Solidarity With The Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round them, and they were sore afraid. But the angel said unto them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2)

The universal nature of the Christmas good news comes from the angel to the shepherds. I’m so glad!

For as the late Lutheran pastor Walt Wangerin reflects,

“This time the angel grows bright before a bunch of nameless folk. First it was Zechariah, next Mary, next Joseph, all of whom had roles to play in the coming of the Christ — but now…shepherds! These, not even the owners of their sheep, they are working stiffs who don’t even get a name….and here comes Gabriel again, and what he says is “good tidings of great joy…for ALL people!” Well, of course. That’s why the shepherds are first: they represent ALL the nameless, ALL the working stiffs, the great wheeling population of the whole world.” (preparing for Jesus)

Some years ago I tried to reflect on what the shepherds must have been thinking….I wrote: “Why us?” was the common topic. We were the last who’d expect such a visit, and any news of a messiah. We’re shepherds, with least privilege and power, many of us never even called by our names. Surely this arrival was meant for the rabbis and scribes keeping vigil at the temple in Jerusalem, a holy place where we aren’t even allowed. Why us, why us? Yet here we were, running down the hills through the city gate to look for a baby in a barn, we strangely blessed, excited and fearful to see. And we found them, I know not how, but we found them.”

The shepherds seems a parable of the whole utterly astonishing surprise of the Christmas story. Just consider it. A teenage unwed mother-to-be, and a virgin at that. A sleepy, little, out of the way village becoming the epicenter of God’s incarnation. The messiah — envisioned to come as a warrior king to take over the world by power and force — instead shows up on the scene as a baby, utterly dependent on Mary and Joseph for even one day of life. He is laid not on a throne but in a cattle trough. And to top it all off, the news comes first to shepherds at work in the fields. They’re the ones who take care of things so that others have time to be religious — domestic servants you might say. In this sense, the unexpected involvement of the shepherds at the center of the story fits perfectly, because everything about the coming of Jesus is so very surprising.

The challenge for me, for us, is to overcome our familiarity with the story, and our romanticizing of it. How to allow my life and everything about life as I know it to be turned upside down by the surprise of it all? That’s the holy question. While we, like those unnamed bedouin, just zip through life, exhausted by all the cultural trappings around us, imagine, just imagine, if you were to hear the story for the first time, and encounter an angel somewhere on Hibbard Road?

I’m so thankful for those shepherds, who are the exclamation point on what seems like only a tall tale. Without even trying they widen the net of this good news of great joy to include ALL people, everywhere, and especially those least considered and most unexpected.

I hope sometime in all your plans and parties, maybe in an anticipated moment when someone you love looks into your eyes and hands you a gift, you might get more than you bargained for — a still small voice speaking to your spirit tidings of comfort and joy that suddenly take your fear and sorrow all away, until you raise your hands to your cheeks and welcome the coming of Jesus, as if for the first time, not knowing if ever the Savior would come. And the Savior has come.

And in your own way, join the shepherd parade to go and see this thing that has taken place. SHEPHERDS!

Joy and Peace, and hope to see you Saturday at 4 p.m.!


The Holy Interruption

Well, friends, here we are.

The week leading up to Christmas.

A span of days that I think of as “Christmas crunch time,” when those of us who have delayed shopping are suddenly consumed with gift lists and delivery dates and rush shipping costs. When those of us who have been working steadily on holiday to-do’s all along are nearing the end of our lists: cards all but mailed, wrapping nearly done, most of the cookies baked and some gifts already delivered.

Students are just finishing finals or beginning to recover from them. Teachers are in those last few frenzied days before vacation begins.

Most of us, I am willing to bet, are weary. That could be the normal weariness of a season that asks a lot of us, from calendars full of gatherings, programs, special events, and concerts, to extra cleaning, extra cooking, shopping and wrapping. Or it could be the bone-deep weariness that sets in after a hard year, or a hard series of years.

It could be the weariness of those who are grieving this season. Those who are struggling with seasonal depression. Those who are overwhelmed by memories of Christmases past – good or bad – and unsure of what the present or future contains.

Take your pick, really.

And wherever you are starting this week, the intensity only seems to mount as we get closer to Christmas Eve.

Now, I tend to have one of about three reactions to this kind of mounting stress and tension.

  1. I kick into high gear, as my mom might say. I make lists, and cross them off. I don’t sit down for most of the day. I get stuff DONE.
  2. I get overwhelmed and do less and less. I don’t know where to start, so I don’t. And I watch holiday baking competitions on tv, and scroll through videos of dogs in Christmas pjs, and I try to ignore the list that is growing longer of things I have yet to do.
  3. (This is the least likely option, if I am honest.) I take a deep breath, and look at my list, and realize that very little of it is as important as I make it out to be. I simplify. I try to be present, and loving, and kind. I pray for patience and try to show it even when I don’t feel patient.

I was thinking of all this today, as I sat down to read my Advent devotion (I’m reading this one by Kate Bowler). And today’s reading reminded me of a tradition called Las Posadas, begun in sixteenth-century Mexico, of reenacting that tender moment when Mary and Joseph seek a room at the inn. Traditionally, a small procession walks to a designated house after dark and re-enacts a dialogue between Joseph and the innkeeper, who is annoyed and stubborn and refusing him and his pregnant wife any room. But at some point, he recognizes the two weary travelers, and invites them in.

The scene is carried out for nine days, at nine different houses, culminating in a big party on Christmas Eve. People gather and celebrate the hospitality extended to Mary and Joseph and by extension baby Jesus: the willingness to be interrupted. To share when it feels like there is nothing left to give. To find a well of something – kindness, generosity – when we thought we were dry.

This, I think, is a key part of the Christmas story that we miss when we rush to the nativity scene and the birth.

That for the story to happen as we know it, someone had to be willing to stop, and look, and recognize holiness in their midst. To be inconvenienced for the sake of another in need.

It’s a good reminder for Christmas crunch time. A necessary reminder. That perhaps the best gift we can give to God, and to one another, is to be willing to be interrupted. To be kind, above all else. To make space for each other. To care for one another. And perhaps there, to find Immanuel, God with us, even where we least expect to.

I hope you will be surprised by some holy interruptions this Christmas, too.


Pastor Jen

Stubborn Faith Via Bruce Cockburn

“…but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

For a time now I’m going to reflect on some favorite rock and roll lyrics that carry and challenge my spirit. I must begin with Bruce Cockburn, the Canadian troubadour who must be my favorite poet also. You must check out his music library.

These lines from his song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” (album is Stealing Fire) have journeyed with me through life since my college days when they first appeared:

“When you’re lovers in a dangerous time Sometimes you’re made to feel as if your love’s a crime But nothing worth having comes without some kind of fight Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

They seem to ring true more than ever before, like loud clanging bells these days, in these hard years filled with challenge, most especially in and for the church. I’m of the opinion that we are in a profound re-formation that history will mark and remember. Some of the Church is gathered around a growing, driving impulse to be more inclusive as we become more and re-focused on the gospels and the love of Jesus. This impulse is being challenged, and appropriately so, by much of the Church that can’t locate that impulse biblically and theologically. So the debate rages on, often as we forget that what we are at odds about after all is love, and the will to love.

As I reflect on the Jesus of the gospels, it would be fair I think to identify him as “a lover in a dangerous time” who was certainly “made to feel as if his love’s a crime”. He was rejected, arrested, beaten and crucified in the end because his love for the world reached consistently beyond the borders of the religious establishment. His ferocious fight had only one weapon, and that was love. And he told his friends that it was love more than anything else that would bring light into a dark world. His was a stubborn and relentless love, intentionally directed at the unclean, unwelcome, and unwanted.

Now it’s our turn! And we should not be surprised that the journey we take to speak and act out the love of Jesus will bring division, rejection, and suffering. But we must persist, even if stubbornly, to “kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight” and to fight for the love of Christ Jesus to light up the darkness that’s in each of us, and then through us the world around us.

In another one of Bruce Cockburn’s songs, he writes:

“There’s roads and there’s roads and they call. Can’t you hear it? Roads of the earth and roads of the spirit. The best roads of all are the ones that aren’t certain One of those is where you’ll find me ‘Til they drop the big curtain.” (“Child of the Wind”)

I am learning through the journey of life that the call to follow Jesus is a call to uncertainty in terms of how things will go in the world, and even sometimes in the religious world — but he road walked with Jesus is the road of all-healing love, and light, and so the best road of all. It requires a stubborn faith to keep going when the going gets tough when the days are dangerous and even love seems a crime.

This is our call, our life’s most central vocation. What do you think?

Peter Hawkinson


My sister Mary from Minnesota joined us for thanksgiving. We had a wonderful time drinking coffee, laughing, and telling stories, sharing memories together. Mary is number three in the birth order, four years ahead of me, so we spent a lot of our childhood together. At one point in the festivities I simply gave her some sort of special look while I pointed up at the top of the hutch above our dining room table. I knew she’d remember. And she did. “ENCHILADAS!” she almost screamed with joy.

Up there on top of the hutch sits the copper skillet, the very copper skillet that our grandma Lydia used to make enchiladas; well, the enchilada tortillas. One by one she made them for our extended Hawkinson Christmas family gatherings, when in the late sixties and early seventies there might be thirty or forty of us crowded into their flat on Christiana avenue.

The issue was this, that because those enchiladas were so very delicious, Lydia needed to make, in my estimation, at least two hundred tortillas, one by one, on that little skillet, let alone all the fillings — hers were mildly, rather “Swedishly” seasoned ground beef, cheese, and brown beans. Like being faced with Nanna’s Maple Bars or Oma’s Rye Bread or a bag of Fritos (you pick your favorite food you cannot stop eating here), the over/under on these enchiladas was 5. I think one year my cousin Tim set the record at 12.

Of course Lydia didn’t have to do this — and how she got all those corn tortillas ready to cook up I’ll never know, but wish I did. She could have made it easy on herself; after all there were only two houses to the corner and Foster foods. But there she will ever remain, laboring with love, carefully cooking up hundreds of enchiladas for the generations to gulp down.

And of course, it’s not really about the enchiladas, but about the sacred memories of those childhood christmases, and so many who were there who aren’t anymore, and so many who I rarely if ever see anymore. There’s uncle Zen with his homemade jul must (root beer!). Aunt Barb, ever the preschool teacher, gathers us kids to tell us a Christmas story. Grandpa Eric, ever the stoic, sits in the corner with a sly and delighted smirk. My dad is in his early forties and full of life! And mom at some point gets to the piano and gets us all singing. My oldest Cousin Tom is back from Illinois Wesleyan; and my youngest brother Paul is a toddler, “Pauly-wally” in those days. What memories.

And, of course, it is about the enchiladas. They were scrumptious.

So what thing, what object is laying close by somewhere in your home, and what memories does it hold for you? What are those memories for you? Tastes and smells, faces and voices?

Love From Here

Peter Hawkinson

Christmas Reflections

A couple of nights ago, I went searching through my shelves for my next book. And I stumbled, as habitual book buyers like myself tend to, on a little volume that I’d received last year and forgotten.

My sister ordered it for Christmas, but due to really high demand I didn’t receive it until January – and then I couldn’t bring myself to read it, a collection of essays curated by Emma Thompson and Greg Wise called Last Christmas. It wasn’t the right time of year. I was in the post-holiday funk, exacerbated by another COVID wave, and the very last thing I wanted to do was think more about Christmas, eleven and a half months away.

But now, the time seemed right. Deep into Advent, the days growing shorter and the nights longer, wading into the complex feelings of this holiday season, I was primed and ready.

And what I’ve found so far is a delight. The book takes reflections from a wide variety of people – political refugees, famous actors, people who have experienced homelessness, and well-known tv hosts – and puts them all together under the theme of memories of Christmases past and hopes for future ones.

The entries are arranged alphabetically by author’s first name, so there’s no organization based on how famous the people are, or their life situations. Already, I’ve read a reflection by someone who experienced homelessness, by someone whose memories of Christmas Eve and a large family gathering are very much in line with my own Christmases at Grandma’s while growing up, and (I was delighted to find), a vicar.

I am reminded, reading these essays, that Christmas is a time fraught with feelings for many of us – whether or not we would describe ourselves as Christ-followers. It represents a season of great hope and possibility; a time of grief and deep nostalgia; a chance to embrace and celebrate, or a time of high risk for illness, injury, recurring addictions.

It can bring out the best or worst in all of us. That’s part of what makes it so compelling.

The vicar, a clergyman in the Anglican church named Ashley Collishaw, writes in his essay that “Christmas is part of the day job, and yet the weight of the season has never diminished. It still holds magic and meaning.”

But what is the magic and meaning for us?

I have been thinking about this a lot. I’m reading this devotional by Kate Bowler, and watching this video in Sunday School; lighting my Advent candles and wondering: How do I prepare for Jesus’ coming? How do I see that Emmanuel, God with us, is already here? What can I do? What’s stopping me?

I hope you’re taking time in this Advent season to ponder these questions, too. (Spoiler alert: there are no easy answers. But I find that’s true of the best questions.)

As I do, I keep returning to a quote that I first heard some seven Christmases ago. It’s from D.L. Mayfield’s Brutally Honest Christmas Letter, which is no longer posted in its entirety, but which you can find pieces of online.

It says: “But perhaps the most significant thing is that Jesus is no longer an abstract person, a walking theology, a list of do’s and don’t’s to me. This is the year I recognized him as my battered, bruised brother, and I see how he never once left my side.”

Perhaps, beyond all the noise of this season, the pain and the hurt, the power and the possibility, the beauty and the longing, we can hear this: that Jesus is by our side. In the muck and mire, on the mountaintop; in the silent night and in the angels’ chorus: he is with us. Now and forever.

Whatever Christmas brings to us this year, or doesn’t; whatever we do to prepare ourselves, or don’t; this much remains true.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

-Pastor Jen

The Future…and the Past

I have noted in difficult and uncertain present moments that the need for a little reflection backwards goes a long way. I don’t know about you, but I struggle with decisions and directions — the “fork in the road” type that are part of life’s journey. Which way? I don’t know.

When I stop long enough to look back over my life, I can see clearly how God has led me along — sometimes even into hard seasons so necessary. Trying not to be simplistic or over-spiritual about life, I believe my journey and yours too to be sacred — filled with the presence of the Holy Spirit as it unfolds and sometimes changes directions.

My dear friend and colleague Judi Geake is helping me once again to rest in this, and find comfort when the present living moment seems up in the air. Yesterday at our staff gathering she read this poem, from John O’Donohue, that seems to capture both the anticipatory excitement and exhaustive unknown about new chapters of life:

For a New Beginning

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space between Us

Then, this morning while searching for a book in the church library, a poster-board sign leaning against her desk, likely brought by by someone and left says this:

“I trust the next chapter because I know the author.”

here’s much about life’s journey and direction that’s always up for grabs. Growing older I realize how much I keep waiting for that to change, instead of embracing the journey as it is in all its mysteries. What helps me in this is faith in the One who bears all good gifts, and whose will is always for good, and who is present and active in my journey, sometimes pushing, sometimes pulling me along. I’ll admit I am one of those crazy enough to believe such a thing and who finds a settled comfort in God’s presence and promises. In the end, it also beckons me forward as the poem says, “awakening your spirit to adventure”, and as the poster-board says, “because I know the author.”

That’s enough to face the unknowns and big decisions ahead with hope.

Question — Where do these thoughts settle in your own spirit and on our own journey in the season? How is God’s Spirit speaking to you?

Love From Here, and thanks to Judi!

Peter Hawkinson