‘Twas the night before Christmas
At a church called Redeemer
With everyone gathered,
Both cynic and dreamer.

We’ve come in our suits
With our hearts on our sleeves
Home from college, tired from work
Opened up to believe

And to tell the old story
Of Christ and his birth,
And hear the choirs singing
Of “Peace on the earth.”

Thanks to Bert, they are ready
They have practiced and prayed
Learned some Spanish, sung in Latin
Of the Babe and the Maid.

So raise your loud voices
In strains pure, divine
Don’t worry about tune,
Remember Sister Caroline!

There’s Mary and Joseph
14 shepherds, a star
Scores of angels, some sheep
And 3 kings from afar.

Jan S. sewed their costumes
With some thread and a thimble
Using bedsheets and bathrobes
To create all the symbols.

And Maggie directed,
Took the cast through their paces
Advising every child
“Let your mom see your faces.”

The Youth greened the church
Swung the swags, stood the trees,
And the flower guild just yesterday
Made this room the “bee’s knees.”

So it took the whole village
To prepare for this night,
To find room in our lives
And kindle the light

Of Mary and Joseph
And wee little Jesus.
Have you noticed the staff
Is now over their sneezes?

You see all this month
We have battled the flu,
First me, then Cristina,
Mark, Barb, Paul, and Vu.

But we hardly slowed down
Or changed our behavior.
Thanks to you we are ready
For the birth of our savior.

It’s been a tough year,
Close to home, far away
And our leaders have argued:
Kept agreements at bay.

There’s Aleppo and China,
North Korea, the election,
People angry, children suffering
And it calls for introspection.

I believe we’ve forgotten
That beneath fear and strife
Folks are all just the same,
Pray for peace, pray for life.

No matter your faith
Or your gender, your color,
Whoever is last
That one is our brother.

So we need to make sure
That the least and the lost
Are loved and raised up
No matter the cost.

That’s the pearl of great price,
It’s the old gospel hymn,
That God was born like us,
So that we might be like him.

It’s the gift of the season,
And our present to you:
Merry Christmas, Baltimore,
And Blessed New Year, too.


Dear Folks,

In the winter of 1996, a great snow fell on the east coast.  It started quietly, the flakes so small and crystalline that you couldn’t see them unless you looked up at the streetlights or down toward the slowly whitening pavement.  The forecasters expected winds to sweep the storm out to sea after a couple of hours, so most people went about their January business as usual—grocery buying, matinee seeing, 12th night celebrating… returning presents to the store and co-eds to their campuses.  At 2:00 p.m., windshield wipers were hardly needed.  At 4:00, a bishop leading an Epiphany service in New Jersey encouraged folks to hurry home and not stay for the reception, fearing they would get stranded.  By 6:00 p.m. the streets were inches deep in fine powder and traffic had all but disappeared.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

The predicted winds never blew through, so flakes fell straight and steady for hours.  In house after house, friends who had come for dinner tried to move their cars after dessert, but they could no longer tell where the curb ended and the street began.  So a great many slid home on snowy sidewalks or camped out in basements and guest rooms for days.  We had 8 extra people in our apartment for a week.

From Washington to Boston the world took an unexpected holiday.  New York City was transformed.  There were skiers on 5th Avenue and children up way past their bedtime.  Shopkeepers couldn’t open the next morning, so neighbors downstairs traded milk for eggs and matches for toilet paper.  Cars were buried or useless, so everyone walked.  Planes were grounded until midweek and passengers snoozed under tiny blankets, when they weren’t eating pretzels for breakfast.  More than anything else, we noticed the silence.  The great buzzing metropolis folded its wings for a moment and rested.

We worked puzzle after puzzle, sometimes two in a single day, played board games and card games and snow games in the yard.  The only sounds you could hear were voices and church bells, and we listened more and better than we ordinarily did.  There was space in our conversations for ideas to develop, or questions to ponder, or challenges to be navigated.  My siblings, in town for a family event, found a way to work through some old hurts.  The federal government, which had been shut down in the preceding weeks, with insults lobbied in both directions across the aisle, experienced the forced quiet as a gift, too.  Maybe there was more we shared than we usually noticed?  Maybe the impossible was possible?

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

I’ve been thinking about that time out of time lately, because of the disagreements swirling around our ears this winter, this time not only across the aisle or the breakfast table, but across the country and the world.  Maybe we could use a Christmas snowstorm to lock us down for a few days, so that we can discover again that we have more in common than we think… a week of snow football to remind us that winning and losing is fine for games, but not for citizens or leaders or nations… an evening or two quiet enough to let us hear the angels sing in people that we normally discount or discredit or dismiss.  God is always being born in unlikely places.

What the world most needs is a place to meet, perhaps a snowy field between trenches, where we’ve left our weapons behind… or a table where all are welcomed and fed… or a manger with a baby who will turn our dirty straw into gold… or a conversation that gives everyone space and the benefit of the doubt.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.

However dark the night may sometimes seem, this and every Christmas there is light and space and time enough for the impossible to come true.

Love, David

I was tucking Ben in last night, Rick Riordan’s Throne of Fire on his nightstand and Harry the Big Bear nestled behind his head.

Our brief bedtime prayer routine usually begins with, “What would you like to thank God for, today?”

But last night, I was more directive.

“Tonight we need to pray for people in a city far, far away called Aleppo. Many, many people are dying there because of all the fighting.”

“Why is there fighting?”

“Because different groups want to control the city and the land. But the people who actually live there are dying. And there’s nothing we can do right now. Except pray.”

Ben was silent.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked.

“I’m thinking about war.” And he began to cry.

I joined him.

(Way to go Mom, my inner critic voiced. Nice, peaceful bedtime routine.)

“Let’s pray for them by imagining blankets of light covering all of them.”

We closed our eyes together.

“Let’s pray for them by picturing angel’s wings … can you see them? … great big wings made of Light … wrapping up each one of them … and carrying everyone Home … where pain and suffering are no more … neither sighing but life everlasting ….”

We closed our eyes, and prayed and imagined, together. We held each other, snuggled tight, safe and warm, together.

My mind drifted to other women and children in a city far, far away.

And then to another woman and child, long, long ago. A child whose birth we will celebrate and remember, with Christians around the world, in just 10 days.

Into such a world as this …  as ours … our Saviour was born.


Dear Folks,

Advent is about making space, I believe.  One year we emptied out a spare bedroom, leaving only a rug and a makeshift altar.  We were trying to have a baby without any luck, and we’d gotten tangled up in lots of well-intended advice from friends and family and strategies of our own.  Exasperated one morning, Sarah said, “If I’m ever going to get pregnant, I’ve got to make some room for myself and this baby,” so I started moving furniture.  It was silly, I guess, a young husband wanting to fix things, to act in response to his wife’s hurting instead of just being present beside her, but the physical labor settled us.  It felt sacramental, the sweeping out and sorting through, a tangible prayer of preparation that made the waiting bearable.

It’s become a habit of the heart, this Advent clean-up.  This year I vacuumed the dust bunnies from underneath the beds and washed all the baseboards and moldings.  I’m not sure if it is strictly spiritual, but when I hear John the Baptist say, “Prepare the way of the Lord,” I grab a mop and bucket, lift chairs and roll up rugs.  I am making space for something new to be born.

An old friend is being treated at Johns Hopkins this Advent, and while he recovers from surgery on the 12th floor, his wife, another dear friend, is staying with us.  It’s a gift to be with them during such a tender time, as they navigate procedures and pathology reports, wrapping our family’s busy calendar around their simplified days: waiting, watching, wondering about what’s next.  Holding their worry has stretched each of us, making crowded schedules feel more spacious.  We’ve found room to hope, and time to listen and laugh and linger over meals.  I think we are being prepared for whatever comes next.

Life is stirring within us, even in these dark December days.

“The prophet cries to prepare a way for the Promised One, and we panic.  We write shopping lists, and head to the store for the treasures we must surely present.  We survey with dread the mess of a heart we must clean up for the holy visitor.  But after all the cleansing the house is still just our little place.  The Gift is not to be found in any market.  We fear our unpreparedness, our failure to adequately repent, still rushing, still dusting this and hiding that.  In the din the Spirit speaks softy.  We are not asked to clean the house for the weekend to impress the Unexpected Guest.  We are asked to prepare a room and set a place at the table for the rest of our lives for the Beloved, the child who already dwells within.” (Steve Garnaas-Holmes)

Bless you this Advent.  In you is always the space for God to be born.



Jan Richardson is one of my favorite ‘Lay’ theologians; a writer, poet, artist and spiritual leader. Below is an excerpt of a recent posting from her Advent blog which I found of interest:

“And so we come to Advent, this sacred season of expectation and anticipation that draws us toward the festival of Christmas. In these days there is much talk of waiting; it is the enduring theme of Advent, and rightly so. For a culture that so often moves too quickly, too unmindfully, Advent’s invitation to wait comes as a reminder of the wisdom of the pause, the standing back, the stopping to think. To ponder. To pray.

Yet I sometimes struggle with that word, waiting. So often we associate waiting with passivity and idleness. With boredom and dullness. With a sense of helplessness in the face of time that seems to stretch out interminably. There is this, too: at the same time that waiting can be a corrective to rushing, the flip side is that waiting can sometimes become an excuse for not taking a needed action.

Sometimes we wait too long.

The season of Advent challenges us to ponder how it is that we wait. How (and whether) we engage our waiting as a spiritual practice. How we bring our discernment to our waiting, that we may know when to hold back and when it is time to act.

May wisdom attend your waiting.”


I am moved to offer a postscript. Last Sunday, the first Sunday in Advent symbolizes Hope. In a recent conversation, an individual expressed frustration in not  feeling God’s love and caring during a challenging situation. For this person, waiting was a struggle. I reminded this person that sometimes if we “Open our eyes to see God’s hand at work in the world about us” (Eucharistic Prayer C) we may indeed experience signs of Hope in the unexpected. This iris currently blooming in the garden right outside my office window is such a wonderful example. The reality is Iris do/should not bloom the first week of December….but this one is. Right before us. Now.

Yes, open our eyes to see your hand at work in the world about us.