Questioning Advent: Day 11 – Wading In


East Branch of the Deerfield River, Green Mountain National Forest

Vermont is a great place if you like to fly fish. The cold trout streams hold their fair share of browns, rainbows, and brookies throughout the late spring and summer and into early fall. During trout season I often find myself heading out to the national forest early in the morning, or rushing out after dinner to catch the dying light. I’ve found that even on a day when I catch nothing, the beauty of the river and peaceful rhythm of casting are good enough for me.

Vermont streams aren’t always easy to fish, though, particularly if you try to wade in them. They’re rocky, the stones get slippery, and the bottoms are so uneven that one step you can be standing on fairly solid ground, and the next you can be chest deep in water. I’ve found myself thrashing so loudly in the water that I’m sure I warned every trout in the river to stay way.

After a few full-body dunks in the Deerfield River I tried to fish from the shore. It didn’t work. The fish are smart enough to stay in the deep waters, and there are enough trees around the bank that my line didn’t last that long. I realized that if I really wanted to do this, I had to wade in.

John the Baptist didn’t get his name by accident (or because he went to First Baptist Church of the Wilderness). A better translation for his name might be “John the Baptizer”. He stood by the river baptizing the people who came to him, eventually including Jesus himself. For the ones who were baptized, the waters were the mark of something new. A rededication. A physical reminder of their immersion in God’s love and grace. All the while that John was telling the people to get ready for something new, he was baptizing them. The water became a symbol of what was next.

There’s something about standing in water that reminds me that I’m a part of something bigger than myself. The winter’s snow melts into the headwaters of mountain streams in Vermont. Those streams join to form a river that merges with others south of the border with Massachusetts, and by the time the Connecticut River gushes out into the Long Island Sound, there’s no stopping it. The ocean carries those Vermont waters further than I can imagine.

The same is true of our baptism. Whether we are sprinkled with water that came from a well, or a church faucet, or a bottle of Jordan River water that someone swears their aunt brought back from her visit to Israel, or whether we are dunked headlong into a lake, it doesn’t matter. That water changes us. And it makes us a part of something bigger and greater than ourselves. It gives us the potential to participate in something we can only imagine.

Just like I’ve learned that standing on the shore of a trout stream does little good, I’ve found the less I pay attention to the waters of baptism, the less fruitful my life is as well. In fact, what I’ve learned wading trout streams has taught me something valuable. When I wade into a stream, the more I try to stay in shallow water, the more likely I am to lose my footing. But the deeper I wade, the more I become one with the current, and the more I find myself standing on a solid foundation.

In Advent we are invited to stand in deeper water. In this season Christ calls us into our baptism in new ways. We are asked to step into a small stream that is heading towards incredible places. But we get to make a decision about if, and how far in, we will wade. Sometimes that river seems cold. Sometimes it seems treacherous. And sometimes it seems rocky. But I’ve found that every time I’ve waded deep, there has been a blessing in it.

Question: Where in your faith life do you find yourself holding back out of fear? What would it mean to immerse yourself?

Prayer: Creator of the the waters, the rivers, and the seas, bless those of us who stand on the shore. Call us into the living waters. Steady our feet on rocky ground. Keep us safe in the midst of the deep. And join us with one another, bound by the blessing of our common baptismal waters. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day 10 – Not So Silent Night

20131210-140908.jpgOn Christmas Eve two years ago our sanctuary was packed to capacity. We filled the pews to the max, then added folding chairs in the back. Then, finally, people took up standing positions in the back and down the side aisles. By the time we made it to the end of the service, when we sing “Silent Night” by candlelight, I was pretty sure that between the over fire capacity crowd, the 150 year old wooden building, and the candles we were going to burn down the church.

So last year we broke with tradition and went from one Christmas Eve service to two. We decided the early service would be a “family friendly” one that was earlier in the evening and featured a children’s pageant. The later would be the traditional, relatively quiet candlelight service.

The children’s service was wonderful. The kids sang “Away in a Manger”, they brought the “Baby Jesus” (a recycled doll) up to the creche, and they “lit” their child safe “candles” with the lightbulbs on top. And, yes, they made a lot of noise. They made the sort of happy, joyful noise that children make when they are in a place where they know that they are valued and loved. I couldn’t be happier.

On Christmas Eve we celebrate the fact that God became one of us. And the remarkable thing is that when God became human, God didn’t choose to be someone who was strong, or respected, or powerful. God chose to come as a powerless newborn child. That’s why seeing the joyful, boisterous children at church last Christmas made me especially happy. They are reminders to me of the way God chose to first show us Christ.

But after worship, as I stood by the outside door, one man I’d never seen before made clear to me that he didn’t see it that way. “Those kids were such  distraction!,” he told me. “The service would have been perfect if they hadn’t been here.” Then he disappeared into the snowy night, never to be seen again.

I suppose I could have gotten mad about it. I could have indignantly reminded him that it was the family-friendly service, where kids are allowed to be kids. I could have said that even if they had been loud at the later service, that would have been fine by me. But instead I just said, “Merry Christmas” and wished him well.

But what I really wanted to say to him was this: Yes, those kids were a distraction. They broke up our silent night. They brought chaos to order. They lit their candles at the wrong time! They made sure nothing went as planned.

But, really, isn’t that the exact same thing that the baby who came 2,000 years ago did too? Didn’t Jesus make us shout about a new way? Didn’t Jesus shake up the order of things? Didn’t he bring light to the places where it wasn’t expected? Wasn’t that child a distraction?

And aren’t we better for it?

In Advent we get ready for a holy distraction. We prepare ourselves for something that will change everything. And in order to really receive the joy that Christ brings, we have to be ready to give up all the quiet and orderly places in our life and let them be filled by a child who has something much more joyful in store for us than anything we could imagine.

Question: What places in your life are so well-ordered, and run so perfectly, that you are afraid of letting in the messiness of Christ’s love?

Prayer: Holy God, when you became like one of us, you came as a child. God, help us to welcome the child, whether it’s the one who came to us 2,000 years ago, or the one who comes today. And when we welcome them, help us to allow them to turn our order into holy chaos, and our holy chaos into joy. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day Nine – Plowing the Road

photoIt snowed last night and this morning in Vermont. By the time I headed out of the house this morning to run errands the road was an icy, slushy mess. The normally speedy cars on the state road were slowed to well under the speed limit. The snow plows and salt trucks hadn’t been through yet either, and as I pulled in and out of the post office, the village market, the hardware store, and the coffee shop, I took my time and hit the brake more than usual. I’m not what anyone would call an overly cautious driver, but I’m a volunteer first responder, and I’ve seen what these same roads can do to cars full of people in the winter.

In this week’s Gospel reading John the Baptist tells us to, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight the paths!” I’ve often read that wondering why God needs us to do that. I mean, God could probably straighten out God’s own paths, and with a lot more accuracy than we can do it. Why does God have this guy out in the wilderness calling to us to be God’s divine road crew? Jesus came, and is coming, whether we were, and are, ready or not.

But John’s call to us is different than that. Indeed, Christ will transform the world, regardless of what we do, but John is offering us something incredible: a chance to participate in that transformation. In Advent we are called to prepare a special path for Christ to come into our hearts. While the Reformed part of me believes that God’s grace is irresistible, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some say in what happens next when that grace comes in the form of Christ and wants to transform our lives.

On my six mile drive back from town, I was stuck behind a state snow plow. I didn’t particularly mind. The truck pushed the ice and snow off to the side of the road, making it safe to pass once again. “Prepare ye the way of the CRV,” I said to myself. (It was a lot funnier in the moment.)

In Advent we prepare the way of the Lord in our own lives. We make decisions about how we will respond with gratitude for the grace that surrounds us. We clear the paths to our hearts that are impassable, put down a foundation that lets grace take hold, and get them ready for a new season. We choose whether or not we are going to get ready for what comes next. We choose in Advent whether we will participate in Christmas. And sometimes that choice starts with something as simple as clearing a path for something incredible.

Question: Are there any pathways inside of you that are too blocked to allow grace to flow through? What would it look like to make straight those places in preparation for Christmas?

Prayer: Holy God, we know something big is coming, and we know you are calling us to get ready. Show us the paths you will take, and help us to prepare them for you, so that we may participate in what is coming next. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day Eight – Get Ready

saint-john-the-baptist-09We read about John the Baptist every second Sunday of Advent. Here in the middle of the Christmas joy and preparation is this story of this guy who lives down by the river eating locusts and wild honey, and shouting at everyone to repent.

There’s a good reason no one is putting John the Baptist on a Christmas card.

Maybe it’s John’s call to us to “repent” that scares us the most. I hear “repent” and I either think of a religious revival where some preacher is calling everyone sinners, or a dour confessor doling out penance. Neither is particularly joyful anytime of the year, and particularly not at Christmas.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth hearing. And that’s especially true if we hear what “repentance” really means. If you go back to the root of the Greek word that’s found in the original text of the New Testament, you find that the word is “metanoia”. Metanoia is roughly translated as “to change your mind”. It’s a call to “think differently”. And, not just a call to change your mind, it’s a call to change your actions as well.

That may sound like an odd Christmas message, but it fits perfectly in Advent. This is the season when we who follow Christ are getting ready for something new. This is the start of something big. And if we are going to get on board, we have to make room for what is coming, and we have to change the things that are keeping us from getting ready.

This repentance isn’t about feeling bad or ashamed or guilty. It’s about being willing to put aside the things that are keeping us from fully participating in what comes next. It’s about believing that our mistakes and our past don’t have to define out future. And it’s about deciding to believe that we can be a part of God’s own work in our world.

And, when you think about it like that, John the Baptist was all proclaiming out chance to share in the joy to come. It may not fit on a Christmas card, but it’s worth remembering just the same in this holy season of getting ready.

Question: How are you repenting this Advent? What changes are you making in order to make room or to get ready?

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the chance to change, and thank you for the people you put in our lives who remind us that change is possible. In this season of Advent, help us to make the changes we can make in order to make room for a love that will change the world. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day Seven – Breaking In

IMG_1926Several weeks ago I went to bed after a long day. It didn’t take me long to fall into a deep, sound sleep. But not long after that, I was awakened by a voice coming from someone standing next to the bed.

“Get up,” my wife said. “Someone is breaking into the house.”

Half-awake I turned on a flashlight, debated grabbing my heaviest putter, bounded down the stairs and, because I would be the first person to die in a horror movie, opened the front door and called out, “Is anyone out there?”

No one was out there. As we sat on the couch we heard the same noise my wife had heard a few minutes before. It was so windy that night that the storm door was blowing open and the doorknob was doing something that made it sound like someone was trying to force it open. I would have thought someone was breaking in too.

In this past Sunday’s Gospel reading Jesus tells us, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” (Matthew 24)

I was reminded of that passage this week while watching yet another yearly round of anger about the “war on Christmas”. Here’s my short take: Christmas is not under attack. Not from outside the church, anyway. People who say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” are not killing the baby Jesus. Really. (For more on this, see this piece:

But, that’s not to say that we who are Christians shouldn’t be a bit concerned. I’m not talking about outside attacks here. They are as imaginary as the person I was sure was breaking into my house the other week. I’m talking about the way that in the Christmas season we Christians sometimes become so short-sightedly focused on perceived threats outside of our doors that we don’t see that Christ has already broken in to the world around us.

When Jesus said that the owner of the house wouldn’t know when the hour was coming, he could have been talking about us and our misguided anger over those who fail to “keep Christ in Christmas”. What if, instead of getting mad at every cashier who fails to wish us “Merry Christmas”, we looked around and saw the places that Christ is calling us to make Christmas merry for others? What is instead of growing angry over “holiday trees” we instead planted the seeds of peace that this world needs? What if instead of waging wars about nativity scenes on public lands we instead opened our churches in new and radical ways? What if we stopped charging after invisible intruders at the door and focused on looking instead for Christ’s coming?

This Christmas season there are signs of Christ’s coming all around us. We just have to pull ourselves away from the distractions long enough to look. And when we do, we just might find that life is a lot less scary, and a lot more joyful. A lot more like Christmas ought to be.

Question: This Christmas how are you living out the Gospel in ways that attract others, rather than attacking them?

Prayer: Holy God, help us to always be ready to greet you when you come to our door, and teach us to welcome others, whether they will ever believe like us or not, and to invite them inside our hearts. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day Six – The Hope of Mandela

Copyright, AFP/Getty images

Copyright, AFP/Getty images

There’s nothing that can be said about the life of Nelson Mandela that hasn’t been said better already. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s remarks this morning sum up his legacy well, so most of us shouldn’t even try. But as I sit to write about hope today, on the day after Mandela has died, I feel that I cannot do so without writing about him.

When Mandela was released from prison I was nearly 14 years old. He had begun his imprisonment 14 years before I was born. I remember hearing about his release and thinking about a man being in prison for the entire span of my own life, times two, and wondering how any person could survive that. This was before I knew about what happened to him in prison; the beatings, the forced labor, the isolation. How in the world could anyone emerge from that without being completely broken?

And more importantly, how could anyone experience the worst that humanity has to offer, and still emerge with hope?

This first week of Advent we speak about the hope that comes in Christ. In Advent we remember that God became human, like one of us, to bring hope to a broken world. And in the Christmas story, there in the background, is the knowledge of how this all ends: that broken world will do its best to break the child who comes in hope. But in the end, new hope will come from the one who rises above the worst that world has to offer.

Nelson Mandela was not Jesus Christ. I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying that. But he was a man who, despite the worst the world was able to do to him, still believed in hope. And more than that, he shared that hope with a changing country that needed it more than ever. To put a man in a jail cell for 28 years with nothing but hope, and to have him emerge 28 years later and have hope enough for a country…there are no words to describe it.

Nelson Mandela once said, “I am not an optimist, but a great believer of hope.” That’s an important distinction. To be a hopeful person is not to be one who sees the world through rose colored glasses. To be a hopeful person is to be one who sees the brokenness of humanity, and yet who refuses to believe that reconciliation and new life are not possible.

That’s what being a follower of Christ in Advent is like too. We cannot gloss over the pain and injustice and violence in this world. We have to name it. But, more than anything  we have to refuse to become incapacitated by it. We have to choose hope, and we have to share that hope with others. I can’t imagine any better modern witness to that than Mandela.

Question: Where have you seen the brokenness of the world, and how have you chosen to hope anyway?

Prayer: God of hope and justice, we commend to you our brother Nelson and all who have chosen hope over hatred, over resignation, and over defeat. Bless those who tread in the most broken places of our world, and strengthen them in hope, that their hope may also strengthen others. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day Five – Creating Hope for Others

Copyright, Sotheby's

Copyright, Sotheby’s

My wife Heidi is a member of Old South Church, a United Church of Christ congregation in Boston. If you don’t know Old South, you should check them out. They do amazing things in the city of Boston, including helping the city to heal after the Boston Marathon bombing happened, almost literally, right on their doorstep. Their ministry since 1669 has included everything from hosting planning meetings for the Boston Tea Party to being one of the first churches anywhere to reach out to people with AIDS in the very early days of the epidemic. I’m not sure I know of another congregation that has been so on the cutting edge of ministry so consistently for so long.

Last spring Old South had an important congregational decision to make. The congregation was the owner of two copies of the first book ever published in the British colonies, the Bay Psalm Book. Published in 1640, only eleven still exist, and only five are complete copies. Old South’s copies have been safely ensconced in the Boston Public Library across the street for some time now, but have remained dear to the hearts of the church. They are a beloved part of their history.

Which is why when the proposal came before the church to sell one copy, it was not an easy decision to make. Was selling one of these books tantamount to selling off their heritage? Were they making a short sighted decision that they would later regret? Were they being good stewards of what they had been given?

In this first week of Advent the church traditionally talks about hope. We talk about the hope that Christ brought to us when he was born in Bethlehem, and we talk about the hope which is to come. And, if we are really looking closely, we even talk about how we see evidence of that hope all around us. But what we sometimes forget is that as important as it is to look for hope, participating in that hope in bold ways is even more important.

Old South voted to sell their Bay Psalm Book. And last week, two days before Thanksgiving, it was auctioned off in New York City for $14.2 million dollars. $13.1 million of those dollars will come directly back to the church, which will use that money to continue to fund their ministries to the city of Boston and to the world. Because they sold the Bay Psalm Book, people will be fed and sheltered, a church that welcomes all will be strengthened, and a witness to the world of Christ’s hope will shine a little brighter.

That’s not to say that this was a decision that cost the church nothing. It is hard to let go of something that you cherish so greatly as this congregation cherished this part of their heritage. But in the end, they took seriously Christ’s call to us to “sell all you own and follow me”. And even as they let go…because they let go…they found hope. And that hope will be shared with others for years to come.

Question: Are you holding on to something in your life so tightly that you don’t have a free hand left to grasp hope?

Prayer: Holy God, you can use anything to create hope. Show us the places and things in our lives that we can use to create hope for others. And then, give us the will to use those things in new ways that we may find Christ’s hope for us, and for the world. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day Three – 22 Years

999793_776477625701050_1389697935_nNote from Emily Heath: Yesterday I asked my wife, Heidi Carrington Heath, whether she might like to write the devotional today. Today is an anniversary of sorts for her, and one that challenges the idea of hope. She said, “yes”. I’m grateful for the devotional which is found below, and for Heidi’s courage in telling this story. What follows are her words: 

22 years ago today, my life changed forever.

My father took his own life in a deserted parking lot in upstate New York.  After years of deep and constant addiction to alcohol, his demons became more than he could bear.  His dark nights of the soul were many, and this dark night in particular ended in utter despair.   Now, I find peace in knowing that he is finally at rest after so many years of torment.

Every year the anniversary of my father’s death falls during Advent.   It falls during the time in the church year when we light candles into the darkness as we watch and wait together for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.   We speak the profound truth that Christians for millennia have whispered into even the most consuming darkness: In Jesus, there is hope.   We are not alone.

Embracing the light of hope when we cannot see the road ahead and do not know where it leads is a powerful leap of faith.   It is a terrifying exercise in trust.

Hope is the addict who walks into their first 12-step meeting after years of battling addiction alone.

Hope is the young person whose life is being cut short by vicious cancer, but commits to living every moment with bold compassion and a heart cracked wide open.

Hope is the friend who reaches out to repair an estranged relationship despite hurt and anger, because love is greater than fear.

Hope is an unwed mother in Galilee who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant, and sings a subversive song of praise unto God in spite of her fear.

The profound hope brought to us in Christ doesn’t come in a neat, clean, gift-wrapped package with a bow on top.   It comes to us in the form of a vulnerable, tiny, baby boy, born in a stable to unwed parents on a cold winter’s night.   It reminds us that Christian hope is messy, but with just a little bit of boldness it can conquer even the darkest night.

Question:  Where are the dark places in your life?  This advent, where will you take a leap of trusting God to live into the hope that Jesus’ brings to us?

Prayer:  Holy One, Sometimes we cannot see the road ahead of us.   We have no idea where we are going.  We are afraid.**  Yet we know that hope is greater than fear, darkness, or the demons that sometimes consume us.  Give us hearts to sing like Mary, and the courage take a step forward in hope.  Even one step can help crack open the darkness.   We don’t know how you’ll do it, but you promised, God.  O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  We cannot do it alone.   Amen.

**Thanks to Thomas Merton for saying it best.  If you don’t know the Merton Prayer, it’s a keeper.

If you are struggling with suicidal feelings, or thinking about hurting yourself, please reach out to someone. There is always hope. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is: 1-800-273-TALK

Questioning Advent: Day Two – Fantasy vs. Hope

Pierre Thomas, who I'd still be totally fine with going for 12 touchdowns tonight.  Copyright,

Pierre Thomas, who I’d still be totally fine with going for 12 touchdowns tonight.

This fall I’ve been playing fantasy football for the first time. I’m in a league filled with younger clergy, and most of us have given our teams humorous and theologically-inspired names. (My team is the “Total Depravities”…trust me, it’s hilarious once you’ve read John Calvin. Or maybe not…) Anyway, I’ve spent a lot of Sunday afternoons this fall checking my fantasy score on my phone. It’s been fun, in a totally nerve-wracking way.

Somehow my team made it into the first round of the playoffs, which is taking place as I type. The only thing is, I was seeded against a team that I’m pretty sure is going to win it all. They have Peyton Manning as a quarterback, Reggie Bush as a running back, and a kicker who somehow managed to outscore five of my players combined. Five.

The good news is that the score is currently 130-61, and I still have one player left to play. That means that if Pierre Thomas can just eek out 70 points in tonight’s game, I have a shot of winning this thing. (For perspective, a touchdown is worth 6 points, so I’m going to need him to go for 12 tonight.) I can hope, right?

In Advent we talk a lot about hope, particularly this first week. Hope is what sustains us. It gives us meaning. It tells us that the future is full of blessing, even when all seems loss. But there’s something that those of us who are followers of Christ sometimes forget: there’s a difference between false hope and our hope in Christ.

I am not going to win this fantasy football game tonight. I am going to go ahead and say that with full confidence, no matter how much I hope otherwise. And that’s okay. Sometimes our everyday hopes just don’t work out.

But to say that we have hope in Christ is different than hoping against hope that a football team will score. Our hope in Christ has roots in something just as improbable – that the birth of one baby would lead to new life for the world – but it is sustained not through wishing and wanting alone, but through our belief that in the end Christ’s love alone will triumph over everything.

Hope is not a Hail Mary pass. Not when it comes to Jesus. Christian hope is the belief that because Christ transformed this world through his love once, defying even the grave, anything is possible through his love now. The world can be changed. Grace can be granted. Love can conquer hate. And a culture of pain and violence can become one of resurrection. That is possible. But it means that hope can no longer be passive wishing, but hope must be participatory. To borrow another phrase, hope without works is dead. And so, if we truly believe in this Jesus stuff, our greatest hope mandates our own involvement.

Question: What is one hope you have for this Advent, and what are you doing to participate with Christ in bringing that hope to life?

Prayer: God, help me not just to have hopes, but to hope. Strengthen me to hope into the work you are already doing in the world through Christ. And make me an active participant in your own hopes for us all. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day One – Hope and Christmas Trees

West Dover Congregational Church's 2013 Christmas tree.

West Dover Congregational Church’s 2013 Christmas tree.

Last Friday, on the day after Thanksgiving, one of my church’s members and I went out to another family’s property and cut down the church’s Christmas tree. It’s a big tree this year, tall and round, and we struggled a couple of times as we dragged it back up a hill and threw it in the back of his pick-up. Nevertheless, we eventually got it to the church, set it up, and left it there for the children of the congregation to decorate today.

We do this every first Sunday of Advent. Years ago the parishioners who own the land where we cut down the tree bought a bunch of saplings at a fundraiser. They planted them in the ground, and by a few years back they were growing big enough to serve as Christmas trees. That couple goes to Florida every winter, but before they leave they tie a ribbon around one tree for the church to cut down. It’s their gift to us every Advent.

This morning the tree was there in the sanctuary as we lit the first Advent candle, the one that traditionally signifies hope. I thought about those little saplings that were bought years ago, and the hope that the man who planted them had for them. And I thought about how they grew into trees so big that they had to be dragged breathlessly up hills.

For me, Advent is about waiting and watching. In Advent we look at the world through eyes that want to see Jesus. That means we look at the world through hopeful eyes and, in many cases, we learn to see what is already right in front of us. If we look closely, we just might find that all around us there are already reminders of Christ’s presence. Maybe even in the most mundane of things. Maybe even in the hope that makes someone buy a few saplings and plant them, hoping that one day he can give them to his church as they wait and watch for Christ together.

Last year I undertook a spiritual discipline of writing daily Advent devotionals. I shared them on social media, but mostly I did them for a selfish reason: I am much better at seeing Christ around me in Advent when I make myself take time everyday to look. This year I’m doing these devotionals again for the same reason, though also with the hope that might speak to others on this same journey. This year I’m adding something else: a question a day. Sometimes it will just be one for reflection. Sometimes it will spur us to some sort of action. But I hope that always it will cause us to see Christ coming, and Christ’s presence, more clearly. So here’s todays:

Question: As you unpack Advent and Christmas decorations, which one speaks to you most about the hope that Christ brings to us all?

Prayer: God, help me to see Christ’s presence today in the ordinary and the extraordinary, and show me the places where hope has already grown into blessing. Amen.