Whether Known or Unknown. . . Immanuel

newtown whyPeople sometimes use the phrase “what you don’t know won’t hurt you.”  Maybe so, but I find that quite often not knowing can be extremely difficult and painful for all of us.  Imagine yourself as the parent of a child at Sandy Hook Elementary School after receiving word of the shooting that has taken place.  The time of not knowing whether or not your child has been harmed might be the most painful moment of your life.

As Christians, we have a desire to know.  We want to know who God wants us to be, what God wants us to do, how God wants us to live, where God wants us to go.  And yes, we want to know why.  It seems that not knowing is just too difficult, too painful a place for us to be.  So we search.  We look for easy answers to difficult questions.

We look around, some to the right, others to the left.

“Why did this happen?  Because we’ve kicked God out of our schools!  We need to change the laws concerning prayer!”

“Why did this happen?  Because of the accessibility of guns!  We need to change our gun control laws!”

Or we look upward, beyond the present reality, and offer explanations based on our understanding of who God is, or, all too often, who we think God ought to be.  God is loving and gracious and merciful.  But wait, God is just and righteous and holy.  So which attribute of God are we seeing in this situation? Continue reading

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Advent…The Waiting Place

This Advent reflection appeared in the December 2012 newsletter of Trinity Moravian Church.

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Advent is something of a waiting place – a place where we are waiting for Christmas, waiting for the birth.  We anticipate the holy Event; we get prepared for it.  And just as a child longs for Christmas morning to come or a pregnant woman longs for delivery in the last few weeks of pregnancy (Sister Dena Moore comes to mind for some reason!), so we long for Christmas.

You may have seen Dr. Seuss’ book Oh, the Places You’ll Go.  In his wacky wise way, Ted Geisel acknowledges that in every life there are places we go that don’t feel positive – or which don’t feel like we’re getting anywhere.  One of these is The Waiting Place:

The Waiting Place…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come,
or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No….

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Hail to the Lord’s Annointed

The following was delivered as a reflection on a Advent hymn during the Moravian Ministry Association’s worship service for Advent on December 6, 2012:

Our third hymn for reflection this morning was written by James Montgomery. James Montgomery. Born November 4, 1771 in Scotland. The son of Irish parents. Father, a Moravian pastor. When his father and mother heard the Savior’s call to share his love among the enslaved Africans in the West Indies, they placed their son in the care of the Moravian school in Fulneck, England. His parents never returned. When James Montgomery was 12 years old, his mother and his father died suddenly on Island of Tobago.

James Montgomery floundered through the adolescent years that followed. He was a very creative student with a passion for poetry, but his overall scholastic record was quite dismal. From the school in Fulneck, he was sent to serve as an apprentice in a bakery. James Montgomery ran away from this work and the Moravians at the age of fifteen. In the following years, he bounced from job to job, often unemployed and sometimes homeless for weeks at a time.

Somewhere along the way James Montgomery formed a strong sense of what was just and what was fair. Maybe it had something to do with being a young Irishman under the oppressive rule of the English crown. Or maybe it had something to do with his parents, who gave up their lives for men and women held captive by the evil of slavery. Or perhaps it had something to do with the revolutionary spirit in France blowing across the English Channel.

21a-Hail_To_The_Lords_AnointedJames Montgomery found his vocation at the age of 23. He began work as an editor and later became owner of a radical newspaper in Sheffield, England. He was thrown in jail for printing a poem celebrating the Storming of the Bastille. James Montgomery was jailed a second time for reporting the police brutality used to suppress a local riot. With each release from prison, he picked up his pen to serve once again as a leading social critic of his day. James Montgomery became a popular voice in the English abolitionist movement. He emerged as one of the most passionate critics of dehumanizing child labor. He was endeared by the masses for his advocacy of the poor and the defenseless. And as he matured as a editor, a poet, and great hymn writer, the pen of James Montgomery drew its ink from his great understanding of the life and mission of the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. Continue reading

Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay

The following was delivered as a reflection on a Advent hymn during the Moravian Ministry Association’s worship service for Advent on December 6, 2012:

Hymn 276, Moravian Book of Worship

church with snow at nightIt was the winter of 1915.  Plans were underway for the annual Christmas Service at Harvard Divinity School.  One of the preparations for this service was a hymn-writing contest.  Students were invited to write a Christmas hymn and, from those submitted,  one would be chosen to be sung at the Christmas Service.

For a year now, war had raged in Europe.  As the dark clouds of this conflict hung over the earth, my dad, who, after graduating from Moravian Theological Seminary, was spending a year at Harvard on a scholarship, wrote a hymn in response to the invitation.  His hymn was about the darkness that hung over Judah and was shattered by the glorious light that came with the birth of Christ and the gifts of peace and good will as proclaimed by the angels.  It was this hymn, Veiled in Darkness Judah Lay, that was chosen to be sung at that year’s service.

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People In Darkness Are Looking for Light

The following was delivered as a reflection on a Advent hymn during the Moravian Ministry Association’s worship service for Advent on December 6, 2012:

Lovefeast CandleI was born in Winston-Salem and grew up Moravian, but from 1977 till 2007 I lived mostly outside Moravian areas, so I didn’t really keep up with changes in the Moravian church.

But I used to come back to Winston a few times a year for services; and so it was that one Sunday in 1995, I slid into a pew at Home Church next to my friend Alan Johanssen.  And as he handed me a hymnal—a blue one—he turned to his sister and said, “Wait till Ginny sees this.

My friends know that I am a traditionalist.  Change does not come easily to me.  And I reacted to the blue hymnal exactly as Alan thought I would.

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