so boldly throughout the Gospels?

This image troubles me most because of all the horrible examples of earthly fathers out there. The patriarchy has hurt so many. The #metoo movement has uncovered only some of the damage that this toxic masculinity has caused. I do not believe this was ever God’s goal for men or fathers, but why would God have to be called something that comes with such baggage for so many people? 

To see the beauty of this name for God, I’m finding it helpful to remember that God is not male or female. It does seem strange to parcel out gender from a name like father, but it’s helpful for me in this case.

What if God is trying to redeem fatherhood with this title? What if I tried looking to the Bible for who God is first, letting that enlighten my view of fathers, instead of looking at fathers first to enlighten my view of God.  

When we look at fathers this way, we can see glimpses of God’s character in good fathering. That day in the post office with the veteran, my father got such a glimpse.

When we call, God answers, and reminds us of our value, even when our earthly fathers do not.

I see God in Daddy Rabbit as father as he spoke into the depths of that man’s soul when he needed it, reminding him of his value and ultimately saving his life. Maybe all the fathering the wounded veteran could handle was an image of his coach yelling at him. Aren’t we all longing for that kind of coaching? Fiercely loving, confident, truth, spoken deeply into our souls... by someone who loves us and wants the best for us? That’s what God as father can do. 

The quote from Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us that we are adopted into God’s family through Christ, and so even if our earthly fathers fail us, through Jesus, regardless of our gender, we stand to inherit God’s great wealth. Yet, God wants nothing more than to spend time with us, to have things in common with us, to know us intimately, to speak truth about who we are and whose we are and will do so as many times and as long as it takes for us to believe it.

Daddy Rabbit was this type of adoptive father to many. He continues to father me through his legacy that he passed down to his own son, my dad.

In the end, we are not God’s slaves, employees, or tenants—we are God’s children. We can be so bold as to call God “Abba, Father.” To see the sweetness of this name for God, to allow it to melt and heal my heart, to show me the ways in which God is at work in all things, that’s what I long for.

In our faith tradition, we believe in a God that takes our distress seriously, a God who mourns when we mourn. That day as we left the post office, I saw my father cry because he missed his dad. And since we know that God weeps with us, I think that means that all good fathers cry.

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My dad and me on my wedding day.

The Eternal Now

“Healing Arts,” by Helen Kagan

“Healing Arts,” by Helen Kagan

“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8

They say that time heals all wounds. That doesn’t feel particularly true for me these days. With the whiplash and emotional hangover of the holidays still lingering, here on the second week of 2019, I almost feel the opposite might be true: time can make you remember old wounds, and how they still kind of hurt. Alongside the joy of Christmas and the hope of the new year can come the familiar ache of that old wound—you know the one. It brings with it a rush of nostalgia and loss—an inexplicable heaviness, a general malaise. We feel the absence of those missing, an irretrievable past, an uncertain future—all of it seemingly brought on by this passage of time, the date turning over, another year come and gone. Time only seems to have made this wound part of the permanent landscape of things within us now. The scar tissue covers all with its great web, but a wound it remains.

There’s this story in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus is surrounded by throngs of people when Jairus, one of the Jewish leaders, pleads with Jesus to follow him to his home where his twelve-year-old daughter lay dying. Jesus agrees and as they were making their way there, he suddenly stops and says, “Who touched me?” I imagine Peter saying something like: “We’re in a huge crowd...literally everyone is touching you.” It turns out a woman who’d been bleeding for twelve years had reached out to grab the hem of his garment, in hopes of being healed. Jesus had felt a healing power leave him and her bleeding had miraculously stopped. Jesus has her explain the situation to everyone there, pausing even longer on the way to Jairus’ daughter.  

I’ve heard this story from Luke many times before (I love any story in the Bible about a woman) but when I came across it again during this my “angsty New Years phase,” I was struck by something new. I never considered how Jairus must have felt waiting for Jesus as he healed the bleeding woman. I imagine him with his arms crossed and eyebrows lifted. (Much like the way I look at Edwin when we are out on an important errand and he runs into a neighbor.) Jairus had finally gotten the help his daughter needed, and Jesus had the audacity to stop and heal someone else.

I see myself in Jairus; impatient for God to hurry up and get to work fixing the problems I deem important. We learn that the girl died during the Lord’s little detour! If this woman had been sick for twelve years couldn’t she have waited a little bit longer for Jesus to beat the clock to save the girl?!  

In this reading of the story, after my own long night with a sick baby (just an ear infection, thank God), every second Jesus puts off Jairus’ daughter seems like an eternity. I start to wonder if Jesus and I are working from the same timeline.

Why wasn’t he rushing to heal her? I can’t name a single instance of Jesus rushing anywhere, ever. Maybe he wasn’t rushed because, unlike us, Jesus is not tethered to ticking clocks. Whether you’re twelve years old or twelve years bleeding, Jesus is on his way and his timing is not ours.

These healings and their order remind me that God’s time has broken into this world, in the person of Jesus. This “eternal now,” —where all can be redeemed, regardless of our human stipulations—is where God meets us, in peace, with grace and healing. It is impossible for my human brain to grasp. What I see as “too late” turns out to be an opportunity for an even greater miracle. At the end of the Gospel story, Jesus does more than just heal Jairus’ daughter; he brings her back to life. It seems that healing is offered to all those who seek it, after all.

But when?

Maybe you’ve been praying for a clean cancer screen, a positive pregnancy test, to find lasting love or to feel like you’ve truly made it. You stand by and watch all your friends get engaged or hear stories of miraculous healing and you’re left praying and waiting. It feels like Jesus is never going to follow you home to the sight of your wound.

Or maybe you feel Jesus is already too late. Your grandmother will never be at Christmas again, never meet your husband or daughter. Your fertile years are gone. The Alzheimer’s has stolen her away. There’s too much damaged, too much lost. It feels like there is no way to make things right, short of resurrection.

This year I am hanging on the truth that Jesus is right on time. In spite of it being hugely uncomfortable, not unfolding as per my Google calendar, I want to seek God in the eternal now. I want to stop rushing. I don’t want to live in a mindset of scarcity. Most of all I want to trust God enough to stop constantly asking to hurry it up. When we seek God’s time, this eternal now, our past is redeemed, our future is open. 

It is not too late.

And yet, please join me as I continue to count the seconds. I believe God is ok with that. In fact, I believe God didn’t want us to be alone in this waiting or this woundedness. The Wounded Healer himself—that was, is and is to come—waits and weeps with us.

So let the maxim be: God heals all wounds...in God’s time.

*sigh*

Lord, do not tarry...only say the word and I shall be healed.

O Holy Night!

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Tuesday, December 25, 2018

O holy night! The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior's birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

'Til He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!

O night divine, the night when Christ was born

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

O night, O holy night, O night divine!

—Placide Cappeau (1808–1877)

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were ter- rified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 1:6-11)

Merry Christmas, at last! Indeed, the night so often associated with fear, death, and uncertainty has given way to the birth of Christ, light of the world, “savior at thy birth” and the reason our soul feels worth. That’s the claim of this carol. Our humanity must be grounded in the true humanity of Jesus if we are to live with self-respect and respect of others, because we know our “worth.” Scripture tells us that we have been “bought with a price,” for which God, in Jesus Christ, has given us everything, at the cost of life. This brings us full circle to the beginning of this Devotional. I hope it has blessed you. I hope you see your worth and the worth of those around you through the lens of Christ, whose life, death and resurrection have made all the difference.

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Prayer: God of Merry-making and Christmastide, help me to welcome the Christ Child, as ruler of my heart, that I may see how valuable I am, a value that is non-negotiable and displayed by the cost of Christ’s Cross. Help me to live in this Christmas spirit all the year-long. In Christ’s name, Amen.

—Rev. Edwin Estevez

Joy to the World

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Friday, December 21, 2018

Joy to the world,

the Lord is come

Let earth receive her King!

Let every heart prepare Him room

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven and nature sing

And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing!

“Happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path of sinners, or join a group of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord's instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.” Psalms 1:1-2

This carol and the opening of the book of Psalms reminds me of the joy and happiness that God intends for us. When we radiate God's love and light, we allow ourselves to be a vessel through which to bring joy to the world. This has been a personal calling on my life: to make life better for others. I'm intentional about bringing happiness to all who I encounter, first centering myself in my own true happiness. Then my family, especially my son. And finally bringing light to a community of children and families in need. This level of happiness for other requires daily meditation and a deep rooted knowledge of the greatness of God. While the journey has not been easy, I've found such happiness in the Lord. And I'm honored to live a life full of purpose in helping others to find their joy.

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Prayer: Father use me to radiate your greatness. Bring joy to the world through my life of service. Amen.

—Chandra Pitts

The Friendly Beasts

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Jesus our brother, kind and good

Was humbly born in a stable rude

And the friendly beasts around Him stood,

Jesus our brother, kind and good.

"I," said the donkey, shaggy and brown,

"I carried His mother up hill and down;

I carried her safely 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 my 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 so He would not cry;

We cooed him to sleep, my mate and I."

"I," said the dove from the rafters high.

Thus every beast by some good spell,

In the stable dark was glad to tell

Of the gift he gave Immanuel,

The gift he gave Immanuel.

 —12th century, Latin

 

...”and [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them. Gospel of Luke 2:7

 

THE NATIVITY

Among the oxen (like an ox I’m slow)

I see a glory in the stable grow

Which, with the ox’s dullness might at length

Give me an ox’s strength.

Among the asses (stubborn I as they)

I see my Saviour where I looked for hay;

So may my beastlike folly learn at least

The patience of a beast.

Among the sheep (I like a sheep have strayed)

I watch the manger where my Lord is laid;

Oh that my baa-ing nature would win thence

Some woolly innocence!

——C. S. Lewis

Did you know C. S. Lewis wrote poetry? It’s not his most well-known or beloved writing, but it certainly reflects his deepest interests. The author of The Chronicles of Narnia had a fanciful imagination deeply connected to his faith. He believed a glorious world once existed, when human beings, animals, trees and all creation could communicate with one another—hence, the talking beasts of Narnia. Interestingly, this poem is also about beasts and our commonness with them. Like the carol, The Friendly Beasts, perhaps we might learn, how to humbly play our part as creatures of God.

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Prayer: God, help us honor your creation and be thankful for all you have made. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

—Rev. Edwin Estevez

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

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Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Of the Father’s love begotten,

Ere the worlds began to be,

He is Alpha and Omega,

He the source, the ending He,

Of the things that are, that have been,

And that future years shall see,

Evermore and evermore!

At His Word the worlds were framèd;

He commanded; it was done:

Heaven and earth and depths of ocean

In their threefold order one;

All that grows beneath the shining

Of the moon and burning sun,

Evermore and evermore!

O ye heights of heaven adore Him;

Angel hosts, His praises sing;

Powers, dominions, bow before Him,

and extol our God and King!

Let no tongue on earth be silent,

Every voice in concert sing,

Evermore and evermore!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; with- out him nothing was made that has been made... The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1: 1-3, 14

As I imagine the Great Creator God designing and speaking creation into existence, it brings me great joy to picture Jesus there in that process. Poignantly, we see in Genesis with Adam being asked to name the animals, that you and I are called to be part of that creating, too. I think it is easy to forget how much God values us. Through Jesus we understand God’s power, his gentleness, his commitment to all they made.

Isn’t it amazing that this carol says Jesus was of the father’s love begotten? That Jesus was created, born, begotten of the Father’s love, not of anger or wrath. Instead of God being an angry old man in the sky, God is a force of love that longs for relationship and community, and that love was there since the beginning of time. That love was the impulse from which all things were made.

Christmas, then, is a celebration of God’s longing for relationship made human. As Jesus broke in on Christmas, he came to show us the love from which he was begotten. The one whom heaven adored, whom powers and kingdoms bow down before, he is born. “Let no tongue on earth be silent!”

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Prayer: God, thank you for loving us enough to send your son Jesus. In His mighty and holy name we pray, Amen.

—Merideth Hite Estevez

The Holly and the Ivy

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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The holly and the ivy,

When they are both full grown,

Of all trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown

O, the rising of the sun,

And the running of the deer

The playing of the merry organ,

Sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom,

As white as lily flow'are,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,

To be our dear Saviour

The holly bears a berry,

As red as any blood,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,

To do poor sinners good

The holly bears a prickle,

As sharp as any thorn,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,

On Christmas Day in the morn

The holly bears a bark,

As bitter as the gall,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ,

For to redeem us all

The holly and the ivy,

When they are both full grown,

Of all trees that are in the wood,

The holly bears the crown

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” Isaiah 11:1

These lyrics are almost too hard to sing with the simple melody we usually sing for this carol. But in those words are the reason for the season: Jesus came to save us. The majestic and beautiful holly comes with its blossoms, thorns, and bark all harkening to something yet to come. When the choir sang this as part of their Feast of Carols a few years ago, I was struck by the reminders every verse of Jesus’ Crucifixion through the parts of the tree. A baby came as a gift to us in the midst of a stable, a star lit night, in a place far from his parents’ home. Now that we know of the other end of this baby’s life (and Resurrection) can we fully feel the intertwined emotions in the lyrics. Let us all remember the life of Jesus whenever we see holly this Christmas season.

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Prayer: Holy God in this season of Advent we prepare our hearts for your coming. You are the vine, we are the branches. Come and tend us. Prune us. Clean us. Discard in us everything that does not bear fruit, Nourish in us everything that bears much fruit. Yours is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen

—Diane Olin White

O Little Town of Bethlehem

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Monday December 17, 2018

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight

For Christ is born of Mary

And gathered all above

While mortals sleep, the angels keep

Their watch of wondering love

O morning stars together

Proclaim the holy birth

And praises sing to God the King

And Peace to men on earth

How silently, how silently

The wondrous gift is given!

So God imparts to human hearts

The blessings of His heaven.

No ear may his His coming,

But in this world of sin,

Where meek souls will receive him still,

The dear Christ enters in.

O holy Child of Bethlehem

Descend to us, we pray

Cast out our sin and enter in

Be born to us today

We hear the Christmas angels

The great glad tidings tell

O come to us, abide with us

Our Lord Emmanuel.

“As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12

The text is set in Bethlehem, the night of Jesus’ birth. Each of the four stanzas seem to embody the four words most associated with Advent: Peace, Joy, Hope and Love. The first stanza speaks of peace, found in sleep and starlight. It also promises that, even in oft war-torn regions like Bethlehem in Jerusalem, peace can prevail. This verse also speaks of the persistence of light, within us, and the light of Christ’s love. The second stanza is rooted in Joy, a proclamation of a new birth. And not just any birth, but the birth of our God and King, Jesus Christ. Further, it promises peace to the mortals of the earth. It is very interesting that this event occurs while mortals sleep, meaning that our salvation was a gift given to us, even as we lay safe and sleeping. But it also de- mands of us maturity as we grow from Christian children to our Christian adulthood. Love is the theme of the third stanza. In fact, the love of the smallest and meekest among us. The love that it took for God to send his Son to earth, to suffer and die for our sins. A love, and salvation, in the form of an adored child, that is offered to the even the least of these; the meekest. And, fittingly, it is Hope that rounds out the verses. The hope we live: that one day, the Lord will descend, much like on the very first Christmas Eve, and, until then, can be born in us for the world to witness each day of the year.

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Prayer: Holy creator and sustainer, may this Advent and Christmas be a time where we all embody and share the light of God’s love, and may that light lead, to harmony, honor, and peace, both in our homes and our nations. May the peace, joy, hope and love of our salvation be a light in the darkened places and lead others to the manger, to come and adore our Lord and our salvation, the infant Jesus Christ. Amen.

—Matthew Thomas

Hark the Herald Angels Sing!

“Joy to the world” by Erin Leeper

“Joy to the world” by Erin Leeper

Friday, December 14, 2018

Hark the herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King!

Peace on earth and mercy mild

God and sinners reconciled

Joyful, all ye nations rise

Join the triumph of the skies

With the angelic host proclaim:

"Christ is born in Bethlehem

Hark! The herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King!

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!

Hail the Son of Righteousness!

Light and life to all He brings

Ris'n with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His glory by

Born that man no more may die

Born to raise the sons of earth

Born to give them second birth

Hark! The herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King!

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Psalm 100: 1-2

When I was years old and in the 4th grade I loved to act and sing. I grew up in a small NJ town with an actual "Main Street" and one stop light. There were not a lot of opportunities for my exuberant desire for creative expression. Luckily, that year our Episcopal church got a new priest with new ideas and she started a children's choir and produced musicals.

The children's choir consisted of 8 kids and the laid-back choir director assigned vocal parts based on where you sat on the first day. If you sat by the window you were declared "Soprano" and if you sat by the wall you were dubbed "Alto."

l loved singing this song because it was so joyful and it told a biblical story that I could actually understand. "Hey, the angels are really happy and having a party, making noise because Jesus was born!"

Sitting through church as child I felt comfortable but never could get the meaning of the gospel readings or sermons. But the songs, they made sense!

Thinking back it was probably the first time I was really engaged in worship, its that good memory and comfort level with the church that brought me back to it as a young adult.

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rayer: Dear God, thank you for the ways music and the arts bring us closer to you and your joyful exuberance. Bless our singing and rejoicing this holiday season and evermore. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

—Wednesday Lampinen

O Magnum Mysterium

 “Nativity I” by Rachel Christine Nowicki

 “Nativity I” by Rachel Christine Nowicki

Thursday, December 13, 2018

O magnum mysterium,

et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, iacentem in praesepio!

Beata Virgo, cujus viscera

meruerunt portare

Dominum Iesum Christum.

Alleluia!

O great mystery,

and wonderful sacrament,

that animals should see the newborn Lord, lying in a manger!

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb

was worthy to bear

the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Alleluia!

“I [Paul] have become [the church’s] servant by the commission God gave me to prsent to you the Word of God in its fullness— the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord’s people.” Colossians 1:25-26

I don’t know about you, but I like the idea of this whole faith thing being full of mysteries. I do have lots of questions that I’d like answered, don’t get me wrong. Yet the fact that all of it is not clear at this moment; well, makes it more palpable to me, somehow. Almost like a bridge—sturdy, but made with the flexibility needed to blow in the wind—there are things we cannot understand, and I’m ok with that. I think it would almost be harder to believe, if the Bible was like a Magic 8 Ball or Google.

Every Advent I find myself with a healthy sense of wonder and doubt at the great mysteries, as the carol says. How did a woman get pregnant by the Holy Spirit? Was the star everyone was following just a coincidental astrological phenomenon? How did the shepherds really hear angels singing? Why did God decide to come as a baby?

As Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians, Jesus (the Word of God) is a mystery hidden for ages and in His fullness broke into this realm at Christmas. Along with Paul, the church today is commissioned or called to be the messenger of these mysteries, even though we don’t totally understand them yet. God trusts us to love these mysteries and through that love, open our hearts to love one another. Mysterious as it may be, I am grateful for the gift of Christ, now and always.

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Prayer: O keeper of all mysteries, reveal yourself to us this Christmas. Help us have faith, even when we do not have all the answers to our questions. Commission us again to love these questions enough to present to others the Word of God in Jesus. Humble us with your wisdom, knowledge and mercy. In Christ’s name, Amen.

—Merideth Hite Estevez

O Little Town of Bethlehem

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Carol Sheli Cantrell

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” by Carol Sheli Cantrell

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.”

—Phillips Brooks

“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.” Micah 5:2

Not far from here in 1868 - at Holy Trinity Church in Philadelphia - Phillips Brooks penned the words of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” for the Sunday School of his parish. The carol text moves from describing Christ’s birth (which in itself is certainly a “blessing of his heaven”) to the implications of “the meaning of Christmas: first in its encouragement of charity and faith, and then into the coming of Christ into the human heart”, as hymnologist Richard Watson has stated.

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Prayer: Lord, especially at this Advent season, may we receive with understanding and commitment the gifts of the Christ Child with the challenge to use these blessings to further our on-going Christian journey.

Prayer: Lord, especially at this Advent season, may we receive with understanding and commitment the gifts of the Christ Child with the challenge to use these blessings to further our on-going Christian journey. Amen.

—Lee Dettra

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

“Go, tell it on the mountain

Over the hills and everywhere

Go, tell it on the mountain

That Jesus Christ is born!” —John W. Work, Jr. (1907)

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the herald, who proclaims peace, who brings news of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” Isaiah 52:7

During a calming and reflective Christmas Eve service, a peace washes over me. I am in awe of the warmth and joy of being with family and friends who have known me for a long time. I think about how awesome it is that God sent His only Son to Earth. While He could’ve been safe in Heaven, God knew a life with pain and hard tasks would come against Jesus, but it would be worth it in the end. A relationship with us is worth all of that. A relationship with just me is worth all of that. A relationship with just you is worth all of that.

I’m jolted back into reality with the final hymn as we leave, ‘Go tell it on the mountain...’ While I can rest in the peace of God’s presence, the reality is that we are called out of that. We are called out of our homes, away from the warm fires, away from the gifts, and even away from the food to tell it from the mountain top! Jesus, the Christ, is born!

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Prayer: God, you do it again and again. You put yourself in our path to know us and to be known by us. This Christmas, help us not to be content with our rest, but to share that gift with others. Help us not to be afraid to wish other’s a ‘Merry Christmas’ and to share the joy of this season. Thank you for this season of joy! Amen.

—Deborah Holcombe

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

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Monday, December 10, 2018

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day Their old, familiar carols play,

and wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come, The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day, A voice, a chime,

A chant sublime

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth The cannon thundered in the South, And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent

The hearth-stones of a continent, And made forlorn

The households born

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head; "There is no peace on earth," I said; "For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;

The Wrong shall fail,

The Right prevail,

With peace on earth, good-will to men." —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1807–1882

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “ Lamentations 3: 22-23

The poem and it’s musical renderings convey the struggle for humanity in the face of the horrors of war. Peaceful cries are drowned out by canon fire. At the nadir of despair, fresh hope is found in faith. This progression from apparent joy down to hellish collapse roughly parallels my journey of faith from a false sense of knowledge to hopelessness in a daily suffering without relent. Then, I found a church, found new truth and found my way home to deeper understanding.

This progression from ignorant happiness to the depths of doubt reminds me of Old Testament trials, God’s testing of man’s beliefs. The New Testament words of our Lord, as portrayed by His disciples, show the same redemption after doubt. As Jesus bids farewell to his human followers, He is alone with his doubts and fears. Then, just as in the last two stanzas of Bells, faith is restored as the sun begins to rise after a miserable lonely night. Hope is born in witness of the Living God who never sleeps.

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Prayer: Thank you, Lord, for Jesus. In His holy name, Amen.

—Al Taylor