Monthly Archives: December 2016

Pastoral Prayer at the End of Advent


Most gracious God,

desire of every living thing,

you have lighted our way in Advent

candle by candle,

dispelling our gloom.

and now four candles shine.

The night is almost over.

The Day is almost here.

But not yet.

Promise by promise

you have cleared our sight

with words from afar,

dreams, signs and wonders,

and now the Word made flesh

Is almost appearing.

But not yet.

Grace by grace

you have kept us awake,

brightening our eyes of faith,

and now we watch only a little more.

Now on tiptoe we see

the one we waited for

is almost here.

But not yet.

At the end of Advent,

in these days of not quite yet,

look with compassion

on the pain of the joyless,

the grief of the childless,

the sorrow of the bereaved:

for not all people enjoy the season,

not every family embraces,

not every womb conceives and carries,

not every day dawns with the presence of those we love,

not every story is full of angels,

not every song is ‘Glory!’

As we tell again the story

of your coming among us,

bind our hearts to the anguish of the poor,

the suffering of the sick,

the misery of the imprisoned,

and keep us alive to the terrors of war,

too easily forgotten, too easily accepted.

Increase the joy of earth,

and help us relish with thankful hearts

every good thing that will be ours at Christmas:

every pleasure and taste,

every sound and sight,

every touch and memory,

so that in the delight of our bodies

and the thoughts of our minds

we will know and love you,

who visits us through every sense and pore.

More than anything, O God,

we ask for Christ –

to meet his love, to know his goodness,

to experience his power, to be attracted to his way.

We ask for Christ—

to make the difference, to anchor our hearts,

to lead the way, to bring us home.

We ask for Christ – for cradle and cross,

for lullaby and lament, for life and death

and life made new in him.

In hope we pray,

the spirit of Christmas leaping within us,

heartened by his almost visitation,

the words he taught us on our lips:

Our Father….



“Like a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God… When shall I see you face to face?”—Psalm 42:1-2

Waiting is the hallmark of Advent, yet the Advent psalms and prophets speak more about longing than waiting: panting, fainting, begging, crying, desperate human need.

Waiting can be active, but it’s rarely terrible and driving. Desire, however, is visceral, like the crazed thirst of a wild animal in a parched land. God is a fierce and unrelenting need. Advent craves God.

Do you?

No, you aren’t thrashing through underbrush frantically seeking water. You don’t really relate much to that panting deer. You don’t have those kinds of experiences of God. You’re no mystic.

Although there was that moment when you heard a loon on the lake and cried, couldn’t stop, didn’t know why, but so wished you did.

Although there was that moment when you felt incomplete, a restlessness, and wondered what you were missing.

Although there was that moment when you were suddenly and completely happy, consoled without cause, and you wish you could feel it again.

Although there was that moment at the peace march or serving communion or stargazing in pure black night when you grasped it whole, the way it is, the way it’s meant to be.

Although there was that moment when your heart lurched listening to a story about someone who risked it all, who loved the way you want to, yes, you do.

Although there was that moment your defenses were down and your suffering was great when you just cried out, cried out for God, and then got scared: what if God comes?

No, you’re no mystic, no thrashing deer.

But there was that time…

Prayer: I’m so thirsty for you, O God. Like the deer. When will I see you face to face?


Commemoration of Saint Nicholas, December 6


“He had to be made like his siblings in every way, so that he might become a merciful high priest… For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…”—Hebrews 2:17, 4:15

When his wealthy parents died, Nicholas of Myra gave away a fortune and gave himself to the church. As a bishop, he acquired a reputation for generosity to the poor. After he died on December 6, 354, his fame spread beyond Asia Minor. In Europe, Christian imagination transformed him into jolly old St. Nick. Here, cartoonist Thomas Nast made him Santa Claus.

These days, many Christians are down on Santa and the commercialization of the season he represents. Aiming for a holier Advent, they point back to St. Nicholas, Santa’s prototype. We’d be a lot closer to the right spirit, they say, if we looked to the bishop, not the elf.

If only it were that simple. It turns out that the kind bishop was also a harsh bishop. Once jailed for his orthodox faith, he gave as good as he got, persecuting pagans and repressing Arian heretics. He was an amalgam of utmost kindness and fierce certainty, passions sweet and cruel, a compromised person in a complicated world. Like ours. Like us.

And if we’re hoping to be squeaky clean in this expectant season; if we think there’s a right way to do Advent that will bring us to Christmas with bright shiny faces; if we’re striving to reach a spiritual place in our lives without defects, contradictions, and dead-ends, perhaps we haven’t yet begun to grasp the Mercy we’re waiting for, the One who reached eagerly for the compromised flesh we try to escape, entered the complicated world we try to smooth out, and loved them both to death, even death on a cross.


On St. Nicholas Day, we surrender our compromised hearts, complicated lives, and earnest striving to you, O Mercy without end.


Image: St Nicholas, 16th c. Russian icon