Connections December

December 31

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,

who are one of the little clans of Judah,

from you shall come forth for me

one who is to rule in Israel,

whose origin is from of old,

from ancient days.

Micha 5:2

On this New Year’s Eve, I want to share this prayer for Christmas Eve. This is from the web site of a British and Irish mission society “Christian Aid.”

This prayer - - focused on the place of Jesus’ birth - - invites us to see connections between the gift of the Christ Child, and God’s desire for hope, justice and love for all God’s children.

A blessed New Year to you!

Christmas Eve Prayer

God with us,

as we wait for the dawning of Christmas Day,

as our souls long for your presence among us,

let us remember Bethlehem in the midst of our celebrations;

still occupied, still a place of division and fear.

God with us,

in whom there is neither Jew nor Gentile;

in the land of Christ’s birth

come to the hungry places, bringing hope,

come to the dark places, bringing justice,

come to the lonely places, bringing love.

Come again in Bethlehem,

come in us, and through us, and even despite us.

That all may join the angels’ song.

Glory to God in the highest heaven.

All hail, let there be joy.

~ posted on the Christian Aid website.

December 30

The true light, which enlightens everyone,

was coming into the world.

John 1:9

This Christmas prayer is written by John van de Laar, a liturgist and a minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

The prayer reminds us that God’s entry into the world is, at root, paradoxical. Luther taught that God works through opposites, and this prayer touches on this reality in Christmas.

The gift of joy speaks to the world’s grief, the power of God arrives in this little child, born in a stable. The light shines forth, in order to defeat the darkness.

Joy To The World

It may seem naive,

in a world of grief,

to choose to live in joy;

It may seem foolish,

in a world where solemnity is power,

to sing and dance to a different tune;

It may seem cruel,

in a world of suffering and injustice,

to speak of light and celebration;

But you have come, Jesus,

to bring joy into our grief,

light into our darkness,

singing into our mourning;

and it is an act of healing and proclamation

to believe and embrace the joy you offer.

Joy to the world!

The Lord is come!



— Copyright © 2010 John van de Laar, on his website

December 29

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

John 1:5

Today is the 5th Day of Christmas. In preparing the Christmas eve liturgy, I read many nice prayers like this one written by Kathleen Norris. (If you have never read anything by her, “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography” and “Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith” are both very interesting.) This Sunday we will hear from the first verses of the Gospel of John. There we hear the promise that light overcomes the darkness.

Christmas Eve Prayer

O God, who spoke all creation into being:

When you created human flesh,

we betrayed you by our disobedience.

When you led us out of slavery in Egypt,

we doubted and defied you.

Yet you chose to come among us through your Son, Jesus Christ,

who suffered death on our behalf,

putting an end to the power of sin and death.

For this great gift of your steadfast hope,

we give you thanks.

Help us, O Lord, to keep vigil this night.

Help us to watch for the signs of your coming into our midst,

not in the splendid palaces of power,

but in hearts humbled by need.

Help us to believe that the darkness of cruelty and sin

will never overcome the light, and the mercy, of Christ.

Help us to endure,

knowing that the evil and injustice of this world cannot

prevail against your Word.

We ask this in the name of your Word made flesh,

our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

~ written by Kathleen Norris - posted on

December 28

We love because [God] first loved us.

I John 4:19

Preparing for Christmas Eve worship, I was blessed to read many rich and meaningful prayers, litanies and poetry. I thought for the 12 Days of Christmas, (or at least some of the days, there were many more than 12 worth sharing!) I will share some with you.

This “Prayer for Christmas” by poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson, invites us into the story, so that we might be transformed by the gift of the Christ Child.

Prayer for Christmas

Loving God,

help us remember the birth of Jesus,

that we may share in the song of the angels,

the gladness of the shepherds,

and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate

and open the door of love all over the world.

Let kindness come with every gift

and good desires with every greeting.

Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings,

and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children,

and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts,

forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

~ adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson

December 26

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.

Psalm 136:1

This is a table prayer suggested for us for the 12 Days of Christmas. Perhaps you may want to use it at some of your meals between now and January 6th.

Peace to you, and Merry Christmas.

With joy and gladness we feast upon your love, O God.

You have come among us in Jesus, your Son,

And your presence now graces this table.

May Christ dwell in us

that we might bear his love to all the world,

For he is Lord forever and ever.


December 25

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

I want to wish you a Merry Christmas.

Here is a Christmas poem by Madeleine L’Engle (author of A Wrinkle in Time). As I mentioned a few weeks ago, she must have loved Christmas, because she wrote many poems and reflections for Christmas.

Here she reflects on the fact that God sent Jesus into the midst of a world broken and in need. May you know the healing the Christ-child has brought for you and for all the world!

Thank you to everyone who has helped to provide online worship for us!!!!

“First Coming,” by Madeleine L’Engle

From The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L’Engle:

He did not wait till the world was ready,

till men and nations were at peace.

He came when the Heavens were unsteady,

and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.

He came when the need was deep and great.

He dined with sinners in all their grime,

turned water into wine.

He did not wait till hearts were pure.

In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.

To a world like ours, of anguished shame

he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,

to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.

In the mystery of the Word made Flesh

the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane

to raise our songs with joyful voice,

for to share our grief, to touch our pain,

He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

December 24

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth;

we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father…

And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace.

John 1:14, 16 (RSV)

A blessed Christmas eve to you. I hope that you will consider joining us for our Christmas Carol sing in the Trinity parking lot beginning at 5:00. Perhaps some of us will step out of our cars, others will need to remain in their cars… We’ve chosen seven Carols, we’ll hear a reading of the Christmas Gospel, we’ll wish each other well across the distance, and we’ll pray for that time we can gather safely again.

I invite you to reflect on this Christmas Caro; Holy Child Within the Manger. This “Carol at the Manger” was in the hymnal With One Voice, which preceded our present hymnal. I had hoped this hymn would be included in the ELW, but alas…

It is written by Marty Haugen, who wrote the Holden Evening Prayer liturgy. In fact, these words are accompanied by the tune “Joyous Light” from that service. You can listen to Marty Haugen sing it at:

Perhaps you will appreciate it as much as I do. I think of this interesting saying: "Whoever sings, prays twice.” Sing and pray this Christmas, knowing that this child whom we sing about has come to make all things new!.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil


Holy child within the manger, long ago yet ever near;

come as friend to every stranger, come as hope for every fear.

As you lived to heal the broken, greet the outcast, free the bound,

as you taught us love unspoken, teach us now where you are found.

2 Once again we tell the story - how your love for us was shown,

when the image of your glory wore an image like our own.

Come, enlighten with your wisdom, come and fill us with your grace.

May the fire of your compassion kindle ev'ry land and race.

3 Holy child within the manger, lead us ever in your way,

so we see in ev'ry stranger how you come to us today.

In our lives and in our living give us strength to live as you,

that our hearts might be forgiving and our spirits strong and true.

December 23

“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

Matthew 24:42

Can tomorrow possibly be Christmas eve?

Well, the obvious answer is: “yes”. In fact, that is kind of a not-super-intelligent-thing-to-say, I know. One might add that it is not a great insight either, to note how Christmas always sneaks up on us.

At the same time, the appearance of Jesus, the presence of God in our lives, is often a surprise. Even something like Christmas, which we plan and anticipate, surprises.

How much more, the love of God, breaking in to your life!

And so, let me encourage you to be a bit surprised by how, once again, Christmas is at hand. And all the more, keep your eyes open for the many ways ways God will surprise you by being present in your life. Today, and always!

I want to encourage you to consider joining us tomorrow evening at 5:00 for our Christmas Eve Carol sing in the Trinity parking lot. We have 7 carols picked - we’ll sing, read the Christmas Gospel, wish each other well across our cars, and look ahead to all that God has in store for us in the days to come.

Blessings, Pastor Phil

December 22

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

Luke 1:38

We heard the story of Gabriel’s visit to Mary on Sunday, and there are so many insights for us in our lives of faith.

Here is something to consider. What if Mary had said no? One might wonder whether she even had a choice, I know. But the angel Gabriel seems to think that her assent mattered, for it was only after her response, that Gabriel takes leave.

Through Gabriel, God honors and regards this young woman, and invites her to be the bearer of the Christ Child. Her answer, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord…” speaks of her willingness for God to work through her to bring God’s love to this world in need.

God seeks t bear that same love to this world through you - through each of us - may we join Mary by responding, “let it be with me according to your word.”

Blessings to you, Pastor Phil

December 21

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth;

we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father..

John 1:14 (RSV)

It is the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. Thus, the longest night. After today, the days will grow longer, (at least for 6 months!) and as the light increases, the darkness will decrease. This surely is a good part of the reason we celebrate Christmas this week.

It doesn’t take long searching on the internet to find those who say that Christians shouldn’t observe Christmas because it has pagan roots. To that I say “Uff da.”

Yet, there is an interesting fact here. The roots of celebrating Christmas at this time of year can indeed be found in other religions, tradition and practices. Yet this should not bother us. In Jesus, God has taken on human flesh, and has entered our world and our cultures. All things are transformed in Christ. Thus, we gladly take old customs, and, with the entrance of Christ into our world, we celebrate that appearance!

May you know that though darkness is at hand, the light shines!

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 19

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. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 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 1:18-20

Have you seen the news coverage of the Vatican’s new Christmas Nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square? The last several years the nativity scene has been provided by different artists. This year, it is a ceramic scene from Castelli, a town in Italy’s Abbruzo region that was known for its ceramics as early as the 8th century B.C.

Art is often used to challenge, and this challenging manger scene has brought quite a reaction. One figure looks a bit like Darth Vader, and another looks much like an astronaut…

The next few quotes are from a couple of Catholic news sources:

Pope Francis wrote in a letter on Nativity scenes last year that the birth of Christ’s “portrayal in the creche helps us to imagine the scene. It touches our hearts and makes us enter into salvation history as contemporaries of an event that is living and real in a broad gamut of historical and cultural contexts.”

He continues: “Children - but adults too! - often love to add to the nativity scene other figures that have no apparent connection with the Gospel accounts. Yet, each in its own way, these fanciful additions show that in the new world inaugurated by Jesus there is room for whatever is truly human and for all God’s creatures.” - America Magazine

“Not only shepherds and kings go to the manger, but all humanity makes that pilgrimage in one way or another.”

“But maybe especially this year when the celebration of Christmas is going to be so poor in tradition, when many people will be unable to do the beautiful, warm, tender things” they are used to associating with Christmas, they might not need such a challenging Nativity scene, he said. - Crux

Do we need to be challenged, when the year we are just finishing has been so challenging? “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God” (Is 40) is an opening word for the season of Advent. We might respond that Jesus always challenges us.

The story of God entering our world in such a humble manner is necessarily challenging. At the same time, I love a beautiful creche, and the thing I miss the most this year is the children’s Christmas program. While some will criticize things that are sentimental, I like Dr. Mark Allan Powell’s insight that sentiment is a matter of the heart. As we enjoy and are consoled by sentimental and comforting traditions of these days, let us give thanks for both the comfort and challenge, for our hearts and for our lives.

December 18

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:40

If everyone were holy and handsome,

with “alter Christus” shining in neon lighting from them,

it would be easy to see Christ in everyone.

If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as Saint John says,

with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head,

and the moon under her feet,

then people would have fought to make room for her.

But that was not God’s way for her,

nor is it Christ’s way for himself,

now when he is disguised under every type of humanity

that treads the earth.

Dorothy Day

A daily devotion that I read (some days) recently had this compelling quote from Dorothy Day. She was a social activist who worked with the poor and hungry.

It is interesting, as we come to the final days of Advent, to be reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew; “just as you did to one of the least of these…”

May we always hear Jesus’ call to bear love and life to this world in need.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 17

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters,

about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

I Thessalonians 4:13

I am preparing a Longest Night service for the Trinity web site. It will be posted by Sunday evening.

You might want to turn to this service in the week before Christmas.

Here is (sort of) a description of this Blue Christmas Service, and a reflection for you to consider as we come to our last week of preparation for Christmas:

Advent is a season of wonder. For so many it is a time of hopeful anticipation, a season of promise. The longer nights seem to provide the perfect background for the lights and the tinsel. But for many of us, Christmas is a difficult reminder that while the world celebrates, we bear particular griefs that can threaten to overwhelm the light.

While so many sing “Joy to the World,” we can find that mourning has robbed the joy, (or at least it has made itself at home with the joy.)

The Longest Night service is a time for quiet reflection. A time to shed tears if they come, to hold in our hearts those whom we have lost, and to know that we are not alone in finding this season to be a difficult journey at times.

Whether this is the first Christmas without someone you love, or many Christmases have been blue for you - we proclaim to one another that we “do not grieve as those who have no hope.” (I Thess. 4:13) And while Christmas can be a time of grief, Christmas also means that Jesus has entered the most difficult places in our lives and in our world.

Yes, let us remind all who will hear, that the gift of the Christ Child is a gift that bears God’s hope and healing to even our deepest griefs. And we rejoice that the cross and the resurrection show forth God’s love for a hurting world, and sends us out to bear that love to all whom we can.

December 16

The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to [Jesus]. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 4:17-19 43:1

We “heard” from Howard Thurman last week, in devotions and the sermon as well. I suspect that “The Work of Christmas” might be Rev. Dr. Thurman’s best known writing.

I share the poem and include a link to this poem in song, performed by Aurora, a choir at Luther College. This was part of their Christmas Concert this year.

Since I first read these words just a few years ago, it has borne a word of judgment, hope and life for me.

I think you will find it well worth your time, to read, reflect, and if you care to, to listen.

The Work of Christmas

- by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.

May we all make music inspired by the Holy Spirit, music that brings God’s justice and love.

Blessings to you. Pastor Phil

December 15

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Luke 1:38

“Here I am Lord.” Can’t you just hear the song?

This is a season of songs, and a season of praise. I trust that you are finding ways to enjoy Christmas Carols these days.

I encourage you to let the words to the Carols give voice to prayers of your hearts.

Among my favorite lines is from Silent Night:

“The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

May your hopes and fears be shaped by the gift of the Christ Child.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 14

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.

The virgin's name was Mary.

And he came to her and said,

"Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you."

Luke 1:26-28

This coming Sunday, the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Gospel lesson is the story of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary.

We could be well served by paying close attention to Mary. In other times and places, Mary has been regarded so very highly, that we sometimes overreact by paying too little regard to her. When we do, we might miss out on life-giving insights Mary has for us.Look closely. Mary tells us about the God in whom we believe, and she is a model of Christian discipleship.

Concerning the former, I want to share from the opening paragraph of Martin Luther’s writing on the Magnificat, which was published in 1521.

“When the holy virgin experienced what great things God was working in her

despite her insignificance, lowliness, poverty, and inferiority,

the Holy Spirit taught her this deep insight and wisdom,

that God is the kind of Lord who does nothing

but exalt those of low degree and put down the mighty from their thrones,

in short, break what is whole and make whole what is broken.”

LW 21 p. 299

Yes, the story of Mary tells us much about the God who sends the Christ Child to bear God’s love to us - not in our strength or power, but in our lowliness. Thank God, who makes whole what is broken.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 12

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Isaiah 43:1

Tomorrow is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, and I want to share this quote from Martin Luther’s sermon for this Sunday a few years ago. (476 years, to be exact.)

The world takes offense and is provoked

by the Gospel of Christ

because it will not trust the grace of God

and because he is so utterly poor and wretched.

Thus is our dear Lord Christ everywhere in the world

an annoying preacher.

Martin Luther, sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, 1544

Tomorrow we hear the religious authorities ask John the Baptist that bracing question; “who are you?” They didn’t like his message, or his methods. He too, is, in Martin Luther’s words; “an annoying preacher.”

The gift of the Christ-child is strong medicine. One of Luther’s insights was that by coming in such humility, we see that Jesus will not prop up institutions and power. This is sobering news to someone like me, who serves the “institution” of the Church. This is sobering news to all of us in our power.

Jesus has been sent to set us free, not because of any righteousness or power of our own, rather in our poverty, we are redeemed.

He is an annoying preacher indeed.

May we all be annoying preachers, pointing to God’s saving work in Jesus Christ!

December 11

But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.

Malachi 4:2

In Malachi 4:2, the prophet speaks God’s promise of healing, as well as the joy of salvation.

These words have sounded forth through the centuries, bearing hope to God’s people in so many different difficulties and situations. They ring out today, as we, like so many before us, stand in need of healing.

Just the other day someone told me about watching young calves, jumping around. It sounded like a one of the cutest, more hilarious things you could ever see. I think of the sorts of crazy things you see on the internet, jumping goats, cute kittens, dogs doing remarkable things.

Malachi speaks both of the promise of healing, and the hilarity of dancing critters. What a striking pairing!

May our Advent preparations touch your need for healing, hope and hilarity.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 10

[Magi from the East asked] “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?

For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

Matthew 2:2 9:2

I want to share this poem by Madeleine L’Engle. It references the Comet Kohoutek, which was visible from earth — December 23, 1973 to January 2, 1974. It did not live up to the hype (it was supposed to be the “Comet of the Century”).

Have you read about the planets Jupiter and Saturn? On Dec. 21, Jupiter and Saturn will appear to be no more than a dime’s width apart. The last time that could be seen was in 1226. Which is, if I may say so myself, a long time ago.

The birth of the Christ-child, is a gift of cosmic significance. Madeleine L’Engle has a way with words that touches on this deep truth. She must have really loved Christmas, because she has a number of marvelous Christmas poems. I hope you appreciate this one.

The Risk of Birth, Christmas, 1973 - Madeleine L’Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,

With the earth betrayed by war & hate

And a comet slashing the sky to warn

That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,

In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;

Honour & truth were trampled by scorn —

Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?

The inn is full on the planet earth,

And by a comet the sky is torn —

Yet Love still takes the risk of birth

December 9

those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,

Isaiah 40:31a

My mom, in the last days of her life, told me that this bible passage was on her mind. The fuller context, verses 28-31 read;

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

Perhaps you know that the song Eagle’s Wings is based on this text.

This line from the great 20th century preacher, Harry Emerson Fosdick has come to mind often lately:

“The great believers have been the unwearied waiters.”

Sometimes it is the “waiting” aspect of this quote that is compelling, at other times, it is the “unwearied” aspect that dances in my mind.

It is easy to weary of waiting. Advent is a time to take note that - not only is waiting a part of our faith, it may well be a more important aspect of our walk with God than we would like it to be.

May your Advent waiting be shaped by God’s great love for you, God’s great faithfulness in fulfilling promises, and the hope inspired by the gift of the Christ Child.

Peace to you. Pastor Phil


Dear Friends in Christ,

Our Trinity Council met last night, and we have concluded that it will be wisest to continue with online worship for the foreseeable future. I don’t know about anyone else on Council, but this Norwegian American was a little choked up as it became obvious that we will not be gathering in the sanctuary on Christmas Eve.

The Governor’s “Health Order #2” says that there should not be indoor gatherings of over 10 people. Of course, churches are exempt from those orders. As I stated in a letter I sent to Trinity on March 17th, “with the separation of Church and state, constitutionally, we are free to gather if we choose.” We have concluded that the best way to care for our community is for us to continue with online worship…

We have begun conversation about holding a Christmas Eve hymn sing in the parking lot at 5 p.m. Depending on the weather, we will sing a few Christmas Carols (or a whole bunch of Carols if the weather is nice.) We will probably close with prayer, wish each other a Merry Christmas across our cars, and maybe head off to enjoy Christmas lights around town on our way home.

We will continue to seek to provide an excellent worship-at-home online service. We will also continue with midweek worship services (the service for this week is posted online). We will also provide a “Longest Night” service around December 21st.

Please know that you continue to be in our prayers as we seek what is best for Trinity, and for Sheridan. As we pray for one another and for our community, let us join together as well in praying for all health care workers, as well as those under their care.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 8

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;

those who lived in a land of deep darkness - on them light has shined.

Isaiah 9:2

I have been crossing paths with Howard Thurman a number of times in the past few days. On Saturday, Laura and I listened to a concert, and heard a performance of a song, words by Howard Thurman set to music. (I had been planning on sharing that poem next week.)

Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981) was a nationally known preacher and writer. He was an important leader in the early civil rights movement, influenced and counseled Martin Luther King Jr. and helped found the first fully integrated, multi-cultural church in the U.S. in San Francisco. An article in a history journal names him, Daytona, Florida’s “Most Famous, Forgotten Man.”

This poem has been set to music, and might be how most people who know it, are familiar with I will Light Candles. I believe I saw it last week, looking for ideas for Trinity Connections . This morning, Laura’s sister shared a Christmas card with this poem on it.

Therefore, I am sending it to you today, rather than next week as I had planned. Ha!

I will Light Candles this Christmas

by Howard Thurman

I will light Candles this Christmas;

Candles of joy despite all sadness,

Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,

Candles of courage for fears ever present,

Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,

Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,

Candles of love to inspire all my living,

Candles that will burn all the year long

December 7

Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

This was in the WELCA daily devotion the other day and I set it aside for Connections…

“Advent is not a time for idle waiting, watching, and wondering. No, Advent is a time for active preparation. We realign ourselves with God. We focus more intently on prayer, devotion, service. We are learning our lines, rehearsing our moves, practicing the interactions, so that when Christ comes again, we will be ready to live fully into the reign of God.”

by Linda Post Bushkofsky, executive director of Women of the ELCA.

I think that is well said, and also true. Notice that while we might say that our waiting is “active waiting,” it is a waiting on God who acts. There are many things we can do, as we prepare, yet the active one is Christ, who comes to make us God’s own children.

May our waiting prepare us for God’s great work of redeeming us and sending us out to be bearers of hope and love, forgiveness and life.

Peace to you, an active, preparing, waiting peace. Pastor Phil

December 6

an Advent note:

Did you know that December 6th is St. Nicholas day? You know who he is right? The guy who inspired the Santa Claus thing…

Here something I prepared for St. Nicholas Day years ago:

A blessed Saint Nicholas Day to you!

In our home, we’ve observed St. Nicholas day a bit haphazardly, but we have had fun with it. When we remember, we set shoes at our bedroom door at night, and they will be filled with candy and a gift the next morning.

I got this idea from folks who have used Saint Nicholas Day as a way to look to the origins of the Santa Claus myth, and to find there stories of God’s people caring for the poor.

Here is something from a Lutheran Pastor in Florida, Tom Weitzel

“I have often used the Sunday in Advent nearest St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) to "rescue" the poor saint from modern secularity. I have collected several little statues of St. Nicholas ... to use as a visual aid for telling about the story of this ancient 4th century Bishop of Myra (now Demre, Turkey).

It takes very little research to discover many legends (and few facts unfortunately) about St. Nicholas, but even the legends would seem to point to the fact of a man of great faith, joyfully giving out of that faith, often in secret and just as often to children in need.

Of course the point to be drawn for every children's sermon on St. Nicholas is first that he was Christian, second that his giving was following the example of Christ, and third that his focus was on giving, not getting, a good point for children to hear in this "season of giving" that too often translates into this "season of getting.”"

I thought that was pretty good - except for the snark about “season of getting.” I like getting.

I have a suspicion that the core of the Gospel is about getting.

And the life we lead under the Gospel Good News, is about helping others get the same great gifts we have found in Christ. Something to which I’m sure Pastor Weitzel, and Saint Nicholas, would speak a hearty “Amen!”

Advent Blessings to you. Pastor Phil

December 5

Be still, and know that I am God.

Psalm 46:10

I saw a nice blog post by a mom who was reflecting on her striving to have nice family devotions for the First Sunday in Advent. Her children were “were too chatty, too wiggly, too hard to wrangle” for them to pull it off. On Monday, however, she tried her Sunday morning routine again, and things went better.

She commented: “I was reminded that nothing - not even chaos, disappointment, and unmet expectations - can stop Christ from coming. Jesus comes in the mess and [we get] to welcome Him to the table.”


Often, my problem with accomplishing a nice Advent time of candle lighting and readings, is that it is me who is “too chatty, too wiggly, too hard to wrangle.”


I think I’ve written before that it might be a bit inconsistent (or maybe wildly inconsistent) for me to suggest that anyone be quiet for even a moment. But hear me out.

While I’ve rarely done it, I’ve heard it is a good idea!

I suspect we all know it is good to take time for scripture reading, for prayer and meditation. I also suspect that many of us often wish we did better at this than we do.

Remember; grace is at hand. Our shortcomings are not the entire story. God has something to add to the tale. Stop for a moment today, and take time to pray. (Or maybe tomorrow. Or both. Or Monday. Or. Or. Or.)

The wonder we celebrate at Christmas, is that God has entered into our lives, and promises to be with you each and every moment. So, take note. Enjoy. And share.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 4

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ,

the Son of God.

Mark 1:1

Scholars suggest that verse one of the Gospel of Mark is really a title for the book. Scholars also tell us that Mark invented a new genre with his story of Jesus. Mark is not simply a biography of Jesus, rather, it is a Gospel.

All four of the Gospel give us much more than biography. They tell of the beginning of a new age in the world.

As we look ahead to Christmas, as we look ahead to Jesus’ return, as we look forward to all that God might do in our lives and in our world, we look with hope inspired by the Gospel.

No wonder we celebrate this season with such abandon!

Blessings to you today. Pastor Phil

December 3

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.

Genesis 50:19-20

I’ve seen some funny things about 2020. Someone took a love song, and made a Match-dot-com ad. Satan clicks on someone - they meet - he tentatively greets her: “two, zero, two, zero?” She replies, “call me twenty-twenty.” And it is a great match. A match made, you-know-where…

This has been quite a year, hasn’t it? I wonder what we will be saying about this year as we look back on it. A couple years from now, in a decade or two.

Right now, one aspect of this year is the deep uncertainty in so many aspects of our lives. And much of that uncertainty has carried a sense of danger or threat. . .

As we prepare for the Christ Child, it might be interesting to think about uncertainty - not only as a threat - but uncertainty about how God is going to work goodness and life from the midst of all that we go through in these days and in our lives.

I know that no one has meant ill with this pandemic, but Joseph’s ability to see good in the midst of the evil he endures from his brothers treachery is something to behold. Not only the great forgiveness and love, but the trust that God is good and will be at work in our lives.

May (at least some of) the uncertainty you face today call you to look faithfully for the ways God will bring good things to you and through you!

December 2

Comfort, O comfort my people,

says your God.

Isaiah 40:1

Along with other Pastors and leaders in the Montana Synod, I have contributed to a daily Advent devotional for this year. “Equipping… for the Work of Ministry.”

I prepared the entry for today. The text for today is Isaiah 40. These words are set to music beautifully in Handel’s Messiah.

Here is the reading, and reflection on the text:

Isaiah 40:1–11

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

A voice says, "Cry out!"

And I said, "What shall I cry?"

All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"

See, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

Isaiah 40 brings Handel’s Messiah to mind. What great music!

Consider well these words from the prophet, these lyrics to the song:

“Prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

Have you, like me, thought the prophet promises a straight clear path FOR US? On closer look, we see that this is a highway for our God.

Why prepare this road for God?

So that God might have direct access to bring to you the comfort, love and salvation God desires for you.

God’s strange and wondrous comfort, God’s salvation that overcomes our waywardness.

“All people are grass. . . The grass withers, the flower fades. . .”

As fleeting as life might seem, as broken as we might be, God, who has created you, stands firm and loves you forever.

Your faithfulness might well be like a haystack, which is piled high one day, and devoured the next, “but the word of our God will stand forever...”

God’s abiding love for you stands fast, the promised one is coming to bear to you in his arms like a shepherd carrying a lamb in his bosom.

A promise well worth singing about, all season long.

December 1

The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

II Corinthians 9:6-7

As you can’t help but know, if you spend any time on the internet - today is Giving Tuesday!

If you are like me, you have already received numerous requests for gifts today. I guess I could be annoyed. At the same time, I might take note that it is quite a blessing to have so very many excellent and life-giving ministries, schools, non-profits and missions to be able to support!

There is an excellent book on stewardship that is titled “Generous People.” It’s main point is that stewardship is not simply giving, it is about living generously in response to God’s great gifts to us. He contends that being generous is simply a part of belonging to God through Jesus Christ. It’s who we are.

As you consider gifts in the final month of the year, know that we have been doing very well this year in supporting our congregation and our outreach. At the same time, we - (you and me, that is to say, Trinity Lutheran Church) we do need to keep up this good work to make ends meet. We want to finish strong to fulfill our commitments to the Montana Synod and many other ministries as well, and so our gifts to Trinity help us to be our generous selves.

I am so very grateful to be a part of this particular gathering of Generous People!

Happy Giving Tuesday to you all!

Pastor Phil