I have a friend that helps me keep my house clean. I started out as her employer, and now we have become friends. She lives a very different life from me, and I learn from her. Sometimes her perceptions will catch me by surprise.
As we were talking about volunteers and volunteering in churches, we found our churches to be very similar – and I am betting these experiences are universal.
“I’ve always liked washing dishes,” I tell her, “because nobody else wants the job, nobody is telling me how to do it, and I can just keep my head down and stay out of the uproars.”
“Yeh,” she says, “arguing over the little things, cooking up that angry food.”
“Angry food?” I ask.
“”Yeh, you know, you can taste it. When people are calm and happy, they cook differently, and the food comes out good, you can taste the love in it. When they in a hurry, or upset about something, food come out angry.”
Yep. I’ve cooked an angry meal or two myself. It’s a waste of good ingredients. You might as well just open a can of soup as cook angry food.
The Lectionary reading in the Old Testament today is from Isaiah, one of my favorite books in the bible, and when I read it, I think of all my time in the Arabian peninsula, in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait. I think of this land, on the route from the rift valley in Kenya where man is supposed to have originated, how earliest humans would have crossed through these countries as they moved slowly away from their origins.
My Qatari and Kuwaiti friends tell me that legends say that these countries were once lush, green and beautiful. They are still beautiful, but the lushness and the greeness is only in small pockets when and where the arid land has water. I think nothing is impossible for God, and how wonderful it would be to see these countries lush and green and fertile once more.
The King is coming, coming as a tiny baby in human form to live with us and turn us away from our wickedness. He sees things differently. He tells us to love one another, to love our enemies, to take care of one another. He makes the blind to see, the lame to leap, and the deaf to hear. Come! Come, Emanuel!
35 The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
3 Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
4 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
6 then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
7 the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,*
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
8 A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,*
but it shall be for God’s people;*
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
9 No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
10 And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
There is nothing on earth as heart warming as three and four year olds at the Episcopal Day School doing a Christmas pageant. The teachers and aides are truly heroes, teaching Christmas Carols and a script to children so young. Getting the children in, getting them in their places, keeping them on track – it was adorable, heart warming – and totally hilarious. The songs were so sweet, the kids so delighted to see their loved ones in the audience (“Hey, Dad! Dad! DAD!”) and their joy in being a part of it so palpable. The little Star of the East who missed her cue and followed the Wise Men, the little girl belting out the Christmas songs, the adorable sheep – I grin just thinking about it.
The manger, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the angels, the wise men, all the barnyard animals, and the Star of the East:
It didn’t last thirty minutes. It is a highlight of our Christmas season 🙂
It is a rainy, chilly morning in Pensacola.
Even as I write those words, I smile. Our grandson inherited my cold genes through his father. By cold genes, I mean we are more comfortable being cool than hot. We sleep cool. We need less clothing to stay warm. He told his Baba, AdventureMan, that “chilly is not cold” because he didn’t want to wear long pants, he prefers shorts.
(There are a lot of images of John the Baptist, but this one made me grin; he looks a little Rastafarian, and I hadn’t thought of him as so long haired and skinny, but he was living in the wilderness and eating locusts and honey . . . )
I can still feel the air grow still as the British Ambassador to Kuwait read a very odd scripture about John the Baptist. It was odd because while it talked about John, it was unfamiliar to me. At the end, he said “A reading from the holy Qu’ran” and I was astonished for two reasons. First, I didn’t know that the Muslims recognized John the Baptist (they do, he is called Yahya Yahanna, and they have a beautiful tomb to him in the Ummayad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, where many visit and pray) and second, I didn’t know I belonged to a church that would allow the Qu’ran to be read as Holy Scripture.
Life is long, and full of surprises. I love it. I think the ability to be surprised, and to ponder those quick flickers of perspective keeps us young in heart, and young in spirit.
Today, John speaks to us, each and every one. The true path is coming, the word of God embodied in a human being, born a tiny baby, a human baby, God come down into flesh. (My Muslim friends are quivering with fear at this point, waiting for me to be struck down for such blasphemy. They don’t believe Jesus was the son of God, but that he was a messenger, like Mohammed. They also believe Jesus will be the judge at the end of times.)
Life among the Moslems. Bible study with the Baptist. My very Mormon friends. My own very Episcopalian faith. All these influences – and my Alaskan heritage – mashed together with smatterings of others, have gone into making me a very odd sort of Christian.
I’m OK with that.
3 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler* of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler* of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler* of Abilene, 2during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’
Why do they groan? Why do they grumble and look annoyed when I say it’s time for the Christmas Parade?
Once they get there, they have the best time! Who wouldn’t? It’s all noise and flash, great floats and loud bands, dancing in the street, dancing on the sidewalk, seeing all our friends from church and school and waving to friends on the floats – throwing BEADS!
Even 1 year old baby N totally gets into the beads! “Beads! Beads!” she shouts and holds out her hands. She marvels at their sparkle as they hang around her neck.
Here is what I love about Pensacola. It’s been a bad month, with Ferguson, with New York, and in Pensacola 50,000 people gather peacefully and party on the streets. It’s New Orleans with our clothes on, it’s Christmas/Mardi Gras Family Style. We dance, we party, we jump for those beads – and then we pass them along to the children. It’s a long, happy parade, with every school marching band and Mardi Gras group, a local radio station or two, the homeless, the counter culture, drinks in open containers, church groups, neighborhood meet-ups, Jesus is there, with Mary and Joseph – it’s all cool.
When the parade ends, we all go home. Peacefully.
Some may grumble, but for me, they show up, every year, and we celebrate a family tradition, the Pensacola Christmas Parade.
AdventureMan and his helper went down early Sunday morning and pulled a great Bead harvest out of the trees. Little grandson Q carefully sorted them into piles for his friend Chris, his mama and daddy, his two other sets of grandparents and for his room upstairs in our house.
I’m not a person who likes to be rushed, and I am a person who front-loads, who gets things done early, so as not to have to make decisions or preparations in a rush. If I can plan, and execute early, it all falls into place.
So when we had another early cold spell this week, our second ‘unseasonal’ cold spell, so cold we had to cover our more sensitive plants and bring others into protected areas, and with Thanksgiving coming so late this year, I decided I could let myself do a little early Christmas prep.
No, no tree, not yet, and no lights outside. Time enough for all that, just a little sparkle to get us started. As much as I love real greenery, real garlands, the temperatures here are too high for it it stay green longer than a week, so I use the artificial kind. You’d think the benefit would be no dropping needles, but this stuff also drops ‘needles’, and we laugh at where we find them hiding in August.
We bought our crêche many years ago in Germany, and it has gone with us everywhere we lived. It has lost a lot of its Germanic moss through the years, but I wouldn’t dream of replacing it:
The normal crêche occupants through the years have been supplemented by extra sheep and camels, and actually, by French santons, extra wise men, an angel ornament . . . hmmm, maybe it’s getting a little kitchy, but we wouldn’t sacrifice a single thing. One of our Saudi friends contributed a line of camels 🙂
In France and in Germany, crafters make the cutest sheep, and we found ourselves buying them at Christmas or crafts markets.
And, from Doha, The Church of the Epiphany, our “Aboona” or Our Father, the Lords Prayer written in Arabic calligraphy, one of our treasures.
Last, but not least, time to change the hallway quilt, and The 12 Days of Christmas will reign for more like 40 days 🙂
I remember Thanksgiving. It was yesterday. The season has never gone so fast, with Thanksgiving being so close to Christmas. Taking care of my sweet little granddaughter in the afternoons was a wonderful, quiet interlude in an otherwise swirling-with-events December, complicated by AdventureMan and I both catching terrible colds and lacking energy during the middle part leading up to Christmas.
I wouldn’t pass up the babysitting part for anything. My little granddaughter is the sweetest little baby ever. If she fusses, she doesn’t fuss much, and it is easily covered by “change my diaper” or “feed me” or “I really need to sleep” or I’m bored, walk me around a little until I fall asleep” or “Now I really really need to go to sleep!” Every now and then she fools you with an “I’m too hot! Take some clothes off!” but that makes me laugh, because once you do she is so grateful she just gurgles and coos. She is also beautiful 🙂
We had a wonderful Christmas, colds gone, great houseguests, fun family times, including taking our grandson to his first Nutcracker. Just after Christmas we rushed off to a family wedding in south Florida – a horrid 13 hour drive down – so I grabbed a few Christmas photos before it all gets taken down:
Here’s what I love. We have so many decorations loaded with Christmas baggage – you know the kind. “Oh! We got those candlesticks the year we moved to Wiesbaden!” “Oh! Remember that palm tree from our CENTCOM years?” “Look! Our creche!” “Oh! Our Damascus ornaments!” It is wonderful, and it is time consuming, and with a short Christmas this year, and a lot going on, I did something I have never done before. I saw some ornaments in WalMart, I call them “bang-for-your-buck” ornaments, sparkling snowflakes and stars, 20 for $2.98.
I bought a lot. Maybe about $25 worth. A lot of twinkling little stars and snowflakes.
The tree was all silver balls and silver stars this year, with an ivory cross on top.
The stairwell was all silver snowflakes. It was magical. It was also quick and easy and inexpensive – I grinned every time I saw it.
I did pull the Nurnburg angel out; I don’t think I can do Christmas without her and she provided a pop of red against all the greenery and silver and white.
The little silver reindeer are easy; stored all together in a box that says “Early Christmas” right along with the suction cups that hold them up – if it takes me five minutes, it’s a slow year, LOL.
It is the sweetest, quietest morning in the year; the Qatari Cat awoke me early – well actualy, he awoke me often as the temperatures have dropped dramatically and he wanted my body heat. He is a BIG cat, and takes up a lot of room wherever he stretches out, so I end up sleeping cramped much of the night, LOL. He is such a sweet cat, who can complain?
Yesterday, our church started a new service, a noon service, to help drain off some of the 4:00 and crush of good Episcopalians wanting to start Christmas with a moment of holiness and order before the chaos. Noon was a perfect time for me, and it was a perfect service, full of great readings and music, a goodly crowd, many people I know, and cold enough to wear one of my vintage German coats, coats I considered ‘investments’ when I thought we would be living in Seatte after retirement. If I get to wear them one day each year, they still look new at the end of this century.
A little later in the day, the festivities began, friends arriving from out of town, a family gathering and Christmas Eve dinner where my beloved daughter in law made some of the best crab cakes with Remoulade sauce I have ever eaten, the children were adorable, and the conversation full of laughter and memories. This morning has dawned clear and cold, the Qatari Cat is fed, AdventureMan still snoozing, and I have a few minutes to share a Psalm from today’s lectionary with you. Life is sweet.
Happy, happy Christmas to all!
1 Why do the nations conspire,
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and his anointed, saying,
3 ‘Let us burst their bonds asunder,
and cast their cords from us.’
4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 ‘I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.’
7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, ‘You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’
10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling 12kiss his feet,*
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
God had been angry with his people. All the prophets we’ve been reading have warned us of the consequences of our behaviors. And now, a breath of hope, in today’s reading from Zephaniah:
14 Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!
Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away the judgements against you,
he has turned away your enemies.
The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.
16 On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.
17 The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;
he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you* in his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing
18 as on a day of festival.*
I will remove disaster from you,*
so that you will not bear reproach for it.
19 I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.
And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.
20 At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;
for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,
when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.