Longest Night

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. — John 1:5

Read:  John 1:1-9, 14


“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.


Well, the world didn’t end today. Surprise! Surprise! It was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in south central Pennsylvania it was a chilly, gray day complete with a few snow flurries. Night settled in all too fast, and the wind has been howling through the screens ever since.

The good news is that in a few hours, dawn will break. It may be another gray winter day, but the promise of shorter nights and warmer days begins tomorrow. The darkness will never permanently be with us. There is always hope and light and love.


Give thanks for the light. Do something today to spread a little light and a little love. It can be as simple as a smile or as generous as a gift of time or resources. You know the needs; you can be that light.

Photo by Balaji Dutt. Thanks!

My Prayer

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best… — Philippians 1:9-10a

Read: Philippians 1:3-11

Ponder:  “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” — St. Augustine

Reflect: Paul wrote his letter to the believers at Philippi while under house arrest in Rome. He had every reason to be discouraged, but instead he overflows with joy, thanksgiving, and encouragement for this young worshiping community. He praises their generosity, and infuses the entire letter with a sense of hope and belief that this group of Christians will, through love, discern how to serve and be the light of Christ to all whom they encounter.

Sometimes it seems we live in a very dark world. Hate, anger, violence, and fear move like heavy fog across the landscape of our days and nights, settling in life’s deep valleys and the remote crevices of our hearts and minds. We cry to God in the face of injustice, evil, and pain. How can this be?

Paul would, I think, encourage us to live on in love, to continue to find joy in every circumstance, and to trust in God’s gracious presence and never-ceasing love for even the most broken parts of this world.

Even in the darkest and coldest days of winter, light is just beyond the horizon–waiting to dawn and spread hope like sweet honey. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you through the darkest hours of night, assuring you of the promise of light and the presence of love. This is my prayer for you.


Light a candle tonight for peace in the face of evil, brokenness, and darkness. Watch how one small light begins to outshine the dark. So it is with love; love conquers all. Indeed, love has already won. Pray for strength, courage, and wisdom to share and spread love as we await Christ’s coming again into our world.

Photo by thienzieyung and Klearchos Papoutsis. Thanks!


By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. — Luke 1:78-79

Read: Luke 1:68-79


I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino


When I lived in North Dakota, one of my favorite things to do on a crisp, clear winter night was to bundle up, go outside, and gaze into the star-spangled sky. Out on the rural prairie, without the interference of city lights and traffic noise, one gets a real sense of the enormity of the cosmos and the handiwork of the Creator. One also gets a very real picture of just how small and insignificant a single human can appear in the scale of the universe.

Yet, we do not have to feel insignificant because scripture reminds us that God knows the very number of hairs on our head. We are wonderfully and fearfully made and deeply loved. Even in the darkest hour of night, we rest assured that dawn will break, bringing new light and renewed hope. Jesus is coming again to bring light that the darkness cannot overcome. Yes, the stars are lovely to look upon, but it is the light of Christ that shows us the way to real life that never ends.


Make time to go outside and look at the stars. Tonight you might even have the opportunity to see the Geminid Meteor Shower in all its glory. Give thanks to the Creator of the universe for the majesty and glory that seem to expand before your eyes.

Today also marks the commemoration of St. Lucy, a young Sicilian Christian martyr who lived during the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian. While we do not have much knowledge about her life, we believe she had decided to devote her life completely to God and give her possessions to the poor.  Her feast day is particularly important in Norway and Sweden, where the oldest girl in the house dons a crown of candles and serves saffron buns  to her family early on this particular morning. For more information click here. For a recipe for St. Lucy’s Buns or Lussekatter, click here.

Photos by Tydence and Henrik Kettunen. Thanks!



To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. /O my God, in your I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. — Psalm 25:1-2

Read: Psalm 25:1-5


“He came down from heaven” can almost be transposed into “Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned? — C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer


Yes, light walks the earth so that we can lift our weary faces and souls to the LORD and be renewed. Despite the shortening of the days and longer shadows of night, the bright, crisp morning light dawns to cheer and warm. Turn your face to the light. Lift up your soul to the Creator of atoms and ants, mountains and molecules, water and wonder. Can you feel it in your bones? Listen. Do you hear the breathe of heaven and hum of creation? The LORD of Word and Light is drawing you–and all of creation–into pure love. The days are surely coming when all will be made new.

Lift your soul. Lift your heart and hurts and hopes. Lift your hands in praise and prayer. The Advent of the LORD is here. God is with you. God has always been and will be, speaking and spinning the cosmos into a web of redemption. And you, you dear child, are being lifted into that coming reality. God quickens and readies the Christ child to enter again into the manger of your heart. Kindle the fires of this season of waiting and preparation and anticipation. Put your trust in the Light that the powers, principalities, and darkness of this age cannot overcome. Wait this day with a glad and thankful heart. Your salvation draws near.


Resolve to avoid all that seeks to separate you from the Light of Creator God on this second day of Advent. Take several mini-breaks to pray, breath, look, and listen. See how that last leaf hangs tenaciously on the branch outside your window. Observe the joy of a child at play. Savor a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Tell as many people as you can that you love them.

Lift and be lifted. Make this a day of waiting–all day long–anticipating and expecting the Divine presence to lead you.

Photo by martinak15. Thanks!

Traveling Light

Why do we insist on journeying through life loaded down with baggage? Sure, we all carry within us the “baggage” of our experiences that makes us who we are, but why do we make it more difficult by hefting an extra load of cultural and consumer baggage? You wouldn’t try to hike the entire 2,179 miles of the Appalachian Trail hauling a pony cart full of “stuff” behind you, so why do you clutter your life with adiaphora?

I’m not going to delve into the emotional baggage we tote; that’s a topic for another day. What I suggest is that we journey through life overly burdened for two reasons: 1) we have short memories, and 2) we have a hole in our heart that our culture tells us can be filled by buying and possessing the right “stuff.”

From the time we are old enough to make sense of images and sound, the wonderful world of marketing begins competing for our allegiance. No wonder one study found that more children recognize the golden arches of McDonald’s than a picture of Jesus or the president! Ever consider why you probably buy the certain brands that your parents bought? Why you prefer one brand of paper towel over another one? Why you gravitate toward one soft drink in particular? Why you choose one brand of jeans instead of the competitor? You have been carefully taught by the purchases of others and by deliberately crafted advertising campaigns.

Marketers create a need in our minds, but it can’t be a long-term need because we must consume again and again. We are conditioned to want newer, bigger, better, and brighter. An iPod classic of the first generation is a dinosaur compared to the “new” iPod classic, for example. Who wants limited storage space when there is SO much music out there to purchase?

How do we stop the cycle of need and greed? It starts with awareness, it continues through constant reminders, and it takes practice. It’s a process. We need regular reminders about what really matters, what is “true” and “real,” and how to discern a need from want or desire.

When we moved from North Dakota to Tennessee, we sold or gave away almost all of our worldly possessions. What had taken us almost half a U-Pack It trailer to get to North Dakota ended up fitting into two sedans along with several boxes mailed ahead by parcel post. The two bedroom apartment we rented looked mighty big and empty. It was also, surprisingly, truly liberating.

We ended up bying a sofa and love seat, kitchen table and chairs, entertainment stand, two chairs for the patio, used washer and dryer, and two mattress/box spring sets. Everything else we needed was either given to us or found through freecyle or creative reclamation (i.e. dumpter diving when people moved out of the complex). Even after this major possession purge, the slow creep of acquisition returned with our short memory of freedom from attachment. By the time we moved to Pennsylvania, it took a small U-Haul truck to get us here. Now my spouse and I are parting with possessions once again. With each possession gone comes a little less weight and a little more freedom.

I realize traveling light is not for everyone. Some people can be content in a tent, while others require a Winnebago or a Holiday Inn. Some people need few things, while others collect and acquire much. What I urge you to do today is to consider what it might be like to limit your possessions to what you need and/or truly love. How might letting go enable you to live more fully in thanks-living and giving? Imagine what it would be like to put all that you own into a backpack, suitcase, or car. Could you do it? Could you even dream it? Do you dare?

Lent 40/40/40 Update

Honoring Relationships

I am thankful today for my cousin Doris. This strong yet gentle woman served for many years as a missionary in Honduras. She has given so much of herself to help so many people, and she exemplifies a lived faith. Thank you, Doris, for your light and for your life. You truly understand the value–and beauty–of traveling light!

Giving Possessions

I have a stash of extra greeting cards and envelopes–not all of which match. I have been keeping them thinking I would use them at some point, but the truth is I have not used them and likely never will. So they’ll be going to church with me for the box to donate to St. Jude’s Ranch. It’s a small thing to give/let go of, but it’s one more small lightening of the load.


I am thankful for sleep. I don’t always get enough of it, but I am grateful for a good night of it. Sleep is refreshing, necessary for good health, and a true blessing. Thank you, God, for the gift of sound sleep.

Photos by Timitrius and Quinn Anya used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Epiphany Light & the Friday Five

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. –Isaiah 60:1

Today marked the celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany, celebrating the revelation of God as Son in the human Jesus. Most observances focus on the visitation of the foreign Magi, who presented the unlikely infant king with gifts. The 12 days of Christmas are officially over, and we move into a season of light, or awareness, and of seeking.

To that end, today I invite to you find your “Friday Five,” five people, places, or things for which you are thankful. I am thankful for

1) new beginnings,

2) quality time with family,

3) the return of our cat,

4) a great group of people with whom to work and worship, and

5) recovery from a nasty cold.

Now it’s your turn! Identify your five, offer a prayer of thanks for these gifts, and if possible let any people on your Friday Five know how much they mean to you. If you’re willing to share your Friday Five, please post them as a response. Let’s share the blessings and live thankfully together.

Pax et lux (peace and light),


Photo by ceratosaurrr used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!

Beginnings: Light & Darkness

Then GOD said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. and GOD saw that the light was good; and God separated the light form the darkness. GOD called the light Day, and darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.  –Genesis 1:3-5

How fortunate we are to be able to separate light from dark with the mere flip of a switch! When my mother was a little girl, oil lamps lit their nights, wood fired the kitchen stove, and human hands pulled water from the well. It wasn’t until she was grown and away from home that her parents finally had electricity run to the house and shortly thereafter a party line phone.

Access to electric lights has always been a part of my life, so darkness really gets my attention. When a storm downs power lines, rendering not only lights but alarm clocks, hair dryers, and phones useless, I notice and am reminded of what a gift electrical current really is. When we camp, and the darkness surrounds us like a blanket as the fire slowly fades to embers, I notice the dark.

When I was a child, my parents took me to Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. At one point on the tour all the lights were extinguished, and for just a minute I knew complete darkness. There were no fire embers, no flashlights, no candles–just darkness so thick you could almost touch it. I still remember vividly that feeling some 44 years later. When the ranger turned on his lantern again, it didn’t take long for that single light to illumine the underground room in which we stood so that we could see one another again. What a wonderful feeling it was to not only feel my parents’ hands but to see them. Any feelings of doubt or fright I was experiencing were washed away by the faint light of the ranger’s lantern. I also remember those strange, pale, eyeless cave fish who had become so used to living in complete darkness that they ceased to grow eye structures and significant skin pigmentation, but that’s a story for another day!

So I am thankful that God spoke light into existence, I am thankful to have access to light when I need it, and I am thankful to have eyes with which to see the light. Most of all, I am thankful for the light of Christ. As the fourth evangelist wrote so beautifully, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:5). Let there be light; let there be light, indeed!

For Further Reflection:

Have you ever taken part in a candlelight Christmas Eve service or a candlelight vigil? Isn’t is amazing how one candle lighting others can create such a warm and inviting light? Today, darken a room as much as possible and light a single candle. Think about God speaking light into existence and how even the light of one small candle can overcome darkness. How much more can the light of Christ banish darkness! Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for light. Ask Christ to allow you to reflect his light to the world and to shine the light of hope and grace into dark places. Be prepared for God to use you as a light in the darkness.

Consider naming one night this week or even one hour as a sabbath from electricity. Use only candles, turn off the television, radios, and don’t use anything that relies on electric power. Notice the silence, the absence of the hum of computers and other electronics. Enjoy the warm glow of candlelight, perhaps even dining by candlelight. What do you notice? What did you learn? What does this say about our reliance on electricity? What would it be like to have to live without it for an extended period of time?

Photos by vince alongi, National Park Service, and kudumomo used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!


In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.  –John 1:1-5

Today marks a new beginning–that of a brand new year. For many people this beginning means an opportunity to make promises and resolutions for how they hope to conduct themselves or manage their lives for 2012. There will be plenty of resolutions to lose weight, eat better, and work on becoming healthier. Other folks will resolve to spend less, save more, and rid themselves of consumer debt. Still other individuals will resolve to be kinder, to appreciate life more, or to find ways to help those in need.

Resolutions are not bad; in fact, they can be quite helpful in providing focus and direction. Sometimes, however, I wonder if we can become so focused on our resolutions that we neglect the beginning itself. We humans so love to plan, chart our course, and have goals and maps spread before us, to keep our eye on the prize, and our feet moving forward. Again, this is not wrong, but we miss something when we fail to honor and live with the beginning itself.

Today, for example, I worshiped with the good folks at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran where I am called to serve. For me, the opportunity to worship and offer thanks and praise to the source of all life, the Creator of the Universe, was the perfect way to honor the beginning of a new year. It helped set the tone for what I hope to be about in the coming months and on whom and what I desire to focus. For the disciple of Christ, the beginning is God, and all things, all life flows from that divine source.

Even if that is not your focus or the path on which you are walking, I invite you to spend this first week contemplating and simply honoring this new beginning. Don’t fret about resolutions and promises just yet. Live in the moment. Be grateful for the beginning of each new day of this first week of a new year. Let the past go. Leave last year behind you, and for at least these seven days live in the present moment. Live in the beginning. Resist the urge to plow ahead, cover ground, and strive for progress. Just be. Just begin. Give thanks for the blessing of this new beginning.

For Further Reflection…

Light a candle. Commit to spending at least 10 minutes on this exercise.

Focus on the words from the first five verses of John’s gospel (printed above). Read the passage aloud. Meditate on the words and the concept of the Word being present at the beginning of time as well as now at the beginning of a new year. Watch how the light of one candle does indeed overcome darkness, bringing warmth and hope. Know that God is good. Know that the Divine architect of the universe is with you, written deeply into your DNA. The “ruach” or breath of the Spirit flows in and out of you. Resist the urge to let the cares and concerns of your world disrupt your experience of the present moment.

When you are finished, give thanks for new light and new beginnings. Go gently into your day or to your rest.

(Photo by spcbrass used under Creative Commons License. Thanks!)