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Wise Men from the East came asking for the king of the Jews. They followed the star. They gave elaborate gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They worshipped the child king.

We light the first candle and remember the message of hope the prophets talked about. We light the second candle and celebrate the good news of great joy the angels spoke of. We light the third candle and are thankful Christmas comes for ordinary people.

Today we light the fourth candle and are reminded that God welcomes unexpected visitors at Christmas.

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When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there were shepherds living in the nearby fields. The most ordinary of people are included in the most divine story. They were the first to find the child and praised the Lord.

We light the first candle and remember the message of hope the prophets talked about. We light the second candle and celebrate the good news of great joy the angels spoke of.

We light the third candle of Advent and are thankful that Christmas includes ordinary people like shepherds.

God sent angels to announce the Good News of great joy. News about a Savior to be born. News that caused heaven and earth to join together in celebration.

We light the first candle and remember the message of hope the prophets talked about.

Today, we light the second candle of Advent and celebrate this Good News shared by angels, Good News of glory in heaven and peace on earth.

The world was a dark place. God’s people had been lost in wilderness and in exile. And the people were unfaithful.

So the Lord planned for a messenger, a prophet to prepare the way. To prepare the way for the Lord to come.

We light this first candle of Advent and remember the message of hope that the prophets talked about. The hope that one would bring light into a dark place. The hope that we could be saved from our unfaithfulness.

I am in the forest and leaves are falling. At times they are falling so hard it sounds like rain. Looking up, it is like I am watching the hardwoods throwing leaves from their branches and into the arms of the conifers. Who knew the trees played games of catch?

In the book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben teaches us a thing or two about trees. He wants to make sure we know that individual trees are important. At the same time he insists a tree is only as strong as the surrounding forest. When trees unite to create a forest, the whole becomes greater than its parts. The well-being of a tree is dependent on the community of trees. Wohlleben suggests that trees are far more social than we might imagine.

One tree standing alone is at risk. It cannot establish a consistent climate. It suffers alone in wind and weather. But a forest of trees creates an ecosystem that moderates temperature, stores water, and generates humidity. Wohlleben insists that in a forest, trees care for one another. Every tree becomes valuable to the community and is worth keeping around as long as possible. Sick trees even receive support and nourishment from others until they recover.

Wohlleben is convinced that trees are able to communicate with one another. And not only one another, but with other creatures as well.  Who knew? He makes a case that trees care for one another. They share food with one another. The forest is a tree community. They need one another. Maybe those lively trees we read about in stories are not as farfetched as we think. Maybe trees are not the passive plants they appear to be. Maybe that really is a game of catch they are playing above me. Maybe the forest really is an enchanted place.

I am struck by the way Wohlleben talks about the forest in ways the New Testament talks about church. We communicate with one another. We care for one another. Like trees in the forest, we are stronger and more productive when congregated. Alone we are at risk. Together we are the church. We need one another. Just as an individual tree does not make a forest, an isolated Christian does not make a church. It is interesting that both forest and church are the dream of the same imaginative Creator. Perhaps we should not be surprised by any similarities. Whatever future research tells us about trees, I will never walk through the forest the same way again.

It is October 31. We often refer to this day as Halloween. We expect to hear knocking on our doors and children asking for treats. This year, something else has caught our attention. October 31 is also Reformation Day and this year commemorates 500 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Door.

Some celebrate this, others regret it, nearly everyone analyzes it. It makes me want to nail something to the door. Perhaps I would start with the following reminders;

*it is not ok to think alignment with other political powers is acceptable

*it is time to stop talking about God as if we have Him figured out

*it is time to stop acting as if we can be faithful to scripture without the church

*it is time to stop acting like we can play church without the canonical adventure of scripture

*it is time to stop neglecting Christian traditions that are different than our own

If I were Luther, perhaps I would have thought longer about this and included about 90 more reminders. I will stop with these. And add “Happy Reformation Day!”

I recently read The Old Man and the Sea and am glad for many reasons. First, I am certain the last time I read it was high school as an assignment with a test afterward. All stories are better without a test afterward.

I like how Ernest Hemmingway is able to convince readers of relationship with just a few words. Santiago, the old fisherman, has a relationship with the boy, with the sea, with the bird at sea, with the marlin. I like the way Joe DiMaggio is written into the story. And DiMaggio’s father. Who knew the father of the great DiMaggio was a fisherman? I am sure the Yankees would love to have more fans like Santiago.

I like the images in the story that one might expect a preacher to like. I am fascinated that Santiago is at sea for three days and nights. I am fascinated that Santiago “shouldered the mast and started to climb… at the top he fell and lay for some time with the mast across his shoulder.” I am fascinated when I read that Santiago felt “the nail go through his hands and into the wood.”

I like the explicit spiritual discussion Santiago holds with himself. “I am not religious… But I will say ten Our Fathers and ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish, and I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre is I catch him. That is a promise.” I enjoy the brief discussion about sin.

But mostly I enjoy the adventure of the story. I enjoy the backstory that helps us realize Santiago’s tenacious spirit. He once won a 24 hour arm wrestling match in the tavern at Casablanca before he was an old man. I enjoy that he shows a similar tenacity throughout the book. This is a survival story. Battling exhaustion, hunger, and thirst, Santiago is making decisions that really matter. He is constantly adapting to the next danger with a new plan. He is living on bare essentials, with what he was carrying with him when he left for fishing. He is well aware of his surroundings, even the stars and the winds. Santiago is able to catch, gut, and eat a fish all while he is fighting the giant marlin.

Many have considered Old Man to be fable like, symbolic, or allegorical. I suppose it is possible. However, we want to at least consider Hemmingway’s own words to critic Bernard Berenson on September 13, 1952. “There isn’t any symbolism. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The sharks are all sharks no better and no worse.”

In Old Man, Hemmingway introduces us to an old down on his luck fisherman. And he takes us on a voyage into the soul of a man that is disguised as a routine fishing trip. Whatever the meaning, I am very glad to spend these three days and night with Santiago.