Monday, December 31, 2007

plans

The best laid plans do change, don't they? My most-of-a-week of vacation plan was changed rather suddenly by a death in our church family. My plans to post something brilliant to my blog this week were changed by the fact that the book I was reading kept requiring me to do research. My plans to think of myself as a well-read person were changed by reading The Gospel According to America, the book which not only required research but has now lengthened by reading list. My plans to write something about the new year and all that stuff were changed by the fact that I needed a post-funeral/pre-train-ride/pre-staying-up-late nap. So did my kitties, so that at least sort of worked out....

Perhaps when I come back tomorrow night I'll have witty things to say, observations to make, and bits of the book to share. In the meantime, enjoy your parties, be safe out there....and, of course, make exciting plans for a new year! (But be prepared for them to change! God loves when we make plans...)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

at last the Christmas season REALLY begins...

...and to kick off these 12 days, my favorite men's a capella group:

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Room--a sermon for Advent 4A

The Rev. Teri Peterson
Ridgefield-Crystal Lake Presbyterian Church
Room
Isaiah 7.10-16, Matthew 1.18-25
December 23, 2007—Advent 4A

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


Well, friends, I believe this is panic time. There are two shopping days left. Just two more days. And, because our culture celebrates Christmas ahead of time rather than seeing it as a 12-day season that begins Christmas Day, there are also just two more days for all the cooking, baking, decorating, wrapping, caroling, and parties. In about 48 hours, it’ll be all over and we’ll be sitting amid piles of torn wrapping paper, wondering where we’ll put all our new stuff, and getting ready to gorge ourselves on yet another feast.

Given the short time span, I’m surprised and hopeful at how many of you are here. It’s snowy and cold, this is one of the few remaining prime shopping hours, and there’s lots to be done. We are all full up—our schedules, our houses, our brains are full to the brim with things to do, people to see, family to entertain. It’s hard to get in a single thought about anything else, really. It’s almost enough to make you just want to curl up under the covers and stay there.

And then reality sets in. Curling up under the covers and staying there is an option that only works for a very few people, most of them college boys on winter break. The rest of us set about our busy lives, hoping to fit in a few moments of quiet, of rest, of prayer, of remembering “the reason for the season” wherever we can.

The trouble is, of course, that if we make a habit of simply fitting God into our already busy schedules, it’s only a small step to not fitting God in at all, or—possibly worse—using God for our own ends.

Sometimes that’s a really attractive option. Unfortunately it doesn’t often work. King Ahaz tried it—at the moment when two armies were threatening his city, his crown, and his coffers, he tried on biblical literalism, righteousness, and piety. Even when God said “ask me for a sign!” Ahaz insisted on holding literally to “do not put the Lord your God to the test.” Given that Ahaz built a new temple and altar modeled after the one in Damascus and that he forced people to worship a foreign God, I suspect this is false piety on the part of Ahaz. He’s playing a part—publicly, he is acting like a righteous king, though he will be remembered for not walking in the way of the Lord. His act leaves no room in his life for God to speak and act. While God gives a sign anyway, and ultimately the other armies are overtaken and the threat dissipates, still Ahaz has no time or space for a God who isn’t convenient. He would rather stay in his cozy palace, with his shiny gold and his new altar, with his façade of righteousness.

Joseph, on the other hand, is a different story. He’s not a king, but he is descended from kings. He knows the scriptures, he knows what he has to do when his fiancée turns up pregnant. The law says that she is to be stoned. Following Ahaz’s example of public piety, a righteous man would put her to death in the village square. But did you notice Matthew’s editorializing? He says Joseph was a righteous man, unwilling to expose Mary to public disgrace. He is compassionate, and he follows the spirit rather than the letter of the law. He probably knows his family tree, so perhaps he’s used to making room for strange exceptions. After all, the genealogy that comes right before this story is very strange, as it lists 4 women in the midst of all the usual men, and not a single one of the women is a righteous Israelite. They are all outsiders, women who did unorthodox things. But they are women who knew God and made room for God’s word and work in their lives and who are remembered as part of an illustrious family tree—that of king David, and therefore of Joseph. Indeed, Joseph knows compassion, he knows how to move his self-interest aside a little bit to help others. So it comes as no surprise, then, that when he is told by an angel to keep Mary rather than dismissing her, and to keep the baby and to give him the name “the Lord saves,”—Joseph follows these instructions, quietly and without fanfare. He takes Mary into his house and he names her baby, thus legitimizing him in the eyes of the community. He endures the gossip, the loss of reputation, the change in his life story. And, according to Matthew, he does it without complaint.

It’s completely illogical, of course. This kind of moving over, stepping aside, making room—it makes very little sense. Everyone would have known that Joseph was not the father. It’s likely that his entire family suffered ridicule and shame. It’s possible that his business suffered. And it’s definite that his life took a drastically different direction than he’d planned. After all, who plans to adopt an illegitimate child—angels or no—who then gets a visit by some very rich foreigners? Who plans to become a refugee in a foreign country with a new wife and an adopted child? Who plans to resettle in a town inferior to the one he’d left, starting his career all over again? I doubt Joseph planned these things, but when he followed the angel’s instructions, when he moved over and made room for God, his life changed forever. It’s not an easy decision, to sacrifice in this way. Joseph’s life was likely comfortable and full. He was cozy in his house and career and family, until that fateful day when Mary turned up “with child from the Holy Spirit.”

Most of us have cozy lives. We snuggle up under the covers, our houses and calendars and minds full of many things. But soon—maybe even tomorrow night, maybe even today—God is coming to tap us on the shoulder and find out if we can move over to the cold side of the bed to make some space. Can we make permanent room? It will change our lives. They may be less cozy. They may be colder than our comfy beds. They may be less full of things and feasts and more full of ridicule and heartache. They may be more full of compassion and less full of false piety. They may also be less full of logic than we might like, and more full of mystery. There is a poem by Madeleine L’Engle that sums this up nicely, and though it is about Mary it seems to work for Joseph, and for us, too. She writes:
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There'd have been no room for the child. (1)

We’re full of many things, especially with only 48 hours until Christmas morning. There’s a lot to do and we have a lot of stuff. Will there be room for the child? This Christmas season, will we be like Ahaz, going through the motions, doing what we think is pleasing to God? Or will we be like Joseph, listening, obeying, showing compassion, making room for God’s presence with us even when it disturbs our cozy lives and defies the logic of the world?

Immanuel—God is with us. God comes not with fanfare but with newborn cries. Have we noticed God creeping in? Have we heard God’s messengers? Whether we notice or not, God comes. Let every heart and home be made ready, and may we all have plenty of good room, for the Word is coming among us again to bring light and life.

Thanks be to God.
Amen.

(1) Madeleine L'Engle, "After Annunciation"

guest shower

According to my brother, the shower head in the guest bathroom at my house "is like being spit on by a kid with no lips and no tongue. The water just falls out on you."

I've never heard a complaint about my guest shower until now (I also haven't ever used that shower and so had no idea I needed a new shower head in there).

This is a hilarious description...it needed to be shared.

That's all--back to the sermon.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Another christmas idea....

Looking for a year-end giving opportunity? Looking for a new and different Christmas gift? How about microfinance that enables entrepreneurs in developing countries to open or expand their businesses. It's cool. You give $25, then they use it to develop their business, which helps bring them and their community out of poverty. They pay back the loan and you can reinvest in another person's small business. How neat! Learn more about someone you can help today by clicking the new box in the sidebar....I loaned some money to a woman in Africa who runs a general store in Tanzania, on the border with Uganda. The box in the sidebar updates automatically so you can see people whose businesses aren't yet fully funded.

Susan, thanks for the gift certificate that allowed me to start helping an African woman run a small business!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

confession...

I thought about not posting this because I want you who read my blog to like and respect me, but in the interest of being authentic, I will push publish...

I was thinking in the shower this morning about a recent realization I had. Not like today or yesterday recent, but in the last few weeks.

You know the song Winter Wonderland?
It has the lines:
In the meadow we can build a snowman,
and pretend that he is Parson Brown.
He'll say are you married? We'll say "no,man,
but you can do the job while you're in town."
Well, I'd never thought much about these lines--in fact, probably haven't given them a thought at all since I was a child. When I was little, I simply assumed that the story was about young girlfriends (these days I should probably call them friend-girls) playing on a snow day when there's no school (because who plays with boys?) and pretending to be married to the pastor.

Upon some actual adult reflection, particularly now that I AM a pastor, I don't think that's what the song is about.

Monday, December 10, 2007

new toy


I finally sucked it up and got wireless internet at my house. That's right, I bought an AirPort Express --which, incidentally, looks almost exactly like my power station, except it has a pretty green light there on the side and also has several ports to plug in things I'm not likely to use, like stereo cables--(this is not to be confused with Airport Express, which is totally different, much larger, and doesn't come anywhere near my house now that I'm not a city-dweller any longer) and now I can be online anywhere in my house. And I don't have to install the modem software on my brand-new 'puter, which is one less thing that could cause it problems, you know?

Anyway, I am now cable-free in my living room. No more need to stretch the ethernet cable across my living room floor. No more need to wish I was in my comfy bed under the covers while playing scrabulous. My beautiful new 'puter and I can go anywhere in the house together.

A very handy thing, given the ice storm that is supposed to be coming through tonight and lingering for a whole day tomorrow, decidedly outstaying its welcome. I hope not to be trapped at home, but if I am...well, I'm wireless. :-)

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

It's that time of year again...

Time for Heifer gifts!



This year I've decided on a variety of things...



...things that go to a variety of areas...



...and help people and the planet in a variety of ways.




Ending hunger, working toward sustainable agriculture...what a great way to give to friends and family and to other children of God this Christmas. I'm excited!

Get your own here!

snow

what it is about snow that makes me crave hot fudge sundaes? I don't know, but WOW do I want one right now. The craving started yesterday as it began to snow. Today it is sunny and the six inches of snow on everything is sparkly sparkly sparkly....and I continue to want a hot fudge sundae. Doesn't that just sound lovely? Alas, it is not to be had, at least not right now....

who can resist pie?

You Are Lemon Meringue Pie

You're the perfect combo of sassy and sweet.
You always know how to brighten someone's mood, but you're not overly sappy.
In fact, you can be a bit too honest at times. And most people find that refreshing.
While you're always true to yourself, you keep things light. That's how people are able to stomach your slightly bitter outlook.

Those who like you have well refined tastes.
You're complicated - and let's face it - a true enigma.
You enjoy defying expectations, and there are many layers to your personality.
There's not one easy way to define you.

(seen on several RevGal blogs...)

Coincidentally, I really love lemon meringue pie. I've never tried to make one, as one of my youth in Atlanta made (probably makes) the best ever lemon meringue. I have been known to invite myself over to her house for pie. I'm sad to live so far away now!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

in the quiet

Advent is a time of quiet--the earth is beginning to rest, the days are short and the darkness long, the animals go into hibernation, the birds migrate to warmer climes, and in the church we resist the temptation to head to the mall and instead head to the sanctuary. We light candles, we sing in a minor key, and we practice silence. We listen--to ourselves, to others, to God, to the world around us. We wait. We try to be still while the culture says we need to get a bunch of things done.

I've been thinking about quietness a lot lately. I live alone with two cats, so I have a pretty good amount of silence in my life. I don't think we have enough of it in the church--really, in our Sunday worship, we have no silence at all. We have music, we have talking, we have passing the peace/gossip time, but we don't have silence.

Illinois schools have been mandated to begin each day with a moment of silence. However long the school decides it will be, it is to be a period of the day that is to be passed in silence. Some of my youth said theirs is 15 seconds, some one minute. In any case, the school is quiet. There's no direction given as to what to do with this time. Some call it a "silent reflection"--time to think about what's coming up in the day, to make a list of the homework that needs to be done at lunch, to practice a conversation you want to have between classes, to stew about the playground controversy, whatever. You can pray if you want to but it's not required or even spoken about.

I am sort of a fan of this. I see the value in beginning each day with a few seconds of quiet to think about and prepare for what's ahead. I see the value in forcing silence on a generation that lives in sound. I see the value in practicing being quiet and listening to yourself in a time and place where we are surrounded by music, noise, and talking nearly every minute of every day.

And yet there is uproar. Apparently others do not view this the way I do--they think it's mandated prayer. They see no value in silence, stillness, quiet reflection. I'm not sure what kind of children we want to raise, but I'm fairly certain that we don't want another generation that finds it impossible to sit still or to be quiet with themselves, another generation besides mine that is so uncomfortable with silence they will fill it up with anything they can find--bad music, inane conversation, disgusting displays of ignorance, or whatever happens to be available. I like to think that our children can handle 15-60 seconds of silence. I like to think that our public schools teach kids more than just reading and math but also how to be a person, one who thinks without being told what to think about. Is that so much to ask?

Perhaps I am guilty of blurring a line here, but I just don't think that quiet thinking is the same thing as prayer, and I don't think that encouraging thinking is the same as encouraging prayer, and I don't think that requiring that children learn the value of silence is the same as requiring religious belief. Perhaps I'm wrong, but this is my opinion.

Monday, December 03, 2007

yay!

at last I have had a fantastic day:
good meeting this morning...
indian food for lunch ....
good meeting over lunch....
new computer ready when I was already going to be in the area of the apple store!...
new 'puter is beautiful, actually new with Leopard, and full of my documents, photos, iTunes, and even emails.

Thanks Brandon! You are truly an Apple Genius.

That was pretty much the highlight of my day....though other good stuff happened later too. :-)

please, please, please, God, let this be the end of the kernel panics. I do NOT want to see them anymore!!! This 'puter is beautiful and I want it to last me a very long time. And thank you for Brandon. Amen.