Category Archives: Holy Days

A Christmas Prayer

During Advent this year I have been working through a devotional resource called The Promised One published online by Christianity Today. The reading for Sunday, December 18 contained this line that has stayed with me, “Zechariah and Elizabeth’s story offers us perspective on our own seasons of waiting. We’re reminded that there’s no expiration date on our prayers.

I have always found the inclusion of the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s parents, in Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:5-24, 57-80) to be interesting. There are a couple of Old Testament prototypes that foreshadow their story. Abraham and Sarah, as well as Hannah come to mind. These too were folks who knew what it was to wait in prayer. The specific prayer they had on their hearts, like the prayers of Zechariah and Elizabeth, and many couples yet today; was the prayer for a baby. They longed to conceive and become parents, but were hindered in those efforts due to some cause of infertility. Scripture often pronounces it much more pointedly, stating but “Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.” Have you ever noticed in these instances that it’s usually the woman who is blamed and named as barren? Just saying! Then, to add insult to injury, there’s that comment about their age! It reminds me of trips to the doctor in recent years when his response began “well, at your age”.

But let’s come back to the topic of prayer, and specifically prayer waiting. This line from the devotion, “there’s no expiration date on our prayers” is one that should offer every long suffering prayer warrior hope. Keep praying. Whatever it may be that you are praying about, keep praying.

What lies behind this admonition? Do we “keep praying” in the belief that our prayer will one day be answered as we hope? I’m not sure that’s the rationale. Yes, it worked out for Zechariah and Elizabeth in that their prayer for a baby was finally answered. But there are so many other couples who’ve struggled with infertility that have not had that prayer answered in the same way. So, the admonition to keep praying may not be because prayer will be answered in the way we’ve prescribed, but that prayer will be answered. Prayer will be answered in the way God determines. That may align with our hopes. God may be moved in that direction. But the prayer might also be answered in a different way, an unexpected way.

I suspect the admonition to “keep praying”, as a response to there being no expiration date on our prayers, is an acknowledgement that God’s time is so often not our time. This is where I lift up those Greek words for “time” that we’ve heard, or used, in a sermon: “chronos” and “kairos”. One word speaks to chronology, the sequential measurement of time, as with a calendar; the other speaks to the fullness of time, or God’s time and timing, as with perfect timing or the right time.

The answer to Zechariah and Elizabeth’s prayer, after untold years of praying and maybe being on the verge of giving up, came in the fullness of time as the incarnation came about. Their unexpired prayer was in the ears and on the heart of God as other events aligned in a perfect timing kind of way. John would come as the forerunner of Christ, to prepare the way. The prayers of this faithful couple would come to fruition in ways they’d never imagined. Zechariahs’ temple discovery was that God hears prayers, and God has a long memory when it comes to those prayers.

This reminds me of an experience I had more than once in pastoral ministry alongside the prayers of a faithful spouse, most often a wife, who had spent a lifetime of marriage praying her husband would come to know the Lord. Day in and day out, Sunday in and Sunday out, those prayers were lifted up as she kept her daily practices of faith, and took the children to worship, seated alone without her mate. Perchance he would join her at Easter or Christmas, but there was no pretense of a new pattern, until for some reason there was. I can recall two such men, husbands both who had been prayed over faithfully by believing wives, and others they’d conscripted to pray, who finally gave their hearts to Christ and followed in a profession of faith through baptism. No one was more overjoyed than those faithful praying spouses! They had kept praying, believing that there is no expiration date on a prayer.

At Christmas I’ve often felt led to pray for our world, our nation, and other big items in a special way. I guess it harkens back to the angel’s announcement of “peace on earth and goodwill toward humankind”. This year’s Christmas prayer will include some oft repeated prayers of mine from the past year and years. I pray, for example, for peace in Europe, specifically for the people of Ukraine; but also for peace in Myanmar, and in Haiti and all other parts of the globe where war and violence reign. I pray for a more peaceful nation and homeland, where differences in opinion and outlook are not allowed to fester and divide, where statesmanship will again replace partisanship. I pray for migrant people, many on the move to flee violence, to find peace and know a better life. I pray for mercy from the lands where they go, the shores on which they arrive. I pray for health for all, and that we not weaponize or politicize efforts at healthcare, and that their be greater equity for all people to gain access to it. I pray for congregations to be united and at peace, working together in the cause of Christ’s kingdom. I pray for missionaries who take the good news next door, across the state, nation and globe. I pray for pastors who preach, counsel, guide and work among disciples of Jesus – may they be encouraged in their work, and renewed in their energy. And I pray for families who are apart, that they may be together in-person if possible, and through technology if not, or in spirit at the very least.

I pray these prayers, and invite you to add yours, in the conviction that all prayers are heard, and that no prayers have an expiration date. Merry Christmas. What are you waiting in prayer for this year?

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Matthew’s version of Ancestry.com

In the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we encounter a genealogy list. It’s the lineage of Jesus, going back 42 generations. It is listed in three groups of fourteen (Jesus to the Exile, the Exile to King David, and David to Abraham). Ho hum, you might think, as you stumble across all these names; especially if genealogy is not your thing. But let me invite you to linger with this list for a moment. Much as those who dive into Ancestry.com often discover hidden truths, or those who have swabbed their cheek and sent in a “23 and Me” DNA sample learn unknown aspects of their heritage; sitting with Matthew’s version of Jesus’ family tree has its own lessons to reveal.

In addition to such high caliber hall of fame type ancestral names (think Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David and Hezekiah), there appear the names of five women in Jesus’ genealogy. Not only would it have been uncommon for women to be listed in a patriarchal society, but why the inclusion of these particular women in a male driven system of reporting? What is it that Matthew wants us to know and reflect on as we read names like Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (listed simply as Uriah’s wife), and Mary?

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The Wonder of Waiting

Meanwhile the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. – Luke 1:21 NRSV

I have met very few people who enjoy waiting. Yet, here we are again in the season of Advent, with one of it’s major themes being “waiting”. We await the advent of King Jesus. Wait a minute, you may think, hasn’t Jesus already come? Isn’t Christmas the celebration of his birth? His incarnate arrival on earth?

Yes, but of course this is true. Yet, Advent is also about our wait for the return of King Jesus. We await his second coming, even as we remember and celebrate the advent (or arrival) of his first coming. We wait for the consummation of the age. We wait for the kingdom of God, inaugurated in Jesus’ first coming, to fully arrive in his next coming. Come, King Jesus! How we need you today.

As this Advent season takes hold I have been discovering a new understanding of what it means to wait. You see, I’m in a liminal season myself. It’s a time of new beginnings and transitions professionally and personally. While the new chapter of ministry has begun and continues to unfold with all kinds of new discoveries, challenges and opportunities; it feels like the personal transition is a bit delayed. I’ve already begun this new life among Baptists in the Dakotas, but my wife and household have yet to arrive. This was all by design, a choice we made as my beginning took place alongside the beginning of another academic year for my teacher spouse. Knowing her to be the caring and considerate professional she is, I didn’t want her to have to jump ship mid-year on the lively group of first graders she was just beginning to round into form. So, we wait. I wait. What has already begun is not yet fully realized. What has started will one day be continued, be complete – our move, the relocation of our household and partnership to the same location of shared experience yet again.

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When Freedom Rings

Across horizons of time and land,
responding to justice’s demand,
comes a clarion call for liberty – when freedom rings.

Unfettered chains, repurposed hearts,
it comes at times in fits and starts,
as if a fragile breaking forth – when freedom rings.

Rehearsed in cadences of speech,
brass, woodwind and percussion reach,
to proclaim an overture of peace – when freedom rings.

People going to the polls,
making votes and opinions known,
accepting outcomes, peacefully – when freedom rings.

Quiet classrooms – or chaotic ones,
minus the threat of unwanted guns,
teachers trusted with our young – when freedom rings.

Gold and blue flags wave in summer breeze,
sunflowers unfold toward sunlit ease,
symbols of hope amid war’s disease – when freedom rings.

Opposites consider peace,
first steps hard made by each,
negotiated, bargained and agreed – when freedom rings.

Sight beyond barriers,
determined to become carriers,
of better ways, days and outcomes – when freedom rings.

Redemption won at Calvary,
welcomed by the Highest King,
who the Son sets free is free indeed – when freedom rings.

Rest for all – earth, sky and sea,
God’s creation on tiptoe will be,
as the bells begin to toll – when freedom rings.


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Mirage Meanderings

According to Merriam-Webster a “mirage” is “an optical effect that is sometimes seen at sea, in the desert, or over hot pavement.” It may have the appearance of a pool of water, but it is an illusory or unattainable reality. It also happens to be the name Mitsubishi gave its compact hatchback – an economy car if ever one was made – which I recently drove on vacation over 1500 miles in the great American West.

Our trip took us from Denver, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona along a circuitous route that passed through Alamosa, CO; Moab, UT; Williams, Flagstaff and Sedona AZ. Along the way we hiked, explored and photographed five national parks, a national monument, a couple of tourist traps, two of America’s metropolitan centers, and some state and local municipal parks. We spent time with family & friends and had plenty of windshield time to reflect.

As I coaxed the aforementioned Mirage up and over mountain passes, through valleys, forests and deserts, even managing once or twice to pass slower traffic; I kept coming back to the irony of its name in connection with it’s performance. While it had the “illusory” appearance of a car, you had to make an appointment with the accelerator to get up to speed. Long term comfort was “unattainable” given they way it hugged the pavement, revealing each and every crack, crevasse, seal, bump, alteration and pothole. Loading luggage was equivalent to working a jigsaw puzzle, as it only fit in one particular configuration. There was plenty of time for thinking with road noise making conversation challenging. And more than once we had a hard time locating where we had parked the thing, given it’s knack for disappearing between larger vehicles.

Please do not get me wrong. This first world problem of transportation did not inhibit our trip or in any lasting way make us suffer. We made all our planned connections, saw the destinations we had counted on, and rediscovered the beauty and wonder of our nation. It was a wonderful vacation on which the Mirage became something we laughed about. Sometimes it even surprised us, proving advantageous when it came to parking in crowded lots and prompting a smile at the gas pump.

In today’s hectic and turbulent world, a vacation can be as illusory or unattainable for some as a mirage. Our ten plus days in the West and Southwest afforded a disengagement from the news as well as the responsibilities of daily life. I disciplined myself not to check work email, to mostly stay away from news sources, and shun social media. Still, the harsh and horrid scenes of the war in Ukraine, and mass shooting in Uvalde came forth. When, if ever, might those individuals find days of extended leisure, travel, or disengagement from life’s hard truths? Such dreams must seem a mirage.

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