December 25, 2007

Christmas Eve

Born in Us Tonight!
Isaiah 9:2-7
Luke 2:1-120

This is a night for pageants and pageantry. All over the world, churches are clothed in gold and candlelight; children, and adults too, reenact the Christmas story; some of the most beautiful music in history is sung; there are great cathedrals where thousands gather to watch carefully choreographed processions, and there are small country churches like ours where worshipers come with less formality but no less faithfulness.

And there is a single thread that runs through all our celebrations, and it is this most ancient story of the birth of Jesus. It has been read and reread, told again and again, acted out, displayed, painted, sung, and depicted for thousands of years. All we have to do is hear a phrase or two in order to know what is coming. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.” “She brought forth her first born son.” “There were shepherds abiding in the fields.” This is the story we know by heart. It is a story we know in our hearts.

But it is often the case that something so familiar loses a bit of its original meaning, and that may be what has happened to Christmas. This story is not only about a newborn baby. It is about God being born into the world. It is about what the church calls incarnation – God taking on human flesh and living among us as one of us. That is the heart of this story, and if we can see the story with fresh eyes, it may be that we can learn something new about God, and eventually about ourselves. So imagine with me, if you will, how the story might be told if it were happening right now.

A young couple is on the road. His name is Jose, and she is Maria; she is very pregnant, and they are not married. They’re traveling in an old Toyota station wagon, kind of mustard colored, not pretty even when it was new in 1978. Every twenty miles or so, he has to pull over and put water in the radiator. They keep scraping their money together to buy a gallon of gas here or there, driving as carefully as they can in hopes that the gas will get them where they need to go. They are on their way to Raleigh; they have gotten an official looking piece of paper in the mail that tells them, in English and in Spanish, that there is some problem with their work visas and they need to appear in person to register with the government. So they are making this long trip in this old beat-up car in the middle of the night.

And maybe it is the stress of the travel or the worry about the visa or just that it is time, but Maria goes into labor. They are out in the country; they have no idea where the hospital is and even if they found it, they could not afford to seek care. So they try to keep going but the going is hard, and when they see the little lights up ahead, they both breathe a sigh of relief. Here is a town – maybe there will be someone who can help them.

It is a small town, and it is late at night and most of the houses are dark but some still have Christmas trees shining through the windows. And there are lights in the streets, street lights shining with decorations. All throughout the little town, the lights twinkle in the dark streets. Encouraged by that, Jose begins knocking on doors, but most people sleep through it, don’t even hear the sound. And the few who do are afraid to open up to a strange man, badly dressed, obviously poor, speaking Spanish, standing on the doorstep in the middle of the night.

And time is running out. This baby will not wait. So they pull the car around behind the Minute Mart where there is an outdoor water spigot, and he helps her into the back of the car and the baby is born. The water from the outside spigot is very cold, but he tries to warm it a bit in the car so he can wash off the aftermath of birth from his Maria and this new baby who will be called Jesus. And he takes his undershirt and tears it into strips and gives it to her to wrap around the baby so he will be warm and snug. Then they settle down to sleep; they are exhausted.

But soon there is a tapping on the window of the car, and the car is surrounded by a group of bikers wearing their black leather jackets, motorcycle engines still thrumming in the night. They are frightened by the sight of these unexpected visitors.None of them can figure out why the bikers are there, not the bikers or Jose or Maria.

Somehow the bikers just had to come. They saw the light in the car and they came to investigate. So Maria shows them the baby and the sight of that small face, those tiny hands, melts the hearts of those big tough guys. Before they go back to the road, they take out saddlebags with cheese and beef jerky and some bottles of beer. It’s the best they have to offer, and for some unknown reason, they feel they need to give something to this family, to this child.

And then they go roaring off into the night, but when they get together with their buddies later on, they tell the story about that baby, about that mother and father, about the light in that car and in that town,
and they tell how that encounter made them want to give what they had away. They don’t understand it, but they tell the story nonetheless.

This isn’t the way it happened, of course. The first ones to come to visit the child were shepherds, not bikers. The baby was born in a stable, not in the back of an old beat up car; and it was the little town of Bethlehem, not the little town of Atkinson.

But maybe if it were happening today, tonight -- this miraculous birth – maybe it would happen in a place like this. And here is the good news, the good news of great joy. It does happen tonight, and it does happen in a place like this.

It is not enough for us just to remember the birth of the baby Jesus. It is not enough to celebrate with hymns and gifts and family gatherings. If that is all we did, we would miss the point. Christmas is more than the story of a baby born to desperately poor people far from home with no place to stay. It is about God in Christ coming into the world. It is about God in Christ present even now. That is the good news, and we are to respond to this good news by seeking the one who has come seeking us.

But if we are to find this Savior we will need to look in the unlikely places. Remember his own words:
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…. Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. (Matthew 25: 35-36; 40)

The Christ who is born of Mary is present in the world in the faces of the poor and the hungry, the refugee and prisoner, the sick and lonely. And also, I have to believe, in the faces of the rich and the rulers, the powerful and the presidents, the movers and shakers – but sometimes you may have to look a little deeper there in order to see. The Christ who is born of Mary is present in all people. May we be watching for him, making room for him, welcoming and serving and offering ourselves to him.

And, dear friends, because Christ is present in the hearts of all, then the Christ who is born of Mary is also present in us. The Christ who is born of Mary is the Christ who is born of us. As one holy man (Meister Eckhardt) has said: “We are celebrating the feast of the Eternal Birth which God the Father has borne and never ceases to bear in all eternity... But if that birth does not take place in me, what good is it? Everything lies in this, that it should take place in me. What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God [two thousand] years ago and I do not give birth to the son of God in my time and in my culture?”

As we celebrate God’s wonderful gift to us in Bethlehem, may we also celebrate it in Atkinson, and in all the other places where we are. Our Christ is still Immanuel – God with us. And that is good news of great joy for all people. For unto us, and within us, is born this day, this very day, a savior who is Christ the Lord!

Thanks be to God! Amen.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

December 24, 2007

The Southern Gospel

Yesterday in Sunday School, we read all the Gospel accounts of the coming of Jesus. Matthew and Luke, of course, tell about the birth, and John writes a long and lovely prose poem about the incarnation. And then there is Mark, who mentions nothing about a baby, and instead just jumps right in to the story of the ministry after the barest of introductions: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
After the lesson, one of the women leaned over to me and said that she thought Mark was a northerner and Luke was a southerner, because Mark was in a hurry to get to the story, but Luke added in all the details: what the baby was wearing, where the whole thing happened, how Mary knew she was pregnant, who came to visit. My friend was right – the southern way is to tell the story in all its specificity, and when we hear Luke 2 in church tonight, I will be thinking about the evangelist as one of our neighbors – interested in having us know exactly how it happened, in all the detail, so we can picture ourselves in the story. Which, of course, we are.

December 20, 2007


I had to do some laundry in preparation for my trip. I took off the pair of brown socks that I was wearing, put them in the laundry basket, took it directly to the basement, and put the contents into the washing machine. After the wash was finished, I put everything right in the dryer. And when the clothes were dry -- back into the laundry basket and upstairs to pack. But..... there was only one brown sock to be found. I looked in the washer, in the dryer, in the sleeves of the clothes that were in the clean laundry. Then I looked in the bedroom, in the laundry basket, in the washer again, in the dryer again -- twice. No brown sock. How could it have disappeared?
And all I could think about was Matthew 24: "Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left." Two socks will be in the wash; one will be taken and one will be left.
I finally found the sock. Somehow it had fallen behind one of the suitcases and stuck there with static electricity. I found it, but I did a lot of looking. And maybe that will be the way it is at the end for those of us who seem to be lost -- the One who has washed us clean in the first place will just keep looking until no one is left behind.

December 17, 2007

This takes the cake!

Where I live now, the sugary coating that goes on a cake is called frosting; where I grew up, it is called icing. Either way, I was thinking about it this morning, and both words are appropriate descriptions for what I woke to see. It has been a long time since I made a seven-minute icing, but the world looked just as though God had spread a spatula of it across everything. It had snowed and then sleeted, and the whiteness was coated with a shiny smooth layer. It was beautiful. The sun sparkled on it like the candles on a birthday cake. The whole world looked as though it had been decorated for a celebration. Maybe that is why people love the idea of snow for Christmas. All that frosting and icing is a reminder that we are preparing, and being prepared, for the ultimate birthday party!

December 16, 2007

Third Sunday of Advent

“Are You The One?”
Isaiah 35: 1-10
Luke 1: 47-55
James 5: 7-10
Matthew 11: 2-11

He had been so sure. Even before the beginning. All his life, he had heard the story, told over and over again, of the meeting between their mothers. While he was still in his mother’s womb, he had recognized the one sent from God to be the Savior. He had grown up knowing the story of his own miraculous conception, as well as that of his cousin. His mother had sung to him the song she learned from Mary until it was as much a part of him as the beating of his own heart: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” He knew that his own life work was to prepare the way for the reality he first learned from Mary’s song: “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.”

His part in this holy drama had seemed compelling and inevitable. He had been so sure of his own calling, and all that time in the desert only strengthened his conviction. When he came among the people and began to preach, his message was strong and unambiguous. “Repent,” he told them. “Turn your lives around, change your thinking.” And then when they wanted to know how to do that, the answer was shaped by those words he had learned from his mother. “If you have two coats, share with someone who has none. If you have enough to eat, share with those who are hungry. Live honest lives. Lift up the lowly.”

And the people came in droves to hear him. Who knows what motivated them. Maybe they were curious, interested in seeing this odd man with his wild eyes and primitive clothing. Maybe they were hungry for his message of transformation. Maybe they just wanted to see what was going on. Whatever the reason, they came.

And then one day, his cousin came, too. He baptized him just the way he had baptized all the rest of them, except it wasn’t the same at all. Because he knew that the Spirit was present somehow, and that in the moment when the water slipped through his fingers, all the hopes and prayers of his own ministry were fulfilled. In that moment, he had no doubt that this was the one.

His conviction gave him the strength to speak out against the evils of his day. His faith made him fearless, and his fearlessness made him reckless. He challenged the ruler and his sinful lifestyle and found himself in prison because of it.

And in that place of dark confinement, suddenly he wasn’t so sure. He began to wonder and to question and maybe even to doubt. Had he spent his life for nothing? Had he been wrong all along? Herod still ruled; people were still oppressed; the rich got richer and the poor still suffered. And it seemed there was no judgment, no condemnation, no axe at the root of the tree, no winnowing fork separating the wheat from the chaff and burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. The world was much the way it always had been.

And the echo of that long ago song rose up in the darkness of his prison cell and mocked him until finally he could stand it no more and he sent word to his cousin: “Are you the one who is to come? Are you? Or are we supposed to wait for someone else? Did we get it wrong? Was it was all a big mistake? Are you the one?”

And this was the response: “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

Jesus had breathed life into the words of prophets long dead. He had reclaimed God’s holy intention for creation. The dry wastelands of life were blooming and beautiful. All was joy and gladness, no sorrow, no grief. The desert was transformed; it became a garden, like that garden in the beginning. Except … John was still in prison, Herod was still in power, the poor and the weak were still oppressed.

There is no record of John’s reaction to the message that came to him, but I wonder if it really answered his question. And I wonder, too, if we are not asking the same question: Are you the one?

Look around at our world: The beautiful words of Isaiah, the strong and clear words of Mary, the healing, saving words of Jesus seem just that – words, not reality. Here is the reality. The homeless roam the streets. Children go to bed hungry, in our town, not just far away. Millions are disabled by diseases that are easily treated or even prevented. Poverty cripples the dreams of bright young minds. And the rich get richer and the poor still suffer. And maybe we were sure at one time that what we or the church were doing made sense, but our helplessness in the face of the world’s wrongs stirs up our own doubt. Are you the one?

Here we are, waiting for Christmas, but in truth we are waiting for more than that. We are waiting for the complete fulfillment of all those ancient words. We are waiting for the waste places of our world to become beautiful, lush and lovely. We are waiting for an end to illness and disease and disability. We are waiting for an end to our own inability to speak, to act, to change.

The world is a mess, and it is easy to despair when we look around us. But here is the work of Advent: Look deeper. Try to see beneath the surface. Go to the desert and look for the life that lies there. Hidden in the sand are the seeds of the crocus. Under the parched surface, there are pools of water. In the midst of death and dryness, there is life, just waiting to flower.

Our faith is like that, too. It is marked by the “already” and the “not yet.” Everything that is meant to be is already present, but it is not yet fully realized. All the goodness that God would want us to have is already given, but we have not fully embraced it. The power to restore creation already exists, but we have not yet let it loose.

And the work of Advent is opening our eyes to see what is already there. The work of Advent is preparing the way for what is to come and is already here. The work of Advent is strengthening the weak hands, making firm the feeble knees. It is saying to those who are of a fearful heart: Be strong, do not fear. Your God is here and your God will come to save you.”

And the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless will sing for joy. Waters will break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. And a highway shall be there and it shall be called the Holy Way. And it will be the way of the Lord, and we will walk it with him.

May it be so, even as it already is. Amen.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith

Snow Day

This winter that was so slow in coming has arrived with a vengeance. It snowed on Thursday and pretty much shut down the whole area. Traffic stood still for hours. It was so bad that the mall closed around suppertime – and Christmas just around the corner of the calendar. As I drove to work in the morning, the world was brown and even still green in some places. But all that was hidden in the afternoon, covered with a thick blanket of snow. And now it has snowed again, mixed in with sleet and freezing rain. It is cold, windy, and icy. Lots of churches cancelled their services this morning. We had worship and it was really nice. It would not be quite Advent without this Sunday of joy, the pink candle, and Mary’s song. And I wonder what all those pastors did with their snow day. Did they have coffee at the kitchen table and read the Sunday paper? Did they go back to bed and sleep through what would have been the call to worship and confession? Did they pray or listen to carols or read a book? Did they have trouble deciding how to spend this day off? A snow day is a rare gift, and I hope all those ministers who had one today were as excited about it as if they were eight years old. I hope it was a Sunday of joy for them, too.

Christmas Controversy

There is a big controversy at my home church about the manger scene. For more years than I can remember, it has been a kind of home-made affair, with department store mannequins dressed up and placed in a small shed that is put in place every December. The figures had gotten worn and old, and they were replaced in the last year or so -- by more mannequins. It was getting difficult to haul the shed out each year and then put it back, so someone made a small trailer. The whole thing now sits on that and can be rolled into place.

The figures are strange looking – no question about it. The angel of the Lord has a decidedly Dolly Parton-ish air. The shepherds (but one of them might be a wise man – hard to know) have been described as looking like stereotypes of Taliban officials. Mary is almost completely covered, as though she were a little embarrassed by all of it. And that seems to be the reaction of some church members – obviously not those who bought the new mannequins and their costumes. The town is talking, and they feel they are a laughingstock. Some of them wish they could just have a nice plastic lighted nativity like the big brick church down the street. Instead they have this one that is in poor taste and doesn’t fit with most folks’ views about what the Holy Family and its visitors ought to look like.

I’ve never been a fan of the mannequin manger scene, but I’ve been pondering the reactions to the new set up, and here is what I think: Maybe it isn’t inappropriate at all. Maybe it is closer to the spirit of the first Christmas than any of us realize. After all, there was nothing tasteful about the original. Maybe it was a crowded and cramped space; and maybe putting the manger scene on a trailer is a metaphor that reminds us that the stable was a “vehicle” for the coming of God into the world. If you met those first shepherds on the street, maybe they would look more than a little scary. And if the angel of the Lord appears as a woman of abundance, then maybe that has something to say about the nature of heaven, where there is always an overflowing “more.”

And here is the other thing. That this is a controversy strikes me as wholly and completely appropriate. We’ve domesticated what happened in Bethlehem until our Jesus has become plastic and still, clean and bright and quiet, not at all the kind of trouble-maker he turned out to be in real life. People then talked about him and how out of place he was, how he seemed to attract the wrong kind of attention, how he wasn’t like what the good religious people had come to expect. And, even though it makes me wince, I have decided to give thanks for this strange manger scene that has everybody talking.

December 11, 2007

Beauty Advice

She was at the cosmetic counter at the drugstore. I stood in line there because I was in a hurry and the line was short. Her hair was as black and shiny as imitation patent leather shoes. She was wearing a bright turquoise turtleneck with a thin cotton vest over it. The vest was probably company issue; it was supposed to be black but it looked rusty compared to her hair, and it was stained with what seemed like the lunch of days gone by. She was wearing a nametag that read “Marcia, Beauty Advisor.” And then, just in case you missed it, she had another badge pinned on her vest below her nametag: “I am your beauty advisor.” The skin on her face was crisscrossed with lines. It is a cliché, but it really did look like a road map with streets crossing here and there, the record of past journeys there for all to see. She had put on makeup, a lot, and it had settled into the creases. I looked at her face and her hair and the declarations pinned to her dirty vest, and I thought: “Oh no, you are not my beauty advisor.” And then I felt an immediate stab of remorse. I wondered if she had put on that makeup for a husband or a mother, for a grown child, for someone who looked at her and saw a beautiful woman, someone who was beloved as a sweetheart, a cherished daughter, an ever-young mother. Or did she go home to open a can of cat food for a being that did not care how she looked but only that she was a supplier of food? What courage did it take to look in the mirror every morning and pin that badge on: “I am your beauty advisor?”
I paid for my purchase – packaging tape, antacid, and lip balm – and left with my bag. And I thought that maybe her kind of beauty was something with a lot of advice to offer me.

December 9, 2007

Snow and Roses

The first snow of winter fell while the roses of summer were still blooming – one season intruding into another, each beautiful in its own way and the overlapping of the two more lovely than I could have imagined.

Photo by Jane Highsmith

A Toothache

I have a toothache. The dentist knows which tooth hurts but I can’t exactly tell. He says it is because of “referred pain.” It is an interesting concept, isn’t it? The source of the pain projects itself somewhere else, so that I think it is another tooth that needs work. And I wonder if maybe that is the calling of the church – to be the source of the world’s referred pain. Maybe we are to be the location where the pain of homelessness and hunger, war, and the impact of natural disasters lodge. Maybe we are the place that registers the pain when all other places are numb or in shock or oblivious. And if we do, indeed, feel the pain of the world, then we also must respond. Pain, after all, is a sign that something is wrong, that there is a danger that can threaten or cause damage. Pain is a message that action is needed. What would it be like if the church responded to the referred pain of the world by taking steps to ease that pain, to treat the source of the distress? I think we do that at our church by working to feed the hungry. I don’t think there are many folks who show up on Sunday morning with rumbling stomachs, but I do think that some come with souls that are growling because they share the hunger of the world. This month, our offerings go to the local food bank. That is a good thing. And it is also good that we are the nerve that feels the referred pain of the world around us.

December 4, 2007

Silent Night, Holy Night

We had our Advent service of lessons and carols on Sunday. Outside it was all ice and dark, slick danger, but the chapel was warm and bright with candles. The choirs sounded the way angels must sound, and the readers were serious and careful with the ancient texts. There is sometimes something truly mystical that happens in worship and that was one of those times. I knew everything that was going to happen in the service – when we would sit and stand, who would move where and when, what the words of the prayers would be, and how we would light the candles. It was all written out for us in a script. I knew what was going to happen, and I was still caught by surprise with the wonder of it. We sang “Away in a Manger” and it made me feel like crying. The words of the song of the Christmases of our childhoods surrounded us with grace, so simple and sweet, holding much more meaning than any ordinary words could. And then we lit all the candles, passing the light from one to the other in the dark sanctuary, and we sang “Silent Night” with the guitar playing, and I thought maybe I could almost understand the mystery of the manger. And then we all went out into the icy night, into the holy silence.

December 2, 2007

First Sunday in Advent

"Dirty Work"
Isaiah 2:1-5

Some years ago I visited Colonial Williamsburg with my family. It was one of those southern summer days when the temperature and the humidity are both hovering around 100. that bothered the adults but my niece who was four or five at the time was completely unphased by it. She loved watching the craftspeople at work, weaving baskets, making pottery, that sort of thing. But her favorite place was the blacksmith shop. A man was at work there with a hammer and anvil, shaping metal into useful tools. He was working over an open fire because the heat was necessary to soften the metal. It had to be a hot fire so occasionally he used bellows to pump air onto the coals and fire them up. I remember him working but mostly I remember how it was almost unbearably hot in that blacksmith shop and there were ashes and soot over all the place. His was a hard and dirty job.

I remembered that blacksmith shop as I read Isaiah’s prophecy: they shall beat their swords into plowshares. It is a wonderful outcome, isn’t it? All the weapons of war transformed into farm implements; no more tools for fighting and killing but rather equipment for planting and growing; no more bloodshed but instead a world at peace. Isaiah’s prophecy is both a hope and a promise, a word of comfort spoken to war-weary people. But I find it a bit disheartening that more than 2000 years later the promise of peace is yet to be fulfilled and the hope lies fragile in our hearts.

And I wonder if that is, in part, because we have misunderstood the nature of peace. I think we almost universally view peace as the absence of war. Certainly that is part of it, but to say that peace is the absence of war is like saying light is the absence of darkness. It is true, but it is only a small part of the truth. And it has nothing to say about the real nature of peace and how it is created.

Making peace is hard and dirty work. It requires the complete transformation of the very purpose of our lives. However it happened, the stuff of our life got shaped into something sharp and dangerous. However it happened, we wounded people we love, as well as those we don’t even know. However it happened, we came to spend our energy on defending ourselves and protecting ourselves and gaining our own advantage. We have been told that we have to attack life if we are to live it fully.

But in God’s holy blacksmith shop, all that gets changed. The essence of our lives remains the same, but our purpose is completely reshaped. Maybe we still have a sharp edge but that blade is now used for opening the ground of our being so that something new and nourishing can grow. Instead of living lives that are focused on self-protection at the expense of the rest of the world, we claim a calling that seeks to serve the other, not ourselves.

And what would that be like? Maybe like this:

In the mid-1990s, a Manhattan carpet store owner named Fernando Mateo had an idea that he thought might make the streets of New York safer. He created a program that gave $100 gift certificates form Toys ‘R’ Us to all those who turned guns into the police. During the 16 days of the program, 1,502 firearms were collected in one New York City precinct. And, guess what? Crime went down dramatically during that time in that precinct and the two adjoining ones as compared to a similar period. Assaults involving guns dropped from 10 to 2, gun possession arrests went from 18 to 11, and armed robberies were down 53 to 28. (“Armed-Crime Dip Recorded During Gun Exchange,” by Ronald Sullivan, New York Times, January 8, 1994) The success of the program has spawned similar ones nationwide.

Guns for toys: swords into plowshares.

Here is another example. This past week, the U.S. military invaded Bangladesh – did you know that? Twenty-four hundred U.S. Marines and sailors moved into the country to help Bangladeshi government provide clean water, medical aid, food and other relief supplies to victims of Cyclone Sidr, the most severe storm to hit the country since 1991. Thirty-six hundred people were killed in the storm and those who survived have almost nothing left to sustain life. So, equipped with 20 helicopters, the U.S. forces have delivered 160 tons of relief supplies to the storm victims this week. The main need is clean water, which is processed aboard US war ships and then delivered by military helicopters to the victims.
(“Storm-Stricken Bangladesh Gets Aid from U.S. Marines, Sailors,” by Phillip Kurata,

The equipment of war used to bring life-saving aid, water rather than weapons: swords into plowshares.

And this kind of transformation is not just something that happens on a large scale, as in these examples. It also happens in the smallest of spaces, in here. I don’t think that I can bring about world wide peace, but that doesn’t let me off the hook. I can work for peace in my world. And I must if I am to be faithful to God’s vision for creation.

But whether in the world around us or in the world within us, this is not easy work. In fact, it may be painful. Consider Isaiah’s image. In the heat of a holy forge, where the breath and the fire of the spirit melt our souls, we are hammered by God into something different. Our hearts are softened so that we can be remade. It is a hard and dirty work that God must do in order to reclaim us and restore us again to our rightful purpose, to recreate us into the people God intended us to be all along.

And -- when that happens, then we, too, must engage in that same kind of dirty work in the world, bringing the power of the Spirit to places of war and conflict, even if those places are in our own homes, within our own families, among our colleagues, our neighbors, the strangers in our streets; melting hostility; reshaping and bringing holy purpose to all of life. We, too, must recast our swords into plowshares.

In these Advent days, we are preparing to celebrate the birth of the one called the Prince of Peace. May we do that by allowing the Holy Blacksmith to beat the weapons we have made of our lives into implements of care and growth. May we be transformed by wind and fire of the Spirit so that we, in turn, may engage in the hard and dirty work of transforming the world.

And may our Advent prayer be the prayer of the poet:

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee, and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.
(John Donne)


The photograph is the sculpture "Let us Beat Swords into Plowshares
" in the United Nations garden. It was a gift from the then Soviet Union presented in 1959 and made by Evgeniy Vuchetich.

(c) Martha C. Highsmith