Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Christmas 1.7 - Wrapping It Up

Advent is over, and the Christmas season moves so fast that it seems almost not to have happened. Although the magi, who had a cold coming of it, still move toward Bethlehem, it's time to close this blog up.

Thank you, if you've joined me here, and especially if you've commented.

I wondered what I had found meaningful two years ago, when it seemed to me completely unacceptable that a joyous season of midwinter light and hopefulness should even exist. It's still as compelling ~ perhaps even moreso:

The figure of the reconciler, of the divine human Jesus Christ, steps into the middle between God and the world, into the center of all that happens. Through this figure the mystery of the world is disclosed, just as in the same figure the mystery of God is revealed.


[B]ehold the incarnate God, the unfathomable mystery of God's love for the world. God loves human beings. God loves the world.

~Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ecce Homo, in Meditations on the Cross

Christmas 1.6 - Praying Through Darkness

Worth thinking about, for those of us who seek the light in a time and place of darkness:

“Prayer, understood as the distilled awareness of our entire life before God, is a journey forward, a response to a call from the Father to become perfectly like his Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. But this journey forward can also be seen as a kind of journey backward, in which we seek to gain access to the relationship Adam had with God.

“In prayer we journey forward to our origin. We close our eyes in prayer and open them in the pristine moment of creation. We open our eyes to find God, his hands still smeared with clay, hovering over us, breathing into us his own divine life, smiling to see in us a reflection of himself. We go to our place of prayer confident that in prayer we transcend both place and time.”

James Finley
Merton’s Palace of Nowhere

(HT to dotmagis at Ignatian Spirituality.)

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas 1.5 - Ashes to Sand and Water

Early on Christmas morning, while it was still dark, I set out for the beach, about a ten-minute drive from where we were staying. The other members of my family have exhausted their resources when it comes to dealing with the ashes, and it probably seems odd that I would have decided that a Christmas sunrise on the beach at St. Augustine was a right time and place, but when I flipped open my phone and saw the reading that came up, I felt vindicated.

As I drove through the dawning light and walked along the beach where we all ran and played and sunned and built sandcastles for so many years, I thought about those words:

Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. ~Luke 2:10-11.

God's son, my son, incarnation, cross, life, death, light overcoming the dark. It seemed to me exactly the right thing to do, to wade into the gentle ocean and scatter ashes as the sun rose.

The next day, I found this poem stashed away in my email, and it seemed appropriate and compelling, given how I had celebrated Christmas:

But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within

listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep

calling to deep of the psalm-

writer, the bottomless ocean
we launch the armada of

our thoughts on, never arriving.

It is a presence, then,

whose margins are our margins;

that calls us out over our

own fathoms. What to do

but draw a little nearer to

such ubiquity by remaining still?

(from "AD" by R.S. Thomas)

(Cross-posted from Metanoia)

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas 1.4 - Blue Christmas Service

It's hard to believe that our Blue Christmas service was less than a week ago. It wasn't something I would have been up to in the previous two years, but this year it felt just right ~ to suggest, to help plan, and to lead.

We created a simple service, based upon a liturgy we found online: Isaiah Advent readings alternating with the O Antiphons in the form of the verses of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, with a candle-lighting in which everyone was invited to participate. There were other prayers and readings and music, but I think that people were most moved by the quiet candle-lighting and the haunting verses cantored in a beautiful soprano voice.

Simple though it was, it was also a tremendous amount of work, and as we put it all together, I observed the process from the point of view of a hoping-to-be-called-pastor. I hope as well that someday I will be capable of exercising the kind of leadership that the pastors of my home church have, leadership that calls forth and supports the gifts of so many others in the congregation. Music director as organist, choir member as cantor, chair of worship ministry as co-planner and with another member that committee, designer of beautiful space, several other members as readers ~ and we all worked seamlessly together.

Insofar as the service itself was concerned, I had little sense of it from a participant's standpoint, but the emails that came afterward tell me that it was a great success. One of the readers said that she had been skeptical of a service devoted to sadness, but that afterward she felt freed up to engage in the remainder of the week. I realized that I felt much the same way. Something of a transformation for those of us for whom the Christmas season has been something to endure rather than to celebrate! Many others seemed relieved and even grateful for a place in which all those emotions which are generally deemed unacceptable, especially at this time of year, were articulated aloud.

I opened the service with some very brief remarks about the lunar eclipse that would take place a few hours later, saying that all of us there were like the moon: living in a circle of darkness and yet, whether we could see it or not, surrounded by a rim of light, a light that the darkness does not overcome.

And I think that we were indeed a little circle of insistent light, creative and hopeful in the face of the darkness of loss.

Cross-posted from Metanoia.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 1.3 - St. Augustine Beach

Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2: 10-11

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas 1.2 - The Unvarnished Story

From my friend Karen, who has also recently lost a son and for whom Christmas also looks different than it did Before:

the beauty
the radiance
the peace
were they there?
heavy, bulky
child with child,
travelling at term
no padded wagon
just a stubborn pack animal
no backrest
no hot coffee to go
long days
in the cold
in humiliation
to the ancestral home
family friends waiting?
ahh, no room for her.
a dirty stable
labor pains
no midwife
no mother to reassure
just an inexperienced man
useless arguing with God.
not his plan.
not his child.
not his way.
no friends no family
no proud cigars
the butt of jokes.
really God?
an indifferent town
an unpadded stable
a smelly place
animal droppings
cold hard noisy
no chair no bed
a trough for a bassinet
scratchy straw
poking in blankets
animals snorting
no hot water
no nurses
no hospital corners
no mirrors
no sink
no toothbrush
no lip gloss
a small, wet baby
pushed out the usual way
who helped?
who cut the cord?
who taught Mary to nurse?
who cleaned it up?
strange visitors
shepherds kings angels
gold, frankincense and myrhh
but still
no room service
no diaper service
no rest
scary dreams
running away in the night
soldiers slashing
babies dying
mothers crying
Her Baby
can you feel it?
in the mess.
has come to thee
O mourning Israel


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas 1.1

And the darkness does not overcome the light.

HT to RevGals for image here.

Advent 5.2 - Silence and Noise as Spiritual Practices

"The most basic spiritual practice is learning silence. Practicing silence is an act of faith precisely because one cannot know for certain that anything is to be gained from it. It might be a waste of that most precious commodity: time. . . . "

Continue reading here.

Not the final word, though.

A couple of days ago I visited with First Spiritual Director (more on that later), in town for the holidays, and last night went to mass with the Carmelites, which he was celebrating. He preached on Mary and Elizabeth, on God's activity in the midst of activity and noise. (Those women are NOT silent in that particular episode!)

Activity and noise have been hard things for me since Josh died; it's as if my inner shell is made of transparent and flimsy paper, easily battered and crumpled. (My outer shell is apparently as solid as armor.) And so I've been working on silence. I've needed a lot of silence in order to make it through the activity and noise.

It was good to be reminded, in one twelve-hour period, that God is in all things, including both the practice of silence and the practice of noise.

Cross-posted in Metanoia (see sidebar).

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent 5.1 - Have You Seen a Child?

I couldn't bear to listen to Amahl and the Night Visitors during the past two Christmases but now, it seems, I can. Amahl is the chldren's operetta about the impoverished and lame shepherd boy and his mother, and their surprising encounter with the magi. I had memorized most of the score as a child, and watched it with my own children year after year as Christmas approached.

In this scene (start at 1.00), Amahl's mother wonders about the child to whom the three kings are bringing such lavish gifts, thinking, as the kings describe the child they seek, that her own beloved boy meets the description.

Amahl script found here:


Have you seen a child the color of wheat... the color of dawn?
His eyes are mild; his hands are those of a king - as king he was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side; and the eastern star is our guide.

the Mother:

Yes, I know a child the color of wheat.... the color of dawn.
His eyes are mild; his hands are those of a king as king he was born.
But no one will bring him incense or gold... though sick and poor and hungry and cold.
He is my child my son, my darling my own.

Two Kings:

Have you seen a child the color of earth... the color of thorn?
His eyes are sad; his hands are those of the poor as poor he was born.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side, and the eastern star is our guide.

the Mother:

Yes, I know a child the color of earth... the color of thorn.
His eyes are sad; his hands are those of the poor, as poor he was born.
But no one will bring him incense or gold... though sick and poor and and hungry and cold.
He is my child, my son, my darling... my own.

Three Kings:

The child we seek holds the seas and the winds on his palm.
The child we seek has the moon and the stars at his feed.
Before him, the eagle is gentle the lion is meek.

All the kings join in a chorus:

Choirs of angels hover over his roof and sing him to sleep.
He's warmed by breath.
He's fed by mother who is both virgin and queen.
Incense, myrrh, and gold we bring to his side, and the eastern star is our guide.

And at the same time, the mother sings about her own son:

The child I know on his palm holds my heart.
The child I know at his feet has my life.
He is my child, my son, my darling, my own...
And his name is Amahl.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Advent 4.7 - How can this be?



Tonight I'm leading Christmas in a Minor Key, our Blue Christmas service at my home church. It is one of the many surprising twists in my understanding and practice of ministry in the past two years. This wonderful reflection is exactly what I need to get from the beginning to the end of this day. Maybe it will be meaningful to you as well.

HT to Ignatian Spirituality.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent 4.6 - The Meaning of Christmas

Chartres Cathedral Nativity Relief

". . . including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ . . ."

Romans 1:6

Last week someone mentioned to me that he and his partner might visit one of her daughters, the mother of two small children, for Christmas, and then made that remark so often heard this time of year. "The kids are at an age when Christmas is still a big deal."

He meant, of course, the Christmas of Santa and freshly-baked cookies and gifts hidden away and excitement mounting to the point where, as I've described in a couple of posts about my own family, no one really sleeps on Christmas Eve.

I'm entirely in favor of Christmases filled with that kind of laughter and anticipation and freshness. We had a lot of fun around here for many, many years, and perhaps such times will come to us again as grandparents.

But as we approach a third Christmas in which the longing for someone who is not here is a physical ache in my heart, I found myself saddened by the reduction of "Christmas as a big deal" to the kind where little children spin like tops around lighted trees and heavily-laden tables.

Perhaps we know a small bit more about what a big deal it really is when we begin to understand it as the launching of God's great project, that new heaven and new earth in which every tear shall be wiped away.

If we are called to belong to the one born in a small cave in which animals shuffled around in the dark, then Christmas is still a big deal.

Advent 4.5 - The Father Jesus Needed

In preparing to preach tomorrow, I came across a wonderful piece on Joseph by Homiletics Professor Alyce McKenzie. I'm actually using a small part of it, but what you'll read below is what most caught my attention. (Too edgy, I think, for where I'll be tomorrow.)

<< “Here,” whispered the angel, “is the key that unlocks your dilemma. Believe her unbelievable story. Marry her, and become the father of God’s child. He will need a father to be accepted by others as he grows to manhood. He will need, not just any father, but a father like you, capable of nurturing him, and giving him a name.‘Immanuel -- God with us.’

“He will need a father like you to teach him to take risks like the one you are about to take, for he will be tempted not to take them.

“He will need a father like you to teach him to withstand the disapproval of others, as you will soon have to withstand it.

“He will need a father like you to teach him what to do in situations like this one, when all hope seems lost and only pain remains; to model how to believe the unbelievable good news and to walk ahead in faith.

“If you do not walk the hard road to Bethlehem, who will teach him how to climb the cruel hill to Calvary?”

In this way, I imagine the father of our Lord was born that night. >>

Image found here; artist unknown.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Advent 4.4 - The Shining Face of God

Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Psalm 80:19

What would that look like, the shining face of God?

So many images come to mind.

Tonight I'm choosing this one ~ not even a very good image on the screen, but wonderful in the memory.

It's one of the rose windows of Chartres Cathedral, illuminated from the outside during one of the summer evening light shows. The lights don't even come on until about 10:00 p.m., because in the summer it doesn't get dark until that late.

And so you find yourself wandering the city at midnight, searching out buildings and lights, and then you head back to your hotel ,and there it is shining under the moon. Eight centuries of God's presence at that spot, and who knows how many before that?

Advent 4.3 - Who Are You Out There?

As a friend and I put the final touches on the Christmas in a Minor Key service we are leading Monday night, I've been thinking about something someone mentioned in the RevGals blog discussion of Blue Christmas services: how important the preparatory conversations have turned out to be. As we put up signs in coffee shops or make announcements, people tell us about their losses and about why they want to come to such a service.

As far as I can tell, the majority of folks visiting here this year are coming via a search for the Iona Community's Cloth for the Cradle prayer.

But regardless of your reason, I wish you'd leave a brief explanatory comment here. It seems that there are enough folks here to call it a community, but it's a very silent one.

Click "anonymous" if you want. But please do speak up, just this once.

Advent 4.2 - Discernment

'He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good."

Isaiah 7:15

This is a complicated passage about the restoration of Israel, the place of anticipated peace where the young child shall be able to eat curds and honey.

But what struck me as I read and studied it a few weeks ago, when I was trying to make some preliminary decisions about preaching for this Sunday, was the emphasis on discernment. On the capacity for discernment as a mark of growing maturity.

I have often, in Ignatian and Jesuit contexts, heard spirituality described as being all about discernment. How we choose, what we choose, for how long a choice remains viable.

In times of intense grief, that capacity becomes clouded and broken. How could it be otherwise, when we can't remember anything for longer than five seconds? Was I going to go to the grocery? Did I decide to go back to seminary? I can't remember, I can't choose, I don't know.

It seems to be not only a mark of growing maturity, but also a sign of recovery when we can, indeed, begin to discern next steps with increased clarity.

In the meantime, agere contra ~ another term, to act against, which I learned from Jesuits. They use it as Ignatius did, meaning to act against desolation. To act against all that causes turmoil, disturbance, and agitation. It means go to the grocery whether you feel like it or not; to go back to seminary even when it seems pointless to do so.

It seems to work ~ agere contra ~ it seems to enable the creation of a solid foundation, even in a time of emptiness, that makes it possible to recover, eventually, the capacity for discernment, for spiritual growth and attentiveness.

I suppose the truth of that potential may be realized from the irony that while I have no recollection of my spiritual director talking to me about agere contra in the early months after Josh died, though he tells me that he did, I am now able to suggest it as a way of moving forward through the dark. It seems to have worked well for me, and for every bereaved mother I know, regardless of whether or not we had any conscious sense of what we were doing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Advent 4.1 - The Harshness of Belief

"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.' "

Matthew 1:20

I am preaching this coming Sunday. The lectionary gospel text focuses on Joseph, and so I have been thinking about fatherhood and what it means.

My own father is a good man who has experienced much sorrow in his life: the death of my mother and youngest brother in a car accident when he was 28, the death of his second wife in another sudden accident when he was 38, a difficult divorce much later in life, and the death of his fourth wife from cancer a few years ago. He has a great love of the outdoors and has found much pleasure and solace over his almost-eight decades in the wild and natural places and things of this continent, sharing some of it with us on family canoe trips into the Canadian wilderness.

But he is not a man of Christian faith, and has little understanding of its pull, or of its role in life.

Thus I overheard him say, as I walked through my house in the first days after Josh died, that "at least she has the comfort of her faith."

I shook my head and moved on. I know there are people who find faith comforting in times of hardship, but I have not been one of them.

I have another father, a spiritual father, in the 80-year-old Jesuit who accompanied me through the Ignatian Exercises. He has continued as my confidant, advisor, counselor, teacher, consoler, and friend in the five years since, even after moving to another city. He's an eloquent writer and has a wicked sense of humor, both of which I have needed and upon which I have greatly relied over the past two years.

In one of his e-mails around the second anniversary of Josh's death, he referred to the "harshness of belief" as something with which I have become well acquainted. Indeed.

When I think about Joseph, and Mary, that term comes to mind. The dream and the encounter. The terrifying reality of the angel, and his bewildering message. The resolve needed to follow through with God's project. The circumstances ~ physical, geographical, political, social ~ all of them less than desirable.

We put out charming nativity scenes ~ we have one in this house ~ and sing cheerful songs, but harshness, rather than charm or cheer, is probably a more appropriate term for what Christmas presents.

Comfort, comfort ye my people. There is, as it turns out, a profound comfort hiding within the harshness, but it is not the comfort of platitudes or sentimental reassurances. It is the comfort of Immanuel, God with us, and of the demanding pull toward that presence even when all circumstances seem to indicate that turning away might be the more rational choice.

Advent 3.7 - Mary, Star of the Sea

Josh spent his 11th grade year in Rennes, France. When we visited him over Christmas, we spent several days in Paris, and one evening we went to a Christmas concert of Gregorian chant at Le Cathedrale de Notre Dame. (Apparently this year's is on December 28, should you be in the vicinity!)

Michelle's post here brings back memories of that evening, with the musical composition having a connection to Notre Dame and with her own memories of first hearing it on a frozen night on this side of the Atlantic.

Two years, or even one year, ago, I could not have imagined that the memory of that frigid evening in Paris, all of us bundled up in an unheated 13th century cathedral, would bring me some measure of peace. But, painful as it is, I am grateful that Josh's short life included such a night of ancient music in a space whose heights were designed to soar to heaven.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent 3.6 ~ Mary et al.

I hope that Vinita Wright is good with me dropping these poems of hers in here. I found them when she first posted them ~ she blogs here ~ and could hardly wait for this week, with its focus on Mary, to get here.

I am much taken, in this difficult season, with expressions of the original dislocation it celebrates.


How much shrinking did you have to do
to get into the house?
How much shine had to be rubbed off
to become visible?
Did you carry the plan like a secret fire in the heart,
because such information could cause
a whole new rebellion up there?
And when the girl said yes, how much
did you ache to grow legs and lungs and
a head of hair, just to know the sensation
of your spirit breaking open?

Copyright © 2009 Vinita Hampton Wright

Mary’s Mom

I’d like to know if you noticed anything different
about your daughter. On a particular day, did she seem pale
or out of breath? Was she weepy? Did you have to tell her things twice?
When the truth came out, did you agonize about why
she hadn’t come to you? Did you tell her father, or did she?
And—be honest, now—when you, being the mother, being a woman,
understood the situation, didn’t you enjoy some moments
of sheer satisfaction? Didn’t you say to God, one eyebrow arched,
“You couldn’t have picked a better one”?

Copyright © 2009 Vinita Hampton Wright

Advent 3.5 - Tanner's Annunciation

It would not be Advent without this painting, would it?

I tried to "borrow" a friend's close-up, but it refused to permit itself to be lifted. Perhaps you can see it here.

Two years ago, I had this to say:

This might be my favorite painting in the world. All over the internet this time of year, it remains fresh to me. In the past I've liked it because, frankly, Mary looks a lot like I did as a very young woman, and her puzzled expression confirms the likeness.

This year, I've noticed other things. The messy bed. The worn surroundings.

The uncompromising light.

Is that what we pray for, when we are so bruised and fragile that the flames of the advent candles threaten to engulf us in sorrow?

A birth that can lead only to Good Friday, because it is only there that we can be sure that God knows us?

Uncompromising, indeed.

And a year ago, this:

Last year it was that uncompromising pillar of light that drew me in.

This year, it's the rumpled and perplexed young woman. I'm not young anymore, but I am most certainly rumpled and perplexed.

And this year?

As evidence of our profound capacity to project ourselves into what we observe, when I looked at this painting online yesterday I no longer saw messiness or perplexity or the worn surroundings. My eye was drawn straight to her face (which was why I was excited about my friend's enlargement of that detail). I saw, in that youthful expression, a directness and calm as she looked into the face of her future that could only reflect the peace of acceptance of all that it would bring.

I'm not there yet but, just as I always try to "preach ahead" of myself, so now I try to "live ahead" of myself.

Perhaps if you stare long enough into a light that uncompromising, some of it rubs off on you.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Advent 3.4 - Magnificat

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46-55

Last week our pastor reminded us that this is "one of the most politically subversive and dangerous songs in the Scriptures." If your own life has taken you far from department store Christmases, it's good to be reminded that Advent portends something 0f extravagant wildness.

I am at a loss as to why none of the art selected for the incredible musical piece below , sung by the St. Paul's Cathedral Choir, reflects the Magnificat's setting in the Gospel of Luke, in which Mary's words burst forth as she visits her cousin Elizabeth. A great deal of the power of the words comes from their being spoken in the unexpected context of the conversation between these two women, Elizabeth pregnant with John the Baptist and Mary with Jesus. So at the top of this post I've added an image of the Visitation Window from the church where I did my field education last year.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent 3.3 - Sermon Fragment

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."

Matthew 11:2-5

This is part of the sermon I preached this morning. It was written for a church in transition. But, of course, it was also written for a certain preacher who needed to hear for herself what she had to say.

We tend to run through this list of things Jesus is doing, without giving much thought to the details. We’ve heard the basics so many times. But let’s take a few moments today to pull that list apart, to unpack it and to ask ourselves: What does each set of miracles or signs really entail? To what do they invite us, as individuals? As a church?

The blind receive their sight, says Jesus. Perhaps he is talking not only about literal, physical blindness. What blinds us? What false values, what worn-out suppositions, what past experiences and hurts prevent us from seeing anew? What would it be like to see things differently? Is there something which you’ve always seen and understood in one way that might benefit from another look? Is there something to which you’ve never paid attention that’s calling you to move in for a close-up view?

The lame walk, Jesus tells John. Again, let’s go beyond the literal. What hobbles us? Where do brambles and fallen trees block our path to some place we’ve not been before? Where have we built fences which we now need to take down? Walking involves a complex set of physical interactions which most of us are able to take for granted most of the time: a sense of balance, the co-ordination of muscles and tendons and bones, some strength, some flexibility. If any one of those things gets out of whack, we’re slowed way down, perhaps even stopped altogether. What do we need to tend to in order to be healed of lameness?

The lepers are cleansed. One of the biggest challenges of leprosy in the ancient world was the isolation it imposed upon people. In today’s world, too. True enough, we are unlikely to encounter people suffering from leprosy in our daily lives in northern Ohio. But do we encounter others who have become invisible to us? Have we excluded others in some ways? Of whom we are fearful? And do our resistance and fears in turn isolate us? How might we begin to understand others as people cleansed by God’s love? How might we look for Jesus among the ill and the infirm?

Jesus says that the deaf hear. Hmm, what have we missed lately? When have we failed to listen? Then holidays are prime time for what we might call “failure to hear.” We all have expectations for how events should unfold, expectations that sometimes render us completely deaf to new circumstances and new needs. And even in the most ordinary of times and situations, study after study tells us that listening is a skill we fail to practice. Let’s be honest: How many times are we “listening” – by which we mean waiting for a chance to jump in to tell our own story or to voice our own opinion? What if we decided that learning to listen well might be one of the best ways by which we could show the presence of Christ to others?

The dead are raised, proclaims Jesus. Now, that’s a tough one. In literal terms, who does Jesus raise during his human walk among us? A very few people. But perhaps we need to look at the phrase more expansively. What in us has been deadened, flattened? Where have we become incapable of response, of love? What in us needs to open up, flower into new creativity, be raised anew? Within ourselves? In our personal relationships and friendships? At work? In church? Where is Jesus working to bring forth new life and inviting us to participate in what he wants to accomplish?

The poor have good news brought to them. Are we among the poor? You’ve got this turned around you may be saying to me by now. We are Christ’s church. We need to bring good news to the poor, in the form of both warm blankets for these bitter nights and the warm message of salvation. All true. But let’s humble ourselves a little bit and think: where are we impoverished? Where are we limited? Where is good news being brought to us in ways that will enrich us – not in terms of material wealth, but in ways that will enable us better to show Christ’s love to a broken world?

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann tells us that our God is not a God of scarcity, but a God of abundance. Abundance! Walter Brueggemann tells us that because it’s true, because it’s reflected in these very words of Jesus. Whether as individuals or as a church, we are not called to be fearful or unwilling. We are not called to be people of limitation, impoverished by past disappointments, hesitantly creeping along well known paths.

We are called to be people of vision. We are called to walk forward in confidence. We are called to break down the walls of resistance that isolate us from one another. We are called to hear something new. We are called to new ideas, new approaches, new hope, new life. We are called to the riches of the Kingdom of God.