Tag Archives: Advent

Christmas Countdown: Travelers

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“Wind Gusts 40+ MPH” – The wind did blow and there were 40+ mph gusts.  Thankfully the roads were clear and dry!  (And we drive a low-profile vehicle.)   Photo:  TLClark.

We arrived safely at our Christmas destination.  Wind gusts over 40 mph for the last 250 miles were the only unpleasant surprises along our way.  Upon arrival we were greeted with big smiles and open arms, given a room to call our own while we are here, and invited to help ourselves to whatever we wanted.

As we traveled, my mind wandered to other journeys and other people.

First, travelers from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1 and 2:

  • Zechariah went to serve in the temple.  I’m guessing he left his wife at home.  Since they had no children and were in advanced in years, she may have been alone.
  • Mary “hurried” to visit Elizabeth.  It seems she went by herself.  Walking or riding a beast of burden?  Was it far or dangerous?  Why did she go?  How did she expect to be received?  Elizabeth loudly blurted out a blessing as she greeted Mary with open arms; it was indeed an “extravagant welcome” (as noted this morning by the pastor at Mayflower UCC, Billings).
  • Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem, as ordered by Caesar Augustus.  An uncomfortable journey, I imagine, for Mary and her betrothed.  Often pictured today with a donkey, but there is no such creature mentioned in the text.  When they arrived, there was no space for them in the “inn” – probably not so much a place to rent a room (i.e., not a hotel or a B&B) but rather the guestroom in the family home (perhaps occupied by earlier arriving extended family).  They made do in the space – likely attached to the home – where the animals were kept.  Perhaps they were not quite the outcasts that I have often imagined!
  • Shepherds, after hearing astonishing news from an angel, rushed off to visit the newborn child.
  • Mary and Jesus took the baby Jesus to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord as prescribed in the law of Moses.  They were joyfully greeted by Simeon and then by Anna.

That’s it.  Those are the journeys connected to Jesus’ birth as recorded by Luke.

Next, travelers associated with the birth of Jesus as noted in the Gospel of Matthew:

  • Magi from the east journeyed to Jerusalem and then to Bethlehem to honor “the newborn king of the Jews.”
  • Joseph heeded a dream to avoid Herod’s wrath and so he took the child and his mother to Egypt – a family fleeing for their child’s safety.
  • Eventually, Joseph took the family from Egypt to the land of Israel but it didn’t feel safe so they settled in Nazareth.

Finally, I think of travelers today and the people who will greet them along the way and at the end of the journey.  I think of

  • those traveling with happy, hope-filled anticipation – to share a holiday, to meet a new baby, to gather with loved ones, to connect with friends old and new;
  • those who travel with heavy hearts for a final visit with one in Hospice care or for a memorial service to celebrate the life of one who has died;
  • those fleeing because home is no longer is safe – refugees, immigrants, victims of domestic violence, persons who identify as LGBTQ;
  • those working to help travelers long the way – staff at hotels, gas stations, restaurants, airports and train stations including security personnel, maintenance crews, janitors,  highway patrols, pilots, taxi drivers, conductors, stewards, hosts/hostesses, and so many we take for granted;
  • those welcoming the road-weary with a refreshing beverage, a good meal, a shower or bath, and a safe place to sleep.

May all travelers be protected on their journeys and be extravagantly welcomed at each stop along the way.

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Road construction / maintenance safety equipment along I-90 in Wyoming.  Photo: TLClark.

Christmas Countdown: Message

I was so focused on the messengers (aka angels) in my last post, I paid scant attention to their messages.  I know the message in each case was just as surprising as the appearance of the messenger and that there was a subversive tone to the text.  But I can’t recall the details.

This is what I remember:

  • Zechariah was told Elizabeth (his wife) would bear son despite their old age, they would name him John, and he would “prepare the way” of the Lord.
  • Mary was told she would bear a child despite her youth and ‘not quite married’ status.  Was she told they would name him Jesus?
  • The shepherds heard “for unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a child who is Christ the Lord.”

Between the Charlie Brown Christmas television special, theological education, dozens of Christmas pageants and who knows how many Christmas Eve services, I should remember more.  But not at the moment.

(Pause here to get a Bible and reread the passages from Luke 1 and 2.)

“Fear not.”

Every time an angel appears we hear “don’t be afraid.”  Of course I knew that; I just didn’t think of it a few minutes ago!

“Fear not” is an oft-repeated phrase throughout scripture.  Yet we fear.  We are afraid for all kinds of reasons – real and imagined, large and small, for ourselves and for others.

Maybe we don’t admit it.  At least I don’t often admit the fear.  But I will worry.  My husband could testify that I am quite good at imaging the worst.  Being anxious is second nature to me.  A daily dose of an anti-anxiety prescription helps.  Remembering the birds and the lilies helps (“so do not worry about tomorrow” – Matthew 6:34).  Having people who love and encourage me helps.  A walk outdoors helps.  Reading the Psalms helps (Psalm 91 is my favorite).  Piecing a quilt helps.  Humming a song helps.

Holy One, sender of messengers and messages, quell today’s fears and tomorrow’s worries that we might know the hope, joy, love and peace of your presence among us.  Amen.











































































































































Christmas Countdown: Angels

Angels are messengers from God.


They are – or at least one is – busy in the story of Christ’s birth as recorded in the gospel of Luke.

The angel Gabriel appears and tells Zechariah his wife Elizabeth will have a son whom they will name John.  Never mind that they are both “getting on in years.”  After questioning the angel, Zechariah is struck speechless until after the boy is born. (Luke 1:20, 64)  When she determines she is pregnant, Elizabeth seems to simply wonder and be grateful. (Luke 1:25)

God sends Gabriel to visit a rather young woman with the (good) news that she will bear a child who will be called “the Son of the Most High.” (Luke 1:31-32)  Mary also questions the angel.  Does she ponder Gabriel’s reply at all?  For a moment, an hour, longer?

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Luke 1: 38a NRSV

Nine months later an angel of the Lord visited shepherds to tell of the Messiah’s birth.  The shepherds, with little hesitation, decide to go and see what has taken place. (Luke 2:15)


Quite honestly, if an angel visited me with that kind of news my first response is likely to be disbelief.  Frankly, if an angel of the sort pictured here visited me I’d probably pass out.

But what of other kinds of angels, the ones with human faces?  Like the pastor who sent me a note wondering if I’d ever consider seminary.  Like the doctor who called a friend to see if they would adopt another child.  Like foster parents who open their home with love and compassion.  Like seniors who spend time at an elementary school listening to children read.  Like the couple who trained their dog to do pet therapy and now all three visit a nursing home every Tuesday afternoon.  Like the harpist who plays at a Hospice home.  Like ….

Tell me of an angel you’ve met!


Advent: Zach & Liz

It seems a strange start.  After a few verses of introduction the gospel of Luke launches into the story of Jesus by telling us about Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.  But they had no children … and both were getting on in years.   – Luke 1:6-7 NRSV

Zach is a priest.  As the story begins he is in Jerusalem at the temple offering incense in the “Lord’s sanctuary” (CEB).


I’m much more likely to light a candle than to burn incense – especially when something beyond a spoken prayer seems appropriate.

The people who have gathered to worship are outside praying.


Until a few days ago I’d never noticed the worshipers in this story.  They were outside PRAYING.

No word on the content of their prayers.  But as I read it on Monday I imagined they were praying for the priest.  Priests and pastors and preachers and worship leaders of all kinds appreciate prayers on our behalf.  We may not mention it.  Most of the time we don’t think about it.  But when church life is crazy or busy or both (like before Christmas!), knowing that even one person has offered a prayer to God for you is a precious gift.

While the people are praying, Zach’s public ministry takes a decidedly personal turn.  An angel appears and tells him HIS prayers have been heard.  He and his wife – who are older than old (kind of like Abraham and Sarah of years gone by) – will become parents.

Somehow I don’t think become a parent was Zach’s prayer that day.  Because of their advanced years I suspect both Zach and Liz were no longer petitioning God for a child.  Not that they didn’t continue to long for a son or a daughter.  But no longer believing it might happen.

Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and are very old.” Luke 1:18 CEB

Zach’s response rings true with me.  It’s honest.  And it’s the last thing he’ll be able to speak aloud until his son is born.

Once he’s home, Liz becomes pregnant.  Her response:  “This is the Lord’s doing.”

This part of the story causes me to pause.  I think of would-be parents who have been unable to conceive and the parents whose children died at – or before – or shortly after – birth.  So much heart ache.  Lord, in your mercy.

Zach and Liz’s child is, of course, John.  Not Jesus.  It’s John, the one who will prepare the way.  A strange start, I think, to the story of Jesus.

With prayers for Pastor Dave and Pastor Amy (my pastors), for all who lead worship, and for parents and would-be parents, Teressa

Christmas Countdown: Family Stories

I tend to think of Jesus’ birth narratives as family stories.  Once you get through the genealogy in Matthew, the tale is told from Joseph’s perspective.  Joseph is visited by an angel.  Joseph has dreams.  Joseph moves the family to Egypt and back.

Luke focuses on the maternal line.  Mary is visited by an angel.  Mary goes to see her relative Elizabeth.  Mary gives birth, wraps the child in swaddling clothes, and lays him in a manger.

Birthdays in my family inevitably lead to stories.  I was born on my father’s second day of student teaching.  When it was time for Mom to head to the hospital for my sister’s birth, I was sent me down the hill to stay with friends of theirs.  When my brother was born, Dad handed out tootsie roll pops to his students.

Grandma Mary and Clan

Family Reunion. December 2008

Looking at this family reunion photo, I remember that we are family by birth, by marriage, by legal adoption, and by informal adoption (a foster child become daughter and sister).  Grandma Mary is the matriarch pictured, but I knew her mother – Great Grandma Grace.  Of those not in the picture, I recall my Aunt Marlene who died too young (alcoholism is insidious) as well as Grandpa Art (life ending heart attack).

The family tree has changed in ten years.  Marriage.  Divorce.  More great-grandchildren.  Grandma Mary thinks she might live to be 100.  In the meantime she never misses a birthday; no matter how you made into the family you get a birthday card and a $20 bill!

Advent: Included

Who knew the genealogies of Jesus (Matthew 1:2-17; Luke 3:23-28) would remain with me for more than a week?  When I began these Advent reflections I figured I’d write about the women included on Jesus’ family tree and move on.  I should have known better.  Lingering with a text, reading and rereading the words, and allowing my heart to wander and wonder over what I have read gives the Spirit space and time to reveal ways the ancient story connects to life today. If you haven’t read the earlier posts, see Advent: BlessingAdvent: Missing, and maybe even Advent: Where to begin?.Salmon extended family

Only five women are included in the ancestry of Jesus as recorded by Matthew (Luke names none).  Each is an outsider of sorts.  Three were certainly Gentile not Jew:  Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.  One was married to an Hittite:  Bathsheba (aka the Wife of Uriah).  And then there’s Mary.  None are the usual daughter, wife, and mother.  Nevertheless they are remembered.

Every clan has members like them.  Individuals who don’t quite fit the mold but who make life more memorable.  Unique human beings who add texture to the family story.  Unexpected people with different points of view.

When we let them, they show us other ways of seeing the world.  They help us better understand the human condition.  They may even teach us how to love more deeply, laugh more often, or live more authentically.

I invite you to think about your extended family.  Not just the relatives by blood or formal adoption.  But also the friends who are often like family.  How have they enriched your life?

Look around again, perhaps beyond the circle of family you have named.  Who doesn’t fit the mold but could use an extra friend today?  Is there some small way you can include them this holiday season?

With gratitude for family, Teressa

Advent: Missing

According to family lore, Bernt went to the outhouse one day and never returned.  He’s been missing so long we know he’s dead.  But the genealogy buffs in the family would really like to find him.  Clues were pieced together at the Cousins’ Christmas Party last Saturday:  Bernt might have gone to Alaska.Extended Family Chart for Abraham

When my mom’s interest in genealogy piqued my curiosity, it was because of the missing names – not the missing persons.

Reading the genealogy of Jesus as recorded in the Gospel of Matthew, I’m struck by all the missing names.  The papas are all there.  The mamas are – mostly – not.

We could add a few names.  Isaac’s mother was Sarah (Gen 21:3).  Jacob’s mom was Rebekah (Gen 25:26).  Leah was Judah’s ma (Gen 29:31).

Today I remember the missing – the names and the people.  Some have died.  Some have moved on with their lives and I have no idea what has happened to them.  Some I’ve never met but I know someone who holds them dear.  Most I’ve never heard of.  I know their absence, whoever they are, leaves a hole in the lives of family and friends.

We pray for the missing, dear God.  Wherever they are today, we trust their care to you.  May each one know they are loved.  May those missing a dear one find hope and comfort, love and peace in the midst of this season that too often forgets those who mourn.  Amen.

Until next time, Teressa


Advent: Blessing

When my mom was most active in researching her ancestry my husband said he thought his paternal grandfather must have been an outlaw of some sort.  He knew his grandfather’s name but had never heard stories about the man.  None.  Not a single one.  Which led my beloved to believe his father’s father was best forgotten.  Mom took it as a challenge. Now we know grandpa probably ran a dairy in Oklahoma City and likely came from a family with a long history in Pennsylvania.

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My beloved working on a genealogical fan chart for my mom.  12/21/12.  Photo: TLClark.

I wonder if Jesus heard stories about his grandparents.  Surely he didn’t know all those names recorded in Matthew 1:2-17 and Luke 3:23-38.  Fourteen generations times three in Matthew (see Matthew 1:17); a somewhat longer list in Luke.  The lists agree – mostly – for the generations from Father Abraham to the great King David.  After that, not much at all; from the name of David’s son in Jesus’ direct lineage to the name of Jesus’ grandfather (aka Joseph’s dad) the lists are quite different.

Does it matter?  Does it matter that there is a Zerubbable in one list and a Zadok is in the other?  I don’t think so.  Do we need to get them to line up – to harmonize them?  Definitely not.  The authors had their own agendas.*

Jesus is the son of David, the famous though flawed, best and beloved of Israel’s kings.  Things had definitely gone downhill since his rule.  As the book of Matthew begins, there’s a hint and a hope that Jesus, as part of that royal lineage, will bring about all that a kingdom is to be.

Jesus is also son of Abraham.  (Sing along if you know it: “Father Abraham had many sons…”.)  The first thing I remember about Abraham is that he was blessed to be a blessing (see Genesis 12:1-3)  Think about that for a moment.  Blessed to be a blessing.  Jesus, too, was blessed to be a blessing.

Have you counted your blessings lately?  The people that bring (or have brought) hope, love and joy into your life.  The big things we cannot live without – like breath and water.  The mundane but necessary – food, clothing, and shelter.  The little things that we too often take for granted.

How might you be a blessing today?  It could be something simple, perhaps eye contact and a smile to everyone you pass by.  It could cost a little or a lot, say a few dollars in a Salvation Army Red Kettle or generous check written to your favorite non-profit charity.  It might be a gift of time spent with one who is lonely or a hand-written note sent through the old-fashioned mail.  I hope you’ll use your imagination and act with kindness.

We are blessed.  And we are called to bless others.

Until next time, Teressa

p.s.  I was going to say something about the fact Luke’s genealogy ends with “[Jesus was] son of Adam, son of God.” But that felt like a sermon.  And I wanted to stay with the idea of blessing.

*I’ll tell you some of what comes to mind from my seminary days as well as sermon and Bible study prep over the years.  I could pull out the commentaries, do a little reading, and write about each author’s purpose.  But I’m not that interested – at least not today.

If you are interested, I recommend The People’s New Testament Commentary by M. Eugene Boring and Fred B. Craddock (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004).  It’s accessible, solid scholarship on the New Testament in one volume for those who want to know more but don’t want an entire library of commentaries.

Advent: Where to begin?

If you were to tell the story of Jesus, where would you begin?  Each of the four gospels included in the New Testament begins differently.

Matthew lists ancestors before getting to Jesus’ birth.

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.  – Matthew 1:1 NRSV

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.  – Matthew 1:18 NRSV

Mark forgoes any mention of birth, diving into Jesus’ life at the point of his baptism.

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. – Mark 1:1 NRSV

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.  – Mark 1:9 NRSV

After a prologue telling us why the book is written, Luke starts the story with a priest and his wife.  Jesus doesn’t arrive until in the second chapter.

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah.  His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. – Luke 1:5 NRSV

And she [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. – Luke 2:7 NRSV

John begins at the very beginning and poetically refers to Jesus’ birth.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the word was God. – John 1:1 NRSV

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. – John 1:14 NRSV

I remember being a bit surprised when I realized that only two of the gospels include an account of Jesus’ natal day and they each have a unique take on what took place.  We’ll ponder those another day.

For now, note that Mark is all business.  No wasted words.  The really important thing about Jesus is not where he came from.  What is important is what he did and said and, crucially, where he ended up.  The other gospels don’t disagree; all four include the crucifixion.  (If I remember right, the crucifixion is one of just two stories found in all four gospels.  The other is the feeding of the five thousand).

So, where would you begin the story of Jesus?

Or, at a more personal level, where would you begin telling your own story or the story of one you love?  Birth?  Parents?  Ancestors?  Accomplishments?

Until next time, Teressa

Advent: Countdown to Christmas

‘Tis the season.  Christmas merchandise appeared on store shelves the day after Halloween.  Parades and football publicly marked Thanksgiving.  Black Friday, Small Merchant Saturday, Cyber Monday, and Giving Tuesday have come and gone.  ‘Tis a countdown to Christmas.


The church counts down in an entirely different way.  Four Sundays of Advent.  One candle lit today; one more to be lit each Sunday.  A call to pause, to reflect, to prepare, to wait, to remember, to look forward.  Celebrating Christmas comes later.

Behind the scenes, pastors and church staffs and volunteers have been getting ready for weeks: finding new readings for lighting candles on the Advent Wreath, choosing hymns and anthems appropriate for waiting and watching (and sneaking in a Christmas carol?), making plans for the annual children’s Christmas pageant, getting lists for the Giving Tree, decorating the sanctuary, and so much more.  I’m so grateful for their commitment and their good cheer in this crazy season of high expectations.

Meanwhile, I’ve been thinking about the Biblical Christmas story:  the people, the places, the creatures, the trips, the songs.  I’ve reread the stories as recorded in the gospels and started a list of questions and observations.

My goal this Advent is to go deeper into the stories, to take another look at what is told and what is left untold.  I plan to blog some of what I discover (or re-remember) along the way and hope you’ll join me for the journey.

Before we begin, I invite you to simply recall the story of Jesus’ birth – the setting, the characters, the words.   You’re welcome, of course, to turn to the gospel accounts.  But it’s certainly not required!

Until next time,  Teressa