Connections December '21

December 31

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

Matthew 25:37

Today’s devotion is written for us by Pastor Scott Hedegaard, who serves Redeemer Lutheran Church, in Great Falls. Pastor Paugh Leuzinger (who wrote yesterday’s reflection) asked Scott and me to write a few more entries for this Christmas Epiphany devotional, since we both write daily pieces for the congregations we serve.

It is fun for me to look and see how many of my colleagues I can call a good friend. Pastor Hedegaard fits in that category for me, we have spent many hours together, taking and laughing and sharing our love for this Church…

Scott reflects on Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats and the wonderful promise: "Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

New Year’s Eve, Friday

Matthew 25:31-46

As we come to the close of the year, we reflect on our experiences from the year past. The media has reported on the important events of the year – the triumphs and tragedies, the successes and failures, the heroes and villains. We ourselves look back on our own lives – the twists and turns, the new and old, the joys and heartaches.

I wonder though if we examine our journey of faith, if we ask ourselves when and where we encountered Christ.

“Where were you?” Those at the right and the left answer the same question. Christ was there for all of them in the hungry, the naked, and the hurting. Christ was there in the least of these.

Though they did not know, some served and some did not.

As the new year breaks, we are invited to share Christ’s love, especially with those in need. As we do, we share the love of Christ with Christ. And in the least of these, Christ is serving us, even as we are serving him.

AmenLord, we seek your face; let us see you in our neighbor in need.

Pastor Scott Hedegaard

Redeemer Lutheran Church, Great Falls, Montana

December 30

“Clothe yourselves with compassion....

love, which binds everything together.”

Colossians 3:12

Today’s devotion is written for us by Peggy Paugh Leuzinger, who serves our Synod as the Director for Evangelical Mission. I serve with her on the Synod Stewardship Task Force, which she leads. We have become good friends over the years, and my appreciation for her continues to grow.

I trust that you will appreciate her reflection on Colossians 3…

Colossians 3:12-17

“Clothe yourselves with compassion.... love, which binds everything together.”

I preached a wedding sermon on this text. The couple chose this text, as laundry was an issue.... who folds t shirts that way? And underwear? These words from Paul are a powerful “how to”. How do we live together in community, in families? As one puts on a shirt or pants, Paul uses the image: put on compassion, humility, forgiveness. Put on “love”.

What does love look like when it is worn, as a piece of clothing?

Maybe new and clean for a while, but I think that over time, the love starts to show some wear, starts to look a little dirty and well, worn.

And the text continues with “and”... and let the peace of Christ.... And be thankful... And with gratitude...

Wearing compassion, kindness, meekness, patience, and love, Paul states an ethic of being the body of Christ, together. This love that we have received from Jesus was not new and shiny, but lived in, like a beloved shirt. It is a love that truly engages with the world and with the beloved of God. It’s messy and complicated. But it is the love that transforms, heals, renews. Put on Christ, my friends.

Pastor Peggy Paugh Leuzinger

Director for Evangelical Mission, Montana Synod, ELCA

December 29

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Matthew 23:39

Today’s devotion is written for us by Pastor Andy Wendle, who serves Eidsvold Lutheran Church. Isn’t that quite a name for a church? (I suspect that it goes back to the old country, which old country, I have my guess.) This congregation is on the NW corner of Flathead Lake, near Glacier National Park.

Today is St. Stephen Day. While many of us have not taken note of these commemorations in our lives, it is interesting to consider. And so, Pastor Wendle reflects on the Gosepl reading for this day. In my resources, I read about the commemoration of Stephen, Deacon and Martyr - “Blessed St. Stephen is remembered as the first of the church’s martyrs. The readings remind us that God’s people have a history littered with the lives of prophets and godly ambassadors whose words they failed to hear. Stephen’s dying words echo those of our Savior, whose birth we have begun to celebrate again. Today we pray that God would open our eyes and ears to the vision and voice of Jesus.”

Stephen, Deacon & Martyr - Matthew 23:34-39

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Say it with me ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Now, do you mean it? Do you really mean it? From this passage, saying and living this phrase is key to seeing Jesus.

Do we mean it after Christmas? When we have been filled with too many good things and our waistlines are expanding?

Do we mean it, with Silent Night hanging in the air, when the very air we breathe is clouded with virus and political suspicion?

Do we mean it, with wisemen yet arriving in Bethlehem, as we wait and watch over those coming to our borders who are tired and poor, our modern day “huddled masses”?

Do we mean it, with lights blazing on our homes, in our trees, as we blaze our pathway forward in a world that is getting hotter?

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’ is not just a refrain to sing or nice words to utter. It is a calling to live and act and be the people of the manger.

Do you mean it? Then live it!

Pastor Andy Wendle

Eidsvold Lutheran Church, Somers, Montana

December 28

Now after they had left,

an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said,

“Get up, take the child and his mother,

and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you;

for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”

Matthew 2:13

Today’s devotion is written for us by Pastor Miriam Schmidt, who serves All Saints Lutheran Church, in Big Sky, Montana. This congregation is a united ELCA and Episcopal church. Miriam preached for us years ago, when she was home from Eastern Europe, where she was serving as a missionary and leader in ELCA Young Adult Global Mission.

Holy Innocents - Matthew 2:13-18

"A voice was heard in Ramah,

wailing and loud lamentation,

Rachel weeping for her children;

she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

As Matthew tells it, the holy family flees in the night, becoming refugees in Egypt for fear of Herod. They are right to be afraid, for Herod, out of his own fear and fury, has all the little children around Bethlehem killed. The town called “House of Bread” becomes a house of horror.

I recently completed a three-day Critical Incident Stress Management course. The class was full of first responders – EMT’s, firefighters, and Sheriff’s deputies. We learned to debrief traumatic scenarios, and the worst situations always seemed to involve children.

If we love children who tragically die, we weep. We cannot be consoled.

It is right to have one of the Twelve Days of Christmas turn our hearts to the holy innocents of every time and place. Today reminds us of all who refuse to be consoled, who covet our prayers. Today, the glorious incarnation makes space for sorrow beyond words. The church does well if we always make that space.

Pastor Miriam Schmidt

All Saints Lutheran Church, Big Sky, Montana

December 26

The First Sunday of Christmas

Service of Lessons and Carols today

The Prayer of the Day today:

Shine into our hearts

the light of your wisdom,

O God,

and open our minds

to the knowledge of your word,

that in all things we may think and act

according to your good will

and may live continually

in the light of your Son,

Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.


I am sharing the Montana Synod Stewardship Task devotional - "Light in the Darkness” the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany…

Today’s devotion is written by my very good friend, Pastor Brad Ulgenes. He serves St. Johns Lutheran Church in Helena.

He reflects on the Gospel lesson assigned for today: Luke 2:41-52. It is the story of Jesus, when he was 12 years old, left behind at the Temple…

First Sunday of Christmas, December 26, 2021

Luke 2:41-52

Oh No! We lost the Son of God!

The only story about Jesus growing up as a boy is Luke’s story about Joseph and Mary, who blow it, and leave Jesus behind in the big city of Jerusalem. So, what was in the mind of Jesus’ parents when they discovered they’d left Jesus behind? What did they say to God? “You’re never going to believe this God, but we lost your son!”

I am notorious for losing my wallet but when you lose the son of God, the ante is upped a bit. But isn’t the boy Jesus partly to blame? How wise is it for him not to tell his parents where he was? It shows that Jesus was truly human, a typical teenager, even kind of an airhead.

When Mary and Joseph found Jesus, he was “home” in the temple, I can see Mary hugging Jesus, scolding him, and saying, “You scared us to death!”

Jesus answers, “Why were you worried, I must be here in my Father’s house.”

So, parents, if Mary and Joseph made parenting errors, you will too. And Jesus learned his lesson; for Luke tells us, “Jesus was obedient to them ... And it says, “His mother treasured all these things in her heart,” which I translate, “Mary got a few gray hairs wondering what was next with this boy of hers.”

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you that in the humanity of the holy family, we see both wonder and goof ups, and we too live under the grace of God until we are home with you.

Pastor Brad Ulgenes

December 25

In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God

John 1:1

For the 12 Days of Christmas, and the season fo Epiphany, the Montana Synod Stewardship Task Force has asked pastors and leaders in our synod to provide devotions. I will share them for Trinity Connections.

(I will include notes for Trinity and give links for Sunday worship as well.

I serve on the Synod Stewardship Task Force, and prepared three of the devotions for this Devotional titled: "Light in the Darkness.") Merry Christmas to you and yours! Pastor Phil

Todays’ devotion is written by Pastor Ken Carrothers who serves Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, in Billings.

Intersections are places where two or more roads meet. They are places we encounter others. It used to be you would find an intersection on every street corner, but have you noticed how our world is changing?

The street corners are going the way of the Dodo bird. Intersections seem to be a thing of the past. Now we have roundabouts. Rather than a place for stopping and encountering others, roundabouts are places you merge through. It is almost as if the two roads no longer meet, but simply run by one another.

Life can feel like a roundabout. Rather than encountering others, we simply run by them. We pass like ships in the night. Thankfully, the season of Christmas reminds us that God intersects our life. God encounters us. God does not simply pass by.

John’s Gospel puts it so beautifully – that light shines into the darkness. It does not go around it. It does not merge next to it. The light goes into the darkness.

The light of Christ intersects the darkness as it shines in our world. The season of Christmas is an intersection. An intersection of God wanting nothing less than a relationship with you.

December 24

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them,

and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid; for see—

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

Luke 2:9-10

A blessed Christmas Eve to you.

Worship, with Carols, Candlelight and Communion

is at 4:00 and 7:00 this evening. I hope to see you here.

Years ago I learned an important lesson. I was new to the congregation, and I suggested that perhaps we should not have Holy Communion at the services on Christmas Eve. I had never been in a Church that followed that tradition, and there seemed to be plenty of reasons to forego the Lord’s Supper at that service… There are so many people there, many are visitors, people might not expect it… and… and…

I suggested this to Council, and the congregation president replied simply: “Christmas is the MOST appropriate time to have communion.”

The conversation was over.

The pastor stood corrected by the auto mechanic.

He knew.

I now know.

This evening, when we celebrate that God has entered our world in the Christ Child - this is the MOST appropriate time for holy communion.

I hope you can be here for the bread and wine, the gift of Christ’s own self, poured out for you and for all the world.

Again, a blessed Christmas Eve to you! Pastor Phil

December 23

No one has ever seen God.

It is God the only Son,

who is close to the Father’s heart,

who has made him known.

John 1:18

After Easter morning festival worship, the Christmas Eve services are my favorite of the entire Church year.

A few quotes shape my thoughts this morning.

Before you can seek God,

God must first have sought you. - A.W. Tozer

Christmas is a celebration of God’s seeking after us. In entering our world in the person of Jesus, God reaches down to us, to make us members of God’s family. This is the miracle of the incarnation. That God - creator and redeemer of all the world - should stoop so low…

This is a story so wonderful, it boggles the mind!

Another quote to contemplate, this by Orthodox bishop Kallistos Ware:

It is not the task of Christianity

to provide easy answers to every question,

but to make us progressively aware of a mystery.

God is not so much the object of our knowledge

as the cause of our wonder.

May the wonder of Christmas wash you in the mystery of God reaching out to you in order to wrap you in the swaddling clothes of God’s great love for you, and for all the world!

Peace, Pastor Phil

December 22

To all who received him,

who believed in his name,

he gave power to become children of God,

who were born,

not of blood

or of the will of the flesh

or of the will of man,

but of God.

John 1:12-13

I heard a preacher mention an ad campaign that was put together by a church group. Below classic pictures of Santa and Jesus, there was written the question: “Whose birthday is it anyway?” In other words, rather than seeing Christmas as a day for us to get (and give) presents, it is a day to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.

The preacher said that aside from the scolding that is implied there - that we should note that Christmas is Jesus’ birthday - it might be interesting to suggest that Christmas is a sort of birthday for you and me.

He was reflecting on the first chapter of John, where the Gospel writer suggests that in the incarnation, God has called us into God’s family of love. And so, in a way, Christmas is our birthday as well.

I like that.

Seems like I should be getting some presents on Friday!

Blessings to you, Pastor Phil

December 21

"The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness did not overcome it."

John 1:5

Today is the shortest day of the year.

I thought I should share this word of faith from the Gospel of John:

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." (John 1:5)

I will let you reflect on light and darkness and the light that shines...

I want to look a bit more at Martin Luther's Christmas carol; "From Heaven Above."

Stanzas 1 and 2 -

1 "From heaven above to earth I come,

to bear good news to every home!

Glad tidings of great joy I bring

to all the world, and gladly sing."

2 "To you this night is born a child

of Mary chosen virgin mild;

this new-born child of lowly birth

shall be the joy of all the earth."

The second stanza is (in part) a paraphrase of Luke 2:11

" you is born this day in the city of David

a Savior, who is the Christ, the Lord."

Here is my thought with Martin Luther today...

To whom is that baby born?

Didn't we reflect all last week on Mary, the mother of Jesus?

Yet, when God sends angels to make the birth announcement, they proclaim that this child is born, not to Mary and Joseph, but to you!

So many of us love the Christmas story. There are so many wonderful characters and insights that go with each one.

The faithfulness of Mary.

Joseph, following the angel's lead, and taking Mary as his wife.

Zechariah and Elizabeth.

The angel Gabriel, the heavenly host, shepherds in the fields abiding...

This angel's birth announcement is as wonderful as any other element in this wondrous story.

Rejoice! This child born in a Bethlehem stable is born "to you"!

Peace on earth, good will to all! Pastor Phil

December 20

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them,

and the glory of the Lord shone around them,

and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid; for see—

I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people:

Luke 2:9-10

Christmas is near, and like many of you, I have been listening to Christmas carols for a while now. There are some who think we should wait until Christmas eve to break out the Christmas songs. It is Advent, after all, a time of waiting and preparing. I am more like the colleague who admitted on Facebook to listening to carols in mid November. He joked that he used his headphones rather than the speakers in his office, implying that he didn’t want people to know he was listening to Christmas music before it is appropriate.

I believe I’ve mentioned that a friend of mine has suggested that while many of Martin Luther’s hymns can be difficult to sing, we might want to read them for devotions…

Luther’s Christmas carol - “From Heaven Above” (actually not a difficult tune), provides a rich re-telling of the Christmas story. I have often said I would like for us to sing all 14 stanzas, but I have a suspicion I might be alone in that!

The song is as if it is a message from the angel who visited the shepherds outside of Bethlehem. It begins: “From heaven above to earth I come, to bear good news to every home!…”

Here are stanzas 9-12

9 O Lord, you have created all!

How did you come to be so small,

to sweetly sleep in manger-bed

where lowing cattle lately fed?

10 Were earth a thousand times as fair,

and set with gold and jewels rare,

still such a cradle would not do

to rock a prince as great as you.

11 For velvets soft and silken stuff

you have but hay and straw so rough

on which as king, so rich and great,

to be enthroned in humble state.

12 Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,

prepare a bed, soft, undefiled

a quiet chamber in my heart,

that you and I may never part.

- ELW Hymn #268

Luther understood that the wonder of the incarnation is that our great God has humbly entered into our human lives.

Look around you, and take note: God is here with you, today and always.

No wonder some of us sing carols, even before Advent begins!

Blessings to you this week, Pastor Phil

December 19

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

The Prayer of the Day today:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come.

With your abundant grace and might,

free us from the sin that binds us,

that we may receive you in joy and serve you always, f

or you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.


The service will be posted online

December 18

“Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.”

Luke 1:48

This week I have been reflecting on Mary’s Magnificat. In part, I was sent down this path by a great line in a devotion I read two weeks ago. The preacher said that the “Word became flesh… in the holy place of a motherly heart…”

Mary’s heart - and yours - as a holy place is sort of a wonderful thought.

God has sent Jesus to everyone you hold most dear. God has called you to join with the faithful to bear Jesus to all the world.

The song that follows Gabriel’s visit bears the hopes and longings of generations, and has spoken of God’s salvation to generations to follow.

Mary, in her faithfulness, spoke her “yes” to God’s call. You, in your faithfulness speak your own yes.

Perhaps this means that all generations should call you blessed as well!

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 17

“He has filled the hungry with good things…”

Luke 1:53

After her visit with the angel Gabriel, Mary went to see Elizabeth.

What a story Luke tells - this visit between two mothers of children of promise!

In her song of praise at the news of the gift of the Christ Child, Mary expresses a deep trust in God..

“He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

according to the promise he made to our ancestors,

to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Take note of this aspect of Mary’s song. She does not speak in the future tense - “he will show strength…” “he will scatter…” “he will fill…” No.

“He has shown strength with his arm…” she sings.

When Gabriel told Mary the news of this child, Mary responded simply:

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

And now, in her meeting with Elizabeth, she lives with the faith that God’s promise is already realized in the child she bears.

“He has filled the hungry with good things…”

May we join Mary in faithful confidence that God fulfills God’s promises, that we, also, are called to bear the Christ Child to this world, that through this one, and through us as well, God reaches out with justice and love.

Peace, Pastor Phil

December 16

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly”

Luke 1:52

In our Wednesday noon class these past few weeks we have been talking about Christmas Carols and hymns. I have heard it suggested that a hymnal can be an excellent devotional book. We sort of looked at the hymnal that way today.

We spent some time with Hymn # 723 in the ELW, our red (cranberry red) hymnal.

It is “Canticle of the Turning.”

This song is a paraphrase of the Magnificat that speaks of the power that Mary sees in God fulfilling the promise of sending the Messiah.

Rolf Jacobson, whom I quoted (at length, I know) yesterday, says of the Holden Evening Prayer version of the Magnificat” “the tune is rather tame…”

This is not the case with Hymn #723...

I will include the lyrics below, and offer a couple links to listen if you care to sepnd some time reflecting on the magnificat along with the author Rory Cooney…

For many, the arrival of the Messiah brings thoughts of God’s justice ruling over all the earth. (Zechariah 9:9-10) As those redeemed by Jesus, our calling in life is to join in God’s work of justice and love for all.

Blessings to you, Pastor Phil

Here is a choral arrangement of the Canticle of the Turning click here.

This recording has a different feel… click here

CANTICLE OF THE TURNING - lyrics by Rory Cooney,

Tune: Star of County Down, Irish traditional tune.

My soul cries out with a joyful shout

that the God of my heart is great,

And my spirit sings of the wondrous things

that you bring to the one who waits.

You fixed your sight on the servant's plight,

and my weakness you did not spurn,

So from east to west shall my name be blest.

Could the world be about to turn?

[Refrain] - My heart shall sing of the day you bring.

Let the fires of your justice burn.

Wipe away all tears,

For the dawn draws near,

And the world is about to turn.

Though I am small, my God, my all,

you work great things in me.

And your mercy will last from the depths of the past

to the end of the age to be.

Your very name puts the proud to shame,

and those who would for you yearn,

You will show your might, put the strong to flight,

for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

From the halls of power to the fortress tower,

not a stone will be left on stone.

Let the king beware for your justice tears

every tyrant from his throne.

The hungry poor shall weep no more,

for the food they can never earn;

These are tables spread, ev'ry mouth be fed,

for the world is about to turn. (Refrain)

Though the nations rage from age to age,

we remember who holds us fast:

God's mercy must deliver us

from the conqueror's crushing grasp.

This saving word that our forbears heard

is the promise that holds us bound,

'Til the spear and rod be crushed by God,

who is turning the world around. (Refrain)

December 15

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly”

Luke 1:52

The Magnificat is the Psalm for this coming Sunday. I often think of these words of Mary, and how beautiful the poetry is.

Dr. Rolf Jacobson, Old Testament professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, reminds us that there is power in these words. Here is part of a commentary he wrote for preachers years ago, with the perspective of one who knows the Old Testament prophets well…

Mary’s Psalm: A radical Advent carol - Rolf Jacobson

The so-called “Magnificat” (somehow that name is too tame) is a radical protest song. The kind of song that the enslaved Israelites might have sung in Egypt. The kind of song you might have heard on the lips of the exiled Judeans in Babylon. The kind of song that has been sung by countless people of faith through the ages in resistance, in defiance of empires, slavers, terrorists, invaders, and the like.

Hear, feel, savor Mary’s cry of resistance:

[The Lord] has shown strength with his arm;

has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

Has brought down the powerful from their thrones,

and lifted up the lowly;

Has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53)

Mary’s Psalm sounded the initial, clear, trumpet call that the event of the Christ’s advent was to be a world-transforming, universe-shaking event.

One example. Professor Lois Malcolm, my colleague at Luther Seminary, grew up the child of missionaries in the Philippine Islands. Growing up among that nation’s poor, Professor Malcolm has reported that when they heard Mary’s Psalm, it was the first time that anyone had told them the good news that God cares about them -- the poor, the oppressed.

Think about it. You’re poor. You wonder, “Why? Why are we poor?” “Maybe that is just the way things are,” you think. Or maybe you hear, “The kings and queens rule by ‘divine right’ -- God wants them to be rich and powerful, and you to be poor.” Or maybe you hear, “The poor are poor because they did something bad in a previous life -- they deserve to be poor in this life, and if they suffer their poverty bravely and gladly, they can be born into a better caste in the next life.” Or maybe you just think, “We are poor because we aren’t smart enough to be wealthy.”

Mary’s Psalm announces, “No, Christ has come to challenge the structures of sin, death, the devil, and oppression. Christ has come in the strength of the Lord to do what the Lord has always done: lift up the lowly, free the enslaved, feed the hungry, give justice to the widow, the orphan, and the sojourner.”

I am so grateful to our theologians who can help to open our eyes to the power of God's word, and the world changing, life changing Good News of the Gospel.

When we work for justice, when we reach out to care for others, when we feed the hungry, we are living out the promise of Mary’s song.

May you know presence of Jesus Christ today, Pastor Phil

December 14

“Blessed are you among women…”

Luke 1:42

Martin Luther published his commentary on The Magnificat in 1521. I saw that The ELCA Wittenberg Center in Wittenberg, Germany is hosting an online event this week which “will mark the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther’s commentary on the Magnificat and continued significance of Mary’s voice.”

One of the powerful points Luther makes in his commentary is that we make a mistake when we talk about Mary as if she was a person of extraordinary faith or piety. Luther suggests that Mary perceives that God has looked upon her and chosen her because of her lowliness.

Mary says:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.”

Luther suggests that God has favored her, not for any wonderful quality in Mary, but for her lowliness. Luther makes the point that if we understand her to be more faithful than anyone else, she is not an example for us, but a sort of superhero whom we can only admire.

Luther says:

“But she should be, and herself gladly would be,

the foremost example of the grace of God,

to incite all the world to trust in this grace and to love and praise it,

so that through her the hearts of all men should be filled with such knowledge of God that they might confidently say:

"O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God,

what great comfort God has shown us in you,

by so graciously regarding your unworthiness and low estate.

This, encourages us to believe that henceforth

God will not despise us poor and lowly ones

but graciously regard us also,

according to your example”

In response to what we Protestants have seen as too great an emphasis on Mary, we’ve often missed much of what Mary can teach us. God has chosen this young woman to bear the Christ Child, because that is how God acts. God calls every day lowly ones like you to bear the Christ Child into this world in need.

I am grateful for the many ways you have lived out this amazing love in the community of Sheridan and beyond.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 13

“Blessed are you among women…”

Luke 1:42

This next Sunday is the 4th Sunday of Advent, and we will hear from Mary and Elizabeth. This passage is known as the Magnificat.

The Magnificat is one of those beautiful passages from the Bible that carries so much poetry, wonder, promise and hope that you can't really put it into words. You can reflect on it all week, and not begin to plumb the depths that are held for us here.

This passage has inspired poets and musicians, theologians and artists. It has been set to music by countless composers, many of us know it best from the Holden Evening Prayer version.

I invite you to reflect on these words this week. In fact, you might take the entire first chapter of the book of Luke this week, and make it the focus of your reflections and prayers...

As we begin, I will share this line that one writer/preacher shared. He could not remember where he found it, so it is not credited:

“It is no small thing

to be highly favored by God.

Especially when you are acutely aware

of how preposterous this idea truly is.”

No small thing at all. May we grow in our understanding of how preposterous and wonderful the Gospel is for us and for all the world!

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

I want to say a big thank you to Susan Baker and to Nancy Hilstad, to our LOGOS youth, to several helpful moms and to Elissa Oman for helping to make our Christmas Program a clear proclamation of the wonder of the incarnation

December 12

Third Sunday of Advent

Today is the Third Sunday Advent.

The Prayer of the Day today:

Stir up the wills of your faithful people, Lord God,

and open our ears to the preaching of John,

that, rejoicing in your salvation,

we may bring forth the fruits of repentance;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.


December 11

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord…’

Luke 3:4

Two weeks until Christmas!

I hope to see you tomorrow at the 8:30 service where our children will present the Christmas program.

In the Gospel reading for tomorrow, (at the 11:00 service) we hear once again from John the Baptist.

In a wonderful reflection, Dr. Alyce McKenzie addressed a note to John, suggesting that he might want to modify his message a bit.

The reading begins this way:

John said to the crowds

that came out to be baptized by him,

“You brood of vipers!

Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Dr. McKenzie says:

Dear Wild Man, Wilderness Baptizer:

Here is what you need to know about our world in order to be successful with your message. We are not accustomed to having our noses rubbed in the fact that our motivations for participating in Advent may be corrupt or at least shallow (Luke 3:7ff). We prefer inhaling the scent of cranberry candles. We are not used to hearing that whether we are ordinary citizens, soldiers or tax collectors, we are called to sacrifice in this season and not engage in self-indulgence (Luke 3:10-14).

(You may find the entire piece worth your while - I have posted it on our website. Click here)

Later in her essay/sermon she writes: “But John is not about gathering us around the manger. He's about delivering a "Welcome to Advent" sermon that shakes our nativity snow globe so hard it cracks and all the water flows out along with the little white coconut flakes.”

She wants us to hear John’s call to repentance as an opportunity to become part of God’s healing work in the world.

While I love the sentimental and beautiful aspects of Christmas so very much, I also appreciate this kind of reminder, that there is so much more to the story than the baby Jesus. This Christ child is our savior. And he saves us as one who endures suffering and the cross. There he overcomes “all the forces that defy God” and “the powers of this world that rebel against God” and “the ways of sin that draw you form God” as our baptismal liturgy suggests.

December 10

The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord…’

Luke 3:4

Every once in a while, it is probably good to stop for a moment, and listen closely to John the Baptist, as he calls for us to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

The Christ child is coming. Not only that, the crucified and risen Lord is coming for you. Bearing to you God’s presence and love, forgiveness and grace, salvation and calling to serve.

All of that and more is what we prepare for as we heed John's call to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

And so.



‘Prepare the way of the Lord…’

Open your eyes, and you may well find the Lord already present, already active in your life, already moving you and retoring you and sending you. Look and you may well see that the Lord is here, and has great things in store for you, here and now, as well as throughout your entire life.

And beyond.

Advent blessings to you,

Pastor Phil

December 9

"to you is born this day

in the city of David

a Savior,

who is the Christ, the Lord."

Luke 2:11

My favorite telling of the story of Christmas is, without a doubt, the children's Christmas program.

There is a wonderful reflection of the incarnation in the children dressed as Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels, once again bringing the story to life, helping us to see that Jesus has come into our midst in such a down to earth way.

I truly believe that our children become our best preachers, as they embody the wonder and joy of Christmas for us. I smile at many, many memories of Children's Christmas programs through the years.

I hope you can be in worship with us at the 8:30 service on Sunday, December 12th, when our children will present the Christmas story.

This is not only for the kids. We are hoping a few of you will put on a bit of a costume and be a part of the pageant. If you would care to be a shepherd or an angel, please let me know. We think it could be nice to include a few adults in this favorite telling of the story.

Blessings to you, Pastor Phil

December 8

By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us

Luke 1:79

Perhaps you recall the story of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. It is told in Luke 1:5-25, 57-80.

An angel of the Lord appeared to him as he was making an offering in the temple. (He was a member of the priesthood.) And the angel told him that his wife Elizabeth would have a son. He did not believe the angel, and the angel responded: “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Perhaps the nine months of silence helped fuel his poetic voice. Surely the gift of this child, and John’s call to be the forerunner of the Messiah helped shape Zechariah's praise.

While some will complain about hearing Christmas carols beginning around Halloween; I find myself bothered by this less and less.

The wonderful songs of this season are a reflection of the great mystery and abiding promise of the incarnation. God has chosen this poetic, beautiful way to break upon us, and it is only natural to break into song in the face of such a gift.

May Zechariah’s joy spur us all to sing out, “that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.”

God’s peace be with you, Pastor Phil

December 7

By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us

Luke 1:79

On Sunday, the “Psalm” was from Luke chapter 1. Zechariah’s words of praise at the birth of his son, John. This child will be known to us as John the Baptist.

Zechariah looks back and speaks of the words of the prophets, and he looks ahead, and sees that his own child will be an actor in God’s fulfillment of those promises.

In poetic and joyful ways, he proclaims the Good News that God has acted, and God is acting.

Looking to little John; he sings...

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

to give knowledge of salvation to his people

by the forgiveness of their sins.”

Luke gives us a sense of the sweep of history in these words of praise and thanks.

Zechariah’s song concludes with this beautiful verse:

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.”

By the tender mercy of our God Jesus is coming for you, to give light, to bring hope, to bear love.

No wonder we celebrate.

Blessings to you, Pastor Phil

December 6

Let mutual love continue.

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,

for by doing that

some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:1-2

Today is St. Nicholas Day!

He was born in present day Turkey around the year 270, and served as bishop in Myra. He was one of 318 bishops who gathered at the first Council of Nicaea in 325 - (The Nicene Creed comes from that event.) He got to be Santa Claus from the Dutch way of referring to him as “Sinterklaas.”

Here at Trinity we don’t talk about Saints and saints days very much, which is fine. However, it can be inspiring to consider the lives of saints, and consider how we might join them in lives of faithfulness and generosity.

Among the legends about St. Nicholas are stories of anonymous gift-giving that arose from his compassion for the poor and marginalized.

Often people will complain about the materialism that surrounds this time of buying gifts and all… While that is probably an accurate criticque, I like how the stories of St. Nicholas are grounded in a real person, and they are inspired by Nicholas’ care for others. I like stories of how his love of God moved him to care for his neighbors.

In this season of gift giving and celebration, people like St. Nicholas can help remind us that our giving is a reflection of God’s great generosity to us - - - sending Jesus Christ to restore us to relationship with God and in turn sending us out in care for the world.

Happy St. Nicholas Day! Pastor Phil

December 5

Second Sunday of Advent

Today is the Second Sunday Advent.

The Prayer of the Day:

Stir up our hearts,

Lord God,

to prepare the way of your only Son.

By his coming

give to all the people of the world

knowledge of your salvation;

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


December 4

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 really like this insight from the editor of Gather magazine, Elizabeth Hunter.

She wrote, in an introductory article to the December ’20 magazine:

We need a fuller version of Advent

than the simple countdown to Christmas

that …begins as soon as Thanksgiving ends.

We know that Advent is about more than our preparation.

We know that Advent is about what God gifts to us:

a savior who is Christ the Lord.

During Advent,

we look to Christ’s coming into the world –

then in a Bethlehem stable;

now, in Word and Sacrament;

and in the time to come,

when God will make all things new.

Let us watch for Christ’s coming into the world.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

December 3

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

Howard Thurman wrote some beautiful prayers and poems for this season. I have been thinking about the lighting of candles this week, about light in the darkness and the hope of the Gospel.

I saw this blessing by Rev. Thurman and had to share it with you…

I Will Light Candles This Christmas By Howard Thurman

I will light candles this Christmas,

Candles of joy despite all the 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 year long.

May the light shine on you, Pastor Phil

December 2

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 like the Advent wreath, with the candles marking the weeks of Advent.

Here are some litanies you might use in daily devotions with a candle lighting for Advent Prayer.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.

The light no darkness can overcome.


O Lord, open my lips.

And my mouth shall declare your praise.


The Lord Almighty grant us a quiet night and peace at the last.


It is good to give thanks to the Lord,

to sing praise to your name, O Most High;

to herald your love in the morning,

your truth at the close of the day.


Jesus Christ is the Light of the world,

The light no darkness can overcome.

Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.

Let your light scatter the darkness, and shine on your people.

The Lord be with you. And also with you.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe,

who led your people Israel by a pillar of cloud by day

and a pillar of fire by night:

Enlighten our darkness by the light of your Christ;

may his Word be a lamp to our feet and a light to our path;

for you are merciful, and you love your whole creation,

and we, your creatures, glorify you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

December 1

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 mentioned yesterday that when we refer to Advent as a season of light, it might be more accurate to say it is a season light in the darkness.

I am reminded of this quote from the Rev. Dr. Edmund Steimle, who was a seminary professor, pastor, and for 20 years, preacher on the radio show The Protestant Hour.

In his last broadcast he said:

"We are delivered in Christ, not from the darkness,

but from its dominion and power to bury our hopes.

That, as I see it, is the task of preaching,

not to deny the darkness,

but to shed light on our paths

as we walk through the darkness.”

One could reflect on that for the entire Advent season, and more.

Yesterday, I ended the Connections reflection with this wish: “May the Light shine for you.” In my last look at it, after having posted it on Constant Contact, I saw that I had a typo. It said: “May the Light shine off you.”

I was at first so very relieved I caught that mistake, yet, as I thought about it, I wondered if there might be something to that.

May the light on our paths show us the way, and may it reflect off of us, and bear a measure of God’s light to those around us.

Peace to you, Pastor Phil

p.s. Thank you to the Kirols for providing the Christmas tree, it’s beautiful!