Christmas Day – December 25

The Word

Isaiah 35:1-10

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.


By August Taylor

Some of the biggest questions we may often try to ask ourselves are: “What would God want me to do today? What would Jesus do?” Many times, we may focus on our day-to-day tasks, and lose sight of the bigger picture; of the future.

Sometimes, we need a reminder that the Lord has provided and will continue to provide for us. He gave us his son, Jesus, to guide us and spread His word, so that we may follow. He has always had plans for our future, as He has laid down a path for us to follow, a “Holy Way,” free of dangers, sin and strife. This “path” goes well beyond our understanding of accessibility; not only does it provide for any needs but removes hindrances: “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be opened.”

By following God’s path, we know He will strengthen us, cleanse us of our sins, and make firm our feeble knees. By remembering, this day and every day, that our path ahead is assured, we can move forward with determination, as we wait, knowing He will provide.

Christmas Eve – December 24

The Word

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The Sacrament of Baptism


By David Roden

I was part of two productions of Godspell when I was in college. In one, I played the part of Jesus and needed to memorize major sections of the Gospel of Matthew. It was an uplifting and rewarding experience that has stayed with me my whole life. But do you and I find passages like this uplifting? This one is harsh and demanding. Do we, like the Pharisees, believe our salvation is assured and nothing more is required of us? Are we producing good fruit or enough fruit? Are we just chaff?

Passages like this remind me of a perspective of God and faith that resonates for me in “Christian Doctrine” by Shirley Guthrie. I particularly like his characterization of God as Just Loving and Loving Justice. This juxtaposition describes well what I believe about God. God is Love and Justice at the same time in perfect balance. God is like a good parent who loves the child to death, but at the same time knows that hard lessons are necessary for the child’s own growth and development. The child needs and wants boundaries and may ultimately only recognize the full depth of love when the parent is truly angry with the child’s behavior.

At the same time, justice needs compassion to be truly helpful. Strict legalistic justice is not loving justice. It is blind, uncaring justice that focuses on the letter of the law rather than the intent of the law. Loving justice sees the bigger picture—the ultimate goal of redemption and reconciliation—and does everything in its power to heal rather than simply punish.

So I start with the belief/assumption that the nature of God is Just Loving and Loving Justice. For me, this is fully confirmed by the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. When I use this lens to read and interpret the Bible, the angry God of the Old Testament and John the Baptist is more palatable, and the role of Jesus Christ is clear. Israel as the chosen people and you and I are chosen by Christ to be made new, to be a light in the darkness, to prepare the way of the Lord. We are not chosen for privilege. We are chosen to serve and show forth the love and justice of God to the world. We are clay in the potter’s hands. We are perfected through God’s work, God’s love, and God’s refining fire.


By Dr. Ben Hutchens

“What Child Is This?” is a famous and traditional Christmas carol crafted in 1865. The lyrics were composed by William Chatterton Dix, the son of a surgeon residing in Bristol, England. William spent most of his life as a businessman in Glasgow, Scotland, working at the managerial level of the Maritime Insurance Company. He was greatly enticed by traditional English folk songs. And when he started writing the lyrics for “What Child Is This?,” he decided to utilize the melody of “Greensleeves” to create the carol. 

The lyrics were inspired by one of William’s verses titled “The Manger Throne.” It urges humanity to accept Christ. The eloquent melody is haunting, and its beautiful essence reiterates the “Adoration of the Shepherds” who paid a visit to Jesus during the nativity. The lyrics pose questions that reflect what the shepherds might be pondering about during the encounter and subsequently offers a response to such questions. 

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?

The first stanza is heavily influenced by his contemporary romantic poets and flirts ceremoniously along the edges of emotionalism. The carol starts with a rhetorical question, condensing the concept of childbirth within a single paragraph. The poet has successfully painted a classic picture of the nativity – the child Christ sleeping on mother Mary’s lap, as the angels and shepherds provide the background score with “Anthems Sweet” and “Watch and Keep” respectively.       

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

The second stanza offers a momentary reference to “mean estate,” or less than an ideal condition. The poet registers similarity with the first stanza with another rhetorical question. He wonders why the child Christ should be displayed in such a humble environment. The poet tries to decipher the answer analytically,  and reasons that the “mean estate” that refers to the birth of Christ has its roots entangled with his future sufferings. The second stanza alludes to the anguish and distress of Christ’s future.     

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

The poet utilizes the final stanza to expand the emphasis on the people attending the humble scene. He draws inspiration from the Epiphany season and focuses on the metaphorical gifts that are being bought for the infant. His setting flouts the conventional structure of time quite comprehensively, like everyone, starting from the “king” or the “peasant” is offered an equal chance. 

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 18

The Word

Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.

Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.”


By Lauren Beyea

In the verses immediately before today’s scripture passage, Ahaz’s kingdom is threatened by two competing kingdoms. Isaiah is told by God to notify Ahaz, Stay calm and stand firm in your faith. Within God’s time the other kingdoms will fall.

As our passage begins, God asks Ahaz to request a sign of reassurance that what Isaiah has shared is true. But Ahaz says, I won’t put the Lord to test. Exasperated by this response, Isaiah scolds Ahaz and then blurts out that there is Good coming — a miracle born to the House of David who will be called Immanuel. He will know all, even as an infant. And in His infancy, the land of the two kings who challenge Ahaz will dissolve.

The prophecy here is clearly the collective Christian best news ever. However reassuring and affirming to all of us, it does read as if Ahaz was not particularly seeking this sort of intelligence in the heat of his own crisis. A man of the Old Testament, he knows better than to challenge God, perhaps especially when things are already going downhill. Even in Isaiah’s clear frustration to Azah’s retort, the good news is, Isaiah can’t help but share word that there is overwhelming, world-altering Hope on the horizon. Although his family is threatened in the present, Ahaz must hold fast and believe.

With the last several years of pandemic and racial injustice laid bare and fresh in mind, we each can empathize with a compound and complex struggle like Ahaz’s, seemingly sprouting from all directions and without an end in sight. These last few years we lost jobs and livelihoods. We were told to retreat from others and the routines that had provided tremendous comfort, release and solace in all of our previous hardest times. Hundreds of thousands of people died. Yet how have we, like Ahaz, managed to cling to the hope that’s to come in God’s time? Where have we seen the glimmers of promise for the future? How do we, and in what ways should we, prepare to wait for what God is doing in our lives?

In our Glory to God hymnals, hymn 100, “My Soul Cries Out with a Joyful Shout,” speaks to this: Though I am small, my God, my all, you work great things in me.

Though the nations rage from age to age, we remember who holds us fast:
God’s mercy must deliver us from the conqueror’s crushing grasp.
This saving word that our forebears heard is the promise which holds us bound,
till the spear and rod can be crushed by God, who is turning the world around.

The beauty of Advent is that we all live together in the waiting, just as we have as a community of Christians throughout time. We know the promise of Christmas and our Savior is to come — no matter our personal struggles and circumstances. Do not lose heart. Hold fast. A miracle is coming.


By Dr. Ben Hutchens

Today we enjoy our own Westminster Ringers performing a piece which combines two familiar tunes. The “Carol of the Bells” is a popular Christmas carol with music written by Ukrainian composer Mykola Leontovych in 1914 and lyrics by Peter J. Wilhousky. The song is based on the Ukrainian folk chant “Shchedryk.” In its original form, the music is based on a four-note ostinato and is in 3/4 time signature, with the B-flat bell pealing in 6/8 time. In this setting it is paired with “O come, O come, Emmanuel” (Latin: “Veni, veni, Emmanuel”). It is a metrical paraphrase of the O Antiphons, a series of plainchant antiphons attached to the Magnificat at Vespers over the final days before Christmas. The hymn has its origins over 1,200 years ago in monastic life in the 8th or 9th century.  

On this final week of advent, I pray that the music we offer lifts your spirits. May the peace of the Christchild and the joy of the angels be with you this week and always.

Third Sunday of Advent – December 11

The Word

Matthew 1:18-25

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.

Christmas Pageant 2021


By Kerri Stevens

This scripture, titled “Joseph accepts Jesus as his Son,” focuses on the character of Joseph (figuratively and literally) and his role in realizing God’s plan of salvation for humankind.

One can only imagine being told that the person you are betrothed to has been unfaithful and is pregnant, and in a day and age when divorce or death were the only options to break the engagement. According to Jewish civil law, Joseph had the right to divorce Mary and the authorities could have had her stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23, 24). Now imagine being told the child’s father was God. It would be hard to wrap your head around! This unearthly situation defied human logic. Yet Joseph respects Mary – her explanation and feelings towards the expected child – and seeks a way to quietly break off the engagement without bringing further public attention or shame to her. He considers her, not just himself, in what must have been a time of great personal stress and heartbreak.

Nevertheless, it is not God’s plan that Joseph break his pledge to Mary, so he sends an Angel to convey the significance of what is happening. And Joseph’s dream confirms that Mary is indeed carrying the Son of God and he should not be afraid. While Joseph might have thought that divorce or death were his only choices, a third option is revealed to him – to go through with the marriage. And when Joseph wakes up, he takes Mary home to be his wife, names the baby Jesus (meaning “the Lord saves”) and does not perfect the marriage until after the baby is born.

From the start of this passage, we are told that Joseph was a righteous man. Even so, his integrity and willingness to so readily abide by God’s direction in this supernatural circumstance is impressive. He chose to do what was right and tried to do it in the right way, despite the potential consequences of his choice (e.g., social stigma, humiliation). His quick obedience to God imparts the depth of his faith. He trusts God to take care of him, no matter the situation and no matter the path that lay ahead for him. And in doing so, the prophet’s words are realized (Isaiah 7:14).

It is remarkable how in times of uncertainty God can show us possibilities that we could not otherwise see for ourselves; and it is equally remarkable how Joseph’s decision to obey God, not only fulfills God’s will for his own life (being Mary’s husband & Jesus’s earthly father), but the will God had for all of us (that Jesus would be our Savior).

During this time of Advent, may we emulate Joseph by being in close communion with God and sensitive to his guidance. May we be reminded that whether in times of trouble or not, God can show us possibilities we don’t necessarily see. When we obey His word, He will take care of us. And that in fulfilling His will for our lives, we assist in delivering the larger plan God has for His creation. Ultimately, may we readily accept the call God has for us this Christmas season knowing the call Jesus accepted to be our Lord and Savior.


By Dr. Ben Hutchens

Today, our advent wreath departs from the darkness of purple candles to the brightness of the pink candle. It is on this day that we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary. Our Lady has been the subject of myriad composers, both in their personal piety and also in their sheer amazement of the story of the incarnation of the Lord.  

German composer and choral director Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria” was written in 1964 for—of all things—a firemen’s choir to sing at a choral competition with other work-based choirs (factory workers’ choirs, police choirs, etc.). The piece remained unknown until 1970, when Biebl gave a copy to the all-male Cornell Glee Club on a tour to southern Germany. The Harvard Glee Club soon recorded the work, followed most famously by Chanticleer in the 1980s. Biebl eventually rearranged the work for mixed voices, and his “Ave Maria” is now one of the best-loved and most-sung a cappella choral works of the past half century. This week’s recording is of our own Westminster Choir from last week’s service of Advent Lessons & Carols.

Second Sunday of Advent – December 4

The Word

Isaiah 11:1-10

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.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Art by Amy Stenlund


By Susie Helm

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
And a branch shall grow out of his roots.

You’ve likely heard about Six Degrees of Separation – that all people are six or fewer social connections away from each other. Perhaps you’ve even played the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The idea is that we are all connected to one another through those we know and with whom we connect. As we move beyond the time of lost physical contact with our family, friends, work colleagues and even our church family, our social connections are reigniting. Like that shoot that comes from the stump, our connections with one another grow out of our roots. Although our roots do bind us, we have many differences that can separate us. Those differences can be gender, racial, nationality, generational, political and physical. In a time where differences can cause extreme anger, hatred, name calling, familial separations, and even violence, we need only to lean on the words of our Hymn of Welcome, Blest be the Tie, to recall that our bindings are stronger than our differences.

Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love,
The fellowship of kindred hearts is like to that above.

The fellowship of kindred hearts – our six degrees of separation can be our six degrees of unification. While the recognition of our differences is important for discourse and discussion, the embracing of our fellowship and our kindred hearts is our acknowledgement that we are rooted in the same Christian love that can propel our hearts toward greater understanding.

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.

Living with our differences is important as we are all individuals. Just as a tree or plant whose roots become bound can lose its luster or life, people can become suppressed with bound roots. We all need room to grow and spread our branches. If the wolf and lamb can live together, and the leopard lies with the kid, can we celebrate our differences, and still know that despite those differences, we share the great love of Christ.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him and his dwelling shall be glorious.

The signal … the symbolism of the root of Jesse, foretold by Isaiah, so long ago, gives peace to the world – to all who believe. And in this Advent season, we reflect on how we connect; though we may differ in many ways, we are all together in faith.

So, if we have or have not met, I know you, my friend, for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and share the branches that grew from the stump that came from the stem of Jesse.


By Dr. Ben Hutchens

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.

First Sunday of Advent – November 27

The Word

Matthew 24:36-44

“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Art by Kay Sidahmed


By Pat Prosperi

In this selection of Matthew, we’re told to always be ready for Christ’s coming—since no one knows when that event will happen. How uncertain and exhausting that can sound! How are we supposed to live our lives in a way that will make us ready at any moment for Christ’s return? I wish Matthew had supplied us with a step-by-step guide in how to do this while still working at our jobs, taking care of our children, paying the bills and handling all the many other obligations of our day-to-day lives.

But if we dig a bit deeper into what Jesus told us, I think we can figure out what to do. First, Jesus told us to love one another. That seems like a good place to start—to treat each other with compassion, to offer and be able to receive kindness and support, to demonstrate God’s love to others through our words and deeds.

Secondly, Paul tells us to that we need to grow in faith and in godly living. It is important for us to read our Bible and other spiritual literature, to learn from sermons and other teachers about leading a Christian life, and to pray for God’s strength and guidance so that we become more like Christ every day.

A third step we can take is to join a Christian community. Jesus said that wherever people are gathered together to worship, he will be there. Part of the work Jesus left us to do is establishing and joining churches—to bring hope to the world and work to better our communities. Like any other endeavor, it’s easier to lead a Christian life when we join up with others who are putting their beliefs into practice.

Finally, a very practical step we can take to be ready is at the end of every day, week or month, pausing to ask ourselves some questions: Have I treated others with love? Have I grown in my faith? Have I done all I can to work for and support my church, doing God’s work in the world? To me, this is how we’ll be ready for Christ’s return.


By Dr. Ben Hutchens

While there are many carols and anthems that help us “get ready” for the great festival of Christmas, this setting of of words of the prophet always warms my heart. The promise of the Peaceable Kingdom of God provides a clear sense of hope and calm in the midst of a very hectic season. The recording if of our own children’s choirs in 2019. Next Sunday, on the Second Sunday of Advent, we will present the same at church in our annual celebration of Advent Lessons & Carols.

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.

Christmas Day – December 25

The Word

Psalm 97

The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice;
let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all around him;
righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.

Fire goes before him, and consumes his adversaries on every side.
His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness;
and all the peoples behold his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
those who make their boast in worthless idols;
all gods bow down before him.
Zion hears and is glad, and the towns of Judah rejoice,
because of your judgments, O God.

For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
The Lord loves those who hate evil;
he guards the lives of his faithful;
he rescues them from the hand of the wicked.
Light dawns for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!


“Flüelen, from the Lake of Lucerne,” 1845, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). The Cleveland Museum of Art, Mr. and Mrs. William H. Marlatt Fund.

Like the psalmist, we often think and speak of the immensity of God. God is the almighty force that controls wind and sea. The heavens and the whole earth “proclaim God’s righteousness.” God is king, a powerful conqueror and ruler who protects God’s people. Though we live centuries after the reign of King David, we are not so different from people then. We want a human leader who has a strong presence — someone who is physically fit, a military strategist, a strong communicator, a skilled debater, financially savvy, and more. So it is not surprising that we often focus on the immensity of God, the power of God, the awe-inspiring reign of God. Nor is it surprising that when the people of God found themselves without a leader or ruler, they began looking to passages like this as predictions of the Messiah. A Messiah who would be victorious in battle, a ruler who would seek justice, a conqueror who would restore Israel to its former glory.

I am always struck by the contrast between the festivities of the Christmas season, both sacred and secular, and the night of Christ’s birth as I imagine it. Of course there are likely some similarities — we experience the haste of preparing for company or getting kids dressed to attend a Christmas Eve service; they experienced the haste of finding a place for Mary to give birth as she cried out in labor pains. But now, we spend much of our time and energy on large and loud celebrations at Christmastime, whereas the first Christmas was a small, intimate moment surrounded by darkness and silence, broken only by the cries of mother and baby.

No one expected this Messiah.

The Messiah, born in a stable, swaddled, and laid in a manger.
God incarnate, in the form of a helpless babe.
The Messiah, crying out to be fed and changed.
God incarnate, not in great strength and power, but in the small, vulnerable form of an infant.

This Messiah was not a king, as we define it.
God incarnate was a poor man with no political power.
This Messiah brought no military victories.
God incarnate broke bread with sinners and healed with a gentle touch.

For the past two years, we have all grieved the loss of large gatherings and boisterous celebrations. But we have also found a blessing in the midst of much grief — the ability to slow down and embrace the small, intimate moments that happen upon us. Maybe we can continue to reframe how we approach the Christmas season as we hopefully return to gatherings in the coming years — appreciating the quiet moments and the little joys as much as the celebrations. We can reframe what kind of king we desire, seeking not powerful persuaders, but gentle and compassionate leaders. We can reframe how we think of God, who approaches us not only in awe-inspiring immensity, but also in small, intimate ways. Let the earth rejoice!


On Christmas Day – arr. Henry Balcombe (1983-2012)

After four full weeks of Advent preparations, the great festival of Christmas has come once again! The organ music for today is that of unbridled joy – “Joy to the World” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”

“Go Tell It On the Mountain” was a slave song in the African-American community from the 19th century. John Wesley Work Jr. is famous for transcribing and compiling this and many slave songs and thereby making them accessible to a wide audience. He was employed by the Fisk University as professor of Latin and history 1904. Afterwards he was appointed to direct the Fisk Jubilee Singers and expertly led that group for years both on campus and in tours around the county. His fine work brought songs of the enslaved African-American community to white audiences around the country. In our current hymnal, this song is found as Hymn 136.

“Joy to the World” is an English Christmas carol written in 1719 by the English minister and hymnwriter Isaac Watts. The carol is based on a Christian interpretation of Psalm 98, Psalm 96 (verses 11 and 12), and chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis (verses 17 and 18). Since the 20th century, “Joy to the World” has been the most-published Christmas hymn in North America.

The pairing of these two treasured carols in this organ composition provides us a chance to reflect on the Joy of the Birth of Christ and our response to that joy from two very different musical traditions.

Christmas Eve – December 24

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 Counsellor, 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 onwards and for evermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.


“Among the Sierra Nevada, California,” 1868, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902). Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Helen Huntington Hull.

When it was released earlier this year, there was much fuss over the new album by award-winning singer Adele. In the spirit of Isaiah and those who would have been his first audience, my thoughts about Adele at the time of writing are: predictions yet to come true but grounded in previous realities. History kissing hope.

All too often, we limit our theological understanding of Christmas to the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes.” We love singing about Jesus taking on flesh as we glance at our nativity scenes lit up by fireplaces and Christmas tree lights, imagining a mother and father looking at their newborn with tenderness as sheep and cows are also in awe. The Christ child is indeed Christmas, but so, beloved, is the anticipated return of Christ and the coming reign of God. History kissing hope.

For us who claim Christ, this passage in Isaiah reminds us not only of the revelation of the Messiah in the manger but a glimpse into a cosmic future with the very same Messiah. Today on this Christmas Eve, it’s here: the birth and the belief, the wonder and the waiting, history kissing hope.


O Little Town of Bethlehem

On Advent 3 we lit the pink candle in the Advent Wreath. Also known as Gaudete Sunday or Rose Sunday (“gaudete” is Latin for “rejoice”), on this Sunday of Joy we focus on the building sense of joy as we await the great festival of Christmas.

The theologian Henri Nouwen described the difference between joy and happiness: while happiness is dependent on external conditions, joy is “the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing—sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war, or even death—can take that love away.” Thus joy can be present even in the midst of sadness.

This Christmas Eve, we focus our attention the beloved carol “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” In many churches, the tune ST. LOUIS is most often paired with this text. This tune was composed by Episcopal priest, Phillip Brooks, in 1868. The alternative tune, FOREST GREEN, provides a more flowing melody to this gentle text and is performed by the Westminster Ringers. In the recording you will notice that the handbells begin with the tune in a minor mode, then move to major. 


Christmas Eve—the Christ Candle

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


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


Where to Serve in the New Year

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 at of how we may help our local brothers and sisters.

As Advent comes to a close and we celebrate the birth of Christ, 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.

If you have any questions, contact  

Advent Four – Week of December 19

The Word

Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”


“The Visitation with Saint Nicholas and Saint Anthony Abbot,” c. 1489/1490, Piero di Cosimo (1462–1522). National Gallery of Art, Samuel H. Kress Collection.

Contagious. Because we are currently living through a global pandemic, the word “contagious” may be more readily associated with COVID protocols than with joy. But Luke 1:39-45 is an extraordinary account of the contagiousness of the joy that is spread from Mary, mother of Jesus, to Elizabeth. 

We like to think of the ordinary joy that Elizabeth would have experienced receiving family at this time. She was six months into a pregnancy that she thought would never happen at her age. Being in her second trimester, she was probably feeling pretty good physically, attending to the mundane tasks of the day, whilst inwardly marveling at the miracle that was unfolding inside her. Mary, by contrast, was just starting her pregnancy journey. She probably had morning sickness as she traveled to the hill country. But going to Judea to visit Elizabeth was Mary’s first instinct after learning that Elizabeth, so advanced in years, was also expecting a miracle baby. Such joy must be shared! 

These two pregnancies, both wrought by the Holy Spirit, attracted one another like magnets. The joy rises to a crescendo as Mary enters into the house and greets Elizabeth. So intense is Elizabeth’s joy at seeing Mary that her unborn son leaps within her and she bursts out with a prophetic proclamation that Mary is the mother of her Lord. Surely this was revealed to her by the Holy Spirit, for how else could she have known that Mary was pregnant at this early stage? Elizabeth’s prophesy in turn triggers Mary to burst out in a long and beautiful song, known today as “the Magnificat.” Beginning with a greeting and ending in song, the contagious joy that was shared between these women moves them to glorify God.

In a season of Advent shadowed by the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic, let us look for opportunities to experience and spread joy. Whether by reuniting with family thanks to the vaccine, returning to worship in person, or sharing God’s love with a friend or neighbor, let us pray that our joy, perhaps ordinary, transforms us and those around us. And that it ultimately moves us to worship God in new and extraordinary ways.


Chant du Berger (Shepherd’s song) arr. Lani Smith (1827-1885)

I can only imagine the fear the Shepherd’s must have felt as they found their slumber disturbed by an Angel! And then, the words of the Angel: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” I’m certain there was much discussion after the Angels departed about what to do next. Of course, Saint Luke tells us that the Shepherds “came with haste [to Bethlehem], and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.”

Today, Yeri So provides us with a 20th century arrangement of the 19th century German Carol “Chant du Berger.” The original melody came from France (hence the title) however it was German composer Gustav Merkel that harmonized that tune into a Chorale. This quietly joyful tune truly paints a pastoral scene for me. Yeri highlights three distinct colors of our Westminster organ. She begins with the full tone found on the Great (middle keyboard). For dramatic effect, she moves to the Choir (bottom keyboard) about halfway through. Here we hear a sound that employs higher sounds. She concludes her performance with sounds from the Swell (top keyboard). The sounds are soft and sweet; serving to depict the shepherds disappearing in the distance as they journey to Bethlehem.


Fourth Sunday of Advent—the Candle of Love

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


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


Did you know that ALIVE! (Alexandrians Involved Ecumenically) provides 30,000 pounds of food to those facing food insecurity locally? The next time you go shopping, pick up just a few of these items and drop them into the bins in the parking lot lobby (open on Sundays during worship, and business hours during the week). 

It’s by a “little bit here, and a little bit there” that they can provide food by the thousands, so please join the wise men in leaving gifts at the manger by donating food to the bins in the Christ’ child’s name.  

ALIVE! Food needs:

Advent Three – Week of December 12

The Word

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.


“Peaceable Kingdom,” c. 1834, Edward Hicks (1780–1849). National Gallery of Art, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch.

I don’t know about you, but this past year has felt anything but peaceful. Many of us continue to face rocky waters even as we might glimpse that ever-so-desired light at the end of the tunnel. Storms and natural disasters physically and emotionally shake our world. Global pandemic still overwhelms us. Fear and violence are ever present in our society. With these troubles in mind, one might wonder how it is that we could feel any Peace. Indeed, on the surface, it would seem much more realistic to be consumed by worry or at worst, feel totally out of control.

But Paul tells us that we ought not to worry about anything, for God’s Peace will guard our hearts and minds. As someone who likes to be in control, this is a challenging statement for me. I have particular trouble letting go, and even more trouble finding Peace about it. In my search for that deep Peace over the last few years, however, I have often turned to God with this simple breath prayer, particularly in moments of deep spiritual turmoil: 

(Breathe in) God, I give you my mind, body, and spirit…  

(Breathe out) …for Peace and healing.

Sometimes, I will repeat this prayer over and over for several minutes. The more those words become connected with my breath, the more I feel the Peace of the Holy Spirit settling in on my heart. In a sense, I feel like I am breathing in God’s Peace. 

You might find yourself skeptical of the power of prayer when things seem so out of control. As we prepare for the Birth of Christ, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to find ways of experiencing God’s Peace, in both moments of turmoil and moments of tranquility. 

Paul calls us to pray with supplication and thanksgiving. 

What does that prayer look like for you? 

How does God bring you to experience Peace amidst the chaos? 

How can we share that Peace with others, whether it be Passing of the Peace in a service or passing by someone on the street? 

Peace of Christ, to all! May the Peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, today and always. Amen.


Meditation on “Veni Emmanuel” – John Scriveyner

These familiar words from scripture inspired Baroque composer George Frederick Handel to include them in his oratorio, Messiah. Oratorios are musical compositions for choirs, soloists, and orchestras. Most

The hymn “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (tune: VENI EMMANUEL) gives us a joyous way to conclude our season of Advent. Historically, the western church has used the Great “O Antiphons” as a part of prayers services during the final seven days of the season. They are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because the title of each one begins with the vocative particle “O”. Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:

17 December: O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
18 December: O Adonai (O Lord)
19 December: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
20 December: O Clavis David (O Key of David)
21 December: O Oriens (O Dayspring)
22 December: O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
23 December: O Emmanuel (O With Us is God)

In today’s recording, Yeri So has prepared a beautiful chorale prelude on this beloved tune. You will notice her hands using the upper keyboard (swell) of the Westminster Organ. This keyboard is used for expressive playing. The pipes are located in a chamber to the left of the choir. Behind the silver fabric are a series of ‘shades.’ These open and close (as directed by the organist) to allow more or less sound from the chamber into the Sanctuary. Throughout the chorale prelude, the shades are open, save the final chord. If you listen closely, you can hear a faint squeak as Yeri closes the shade to make the sound fade.


Third Sunday of Advent—the Candle of Joy

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


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


Send a Christmas Card to Spirit Lake

Since 2001, Westminster has maintained a relationship with the Bdecan Presbyterian Church on Spirit Lake Indian Reservation in North Dakota. As part of that relationship, we have sent mission teams, conducted Vacation Bible School, and helped support Bdecan’s food pantry and clothing closet. We also provide scholarship funds to students attending the Candeska Cikana Community College, a tribal college located on the reservation. 

This has been a challenging year for the Bdecan church, with the death of longtime members and medical challenges facing the ministry’s program coordinators, Rosie and Bob Helland. Please consider sending our sisters and brothers at Bdecan a Christmas card or greeting, and identify yourself as being from Westminster when you do. Their address is: PO Box 141 Tokio, ND 58379.