Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011 in Review

I'm sitting here surrounded by friends who are making top ten lists for 2011. Usually I go against the grain and refuse to get sucked in to these sorts of things. But I decided to go against my own grain and jump on in. So here we go.

#10 - Attended my first Iron Bowl -- Quite interesting... Last minute tickets, fun road trip with a fun person (more to follow on that), and my team won big. All in all, a great experience. But the best part of the whole experience was dinner after the game. A wonderful little Cajun restaurant, new friends, and good conversation. I would have passed up on the ballgame if I had to choose between the two.

#9 - Epic backpacking trip -- Well, not quite epic. It was just an overnight trip. But I took my youngest brother and dad to the Sipsey Wilderness in Bankhead National Forest. Fifteen miles in two days. Much beauty, and deep conversation. Lots of fun.

#8 - Turned 30 -- Well, it had to happen eventually. I haven't been struck with regret because of missed opportunities. It hasn't been much different from 29, really. But I'm thinking the next year will bring some new things.

#7 - Amazing worship experiences -- I led or took part in some awesome worship experiences this year. It began on the first Sunday of the new year at Christ Episcopal in Tuscaloosa with a wonderful service. The next huge thing was participating in the Ash Wednesday service at Shady Grove UMC in Muscle Shoals. I planned and led an Easter Vigil at Holland's Chapel UMC on Sand Mountain, and the next day was back at Shady Grove to help with the Easter service. I got to lead worship for the counselors of Junior High 3 at Sumatanga in July; we did a Wesley covenant renewal service. I was back in Muscle Shoals for three weeks in October and November while my dad was in the UK. Back again for Christ the King, and yet again the first week of December as St. Nicholas. Then one last time on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I also got to go to Sewannee to the nine lessons and carols service at the seminary. All of the above were great experiences. I look forward to many more in the coming year.

#6 - New friends -- I've met more new friends this year than any other, I think. You're all great.

#5 - Tornado relief work with Upper Sand Mountain Parish -- This one could go both ways. There was so much bad that happened, and one could look at it and say that life is terrible. But at the same time I saw Christ working in so many different places and in so many different ways. To be a part of such a huge relief effort was quite amazing.

#4 - Started posting regularly on the Barefoot Friar -- I had started it quite a while back, but this year I started posting regularly. This has been a plan for quite a while, and seeing it take shape has been fun.

#3 - Getting promoted at work -- In October our warehouse manager stepped down unexpectedly and I was asked to take his place. It has been quite an experience, and the responsibilities have been large. But this has put me in a good place for...

#2 - Building a Heart and Hand Home -- Working at the Parish has been eye-opening, but being thrust into the responsibility of building a house on a tight budget with no experience forced me to learn new things and has made me learn new leadership skills.

#1 - Dating Rachel Sparkman -- I met her a couple years ago (I'm friends with her dad), but we went to a political rally in Birmingham on June 26. After the rally we went to eat pizza with some folks and on the way over to the restaurant I saw her putting her hair up in a purple hair band. The light playing off her red hair, her beautiful green eyes, and her wonderful personality caused me to fall head over heels right then. It took me several weeks to convince her to "go steady" with me, but six months later we're still going strong. I have high hopes for the future, but I have to finish school first.

Morning Prayer Guide - Saturday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity.

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: 1 Kings 3:5-13, Psalm 148, and John 8:12-19

Christmas is a festival of light which takes place at the darkest time of the year in the northern hemisphere. It is fitting that we read Jesus’ statement that he is the light of the world.

Light is a an interesting phenomenon. It has properties that show it has waves, and properties to show that it has particles. Light travels forever through space, until reflected, refracted, or absorbed. Light travels the 93 million miles from sun to Earth in a mere 8 minutes. Light illuminates our lives and brings hope and happiness. Light displays the truth.

Ask God to show you how to be a light. You may find the following prayer helpful:

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Seventh Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!




Your nativity, O Christ our God,
has shed the light of knowledge upon the world.
Through it,
those who had been star-worshipers
learned through a star to worship you,
O Sun of Justice,
and to recognize in you the one who rises
and who comes from on high.
O Lord, glory to you!
Feast of the Nativity Liturgy

Friday, December 30, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Friday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity.

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Proverbs 9:1-12, Psalm 148, and 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

St. Paul’s words arrive at a welcome time. Even though this week has juxtaposed the birth of Christ and the sacrifice of innocent babies, the incarnation and the cross, we should not lose heart. The inward self is renewed daily by the Holy Spirit. Even though we may be facing martyrdom, God is still working within us. That is a continual source of joy.

Take a few minutes to pray about this. Ask God to renew you so that you can present yourself as a living sacrifice to God. Write your own prayer.

Sixth Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!




Jesu, the Father's only Son,
whose death for all redemption won,
before the worlds, of God most high,
begotten all ineffably.

The Father's Light and Splendor Thou
their endless Hope to Thee that bow:
accept the prayers and praise today
that through the world Thy servants pay.

Salvation's author, call to mind
how, taking the form of humankind,
born of a Virgin undefiled,
Thou in man's flesh becamest a Child.

Thus testifies the present day
Through every year in long array,
that Thou, salvation's source alone
proceedest from the Father's Throne.

Whence sky, and stars, and sea's abyss,
and earth, and all that therein is,
shall still, with laud and carol meet,
the Author of thine Advent greet.

And we who, by Thy precious Blood
from sin redeemed, are marked for God,
on this, the day that saw Thy Birth,
sing the new song of ransomed earth.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee;
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Ghost forevermore. Amen.
6th Century Hymn; tr: John Mason Neale

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Fifth Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!



And a slightly different version:




O sweet Child of Bethlehem,
grant that we may share with all our hearts
in this profound mystery of Christmas.
Put into the hearts of men and women this peace
for which they sometimes seek so desperately
and which you alone can give to them.
Help them to know one another better,
and to live as brothers and sisters,
children of the same Father.
Reveal to them also your beauty, holiness and purity.
Awaken in their hearts
love and gratitude for your infinite goodness.
Join them all together in your love.
And give us your heavenly peace. Amen.
Pope John XXIII (25 November 1881 – 3 June 1963)

Morning Prayer Guide - Thursday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity.

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Isaiah 49:5-15, Psalm 148, and Matthew 12:46-50

God is so patient for us. He wants us to come back to him and to accept him as master. But we’re selfish. We want to do things our way. We don’t want to submit to authority. When we finally realize that we do want to follow Christ, we are in a predicament. God works to redeem us and restore us to the place where he wants us to be.

Jesus makes an interesting point: When we are following him, those around us become as important as family. When one of our fellow disciples is in need, we are to help her as if she were a sister by blood. This isn’t necessarily to diminish the importance of our blood relatives, but to increase the importance of our fellow Christ-followers. We’re a family, and we should love each other like it.

Do you love your church family as much as you love your blood relatives? Are you good at showing that love? Be honest – God knows the truth! Take some time to pray about this. Ask God to show you if you’ve been as loving as you should be. Ask him to help you show your church family as much love as you show your own family. Write your own prayer.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Holy Innocents


Read: Jeremiah 31:15-17, Psalm 124, Revelation 21:1-7, and Matthew 2:13-18

Mary and Joseph and the Christ-child became persecuted refugees after Jesus was born. Herod wanted to kill them: “And he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.”

After 2,000 years, very little has changed. There are still people who are forced to leave everything they know, love and find familiar; rich or poor, though no fault of their own. Think back over the news stories you have heard this year of people being forced out of their homes by war, persecution or disaster. Pray for those refugees now. You may find the following prayer helpful:

We remember today, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by King Herod. Receive, we pray, into the arms of your mercy all innocent victims; and by your great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish your rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Fourth Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!




Let the just rejoice,
for their justifier is born.
Let the sick and infirm rejoice,
For their saviour is born.
Let the captives rejoice,
For their Redeemer is born.
Let slaves rejoice,
for their Master is born.
Let free men rejoice,
For their Liberator is born.
Let All Christians rejoice,
For Jesus Christ is born.
St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-440)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

St. John the Divine, Apostle and Evangelist


Read: Exodus 33:18-23, Psalm 92, 1 John 1:1-9, and John 21:9b-24

St. John was the only one of the Twelve to die a natural death. Despite being boiled in oil and sent to the prison colony at Patmos, John died in about 100 CE in Ephesus.

John worked tirelessly to tell others about Christ. Where the synoptic Gospel writers show Christ as the Son of Man, John shows him as the Son of God. In his epistles he tries to encourage his readers to love each other just as Christ loved us. Many scholars believe that Revelation is a prophecy of the fall of Jerusalem, in 70 CE.

Ask God to help you tell others about Christ like John did. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Shed upon your Church, O Lord, the brightness of your light, that we, being illumined by the teaching of your apostle and evangelist John, may so walk in the light of your truth, that at length we may attain to the fullness of eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Third Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!




God of love, Father of all, the darkness that covered the earth has given way to the bright dawn of your Word made flesh. Make us a people of this light. Make us faithful to your Word that we may bring your life to the waiting world. Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, December 26, 2011

St. Stephen, Deacon and Martyr


Read: Jeremiah 26:1-9,12-15; Psalm 31; Acts 6:8--7:2a,51c-60; and Matthew 23:34-39

“The old church calendar, in its wisdom, places immediately after the joyful feast of the Nativity the day of St. Stephen (December 26), first martyr of the Church in Acts and the... story of the bloody massacre of the boy babies. New birth and nativity, the cross and sacrifice get all mixed up in the gospel. When will we ever learn that nothing truly new, no large move of God occurs without some pain? Blood and birth go together.” – Bishop Will Willimon.

Today’s reading from Acts tells of the first deacon and martyr, St. Stephen. These readings seem to clash with Christmas and the joy of the Incarnation. The birth of Christ, while a wondrous affair, is meaningless on its own. Without the cross, the incarnation is pointless. Without self-sacrifice, even martyrdom, discipleship is meaningless. While it is true that salvation is freely given, we do have an obligation to live our lives in a way that pleases God. Sometimes that includes being martyred for our beliefs.

Are you willing to give your life for God? Could you pray for the people who were killing you? You may find the following prayer helpful:

We give you thanks, O Lord of glory, for the example of the first martyr Stephen, who looked up to heaven and prayed for his persecutors to your Son Jesus Christ, who stands at your right hand; where he lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Second Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!



And a slightly different version:




Let Your goodness Lord appear to us, that we
made in your image, conform ourselves to it.
In our own strength
we cannot imitate Your majesty, power, and wonder
nor is it fitting for us to try.
But Your mercy reaches from the heavens
through the clouds to the earth below.
You have come to us as a small child,
but you have brought us the greatest of all gifts,
the gift of eternal love
Caress us with Your tiny hands,
embrace us with Your tiny arms
and pierce our hearts with Your soft, sweet cries.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

First Day of Christmas

Merry Christmas!




O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Evening Prayer Guide - Christmas Eve

Parts in Italics are not spoken aloudParts in bold are spoken by all.

Jesus said, "I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."    John 8:12

O God, you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true Light: Grant that we, who have known the mystery of that Light on earth, may also enjoy him perfectly in heaven; where with you and the Holy Spirit he lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Let us confess our sins against God and our neighbor.

Silence may be kept.

Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone. We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves. We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Almighty God have mercy on us, forgive you all our sins through our Lord Jesus Christ, strengthen us in all goodness, and by the power of the Holy Spirit keep us in eternal life. Amen.

O God, make speed to save us.
O Lord, make haste to help us.

O Gracious Light (Phos hilaron) (May be said or sung)

O gracious light,
pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven,
O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Now as we come to the setting of the sun,
and our eyes behold the vesper light,
we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices,
O Son of God, O Giver of Life,
and to be glorified through all the worlds.


The Lessons – One or two of the following lessons are read, the Reader first saying

A Reading (Lesson) from ________________.

A citation giving chapter and verse may be added.

After each Lesson the Reader may say


The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Or the Reader may say    Here ends the Lesson (Reading).

The readings are Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, and Luke 2:1-14:

The Lesson from the Old Testament: Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness
    Have seen a great light;
    Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
    Upon them a light has shined.
    You have multiplied the nation
    And increased its joy;
    They rejoice before You
    According to the joy of harvest,
    As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
    For You have broken the yoke of his burden
    And the staff of his shoulder,
    The rod of his oppressor,
    As in the day of Midian.
    For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
    And garments rolled in blood,
    Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
    For unto us a Child is born,
    Unto us a Son is given;
    And the government will be upon His shoulder.
    And His name will be called
    Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
    Of the increase of His government and peace
    There will be no end,
    Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
    To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
    From that time forward, even forever.
    The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

The response from the Psalter: Psalm 96

1    Sing to the LORD a new song; *
   sing to the LORD, all the whole earth.

2    Sing to the LORD and bless his Name; *
   proclaim the good news of his salvation from day to day.

3    Declare his glory among the nations *
   and his wonders among all peoples.

4    For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised; *
   he is more to be feared than all gods.

5    As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; *
   but it is the LORD who made the heavens.

6    Oh, the majesty and magnificence of his presence! *
   Oh, the power and the splendor of his sanctuary!

7    Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples; *
   ascribe to the LORD honor and power.

8    Ascribe to the LORD the honor due his Name; *
   bring offerings and come into his courts.

9    Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; *
    let the whole earth tremble before him.

10    Tell it out among the nations: "The LORD is King! *
    he has made the world so firm that it cannot be moved;
    he will judge the peoples with equity."

11    Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; *
    let the field be joyful and all that is therein.

12    Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the LORD when he comes, *
    when he comes to judge the earth.

13    He will judge the world with righteousness *
    and the peoples with his truth.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
   as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.

The Lesson from the Epistle: Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

The Lesson from the Gospel: Luke 2:1-14


And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:

    “Glory to God in the highest,
    And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”

After the readings, a sermon or homily may be preached. The service then continues:

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray.

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Show us your mercy, O Lord;
And grant us your salvation.

Clothe your ministers with righteousness;
Let your people sing with joy.
Give peace, O Lord, in all the world;
For only in you can we live in safety.
Lord, keep this nation under your care;
And guide us in the way of justice and truth.

Let your way be known upon earth;
Your saving health among all nations.
Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten;
Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.

Create in us clean hearts, O God;
And sustain us by your Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus Christ, by your death you took away the sting of death: Grant to us your servants so to follow in faith where you have led the way, that we may at length fall asleep peacefully in you and wake up in your likeness; for your tender mercies' sake. Amen.

The leader says one or more of the following prayers:

A Collect for Peace

Most holy God, the source of all good desires, all right judgements, and all just works: Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, so that our minds may be fixed on the doing of your will, and that we, being delivered from the fear of all enemies, may live in peace and quietness; through the mercies of Christ Jesus our Savior. Amen.

A Collect for Aid against Perils

Be our light in the darkness, O Lord, and in your great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of your only Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Collect for Protection

O God, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, and the repose of the dead: We thank you for the blessings of the day that is past, and humbly ask for your protection through the coming night. Bring us in safety to the morning hours; through him who died and rose again for us, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

A Collect for the Presence of Christ

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.

A Collect for Mission

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

The General Thanksgiving

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Let us bless the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

The leader may then conclude with the following

May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.    Romans 15:13

Merry Christmas!

Liturgical Musings

The secular world has this annoying way of celebrating a holiday for several weeks leading up to the actual day, and then when the day is done so is the celebration. We play Christmas music on the radio from Thanksgiving until December 25, but on the 26th we’re so sick of it that we go back to regular programming. We buy Easter candy for the month or so leading up to Easter Sunday, but as soon as Easter Monday comes, the candy is on clearance, the dresses are forgotten in the closet, and the eggs are all put away for next year.

The problem with this phenomenon is that it is just the opposite of the way the kalendar is supposed to work.

As we have previously discussed, Advent is a season in its own right, not pre-Christmas. It would be silly to sing Christmas carols during Advent, just as it would be silly to sing them during Lent or on Pentecost. But since the entire nation is doing just that, we can feel a bit left out. So what do we do about it?

What we often fail to realize is that Christmas is a season that is twelve days long. Remember the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”? That’s what it’s talking about. Christmas begins at sundown on December 24th (Christmas Eve, so named because Christmas begins in the evening) and lasts until the evening of January 5th. Epiphany is a separate but related holiday celebrated on January 6th.

Why does Christmas start on the evening of the 24th? This is an ancient custom, and it has roots in the Biblical account of the creation in Genesis chapter 1. Over and over again it says that “the evening and the morning were the first day”. The Jews quickly adopted this pattern, and to this day the Sabbath begins on Friday evening at sundown and lasts until Saturday evening at sundown. Since the first Christians were Jews, it would make sense that they would adopt their own worship practices. The only difference is that since Jesus was resurrected on the first day of the week, Christians began worshiping on the day of the resurrection – the Lord’s Day.

At church, the colors go from the somber purple or royal blue to white, the color of celebration. This is when we should begin the Christmas music. My favorite Christmas carol is sung every year at the beginning of the Nine Lessons and Carols service at Kings College, Cambridge. Here’s a clip from 2008:



The interesting thing about the season of Christmas is that the first three days after Christmas Day (assuming they don’t fall on a Sunday) are dedicated to St. Stephen (the first deacon and martyr), St. John the Divine, and the Holy Innocents (the babies that Herod had killed in Bethlehem), respectively. Bishop Will Willimon writes about this:

“The old church calendar, in its wisdom, places immediately after the joyful feast of the Nativity the day of St. Stephen (December 26), first martyr of the Church in Acts and the... story of the bloody massacre of the boy babies. New birth and nativity, the cross and sacrifice get all mixed up in the gospel. When will we ever learn that nothing truly new, no large move of God occurs without some pain? Blood and birth go together.” (Found here.)

Now, Advent is a penitential season, and through all four weeks we’ve been setting aside our Christmas parties, Christmas music, Christmas decorations, etc., in order to focus on being prepared for Christ’s arrival. But Christmas itself is a celebration! It is the celebration of the incarnation. “And the Word became 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, NKJV). So we’ve been waiting, almost hungrily, to enjoy all the things about Christmas we love, and now we have twelve days to do it in.

Impractical? Not as much as you’d think. Sure, there will be the odd party you need to attend that simply cannot be moved. There are people, Christians even, who will look at you as though you’ve got two heads for just suggesting they wait “until after Christmas” to have a party. But perhaps we should do less conforming to the world and more transforming people’s ideas. Maybe instead of just giving up before we even start we should try explaining what’s actually going on.

What if we were to be adamant about keeping Advent as Advent and Christmas during the actual season? What if we were to educate our churches, our families, and our friends about why we should do this? What if we were to put aside the December full of stress and rich food and gift-buying and plan further ahead to enjoy those things between December 25 and January 5?

As you begin Advent this year, think about ways you can keep Christmas during the season of Christmas, and not let it invade Advent. Think about how you can set aside some fun and good food to enjoy later. Then, when Christmas does arrive, how can you celebrate it more fully? How can you share in the joy of the incarnation and nativity of our Lord?

Morning Prayer Guide - Saturday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity.

Collect for Grace:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, Psalm 96, and James 1:17-18

Everything in its time, everything in its season.

It has been difficult to remain faithful to our Advent challenge. There have been many opportunities, both within and without our local churches, to slip into Christmas too early. Many of us have been listening to and singing Christmas music for weeks now. There have been Christmas parties to attend, shopping to be done, gifts to wrap. Our homes, workplaces, and churches are all decked out with Christmas trees, lights, wreaths, and other holiday decorations. While none of these things are wrong, they too easily encroach upon and drown out a season which is very helpful for our spiritual growth. Many of these things are unavoidable; most people, especially those who aren’t believers, would object to having a workplace Christmas party “after Christmas”. Even among Christians this “Advent thing” is unpopular. Churches have allowed Hallmark to set the calendar and seasons far too long.

Some of us have worked hard to celebrate Advent in its own right. Once the cat is out of the bag, putting her back in will be next to impossible. But we’re called to be counter-cultural anyway, to do things differently on purpose, to reject “because everyone else is doing it” as a reason. Perhaps a few people being intentional about saving Christmas for Christmas will raise awareness in our churches and help each other find ways to keep Christmas from coming too early.
If you’ve been keeping Advent as a season in its own right, what have you learned this month? What has been the hardest to resist? Do you think it has been worth the effort?

If you haven’t kept Advent as strictly (or at all), why did you choose not to? Was it because of obligations that you felt were incompatible, or was it because you’ve always kept Christmas a certain way and don’t wish to change? Please leave a comment with your answers.

May you have a very merry and blessed Christmas!

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, December 23, 2011

O Emmanuel

The Antiphon:

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.




The Reading:

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.
Isaiah 7:14, NRSV

The Prayer:

Jesus, God-with-us, all compassionate and loving God whom we honor and adore, You have unlocked the gates of heaven and cleared the pathway for all humanity to come to You in the glory of the Father. Save us from the chains of sin and darkness. We thank you for the gift of redemption and look forward to the day of Your coming in glory. Amen.

Morning Prayer Guide - Friday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity.

Collect for Grace:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Psalm 96, and Romans 13:11-14

Be careful, be vigilant: God is coming. Prepare yourself, because you don’t know when Jesus will be coming back.

Jesus comes at unexpected times and in unexpected places. We have to be ready to receive him, and we have to be able to recognize him when he arrives. Advent helps us to prepare, and being prepared helps open our eyes to what Christ is doing.
Jesus is coming. Are you ready?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Anglican Rosary

My lovely girlfriend made me an Anglican rosary for my birthday. You can read more about the rosary here. I found the following prayer by St. Patrick, adapted for use with the rosary, and decided to share it.

Saint Patrick's Breastplate

The Cross
I bind unto myself today the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.

The Invitatory
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

The Cruciforms
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.

The Weeks
1. I bind this day to me for ever, by power of faith, Christ’s Incarnation;
2. his baptism in Jordan river;
3. his death on cross for my salvation;
4. his bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
5. his riding up the heavenly way;
6. his coming at the day of doom:
7. I bind unto myself today.

1. I bind unto myself the power of the great love of cherubim;
2. the sweet "Well done" in judgment hour;
3. the service of the seraphim;
4. confessors’ faith, apostles’ word,
5. the patriarchs’ prayers, the prophets’ scrolls;
6. all good deeds done unto the Lord,
7. and purity of virgin souls.

1. I bind unto myself today the virtues of the starlit heaven,
2. the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
3. the whiteness of the moon at even,
4. the flashing of the lightning free,
5. the whirling of the wind’s tempestuous shocks,
6. the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
7. around the old eternal rocks.

1. I bind unto myself today the power of God to hold and lead,
2. his eye to watch, his might to stay,
3. his ear to hearken, to my need;
4. the wisdom of my God to teach,
5. his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
6. the word of God to give me speech,
7. his heavenly host to be my guard.

O Rex Gentium

The Antiphon:

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.




The Readings:



He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah 2:4, NRSV

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.
Isaiah 11:10, NRSV

God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
Psalm 41:8, NRSV

Who would not fear you, O King of the nations? For that is your due; among all the wise ones of the nations and in all their kingdoms there is no one like you.
Jeremiah 10:7, NRSV

To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
Daniel 7:14, NRSV

The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts.
Haggai 2:8, NRSV

The Prayer:

Lord, every nation on earth adores You, for by Your passion, death, and resurrection, You have saved all humanity. Your constant love and friendship reach from the heavens to the ends of the earth. You alone have bridged the deep chasm created by sin; You have protected us from the grasp of the evil one. You are the source of all life; help us to be as one family in You, our God and Savior. Amen.

Morning Prayer Guide - Thursday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity.

Collect for Grace:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Zephaniah 3:8-13, Psalm 96, and Romans 10:5-13

The prophet Zephaniah talks about how someday God is going to avenge his people they are going to be restored to their lives and prosperity. St. Paul writes that we no longer have to worry about following the law, because Christ has come and given us a way to find salvation.

Zephaniah was writing to a people who were in exile. They had been conquered by the Babylonians and taken away from their homeland. To them, good news was being returned to the status quo. St. Paul was writing to people who were part of the dispersion: Jewish people who had moved away from Palestine and who had accepted Christ as Messiah. The ones addressed in this letter live in Rome. To them, good news was knowing that God had moved, that Christ had opened the door to all people, not just Jews, that the kingdom knows no boundaries or ethnic groups or languages.

What is good news for us? Has it changed much in the intervening two centuries? It seems everyone has a different idea of what good news would look like. The Jews in Zephaniah’s time were ready for their good news to begin. So were Paul’s audience. What about you?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

O Oriens

The Antiphon:

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.




The Readings:

But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
Isaiah 9:1, NRSV

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Isaiah 58:8, NRSV

Violence shall no more be heard in your land, devastation or destruction within your borders; you shall call your walls Salvation, and your gates Praise. The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun shall no more go down, or your moon withdraw itself; for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of mourning shall be ended.
Isaiah 60:18-20, NRSV

But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall.
Malachi 4:2, NRSV

The Prayer:

Radiance of the Father, light for our eyes, and guide for our souls, brighten our days by showing us the way to the Father, for You said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Your life showed us the way to live; Your words spoke of the truth of the Father; Your sufferings and death brought us to new life. May we be radiant with Your joy, as we begin to recognize Your coming to us in one another. We thank You for the gift of Your Body and Blood in the Eucharist which nourishes us and gives us renewed life. Amen.

St. Thomas the Apostle

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Habakkuk 2:1-4, Psalm 126, Hebrews 10:35-11:1, and John 20:24-29


“Seeing is believing.” That might have been St. Thomas’ motto. He was a careful man, always wanting the facts, always wanting to make sure he made the best decision. But we give Thomas an awfully hard time about today’s reading, while forgetting that when Jesus said it was time to go to Jerusalem and die, Thomas was the first one to say, “We’ll go die with you.” Thomas ended up going to India with the Gospel, and there is still a church there which he founded and which follows very closely the teachings and forms of worship that he brought. Thomas may have doubted at some points, but he was still a very dedicated follower of Jesus.

“Doubt is part of the journey.” That’s what Christians in the east sometimes say to encourage one another. In the Christmas icon called “The Nativity”, Joseph is sitting at the edge of the picture, looking sad. The Orthodox always include a shepherd, named Thyros, representing the doubts that were thrust upon Joseph, doubts that God really has done this miracle. But Joseph is still in the picture; he is still an important part of it all. The lesson for us is don’t go on the journey alone. Don’t give up, because you've got doubts. As a father with a sick child once said to Jesus, “Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!”

Ask God to help you overcome your doubts and live like Thomas did. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

O Clavis David

The Antiphon:

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.




The Readings:

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.

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.
Isaiah 9:2, 6, NRSV

I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and no one shall shut; he shall shut, and no one shall open.
Isaiah 22:22, NRSV

Then you shall say to them: Thus says the Lord: I am about to fill all the inhabitants of this land—the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem—with drunkenness.
Jeremiah 13:13, NRSV

Not like these is the Lord, the portion of Jacob, for he is the one who formed all things, and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance; the Lord of hosts is his name.
Jeremiah 51:19, NRSV

The Prayer:

Christ Jesus, You are the key to the happiness of our hearts. The darkness of sin and the awareness of our weaknesses drag us down, but You have come to lift us up and redeem us. We place all our hope in You who have freed us from sin. Teach us to open the doors of our hearts to You and to one another through awareness of the mystery of Your Presence in others. Lead us into the light of Your love and grace. Amen.

Morning Prayer Guide - Tuesday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity.

Collect for Grace:

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: 1 Samuel 1:19-28, Luke 1:46b-55, and Hebrews 8:1-13

Today’s readings go along with yesterday’s. In Samuel, we read about God answering Hannah’s prayers and granting her a son. In Hebrews, we read about the new covenant God has made with humans. Because we could not carry our end of the bargain with the first covenant, God has graciously re-written the covenant and has given us a way to live it out.

How have you lived out the new covenant? Are you ready for Christ’s coming? Have you redeemed the time? Take some time to pray about this. Ask God to help you be ready when Christ returns. Write your own prayer.

Monday, December 19, 2011

O Radix Jesse

The Antiphon:

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.




The Readings:

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
Isaiah 11:1, NRSV

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.
Isaiah 11:10, NRSV

[S]o he shall startle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which had not been told them they shall see, and that which they had not heard they shall contemplate.
Isaiah 52:15, NRSV

The Prayer:

O Christ, living sign of the Father’s love, we adore You as the Center of our lives. You are our model for grace, truth, and living in the light of the Father. Be our strength in times of sorrow and trouble; be our joy in times of sadness; be our light in the darkness of sin and our troubled world. We are in awe of Your holy Presence. May we rejoice and share the signs of Your coming with one another. Amen.

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: 1 Samuel 1:1-18, Luke 1:46b-55, and Hebrews 9:1-14

The writer of Hebrews gives a comparison between atonement under the old system (used in the tabernacle and temple) and the new one (since Christ’s death and resurrection). Where before the priest could only go into the most holy place on the day of atonement to sprinkle blood on the altar, Christ became that blood sacrifice and made the most holy place accessible to all – hence the ripping of the veil in Matthew 27:51.

What this means for us on a practical level is that we can pray and expect our prayers to be heard, we can worship and expect our worship to be received, and we can approach God ourselves without an intermediary. We can ask for forgiveness at any time and not just on the Day of Atonement. We can find ourselves in God’s presence. We no longer need the priest to be the go-between, for all believers are priests.

Take a few moments to pray about this. Thank God for allowing you into that holy place. Ask him to help you access it. Ask him to help you repent of your wrongdoings so that you can be made clean. You may find the following prayer helpful:

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

O Adonai

The Antiphon:

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.




The Readings:

For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.
Isaiah 33:22 NRSV

Then they remembered the days of old, of Moses his servant. Where is the one who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is the one who put within them his holy spirit, who caused his glorious arm to march at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name,
Isaiah 63:11-12 NRSV

For I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and redeemed you from the house of slavery; and I sent before you Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Micah 6:4 NRSV

The Prayer:
Lord, our God, reveal Yourself to us in the persons, circumstances, and events of each day,
especially in those who need our time and talents. Open our eyes to recognize Your workings in all that happens to us; keep us open to Your coming to us in the unusual events and surprises of each day. May the place of our work become “holy ground” for we believe that You are present everywhere. Amen.

Morning Prayer Guide - Sunday

Fourth Sunday in Advent

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Read: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16; Luke 1:46b-55; Romans 16:25-27; and Luke 1:26-38

Today is a day of rest and worship. Allow the readings to guide your thoughts and prayers.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

O Sapientia

The Antiphon:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.




The Readings:

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;
Isaiah 11:2-3, NRSV

This also comes from the Lord of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.
Isaiah 28:29, NRSV

The Prayer:

Christ, the Word of the Father, through all the ages You have cared for Your people as a shepherd his flock, as a mother her child, as a potter his clay. Be present to us who cry out for Your compassionate, helping hand. Help us to be faithful to those values which You taught us by Your life and Your love. May we find Your presence in the needs of the poor and abandoned around us. Amen.

Morning Prayer Guide - Saturday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Judges 13:2-24, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, and John 7:40-52

Jesus was capable of causing a ruckus just by existing. Today we read of a disagreement between the Pharisees over whether or not he was a prophet. He was from Galilee, and no prophet had ever been born there. Had they read his birth certificate, they would have seen that he had been born in Bethlehem.

Jesus comes to us from unexpected places. We don’t expect to see him in the face of the person we are serving, yet he is there (Mt. 25:31-46). We don’t always expect to see him when we are facing intense stress or pain or beauty. Yet he is there, ready to lead the way and offer strength and guidance. We have only to recognize him.

Take a few moments to pray about this. Ask God to help you recognize Jesus when he reveals himself to you. Ask him to help you see Christ in those around you, particularly in those whom you are serving. Write your own prayer.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Friday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: 2 Samuel 6:12-19, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, and Hebrews 1:5-14

King David went back and did it the right way. He had Levites carry the ark, just like the Law prescribed. He made offerings as acts of worship. He also danced his way up the street as the procession came into the city, embarrassing his wife and making him look foolish. But David wasn’t concerned with his image, he was focused on following the lead of the Spirit.

He was generous, too. He gave everyone a loaf of bread, a piece of meat, and a raisin cake. This would have been expensive for him. But he wasn’t worried about the money, he was focused on following the lead of the Spirit.

Sometimes we have to put aside our dignity and follow the lead of the Spirit. Sometimes we have to concern ourselves with something other than our self-image or what others will think. Jesus told us to take up our cross daily and follow him. The cross is a symbol of shame and pain, the opposite of dignity. Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote,

The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of this world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of his encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death – we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ. When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. (The Cost of Discipleship, 99)

Take some time to pray about this. Write your own prayer.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Thursday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: 2 Samuel 6:1-11, Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, and Hebrews 1:1-4

King David wanted to bring the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem to the tabernacle. He went to get it with an ox cart. However, when the oxen stumbled and Uzzah reached out to steady it, God struck Uzzah dead.

God has a reason for doing things a certain way. It’s not because he’s arbitrary. It’s not because he doesn’t like you. It’s not because he wants to see you jump through hoops. It’s because he has a different perspective and can see things we cannot. He knows the proper order things should go in so they work best.

Pizza dough has to be made according to a recipe. You cannot roll out the dough before you add the flour, for instance – it won’t work! You have to follow the recipe in the order given in order to get good results. The problem is that we’re rebellious and we have issues with authority. So we try to do things our way, but we only succeed in messing things up.
What do you need to do differently? Write your own prayer.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Wednesday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: Malachi 3:16-4:6, Psalm 125, and Mark 9:9-13

The disciples wanted to know why Elijah was prophesied to come again before the Messiah. Jesus’ response can leave us scratching our heads. He seems to imply that Elijah had come back already and that people had mistreated him.

Jesus was referring to John the Baptist. John was “Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14). His ministry was similar to Elijah’s, in that both were prophets who called people on their sins and wrongdoings. “You’ve messed up. God wants you to do differently.” They were unafraid of telling the truth, even when it could cost their lives. They weren’t afraid of the truth, even though it made people angry with them. They weren’t afraid of people being angry. They were concerned with following God.

What can we learn from John and Elijah? Are you afraid fo making people angry? Has God sent you to do something you’re too scared to try? Ask God to help you. Write your own prayer.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Tuesday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: 2 Kings 2:9-22, Psalm 125, and Acts 3:17-4:4

Advent is a time of preparation and anticipation. It’s a time to prepare ourselves for the coming Christ. It’s a time to take stock of where we are in our journey and see what we need to be doing better. It’s a time when we recognize the darkness in our own lives and show appreciation for the light that Christ gives us.

Today’s readings are about people who had received light. Elisha stayed with Elijah during his last hours, and as a result he received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Peter and John had experienced Christ’s resurrection and were preaching about it in the temple. In both cases the people in question were stronger because of their encounters with God. They weren’t afraid to let others see God in them, or to let God work through them.

Take a few moments to pray about this. How has God worked through you? Are you open to his leading? Write your own prayer.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Morning Prayer Guide - Monday

Begin by praying the Collect for Grace and Collect for Purity:

Collect for Grace:
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us safely to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Collect for Purity:
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we might perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Read: 1 Kings 18:1-18, Psalm 125, and Ephesians 6:10-17

St. Paul’s armor of God passage is a favorite. It gets covered in Sunday school fairly regularly.

The thing about it, though, is that we seem to see it all as a defensive, passive thing. Put your armor on so you can hunker down and that mean old devil can’t get you. Just sit tight and eventually God will come and pluck you out of the situation.

That’s bad theology. God doesn’t want us to just sit there and wait for rescue. He wants us to be up and active. That’s why Paul tells us three times to stand and withstand. The word is an active verb, and the connotation is that we won’t just whimper and fall down, but that we will remain strong in the face of adversity and even advance on it. It’s one of those military metaphors that some people find troubling, but the truth is that sometimes that’s the best description. God doesn’t want us sitting idly by. He wants us out and active, taking the fight to the enemy. The best defense is a good offense, after all.

Face your fears. Be active, not passive. Don’t just sit and wait for Jesus to come; instead, be Jesus to all you meet.

Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Tools for Prayer

Being the liturgy geek that I am, I love to use various tools for my prayer times. These serve to help me focus, to give structure and guidance, and to connect me with the greater Church.

My favorite and most-used tool is the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). It provides guidelines for many types of services, but most often I use Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer parts of the daily office. There are some truly beautiful prayers contained in this book, and the structure helps me stay focused on prayer instead of allowing my mind to wander a million miles away. I have used other books in the past, and still do on occasion. I recently acquired a copy of the Benedictine prayer book, which I may use at some point or another. Also, the Order of St. Luke, of which I am a member, has a book with suggested prayer offices, which are fairly similar to the Anglican ones in the BCP and the United Methodist ones printed in the United Methodist Hymnal.

Another tool which I occasionally use is a rosary. I love it's tactile nature, the counting of beads as I pray, and the visual of the crucifix at the beginning and end. I do pray the Roman Catholic prayers, although I don't necessarily know that praying to the Blessed Virgin actually accomplishes anything. Still, there are some good points and some deep things to meditate upon.

I also occasionally use incense. I generally go for the frankincense and myrrh that churches use, since it reminds me of, well, church. The Bible says that our prayers are like a sweet aroma or incense going to the nostrils of God. Smell and memory are closely tied, so when I smell the incense, I immediately call to mind the services where it was used and the feeling of God's presence at those times.

I think many people agree that using music can be a very powerful tool. I do think it should be used sparingly, however, because I think that, in our society, we're too quick to drown out our own thoughts with music. But it does provide a great atmosphere for contemplation and prayer. I like several different things for this. Sometimes I listen to David Crowder. He's my favorite contemporary artist. Sometimes I listen to old hymns played on a huge organ with a beautiful choir. Sometimes I listen to instrumental music. And many times I will listen to a Psalm or canticle being chanted in the Anglican or Gregorian style. A very ancient type of music indeed. My favorite site for learning to do this is Chantblog. Incidentally, Emily and I are probably chanting a Psalm at church on Christmas Eve.

One more tool I use is imagery and color. I have an icon of Jesus hanging over my computer screen in my bedroom. I have another in my "prayer corner", the little area of my home where I do my morning and evening prayers. In that corner, I also have a Celtic cross (which may vary, depending on my whim) and some cloth of some sort in the color of the season. In Lent I add some railroad spikes which my brother found for me (I know they're not terribly accurate, but the imagery is powerful nonetheless) and rough-textured burlap veils the cross. At Easter colors change to white and a framed "Alleluia" is put up. I am going to get a crucifix to hang, too. All these visuals (plus a few more) help me to focus on Christ as I'm praying.

Now, I can and do pray without my tools. I need to point that out so that you don't think that I'm helpless without them. I also don't think they have any power in themselves. Christ can and does use symbols. Even language is symbols.

And of course the Bible is prominently used. But that goes without saying, so I went without saying it.

So then, what tools do you use, and why?