Christmas Eve & Christmas Day

The Word

Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
    you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
    as with joy at the harvest,
    as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
    and the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor,
    you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
    and all the garments rolled in blood
    shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
    and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
    He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
    from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

John 1:6-14

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.


CmasEve-Day-- Moyers-Shine_HR-large

Shine by Mike Moyers.

Three of the gospel writers begin their narratives with stories of Jesus’ life: his birth or his ministry. The writer of John, however, begins with an affirmation of the eternal nature of God and the ancient hymn affirming that God is eternal, outside of time and space.God, and the Word that is with God and is God, existed before creation and continue to exist. The relationship between God and the Word is eternal, from before the beginning to the creation of the world and afterwards. 

Everything came into being through God, who is the source of all light and life. This light, which is eternal, shines even in the darkness.Even darkness cannot overcome this light from God. 

After reminding us of the eternal nature of God, and the Word, the writer John brings us to a specific time and place to describe the life and teachings of Jesus: Palestine at the time of John the Baptist, with no birth narrative or story of Jesus’ childhood.

The gospel of Mark introduces John the Baptist as calling people to repentance and baptizing them with water, but the writer of John introduces John the Baptist as one who came to witness to the light.This witness is an important vocation in this Gospel, because it is through witness that the world comes to know the presence of God in the world. The writer of John later describes John the Baptist’s witness in answering the Pharisees’ questions and baptizing. 

As the writer of John has emphasized the importance of witness in spreading God’s word, we are drawn to the question of how to bear witness in our contemporary society. Calling people to repentance goes against the grain of most Presbyterians and would doubtless cause some to question our grip on reality.However, in this season of Advent it may be worthwhile to explore how we can best witness to the reality of the Messiah, not for the sake of converting people, but to demonstrate to others that Christ lives among us. 

After describing the role of John, the writer of John closes this prologue witha return to the meaning of the Incarnation.The eternal Word enters our earthly dimension, becoming human.The story of Jesus, then, is the story of the Word made flesh. 

The significance of the Incarnation is that we are to discover God’s presence and God’s glory in Jesus himself. Thus, the rest of John’s gospel presents the life and teaching of Jesus, the Word made flesh which dwelt among us. 

For Unto Us a Child Is Born

CmasEve-Day-- Angels-Worship-Christ-Child

Angels Worship the Christ Child, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. 

I grew up with the words, “For unto us a child is born.” These words from the prophet Isaiah have found much resonance among Christians, partially through Handel’s Messiah, and partially through the sheer purity of the joy these words express. What is more pure, more beautiful, more innocent, more gracious, than to say, “to us a child is born”? This is certainly true if we are parents to the child; it is even more true when we consider that, as Christians, we have traditionally seen this text as pointing to and embodying the child who is the Messiah, the Savior and Redeemer of God’s created order, Jesus Christ. 

Notice, too, the equally appealing words attached to this simple statement:
Light – Wonderful Counselor – Mighty God – Everlasting Father – Prince of Peace – Endless peace

Then words in the passage get a little more earthly and move toward a certain concreteness:
Throne – Kingdom – Establish – Uphold – Justice – Righteousness – Forevermore

Less ethereal than the earlier words, these still speak to deep yearnings in the human heart. Interspersed, we have sentences which can be jarring to the hopeful cadence we have encountered so far:  

Authority rests upon his shoulders
His authority shall grow continually
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this

I am not sure that we, as a society or a people, have a positive place in our hearts for the word “authority.” In recent years we have grown to distrust authorities, to discount experts. On the one hand we yearn for leaders who seem to possess authority and on the other we doubt and distrust authority of human offices, and of leaders who occupy those offices. And while we may accept and affirm the “zeal of the Lord of hosts,” we are also distrustful of human zeal, unless of course it is our own. 

A central mystery of our faith is that the One who has the greatest authority – God – chooses to become a person who appears “as one without authority.”  One born. One born in a manger. One suffering and dying on the cross. At its heart, and at the most mature place in our faith, the authority of God in Jesus Christ is that of One born “unto us,” “among us,” “within us,” an authority of “light” and “peace” and “counseling” that is said to be “wonderful.” That authority is supreme even as it seems soft. It is zealous even as it whispers to us. It grows continually and lasts forever, even as Christ, its bearer and bringer, is vulnerable much of the time, vulnerable even to the point of death.  

“For unto us a Child is born.” A child. A mere child. But what authority rests upon his shoulders. 


Christmas is here! After four weeks of preparing, the purple of Advent is gone and the brilliant white of Christmas adorns our sanctuary. We embellish our church with hundreds of candles, guest musicians, and carols of celebration. 

While many familiar carols are associated with this most holy night, I have chosen to include the hymn, “Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding.” In it, we are reminded of the brilliance of this season.  Familiar metaphors for Christ—”the sun” and “the lamb”—combine with a soaring tune to lift our spirits. Upper voices of the choir sing descants in two of the five verses. American composer, Richard Webster, provides us with a truly thrilling brass fanfare and accompaniment. The recording is of the Westminster Choir with brass quintet and organ recorded live earlier in December. 

This Christmas, may you and yours experience the excitement that the Christ Child brings.  


The Christ Candle

A gift is wonderful to receive. A gift is also wonderful to give.  Whether gifts are wrapped in beautiful paper, a bag, brown paper or newspaper, a gift brings us wonder, excitement, joy and appreciation.

The greatest gift that we have received as Christians is the birth of Jesus Christ. God so loved us that he sent us a son. What an amazing present that we get to receive year after year after year.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word gift. This is their response:

Word Art (4)


Dear Lord, thank you for the most wonderful gift of Jesus. As we celebrate Christmas day, we are most grateful for your gift to us.


CmasEve-Day- Mission Photo- Moi's Bridge

Why Do Mission in Kenya When There’s So Much Need Here?

This question comes up from time to time and is a fair one. Strategically, we may wonder whether it makes “sense” to devote such significant resources abroad, when such significant human need exists just down the street, where our money and time may “go farther” because we do not have to travel so far to serve. And yet, for reasons that have as much to do with identity than strategy, Westminster remains steadfastly committed to the children and staff of the United Orphanage and Academy in Moi’s Bridge, Kenya, because our relationship with them is now an inseparable part of our story in God. It’s who we are, so it’s what we do.

We have Scriptural precedent. On Christmas Eve, we re-inhabit the story of Mary and Joseph, who were summoned from Nazareth so that Bethlehem may be the manger of our Savior’s birth. We anticipate the magi journeying great distances to pay the Christ child homage. We remember their antecedents, Abram and Sarai, who left home to be a blessing to all people in a new place far away, and we honor how Ruth felt in her God-given heart to leave her own people to abide with her mother-in-law, Naomi. We recall how in his grown-up ministry, Jesus hiked many miles to Tyre and Sidon to be with “those people,” the Samaritans, when he had plenty to do with “his” people in Galilee. And likewise, there is Paul, whose missionary map unfolded far beyond his city’s blocks, leaving us a faith whose boundaries extend far beyond the human imagination of his time.

All this to say, there are always needs “right next door,” in those places that are familiar to us, and seem tailor-made for our involvement. And yet, God seems to move through God’s people such that they move, extending their care beyond the well-worn paths of their everyday lives.

The disciples are sent, empty-handed but sure-footed, to proclaim release to the captives, good news to the poor, health to the sick. As disciples of this age, we are likewise called to “go,” to not restrict God’s movement in and through us to the confines of our known contexts. For this reason, we serve people in Kenya, and Haiti, and Mexico. We nurture relationships with friends in the Spirit Lake Reservation. We cross borders locally, by serving meals to people who might never eat with us at our tables, so that in God, someday, they might.  

One need not travel far to move beyond one’s fenced-in yard. So, the invitation this Christmas is to go, be open to God’s leading you away from familiarity to the awe of the unknown, even if that place is just down the street. Join in this holy movement, because it is our story in Christ. It is who we are, so let it move in what we do, locally, nationally and abroad.   


Cover Art: Awake My Soul by Mike Moyers. Image from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. Original work from

Advent Four – Week of December 22

The Word

Advent 4- Cover- The Dream of Joseph_James Tissot, 1886-96_Brooklyn_museum

The Dream of Joseph, 1886-96. James Tissot. Brooklyn Museum.

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.

Matthew 1:18-25


jacob-he-qi- Advent 4- interior

The Dream of Jacob. He Qi.

Well, this must have been awkward. Joseph and Mary are pledged to marry. They’ve probably gotten to know each other a bit. They’ve no doubt registered for gifts at the Nazareth market. The stage is set for a long, happy life together. And then she turns up pregnant. This would be an uncomfortable situation today, but it was, no doubt, far worse given the cultural norms of the time.

We want to imagine Joseph’s initial reaction as well as how Mary prepared to break the news. Did she just blurt it out? What was the conversation between them?

“I’m pregnant. But don’t worry, it’s from the Holy Spirit,” his bride says.

“Uh… what?”

Joseph must have felt betrayed. He probably thought she was delusional. He may have rolled his eyes, raised his voice or both. Although they technically were not yet married, Joseph and Mary were in a phase where they were legally pledged to one another. Her
action would have been considered adultery. We don't know what the exact conversation was like. But we do know that it seems to have left Joseph unconvinced that Mary was telling the truth.

Joseph has the inclination that many might: I’ve got to get through this. He wanted a divorce (to remove himself from the situation), and he wanted it done quietly (to save her dignity– and perhaps prevent a death by stoning, which would have been an adulterer’s fate). Joseph had a few options at this point, neither of them good. Divorce put Mary’s life at risk. Going forward with the marriage put his dignity at stake, since the community would know that they had not yet formally married. Either he wasn’t the baby’s father, or they had engaged in premarital sex.

Most of the Christmas story is focused on Jesus and Mary. Luke tells this portion from Mary’s perspective. The Angel appears before her to say that she will bear a son, and that she shall name him Jesus. Joseph isn’t mentioned at all in Luke’s telling, other than to note that he is engaged to Mary.

Matthew is the reverse. This passage is all though Joseph’s perspective. The angel appears to him: Don’t worry. Mary is pregnant but it’s through the Holy Spirit. In Matthew’s gospel, Joseph is the one who is told to name the baby Jesus. When Joseph wakes, he is abeliever. He does as the angel instructs, and he takes Mary as his wife.

There are many miracles we look to this time of year. I’m certain that Joseph’s understanding is one of those miracles.


The hymn “Come, Thou Redeemer of the Earth” is a perpetual favorite of mine. At Westminster we employ it in a twofold procession. The first, perhaps most obvious, is the physical movement of singers from the rear of the sanctuary to the chancel. In so doing, we are reminded of entering into God’s presence as we worship.

The second is procession of sound. As the hymn retells the story of the coming Christ, the number of voices and instruments swells with each passing verse. In today’s recording, the first verse of the hymn is sung by five of our Girl Choristers. A small number of handbells accompany 40 of our youngest children in singing verse two. The adult choir takes verse three. The remainder of the verses are sung by the largest choir of the church—the congregation.

The late Sir David Willcocks provides us with the free harmonization of the last stanza as we sing praise to the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Paraclete. The recording is that of the choirs of Westminster earlier in December 2019. May your celebration of Christmas be filled with the light, love, and joy expressed through our music.


Fourth Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Love

What is love? What do you love? How do you show love?

As you light the candle of love, spend time talking about what love means to you and your family. Take the time this week to intentionally show love to others, and don’t forget to take the time to love yourself.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word love. This is their response:

Word Art (3) love


Dear Lord, thank you for giving us love. Thank you for the ability to give love as well as to receive it. Amen.




In the Advent season we await and celebrate the coming gift of Jesus to our lives and the world. It is a glorious time to reflect on the gifts God continues to provide in our lives and share these gifts with our friends and neighbors. Through our long-standing relationship with local Alexandria agencies, Westminster Local Mission offers low barrier ways to share God’s gifts with our less fortunate neighbors. Westminster collects non-perishable food items for ALIVE and distributes “people in need packets” regularly to those without a stable home. Baskets to receive donated items for both of these local ministries are found in Fellowship Hall and the church lobby entrance off from the parking lot.

ALIVE! Last Saturday Program

This food distribution service at the Ladrey building in Old Town serves senior citizens and other clients. Volunteers prepare 90 bags of food the last Saturday of each month and distribute to people in the building and others who need assistance and are identified through the social services agencies in Alexandria. This opportunity is great for families or groups.

As part of your Advent Devotions, follow through on your desire to serve by adding a last Saturday date for 2020 to your calendar. Or, simply contribute some non-perishable food to the ALIVE donation baskets in the church lobby as you come into Christmas Eve services this week. In these ways you will feed those for whom the world has said, “there is no room in the inn.”

Advent Three – Week of December 15

The Word

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
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.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Luke 1:46-55


Advent 3- interior art idea

The Annunciation, 1430-1438. Stefano da Verona (Italian, c. 1375-1438). Ink, tempera, and gold on vellum. The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Advent seems so sentimental sometimes. Perhaps that is because Advent is often swallowed up the larger consumer culture winter holiday frenzy. This is the third week of a season that is four weeks and, by now, your calendars are that much more full of holiday obligations and errands. That call from the scriptures that this be a season of waiting, remembering and hoping may seem laughable.

Advent is about the waiting — not just the waiting of the Christ-Child who comes into the world in the form of the most dependent version of our humanity, but waiting for the reconciliation of the world. A world made right. A world fit for a Christ to come back and draw us to Him.

Sometimes the problem with sentiment and nostalgia around this time of the year is that it is always about the memory. The memories of little pieces of chocolate each day and bathrobed shepherds can be wonderful. What is so beautiful about Mary’s song is that it seems to remember while hoping for something to come. When Mary speaks of all these future generations calling her blessed, it is not of anything Mary has done of her own volition but because the God of her ancestors has been as faithful to her as God was to them. Mary is a vessel through which God is birthed in the world anew through the person of Jesus Christ.

There is something about getting ready for a change in life that tends to fill us with both excitement and anxiety. We get through those times of uncertainty: fear and excitement because of the memory of previous times when we got through change. In what ways this Advent season, can the memory of God’s faithfulness buoy our expectancy about the future?

The Magnificat, or the song of Mary, is looking backwards and looking forwards. God has been faithful and God will be faithful. However, God’s faithfulness in the future will not necessarily look like God’s faithfulness in the past. A different vision of God’s faithfulness is never as clear in scripture as in the advent of Jesus Christ. God’s faithfulness now becomes a crying, walking, talking, sometimes introverted, sometimes extroverted, son of a carpenter who proclaims that salvation is found not in seats of power and wealth
but in radical acts of love and forgiveness. God gives Mary the task of carrying all that into the world. And this week, we hear her song. A song of blessing, but that song did not come without fear and anxiety. She had to be supported by her cousin, Sarah. She had to be reminded of God’s faithfulness in the past so she could hope for God’s faithfulness in the future.

This week, Breathe! Slow Down! Gather around those you love and remember God’s faithfulness in the past. Where did God show up for you, for your ancestors? Where have you seen God’s mighty deeds in your life? Thank God for those times and if those times seem hard to remember, ask God to show up, to remind you of God’s faithfulness.


This week we focus on the song of Mary, also known as the Magnificat. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian hymns and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. Composers throughout the centuries have been inspired to set this text to music. At Westminster, you have the opportunity to worship through many musical settings both at our Sunday morning services, and at services of choral evensong. During this season of Advent, I have chosen a musical setting for our choristers and adult choir that is a reflection on the angels’ annunciation to the blessed virgin, “Angelus ad virginem.”

This popular 13th century carol is a poetic version of the annunciation story. It is said to have originally consisted of 27 stanzas, with each following stanza beginning with the consecutive letter of the alphabet. The setting employed by the musicians at Westminster use only four of those. This setting, composed by 20th century British composer Andrew Carter, uses a rollicking organ accompaniment to highlight the joy of the text. Carter chose to alter between groupings of three and groupings of two. In so doing he musically highlights the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – and the duality of Christ – truly God and truly Human. May the joy of the blessed Virgin Mary and this lively carol inspire us this Advent season!


Third Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Joy

How do you feel when you hear the word joy? Joy is a beautiful word. We want to feel joy, spread joy to others and live a joyous life.

In this third week of Advent, focus on sharing joy with those around you who may need to have more joy in their lives. Send a card to someone who may be sad, take treats to a hospital, fire house or police station, donate toys and clothes to a family shelter, and thank someone who has helped you. By giving joy, we receive joy.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word joy. This is their response:

Word Art (2) joy


Dear Lord, thank you for giving us joy. Help us to give joy to others, especially to those who need it more than me.


paula cooper_Mission_Advent 3

Meet Paula Cooper, the Presbyterian Church (USA) mission co-worker based in Zambia. As regional liaison for East Central Africa, Paula facilitates PC(USA) relationships with partner churches and institutions in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Zambia, where the church is growing rapidly, and pastoral training and leadership development are of major concern. Paula also provides support for PC(USA) mission personnel and Young Adult Volunteers (YAVs) in the region.

Paula brought her faith-filled exuberance and warmth in a visit to Westminster this past
March as part of the Kenya Mission Network conference that Westminster hosted. Paula is the recipient of ongoing budget support through our International Missions Committee. The committee would love for you, as part of your Advent devotions, to reach out to Paula and wish her a joyful Christmas season. As such, we encourage you to email your thanks and prayers for work and ministry, identifying yourself as a member or friend of Westminster. This way, she may know that our financial support is matched by human care.

Paula may be reached by email at, and you may copy, so that we may echo your well wishes.


Cover Art: The Annunciation, 1380s. Netherlands, or possibly France, 14th century. Tempera and oil with gold on wood. The Cleveland Museum of Art.

Advent Two – Week of December 8

The Word

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.|
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:1-10



Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Rosa gallica” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1799.

I was once at a Christmas party with the supporters of the Alexandria Symphony. Then-Maestro Kim Allen Kluge was playing Christmas carols on the piano while a group of us sang along. We were singing “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” when halfway through, I realized I was the only one still singing. I looked at the Maestro, and he said, “It’s great! Keep singing!”

To me, it’s not Christmas without this song. It has been special to me since I first learned it as a teenager. It reminds me of the many friends I have had in choruses and church choirs. When we get together at Christmas reunions, we still sing it in four-part harmony.

The devotional scripture for today foretells the birth of the Messiah. It has been dated to the seventeenth century, before the birth of Jesus. It clearly foretells that this Messiah will come forth from the line of David (Jesse’s son). For this reason, Christians have always traced the lineage of Jesus through the House of David to prove that He is the long-expected savior come to set his people free. Both Matthew and Luke include a genealogy at the beginning of their gospels to make this point.

Until modern times, most people could not read, but they could sing. This is why hymns of all types were so important in the Church—they told the story of Christ in a form that was easy for people to understand and to memorize. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is not just a beautiful carol, it was a way for Christians to recall Isaiah’s prophesy and its meaning.

Lo, how a rose e’re blooming
From tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As those of old have sung.
It came a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night.

Isaiah ‘twas foretold it
The rose I have in mind.
With Mary we behold it
The Virgin Mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
She bore for us a savior
When half-spent was the night


This week’s passage is my favorite from the Book of Isaiah. I always find a way to include it in Advent Lessons & Carols services, and this year is no exception. While there are many carols and anthems that reflect on this text, our terrific associate for children’s music, Molly Roden, found a perfect fit in our own library. Listen above to a recording of our children’s choirs singing a portion of “A Shoot Shall Come Forth Out of Jesse” by Richard Horn. Horn chooses to set several verses from Isaiah 11 and 32 in this anthem:

A shoot shall come forth out of Jesse,
And a bud shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of life shall be with him,
The spirit of wisdom and truth.

From out of the wells of salvation
Will he draw us the water of life;
His waist shall be girdled with justice,
The heart of his heart shall be Love.

He’ll come from the end of his heaven,
And the earth shall be torn from its place;
Our lives shall be filled with his radiance
As floodwaters cover the sea.

Then the lamb shall lie down with the leopard,
And the lion eat straw with the ox,
For the hand of a Child shall lead them
To the peaceable kingdom of God.

It is the words of the refrain that are most meaningful to me. May the voices of the children of Westminster remind us all of the promise foretold by the prophet Isaiah as our prayers for peace and concord ascend to the throne of heaven.


Second Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Peace

What is peace? Where can we find peace for ourselves, our family, our community, our world? How do we help others find peace? In this season of Advent, take the time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and find peace within yourself. Spread that peace to others. Use the word peace at your gatherings, dinners and prayers.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word peace. This is their response:




Dear Lord, thank you for giving us peace. May we find it within ourselves and help give it to others.



Each Christmas season, we look through Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus and remark at the accomplished and God-fearing ancestors of Him. One of those is Ruth, known not only as David’s grandmother, but also as one who gleaned Boaz’s fields to provide her and her mother-in-law Naomi enough to eat. Like Ruth, we at Westminster glean—gather produce left after a harvest—twice each year to provide food for those who need it.

In the summer, we glean corn through Healthy Harvest Food Bank, an organization which organizes gleaners to harvest fresh produce that has been left behind after farms in the Northern Neck of Virginia have finished their harvest. The produce is then taken to food banks within the Northern Neck region of Virginia, so that people can have fruits and vegetables when they otherwise may not be able to afford it. In the fall, Westminster gleans apples through the Society of St. Andrew. They coordinate produce gleaning across Virginia and, like Healthy Harvest, donate it to local food pantries. This year, we gleaned truckloads of apples and corn through the two organizations.

Though it is a little cold for us to be gleaning this Advent season, the National Missions team hopes you will keep our summer and fall opportunities in mind as you plan out your 2020 calendars. In addition to our annual gleaning trips, Westminster also contributes financially to the two organizations.

If you are interested further in Healthy Harvest Food Bank or the Society of St. Andrew, explore or Please also pray this week for those who farm and those who glean food that will feed the Ruths and Naomis of the world.


Cover Art: Two Trees, first half 1800s. Johann Jacob Dorner (German, 1775-1852). The Cleveland Museum of Art.


Advent One – Week of December 1

The Word

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 

Genesis 3:6–12 


Library-of-Congress_Currier-and-Ives_lithograph-hand colored-Adam&Eve in-th-Garden-of-Eden_LC-DIG-pga-05753

“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,” Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), Springfield Museums.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and [Adam and Eve] knew they were naked; And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
(vv. 3:7 and 3:21) 

Through the ages, the church has regarded Jesus Christ as the new Adam, who came to save humanity from the tragic sin that originated from (or is epitomized by) the “old” Adam and his wife, Eve. 

A theological question arises: Had Adam and Eve chosen not to eat forbidden fruit, would Christ have needed to come? Should we be somehow grateful for the First Couple’s tragic disobedience, without which we might not know the love and mercy of our Lord? This strand of thinking exists in the historical church, which explains in part why this “bad news” text is part of the Advent cycle of readings, but it can be hard to accept. Would we celebrate a cancer because of the joy of its remission? Would we embrace the ravages of war, without which we would not know the relief of armistice? 

And yet, so often we hear those emerging from periods of great ruin and suffering describe how paradoxically grateful they are for their hells, because of the new life that emerged through them. I have heard people express gladness for their battles with addiction, which shaped them into new people, capable of greater love and forgiveness. I have seen a friend nearly destroyed by his divorce nonetheless embrace it as a part of the journey that led him to the wife and marriage he now cherishes. In the church, we honor the cross for a similar reason, as we acknowledge how a grotesque tool of torture and death became an instrument of eternal life. It is this perspective that allows us to call the terror of Good Friday, “good.” 

The point of this is not to solve riddles (is darkness really a necessity of light?) or be persuaded to celebrate suffering or sin of any kind as a prerequisite of healing or forgiveness. Our invitation, instead, is to celebrate and anticipate the ways in which the God of our faith shines light in the midst of darkness so that even our horrors can become vessels carrying the possibility of transformation and gratitude. If Adam and Eve’s shame in seeing their nakedness led them to receive the very fabric of God’s mercy, may we in Advent look upon all that is unworthy of praise as the raw material through which we receive the joy that awaits us in Christ. 

And so we pray anew the prayer of the ancient church, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” 


O Come, O Come Emmanuel

As we begin this season of preparation and expectation, there is nothing more appropriate than the beloved carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Like much of the music of this season, the music for this carol began its life in the 12th century. The text is taken from the so-called “O Antiphons,” and is more ancient than the music. We can find references to these dating all the way back to the 6th century. 

Originally, there were five “O Antiphons;” later, two more were added. The first letters of the Latin titles, from last to first, form an acrostic – ero cras – meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
O Emmanuel (O With Us is God) 

We will all join in singing this carol at Advent Lessons & Carols on Friday, December 6 and Sunday, December 8. For today’s recording, you will hear our own Dr. Ben Hutchens performing the original plainsong chant, in Latin. 



First Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Hope

Advent is a time of hope. It is hard for us to remember this when we think about all that we have or want to do. When your family is baking, wrapping, setting up the tree, shopping, or writing cards, remember what Advent is about. When the stress, hurriedness and over-stimulation of the season happens, stop, breathe and say the word hope. Use the word hope at your gatherings, dinners and prayers. 

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word hope. This is their response:



Dear Lord, thank you for giving us hope.


AGB 2019

Though Christmas is still weeks away, we have been bombarded for months by Christmas commercials, all telling us what we can or should buy to make someone’s Christmas bright. As a community of Christian faith, we join in that desire to bring joy to others, though we attribute the light we share to a different source. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said (John 8:12). Jesus also said, “I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). In that spirit, Westminster celebrates its annual Alternative Giving Bazaar (AGB), a festival of giving that provides an opportunity to honor friends and family with gifts in their names to nearly twenty organizations supported by our Local, National and International Mission Committees. 

One purchase gives rise to two gifts: 

1) to the people whom these donations will serve, and
2) to members of your family, friends, co-workers or neighbors whom you enable to be a part of this expression of love and care. 

The AGB is also a great introduction to the mission ministries of our church. This year, the AGB will be held after the 11:00 a.m. services on December 8 and 15 in Fellowship Hall. As part of your Advent devotion, make a point of visiting one of the tables and making a connection with the mission representative. We will also have children’s activities to help our young ones engage the bazaar. If you cannot attend, go to to read the AGB catalog and prayerfully consider finding ways to support one of the featured groups with time, talent or treasure. Doing so will indeed infuse a measure of Christ’s light into the darkness of this world.