Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –
We have a little creche in our house that was a long ago gift to our family. It’s a small, wooden affair, with simple hand painted figurines representing each of the characters that were part of the story of Jesus’ first days on earth. Like many families (and churches), the Magi who are part of this tableau actually make a long journey before they finally take their place at the scene where Jesus lays in his manger. They might start in our dining room in early Advent when we first unpack our holiday decorations for the year, and then they will move, a couple of feet at a time from the top of one piece of furniture to another, until finally on January 6th we place them in front of the baby who comes to save us all. There they will stay for the rest of this season, until finally just before Lent begins, we will pack them away until next year.
If we hope to encounter Jesus, we too must expect to journey. It will not do to sit still. Whether that journey is about entering into a new and challenging relationship with some sacred other who might be a Christ-Bearer to us, or entering into a season of deeper prayer and service to meet Jesus in the person of folk on our live’s margins, or whether it be a literal journey to a new place or community that beckons us to come meet the Holy One anew, we are not likely to maintain a healthy and growing relationship with Jesus if we allow ourselves to be seduced by the comfort of “staying put” in our lives, and imagining that we need only wait on God to fill the yearning we all share to know the Christ in a deeper way.
As the new calendar year dawns, and you’re beginning to live into your resolutions for the days ahead, I hope that you will take to heart the lesson of the Magi. If meeting and knowing Christ anew is a hope in your heart and soul, then make it a commitment to be out and on the move in the year to come.
And let the journey begin today.
Faithfully Yours in Christ –
+ Bishop Barker
Join Fr. Randy Goeke and Fr. Jerry Ness as we explore God’s call to deeper relationship with Christ and each other.
The Cost is $140 for a single and $120 for a double, per person, includes 2 night’s stay and 6 meals.
The Registration Deadline—February 1st, 2017
Here is the agenda
FRIDAY EVENING – Feb. 17
5:00 p.m. – Arrival & Check-in
6:15 p.m. – Dinner
7:00 p.m. – Evening Prayer in the Chapel
7:30 p.m. – Introduction to Weekend
Gathering Exercise – Bible Trivia
9:00 p.m. – Compline in the Chapel followed by Meditation & Time for Reflection – Individually, Pairs, or Small Groups
SATURDAY – Feb. 18
Quiet time for prayer, walking, rosary, etc.
7:30 a.m. Breakfast
9:00 a.m. Eucharist in the Chapel
10:00-10:15 First Meditation – A New Heart and a New Spirit (Ezekiel 36:24-28)
10:15-11:00 Meditation – Individually, Pairs, or Small Groups*
11:00-11:15 Second Meditation – The Gathering of God’s People (Zephaniah 3:14-20)
11:15-Noon Meditation – Individually, Pairs, or Small Groups*
12:15 – Lunch
1:00-1:15 – Third Meditation – Newness of Life (Romans 6:3-11)
1:15-2:00 – Meditation – Individually, Pairs, or Small Groups*
2:00-2:15 – Fourth Meditation – The Resurrection (Luke 24:1-12)
2:15-3:00 – Meditation – Individually, Pairs, or Small Groups*
3:00-6:15 – Quiet time*
6:15 p.m. Dinner
7:00-7:30 – Community Conversation
7:30 – Movie, games, quite time*
After Movie Compline in the Chapel
SUNDAY – Feb. 19
Quiet time for prayer, walking, rosary, etc.
7:30 a.m. – Breakfast
8:30 a.m. – Holy Eucharist with healing in the Chapel
*During these times of quiet and meditation Fr. Jerry and Fr. Randy will be available for prayer, confession, direction, conversation, etc.
Here are links to downloadable resources for the retreat
Here is a report from Jacob’s current trip to Kakuma Refugee Camp, and the work of the Save South Sudanese Orphans and Widows humanitarian organization Jacob founded two years ago.
It’s always a joy to come back to the refugee camps and visit with our innocent brothers and sisters who are displaced into the camps due to war. After staying here in Kakuma for a week and a half, I have shared the pain that the people are going through and I understand their issues in more detail. The living situation here in Kakuma refugee’s camp is extremely difficult.
There are many issues, but most importantly:
- Shortages of water
There’s shortage of water due to an increasing number of the refugees that are coming into the camp from South Sudan and other countries that are affected by war. The temperature here in Kakuma is always hot because it’s nearly a desert and the wind blows throughout the day which makes the shortage of water a big concern.
- Food insecurity
The UN is now distributing two kilos of sorghum to an individual as food for a month. It uses to be one gallon of sorghum for a month which was not even enough for 15 days. However, it has been reduced to the level that makes it difficult for refugees to survive. The food that’s given to refugees monthly couldn’t even last 5 days if there’s no other support provided by the families abroad. Most of the people in Kakuma refugee’s camp survive because of the support that’s given to them by relatives abroad and from South Sudan. Beside food shortages, refugees in Kakuma are highly affected by the absence of medicine. Most people are malnourished.
High temperature and wind blow sands throughout the day and that contributes to high fever, typhoid, kidney stones and many other diseases that are also a big concern to most of the refugees here. Kakuma is mainly a desert so it’s always hot during the day and night. It’s really sad that people here in Kakuma have struggled for many years and still there is no solution in sight to solve the issues that are affecting them. The camp is now crowded; the reception center at the Kenyan border is crowded to the level that they don’t have enough medicine for yellow fever.
All the people that are immigrating to Kakuma refugee’s camp in Kenya have to get yellow fever at the reception before they cross the border into Kenya. However, currently, there’s no medicine for yellow fever so they have to wait at the reception until the yellow fever vaccine is provided to them. Some families from South Sudan have tried to go to Kakuma in order to skip starvation. However, waiting at Kenyan border without food in order to first get yellow fever injection has become extremely difficult so some people have to return back to South Sudan.
In the face of the struggles refugees are facing here, they haven’t lost hope of a better tomorrow, so they are supporting themselves as one family with every little thing they have. If one family doesn’t have anything to eat they would get help from their neighbors and their neighbors will do the same thing for them if they face the same situation tomorrow. It’s very encouraging to see most of the families here in the camp are working together to make sure everyone is taken care of—even when they themselves don’t have basic resources for living.
After I arrived in Kakuma with the idea of helping orphans and widows with basic education, I learned of an adult education program that has been run by a group of students who are dedicated to helping their elders with basic education. The teachers volunteer their time to teach. However, they don’t have any funding to buy chalk and textbooks for teaching. Since the students are willing to learn they sell half of their two kilos of sorghum that’s given to them as food for the whole month then they each give 300 Kenyan shillings to teachers so that they could buy supplies for teaching. The teachers also welcome students to learn even if they are not able to contribute 300 Kenyan shillings monthly (which is equal to $3.06).
The key challenges here faced by adult education is lack of support. The teachers and students are asking for your support so as you read this article, please consider helping this critical (and awesome) program. Teachers are volunteers and they would like to get paid even enough to cover their expenses for teaching supplies. There is a lack of a permanent place to teach because they are only allowed to teach adult education in the kindergarten school for 2 hours in the evening. Finally, students cannot afford to buy school supplies.
After meeting with adult education teachers and the director of adult education, we talked about the issues that are facing the program and as the result Save South Sudanese Orphans and Widows has provided 360 notebooks for 60 students so each student gets 6 notebooks. We also provided two pens and pencils for each student. This was only a one-time assistance due to insufficient funding. However, Save South Sudanese Orphans and Widows is hoping to continue supporting this adults education program when funding is available.
If you would like to help with this program or other programs run by (SSSOW) please visit our website at www.savesouthsudaneseorphansandwidows.org.
You can also “Like” us on Facebook by searching Save South Sudanese Orphans and Widows.
To all my brothers and sisters aboard, our people are extremely suffering in the refugees camps and within South Sudan due to the on-going crisis. I know many of them are surviving today already only due to your support. I encourage you to continue this great work you are doing. Savings people lives is the best thing anyone could do. Help us promote awareness of the current crisis that’s facing refugees in the refugee camps and within South Sudan.
Your contribution is highly appreciated.
Yours in Christ,
SSSOW Founder: Jacob Maluak Manyang
You can follow Jacob’s work daily on his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/jacob.manyang
Contact Jacob for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org and
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ –
We have come to the season of the year when we celebrate the birth of a baby who not only changed the course of recorded history, but whose life, to this very day, has the most profound imaginable impact on the course of human events.
Christ’s birth confounded the expectations of people of faith and provoked those who possessed great wealth and power from the very beginning. So much of what we now take for granted about God – from God’s presence in the poor and the outcast … to God’s willingness to become vulnerable even unto death … to the incalculable power of human love – was all first and fully manifest in that Bethlehem barn two thousand years ago. The birth of Jesus changes everything.
In this moment, it is increasingly clear to me that most of the challenges over which we wring our hands and lose sleep at night – from dwindling church attendance to the rise of a national political conversation driven by hubris and fear – invite nothing less from disciples of Christ than the continued, determined and joyful proclamation of the news the angels shared in this season all those many, many years ago. The Christ is born. Fear not. God is with us.
This news, for those who receive it and believe it, is as astonishing, and life altering as it ever was. If we live in its light, deeply embracing it as true and let that reality be the verity that guides us as we seek to live authentic human lives every day, our lives will be changed. And our churches will be changed. And the world itself – from the Midwestern plains that we know and love to those territories on the other side of the globe that are the farthest reaches from this place – all will be changed.
That change can begin right here and right now. We have news to share my brothers and sisters. Good news for all to hear: Jesus Christ is born!
In Love & Faith –
+ Bishop Barker
Think of the world around us right now. It is a world filled 24 hours a day with the “marketing” of Christmas: Joy to the World; Hark the Herald Angels Sing; A Christmas Song; The 12 Days of Christmas; Merry Christmas; Christmas parties at school and work; Family reunions; Lots of presents; Lots of great food… The message is clear! You have to be HAPPY!!!
It is simply a truth that in the midst of the real joy and happiness that comes in December, that personal and emotional challenges are at their highest at the same time. Many things seem to come to a head as the days get shorter and the parties begin to ramp up; Memories of love ones who have died; The stress of broken families or relations; Reflecting on a year that was so bad you can’t wait for January 1st.
Over the last few decades, many churches have begun to offer liturgies called “Blue Christmas” or “The Liturgy of the Longest Night.” These liturgies offer to those dealing with difficult challenges a safe place to be in the midst of the hustle and bustle found outside. The liturgies offer a reassurance of the certainty of God’s presence even in the midst of pain, sorrow, and grief, and a space to tell the truth about the pain. Most importantly, the liturgies won’t try to fix anything – they offer a way to be present without having to fake anything. These liturgies speak the truth that God loves us, and we love each other, in times when we’re feeling broken just as much as in times when we’re feeling happy, and they offer comfort and pastoral care in a season when it can be difficult to ask for it.
Blue Christmas services often take the form of a modified Order for Evening from the Book of Common Prayer. They include prayers of comfort, hymns of healing, and scripture which state God’s presence. Most importantly, the service is done in church and with other people, and permission is given to cry.
The promise of Advent and Christmas is Emmanuel (God with us). Blue Christmas Liturgies offer yet another way to see the promise lived out.
Fr. Ernesto Medina,
St. Martha’s, Papillion
Cold December flies away
at the rose-red splendor.
April’s crowning glory breaks
while the whole world wonders
at the holy unseen pow’r
of the tree which bears the flow’r.
On the blessed tree
blooms the reddest flow’r.
On the tree blooms the rose
here in love’s own garden,
full and strong in glory.*
Christmas comes at the darkest time of year—just days after the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. For a number of months, the dark of night has been encroaching on the daylight, building to the solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. But thereafter, the daylight begins to chase the darkness of the night away. Light makes its grand re-entry. “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,” says the prophet. “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then the angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them,” says the Gospel writer. Into the midst of the darkness comes the Light, chasing cold December and its shadows away; into the midst of the darkness, “April’s crowning glory breaks”—the Light of Easter shines—“while the whole world wonders.” Oh God,” we pray, “you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true light.” Jesus, the Light of the world, is born!
In the hopeless time of sin
shadows deep had fallen.
All the world lay under death.
Eyes were closed in sleeping.
But when all seemed lost in night,
came the sun whose golden light
brings unending joy,
brings the endless joy
of our hope, highest hope,
of our hope’s bright dawning,
Son belov’d of heaven.*
A recent study of the effects of terror attacks on people found there are two primary emotional responses to the attacks: anger, which can have the effect of short-circuiting one’s nuanced thinking processes, causing people to lash out with brash and irrational words and actions against the perpetrators of the terror; and fear, which can be debilitating, leaving people immobilized and victimized. Neither of these responses is surprising; in fact, in our present world—in this “hopeless time of sin”—such emotions seem to be the norm. Wars and rumors of wars, economic inequality, terror attacks, and natural disasters caused by a changing climate leave us angry and fearful. But it’s not just brokenness on a global scale that elicits these emotions in us. Brokenness in ourselves and our families and friends also call up anger and fear: broken and hurting relationships; grief that will not heal; disease that threatens our very lives; captivity to addictions that have stolen loved ones from us. Yet, into the brokenness of the world a ray of hope has shined—shined so brightly, in fact, that the angel’s words of comfort are as timely and relevant to us as to the shepherds that night, “Do not be afraid; for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”; unending joy, endless joy “of our hope, highest hope, of our hope’s bright dawning, Son belov’d from heaven.” “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” On this night we discover that anger is not the final word; fear is not the final word; hope is. Oh God,” we pray, “you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true light.” Jesus, the Light of the world, is born!
Now the bud has come to bloom,
and the world awakens.
In the lily’s purest flow’r
dwells a wondrous fragrance.
And it spreads to all the earth
from the moment of its birth;
and its beauty lives.
In the flow’r it lives,
in the flow’r, and it spreads
in its heav’nly brightness
sweet perfume delightful.*
Oh God,” we pray, “you have caused this holy night to shine with the brightness of the true light”—you have caused this holy night to be fragrant with the sweet perfume of the purest flow’r. Jesus, the Light of the world, the lily’s purest flow’r, is born! Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey S. F. Nelson+
Church of Our Savior, North Platte
*Catalonian Carol; tr. Howard Hawhee, b. 1953.
Experiencing God deeply through experiencing the wonder of God’s creation leads many of us to have a passion for caring for God’s creation. Throughout our diocese, there are people who share both a spiritual connection through outdoor experiences and a passion for environmental justice and environmental stewardship. Because we are scattered throughout the diocese, though, we may find that while our connections with God and with God’s creation are profound, connections with others who share similar experiences and passions are more tenuous because others in our local parish don’t necessarily share the same passion.
Some folks in the Diocese of Nebraska have begun gathering via email, phone, and video conference to create ways for us to better connect with God, one another, and God’s creation that are spiritually nourishing, sustainable over time, and possible in our geographically large diocese. Our initial efforts have yielded ideas about worshipping together in a beautiful outdoor location, creating opportunities for people to participate in outdoor activities in community, praying for one another and for the earth, supporting each other in local efforts to build awareness about environmental stewardship, and sustaining community through a combination of electronic communications and in-person get-togethers. People in the Diocese of Nebraska will be invited to plug into whatever pieces of this best fit you.
If helping to create a new kind of community that gathers around a love of God and God’s creation is something you would like to explore, please contact Archdeacon Betsy Bennett:
December 4th, 2016
St. Martin of Tours, Omaha
One of our family holiday traditions is watching the movie Muppet Christmas Carol together. I have to confess that there’s a moment in it when Michael Caine, who plays Scrooge, makes me cry every year—and makes my kids roll their eyes at me, of course. The Ghost of Christmas past has been showing Scrooge events from his youth, most of them happy, but then Scrooge is taken to the scene in which he turns away from the love of his fiancée, one final time, and gives his life over completely to his greed. As the young woman walks away, the young Scrooge sets his jaw in determination to excel in his life of commerce—but the old Scrooge, watching, sobs, tears running down his face. This is the first time in the story that Scrooge, I believe, experiences a recognition of what he has lost, and experiences repentance for his life of sin—the first time in the movie when he not only feels remorse and sorrow, but begins to open his heart and turn away from the path he’s on. It is this—acknowledgement, sorrow, and turning away—that John the Baptist calls to us about from the wilderness.
What was John doing out in the wilderness in the first place? We might be tempted to picture a pastoral scene when we hear this—you know, maybe John was out inviting people to come center themselves and practice “mindfulness” and that sort of thing—to escape the hustle and bustle of their daily grind and find some peace. Well, that’s not what this wilderness was like, literally or figuratively. First of all, you should picture not a nature trail but the desert; the wilderness of Judea is a harsh, hostile, unfriendly and dangerous place. Second, the wilderness for an ancient Jew was a place that reminded them of their wanderings after leaving Egypt. God had freed them from bondage under the rule of Pharaoh, but almost as soon as they left, the Israelites were full of fear, and they disobeyed God’s instructions. Even though they had been led by the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day, even though the sea had parted before them and crashed back upon the chariots of Pharaoh’s army, they lost faith.
What did the Israelites do while Moses was on Mount Sinai getting the tables of law that sealed their covenant with God? They gave up and went back to their old ways and created a golden calf to worship. God’s people had to learn to trust and obey God, and to learn this, they were sent to wander in the wilderness for forty years. John called the people of his day to see that they, too, had given up and given in, replacing God’s ways with their own ways; he called them to see that it was time to return back to the desert, to come into the wilderness, to confess their sins, and to find their faith in God renewed. John called the people to repent.
“Repent” is not a word we hear in our culture these days, but this “turning back” or “turning around” in order to turn away from sin is what repentance is all about. Repentance includes being sorry, but the act of repentance is not only about sorrow and remorse. It is not simply an acknowledgment of guilt and wrong-doing, but also an active turning away from sin and a turning towards God. Repentance is not just a change of mind (that is, admitting our sin)—it’s a change of heart, too. Repentance captures part of the essence of the faith/works mystery we hear about in chapter two of James’ Epistle: Faith without works is dead; remorse without repentance is dead as well. In turning to God we accept God’s grace and forgiveness, and start better to walk in God’s ways rather than in our old sinful ways. To be clear: repentance is not about our ability to be good and worthy—it’s about God’s transforming power, and God’s desire to align our lives with the life of Jesus.
This transforming power is why we remember John not as “John the prophet”—but as “John the Baptist.” The people who came out to hear John, being Jews, were inheritors of God’s promise to Abraham. It had become easy for them to believe that their connection with this past guaranteed their connection with God—but John, in an in-your-face kind of way, scoffs at this: “Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.” In today’s Gospel John isn’t just calling people to come out into the wilderness and confess their sins, he’s baptizing them, having them act out the washing away of their sins and their return to a more active connection with God. And John says he points the way to One who brings an even more powerful baptism—a baptism that is more than symbolic—a baptism that brings the Holy Spirit and Fire.
Advent is a time to remember our own baptism—when Christ claimed us, joined us to God through himself, saved us through his atoning sacrifice, and imparted the fire of Pentecost Spirit upon us. Advent preparation is a time to remember, refocus and reclaim the baptism vows we all made—to prepare the way for Christ’s return by fulfilling our promises “to resist evil and to repent from it,…to share the Good News,… to serve Christ in all people,… and to strive for justice and peace.”
Christmas will come in a few weeks, bringing our remembrance and celebration of the birth of Jesus, the manger, the shepherds, the sheep, the star, the “Silent night.” However, Christmas is not the ending of the story but the beginning, and Advent preparation is, in part, our reminder of another night, not so silent, that led to arrest, the cross, and the grave. It is a mistake to come to the Christmas manger without at the same time coming to the Cross. God led Israel out of bondage, but Israel strayed from the path and wandered until it found trust and obedience. The first century Jews had forgotten God’s command to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly; they stopped “bearing good fruit” and relied just on their past, relying just on Abraham’s obedience and not their own. John called them into the wilderness to not just to remember, but to repent.
It’s so easy in our culture for us, today, to forget our promise to be God’s light in the darkness, to be God’s counter-cultural people who seek justice for the alien and the outcast, to be those who feed the hungry and clothe the naked. It’s so very easy for us to escape into the self-centered comfort of shopping and sentimentality. I was baptized, I was “adopted into the household of God” – Christmas reminds me of that and makes me feel all safe and loved and child-like, right at home there with that sweet little baby Jesus in the manger. (Well, except maybe I’d need the new Sealy Posturepedic comfort-dial mattress that’s on sale with free delivery at the Furniture Mart instead of all that itchy straw…) Christmas is full of nostalgia. But nostalgia is not preparation—nostalgia is feeling good about what used to be (or feeling good about our dream of what used to be). Advent, on the other hand, is a season for repentance of what used to be, and a demand to change what is now, in the present, and a call to prepare for the future. Advent is an opportunity to consider how much in my own life I really am working (or not) to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly before God. Not enough…some days barely at all…I’m too busy—and perhaps, like Scrooge, too blinded by my own materialism. This self-centered blindness is all wrapped up in a pretty Christmas bow, so it doesn’t seem as corrupt as Scrooge’s—but I fear it has taken over my heart just the same as it did his.
So I invite us all, this Advent season, to journey into John’s wilderness, away from the easy, wandering path that winds past the antique, animatronic scenes in the shopping mall windows, past the free shipping promotions on Amazon.com, past the same, inescapable, endlessly repeating thirty-five songs. I invite us to journey into the wilderness and then to seek out the more difficult and dangerous, the straighter, path. It’s a path that might bring tears of repentance to my eyes for the realities that actually were. It’s a path that might bring tears of repentance for the sins that actually are—my own. The Ghost brought Scrooge to scenes of his past and his repentance didn’t just change his mind—it changed his heart—it changed his life. John the Baptist stands in the desert, calling to the people of Israel to see themselves not with nostalgia, but with the critical eye of repentance. John the Baptist calls to us today: “See where you came from; see how you lost your way; see where it got you; look where you’re headed now. Repent. Make your path straight, for the Kingdom of Heaven is nearby and the Lord is coming soon.” I pray that you and I can know that the Kingdom of God is at hand, that our hearts will be opened, and our lives will be transformed, by John’s call this Advent season. Amen
– Keith Winton
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
– The Collect for Advent II
The season of Advent has now arrived, and in the days to come we’re invited to do the work of “preparing the way” in both our hearts and our world for the coming of the Christ. We’ll be invited to repent, wait, watch, pray and hope. The work we’re called to will be the same whether we imagine ourselves to be preparing for the celebration of the birth of the baby Jesus, or whether we imagine ourselves to be preparing for the second coming of the Christ at the end of days. It is the same God either way – a God who is constantly breaking into our daily human lives and relationships. The question of this season is not whether God will come, but whether we will be prepared to see and welcome God when that advent takes place.
We must not let ourselves off the hook for “preparing the way” out of some sense that our time on this earth does not matter, or that we can have no meaningful impact on the lives of others of in the communities in which we dwell. In the aftermath of the presidential election, many people of faith are feeling powerless in the face of forces that seem bent on destroying the environment, persecuting racial and ethnic minority groups, denying the civil rights of the LGBT community, and wielding brute military force to deal with the complex challenges of an increasingly complicated world. While it is true that our time on earth is short and that it can be difficult to measure how we make any difference in the face of the sin and brokenness of creation, I believe that as followers of Jesus we are called more than ever to the work of Advent, which begins with a turn away from what is evil, a turn towards what is good … and a sincere effort to make a difference in the world in such a way that we help make a pathway for the coming Christ. This is work that will be all the more meaningful and all the more powerful if you take it up with your larger church family. Margaret Mead is remembered for saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
I wish you one and all a deeply holy and meaningful Advent. Let us ready our hearts and our homes for the God who comes.
Faithfully Yours in Christ –
+ Bishop Barker