Messages From the Clergy

Keeping Awake in Advent

Watch ye, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh…

…at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning;

lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.

Mark 13:35, 36

The opening sentence in Morning Prayer (Rite I) during Advent quotes the gospel appointed for our first Sunday of this expectant season: Mark 13:24-37. What is rendered “watch ye” by the early modern reformers is translated “beware, keep alert” in our gospel reading this Sunday, each a translation of the Greek word that Mark uses three times in this short passage: grégoreó.

(Continue Reading…) It is a powerful word, fitting for Mark who prefers the shorter, more abrupt, action-packed, straight-to-the-point narrative style. The word means literally, with all the exclamatory vim you can muster, “STAY AWAKE!” If you were just starting to feel your eyes getting heavy and your head beginning to bob with slumber, this word busts into to the room and shakes your shoulders, shouting: “Wake up!”

I am mindful of my two-year old daughter who comes running into our room every morning at the break of dawn, climbs up into our bed, and tries to open my eyeballs for me, exclaiming: “I waked up, daddy!” Implying, of course, that I must therefore wake up, too. So much for alarm clocks. Luckily, she understands that I then need coffee. Unluckily, she can as yet only “pretend make it” from her kitchen set.

Our early modern forebears preferred the word “watch,” in the sense of “keeping watch” or “vigil.” But it is one in the same word and concept, stemming from the Old English wœcce, “watchfulness,” or wœccende, “remaining awake.” The idea here is fighting off that urge to just “rest our eyes” because something so important is about to happen we just cannot miss it.

We don’t usually think of this season as an especially languorous time. Usually it’s the exact opposite. We’ve barely begun putting the Thanksgiving dinner into Tupperware when somewhere the seasonal starting pistol is sounded and the mad dash to Christmas begins. From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, it’s just one big, frenetic scramble of travel arrangements, lights, shopping, meal prep, and year-end busyness. And then, in what seems like an instantaneous blur, it’s suddenly all over and we’re back to work after the New Year. Hardly a December to remember.

St Mark’s invitation to us this Advent is to remain awake and watchful amid all the holiday hubbub. God has promised to be with us, God is with us––if only we have the wakeful eyes to see.


Stay awake and focused on the coming of Christ this Advent. Get your Advent wreath and find devotionals for you and your loved ones here. And use an Advent calendar to help you mark the time and count down the days to Christmas. And Forward Movement has some wonderful Advent devotionals here.

Giving Thanks

When I joined the Episcopal Church just a few years ago, I found it quite striking—and a bit funny—that Thanksgiving was actually a feast day in the Book of Common Prayer. Having grown up Catholic, I was used to unending feast days and special observances. But our “sanctoral kalendar” [sic], or calendar of saints, was related to the life and witness of, well, saints. Which isn’t to say we didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving. We most definitely did. With all the American staples of turkey, stuffing, corn, green beans, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, and a side of Polish pierogis (for just a hint of heritage).

(Continue Reading…) That celebration of Thanksgiving, however, while it recognized God’s role in the blessings of life, felt like something different than our church observances. The church followed a different kalendar than the calendar of the world. We had a different way of marking time. Sometimes the two calendars intersected, but really only when the national calendar recognized even a secularized version of the church’s sacred kalendar—like Christmas or Easter. Thanksgiving, even if it involved as an organizing premise the offering of thanks to God, felt more American than Christian.

I chuckled, then, when I saw Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July listed as “major feasts” alongside the feast of Saint Mary the Virgin and Saint Michael and All Angels and the Feast of the Holy Innocents in the BCP (pg. 17). To be honest, it’s still taking some getting used to. But, if you think about it, what could be more sacred than taking time to give thanks?

To be sure, Thanksgiving in the US is a holiday—a holy day—established by an act of the secular government. It was on September 28, 1789, just before leaving for recess, that the first Federal Congress passed a resolution asking that the president institute a national day of thanksgiving. President George Washington, an Episcopalian, accordingly responded a few days later by issuing a proclamation naming Thursday, November 26, 1789 as a “Day of Publick Thanksgivin.” And President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 proclamation sealed the yearly observance on the last Thursday of November.

Yet these acts of secular power merely represent the enshrinement of a deeper human impulse: the recognition that all we have comes not from our own contrivance, but from a source beyond us. We have been given all that we have. Our food, family, health, wellbeing—all of it, all of it is a gift from God. As the priest often says at the offertory in our eucharistic liturgy, quoting Scripture, “All things come from Thee, O Lord….” All things. Everything we have is given to us as a gift from God. And for that we give “most hearty and humble thanks.”

So whatever the history of this feast, and however it became enshrined as a celebration of our church, let us indeed offer up our heartfelt thanks. For the love of family and friends, reflecting in turn the love of God. For all that we have been given and for all the opportunities we have to give in turn.

– Joseph


“Almighty and gracious Father, we give thee thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we beseech thee, faithful stewards of thy great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.” (Collect for Thanksgiving Day, BCP pg. 194)


Ending Life Ready for Jesus’ Embrace

As many of you know, I have come down with an acute case of bronchitis. This has meant not being able to join my teammates for a fiftieth anniversary of our undefeated freshmen football team at Trinity College. In the back row, I am the third in from the left. Bob Benjamin is seated next to me, the fourth in from the left. Bill is further down on the back row. (Continue Reading…) More important than the games we won is this story that Bob shared by email, since I could not be present in person. “I knew Bill Provost well from post college until his death from liver cancer. He went through a very difficult divorce, lived a life of long-term sobriety, had a very loving second marriage, and lived the life he had left after the diagnoses with joy and purpose. He grew to be a man of great faith. Prior to Christmas 2013, Bill knew that he had played out most of the clock.” Another friend visited him in Princeton with Bob. “When we retired to his den for a chat, I witnessed faith that I have rarely seen. Bill was comfortable with the knowledge that he would soon be in the embrace of Jesus.” Bob concludes, “I thought you would like to know the comfort found by Bill at the end of his life.”


Diocese Gathers at Convention

Bishop Gutiérrez began his convention address by reflecting on words that came to him in prayer: “The blood that runs through the body of Jesus Christ runs through each person on earth.”

That is a beautiful insight that describes how closely we are all related to one another. The compassion of God flows through our veins. A prayer for mission in the prayer book goes, “O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace…”

(Continue reading…)The Bishop went on to talk of peace, issuing a call “to care for the most vulnerable, to heal the sick and to bind up the brokenhearted. We must redouble our commitment to the poor, meeting their needs and addressing the systemic causes of poverty. We must care for those suffering from addiction, including their families, and provide support for those in recovery. And as followers of Christ, we must address the issue of gun violence. This is more than just a matter of politics. Jesus taught us to love our enemies. We must listen, engage the problem at its roots, and show that there is a better way to resolve our differences.” This is a hard conversation that the convention did not  address. Perhaps a church convention is not the place to face issues of such challenge. It may not be fair, but one hopes after Sunday’s shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas that another venue will be found.


Rite 13, Martin Luther, and the Lord’s Prayer

The Rite 13 Class on Sunday read about the Lord’s Prayer, its several versions, and what they mean. Then they portrayed the concepts of the Lord’s
Prayer in candy hearts!

Five hundred years ago on Tuesday, October 31, 1517, Martin Luther presented his 95 Theses to the archbishop, listing his criticisms of the church’s selling indulgences to shorten the time that one had to spend in purgatory. (Continue Reading…) Only the grace of God, he held, could do such a thing. Prayer as well, for Luther, was about God’s grace, rather than anything we might have to offer of our own. We pray because God commanded it, not out of a response to God’s goodness. He says, “We adore the true majesty in God’s awful wonders and incomprehensible judgments, and say: ‘Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” For Luther, it was more important that hearts be stirred than all the words be said. Of the six petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, he writes, “It may happen occasionally that I may get lost among so many ideas in  one petition that I forgo the other six. If such an abundance of good thoughts comes to us, we ought to disregard the other petitions, make room for such thoughts, listen in silence, and under no circumstances obstruct them. The Holy Spirit preaches here, and one word of his sermon is far better than a thousand of our prayers.”

For me, I like the sweetness of the candy hearts, hearts stirred in prayer, the greatest sweetness of God’s goodness and the Spirit’s sermon!