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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Day of Atonement

Tonight at midnight people around the world will commemorate the passing of one year and celebrate the beginning of another.  Large crowds will gather in public spaces, friends will come together at parties, many will spend quiet evenings at home while counting down the last few seconds of 2014 and reveling in the first moments of 2015.

Looking back on the past year, some people will see it as the best ever, filled with accomplishment and purpose. Others will see a year of disappointment and regret.  Regardless of our perspective one thing is true for all, it is past.  There is also another truth - the perspective with which we look back is probably the one through which we see the future.   That is unless we change our perspective.

The beauty of setting aside a day for reflection on the past and contemplation of the future is it gives us the opportunity to change.   Most religions have days set aside for rituals of ending and beginning, of cleansing, repentance, and atonement.   The word "repent" means changing perspective, a change of heart.  This is change that goes far deeper than the resolutions and intentions of our diaries and journals.

In its own way New Year's Eve is a global day of clensing and atonement, a day of death and resurrection, a day of darkness and enlightenment.  We stand in a threshold of time and take one last look back, however long or brief, and step into the future.  And then we do it again tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and the..."

Every New Year's Eve I remember a bit of widsom from my late father-in-law who at some point during the day or evening of Dec. 31 would say, "If there is anything you want to do this year, you better get it done quickly."  His was a reminder of not only the fleeting nature of time, but also of the importance of acting in the moment, and making the most of each and every Day (of Atonement).

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas (Eve)!

Below is an excerpt from a longer essay entiled "The Last Supper."   It says a lot about how I have and continue to celebrate Christmas Eve.  For me it is a day of merriment as well as melancholy!

"...I do remember some of the suppers, especially those on Christmas Eve.  That was my daddy’s birthday, December 24, when we always had, and continue to have, our family Christmas gathering.  Some of my earliest memories are of the wider Walton family; grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, gathering at the old home place.   The air was filled with the smell of oyster stew, country fried steak, turkey and cedar boughs; accompanied by loud conversation and laughter.  Presents were piled higher than me under a fresh cut cedar tree that reached the ceiling.  I remember being confused because everybody called my daddy by the family nickname that I heard once a year, “Bub.”  It surprised me that he responded to it so naturally.  Looking back on it now, I think part of the genuine comfort I felt was in seeing him be a brother rather than a daddy or husband.  He loved Christmas Eve.  I did too.

When my Papa Walton died and my sisters, brother and I grew older, we began to have our Christmas Eve / Birthday celebration at our house with just our immediate family.  Some of it was the same.  There was still oyster stew, country fried steak, and turkey.  The presents weren’t piled quite as high, or else I had grown taller.  However, there was nobody there to call him “Bub.”  I imagine he missed that.

After that last supper, Christmas Eve suppers were never the same.  We even gave up on the oyster stew and country fried steak.  It’s turkey, ham or other things now.  There are still a lot of presents, loud conversation, and laughter.  One thing we can always count on is that somewhere during the evening, someone always manages to ask, “How old would Daddy have been this year?”   The profound sadness in the question is that now he would now be so old that he probably would have died by now anyway."

However, whenever, and with whomever you celebrate Christmas or Christmas Eve, my hope for you it that your celebration is filled with joy.    

Merry Christmas (Eve)!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Last Sunday in our congregation we had a service of Lessons and Carols.  Before the service began I asked the readers did thay have any questions and the woman reading the lesson of The Annunciation said, "I'm ready to enunciate the The Annunciation."  She was closer to the truth with her quip than I think she realized.

Actually he story of The Annunciation as told in the Gospel of Luke  (Luke 1:26-56) is a clear "enunciation" of the purpose and message of Christmas, i.e. The Gospel.  In this rather strange story of two women, one elderly and barren and the other young and innocent, an angel visits them both and tells them they are pregnant and that the babies they grow and carry in their wombs will fulfill ancient promises of God's Presence, Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy for all people.

What is also unmistakenably clear is that these promises are fraught with the burden of becoming real in the anxieties, doubts, and vulnerability of human stories like those of Abraham, David, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.  The "Gospel" is enunciated in stories of life and death so real and so common that they are shared by all people of all times, until it comes our time to speak clearly in our lives, with sharp diction and pure tone those same promises of Presence, Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy for all people. 

Christmas reminds all of us that each and every moment is our turn to enunciate along with Mary, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."  Then we, like her, become "God Bearers!"

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


I don't know about you, but when I was a child the longest weeks of every year were the first three weeks of December.   It seemed like Christmas would never come!  The anticipation of Christmas morning and discovering what Santa would bring was nearly unbearable.

Of course that was before Christmas beginning as soon as, or even before, "Trick or Treat" fades from our ears.   And back when I was a child there were no such things as shopping on Thanksgiving or "Black Friday."  (why is it called "black" anyway?)  Christmas was all about Santa, except for the carols, cantatas, and pageants at church which were usually well over and done by mid-December.  In our Southern Baptist congregation there were no Christmas Eve candlelight services, much less Christmas Day worship.  "Advent" wasn't even in my vocabulary until in my thirties I discovered I was a Presbyterian.

My early understanting of Advent was that it was all about anticipation and waiting for the birth of Jesus.  Then I encountered a little phrase that shifted that perception, "waiting for one who has already come."  In recent years, I have shifted my perspective even more by giving up on the "waiting" part and focusing more and more on "already come."  Advent, has become for me a wonder-filled time of year to contemplate and experience the here and now Presence of God not only in the scriptures, stories, people and customs of the Christian Faith Tradition, but in all Creation.

Don't get me wrong.  I still anticipate Christmas and enjoy carols, cantatas, pageants, trees, lights, ornaments, presents, parties, and yes Santa!   What's different now is that through the years I have learned to appreciate the deep wonder and truth in The Christmas Story of the birth of Jesus and how it is so real and earthy and at the same time mysterious, mythical and even magical, and how so many people of different times and cultures have experienced this same wonder and truth in their time, place, and traditions.  

As a seasoned adult, the weeks (four instead of three) before Christmas go by faster than ever, and I find myself wishing they were longer. You might even say that when it comes to Advent and Christmas I'm a lot like that line from the old Bob Dylan song - "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

I hope you're having a good Advent, or whatever you wish to call it.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The "Season"

Yup, it's that time of year!  Just last night in a conversation with several people I said, "As soon as Thanksgiving is over the rest of the year seems like a blurr."

Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not a Scrooge.  I really do enjoy the "holiday season" even though it does get kind of hectic and over commercialized. But I can always make choices to slow down and not get caught up in the shopping frenzy, and also selectively participate in the madness.

I pretty much keep my December celebrations to Advent, Christmas, and New Year's Eve.  But, did you know that there are over 40 religious and cultural festivals and holidays observed around the world in December alone?

Something about this time of year brings out the introspective and extroverted nature of people. In my part of the world, maybe it's the long nights and short days that force us inside both literally, intellectually and emotionally, while at the same time motivating us to bring light into our lives with fires, candles, strings of electric lights, and parties.

Whether we are Christian celebrating Christmas, Jewish - Hanukkah, Pan-African - Kwanzaa, or even Seinfeld geeks celebrating Festivus, perhaps one of the best things for all of us is to enter the "season" with wide eyes, open minds, and grateful hearts, realizing we all share a common human bond:  the need to contemplate and celebrate who we are and what we believe.

So, here we go - Happy Holidays!