Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Auld Lang Syne, my friends...

Farewell, 2008...

"Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
- Frederick Buechner

May you all measure your life in love, joy,hope and peace.

Love and blessings from our home to yours,
Mandy, Matt, Jackson, Cooper and Edgar Flemming

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

"On the fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...


1. Staying up until 3:30 am working on nonsense (i.e. blogging) because it's the most time you've had in your house, unfettered and unneeded by anyone else in what might be weeks.

2. Being awakened at 6:50 a.m. and trying to convince 2 year old and 4 year old that it's really not wake up time yet and everyone needs to go back to sleep. Foolishly whisper the word "breakfast... mrphle... later" in hopes that they will take the hint and nod off for a few days. Oddly, this encourages them to begin shouting for breakfast sooner rather than later. Cave.

3. Once again, cramming too much work into too little time in hopes that there will, someday, be a wrinkle in the fabric of the time-space continuum and a bonus 20 minutes will appear on your watch. Feel mystifyed when this doesn't happen.

4. In the balmy afternoon, taking the children on a walk down our street to the dead-end where a trail leads to Dearborne Park.
Okay - this was actually a great idea, but it has three bad idea sub-categories:
a. Allowing oldest boy to wear beloved Buzz Lightyear costume on said walk. With crocs. And no socks. (What could possibly go wrong?!)
b. Encouraging both oldest and youngest boy to come out and play on the large rock in the middle of a pretty fancy creek, so as to float leaf boats down the current.
c. Not having dry clothes on hand for both boys when they, inevitably, fall down on large, slippery rock and flail about in the 1/8" of water that has rendered their balance unattainable and their clothes unrecognizable.

5. Making Huevos Rancheros without any frijoles. The fried eggs were delicious, but somehow the "whole wheat tortilla/refried pinto bean/conspicuous-in-its-absence salsa" combination was not a resounding success.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's episode when Mandy visits her college roommate and suitemates with their collective NINE CHILDREN (ages five and under) in tow. Hilarity ensues!

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me...

A blog post!

Friends and loved ones... the day of Christmas has come and gone, but I am still reveling in the season that is with us. As my dear friend, Kara, commented in her sermon yesterday, Christmas is not an episode - it's an ongoing event. And, as one who frantically scrambles to get it all together by Christmas morning, I'm glad to have these days to revel in the fact that though the Christ child has been born and laid in a Manger, God is still with us and we can still sit back and relax just a little before the Wise Men come to chase us back to work.

The days and weeks leading up to Christmas were for me as they were for you - filled with too much. Too much awake time, too much preparing, too much stress over what was and wasn't getting done. For some reason, I am drawn like a lemming to a cliff to preach on the Sunday before Christmas. In years past, this has been somewhat catastrophic for my last-minute planning self, and the quick turn-around between 3-services-on-Christmas-Eve-wake-up-PRESENTS!-wait-there's-more-church-AAAAAAA has been too much. But this year, there was a slight and merciful gap between Sunday, Dec. 21 and WEDNESDAY, Dec. 24. I could not have been more grateful. I had two whole days to wrap, finalize presents, bake, and finish up some work stuff before lifting my candle high and singing the final stanza of "Silent Night."

You can see it coming, can't you?

Sunday, after worship, I headed home after Jackon's final dress rehearsal for the Los Posadas pageant, in which he played the world's most compliant and brilliant sheep. He behaved. He "baa"-ed on cue. He wore a croched hat with floppy ears. He was doe-eyed and lovely. But more on that to come. Once arriving home, I crashed. After days and weeks of wonderful parties and celebrations of all kinds, meeting Matt's colleagues and friends, deepening friendships with St. Markers, I was completely spent. I just needed the afternoon to sleep.

I woke up at 7:00 p.m.

On Monday, it hit me. Something was coming. I stayed home to wrap, rest, clean, and apparently wait for things to improve. And, they did. By evening, I was feeling a little better and terribly optimistic about all there was left to do before the morrow. Ah, the morrow.

You see, on that morrow, I awoke with the awareness that my throat was now playing host to a thousand colonae of the streptococcal bacteria, who were apparently celebrating the holidays by aiming their creme brulee torches at my vocal cords. Lovely.

I am not one to complain about pain or sickness, or ... childbirth, or whatever. But this was too much. I was brought to my knees and begged for drugs. Matt got me to the nearest clinic, and within seconds of walking through their doors, they swabbed my throat, diagnosed me, injected me with steroids, and gave me lidocaine to gargle. Unfortunately, some of it got on my lips, so any attempt to communicate turned me into a drooling, sloppy mess. Sexy, no? I walked out with a prescription for a festive holiday cocktail: more steroids, antibiotics, pain relievers. Strained with a lemon and shaken with ice, it's the perfect way to ring in the new year.

Needless to say, my two extra days of prep were robbed from me by the Colonists in my Throat. Jerks. I hate to be inhospitable, but really - they could have called first. This was so not a good time for me.

We wound up sending my mom and the boys to a hotel for the night, since the PA warned that I was super-contagious, and if you want to know one thing more awful than me with strep throat, well, there's not much more awful. I'm pathetic. So, we were in no hurry to expose anyone else.

The nice part came when the meds kicked in, the Colonists allowed some air to pass through my windpipe, and Matt and I sat in peace watching "The best of 90s music!" on VH1 in front of the tree. Judge not, friends. Judge not.

I think this brings me up to Christmas Eve, which arrived in a bit of a drug-induced haze and made me worry that I might miss more of the festivities than anticipated. But, by 4:00, Mom, the Superstar Sheep and I were at St. Mark and ready for the first of three services that night. It was glorious. Matt and Cooper arrived, and I was able to offer my piece of the service then sit down and just be a mom in the pew, looking eagerly for her boy.

Unfortunately, Cooper has not yet gotten the "be quiet in church" memo, and he sat in his pew for 35 minutes saying, "WHERE'S JACKSON? I WANNA SEE JACKSON! OH! HI JACKSON! HI! HI! THERE'S JACKSON!"

Adorable, right? Arguably... until he softened, paused, looked at us and said in his best stage whisper: "I PASSED GAS!"

The surrounding pews all turned to see what precocious little child might have made such a mighty proclamation. Yup. Preacher's Kid. There was actual chortling - and I'm not even sure what that is.

The service ended, and we celebrated with the cast and crew by drinking hot chocolate and eating our first ever churros. It was a raging success, and Rev. Jackie seemed quite pleased with how all of it went. I've not even mentioned the stunning solo by a six-year-old girl, who belted one of the traditional Los Posadas songs ("En el nombre del cielo os pido posada") as the children entered the sanctuary. It was so pure and earnest, so honest a gift that the whole room gasped when they heard her.

It was compelling to watch as Mary and Joseph traveled from inn to inn, facing rejection at each point until finally being pointed to a stable where the baby was laid in a manger. There, the children all turned themselves and knelt before baby Jesus. This was remarkable because no one had to tell them to do this. It was instinct - there was something to this thing lying in a manger, and they were perfectly willing to sing with full voice and watch and see. These were children of Christmas, bursting with anticipation and ready for fulfillment. It was a beautiful service.

Seeking grace and understanding (and not having any desire to commune my germs with the Holy Elements), I went home for the 7:00 service and actually put my children to bed on Christmas Eve, which is a luxury I've not been afforded in some time. I even worked a little nap in with them, and Matt and I headed out to the 11:00 p.m. service for our last bit of worship for the week.

It was, and always is, a gorgeous service. I love the Lessons and Carols Service each year - the history of our salvation from Genesis to John, our fall and God's continued pursual of us is a story so compelling that I don't know any other story to tell. The church was beautiful, and packed to the brim with worshippers of all sorts, who have come at this most inconvenient time to welcome and celebrate and bless the Christ Child. Phillip prayed... that man can pray. We sang. There were trumpets and brass and choirs and solos. We lifted our candles, and sang "Peace on Earth," and went forth into the world with Joy and Hope.

Matt and I returned to put the finishing touches on the big presentation for Christmas Morning. We have a super-tiny living room, but it was filled to the brim with delight and wonder for the boys. This year, our Christmas was sponsored by Pixar (apparently), and I'd spent some significant time collecting boxes of Incredibles and Toy Story hand-me-downs from strangers and friends alike (thank you, Craig's List). The "big gift" was the Pixar collection, and we supplemented with cars, dolls, costumes and a fair amount of candy canes. We tried not to over-do it, but it's hard when it's just so ... much... fun.

The boys were popping out of their pjs to get downstairs and tear into the goodness. We don't really talk up Santa Claus, so there's no myth floating around. But kids are kids, and they know when something's going to be good. And this Christmas morning really was good. We opened our stockings and presents with Mimi and Papa Dow, and ate the traditional Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls with homemade hot chocolate with gusto. Cooper looked like he'd never eaten anything more delicious, and actually took a break from the unwrapping madness to sit on the couch and just... eat.

Jackson's new prized possession is his Buzz Lightyear costume. I delighted in getting this for three reasons:

1. I knew he would love it. He's been asking for one since the big trip to Disneyland in November. It was a shoe-in of a success. Parenting paydirt.
2. I'm glad to encourage his imagination.
3. Cooper, who uses the letter "W" more liberally than it is intended to be used in the English language, calls this character "Buzz Wiper." I never, ever tire of hearing him say it.

It was a beautiful day and a beautiful morning, and SANTA CLAUS actually came to our house to deliver a gift (NB: Top Photo).

I know, I know...I already said that we don't really "do" Santa. But, Matt apparently is meeting all the right people these days, and he managed to pull some strings and ... at noon on Christmas Day, a knock on our door produced Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, and two reindeer bearing a toy car and the greatest fire truck EVER for the boys. They looked bewildered. Not only did we not *stress* Santa Claus, but we've gone so far as to say that Santa is pretend.

Then, he showed up. Here. With real toys!

I will never, ever get them to stop believing in Santa, and I think that they've fostered the right kind of attitude about it with this miraculous visit. It was good for the sake of good. It was giving and loving and holy and delightful. It was pure and happy and selfless.

Merry Christmas to all... I pray that the rest of your Christmas days are filled with light and hope and love.
Mandy, Matt, Jackson, Cooper and Edgar Beagle

Sermon: Let it Be with Me, According to Your Word

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
December 20, 2008
Sermon:Luke 1:26-38
Let it Be with Me

Let it Be with Me, According to Your Word

Luke 1:26-38 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, Favored one! The Lord is with you.”

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Then the angel departed from her.

One: The Word of God, for the People of God.

Many: Thanks be to God.

Prayer for Illumination:
Holy God, it is you who is able to strengthen us according to the gospel and proclamation of Jesus Christ,
according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles,
according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever! Amen.

She started feeling uncomfortable around lunchtime, and given that she was on vacation in Wisconsin, it was not unlikely to feel a little out of sorts eating different foods and keeping a different routine than normal. They had an outing planned for that afternoon, and she went to lay down so that her strength would return in time for mini-golf with friends. As she tried to rest, she changed positions a dozen times, finding nothing that could keep her comfortable. Her stomach ached. Her back was knotted. She longed for a masseuse to come and make all the stress melt out of her body. She slept fitfully and woke up feeling even worse. Her friends and husband grew more and more concerned, and as she moaned in discomfort, they finally stopped listening to her denials and helped her into a car.
As they raced to the hospital, Jennifer West, age 31, started to worry that this might be another ovarian cyst. Maybe it had ruptured, and that’s why she was in so much pain. Maybe it was her bleeding ulcer? Or, it could be a recurring fibroid tumor. Her medical history flooded back as they pulled into the hospital, and she was escorted to the E.R.

Once in, a nurse came in to do an ultrasound. Within minutes, the problem was diagnosed and Jen was rushed to another section of the hospital for treatment. An hour later, she delivered a perfectly healthy, 8 pound baby boy whom she and her husband named Robert. Like most reasonable people, Jen was the first to ask: How can this be so? She was an educated woman, who was aware of her body and circumstances, in a good relationship with her husband.

It was possible for this woman to completely miss a full-term pregnancy due to her complicated medical history. Because of her penchant to gain and lose weight regularly, she hadn’t noticed any of the symptoms of her pregnancy. She wrote off morning sickness as a virus, early on. She had a tilted uterus, which kept her from feeling the baby kick in the later months. This baby was truly a gift and surprise, and during his first week home, he slept, wrapped in t-shirts and lying in a drawer. Quite a story, isn’t it?

Today we encounter what is called the greatest story ever told. Today we gather, days before Christmas, hurried and frazzled, over-busy and under-rested, counting down the days until the Christ child gets himself born and we can stop working so hard to do so much and can just take a day to rest, for this year can’t be done soon enough.

I don’t know about you, but 2008 will not go down as my favoritest of favorite years as I think back on my time when I’m old and grey and sharing lemonade on the front porch with Matt, who will be just slightly older and grey-er than me, at least in my visioning of the scene. This has been a hard year for many of us. We have lost loved ones, family members, dear friends, fought battles and lost them, procured jobs and lost them, too. Our institutions have crumbled, our relationships have been strained, our finances have been jeopardized, and our future is uncertain. And we gather here today, during the festive holiday season to hear this story that we might be able to recite by heart – this, the greatest story ever told.

And how we need a good story right now. We need something uplifting, something magical, something hopeful. We need angels and archangels and unlikely heroines and puppies and babies that don’t cry. We need the princess to be rescued in the nick of time and live happily ever after. Yes, that is how I want my 2008 to end.

So our story starts out promisingly, with enough detail to ensure that this is no arbitrary day or time. “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.” Perfect: Angels! Engagements! Boy meets girl! We’re onto something here…

Then the angel starts talking.

You can be sure that when a messenger of the Lord comes for a visit, that he’s not just coming to make small talk. The angel speaks with intuition and calming words, knowing how his presence is typically received with fear and trembling and the like.

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you!”

Poor Mary is hardly calmed. She is perplexed and wonders what sort of greeting this is: favored one? No one has ever called her favored. In fact, she’s not been the most highly celebrated of people in her village. She’s lowly and poor, a young girl. But the angel continues:

“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”

Don’t be afraid, Mary. You, a poor girl who is engaged to a respectable man are going to have a baby out of wedlock and you will call him Jesus and the King of Kings. Don’t be afraid? You must be joking.

Our story instantly moves from fairy tale to impossibility. The angel delivers mind-blowingly startling news, and then, the punch line? Don’t be afraid!

It gets weirder.

Mary isn’t afraid. Somehow, in some way, she responds with amazement, absorbing the good of this news and allowing the circumstances of her time, place and station to be subverted. She asks one clarification question, “How can this be, since I’m a Virgin?” and accepts the angel’s response with peace and calmness.

My hope for a good story is certainly getting fulfilled – after all, this is the most unlikely of heroines. She has received the favor of God, but not because of anything she’s done. She is not powerful or well-known. She is, in the long tradition of many who are called to a particular vocation – called by God, but not qualified. She is gifted, but unprepared. Her role in this story is not just to fulfill the duty to which she has been called – to bear the son of God – but to model that when one experiences a powerful revelation of God’s presence, your only response is to say “yes.” “Let it be with me, according to your word.”

One of my favorite Christmas Hymns is “In the Bleak Midwinter,” which we rejoiced in singing together last week. The second verse begins with the words, “Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor the earth sustain…” If we’re qualifying this as the greatest story ever told, it seems unlikely that it would take place in the bleakest and simplest of settings with the most meager and lowly of characters at the center. And yet, when heaven simply cannot hold God any longer, it is this young maiden to whom God comes, and the power of the Most High overshadows her, and the child she bears is Holy, her firstborn and the only Son of God. This Holy In-Breaking doesn’t happen with thunderclaps and fireworks, but with a simple girl in a simple place. The greatest story ever told witnesses to an economy in which wonder is the greatest currency. When God breaks into the world, it is done gently and without fanfare or intimidation.

For us listeners, this begs the question of “Why?”

Why on earth would God choose to do such a remarkably unremarkable thing? Why would this girl be chosen? Why a baby in a lowly manger? Mary, our unexpected heroine, faces the annunciation with faith by her simple utterance: “How can this be?” Her words, carefully chosen, signify an openness to the possibility, and an awareness of the mystery of God. Her response is appropriate because it doesn’t, in any way, limit the possibility that God could do this. Had it been me, I might have offered a slightly different interpretation of these five words: “HOW CAN THIS BE SO?!?!?!?!” But this is why God is God and I am not the God-bearer - the theotokos.

Mary’s simple prayer of acceptance: “How can this be?” is the reminder that nothing is too good to be impossible. For many women, conceiving a child is their greatest dream, and for many women, conceiving a child is the most difficult thing they ever do. For many, they heartbreakingly give up their hopes and dreams of creating new life in the way they imagine and re-shape their lives to fit a new world order and expectation. This was true for Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin. She was well on in her years, well past the age where babies would be possible. And the angel of the Lord came to her husband, Zechariah, first to offer that she would be the mother of a son.

Zechariah’s disbelief led him to be muted for months, until the baby was born, but Elizabeth’s dream of becoming a mother was fulfilled, and she delivered a baby who was John the Baptist, the one who came to prepare a way for the one who was to come after him in all things – in life and in death. When God makes up God’s mind to do something, it’s nothing short of remarkable. In whatever is revealed to us, we can know that there is much more which remains hidden.

The angel remarks to Mary: “Nothing will be impossible with God” after giving her the news of her baby to be, he tells her one more piece of the story. She is not the only one having a miracle baby. Her cousin, Elizabeth, who was barren, has been given a baby in her late years. Elizabeth, too, was carrying a baby boy, and was due in a matter of weeks. This was not some isolated, inexplicable magic baby that was conceived by a girl not yet married. People are not dumb. They could work that out pretty quickly, and it doesn’t mean good things for Mary if their assumptions are true.

But God knew to make this experiment falsifiable. By offering another test case – Elizabeth who stands with Mary – then it makes their stories all the more probable. After all, one girl claiming that the Holy Spirit impregnated her while she waited for her betrothed to marry her is not a likely story. But paired with the tale of an old, barren woman suddenly conceiving her first child, then it gives both stories more credit. Without Elizabeth, Mary is written off as a hussy. Without Mary, Elizabeth is an urban legend. Without John the Baptist, Jesus would have had no path blazed for him. Without Jesus, John would have had no reason for being as he was in this world. The more complex the circumstances, the less likely they are to occur in harmony. The angel says to Mary, “Nothing will be impossible with God,” but those words are for us.

And we can see it coming to fruition:
a baby born to a completely surprised mother? Unbelievable! How could she not know?
A barren couple given their first child after menopause! By no means!
A young girl given the responsibility to raise God-with-Us, a tiny baby? Impossible!

And yet…
It’s already happened.

So, then, how are we to make sense of all of this? How is this so??

Let us look back to Mary, who raises her fist to the powers and principalities of this world by saying, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (v. 38).

How would it be for us if we said to the God who continually seeks us out in impossibly simple ways, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.”

Let’s try it: Consider the might of God:
“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty,” (v. 51-53).

In this, Mary speaks to the power of God to do all things, including lifting up the lowly. And if God can lift up the lowly, fill the hungry, not just with something, but with something good, and send the rich away without so much as a crumb, then we must know that God is working out real and powerful things in our lives.

This mighty in-breaking of God into the dirt and messiness of our lives here in such a visceral way is un-believable. How can it be? That God would give us life in death, hope in the unknown, peace in trial? How can it be that God would be born to an unmarried woman? How can it be that death would chase this baby from his birth until his crucifixion on a cross and that in the end, it is not death that wins over life, but eternal life that cannot be killed, and in that eternal life, we receive our promise of hope – hope in God, and hope in Christ. That all things are possible.

Amen and Amen.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Hi friends...

It's been a busy few weeks. There's been life, death, expectancy, snotty noses, short trips and good news. You know... just like every Advent.

I'm way behind on posting, though I feel like I have lots to write.

But my economy of words is limited. Maybe because I'm preaching this Sunday, and, in the manner of my Uncle Wayne, I'm only allowed so many words a day and I'm saving them all for some good, old-fashioned proclamation.

Or maybe, I'm just busy.

I have had it in my head to post about the Great 2008 Nativity Debate that's been raging on my Facebook page. Many of you have posted some great suggestions, some serious, some not so much. Redykle wins the prize for spending the most time and effort on finding the most wonderful and creative (and possibly offensive!) nativities for me.

First, here were my criteria:

* Nativity must be non-fragile, non-cheezy, non-artsy, and somewhat ethnically accurate.
* A stable must be included.
* Baby Jesus must be able to be lifted from his manger, so as to make his mystical appearance on Christmas morn.

Here were the suggestions that I received:


I did see one at Target that was much like this, only it included a huge LCD countdown-to-Christmas clock!

#2: Anachronistic, Reverent Santa Nativity!

This is wrong in so many ways. I don't even know where to start.

#3: Adorable, yet highly unhelpful and SUPER over-priced, if you buy from Amazon (don't be fooled by their free shipping!): Duckie Nativity!

Take note of the loving Mother Mary with her baby duck, which I sort of appreciate. Think about it - how often do you see a new mother just sitting around with strangers staring at her newborn baby in his bassinet? In reality, we cling to those little bundles with fierceness and pride, and it is next to impossible to put them down, even for a moment, because they sense your absence and immediately start SCREAMING.

Then again, maybe baby Jesus was different...

(N.B. This nativity "scene" wins the prize for being the absolute opposite of all the criteria I listed!)

#4: Mary, LEGO, and Joseph!!!!!!!!

Don't you just love that someone took the time, not just to MAKE these, but to write down the instructions in some incomprehensible code, and publish them on the internet. Ah, series of tubes, you give us gifts beyond measure once again!

My gratitude to the UVA Science Department.

(Even better are the Three Wise Men, who look more like Transformers than Astrologers)

My personal pick, if I didn't have children small enough to choke on or lose all but one of the pieces (most likely the baby Jesus himself) would be:


We had this set at my last church gig, where I served as the Children's Minister. It ruled. However, there were at least 89,230 tiny pieces that were all critical to the telling of Jesus' birth story, and if even one got lost, then the magic of Christmas would be destroyed. Or, at least, that's what I told them.

But, the winner by a landslide, of the Great 2008 Nativity Scene Debate goes to...



This was, by far, the most highly suggested set by parents and non-parents alike. It's affordable, somewhat accurate, fits 90% of my criteria (which is weird, 'cause I only had three), and the pieces are unlikely to get lost in the underbelly of my sofa. It's perfect! AND, a good friend has offered to put hers on loan to the Tiny Flemmings from now until Epiphany (Though I didn't specify which year... HA!).

I was leaning heavily towards this beauty from the Catholic Supply store:

but I think that the boys might be a little bit young for such delicate folks. Maybe next year...

I did a lot of thinking, online shopping late at night, and wondering about why this particular thing has grabbed me this year. Maybe it's because the little cloth nativity scene that we have is missing some fairly significant figures, like... Joseph, who appears to have run away with one of the Shepherds (I wish them nothing but happiness). Baby Jesus has recently taken a leave of absence from his little cloth manger (See! That's why Mamas never put their babies down! Think of what could happen!), and unless he makes a surprise reappearance on Christmas Eve, this nativity scene is now weakened as a teaching tool.

I'm wondering why this image of the inbreaking of God renders so many different - and yet highly similar - productions. We were reading the Christmas Story to the boys last night, using a new illustrated book I'd picked up at Cokesbury. Jackson was way into it, and Cooper would stop occasionally to check out the pictures. J stopped as we breezed through the part where Jesus gets himself born.

"Why," he asked, "isn't there a picture of Jesus coming out?"

[Pregnant pause.]

"Um..." Matt cautiously replied, "because this book only makes pictures of a few events, and that wasn't one of them."

[Me: Scampering around to get our copy of Lennart Nilsson's A Child is Born so that I can produce photographic evidence of an actual baby getting born. I'm completely insane, I know.]

Me: (Flipping to page where baby is being apologetically pulled from mother's body): THIS is why there's no picture.

Jackson: Oh. Ohhhhhhhhh.

Cooper: WHAT'S DAT?!?! (Pointing at baby's partially exposed head)

Matt: Hey! Look! It's bedtime! Lights out, boys! Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed...

This in no way captures why I think the Incarnation is so imporant to teach to our children now, and my prayer is that they start to get it in some way. Maybe because it took me a long time to really get it. In my Facebook fretting over this nativity as a teaching tool, one of my friends wisely commented, "Keep in mind though that YOU are the primary teaching tool too and even if it isn't accurate, you can use that as teaching tool as well. Those teachable moments will pop up."

How right she is.

I hope that all of us find some sort of appropriate and inappropriate way to experience the beauty of the Incarnation this year. I pray that you know that God is with you.

God is with us.

God is with YOU.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Pastor's Prayer for her People - Second Sunday of Advent, 2008

Almighty God, who shows us favor:

We come to you this morning with praises on our lips that are muted by the cold of this world. This morning, Loving God, we want to worship you. We want to stand up and praise your Holy Name, but we are weak with fatigue and sadness and sorrow. We hear of the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, brought to us in words of preparation and urgency, and we are ready for this good news. As you incline your ear to our supplications, our prayers for mercy, food, shelter, healing, understanding, clarity, vision, truth, peace… you hear a cacophony of sound resonating from us, your people, who are crying out in the wilderness for your Word of Good News.

Comfort, O Comfort your people. As we shout out with voices of anger, rage, and misunderstanding, whisper back with a voice of tenderness and mercy. As we wade through the valleys, give us the promise that our valley will be exalted, and our stumbling blocks will be made low.

Holy God, we are as grass that will wither - we know all too well the frailty and fragility of our own selves, our own bodies, our own relationships, our own institutions.

We give you thanks when we are healthy, but a virus gets the best of us.
We praise your name when you give us connections with sisters and brothers, but then we feel disappointed, betrayed, abandoned... alone.
Our governments, financial systems, churches and businesses take our money - our investments - our very trust, and waste it, leaving us desolated.
We are withering, and we want to cry out, "Where ARE you, O God?!"

And a voice responds:

"Prepare the way of the LORD.
You may wither and fade and become faithless,
but the Lord your God will never wither.
The Word of God will last forever.
Your bad news will come and go,
but the Good News of God will never fade away."
In you, Mighty God, we are gathered up and comforted as we listen to your voice say, "I AM."

Thanks be to God.


Friday, December 5, 2008


In loving honor of all my Jersey brothers and sisters...


(P.S. To satisfy my ministerial inclinations, a lengthy lecture about the nature of Advent will follow, but this video is too good to pass up. The Flemmings are off to get our tree, so that we can subsequently bark at our children to get away from it and then clean up after it. Ah, the joy of the season!)