Why Christms Eve is the Holiest Night of the Year

I confess that most of the time I am a horrible believer.  I doubt things all the time.  Like St. Thomas, I am a “wet-paint” kind of guy–I need  tosee the proof in order to fully grasp what I’m being asked to believe.  It’s not a great characteristic for a preacher, I know.  I try my hardest to apply reason to my belief (of all the four parts of the Wesleyan quadrilateral, this is my favorite one), but reason doesn’t always play in my favor.  What about the concept of a child being born to a virgin?  How could God become human, and how could Jesus be both fully human and fully divine at the same time?  These (and other) questions haunt me, and as a preacher/teacher/pastor/chaplain, when someone comes to me and admits that they have these same doubts, it brings up two feelings within me:

1.  Whew!  I’m glad I’m not the only one!

2.  What an honor to be asked to accompany a fellow doubter/believer on this journey.

Mostly, I am able to reconcile my doubts with the fact that faith is a gift, and a great mystery, and that there are those within the faith comunity who are able to believe fully what I can neither believe nor fully comprehend (thanks to Nadia Bolz-Weber for that little gem!)  I am comfortable living with a little bit of ambiguity in my faith, and with some measure of doubt, as long as I can honestly say that I believe in God, and that Jesus is my savior and Lord, which I believe I can say.  This ambiguity, I believe, binds me with the great majority of my fellow Christians throughout the history of the faith, even though my admission of this ambiguity once led a stranger to tell me that she would pray that I never became a minister.

Something happens at Christmas, though–something that I can only describe as a miracle.  At Christmas, and particularly on Christmas Eve, something happens to me–maybe it’s the candlelight and the soothing familiar carols, maybe it’s hearing the words of the story that I’ve heard hundreds of times before, maybe it’s an outright work of the Holy Spirit.  Whatever it is, the effect is real and palpable.  To put it succinctly, I believe.  Not in the academic sense, where I believe that the essence of the story is true even if the words on the page don’t accurately reflect the reality of what happened at Jesus’ birth.  When I say that I believe, what I mean is that in that moment, usually in the church, surrouded by my fellow candle-toting Christians, I believe!

Forgetting the historical and source criticism I have learned, forsaking the theological constructs I have built up to protect my healthy sense of skepticism, and laying aside the burdens of years of reason, in that simple fleeting moment, I believe.  This belief is usually accompanied by tears–inexplicable floods of tears that would rival those of the ancient mystics, who would often sit through the Mass openly weeping.  These tears often made it difficult to get through Christmas Eve as a pastor.  It is much easier now when I am no longer in charge of things, and can experience the delicious flood of belief in the relative privacy of the third pew of the center section of the Centrum.  In that moment, I am like Scrooge, freed from the shackles of his money-counting for the first time, “as giddy as a schoolboy,” and my heart overflows with the firm belief that:

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son,
who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary…

My epiphany of pure belief is typically brief, and will sometimes last as long as until the morning, especially if I have a Christmas Day service I can attend.  I can occasionally recall this gift at other times during the year, particularly during Holy Week and Easter, but for me, it has always been most powerful on Christmas Eve.  What makes that night so magical?  I know in my mind that this isn’t even the actual date of Jesus’ birth.  But there is something about the recollection of God’s coming among us–Emmanuel–that brings it out of me every single time.  And I am most grateful for that, because it gives me hope that there will be a time–even if it is not until I reach the life that waits for me beyond this life–when I will be given the full gift of faith (or, more accurately, that I will be able to accept faith fully)–and I will be able to weep and rejoice at all times.  Until that time comes, there is always Christmas Eve, and for now, that is enough.

May God bless you with the gift of faith this Christmas,


“Bring Good News, Bind up the Brokenhearted, Proclaim Liberty and the Year of the Lord’s Favor” (A Meditation on Isaiah 61:1-3)

Bring Good News

how badly we need
to hear the good news today–
news of hope and peace

Bind Up the Brokenhearted

bind up the broken,
wounded warriors of earth
come,  be healed, seek peace

Proclaim Liberty

what we call freedom
based on our human actions
is not free at all

true liberty, then,
is peace with all creation,
and the Creator

The Year of the Lord’s Favor

this could be the year
or, perhaps it was last year,
did you take notice?

look for God’s favor
not in church or government,
but in humble hearts

An Order for Prayer During Finals Week (Re-Post from December 2012)

I first put this up on the blog during finals week of my first semester at ONU, December 2012.  It still rings pretty true today.  If you like this sort of thing, feel free to use and distribute widely!



An Order of Prayer During Final Exams

O Lord, open our minds.
And our pens shall show forth knowledge and praise.

The Collect (In unison)
Almighty God, giver of all Knowledge and Wisdom,
we have come to a place where our knowledge must be tested
to prove that we have learned all we can.
Grant us the strength to endure long essay questions,
the clear thinking to tackle tough problems and formulae,
and the wisdom to rest between periods of intense activity.
As you led the people of Israel through the desert, show us a way
through this time of academic intensity,
that we may emerge on the other side, singing and dancing
your praises, all the days of our lives.
Through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 34
I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
   let the humble hear and be glad.
O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.
I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
   and delivered me from all my fears.
Look to him, and be radiant;
so your faces shall never be ashamed.
This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
   and was saved from every trouble.
The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
O taste and see that the Lord is good;
   happy are those who take refuge in him.
O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
The young lions suffer want and hunger,
   but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
Which of you desires life,
   and covets many days to enjoy good?
Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
Depart from evil, and do good;
   seek peace, and pursue it.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
   to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
   and saves the crushed in spirit.
Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
He keeps all their bones;
   not one of them will be broken.
Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
   none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

The Song of Zechariah
Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear,
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 4:1-13 (Jesus is Tested by Satan)

The Word of God for the people of God.
Thanks be to God.


Together, let us pray:
For those who have exams in subjects they love, related to their major…
For those who have exams in subjects they loathe, unrelated to their interests..
For unfinished or poorly finished work…
For the grace to accept when we have completed our tasks…
For the strength to carry on and do what needs to be done…
For professors and instructors, who must grade our exams and papers…
For our families and friends, and stresses they may be going through…
For those who are not privileged enough to have the opportunity to attend college or university…
For the Church and the World…

Lord’s Prayer

Go now in peace, and as you learn more and more, may you be blessed to know that you understand less and less, and be comfortable knowing that God is in it all.  And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.  Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


Gentle Mother who treads upon the heads of serpents,
we look to you when serpents abound.
You, who welcomed the One into your womb,
who brought Salvation in to the world,
who embraced the unknown and terrifying God–

We look to you when serpents abound,
when governments fail,
when terror strikes.

We look to you to remind us
of the One who saves us,
of the One who doesn’t care
about origins or back stories,
who calls us all.

We see your banner waving,
we watch, as the worshippers bow,
doing what the ancestors have done,
honoring the past,
looking to the future.

We seek your consolation,
we ask for your guidance,
we need your snake-trampling foot
to come among us once again.

As we await the coming of Him,
your Son and Holy God,
we look to you,
because you are accessible,
and we can relate

standing before Him some day,
we are made whole.

O, John! (A Meditation on Mark 1:1-8)

O, John!

Harbinger of God,
wild voice of Jordan,
singing a new and strange song,
which lyrics,
yet being written,
speak of strange (terrible!)
and wonderful things.

O, John!

Refresh us,
with your bath of righteousness,
water flowing,
entering into the cracks
and crevices
of our lives.

O, John!

You never tire
of your relentless call–
“Repent! Be made new!”
Something we’ve not heard
nor since,
in any real way.

O, John!

O, baptizer!

O, voice in the wilderness!

Wild man,
who serves a wild God,
among a people untamed,
and unashamed–

show us the One.

When Righteousness and Justice Kiss (A Meditation on Psalm 85:10-11)

when Righteousness
and Justice

how sweet the embrace.

how gentle the caress.

how lovely the moment
when we,
who call ourselves “righteous”
realize that we need justice,
and those who seek justice
realize that we need to be made right.

when Righteousness
and Justice

Faithfulness will spring forth,
fresh from new-watered ground,
and will stand tall,



and we will know,
in that kiss,
the sum total of Love

and the awe-inspiring effects
of Grace.

“A Voice Cries Out…” (A Meditation on Isaiah 40:3-7)

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness, prepare a way…”

Or, read this way–

A voice cries out in the wilderness,
“Prepare a way…”

One calls from the center,
that we might go to the margins

The other, from the margins,
that we might prepare the center

One voice reminds us to move,
the other moves us to be reminded,
the way must be prepared,
the valleys lifted up,
the stones removed from pathways
where the King will tread.

One voice,
joined by many,
marginalized, or centralized,
always calling,
always seeking,
always reminding
“The King is coming!”
“The King is here!”
“Behold, the King!”
“The King has arisen!”

Now, it is for us
to follow that King,
to travel our own valleys,
pathways winding and turning,
narrowly avoiding destruction,
until we come to the place
where we find The Way
has been prepared.

“So That You are Not Lacking…” (A Meditation on 1 Corinthians 1:3-9)

These gifts we receive
are not “gifts” in the traditional sense
of the word.

A gift should be anticipated,
circled in the catalog months ago,
waiting every day
for the mailman to show up
Up, and up, and up…
transcendent and transformed
by a long-awaited surprise.

But these gifts–
these gifts mean business!

Prophets, speak a word,
but in speaking, you may lose our support.
Teachers, give us knowledge,
but not so much that we begin to change.
Preachers, tell out the Good News,
as long as it’s the “good news” we want.

These gifts from God
are not so much gifts, as they are a charge–
to change the world,
to challenge our expectations,
to choose a pathway
and to walk there,
all the way.

God is faithful!
(Of this I am sure.)
And the faithfulness of God
will sustain.

“Give Ear, O Shepherd of Israel…” (A Meditation on Psalm 80)

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel…”
So many declaratives!
Do this, God,
do that…
Shine forth,
stir up,

Our lives are lived in declarative sentences.

Life sentences that are lived declaratively,

O God!
Restore us,
see us,

Your flock awaits,
your people listen,
in silence,
in longing,
in peaceful advent of surrender.

Shepherd, give ear to us!
Give life to us!
and we will receive.