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On the Possibility of Death in Advent

In the face of death we cannot simply speak in some fatalistic way, “God wills it”; but we must juxtapose it with the other reality, “God does not will it.” Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death. —Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Circular Letter to the Confessing Churches,” 1941   They say we all lose twenty-one grams at the exact moment of our death. Everyone. And how much... Read More

On The (Gritty) Birth of Christ

The birth of my son was a frighteningly joyous affair—and a long time coming. Like most parents-to-be, the nine months prior to his birth were full of exhaustion and elation, hope and fear, and more than a little nervous uncertainty. My wife labored constantly for forty-eight hours, the wonders of modern pharmaceuticals only giving her slight relief. When my son finally allowed himself to be pushed into the world through a sea of bodily fluids, we were both overjoyed, though... Read More

What Are You Waiting For? A Meditation on Isaiah 61:1–4, 8-11, Luke 1:53, and Luke 3:7–18

All the time John the Baptist spent waiting and preparing in the wilderness was in order to steep his identity in God.1 Even before John’s conception, God had already claimed his life; John’s primary identity would always be in relation to Jesus and in how John lived out his call to ministry. Someone like John is makes us uncomfortable because his very existence points us away from ourselves and toward the kingdom of God. We do not naturally and without some inner resistance... Read More

Removing the “Holy” from “the Holidays”

Christians have not always celebrated the Christmas holiday in this way—with canned music and decorations that begin long before the Thanksgiving turkey is stuffed and that end when the tree gets kicked to the curb on December 26. Christmas as we know it first began when our Christian ancestors in the Middle Ages took a perfectly good pagan observance of the winter solstice and wedged the birth of Jesus into it. And then it was the Victorians who created our modern, sometimes... Read More

Advent and Teddy

After dinner I get a call from one of the homies: towering and tattooed Teddy. While working as a jail chaplain with Tierra Nueva in Washington State’s Skagit Valley, I found myself being adopted as the pastor of a network of Chicano gang members. The first two times I met Teddy at these midnight gang meetings, he nearly assaulted me. He was drunk at the time, but that same boldness is what he would need in the coming years to break from the gang lifestyle. It is what he would... Read More

Do Not be Afraid: A Meditation on Matthew 1:18–25

“Tell me the story of when I was born.” This is a request that my adult son Evan invariably makes of me whenever we get together: “Tell me the story of when I was born,” he always says. And so I go through the whole story—the town and the house where we lived before his birth, the day or two leading up to that moment, and then the day of the birth. I tell him of the drive to the hospital, the helpful and not-so-helpful hospital staff, the length of my labor, the thoughts... Read More

The Introduction: A Meditation on Matthew 3:1–12

If you are old enough to remember Johnny Carson, you’ll remember that the late-night host’s show opened with an invariable liturgy: it always began with the announcement, “Welcome to the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” followed by a listing of the night’s special guests and then an enthusiastic “Heeere’s Johnny,” always intoned by the avuncular Ed McMahon. After his retirement Carson was asked the secret of his success, a question to which he promptly replied,... Read More

Pardon the Interruption: A Meditation on Luke 1:26-36

Inevitably, it always occurs at the most inconvenient time. You know what I mean. After a long, exhausting day at work, you sit down with a warm cup of tea to catch up on Gossip Girl, and that’s when it happens. “We interrupt your regularly scheduled program for this Special Emergency Alert!” You know right away that this is not going to be good news—after all, they would never interrupt Gossip Girl to let you know that Sally found her cat or that, though it has taken... Read More

A Peculiar Memory

Bertrand Russell, that great humanist of the past century, was fascinated with human memory. Our capacity to have events and feelings and notions seared in our minds in ways that we could recollect in detail and communicate from one generation to the next was the mark of our superiority above all else under the sun. Sure, Pavlov’s dogs could be trained to drool at the ringing of a bell, but we humans could remember how to recreate the bell itself, how to manufacture the dog... Read More

Waiting with Mary: A Meditation on Luke 1:26–38, 47–55

This essay is adapted from one published in J. Alexander Sider and Isaac S. Villegas, Presence: Giving and Receiving God (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011), 22–27. Used by permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. www.wipfandstock.com.   Advent is a season of waiting, of being drawn into the spiritual discipline of anticipation. Our spiritual director is Mary, the mother of Jesus, the one in whom we see revealed the patience of God. Mary waits for the Messiah, and in doing... Read More