Entries tagged with “Advent”.

Sigh. In the last few weeks, I have suddenly found myself trying not to look. It is kind of like driving through the red light district or by a horrible car accident, though, and I struggle to not see what is around me.


Or as I like to call it, the December consumer season.

Why is it that the Church has been so ineffective against this tide of creeping conspicuous consumerism? Why is it that so many who follow Christ succumb to Mall Time instead of resting into Church Year Time?

While this may make me sound like a crabby old lady, in reality, I am sad. I overheard someone the other day say that they were already sick of Christmas and it wasn’t even Thanksgiving yet. (Remember, Thanksgiving is supposedly the time when we as a nation stop and give thanks to God for all of our blessings. Now, the food has hardly hit our stomachs before the retailers want to drag us out for pre-Black Friday savings.)Image result for free photo Thanksgiving chasing Christmas away

The star that is in my town now goes on around Veteran’s Day. I used to anticipate its lighting; now, I try not to look at it because it makes me so sad.

Two things are happening, as I see it: the message of Christmas is being completely swallowed up by commercialism-run-amok. Children don’t even know Christmas carols anymore, only non-descript “holiday” songs. Even faith communities rush to get their Christmas programs over early in December so everyone “can enjoy the holidays.” Does anyone else think this is wrong?

The second thing I see happening is that, as the whole scenario gets so out of hand, there may be a backlash beginning. People are refusing to rush away from the table at Thanksgiving to go shopping. Advent and its themes are being re-discovered even in faith communities that have never heard of the Church Year calendar. Conspicuous consumerism is beginning to fade into memorable times and experiences together as family and friends. Handmade, local mean even more when gifts are given. Black Friday becomes a time to do alternative events, like being outside as a family.

God invites, even commands, us to celebrate but I challenge you to find true celebration in so much of what passes for “holiday cheer” in this culture. How many of us come to January exhausted and in debt, thrilled that the holidays are over? The Discipline of Celebration from God’s perspective leads to life and joy and goodness.

If what you are planning in the next five weeks doesn’t do that for you, it’s not too late to re-evaluate!


It is beginning to look a lot like Advent here at this old house. The Advent wreath is out and lit each week. The lights are up and decorations are gradually making their appearance. The empty stable is awaiting the figures that are moving towards it. Batches of peanut brittle are being made and forced amaryllis bulbs are working their way into the light. Advent and Christmas music plays regularly. Yes, it is definitely Advent.

The theme of preparation and “stay awake” runs throughout the daily and Sunday readings for this time of year. We, who sit in darkness spiritually, mentally, physically, are asked to have hope, love, peace and joy with each succeeding week’s candle lighting. Many of us are also trying to prepare and “stay awake” late at night getting through our do-to lists. At times, getting everything done in time seems impossible!Image result for free photo Advent wreath two candles

Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” So says the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland.” What impossible things do you believe before breakfast? Or have we all given up on believing in the impossible? The impossible reconciliation, the impossible healing, the impossible resolution. In the readings for Advent, we hear that God is in the business of making the impossible possible. As we work our way through endless lines and lists, we may want to stop and wonder if a messenger from God, an angel in disguise, might be standing next to us, even bringing impossibly good news. In the midst of the commercial holiday season, can we allow ourselves to believe that with God all things are possible?

Another theme we hear about throughout Advent is barrenness, the opposite of what the advertisements are trying to tell us. But Advent tells us this is a barrenness that can be filled in seemingly impossible ways. That is why the message of Christmas speaks of and to both joy and sorrow, loss and fulfillment.

Hannah and Elizabeth were barren and yet were given sons by God in seemingly impossible ways: Hannah bore Samuel, the powerful OT prophet, and Elizabeth bore John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah, whose prophesying began in Elizabeth’s womb. In response to John’s leaping in Elizabeth’s womb, Mary sang her song that begins “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Throughout the centuries, the Church sings it, the Magnificat, every evening at Vespers.

Hannah also sings in response to God’s good and impossible provision. Her song is sometimes called the Old Testament’s Magnificat. Compare her song found in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 with Mary’s found in Luke 1:46-55. God is in the business of taking barren places and people and filling them in surprising ways.

We are also invited to reflect on where we might be barren. Where has the desert set into our lives, our relationships with others and/or with God? Which line of Hannah’s or Mary’s song of victory speaks most to us. The message of Advent embraces everyone everywhere in all circumstances. That is impossibly good news indeed!







It has been cold and snowy here at this old house for the last few days, a great time to tuck inside, eat Thanksgiving leftovers and read. This afternoon, I finished the last in the Tony Hillerman series of novels about Lt. Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, Navajo Tribal policemen. I began the series last fall after our trip to the Grand Canyon. I came home wanting to learn more about the Navajo nation. With Tony Hillerman’s acclaimed ability to interpret Native American society and culture accurately as well as writing a very hard-to-put-down kind of mystery story, I have enjoyed learning more about the Navajos, especially. Many of the areas that Hillerman set the stories in are places I have been to so, while reading, I could picture the setting the scene was taking place in. I also liked the ongoing story of Leaphorn’s and Chee’s personal lives that were woven into each novel in succession. Coming to the end of the series was bittersweet; I will miss reading them but now I can work my way down through the rest of my book pile that has been neglected for over a year.

In the evenings, we have been reading aloud to each other from “Appetite for America: How Visionary Businessman Fred Harvey Built a Railroad Hospitality Empire That Civilized the Wild West” by Stephen Fried. Fred Harvey restaurants and hotels are still visible in many locations. Some, like La Fonda in Santa Fe, La Posada in Winslow, Arizona, and El Tovar in the Grand Canyon, are quite iconic. Others have faded away or been re-purposed over the years as airline travel replaced train travel for most people.

The Fred Harvey company brought Native American art and culture to the forefront of America’s consciousness through their showcasing it in ways that had never been done before. Reading about Fred Harvey’s “Indians,” Native Americans the company employed to live and/or work at various establishments the company owned helps me understand some of the more modern history of the Navajo that Tony Hillerman writes about. For example, I never knew that Fred Harvey was the one who began the wide-spread commercial trade in Indian jewelry. The true Native jewelry used big pieces of stone in heavy pieces of silver. Much of what is sold is pawn is authentic the Native American style. The pieces most of us buy and wear is really “Indian lite,” smaller stones in lighter pieces of silver or even gold. The Fred Harvey Company commissioned Native Americans to make that for tourists as back then especially, tourists did not want the bigger, heavier pieces. Tony Hillerman refers to that trend in making “tourist Indian jewelry” in one of his novels.

For me, the best fiction is rooted in history. While Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are fictional characters, they seemed very real to me while reading their latest adventure policing vast territories of Reservation land with few inhabitants. I will also look at the cases of pawn very differently from now on. And the next time I encounter a Fred Harvey hotel or restaurant, I will look at it with new insights into its history.

Advent begins tomorrow. We begin the Church Year anew, remembering how our lives interweave with the larger story of God’s Kingdom. My life is so small in the vast universe of God’s work. Yet, as in Navajo teaching, every cause has its effect. What I do in my tiny sphere of influence ripples out into a larger circle that moves in ways I may never see or understand. Jesus himself lived a small life in a tiny backwater country a long time ago but his life changed the course of human history.

Mine will certainly not have that kind of power but in some mysterious way, decisions I make, students I teach, music I play for worship, meals I cook, the children I have raised, the friends I interact with–all somehow impact, for good or for ill, an expanding Story line, the ending of which won’t be revealed until time is rolled up like a scroll.

The beginning lessons of Advent are about that glorious finish to the greatest Story every told. On the First Sunday of Advent, we continue to reflect on Jesus’s Second Coming in glory in much the same way we did last week on Christ the King Sunday. It is a good reminder in these dark days of growing winter here in the Northern Hemisphere that we are in a story to which we add another page each day. When we are frightened by “wars and rumors of war,” that the story we are in will wrap up well at the end. We all need to hear the angels say again, “Be Not Afraid,” “Do Not Fear.” God always bats last.

Just like a good Tony Hillerman novel, the good guys will win in the end.


Halloween is one week away and here is a scary thought: Christmas begins two months from tonight! In many commercial establishments, the December holiday season has already begun. Halloween is on sale despite it having not occurred yet, Thanksgiving is given a token shelf, and seasonal holiday items are out in full force. As someone once described it, we are entering the HallowThanksMas time of the year!

Here at this old house, I have begun preparing for Advent. I am nearly done with my Christmas gift shopping. Today, I bought all the raw Spanish peanuts needed to make the multiple batches of peanut brittle I make every year and the picture for the annual Christmas letter is nearly settled upon. I find that doing as much as possible before Thanksgiving arrives makes Advent more sane and the Twelve Days of Christmas a more joyous and restful time for me.

Because it is never too early to think through how to navigate December in American culture, here are some ideas you may want to consider in the stone-cold light of late October, when emotions and the “shoulds and have-tos” have not set in:

  1. Think about what is most meaningful to you during Advent. This year, it begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving, on November 29th. Make a list of your top five priorities for the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Ask immediate family members to do the same. This can be a good discussion over dinner.
  2. With the list of what is most important in hand, make another list of things that you have dreaded about the holidays in the past. Again, this could be part of a family discussion. Are your stressors the same as your spouse’s and/or children’s? What one change can be made this year to eliminate at least one stressor from everyone’s list?
  3. Where possible, find out from extended family members and friends what their expectations are from you. Finding that out now means fewer emotional guilt trips because you can talk through if those expectations are realistic or not. Do you really need to exchange Christmas gifts with everyone in the family? Can you draw names or gift only the children under 18? Where are the land mines in the whole issue for you? How can you defuse those now? Seek to eliminate as much as possible that diminishes that joy, even if it means saying no to a lot of unnecessary activity, presents and calories.
  4. Where possible, give experiences rather than material items. People remember special family outings for years while they couldn’t tell you what they got for Christmas last year.
  5. Do as much gift buying and/or crafting before Thanksgiving. You will be less likely to overspend and less likely to dread the January credit card bill. Mail gifts early in December to avoid the long lines at the post office.
  6. Do as much baking and cooking as you can ahead of time. Clean out your freezer in these next few weeks and use the space to freeze cookies and hors d’oeurves ahead of time. Not only will this save you time in December but you won’t be caught off-guard by unexpected company.
  7. Go through your pantry. Replace spices that may have been sitting on the shelf since five Christmases ago. Stock up basic ingredients for your holiday recipes. Make sure you have drinks, napkins, paper goods and other items you will use frequently in the weeks ahead. Try to eliminate as many emergency trips to the grocery store as possible. Not only do those eat into precious time but impulse purchases happen more frequently during those kinds of trips.
  8. Make a big pot of soup or a pan of lasagna and freeze it. Then, when “one of those days” hits, you can get a healthy dinner on the table quickly and avoid yet another run through the drive-through.
  9. With your family, plot out important outings and mark them on everyone’s calendar. Know when you are going to get your Christmas tree, when you are going to decorate it, when various gatherings, rehearsals and school programs are happening. What are the events the teenagers are expected to participate in? Make sure they know those in advance!
  10. Address envelopes for your Christmas cards now. Get the photo that you want to include taken and ordered. Buy stamps before the lines in the post office become unbearable. Mark out an afternoon or evening to put on some music, make your favorite hot drink and assemble your yearly greetings.
  11. Look at your closet. Do you have enough underwear and socks? How is your winter wardrobe? Your make-up and toiletries supply? Do you have clothes for all the functions that you must attend in the weeks ahead? Try to eliminate the last minute rush to find shoes or jewelry for that corporate party.
  12. Do a thorough clean of the house right before Thanksgiving and again in mid-December. In between, do a few minutes of touch-up cleaning and clutter pick-up everyday. One thing that can make December so hard is not the extra festivities but the chaos at home, the lack of clean clothes, and going days without a decent, home-cooked meal. What needs to be anticipated this year that hasn’t happened as smoothly in years past?
  13. Mark out personal time in each week. When will you exercise? Reflecting on the messages of the season? Having a date night with your spouse? Coffee with a close friend?
  14. What will your family use for Advent devotions this year? (Do you have the candles you need for your Advent wreath?) Will your family participate in any kind of charitable giving or activity? Again, add that to a family dinner discussion.
  15. Write down three desires for where you want to be on January 6th, when the Twelve Days of Christmas end. Post them in a prominent place and do all you can to achieve those goals.

The goal of being organized and planning ahead is for goodness and joy to dominate December instead of teeth-gritting and frustration. When we get enough sleep, exercise, good food and soul-filling quiet, we can find joy in all the festivities. We can find Christ in Christmas.

Happy HallowThanksMas, everyone!

We are still having “San Diego-like” weather here at this old house. We set a record high of 65 degrees yesterday, though thanks to the Pineapple Express storm that slammed into California the other day, we are supposed to get a tiny bit of snow tomorrow. Warm, dry weather certainly has made it easier to get around town and hike on the trails that surround this old house.

We got our tree up. This one really is a “Charlie Brown” one. We always cut a “thin,” meaning, we cut a tree that is growing in a clump with other trees. Not only does thinning trees make for a healthier forest but also, because we need tall, skinny trees with a flat back to fit in the only spot we have in this old house to put a Christmas tree, a thinned tree usually fits the bill. Everyone wins. That said, this year’s tree is a little more sparse than usual but it is a great candle tree because there is so much space between the branches. We have lights on it and the candles in their holders. Decorations will come later.

We really do light the candles on our Christmas tree. We can do that because of the following:

The tree sits close to the front door where it could be quickly thrown outside in case of a fire.

We turn off the furnace so it doesn’t blow the flames onto the branches.

We all sit there, watching the candles burn. We NEVER leave the room, even for a moment.

When we are finished, we leave the lights off until every candle is blown out. That way we know we have them all out.

Only when it is completely dark in the room do we then turn on electric lights and put the furnace back on.

That said, a Christmas tree with candles lit on it is a breath-taking sight many have never seen before. It is a different kind of light than the strings of small colored lights we turn on without concern no matter how lovely the light bulbs are. The glow of a live candle is qualitatively different than an electric light bulb. Candles feel like living things compared to a more static light bulb. Yet, the danger inherent with the “living” candle is so much more real than with the light bulb. Certainly, tragic fires happen due to shortages in electric wires but a lit candle on a cut tree, even a very fresh cut tree, is far more dangerous than the 300 colored lights glowing there as I write.

Life is like that. Life is filled with more danger than death. Think of a charging grizzly bear vs. one that is dead. They both offer a thrill to behold but one will kill you while the other will not. I forget who said it but it is so true: “life is fraught with dangers, safety among them.” Safety is a dangerous illusion too many of us in North America don’t understand. We assume, when we get in our car, that we will arrive at work or the grocery store. We know intellectually that we could be in a car accident but we don’t really believe it will happen to us. We assume when we go to bed that we will wake up in the morning and that our children will as well. We get a cold and assume we will get better. For many people in the world, those are not necessarily givens. When we live in peace and safety, we can get lulled into thinking that this is the way the world works. We begin to take things for granted, things like clean water, plenteous food, secure shelter, clothing, education, healthcare. People in war zones and refugee camps know how difficult life is without those things.

Then, there are the daredevils of this world: people who climb dangerous mountains or fling themselves at high speeds down hills on skis, dive in underwater caves or chase wars as foreign correspondents. I certainly shake my head at some of these escapades but sitting in fear in supposed security in my living room is no way to live either. If we embrace life, there will be danger. Period. And we all die in the end so we are never truly safe in this life.

That is why I think it is good to sometimes put ourselves in a place of risk, physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. When we move out of our comfort zone to help someone, when we go back to school after years of being out of the classroom, when we step out in faith not knowing the outcome, when we light a real candle on a Christmas tree, we are igniting a life force deep inside that too often is kept locked up in a false desire to “stay safe.” I am not advocating foolish behavior but I am advocating embracing life more fully than we may be inclined to do normally.

Advent invites us to embrace life. Advent helps us light a candle rather than curse the darkness. Advent says live life knowing that eternal life is yours for the choosing. Pushing ourselves past where we might feel safe in some situations can be a good spiritual discipline.  Just make sure you don’t burn the house down while doing it.