Christmas at trinity Cathedral
Christmas EvE • thursday, dECEmbEr 24
5:00 pm Family Eucharist and pagEant
10:30 pm prEludE
Magnificat, Antonio Vivaldi
Trinity Cathedral Choir;
Trinity Chamber Players
11:00 pm choral Eucharist
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., preaching
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, presiding
“Verbum caro factum est,” Hans Leo Hassler
Christmas day • Friday, dECEmbEr 25
10:00 am Eucharist with carols
The Rev. Will Mebane, preaching
saturday, dECEmbEr 26
3:00 pm and 5:00 pm
thE Boar’s hEad
yulE log FEstival
Meditations for the Season
offered by the people of Trinity Cathedral
Editor: Adam Spencer
Cover Photo: Dean Tracey Lind
2230 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland OH 44115
Sunday, November 29
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Psalm 25: 1-10
1 Thess. 3: 9-13
Luke 21: 25-36
What is this thing called Advent? The word ‘advent’ comes from the Latin
word ‘adventus’ meaning ‘arrival.’ The idea behind it is that God came to
earthly life and lived among us. That’s really great news if you take a few
minutes to think on it, but for most people, Advent has become a time of
rushing to get ready for whatever you’re doing with family and friends on
Starting with the day after Thanksgiving (though catalog firms and re-
tailers try to move it up to the start of November for profit’s sake) we
are flooded with Christmas. Our radios play non-stop Christmas music,
our city streets and stores are decorated for the Holiday Season, and we
are bombarded with advertisements. Most people spend all four weeks of
Advent (and then some!) buying or making gifts to give out for Christ-
mas, scheduling Christmas travel, and setting up the bounties of the big
Christmas meal. By the time it’s over, most of us need a vacation from the
Where in all of this is there any focus on Christ? Truly it has become a
tiring rush, not a loving celebration; about money or image and, maybe,
about family and friends. Truly, Advent has fallen on hard times, with
little time or thought for the coming of Emmanuel.
And if we don’t look to Jesus every day we are likely to end up losing
Advent, Christmas, Lent, and even Easter.
Monday, November 30
Isaiah 2: 1-5, Psalm 122, Matthew 8: 5-13
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of God.”
I believe that the house of God is anywhere that we allow ourselves to be
open to God’s presence. Still, some places seem to be especially “thin”,
allowing us to more easily be open. Not too long ago, the steps outside
the Columbarium right here at Trinity became a “thin space” for me.
The Columbarium door is locked,
but I sit on the steps outside it,
wishing its occupants well
on this day before All Saints Sunday.
Tomorrow the organ will boom out,
and choir and congregation will sing,
“For all the saints,
who from their labors rest…”
Today, I just sit in quiet communion
with bishops, captains of industry,
and faithful members of this congregation,
who once lived in the earthly shells
that lie beyond that door.
I thank them for their gifts
of love and work and earthly treasure
that built this sacred space
that we enjoy today.
I thank them for their laughter,
their tears, their hopes, their dreams,
their words of wisdom, and their prayers.
They have left us a rich inheritance.
Tuesday, December 1
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the
kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall
Growing up, my brother and I loved to play army games. Using sticks as
fake rifles we’d wage war all over the house and yard. Grandma used to
shake her head and tell us not to do that around her. I never really under-
On the weekends that we stayed with my grandparents, we would take
drives in the country down near their house. And when I was little, the
Wal-mart and the big strip mall hadn’t been built yet. It was all fields and
pasture land. I remember the landmarks: the cattle, the Christmas tree
farms, and a house that had a little statue of a lion and a lamb together
beneath a big oak tree. Grandma loved that statue. These days she has a
magnet on her fridge of the lion and the lamb lying down together.
My grandpa served in World War II. He was in the infantry as the Allies
pushed into Germany at the end of the war. I’ve since read that that means
he saw some of the bloodiest and most bitter combat of the entire war. I
remember being horrified as an older kid when mom told me that Grandpa
watched a friend die after being hit by artillery.
My grandfather’s generation saw war engulf the world. And women like
my grandma watched men come back from it. Grandma always loved the
lion and the lamb and she didn’t want her grandsons playing with guns.
I think I finally understand why.
They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth will be
full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. -Isaiah
Wednesday, December 2
Advent is now here – the season of waiting, watching, arriving, renewal,
and new beginnings again. The days are getting shorter and are getting
darker earlier. Something is about to happen. I am supposed to “stay
alert” and at the same time my mind is racing with too many things to do
in such a short amount of time. Then I see the headline “Whose Birthday
Is It Anyway?!” and it stops me in my tracks. Back to reality I come and
pause, to “wait, watch, and stay alert” for the birth of the Jesus.
The Lord is my Pacesetter, I shall not rush;
The Lord makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals.
The Lords provides me with images of stillness,
which restore my serenity;
The Lord leads me in the ways of efficiency
through calmness of mind,
And the Lord’s guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things
to accomplish each day,
I will not fret, for the Lord’s presence is here.
The Lords’ timelessness, all importance,
will keep me in balance.
The Lord prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst
of my activity,
By anointing my mind with oils of tranquility.
My cup of joyous energy overflows.
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the
fruits of my hours,
For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord, and
dwell in the Lord’s house forever.
(1997 - by Toki Miyashima – updated)
Alleluia and Amen!!
Thursday, December 3
“Not everyone who addresses me as, ‘Master, master,’ will get into Heav-
en’s domain – only those who carry out the will of my Father in heaven.”
The lesson is clear. I must act upon what I have learned. When I recog-
nize the correct way, I must move on it. Religious posturing and theolog-
ical babble are not moving the kingdom of God forward. In this Gospel
passage, Jesus emerges as a true teacher with a desire for me, his student,
to put into practice what he has been revealing with his words. Jesus has
set up the model. Now it is my turn. He asks that I become a co-creator
with him in this new kingdom of love, peace and justice. As Bishop
Robinson has recently stated,”Jesus does not need anymore admirers;
Jesus needs more followers.”
As I read the news of the day and sift through the vast amount of infor-
mation, I realize that much time, energy and treasure are spent on empty
words and political maneuvering – “Let’s talk; you do this for me and I’ll
support you in that. We’re all ‘gentlemen’ here; we can work out a deal.”
Seldom is anything of significance accomplished.
The Egerton Gospel, a 2nd Century papyrus fragment, offers another
look at these same thoughts of Jesus. A contemporary translation brings
the message home: “Why do you pay lip service to me your teacher, but
do not do what I say.” Words are important - but only to the extent that
they encourage action. If there is no action, then the words are meaning-
Advent provides me with the opportunity to look closely at Jesus’ words
and see how I am carrying them out. Jesus challenges me to participate,
not only in this time of expectation, but throughout the new year as well.
Friday, December 4
Psalm 27: 1-6, 13-14
Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it
be done to you.” Matthew 9:29
Last Saturday, as I unloaded my car by the laundromat with baskets and
baskets of clothes to be washed, a scruffy man in tattered jeans saun-
tered by. He carried a small cloth sack over his shoulder, perhaps hold-
ing his only belongings. He turned his face to me and then to the heavy
load packed high in my car. He paused. He smiled a knowing smile and
winked. Then with the small sack slung over his shoulder, he went on his
At that moment, my mind’s eye saw a poor and homeless man in
need. In my heart, I felt the sting leading to repentance. I heard the
call to justice in the assumption that God’s realm is not yet here and is
still to come. Yet, that man’s smile told me he believed his burden was
lighter than my own, literally and figuratively. In his wink, he embraced
a new reality, already present and breaking into our disparate circum-
It is a paradox that we work for justice as if ushering in God’s realm, yet
in moments of grace, we see everywhere the kingdom already here. The
cusp of these two is the stuff of faith, and we walk in it all the time. We
call it “eternal life.”
Sharon L. Schwenk
Saturday, December 5
Isaiah 30:19-21, 23-26
Matthew 9:35-10:1, 5-8
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving, sing praises on the harp to our
God. Psalm 147
This Advent season, I want to reflect on blessings. In a year when so many
paradigms have been shifted, so many beliefs dispelled, and
when the gifts of the season seem sure to be less than in any year
in recent memory, I want to focus on the ultimate gift this sacred
When so many of us have lost jobs, income, and retirement nest
eggs, it’s difficult. Those of us that have been spared the most difficult
hardships are slashing our personal and business budgets, preparing for
more gloom and volatility ahead.
What better time to retrench and focus on the gift Advent brings us: an op-
portunity for ultimate salvation through Christ’s sacrifice on
Earth? How can I be more deserving of this gift? Am I doing everything
God has asked of me in return? All of us have the ability to do more of
what God asks of us. But it takes focus, commitment, and
This season, even more than others, help me focus on what I’ve
been given. God’s gift is beyond any other, and in the giving, there
is great responsibility bestowed on me.
Sunday, December 6
Malachi 3: 1-4
Luke 1: 68-79
Phillippians 1: 3-1
Luke 3: 1-6
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in
an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.
- Martin Luther King jr.
Thus the prophet speaks liberation and hope to those who hunger for
“By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon
us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
With sighs too deep for words the people of God speak a prayer into the
darkness of war, poverty, bigotry, and religious apathy:
God of light come and liberate us from the oppression of nuclear pursuits
and political ignorance. War and rumors of war produce the collateral
damage in the poor. Poverty rises at the expense of war, dear God, and
the cry of the hungry are legion in a world of denial. War makes pau-
pers of us all and fear rises and paranoia leads to fear of the other and
darkness grows. Violence overwhelms the soul and we lose heart and
the church is distracted by many things as it gags on gnats and swallows
camels. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and ransom your captive church.
Open our ears to hear the cry of the poor. Open our eyes to see the sin
of war. Open our hearts to the oppressed. Open our theologies to faith
active in love. Come, Emmanuel, Come. Our Advent dawns a light of
your Christ to save us from ourselves. Amen. Amen.
Apathy is the greatest sin among the people of God as we grow impa-
tient during these days of Advent. Wake up! Let the church rise and be
the answer to the prayers of the poor in the name of the One who brings
peace, hope, love, and call to proclaim. We are woven into the garment
of justice. We are part of the network of peace.
Rev. Dr. Joseph G. Kovitch, Campus Pastor
Monday, December 7
During Advent, we spend much of our time in intense anticipation; antici-
pation of a great event that is about to effect the history of the world, as
well as our own individual lives. The Psalm and the reading from Isaiah
remind us of the anticipation our forefathers felt. Knowing that God would
manifest Himself on this earth kept their faith fresh. They wondered, wait-
ed with great expectancy, and rejoiced at God’s promise.
But much of those passages talk about salvation being available only to
those who fear, and the unclean and wicked fools who cannot know God’s
During Advent and at other times during the year when the Scriptures
take this tone, I prefer the understanding that I’ve gained as a Christian
who has lived his life long after the birth of Christ. I know the outcome, I
know the story, and I prefer to enter the season with that healthy anticipa-
tion of something wonderful and amazing that is about to happen for us
all. Not only is Jesus coming to save the faithful; he is coming to give us
all a chance. His forgiveness, his teachings about His Father, the amazing
miracles he is about to perform. These are about to be bestowed on all us,
we sinners in God’s eternal creation.
It is through our everyday actions as Christians that much of our faith is
perceived by nonbelievers. Promising gloom and doom will probably not
help them to be as knowingly anxious as I feel about Advent. To me, Ad-
vent represents the single greatest opportunity for salvation in the history
of the world. I prefer to try to radiate the love, spirit, and inner peace that
Jesus’ life reminds us of.
During this Advent season, I’m going to try to focus on those feelings and
help spread the word of God by my earnest anticipation of the events that
are about to unfold.
Tuesday, December 8
Linda Zolten Wood
Wednesday, December 9
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and
I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am
gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my
yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” - Matthew 11:28-30
During the holiday season, most of us could use a lighter burden and a
little rest. We often try to do too much - find the perfect gift, cook the
finest feast, decorate better than ever. In Advent 2009, many individuals
and families have greater burdens - lost jobs, diminished savings, homes
foreclosed. We could use an easier yoke and a double-helping of hope.
We find hope in the form of a tiny baby born to two bone-tired parents. A
gentle child who was promised to be the Savior of the world. The world
was weary when Jesus was born - it is weary now - we still need a Savior.
Fortunately, one is on the way. Spread the word - the world could use
some Good News.
Thursday, December 10 Friday, December 11
Isaiah 41:13-20 Isaiah 48:17-19, Psalm 1, Matthew 11:16-19
Psalm 145:1-4, 8-13
Matthew 11:7-15 Blessed are those who walk hand in hand with goodness,
who stand beside virtue, who sit in the seat of truth;
In the late 1960s a TV show, “To Tell The Truth,” asked a panel to identify For their delight is in the Spirit of Love,
the one of three guests who was telling the truth about her occupation. The and in Love’s heart they dwell day and night.
panel used questions, and made their choices based on the answers given They are like trees planted by streams of water,
by the guests. Then Bill Cullen, the host, requested, “Will the real Victoria that yield fruit in due season, and their leaves flourish;
Gook please stand up?” And in all that they do, they give life.
The unloving are not so;
The 11th chapter of Matthew records two similar attempts to identify the they are like dandelions which the wind blows away.
“real” person in question. John the Baptist, imprisoned for speaking truth Turning from the Heart of Love, they will know suffering and pain.
to power needs to know if Jesus is the real Messiah he’s been telling people They will be isolated from wisdom;
about. So he sends two of his disciples to put the question to Jesus: “Are for Love knows the way of truth,
you the one who is to come (the Messiah) or are we to wait for another?” the way of ignorance will perish.
“Will the real Messiah please stand up?” Jesus replies, “Go tell John what
you hear and see: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are clean, the I like this translation of Psalm 1 by Nan Merrill. She compares dwelling
deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.” in God’s heart to being like trees planted by streams of water who yield
And John knows Jesus is the Messiah. much fruit. This serves as a reminder to stay close to the source of that
which is life-giving and to beware of the danger of turning from this love
Then Jesus questions the crowd about the “real” John. Is John a man who and becoming isolated from wisdom.
sees which way the wind is blowing before he speaks the message of the
coming of the Messiah? Is John speaking a message influenced by those The psalms are hymns and prayers of pilgrims on the journey and are an
who live in palaces and other seats of worldly power? Or is he a prophet? invitation to pray everything we know, feel and experience. In monastic
“Will the real John the Baptist please stand up?” The prophet whose un- communities they are sung or chanted daily as a practice of transforma-
compromising bold words and actions will cost him his life stands up. tion. So I invite you to take a moment to give voice to Psalm 1. You may
simply read it aloud or find a single tone on which to chant it. If you are
How do I answer the question, “Are you a follower of Jesus, or should we experienced with chanting, you may want to include more tones. There is
look for another?” “Will the real Christian please stand up?” Who am something about giving voice to the psalm that brings it to life.
I: a man who goes along to get along? A man who prefers the material
comforts of a “palace”to the wilderness of standing and delivering for the As you read Isaiah and Matthew, I invite you into the practice of Lectio
kingdom of God? “Will the real Bailey Herrington please stand up?” Divina or sacred reading. Begin by reading the text silently or aloud. Sit
with it for a few minutes and in your reflection, notice any images, feel-
Bailey Herrington ings or memories that are stirred in you. Then listen for how you might
be invited to respond in the circumstances of your life. Then spend a few
minutes resting in silence. You may want to offer a prayer of gratitude for
whatever you have received.
Mary Anne Woodward
Saturday, December 12
Psalm 80:1-3, 14-18
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free,
From our fear and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Like children watching their superheroes in TV cartoons, we long for our
superhero, the one who will come and make everything right. But there’s a
paradox; we are waiting for what we’ve already got and don’t even know
it. In today’s lesson from the gospel of Matthew Jesus tells his disciples
that Elijah, the superhero they’ve been waiting for, has already come. They
didn’t recognize him because he came as John the Baptist. We are like the
disciples; we don’t get it – the simple lesson that the kingdom of God is
with us now. It’s the world we live in. Even while we await his coming,
Jesus is with us.
Sunday, December 13
Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Philippians 4: 4-7
Luke 3: 7-18
The prophet Zephaniah wants Israel, the daughter Zion, to sing and shout
with joy, for the Lord, the king of Israel, is in their midst. What does that
mean for us? Is Christ in our midst?
During the Advent season we are waiting for Christmas, but is that just
about a bunch of fuzzy old carols, cozy decorations, holiday parties, and
expensive gifts on Christmas Eve? All of that is really present among us,
from shopping malls to radio programs, and this year it felt even more
awkward to see stores decorated early for the holidays, while the weather
was still mild and balmy.
God’s presence became manifest in the birth of Christ, whom we call “God
incarnate”, God made flesh. As Christians we see this as God’s great gift
to humanity. But is Christ present in our lives today? Can we live our
lives with Christ as our focal point? After all, we call ourselves Christians.
Do we see Christ not just in cute nativity scenes or in carols like “Silent
Night”? Where is Christ for you?
Christ is among us, in the sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, in
scripture, and in prayer. But the love of Christ cannot be limited to
religious practice in closed rooms. Do we reach out to our brothers and
sisters and all of God’s creation, like Christ did? Do we subscribe to the
unconditional love of Christ for everyone, even they are “different” from
us? Can we love the person who opposes or disagrees with us?
If we fully embrace the love of Christ and each other, then Christ is truly
among us and will remain in our midst. And together with Zephaniah we
can shout with joy, rejoicing in our Lord, Jesus Christ, who came down
from heaven for all of us and is our light and hope now, and for the days
Monday, December 14
Numbers 24:2-7, 15-17a
Today is All Saints Day and I am writing a piece for Advent. In the af-
ternoon sky, I see a chalk-like trace of the moon against a deep blue sky.
In the back yard, eight piles of leaves look like mounds of giant cookie
dough, waiting to make their migration to the curb. Tonight it will be dark
at 5:00 PM instead of 6.
A fragment of Tracey’s sermon dances around me “This is a day about
connections.”. Yes, it is – about connections past and present and future.
The phone rings and on the other end my Mother tells me of a passing of a
dear music teacher I had back in college, Paul Manz. After waves of tears,
I go to my room and put on one of his glorious CD’s, the variations on
the hymn tune, St. Anne (O God Our Help in Ages Past). It doesn’t take
me too long to find a box with pictures, recital programs and letters and at
once I am transported back to that time. In my mourning, I am connected,
not only to the past, but my perspective of it from the present and a small
glimpse of eternity. My tears have changed their chemistry from sadness
I consider the complexity of connections and how the Holy Spirit always
has a way of helping us find out what we need to know.
In your Advent meditation today, my prayer is that you think about the
richness of your connections. May you access the light of this holy season
and walk closer with our Lord.
Tuesday, December 15
Zephaniah 3:1-2, 9-13
Zephaniah tells us our speech will be changed to a pure speech and we
will no longer lie or engage in deceit. We are so accustomed to “spin”,
half-truths and outright lies that this sounds like a pipedream. It seems
like we as a society are determined to either tell people what they want to
know (play nice) or what we want them to know (sell a viewpoint).
Telling people what they want to hear is perhaps great for minimizing
hurt feelings and conflict but stifles our ability to fully express ourselves
or create the trust that allows us to connect at deeper levels. It is easy to
imagine the man in Matthew being somewhat exasperated with his sons,
both of whom said one thing and then did the opposite.
Telling people what we want them to know is equally challenging when
we resort to spin, lies and half-truths. These deceptions have a way of
being found out. This too erodes trust. It also creates hard feelings,
unhealthy conflict and dividing walls. We need look no further than
our political discourse to see this. It is too easy to let our egos, fears and
pains distort our words. Thank heavens God doesn’t do that! God is very
good at being honest. I think this comes from the fact God loves us so
much - we trust and believe God because of this love.
What would happen if we approached everyone from a place of uncondi-
tional love? Would we then feel able to be honest?
Isn’t that what God asks of us?
Wednesday, December 16
Isaiah 45: 5-8, 18-25
Psalm 85: 8-13
Luke 7: 19-23
Today’s psalm tells us that righteousness is a product of peace, love and
faithfulness. Yet in Isaiah, we are told that righteousness is a tool to be
taken up against those who worship wooden idols, that it goes hand in
hand with strength. The trick here, I believe, is to not get caught up in the
martial aspects of the second definition.
According to Foy Valentine in an article in The Journal of Christian Eth-
ics: “Righteousness is defined in The Oxford English
Dictionary as ‘justice, uprightness, rectitude, conformity of life to the
requirements of the divine or moral law; virtue, integrity.’ Its original
spelling was ‘rightwiseness’; and, as we sometimes still say a thing is
sidewise, meaning sideways, so this original spelling, right-wise-ness,
signified right-way-ness. That is what righteousness is, right-way-ness.”
There are those who would subjugate us with their own restrictive defini-
tion of what Valentine’s “rightwayness” actually is. And they’re willing
to do it by force, if necessary. Those who are righteous for righteousness
sake usually find themselves judging others. .
Proclaiming that you are righteous doesn’t get you a seat on the train to
heaven. Christ shows us in our third reading that it is actions that define
a person. Rather than simply agreeing that he was the chosen one, Christ
took John the Baptist’s followers and showed them what he was. He used
love, and was righteous before those who watched him, without having
to boast of his purity.
Isaac Asimov wrote that “Violence is the last resort of the incompe-
tent.” Often, those who fall into the trap of violence do so based on a
false sense of righteousness. It is much harder to overcome violence and
hate without fighting. Learning to overwhelm your opponent with love,
compassion and dignity requires true strength. When one learns to be
righteous while wielding love, then the strength becomes clear to the
Thursday, December 17
Genesis 49: 2, 8-10
Psalm 72: 1-8
Matthew 1: 1-7, 17
“What did you go out into the desert to see?”
You see the sun shining fiercely in the white sky.
It’s a beautiful winter day.
Breathe in, marvel that you can draw breath.
Let your breath take some of that stress away.
The light is so bright you feel the illumination from within.
You feel it written on your heart.
Sing to the LORD, you saints of his;
praise his holy name.
Keep lengthening your cords and strengthen your stakes
For all our sakes.
Even in your emptiness, you have a home.
And in the sheer sound of silence,
When you feel most alone and most afraid,
Sing your praise.
Sing your heart to God and do not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give you thanks forever.
Friday, December 18
Jeremiah 23: 5-8
Psalm 72: 11-18
Matthew 1: 18-25
Isaiah is the prophet whose voice we hear during Advent. He foretold
In the 56th chapter he also cast a vision of what God’s people would look
God told his people that a foreigner who has joined God’s people would
not be turned away. A man who has been castrated — and therefore was
incapable of siring children — should not think that he could not be one of
God’s people. God only expects a person to honor the covenant between
God and his people and to be faithful to God in worship and practice. God
has not only brought the children of Israel home, but “has promised that
he will bring still other people to join them.”
This passage resonates Trinity Cathedral’s covenant of inclusiveness.
None are excluded. Honoring God’s covenant with his children is the sum
of what is needed.
Advent looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ. Trinity daily lives out
the vision Isaiah foretold. It is such a hopeful image.
Saturday, December 19
Judges 13: 2-7, 24-25
Psalm 71: 1-8
Luke 1: 5-25
Angels and virgins, barren women conceiving, muteness and shepherds,
wandering stars and magi…
Fingers pointing at the moon.
There’s a pretty famous Buddhist story about a Zen master and his stu-
dent. And, depending on how you hear it and who you hear it from, the
master tells his student that all instruction/tradition/the Buddha is as a
finger pointing at the moon. Look at the moon, not the finger, is the point
of the tale.
Luke tells of two miraculous and seemingly impossible births: John’s and
Jesus’s. One to a woman unable to conceive, one to a virgin. Both an-
nounced by heavenly beings, by angels. The stories of miraculous births
are fairly common in ancient sources. Everyone from Alexander the
Great to Augustus Caesar to Pythagoras had one. And the Hebrew Bible
is full of barren women giving birth. (Sarah, Hannah, Samson’s mom.)
A miraculous birth, in the ancient worldview, was a signifier of the great-
ness of the one who was born. And the Hebrew Bible uses the pregnancy
of a barren woman over and over again to point to God’s miraculous
power at work. Making a way where there was no way. Changing the
rules of the game to make way for hope. Miraculous birth narratives,
including Luke’s, are a special literary device of the ancient world; draw-
ing attention to and making meaning about who John and Jesus were and
how special their lives were. But the factuality or artifice of these stories
isn’t the point. All of the miraculous doings, from the virgin birth to the
barren mother to the choirs of angels to the star in the east, are but the
Look at the moon.
Sunday, December 20
Micah 5: 2-5
Luke 1: 47-55
Hebrews 10: 5-10
Luke 1: 39-45
I find in these words a poetic repose…
Of peasant wombs and borrowed tombs
Of backwater towns and prophetic crowns
Of shepherd kin and Godly skin
Of sheep’s cry and an infant’s sigh
…Comes the Advent of our God.
Yet, still we sing the psalmist song, “Restore us, O God; let your face
shine, that we may be saved.” …Comes the Advent of our God.
Yet still I remember as a child praying, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the
Lord is with thee…Blessed are thou among women and the fruit of thy
womb Jesus,…”…Comes the Advent of our God.
And my mind wanders still to song lyrics, “When I find myself in times
of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let
it be. And in my hour of darkness, she is standing right in front of me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be. And when the broken hearted
people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be. For
though they may be parted, there is still a chance that they will see, there
will be an answer. let it be.” …Comes the Advent of our God.
In the Advent-waiting comes the joy of prenatal leaping and the
fulfillment of the Lord speaking, and we shall live secure! We who live
by faith in the already and not yet, between the womb and the tomb, find
ourselves as Lamaze coaches for the world . “Focus…breathe in justice
and breathe out hate…Focus…breathe in love and breathe out exclu-
sion.” We name the labor pains Hope, we breathe and focus as God pulls
us through, and we find the womb-waiting was the time of our gestating
for the Advent of our God.
The Rev. Dr. Joe Kovitch
Monday, December 21
Song of Solomon 2: 8-14
Psalm 33: 1-5, 20-22
Luke 1: 39-45
Righteous and righteousness: these words must appear in the Bible hun-
dreds of times and each time I wonder what they mean. Psalm 33 begins
wonderfully with the images of instruments and singing as a whole meta-
phorical symphony. The righteous people sing praises and the sounds of
harp, lyre, and trumpet create a new song. But suddenly righteousness is
linked to justice, and the images become severe and uncompromising. A
dictionary for the Bible gives a full page of choices for this popular Bibli-
cal word. The first definition links righteousness to the law and is about
doing what is right or accomplishing what ought to be done for a given
situation. In early times the judges and kings usually determined what
behaviors were righteous. This may be worrisome because it assumes the
judge or king was competent, honest, and fair.
The second option for righteousness comes from the ancient Hebrew and
corresponds to the Divine Will. To be righteous is to keep God’s laws and
to focus on obedience to His will. Knowing the will of God is often dif-
ficult to discern. It can be equally difficult to understand how to achieve
that Divine Will. Righteousness in the ancient Hebrew seems to refer
almost exclusively to male oriented experiences and judgments.
The New Testament selection of Luke narrates Mary’s visitation to Eliza-
beth, where we read of her belief in the fulfillment of the Divine Will. Her
new song of the Magnificat signifies her acceptance, obedience and joy
in the promise that she will fulfill. Despite the fearfulness inherent in her
situation, Mary rejoices in her role that will reveal God’s mercy toward the
hungry and God’s strength over the powerful. I like the image of Mary
as a righteous woman in God’s sight, one who accepts God’s will and can
sing a song to respond to God’s will with righteousness in her heart.
Tuesday, December 22
1 Samuel 1: 19-28
“My soul extols the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…From
now on every generation will congratulate me.”
Two pregnant Jewish women meet on a dusty road in Ancient Palestine.
One, an old woman long past her child-bearing days, married to a can-
tankerous, disbelieving priest. The other, an unmarried teenage peasant
carrying a child of questionable origin. They see each other from a dis-
tance, and there is great jubilation. Shouts of joy and welcome! Embraces
and kisses! But why? I would think in this strange scenario the emo-
tions would be sadness, shame and despair. But instead, the old woman
proclaims that the child within her is jumping with joy. The maiden is
ecstatic with the gift she is carrying. No doubt each woman has experi-
enced fear in the past, but a more powerful emotion has emerged… hope.
The hope that each child has the potential to bring change. The hope that
each child will fulfill a promise. The hope that each child will point out a
new way of living.
The Magnificat in Matthew is beautiful. I am not certain that a young
peasant could come up with such lovely and powerful words, but I have
no doubt that a hopeful and trusting girl could experience the feelings
within these words.
Advent holds many promises: hope in the future, answers to our prayers,
and a new way of living. The proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel” is
about to appear.
Indeed, there is good reason for great jubilation!
Wednesday, December 23
Malachi 3: 1-5
Psalm 25: 1-14
Luke 1: 57-66
Today’s lesson from Luke begins with John’s birth. Recall that John’s
mother Elizabeth is way past child-bearing age, and yet she miraculously
conceives a son. The Lord shows his great mercy to Elizabeth at the time
John is born. And, although Luke doesn’t tell us what the infant John is
going to become, he seems destined for some kind of greatness. After
all, the hand of the Lord is with John himself!
Echoing the words of the Hebrew prophet Malachi from today’s read-
ings, the adult John is a messenger who prepares the way by preaching
repentance and purification. And yet, if we were to read ahead into chap-
ter 3 of Luke, we’d find out that John’s adult life is far from comfortable.
He hangs out in the desert, likely haranguing everyone within earshot
about the judgment of the Lord.
In chapter 3, Luke also casts John as playing “second fiddle” to Jesus, his
cousin. John prepares the way for Jesus, yet is unworthy to even untie his
sandals! His message becomes very unpopular with the ruling authori-
ties, particularly Herod, who sends John to prison. John eventually loses
his head. Not a happy ending for someone who had the hand of the Lord
upon him from birth.
So, what can we, in the 21st century, learn from John the Baptist, a com-
plex first century prophet whose life began with such promise and ended
so ignominiously? Perhaps an insightful answer raises more questions:
To whom or what are we called to give witness in our day and time? And,
are we tough enough to stand by our convictions in the face of adversity?
Thursday, December 24
2 Samuel 7: 1-16
Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-29
Luke 1: 67-79
Today’s the day. Finish wrapping, start cooking, search in vain for those
little replacement tree bulbs. In between, ponder the absurd proposition
that a little child shall lead us.
It doesn’t seem likely, especially in a world where one out of every four
young children can’t even get enough to eat. It’s reasonable to argue, like
Zechariah did with the angel Gabriel: “How shall I know this?”
Unlike us, however, Zechariah was mercifully free from the ritual obliga-
tions of Christmas. He got some time to think: nine months, without
talking, to reconsider his argument. So when his son with the spirit of
Elijah was born, he knew what he wanted to say: “Blessed be the Lord
God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people.”
Zechariah’s song is nothing more than an article of his faith. He was
an old man—too old to find out how the story was going to end. He
wouldn’t live long enough to see his own child, or the child of his wife’s
cousin Mary, grow up. All Zechariah had to support his vision was a
baby son, born in an occupied country where people were often hungry
and afraid. That, and some angelically delivered prophecies that sounded
a lot like the as-yet-unfulfilled promises delivered centuries earlier to his
ancestor King David.
On the strength of that flimsy stuff, Zechariah proclaimed God’s victory.
His answer to “How shall I know this?” turned out to be “Because God
said so.” Or, as Bishop Gene Robinson said when he visited Trinity in
October, “We know how the story ends. God wins.”
Blessed be God, for he has visited and redeemed his people.
And tonight’s the night.