Christmas Eve: The Nativity of the Lord

The Word

Luke 2:15-20

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


The Annunciation to the Shepherds (ca. 1555/1560). Jacopo Bassano, Venetian, c. 1510-1592. Samuel H. Kress Collection, NGA.

What always strikes me most about this passage are the two very different ways in which the shepherds and Mary reacted to the birth of Jesus. The shepherds “went with haste” to find the baby and then “made know what had been told them about this child” by the angels. I could almost picture them running to Bethlehem with boundless energy and jumping up and down with excitement upon finally reaching the holy family. Barely pausing to catch their breath, they sped off to tell everyone else they could find. On the other hand, Mary “treasured” the words of the angels and “pondered them in her heart.” Here I could imagine a young woman sitting quietly with her child, wearing a slight, somewhat shy smile that was hardly noticeable to those around her.

This passage also makes me think about how I react to good news. Sometimes, like the shepherds, I’m so happy that I want everyone else to know what is happening right away. Sometimes though, the news is so momentous that I would prefer to ponder it in my heart first, to enjoy it for a while on my own before sharing. Maybe this is how Mary felt as she tried to understand that what had been promised to her many months ago – that her son would be great and called the Son of the Most High – was actually coming true. Maybe to Mary, news like that takes a bit more time to sink in before it’s ready for a public airing.

This Advent season is most likely different from any that you or I have experienced before. As I am writing this, I don’t know what our worship will look like or how many of us will be able to gather in person together. In these strange times, can we run and tell people things in person? Will good news be heard through our masks and face shields? Even though we have so many more ways of communicating than the shepherds did, I can’t help but wonder if this year we will miss out on some of their energy and joy. Of course, like Mary, we can still pause to enjoy some good news on our own. It might feel particularly right to celebrate some things quietly, whether it’s a chance to worship in person or see family and friends for the first time in a long time.

And so my prayer for all of us is that this year, as in years past, our hearts may overflow with joy newly experienced or recalled from Christmases past. That we won’t be able to stop ourselves from showing this joy to others and inviting them to experience it with us, even if we are experiencing it through our computer and tv screens. I pray that in our quieter moments we will ponder the mystery of God sending his son to live among us as a baby. Our hearts may overflow with joy in a simple but nearly unnoticeable way as we contemplate and meditate on God’s amazing love for us. I hope that even this year, we will embrace both kinds of moments during this Advent season, because through them we will be glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen.


Christmas Eve wouldn’t be quite the same without our annual Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The service was conceived by the Right Rev’d. Edward White Benson and premiered on Christmas Eve 1880 in Truro, England. Only a handful of lessons and choruses from Handel’s Messiah were offered that year. As time went on, so did the popularity of this service. The combination of music and the spoken word made the Christmas Story come to life. Add to that the inclusion of readers representing all ages of the congregation and this service truly became one of the most engaging of the year for the whole community.

News of this service spread throughout England. In 1918 the Rev’d. Eric Milner White, the new dean of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, added his own ideas to the service and offered it’s premiere in King’s College Chapel. It is his Order of Worship that has been offered in tiny chapels and grand cathedrals all around the world for more than 100 years. The service always opens with the carol, Once in Royal David’s City. There are always nine lessons from Holy Scripture reminding us of the loving purposes of God. After the ninth lesson, the carol, O Come All Ye Faithful, is sung.

This year, our choir is unable to lead the congregation in the singing of O Come All Ye Faithful. However, we have come together to create a virtual choir of the same. As we worship in our homes, may our song be ever “joyful and triumphant” as we remember the birth of the Christ child. May our (virtual) choir (of angels) lift our spirits in the third verse with their soaring descant as they bid us to “…come, let us adore him.”

For me, Christmas ‘arrives’ each year in the final stanza on the word, “word”. Listen for this phrase:

Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing!

And may the power and majesty of the music make real for us the power and majesty of the scripture: “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

Happy Christmas to all!


In times of tragedy, crisis or need, we sometimes hear internal and external voices saying, “We don’t need prayers. We need action!” As people of faith, what if we understood prayer as a part of action, and our words with God as bridges to God’s will being made manifest in us and through us? Recall how God in the beginning said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. Remember how before being crucified, Jesus said in the garden, “Yet, not what I want, but what you want.” Hold also the vision of the Holy Spirit, filling the disciples at Pentecost with speech, that testified to what God was doing by the power of the gospel of Christ.

This Christmas, consider prayer a meaningful part of your service. Speak to one another, and speak to God, as though your words matter, as though they are the molds by which your actions with and for others take shape.

In that spirit, here is a prayer for peace, shared by our denomination. Pray it, celebrating how peace makes a sound in your very own voice.

A Prayer for the Reign of Peace

Almighty, all-merciful God,
through Christ Jesus you have taught us
to love one another,
to love our neighbors as ourselves,
and even to love our enemies.

In times of violence and fear,
let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,
so that we may not be overcome with evil
but overcome evil with good.

Help us to see each person
in light of the love and grace
you have shown us in Christ.

Put away the nightmares of terror
and awaken us to the dawning
of your new creation.

Establish among us a future
where peace reigns,
justice is done with mercy,
and all are reconciled.

We ask these things
in the name and for the sake
of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Advent Four – Week of December 20

The Word

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


The Annunciation. Fra Filippo Lippi, c. 1435/1440. Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art.

I have always loved the beautiful reply from Mary to what must have been astonishing and terrifying news: “Let it be with me according to your word.”

Such simple acceptance, such an ability to trust that it was going to work out. I have a tendency to over-think, over-analyze, and over-plan. I rarely let it be. But that’s my aspiration. And it gives me hope—that if Mary could manage it in the face of hearing that she was going to give birth to the Son of God, then surely I can manage it on an average Tuesday.

As we prepare for the birth of Christ, let it be with all of us according to the Word—the Word that is about to become flesh and change the world with a message of love and light…and simple acceptance. Amen.


One of the chief reasons I followed the call to become a church musician is that I am able to unite people through music. At Westminster, we are blessed with a vibrant music ministry and one that frequently collaborates with other musicians. Over the years, my music director colleagues Louise Wilson at Farlington Methodist and Linda Cancellieri at Trinity Methodist have been frequent collaborators with us. In spite of our distance during the Corna-tide, these terrific women have continued to work with me to create meaningful music – virtually. As all of our churches are preparing for Christmas this Advent, Louise and Linda have been kind enough to offer their singers the opportunity to join in a virtual choir which we call the Alexandria Sacred Chorale. In our most recent project, “People Look East,” the chorale included 51 voices with Louise at the organ. Louise and I made recordings of the organ and conductor in early November and the singers used those to record their voices from home.

The poem “People, Look East” was first published in 1928 in the Oxford Book of Carols and was originally titled “Carol of the Advent.” Churches throughout the English speaking world have used this carol for nearly 100 years during the season of Advent. The author, Eleanor Farjeon, was in the prime of her career when this was published. She was well-known for imaginative books for children and had already produced the popular hymn, “Morning Has Broken.” Her commissioners asked her to compose a poem set to an ancient French tune. In my estimation, she not only succeeded in her charge, but excelled in it! The words pair perfectly with the tune despite the later being composed 200 years earlier.

Just like the season of Advent moves us ever closer to the great festival of Christmas, each stanza of the poem moves us heavenward through imagery: People/guest, Furrows/rose, Stars, and finally, Angels. The stanzas conclude with the phrase “Love the __ is on the way.” May the poetry and beautiful singing of the Alexandria Sacred Chorale lift your spirits as we celebrate this the last Sunday of Advent. –Dr. Ben

People, look east. The time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able;
trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
one more seed is planted there.
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
that in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Rose, is on the way.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
one more light the bowl shall brim,
shining beyond the frosty weather,
bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Star, is on the way.

Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley humming
with the word, the Lord is coming.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Lord, is on the way.


2020 — it’s not been an easy year for anyone. How better for us to close it out than by celebrating the birth of our Savior. Yes, the celebrations may look very different this year, and yes, there are many reasons for which NOT to celebrate. And yet, we join those heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace!” (Luke 2).

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one often leads us to resolve new ways of being, new ways of sharing our blessings with others. The challenge often is knowing how and where to give that support, especially in this time when our patterns of being and doing are being transformed. Each week, the church updates a list of how we may help our local brothers and sisters. As Advent comes to a close, we encourage you to take a look and see where you might yourself serve, or where you may direct your prayers on behalf of those who are able to do so. Allow time for this to be a matter of prayer, so that any resolutions that come emerge from a deeper place of listening and desire.

Advent Three – Week of December 13

The Word

John 1:1-8; 19-28

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 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.

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.


St. John the Baptist by Titian, 1540. Gallerie dell’Accademia.

Today, more than ever, our world needs witnesses of hope. Our text brings us a messenger of hope in the form of John the Baptist: he is the hairy, unkempt, wild-looking guy wearing camel’s hair. There would be locusts caught in his beard and honey dripped on his shirt. Much like the Scribes and Pharisees, we don’t want to hear what our weird cousin John has to say, but John plays a pivotal role in all four Gospel accounts for the Advent season. We don’t want to listen to this relative who always shows up at the beginning of the holiday celebrations talking too loudly and eating a diet of barley, berries and bugs. He interjects himself into our holiday plans shouting repentance, baptism and salvation. 

However, John reminds us of the true meaning of Christmas. When questioned, John leaves little doubt. He is not Elijah, nor is he a prophet, he is not a man with credentials or religious ideology. John tells us he is not the light, but he has come to bear witness to the light. John is clear and straightforward: he is bringing a word of promise and optimism, testifying, pointing to the Savior Jesus Christ, telling us to, “Make straight the way of the Lord.” 

Everything about John points to the light and to the life of the one who both stands among us and the one who is to come. John clearly understood that his primary call was to prepare the way for the One greater than himself. John testifies that he is a herald and proclaims the greatness of the One who would come after him. John tells the Scribes he is not even worthy to perform the act of a slave to “untie the thong of his sandal,” because Jesus comes not to baptize with water but to baptize with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

John’s is a voice of hope, but his voice was not the first to witness. Before John, Mary proclaimed the greatness of the Lord. She spoke of the One who shows favor to the lowly, offers mercy, and lends the strength of his arm. He fills the hungry with good things and comes to the help of his people. And before Mary there was Isaiah, anointed by God to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release the prisoners. He spoke about God comforting those who mourn and rebuilding the ruins of their lives, clothing them in garments of salvation and robes of righteousness. Isaiah’s is a joyful anticipation. They were witnesses of hope. These witnesses testified to a light, a life and presence beyond their own. Hope that does not change the circumstances of our lives but changes us. The Advent themes of expectancy, repentance, and promise of the Messiah are found in these words of John as he prepared the way for the ministry of Jesus. 

Today we can look to John’s example for our own work and our preparation to receive the transforming presence of Christ in our lives. Each one of us is called to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming: even as 2020 comes to a close and hope may appear dim, even as the promised reign of God seems far off, even as we embrace this new normal for our lives. Jesus came over 2,000 years ago as a babe in a manger. He is constantly coming to us, in His love, in His grace, and in His mercy and He will come again to bring all things to fulfillment. Are our hearts ready to receive him? 

John calls us out of the wilderness so that we might focus on Christ. He asks us to respond to a message of repentance, to pray about those things that separate us from God and from one another, to pray and to cry out, “Lord, deliver me from this, forgive me for that.” He invites us to follow him on Jesus’ way, the way of the cross; the way of giving our lives away. 

John the Baptist may not be featured on our Hallmark Christmas cards, but this compelling figure enters the Christmas narrative to get us ready for the coming of Christ. He calls out to all who will hear: the Lord is on His way. He’s coming in the fullness of His salvation. He’s coming, the Son of God in whom all the promises of God are a resounding, “Yes.” We, too, can be witnesses as we prepare to receive the real gift of Christmas. 

 This is the Good News of the Gospel, thanks be to God. Amen.


Today we light a special candle in the advent wreath: the candle of Joy. Unlike others in the wreath this candle is pink, for on this day we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. Each year on the third Sunday of Advent, the gospel lesson is the Magnificat, or Mary’s Song, from the first chapter of Luke. Just after the angel Gabriel visits Mary with the good news of Jesus’ birth, Mary proclaims, “My My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.” It is this expectant joy we celebrate today. 

The music I chose to share is from an anonymous 15th century English text. Our own chamber choir recorded this beautiful setting in November. The choir sings in the original early english, below you will find a modern English translation. I pray our musical offering will leave you with a sense of Joy on this, the Third Sunday of Advent.

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
For her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother’s bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
There was never, ever one but she;
Well may such a lady
God’s mother be.


During the Christmas season and at other times during the year, we look to those like John the Baptist who may live differently from us, but who have much to teach us about how to give and to live rightly. At Westminster, our relationship with Bdecan Presbyterian Church on Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota helps us to learn more about how those on the reservation live and also the different ways to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ.

Westminster has maintained a relationship with Bdecan since 2001. As part of that relationship, we have sent mission teams, conducted Vacation Bible School, and helped support Bdecan’s food pantry and clothing closet. Since 2016, we have supported a scholarship fund for those attending the Candeska Cikana Community College, a tribal college located on the reservation. Our relationship with them has not only helped them with food, clothing, and education, but has also helped us grow as Christians by getting to know others from different backgrounds and learning how their worship can inform and inspire ours.

This summer, Rosie and Bob Helland took over for Joe Obermeyer as the program coordinators at Bdecan. As program coordinators, they have been overseeing the food pantry and clothing closet, conducting Sunday school and other youth events, and have plans to institute additional programs for adults, such as a men’s breakfast and a women’s Bible study. We invite you to send them a card this Christmas to encourage them in their work with those at Bdecan and Spirit Lake and keep them in your prayers this Christmas season. Their address is: PO Box 141 Tokio, ND 58379.

Advent Two – Week of December 6

The Word

Isaiah 40:1-5

Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”


Madonna and Child, c. 1450. Circle of Lorenzo Ghiberti (Italian, 1378-1455). The Cleveland Museum of Art.

When I read this passage, my mind instantly fills with music. First Handel’s Messiah, a powerful, beautiful and mature piece. Then “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from Godspell, an energetic and youthful, but no less powerful piece. The pieces present such different ideas: the idea of comfort – calming and peaceful and deserved, a parent comforting a child – and a herald exclaiming the joy of preparing for the coming Lord. I have struggled to come to terms with the two views. How do they come together as one passage and one message? It was in the struggle, and discussion with others, that I realized the two passages are not truly separate but in fact linked, particularly when viewed through the season of Advent.

The first portion of Isaiah talks of comforting the people who have been in exile. They have been through much and “will be comforted and rewarded.” Much like the Hebrew people, in exile waiting for redemption, the early Christians were waiting for the coming of Christ and the redemption that his coming would bring. In fact, the term advent comes from the Latin word for “coming.” The second part of Isaiah moves on from comforting to tell us to “prepare the way of the Lord,” for the Lord is coming. Historically, Christians believe that they were preparing the way for the Lord to come again quickly, but as time has moved on, the date for the return has become more distant and ambiguous.

As different as the two views are, they also come together beautifully. A mature, experienced point of view may be a better source of comfort after hardship, while the anticipation of waiting for something amazing and exciting and joyful is often best seen through the eyes of a child. So while I started out thinking about music, in the end, this passage reminds me of family. During Advent particularly, we are surrounded by reminders of family. With this text I am reminded how family comforts us with the strength of our parents’ arms during times of difficulty, and jumps for joy like a five year old celebrating the coming of Christmas (ok the presents, but still!) In fact, it is the knowledge that we will be comforted if we fall that allows us to feel the joy and anticipation of the coming gift – the Messiah.

So we should sing both the classic Hallelujah with grace and majesty as we clap our hands and dance and sing Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord! We should reach for our parents and grandparents, and their memories, as someone reaches for us. And we should jump for joy with the excitement of the best present EVER coming in this season of Advent.


“The Finale (The Dargason)” from St. Paul’s Suite by Gustav Holst, performed by the Monticello String Quartet.

English composer Gustav Holst was born in 1874 and went on to his great rewards in 1934. During his lifetime, he was nothing short of a prolific composer. He is most remembered for his masterworks for orchestra, The Planets. As a champion of the English Folksong Revival movement, Holst frequently employed English Folk songs as the basis for his compositions. In his St. Paul’s Suite, a multi-movement work for string orchestra, Holst combines English folksongs with newly composed melodies and sometimes with themselves. Such is the case in the final movement, “The Dargason.” Here, Holst takes the folksong “Greensleeves” and combines it was an ancient, traditional dance called “Dargason.” 

I find this combination to be particularly striking for the season of Advent. We are bombarded – as early as 1 October! – with Christmas songs here in the US. By early November, street decorations are making their appearances and now that December is well underway, it’s hard to pass a moment of social media scrolling without seeing or hearing something about the great joy of Christmas. For me, it is this ‘great joy’ that Holst aptly captures in his Dargason. The rollicking tune and tempo of the dance is sure to make even the most stoic tap their foot or gently sway. While there are no words associated with the dance, it’s unmistakably joyful!

A more close look at the calendar reveals that we are not yet in the season of Christmas. It’s now Advent – the time to prepare for Christmas. In most years, finding time for that preparation is nearly impossible. Usually my December is filled to the brim with rehearsals, parties, concerts, church services, and, of course, shopping. This year, the virus has caused us all to pause. We are all experiencing a season of Advent unlike any other. Despite that pause, the joy of Christmas is just around the corner and I, for one, am eager for Christmas Eve and Morning. The tune “Greensleeves” beautifully captures a feeling of expectation and quiet joy.  It is most often sung to the poem “What child is this?”  

While Holst intended no religious connotation to this work, I find it an oddly appropriate movement to include in our celebration of Advent at Westminster. The combination of rollicking joy with quiet expectation seems to beautifully capture my feelings about the weeks preceding Christmas. In this week’s recording, our own String Quartet performs an arrangement of the work. It begins with the jovial “Dargason” and part way through the dance gives way to the more introspective “Greensleeves” tune.  

What Child is this, who, laid to rest,
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ, the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary!

Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.

So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh,
Come, peasant, king to own Him.
The King of kings salvation brings;
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.


Jesus emphasized love of neighbor and invites us to have a more global sense of what it means to be a neighbor. At Westminster, we practice his teaching by extending our love and care beyond our local and national boundaries. As part of your Advent devotional, we encourage you to extend your love also to those we support in places far away geographically, but very close in Spirit. Here are two suggestions:

Send a Christmas email to 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 is the recipient of ongoing budget support through our International Missions Committee. 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 our human care. Paula may be reached by email at, and you may copy, so that we may echo your well wishes.

Attend the now-virtual Alternative Giving Bazaar (December 6 to 13). Funds raised at the bazaar comprise an essential portion of the funding needed to house, educate and nurture the children, youth and graduates of our partner United Orphanage Academy in Moi’s Bridge, Kenya. The event also supports our partner, the Community Coalition for Haiti, as well as Heifer Project International and Equal Exchange. To attend the bazaar, simply visit, where you will find videos and introductions to these agencies and how your support can support their mission.

Advent One – Week of November 29

The Word

Mark 13:24, 27, 32-37

“But in those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”


Sunrise or Sunset. Abbott Handerson Thayer (1849-1921), Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
As the fires rage, and the days grow shorter, and as our patience thins.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
as the darkness closes in.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
But the last year has been an entire chapter of our communal lives, spent in an ever-present state of dusk, “distanced” as it were, physically, socially, emotionally. I have not only felt distanced, but even further separated still – disembodied even – from my community, my family, my congregation. And this disembodiment has been exhausting. If I was tired last Advent, this Advent I feel simply defeated.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
I know Jesus is coming, that is the entire point of this Season of Advent. Both the birth in Bethlehem, the fantastic conglomeration of light and dark and angels and shepherds. And the rebirth. The rebirth that I so desperately want to see in the routine and mundane and quotidian.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
Awake like the fig tree? The one that grows its leaves every year at just the right time, indicating that summer is about to begin? How does it sense that the time is right to bud? Can it notice the change in seasons, the light and dark of Advent, the light and dark of a darkened sun or moon? I think it must. How else can it grow? How else can it learn when the time will come?

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
Awake like the fig tree. For it senses the cyclical nature of our world. The seasonal blessing of life and death, of birth and rebirth. The promise of springtime, the gratitude of harvest. The sacred gifts of time, and opportunity, and hope, and another chance. The loving embrace of the possibility of God.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
Yes, fires are raging, darkness closes in, but the fig tree still blossoms. Birth, rebirth, still arrives, often unexpectedly, often in the unknown.

Jesus instructs us to keep awake –
As the darkness closes in – so too does God.


WPC Chamber Choir: “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper”

New to us is the advent hymn “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper.” The poet, Mary Louise Bringle, found inspiration in Celtic sources for these stirring words. In particular, the idea of “thin places” – places where two separate realms of existence (heaven/earth, sacred/secular) – seem to come closer. For me, this is a perfect way to explore the paradox of the creator of the universe coming to earth as a child. The tune, Jefferson, was composed by an anonymous 19th century musician from Tennessee. A chamber choir of eight voices from the Westminster Choir sing it together here. To maintain our safety, we recorded – masked and distanced – in the Blomberg Courtyard back in November. The unexpected ‘accompaniment’ of passing DASH buses only further punctuates our music. –Dr. Ben

Now the heavens start to whisper,
as the veil is growing thin.
Earth from slumber wakes to listen
to the stirring, faint within:
seed of promise, deeply planted,
child to spring from Jesse’s stem!
Like the soil beneath the frostline,
hearts grow soft to welcome him.

Heavy clouds that block the moonlight
now begin to drift away.
Diamond brilliance through the darkness
shines the hope of coming day.
Christ, the morning star of splendor,
gleams within a world grown dim.
Heaven’s ember fans to fullness;
hearts grow warm to welcome him.

Christ, eternal Sun of justice,
Christ, the rose of wisdom’s seed,
come to bless with fire and fragrance
hours of yearning, hurt, and need.
In the lonely, in the stranger,
in the outcast, hid from view:
child who comes to grace the manger,
teach our hearts to welcome you.


Virtual Alternative Giving Bazaar

This year, the coronavirus has changed our ways of being and doing together and placed disproportionate burdens on vulnerable communities. With both realities in mind, Westminster will hold our annual Alternative Giving Bazaar (AGB) in virtual fashion during the weeks of December 6 and 13. We hope that the bazaar in this new digital format will still provide concrete help to our local, national and international mission partners and those they serve. As a part of your Advent devotion, we encourage you to participate this year by visiting when the site goes live later this week. Watch some of the introductory videos from our partners to learn how our support is needed and used. If you are able, make a donation online or by mail (using the form you receive in the mail), for which you will receive special bookmarks infused with seeds that you may share with loved ones for planting in their gardens.

James 3:18 says, “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.” May you sow peace this Advent as you learn about and support our partner missions with your prayers and gifts on their behalf.