Posted in advent, Advent devotions, Devotions

2020 Advent devotion: She gave birth

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 19, 2020. Read Luke 2:7 and Psalm 84.

“She gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

This is it. It’s the big moment. After a stunning annunciation, nine months of pregnancy and a trip to Bethlehem, Mary gives birth to the Spirit-filled Son of God, who is destined to assume the throne of David, reigning over a kingdom that will no end. Mary has contractions, her water breaks, the head appears, a baby cries, the cord is cut, the infant is cleaned up and swaddled. Just like so many other babies, Christ the Savior is born.

There are so many things that can go wrong throughout pregnancy and birth. In our world, it involves prenatal vitamins, doctor appointments, ultrasounds, blood tests and heart-rate monitoring. High-risk pregnancy? There’s even more.

A lot of things go right, too. A tiny heart begins to beat. Internal organs develop. Tiny fingers and toes grow, including unique fingerprints and footprints. Hair grows. The unborn child moves and stretches, impatiently awaiting a birthday! Knit together in a mother’s womb, each child is fearfully and wonderfully made!

That tiny voice once spoke the universe into existence. Those tiny hands once formed the man from the dust. Those tiny feet would soon leave footprints everywhere from Galilee to Calvary. Those little fingers would one day open eyes to see, ears to hear and mouths to speak. So many lives will be changed because Mary gave birth to her firstborn son, Jesus the Christ.

This year, Christmas seems to be the destination. Liturgically, we reach the end of four weeks of Advent. Commercially, we’re wrapping up a longer-than-ever two-months of decorating and shopping. Physically we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of a long year of distancing and quarantine.

Don’t forget that Christmas is actually the beginning. Soon, people would begin to hear Jesus teach with authority. They would begin to see his power as he commanded the demons, the wind and the waves. They would begin to witness his compassion for the harassed and hurting. They would begin to understand that he came to die and rise again. Christmas would indeed be the beginning of a new creation for all who embraced Jesus as the Christ.

There were no baby showers. No gender reveal celebrations. No cute nursery decorations. No car seat to install. No maternity (or paternity) leave.

Just a birth. Just a son. But what a gift! And what a Savior!

Lord, don’t ever let me forget the miracle and wonder of birth and especially your birth. Amen.

Posted in church, Connecticut, Ministry

Thirty-three

My son turns thirty-three next week. What do I remember about being thirty-three?

Wow, it’s a stretch. That was 1990. We were living in Connecticut, where I had received my first call as pastor of a small rural church, Prince of Peace, in Coventry, about an hour east of Hartford. Our kids, four and three, were attending the preschool. We had two labs, Gabriel and Rachel, yellow and chocolate, respectively. A big parsonage, probably 3,000 sq. ft. on four acres of land next door to the church. No AC. Only really got hot about 2 weeks each summer. I’m sure my wife had started her nursing classes at UConn by then.

The world wide web was brand new in 1990. No internet for us. No cell phones. No cable TV. We got all our news from TV and the Hartford Courant. Other than the bible, I only had a books I accumulated at seminary for my sermon and bible class preparation. What a contrast with the almost infinite resources available to me now!

I had a computer that I used for word processing, with a 5-1/4″ floppy drive, that I got from my brother, I think. I had a dot matrix printer, too. The church had a stencil duplicator to make weekly worship folders and monthly newsletters. We didn’t have to make too many though. About seventy gathered for worship each week.

I remember getting up very early on a Sunday morning and walking across the yard to the church, where I would practice my sermon a number of times. I would then come back home to help get everyone ready for church at 9:00, followed by bible class and Sunday School at 10:30. I think I taught a midweek bible class, too, but I can’t remember.

It was a very stable community. Not too many people moved to Coventry. Occasional visitors at church. New families joined from time to time. I still remember many of the families who welcomed us and helped me learn how to be a pastor those first few years: Jeram, Sans, Thurber, Garay, Dollock, Ausberger, Hamernik.

I still did quite a bit of running back then, but didn’t race much. I remember hitting softballs out into the yard for the labs to chase. I always wore out before they did. We let them run wherever. When I whistled in the evening, you could see them coming through the field from a half mile away. We had two cats for a while, Fred and Ginger, who also spent a lot of time outside. I’d yell, “Kittykittykittykittykittykitty” and they would come scrambling in from a tree.

We burned a lot of wood in a wood burning stove in the winter. I’d get people to bring over parts of fallen oak trees, and I would split and stack it in the summer time. I absolutely loved swinging the axe through those logs.

The kids and I would often walk down the road where a very small farm had goats and horses near the fence that we could pet. A short drive would bring us to the UConn barns, where we would walk through and visit cows, goats, sheep and horses.

I don’t know if I have any journals from back then. I have to rummage through the box of notebooks I have at church. I don’t even remember if or how much I was journaling at that time. Not as much as I do now. The memories are mostly in my head and in our photographs. But if I find some, I’ll let you know.

Posted in Grace, Life

Happy birthday, Dad!

Just got off the phone with my dad, who turned 86 today. He’s doing great, the snow’s all melted in Philadelphia, his crocuses are up and beautiful, and baseball season is just around the corner. Life is good.

The problem with living that long is that you outlive a lot of people. My mom’s already been gone for five years, he’s outlived all his brothers and sisters, many of his good friends from church and a lot of neighbors. He’s still got a good church family, a few of my cousins to keep an eye on him, and the Phillies who have been very worth watching these last few years.

My brother and I send him sermons and he really likes that. When you have a CD to listen to, you can go back and listen to the parts you didn’t understand the first time. He never got to hear me preach that much over the years, so this is something he really enjoys. Adam is taking his first preaching class at the seminary, so I’ll have him preach this summer, and then my dad can hear yet another generation in the pulpit. That will be cool. Not just because I can get a day off, but because I have a feeling Adam is going to be very good in the pulpit. That’s my unbiased, objective opinion, of course.