Monthly Archive for December, 2010

Christmas Eve (late service) December 24, 2010

Isaiah 9:2-7                                                                          

Titus 2:11-14                                                                       

Luke 2:1-20

St. Matthew’s Church in Evanston, which I served before coming here, used to take Christmas Communion to residents of a local nursing home. We got lists from all the North Shore Episcopal parishes of their people in the home and we’d split the names up between me, the assistant priest, some associate priests, and our deacon. So that was how, one Christmas Eve, Fr. Michael Johnston, my assistant, found himself in the room of a gentleman in the Alzheimer’s unit of the home. Continue reading ‘Christmas Eve (late service) December 24, 2010’

Christmas Eve (Family Service) December 24, 2010

Each year for the family service on Christmas Eve, it is our custom at Holy Cross for the vicar to read the children a story written for the occasion. This year’s story follows.


It had all the makings of a really terrible bad Christmas. First of all, it hadn’t snowed. How could Santa Claus come if there were no snow for his sleigh? Second of all, Dad was working construction down in Connecticut and didn’t see how he could drive all the way back up to New Hampshire for Christmas, what with the price of gas and the shape his old truck was in. Third of all, Mom had to work a shift at the hospital on Christmas because they were short on nurses. So old Mrs. Blatchett from down the road was going to come in to watch Ginny and Roger. Mrs. Blatchett smelled bad and was crabby and insisted on watching only her dumb programs on the television. So Mrs. Blatchett was the fourth-of-all reason it was going to be a really terrible bad Christmas. Continue reading ‘Christmas Eve (Family Service) December 24, 2010’

Photo Album: Decorating and Cookie Swap

Laura Starr-Houghton, Bobbi-Jo Plamondon and Monica Houghton tie bows and swags.

Laura Starr-Houghton, Bobbi-Jo Plamondon and Monica Houghton tie bows and swags.

Connor Houghton "helping."

Connor Houghton "helping."

Connor Houghton really helping.

Connor Houghton really helping.

Connor Houghton resting from helping.

Connor Houghton resting from helping.

The cookie swap.

The cookie swap.

Advent Spiritual Life Suggestions: Week Four

The following thoughts on Prayer come from the monks of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.


Time: Set time aside, every day, to spend with God. If time is tight, pray while doiing things that don’t demand your full attention (exercising, cooking, gardening, riding the subway, etc.).

Space: While prayer is portable, returning to a place set aside for prayer can help prepare us for prayer. Choose a corner of a room where God can be remembered and met, every day.

Focus: Use an icon or a candle to focus your time with God. Allow scripture or poetry to direct your thoughts. If you get distracted, simply set the thought aside and turn back to God.

Body: We’re embodied creatures, so it helps to let the body share in prayer. Give a stretch, kneel down, hold a ring of prayer beads, or simply focus on our breath, giving thanks for the gift of life it represents.

Repetition: Prayer is a relationship, our response to God’s continuous invitation. Like relationships, prayer deepens over time. Be real, and listen for the voice of God, who brought you there.



Advent 4 December 19, 2010

Isaiah 7:10-16                                                                      

Romans 1:1-7                                                                      

Matthew 1:18-25

Some book I read once on preaching advised that you should always look for the thing in the readings that made you most uncomfortable, or seemed most puzzling, and preach on that: the good news in the bad news, I think the author called it. Today’s readings seemed like a pretty good candidate for that. They all deal in one way or another with obedience. Continue reading ‘Advent 4 December 19, 2010’

Advent Spiritual Life Suggestions: Week Three

IMG_2401“Hope” is our focus for this third week on Advent. Faith (or trust), hope and love are known as the three theological virtues. That title can scare one off; it simply means that they aren’t “natural” virtues like patience or wisdom, but instead relate specifically to living in relation with God.

Hope is the virtue that characterizes the Christian’s stance towards the future. We watch or listen to the news and everything seems very bleak. Perhaps our own personal lives are also shadowed by darkness of one sort or another. It’s easy to give in to despair, which is the opposite of hope. But the story of God’s people as it unfolds in the Bible is one founded always on hope. Abraham leaves his home and journeys to a land of promise based on hope. Israel awaits its Messiah, living in hope. And we can think of the millions who lived in hope through the dark decades of repression behind the Iron Curtain, never letting go of the hope that their day of freedom would come.

What do you hope for? For the future of the world; for your own future and that of your family? This is a time, in your prayer and reflection, to focus on what you hope for. Where do you need to rekindle hope? One of the best ways to become a more hopeful person is to begin to celebrate small occasions of joy: the beauty of the world dusted with our first snow, a meal shared with a friend, a word of thanks or praise, that rare bit of news that actually shows people working together for good or something wonderful happening where the future seemed dark. Some of us fall into a habit of complaint and depression. Countering it with deliberate celebrations of little joys can be a step towards a greater sense of hope.

Advent 3 December 12, 2010

Isaiah 35:1-10                                                                      

James 5:7-10                                                                       

Matthew 11:2-11

These four beautiful banners hang against the east wall of our worship space during Advent: WATCH, WAIT, HOPE, PRAY they remind us. The mantra of this season of expectation, this season when we await the coming of Christ. And on the back of each of the banners is another word, the same word on each. It’s written in invisible ink, but it’s there. That word is FEAR. Continue reading ‘Advent 3 December 12, 2010’

Advent Spiritual Life Suggestions: Week Two

Waiting is one of the most difficult spiritual tasks most of us face. We want what we want when we want it. The earliest Christians faced a similar situation. They had expected Jesus to return in glory during their own lifetimes. When he didn’t, the Church had to consider what it meant to “wait on the Lord.”

IMG_2400Out of that experience came several learnings. First, while we wait it is important to tend to daily business in an orderly fashion: clean the house, earn our living, bring up our children, exercise civic responsibility. No lying around, waiting for Jesus as an excuse. Common sense! So Advent might be a time to consider our daily routines, tighten things up a bit, readjust and reorder. Second, the early Church stressed the value of mutual support and encouragement: people were urged to reach out to their sisters and brothers who might be discouraged or feel defeated. Again, this is something we can put into practice in our own daily lives. The secular “pre-Christmas” season tends to get focused on self, or on a generalized busyness. Maybe instead of a party for 50 of your best friends, you might have supper or just a cup of coffee with one person whom you sense could use your support and encouragement. (Support and encouragement don’t necessarily mean “advice”; just your loving presence is what’s needed, unless someone asks for more.)

But beyond these practical spiritual disciplines, this is a season to cultivate the deeper discipline of simply waiting — letting go of all our wantings and impatience. God has God’s own time; our contentment comes from slowing down and adjusting our pace to God’s. If you’ve ever spent retreat time in a monastic community, you will have experienced how time slows down and life simplifies. The result is not boredom (once you get used to it), but peace. Advent is a time to reach for that sense of peace that comes from simply learning to wait.

Advent 2 December 5, 2010

Isaiah 11:1-10                                                                      

Romans 15:4-13                                                                  

Matthew 3:1-12

Once a month I go down to Massachusetts to see my spiritual director. He’s one of the monks of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, a quiet, cheerful man who always exudes a great sense of centeredness and peace. We sit together for an hour or so while I talk about what’s on my soul. Br. James listens. When I have laid myself bare before him he is silent for a long time, and then he’ll come out with a question – a deceptively simple question usually, but one which unlocks a new door, gives a new insight, invites me to consider a new possibility.

This last week I went down to Emery House perplexed about a problem I faced, not knowing what I should do. It had me waking up in the middle of the night fretting about the alternatives, none of which seemed good. So I laid it out for Br. James and then there was the usual long silence, followed by the question: “Where do you feel free in this? And where do you feel unfree, bound?” See what I mean by a new perspective: I hadn’t thought at all about my dilemma in terms of feeling free. And that’s what I told him. In fact, I told him that his question made me realize that I felt very little freedom in my life. I felt as though I were constantly serving others, trying to fulfill their expectations, and usually coming up short. Continue reading ‘Advent 2 December 5, 2010’