Notes on Christmas Eve



A favorite children’s  Christmas song asks “Do you hear what I hear?”  These few days before Christmas day dawns, there is music everywhere – in the grocery store, piped into elevators, volume turned high for busy shoppers on the sidewalk. I love playing with a handbell choir at church and singing the songs of Christmas. Time around the piano with carols sung every year is one of our most special traditions, along with listening to all the Christmas classics. But I realize the danger in over familiarity.  I want to listen to the words and thrill to the message of this music.

God, help me slow down

Help me be still enough to listen

for hallelujahs and joy to the world

for Singer and Song

for words that turn

announcing your coming

offering your promise

Help me to pay attention and be astonished

Give me your Song to sing

Roses in Winter

IMG_1346 On the South Texas Gulf coast,  Winter brings us more shirt sleeve days than those where we reach for jackets and gloves.  Recently, cool wet weather has spurred our roses to fresh bloom.  Winter roses have deeper, richer color than those earlier in the year.  Their fragrance seems sweeter and more compelling. Part of their brilliance is that they bloom in a stark and colorless garden. Leaves have browned and dropped.  Bare twiggy branches stand out against pewter skies. My Winter roses glow againstt this drab palette

Advent days begin with a canvas held down with layers of gray heaviness. With expectantcy we watch for Christmas coming again, and welcome the blooming in our hearts..Christmas comes again, richer, deeper, sweeter, more compelling.

Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as men of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind.
To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger they found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load  ~ 15th century carol

And Yet…


Maddie, SkyeJune11,12 002

Gary Johnson

A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some troubled,
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the sidewalk shoveled.
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels singing overhead? Hark.
~ Gary Johnson. Text as published online by The Writer’s Almanac (December 22, 2011).

Light for the Darkness



Our hearts and homes are filled with anticipation of Christmas – music, the laughter of children, twinkling lights, and cookie baking. But there is no blocking the awareness of evil and horror in our world.  Media brings the terror of war and injustice of humans to even children right into our living room.  We may prefer to close our eyes and shut our ears to this threatening clamor, and may be tempted to think there has never been so much to fear at a Christmastime. But through the ages, there has been darkness and wrong – 100 years ago, in the trenches of WW I, the December of the attack on Pearl Harbor , and in the time before the first Nativity.

The poem below was written years ago by Madeleine L’Engle.  I believe it was one of the previously unpublished pieces included in the collection in Winter Song, published by L’Engle and her friend Luci Shaw in 1996, and was written some time before that, so at least 20 years ago.  But it sounds like she could have been writing after seeing this morning’s newscasts.


Into the Darkest Hour

It was a time like this,

War & tumult of war,

a horror in the air,

Hungry yawned the abyss –

and yet there came the star

and the child most wonderfully there.


It was time like this

of fear & lust for power

license & greed and blight –

and yet the Prince of bliss

came into the darkest hour

in quiet & silent light.


And in a time like this

how celebrate his birth

when all things fall apart?

Ah! wonderful it is

with no room on the earth

the stable is our heart.

~ Madeleine L’Engle, as quoted in Winter Song, Christmas Readings by Madeleine L’Enlge & Luci Shaw


Like Us


Advent calls me to remember that Christ came to be one of us.  He came to be like us in all the imperfection of our messy lives.  Even his human family ancestry reflects this –  dotted with misfits and mistake- makers who also experienced grace, forgiveness and hope.

In Gail Godwin’s novel, Evensong,  a small town church in the Smoky Mountains is surprised when the local priest has a young teenage girl read the genealogy of Jesus recorded in Matthew  instead of the traditional Christmas story in Luke 2. The priest then quotes from an essay titled A Coming of Christ in Advent by Raymond Brown that says the genealogy list in Matthew 1 is “three minutes’ worth of tongue twisting names that  contain the essential theology of the Old and New Testaments for the whole Church, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant alike…If so much  powerful stuff can have been accomplished down through the millenia by..people who were such complex mixtures of sinner and saint, isn’t that a pretty hopeful testament to the likelihood that God is using us, with our individual flaws and gifts, in all manner of peculiar and unexpected ways?

“Who of us can say we’re not in the process of being used right now, this Advent, to fulfill some purpose whose grace and goodness would boggle our imagination if we could even begin to get our minds around it?”

Found in Evensong, b






For 15 years, my husband and I have been part of a Christmas event that our small church offers as a gift to the community.  In the beginning, it was only 3 scenes: A shepherd, two innkeepers (us), and a nativity scene set in a stable filled with hay.  Characters have changed through the years to tell the story, but there is always a young Mary. This year, several very young teenage girls donned Mary’s plain clothes and told her story. It is likely that Mary was indeed a very young girl, so these girls were very real in their earnestness and transparent trust.  Mary has to be in the scenes we create, because she was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. I am glad she said Yes to God’s message.  I love her preparing, her purpose, her pondering. The Pieta iis an exquisite rendering of her anguish.  I don’t know of any pieces of art or music that speak of her later life, but I love Edward Farrelll’s litany to her in his book Gathering the Fragments.



Mary of rattling tea cups and homemade cookies

Mary of open door, open hearth, open heart

Queen of varicose veins and chapped hands

Strong, fragile woman

Vulnerable, unshakable woman

Believer in love, reality, people, God

Back stooped and ear bent in listening to life’s

stories and to the giver of life

Stubborn fidelity to life in the face of death

Unflinching spirit that stares light into the darkness

of the tomb

Heart that breaks and pours love over the thirsty earth

Missing her son when he is gone to another home

Looking up in the sudden expectancy of hearing

his voice

Smiling wryly to herself and waiting

Waiting, gestating the kingdom once more

Growing in expectancy of second birth this time her own

And their laughter rocks the universe

Sending happy shock waves to echo in our dreams

Tugging our reluctant mouths into smiles of hope

and anticipation

Amen it will be so. Amen




Opening My Eyes

IMG_0869Years ago, when Joe and I were climbing around in an architectural salvage shop in downtown Houston, we literally stumbled across several large wooden beams.  When we looked, we could see carved into the pieces various Latin phrases, highlighted with faded gold leaf.  We bought all the pieces and hauled them home, having  been told only that they had been salvaged from the tear down of a Catholic church in Boston built in the 1800’s.  Now 2 of these beams hang in our home.  We are  not Latin scholars, but have had some help from various Catholic friends and their priests. This apparently is from the “old’ Latin, and although there was not agreement among our sources, the consensus was that this one in particular  is translated “Holy God, Holy fortress, Holy Immortal, Have mercy on us.”

On a Sunday afternoon not long ago, I rested for a while on the couch in our living room.  I opened my eyes to see sunlight moving across the Latin words, and received  a powerful awareness of the glowing light on the word Sanctus.  In Advent, we are called to watch for the Light, to be aware of the Holy. It is only by watching and waiting during these Advent days I can open my eyes to see the LIght of holiness that shined in Bethlehem..



594-20141215 (2)This bridge spanning the River Sligachan on the isle of Skye forms part of the only road to the west end of the island.  It is in the heart of the rugged Cuillins, and the Sligachan is a rough and wide river, so the road literally makes the way possible.

In the very early morning, while my house is dark and still, the flame of our Advent candle reminds me of Emmanuel, God with me, bridging impassable chaos and separation.  Advent, moving forward in the days to Christmas,  sings of bridges. By his coming, Christ did the unthinkable.  He linked the unlinkable.


“But you did the unthinkable.

You build one Bridge to us,

solid enough, long enough,

strong enough to stand all tides

for all time, linking

the unlinkable. ”  ~ Luci Shaw



Joy (2)This third Sunday in Advent we have lit the candle of Joy in the Advent wreath. Joy is a word we hear used a great deal in this season.  It is a favorite word in Christmas cards, tree ornaments, and decorations, much of the time proclaiming cheer or happiness. . Misuse could dull the edges of its meaning for me, but I  claim its numinous mystery once again in my Advent heart.  Here it has been used to repurpose a vintage picture frame by adding paint the colors of Christmas, whimsical design, and drawer pull handles that look like checkered tea towels.  it is a  happy combination.  But the center of Joy speaks more to the truth of the word. A single snowflake tells the story of infinite possibility, unique creation, beauty, and peace.

Joy is more than happiness. The Greek word is chairo, described by the ancient Greeks as “the culmination of being”  and “the good mood of the soul.” They said that it came only from God and came with wisdom and virtue. They believed its opposite was not sadness but fear.

That is why the Joy candle burns brightly tonight. That is why Joy to the World Is not just a hymn to be sung at Christmas.  Joy to my world.!  Joy to our world!





Called by Name


Lion of Judah

This week when I went to our pharmacy, at the prescription counter a young woman with black braids and a bright smile called out my name, saying “I thought that was you!”  Surprised, I grinned back – “You remembered my name!”  Knowing my name helped her know who I am. By calling my name, she connected with me in a very personal way.  Advent is a season of remembering not only the coming of Christ, but of recognition –  who he is and how we are connected.  Calling him by name shows that we remember and helps us receive all he is.  What names will you call as you call for Him to come?


                                           Judah’s Lion

Where does the lion, Judah’s golden lion walk?

Stealthy under star by winter night his soft paws stalk.

Out on lonely hills a cold wind howls and darkness scowls.

Shepherds shiver – danger in the dark! – some wild beast prowls.

Suddenly up springs a light; a voice rings like a bell.

“Joy, O men of Judah! Come and see! Noel! Noel!”

Where lies Judah’s longed-for lion? “Come and see the sight!

Fear not – your golden one is couched among the lambs tonight.”

~ Keith Patman, as quoted in A Widening Light, edited by Luci Shaw