The excerpt from Wendell Berry’s latest book was for me a Christmas gift to savor. It stirred memories and reflections about grandfathers. As Berry suggests, the grandparents of people my age lived in a different world from ours. They never boarded an airplane or booted up a computer. Before the days of joint replacement surgery, many were partially crippled and lived with pain.
I am probably not the only preacher who cringes every Good Friday as I read John’s passion narrative, with its relentless negative references to “the Jews.” As I read those passages I think of my friends Joe and Tony, Jews who are married to Presbyterians and are sitting in the pews. I want to interrupt the reading and say, “This doesn’t really refer to all Jews.
My neighborhood offers Christmas shoppers lots of help: the counters are full, and the windows have been elegantly displaying gift suggestions since mid-October. I am led to ponder the original gift that generated this phenomenon of Christmas—a small, quiet, intimate gift of love in the birth of a child.
It’s my favorite time of year—though I never heard the word Advent until my mother brought home an Advent calendar one year. Presbyterians didn’t observe Advent in western Pennsylvania in those days. I learned about it from the brightly decorated calendar with its tiny paper doors, one for each December day until Christmas.
I was fascinated to learn that New Testament scholar Barbara Rossing was first drawn to studying the book of Revelation because of her interest in environmental issues. Many of us are not much interested in apocalyptic literature, especially not as represented by the Left Behind novels.
Construction of religious buildings is at its lowest level since record keeping began in 1967. Declining participation and financial funding and a shift away from megachurches are cited as reasons for the decline. Congregations are also deciding to put more money into ministry rather than structures. The building of religious structures peaked in 2002 and has been decreasing ever since, though there are signs that it may have bottomed out in 2013. Mormons and Muslims, both with growing populations, are exceptions to this trend (Wall Street Journal, December 4).