We have been waiting for weeks now to sing that very first verse: “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

For weeks!

But now, the food is prepared, the cookies baked, the friends and family assembled, the candles lit, and we can finally sing, “Let earth receive her king!”

Presents exchanged, children tucked in, stockings brimming, morning awaiting. “Let every heart prepare him room!”

Ice luminaries flicker light in the crispy night, frost climbs the windows as if it wants to get inside, and then fires blaze beside spiked Christmas morning coffee; “And heaven and nature sing!”

And heaven and nature sing.

And for many, myself included, at least for one night out of the year, we have a good measure of tangible peace.

We bust out the best we’ve got and we spread the table and the day with all of our hopes and fears of all the years, and they are all redeemed where it is warm and joyful and so very good in this sweet safe space of home.


Still, if we’ve attended to our Advent preparations, the tangible peace is not complete, and we owe it to those who suffer to name that too.

We know that there are fewer stockings hung in Newtown, and also here, in Sioux Falls, where on Saturday three children died in a fire on the same day that a young mother died of ill health.

We know that windows of the cars in which people live are frosty, and these panes are not nearly as quaint for those peering out of back seats.

We know that sometimes, for any number of reasons, the end of this obligatory family time could not come soon enough.

We know that not all are feasting.

We know that the earth is groaning.

And we know that there is grief and loneliness and cynicism and anger.

And if Advent has settled into our bones and souls as well as the now 3° South Dakota wintery cold has, we are reminded that Jesus came not into the scene pictured above, but into chaos and anxiety and uncertainty and a very unsafe world.

So on this Christmas Eve–now Day, as I look at my clock, writing this while sugar plums are choreographing in my children’s dreams, I’d like to offer you a bit of  Bruce Cockburn, Lou Reed, and Roseanne Cash.

A bit of a dose of the as-it-should-be and the as-it-is.

A bit of the reminder that mistrust and incredulity and skepticism and profound grief and deep nastiness all still exist, no matter whether we are talking about that first Christmas, so long ago, or ours...and a bit of a reminder that sometimes, sometimes, a shot of the ideal, even the very edgy, edgy ideal (“Forgive me…I thought you’d been with some other man….” “What if I had been? But I wasn’t anyway, and guess what? I felt the baby kick today!”) courses through.

It can course through this world, this life of ours.

“Like a stone on the surface of a still river/Driving the ripples on forever/Redemption rips through the surface of time/In the cry of a tiny babe…”

To shepherds and street people, to hookers and bums, Jesus was born, he took on the flesh of good wine and deep grief, and he made some promises.

He made some promises that it doesn’t need to be this way; that there are those who act in his name who can be trusted; that together those who act in the spirit of determined kindness and fierce compassion have tremendous power to transform the world from greed and violence and sick power to stewarded hospitality and persistent comfort and unbridled freedom to love.

He is come.


In this place.

In you.

In us.

To be in the world.

To change the world.


No more let sins, and sorrows grow!

Nor thorns infest the ground!

He comes to make his blessings flow,

Far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as, far as the curse is found.


Cry of a Tiny Babe

Bruce Cockburn, Lou Reed, Roseanne Cash

Mary grows a child without the help of a man
Joseph get upset because he don’t understand
Angel comes to Joseph in a powerful dream
Says “God did this and you’re part of the scheme!”
Joseph comes to Mary with his hat in his hand
Says “forgive me I thought you’d been with some other man”
She says “what if I had been — but I wasn’t anyway and guess what
I felt the baby kick today”

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

The child is born in the fullness of time
Three wise astrologers take note of the signs
Come to pay their respects to the fragile little king
Get pretty close to wrecking everything
‘Cause the governing body of the Holy Land
Is that of Herod, a paranoid man
Who when he hears there’s a baby born King of the Jews
Sends death squads to kill all male children under two
But that same bright angel warns the parents in a dream
And they head out for the border and get away clean

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe

There are others who know about this miracle birth
The humblest of people catch a glimpse of their worth
For it isn’t to the palace that the Christ child comes
But to shepherds and street people, hookers and bums
And the message is clear if you’ve got [you have] ears to hear
That forgiveness is given for your guilt and your fear
It’s a Christmas gift [that] you don’t have to buy
There’s a future shining in a baby’s eyes

Like a stone on the surface of a still river
Driving the ripples on forever
Redemption rips through the surface of time
In the cry of a tiny babe