Text: Matthew 2:1-12

For most of the last dozen years, between Christmas and New Year’s, Abbie and I have made the trek out to Western Kansas.  This is where Abbie grew up and where much of her extended family still lives.  Because it’s such a long drive we stay for over a week.  It’s a pretty laid back time.  We visit with family, maybe do a project in Grandpa Marlin’s woodshop, read, play games, eat, etc.  This year included some playing in the little bit of snow that fell a couple days after Christmas.

Some of you may know Kansas as that long stretch of nothing before you get to the mountains.  And you’d be mostly right.

What’s especially wonderful about Western Kansas is that it’s almost nothing.  When you get out of the car and spend some time there, there’s a rare spaciousness all around you, full of almost nothing.  It’s a place where the Advent prophecy of Isaiah has been fulfilled:  Every valley has been lifted up, every mountain and hill has been made low; the uneven ground has become level, and the rough places a plain.  Take a walk or a run on a dirt...

Texts: Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Luke 2:22-40

Growing up we had an Advent tradition in our house that is probably familiar to many of you as well.  A few weeks before Christmas, my mother would have us clear off all the clutter that had been accumulating throughout the year on the hutch near the main entrance to our home.  Once that was done, she would pull down from the attic a big box full of smaller unmarked cardboard boxes.  One by one we would then carefully move the small boxes out onto the kitchen table.  I think the fact that my brothers and I could never seem to remember after a whole year which unmarked box was which gave this normally mundane task a real sense of the mystery of ritual. 

Finally, with the utmost care, one of us would open the first box, carefully sliding out the Styrofoam casing or bubble-wrap and exclaim something like, “I found an angel!”  Or perhaps less excitedly, “I got a sheep.”  Once we freed the Precious Moments figurine from its box, we’d place it on the cleared-off spot on the hutch where we thought it should go before returning to see what treasures the...

Texts: 2 Samuel 7:1-11; Luke 1:26-38

On this final Sunday of Advent, we eavesdrop on conversations between a king and a prophet, a peasant girl and an angel.  After settling into his own royal house, the mighty King David wishes to build a house for the Lord, a temple.  The prophet Nathan initially affirms this move, but then has a dream in which he hears a message that David is not the one to build such a house.  Instead, the Lord will build David a house, a dynasty, and establish his kingdom forever.

As significant a conversation as this is, it is overshadowed by Gabriel’s visit to Mary, inviting her to be the one to give birth to one who will inherit the throne of his ancestor David.  If you’ve hung around the church for any length of time, this is a story you’ve heard before, and it seems there are two different ways we can encounter it.

The best analogy I can think of here is inspired by the fact that our family has been immersed in the Harry Potter series for the latter half of 2014.  One of the enchanted objects in this series is a...

Texts: Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-11  

One of the things I like to notice when I read a book is the opening lines.  I’m interested in how writers choose to introduce what they have to say.  How does it set up the rest of the story?  How does it draw us in as a reader and make us a part of what follows?  What clues does it give about what we’re about to read?

One of the books that will forever be on my ‘pick up anytime and be delighted’ list is Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  It’s one of the few books I’ve handled so much that the cover has torn off.   It’s best read in small portions and digested over long periods of time.  It starts this way:  “I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest.  I’d half awaken.  He’d stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood.  Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his...

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-9; Mark 13:24-37

How do you feel about disruptions?  You’re settled in for the evening, reading a book on the couch, and there’s a knock at the door.  Your day is going pretty well until you get a phone call that a family member has just been hospitalized.  Or maybe you are that family member hospitalized.  You’re driving along with a friend having a great conversation and you come to the top of an exit ramp where you are confronted with the person with the sign that says some version of: “Hungry and jobless.  Anything helps.”  Disruptions.

Or: Another kind of disruption, which happened to me a little while ago at home: the girls were playing and laughing and having a good time together and I turned up the volume on NPR to better hear the news.  Then I realized I was most likely committing some kind of grievous sin by drowning out the laughter of children to listen to the sorrows of the world.  I turned the radio off.  It was a welcome disruption, all things considered…

When the Advent planning group got together and pondered the scriptures for this season, the theme that emerged...