Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

    The opening eleven chapters of the book of Genesis seek to explain why the world is the way it is. And though these stories were first told thousands of years ago, they offer a surprisingly accurate vision of our world, even today.

    The final story of this opening section of our Scriptures is none other than the Tower of Babel. A capstone story told in a single paragraph.

    Genesis tells us that the whole earth had one language, and few words. Though they did not say much, like today, mass communication was easy.

    But what they did choose to say to one another speaks volumes. Only twice in this passage are the words of this ancient civilization recorded, and yet both times the same phrase is used by those building the Tower:

    Let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.

    And they had brick for stone. Then they said,

    Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens,

    and let us make a name for ourselves.

    Let us make is not neutral language in the narrative of Scripture.

    It is God himself who first says Let us make in Genesis 1 when he creates the first humans in his image.

    And in Genesis 11 we see humanity taking the creative reins.

    It begins innocently enough: let us make bricks. The mandate given to humanity to subdue the earth has begun to play out. Humanity is learning to master the natural world through the use of technology.

    Technology helps us accomplish our goals faster, more efficiently, and without getting our hands quite as dirty.

    If your goal is to wear clean clothes to work each day, a washing machine and dryer will go a long way in helping you reach that goal.

    If your goal is to live in Richardson but work in downtown Dallas, a highway system and motor vehicles will go a long way in helping you reach that goal.

    But what happens when your goal is less than noble?

    What does progress, advancement, and technology offer you if your goal is to gain power? Or punish those you don’t like? Or eliminate entire people groups from the face of the earth?

    Technology offers you an opportunity to accomplish your goals faster, more efficiently, and without getting your hands quite as dirty.

    Technology does not offer its own moral compass. It simply helps you do whatever it is you already want to do.

    And sometimes, it can be scary what our hearts want to do.

    Let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens,

    and let us make a name for ourselves.

    The story of the Tower of Babel is the story of humanity seeking to be the master of their own fate, the shapers of their own world, the judge and jury of what is right and wrong.

    They set their minds to establishing a civilization that had no need of God. That’s why their tower broke the plane of heaven.

    And it worked.

    Genesis tells us that God saw the tower. And his response may surprise you. He did not laugh at their futile attempt. He did not rain down fire and brimstone in righteous anger.

    He saw the tower for what it was: an ominous sign of what humanity is capable of accomplishing when left to its own devices.

    And the Lord said, “…this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

    This shiny new tower—built by those who held power out of a desire to reshape the world into whatever they saw fit—was just the beginning.

    So God confused their language, and scattered them across the world.

    This story stands on its own as a compelling explanation for countless atrocities throughout history and today. Of what happens when an Empire sets their heart on ruling the whole world, when a people set love of country as the highest good, no matter the cost to others, when a leader’s ambition for power blinds them to the trail of destruction they leave in their wake.

    The Tower of Babel is a prototype of the story of human history.

    But it is not the end of the story.

    The Tower of Babel explains why the world is the way it is.

    The Day of Pentecost explains the world as it will be.

    Against the backdrop of the Tower of Babel, the Day of Pentecost presents a stark contrast.

    Instead of mankind charting their own course, the Day of Pentecost begins with God’s people awaiting his direction. Huddled together in a room, seeking His wisdom. Creatures relying wholly upon their Creator.

    At Pentecost, Humanity did not reach up to God, attempting to grasp him in their hands. Rather, God came down. It was not human ingenuity that saved the day, but the very breath of God.

    The Holy Spirit came to rest on God’s people. And then God’s people got to work.

    And the results were extraordinary.

    At Babel, confusion reigned supreme. One language became many, and communication became impossible.

    At Pentecost, many languages did not quite become one—each maintained its distinct contribution to human culture—but despite these many languages, all barriers to hearing the good news of God in Christ were removed.

    What happened next was no less miraculous.

    Peter, who weeks earlier denied that he ever knew Jesus, preaches among the greatest (and shortest) sermons you have ever heard, and thousands join the Christian Church.

    And it didn’t stop there.

    If you can carve out a few hours over the course of this next week, read the Book of Acts.

    You will be encouraged, surprised, and maybe even a bit confused. But one thing will ring true as you read: despite many obstacles, conflicts, twists, turns, and dead ends, God was at work in the world in a powerful way through his Church.

    God was establishing a new way forward for humanity.

    God’s people were given the Holy Spirit, not just to comfort them in Jesus’ absence, but also to teach them to have right judgment in all things. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, God’s goals can become our goals.

    When God saw the Tower of Babel and all that it represented, he knew something had to happen.

    This is only the beginning of what they will do;

    But now that God’s Spirit lives within his faithful people, the same can be said of the Church.

    and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

    The rise of the Christian faith was improbable, to say the least. As sociologist Rodney Stark once framed the question:

    How did a tiny and obscure messianic movement from the edge of the Roman Empire dislodge classical paganism and become the dominant faith of Western civilization?

    The Christian Church grew from 1000 members in the year 40—.0017% of the population of the Roman Empire—to over 33 million by the year 350. That represents over 56% of the population of the Roman Empire at the time.

    But it was not just the impressive numerical growth that points to the power of God at work through the Christian Church to accomplish the impossible.

    Deeply rooted practices of the Roman world were challenged head-on by the growing Christian community. The widespread and legal trade of young girls and boys for sex, the killing of unwanted infants, the dehumanizing of slaves, and the worship of the Emperor are just a handful of cultural norms against which Christianity demanded a different path.

    These earliest Christians were not seeking ways to be counter-cultural. They were not interested in leading revolutions. They were simply living a life in submission to the God who made them, regardless of how backwards, how different they seemed to the world around them. And as a result of their faithfulness, many of these institutions and practices began to crumble.

    The world has its own agenda. Its own temptation to view this life as ours to do with as we please. There are countless opportunities to build towers to make a name for ourselves. And with the help of technology, we might just succeed.

    But God has sent his Spirit into the hearts of his people. And when God teaches his people to have right judgement in all things, to direct and rule them according to His will, their very lives will challenge some of the towers being built around them.

    And all of this begins, for us, in our Baptism. If you have been Baptized, let the Feast of Pentecost renew in you a commitment to living in the power of the Holy Spirit. If you have not, the invitation stands for you just as it stood for those who were there on the Day of Pentecost.

    God is at work in the world, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, you are invited to join Him.

    This is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.

    Good Friday

    All this he did for you.

    In a cold, dark, room somewhere abroad a small group of naked, tired, hungry, and defeated captives are huddled in the corner.

    They’ve lost count of the hours, days, weeks, and years since they've experienced anything close to a normal life.

    One night, in the middle of a monsoon, an explosion sends a wooden door, now shattered to pieces, across the room. Light floods the room in the form of half a dozen headlamps. Over the ringing of damaged eardrums, the captives hear shouted commands and see choreographed responses. In the blink of an eye, a row of uniformed men approach the huddled captives, shouting something familiar, but forgotten.

    The soldiers are shouting, but the captives don’t budge.

    “We’re here to save you,” the soldiers scream in as many languages as they can muster.

    Still no response.

    Maybe it was the shell-shock. Maybe it was miscommunication.

    Or maybe, as another prisoner of war once recounted, these captives have been tricked before. Others have come, claiming to rescue them. Most of them have been defeated. Some of them were nefarious; disguising themselves as Navy Seals before beating their captives senseless for attempting to leave with the enemy.

    Time is running out, but the captives have been down this road before, fooled by a would-be savior, and this time, they don't budge.

    It may surprise you to hear this, but Jesus of Nazareth was one of dozens of young Jewish teachers to be put to death by the Romans in and around first-century Palestine.

    When Jesus of Nazareth’s followers fled the scene and locked themselves in a room following his arrest, they did so because they, too, had been down this road before.

    Ingrained in their collected memories were visions of other would-be saviors who amassed a significant following before getting cross with religious and political authorities. Each messiah figure’s life ended the same way: execution at the hands of the Romans, and arrest or worse for his followers.

    In the world of the first century, a crucified Messiah is a failed Messiah. And on that Friday afternoon, the disciples began to realize that the past three years of their lives had been spent following a failed Messiah, one who stands in a long line of other failed Messiahs.

    When Jesus of Nazareth’s followers fled the scene and locked themselves in a room following his arrest, they did so because they, too, had been down this road before.

    And yet here we find ourselves, two-thousand years later.

    A Jewish messianic figure publicly executed by the Roman government would not make the back page of a first-century newspaper; how in the world did we wind up here?

    The cross has become one of the most universally-recognized symbols on the planet, and Jesus one of the most universally-recognized names.

    Why? What made the crucifixion of this Jewish prophet so different from the crucifixion of the others?

    On that Friday, the Romans did not nail a revolutionary leader to the cross.

    On that Friday, the Romans did not nail a teacher born centuries before his time to the cross.

    On that Friday, the Romans did not nail a traveling wise man and miracle worker to the cross.


    On that Friday, as one Roman soldier realized moments too late, the Romans nailed God to the cross.

    And when God is nailed to a cross, we must respond.

    We could respond with detached pity, feeling sorry for Jesus but not knowing what to do about it.

    We could respond with debilitating guilt, like Javert who could not even begin to grasp the grace shown to him by Jean Valjean.

    We could respond with noise, drowning out the uncomfortable reality of the cross.

    Or we could respond with silence.

    Good Friday services end in silence, and many Christians spend part of Holy Saturday in some form of silence, too. Not just to remember the silence of the grave, but to reflect on the meaning of the Cross itself.


    Back in our cold, dark, room somewhere abroad, with our small group of naked, tired, hungry, and defeated captives huddled in a corner, the soldiers cannot believe the captives aren’t moving.

    The stalemate continues for what feels like hours, until one of the soldiers stops screaming. He lowers his gun, takes off his own clothes, and crouches down in the corner of the room next to one of the captives.

    His fellow soldiers are stunned. The captives hardly notice.

    Eventually, one of the captives opens her eyes, and sees what the soldier has done.

    One by one, some faster than others, the captives stand and walk towards their rescuers.

    Words matter, but not as much as actions.

    Do you want to know what God is like?

    Do you want to know what God thinks about you?

    Do you want to know whether God has love for you, despite what you alone know about yourself?

    Look to the Cross.

    For you Jesus Christ came into the world:
    for you he lived and showed God's love;
    for you he suffered the darkness of Calvary
    and cried at the last, 'It is accomplished';
    for you he triumphed over death
    and rose in newness of life;
    for you he ascended to reign at God's right hand.

    All this he did for you, child, though you do not know it yet.

    And so the word of Scripture is fulfilled: "We love because God loved us first.”

    Maundy Thursday

    Learning from Jesus “on the night in which he was betrayed.”

    In first-century Galatia, a small but powerful group of teachers insisted that anyone who wanted to become a Christian must show that they are truly Christian through some outward sign. A very specific outward sign, in fact: circumcision.

    After dismantling this argument throughout his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul proposes his own outward sign of the Christian faith. In what has since been dubbed the “Fruit of the Spirit,” he lists several outward signs (fruit) of a life indwelled by the Spirit.

    According to this list, what is the very first thing you should outwardly notice in the life of a Christian?


    Maundy Thursday is a celebration of two sacred moments in the life of Jesus, both of which are wrapped in love. The name itself comes from the Latin work for command (mandatum), since Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment on this sacred Thursday:

    A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

    This new commandment is shared in two ways, both of which are celebrated each year on Maundy Thursday.

    First, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples. Jesus taught that the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve. And then he followed through by assuming the role of a household slave. Peter’s initial refusal to have his feet washed, followed by his request for Jesus to wash his entire body has always struck me as capturing my own posture towards Jesus: an oscillation between full embrace and keeping what I deem to be an appropriate distance.

    After washing their feet, Jesus shares a meal with his disciples. Maundy Thursday is about foot washing, but it is also a celebration of the institution of this sacred family meal.

    New Testament scholar N.T. Wright points out something about that evening that is worth considering:

    When Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.

    Jesus is instituting a very specific meal in the Last Supper, one that has been celebrated every single day somewhere on the planet since the earliest days of the Christian Church. But what is true of the Lord’s Supper can also be somewhat true of each of our meals by extension. I love the prayer below, taken from Every Moment Holy, about all meals and what they can become for us:

    Meet us in the making of this meal, O Lord, and make of it something more than a mere nourishment for the body.

    What is true of all meals is most true of the Eucharist.

    But that Thursday, and this Thursday, are about more than just a meal. When the Last Supper is revisited in 1 Corinthians, Paul reminds his readers that all of this took place “on the night in which he was betrayed.” The cross was on the horizon even as bread and wine were being shared amongst friends on the first Maundy Thursday.

    The Last Supper was the beginning of the three most important days in the history of the universe, and so Maundy Thursday is the beginning of the three most important days in our Church Year.

    May God use these days to equip us to live out the new commandment he first gave two thousand Thursdays ago.

    Holy Week

    This is no ordinary week.

    A quick note before this edition of the newsletter: Holy Week culminates in a final service on Saturday Evening: The Easter Vigil. If you happen to be in the Dallas area this Easter, come see us at Church of the Incarnation for what I find to be the most moving of all services of the Christian Year. I will be teaching a History & Traditions class at 7pm ahead of the service, which begins at 8pm. Let me know if you plan to attend; seats fill quickly.

    Rhythms of Habit by Jon Jordan is a reader-supported publication. To receive additional Holy Week emails this week, be sure to subscribe below!

    Because of our sophisticated watches and our ability to schedule our days down to the minute with the push of a button, it is easy for us to misunderstand what time is and how it actually works.

    We tend to think of time as being evenly distributed. There are 24 hours in a day—in every day. So it seems right that any given hour or day or week must be the same length as any other hour, day, or week. More often than not it appears to us that all days are created equal.

    Not only is this technically not the case universally-speaking, it is certainly not true experientially.

    Some minutes last 60 seconds. Others last what feels likea lifetime.

    Time can fly, or it can stand completely still.

    Some things in our world take a long time to change. But your world can change in a fraction of a second.

    Not all weeks are created equal.

    And this is no ordinary week.

    Just over two thousand years ago there was a single seven day period of time that has proved to be the most important week in the history—and even in the future—of the universe.

    And this is the week where we take that week from the past, and drop it into the present.

    Holy Week is the week of all weeks.

    This week contains within it all that you and I should expect to experience as Christians.

    It has its false hopes. Moments, like Palm Sunday, where it seems that all has been made well, until lofty expectations give way to reality.

    This week has the loneliness of Gethsemane, the betrayal of a loved one, the abandonment of friends.

    But Holy Week also has its Mondays. The mundane.

    Holy Week begins today, but you might not fully notice it until Thursday night. We have a relatively normal Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday ahead of us.

    The mundane. False hopes. Betrayal. Loneliness.

    Holy Week contains all of this.

    This week, if you allow it, will take you even to the depths of sorrow as the Son of God is nailed to a cross.

    But only so that you can experience the highest of joys: the defeat of death and the hope of the resurrection.

    This is no ordinary week.

    But here is the catch: It can be, if you want it to.

    You can go about your business, maintain your standing calendar. Tomorrow can be, for you, just another Monday.

    Or you can embrace this Holiest of weeks.

    If you do, you can expect to experience a few things.

    First, you will think things that you normally don’t think.

    • It is not every week that you wonder what it means for the author of life to die.

    • Or what your private sin has to do with the Creator of all things.

    • Or what really happens when all of this comes to an end.

    This is a week to think about things you normally don’t think about.

    But you will also feel things that you normally don’t feel.

    • Sin that you might normally brush off might weigh a little heavier this week.

    • You might resonate with Jesus—feeling at least a fraction of what he felt. Your own sorrow will find company in his.

    Finally, and most importantly, if you embrace this Holy Week, you will become a little more like Jesus.

    Or you will at least want to.

    This is the goal of the Christian life.

    Have this mind among yourselves—says St. Paul—which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

    Perhaps more than anything, Holy Week reminds us that the Jesus we follow as Lord and King is also a wounded Savior.

    It is easy to talk about being the hands and feet of Christ in a broken world.

    It is harder to remember that those hands and feet still bear the marks of nails.

    In the first century, as the persecution of Christians in Rome was growing increasingly intense under Nero, leaders in the Church convinced St. Peter to flee the city.

    They could die, but surely their Apostle and Bishop needed to survive in order for the Church to continue.

    As Peter made his way out of the city, he encountered Jesus, carrying a cross, making his way towards the city.

    Quo vadis, domine? “Where are you going, Lord?”

    “I am heading to Rome, Peter. To be crucified in your stead.”

    An early Christian history called The Acts of St. Peter tells us that Peter got the message.

    He returned to Rome, where he was crucified upside down.

    Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus.

    There are countless examples of this—some more intense, some far less—between St. Peter and our own day.


    A willingness to be the crucified hands and feet of Christ is there throughout Christian history and today because of the hope of the resurrection.

    Because, through Holy Week, we know that death is not the end. That we have a Lord who has gone before us, who fought the battle we could not win, even to the very depths of hell.

    And that he came back.

    All of this is here in Holy Week.

    So make plans to experience it.

    Go to church on Maundy Thursday as Jesus shares his Last Supper with the disciples and is betrayed.

    Experience Good Friday afresh, playing the part of the crowd who shouted “Crucify him.”

    Embrace the quiet, dark tomb of Holy Saturday.

    And then join in the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord.

    It is not convenient. It will throw a wrench in your schedule.

    But Jesus is alive and ready to meet you again in new and old ways this Holy Week.


    St. Joseph, March 19 (Usually)

    St. Joseph is a model of quiet, often thankless work that paves the way for Jesus to be known and loved.

    The Feast of St. Joseph is usually celebrated on March 19th. When specific Feasts fall on a Sunday, their observance is usually transferred to the following weekday. This is because every Sunday is a Feast of our Lord’s Resurrection—and in that sense—the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection is not shared with any other celebration. So for this year, today (March 20) is the formal Feast of St. Joseph. Celebrate away!

    George Weigel describes the history of God’s dealing with humanity as “an extraordinary story involving some utterly ordinary people.”

    An adopted son of a slave with a speech impediment is used by God to accomplish the greatest saving act of the Old Testament. The King of Persia’s bartender is used by God to restore the city of Jerusalem after its destruction at the hand of Babylon. A group of ragtag fishermen and rabbinic school dropouts are used by God to establish the Christian Church, and are told by Jesus that they will spend the rest of their lives doing “greater things than these.”

    And right in the middle of this extraordinary story lies Joseph of Bethlehem. An ordinarily quiet dad who works hard, forsakes his legal freedom to dismiss Mary, and instead bears the brunt of communal shame so his new wife doesn’t have to. (Not to mention that his first experience in parenting involved raising the Son of God.)

    I am the proud owner of multiple pairs of socks that feature Saints from the Scriptures and Christian history. The side of each sock bears the image of the Saint, and on the bottom of each foot is a famous quote from their life and work.

    As a (sometimes) quiet dad myself, I naturally own a pair of Saint Joseph socks.

    And printed on the bottom of each foot is the following quote:

    “                       ."

    - St. Joseph

    Joseph has no recorded words in the Christian Scriptures. He is visited by an angel. He leads his family on several journeys: first to Bethlehem for the less-than-glamorous birth of Jesus, then to Egypt, this time as refugees. And after several quiet years in Egypt, Joseph leads his family once more to settle down in the podunk town of Nazareth. And from this point on, we know very little about how Joseph spent the rest of his days. 

    We see in St. Joseph a model of quiet, often thankless work that paves the way for Jesus to be known and loved.

    Habit to Adopt: At some point throughout our week, we all have quiet, thankless work to do. We are washing the dishes, or filing papers, or taking out the trash. The next time you catch yourself doing this routine work, turn off the TV, take out the headphones, or otherwise limit distractions. Allow the quiet—and the noise of the work itself—to remind you to pray that God will use your otherwise menial task to somehow make Jesus known and loved.

    Lent as an Exercise in Dependence

    Becoming more human in an age of information

    In 1948, Claude Shannon published a paper on the Theory of Information and Communication that set the stage for an understanding of Information as data - bits of sound that are capable of being transmitted in an orderly fashion across great distances.

    Eventually this work led to the creation of what we call the internet and the dawning of the Information Age.

    Today, we know more than we ever have, and we can share that knowledge with just about anybody anywhere at any time.

    But the Information Age comes with some unintended consequences.

    We used to ask our dad, or our neighbor, or a stranger how to change a tire. Now we ask a machine.

    If we had a story to tell or an opinion to share, we used to do this around a table or while working side-by-side or at the weekly market. Now we read—or at least start to read—posts and articles written by strangers who we will never have the chance to personally engage.

    And all of this is heralded as good news.

    Our age is built around the premise that information will save you.

    Do you have an unusual or embarrassing rash developing? Need to know what sporty business chic attire means for your nephew’s wedding?

    Ask Google.

    Life in the Information Age is convenient. We are more informed now than we ever have been, but there is a catch.

    Vivek Murthy is the current surgeon general of the United States. In 2017, towards the end of his previous term, he wrote this:

    During my years spent caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes. It was loneliness.

    Andy Crouch once said that the Information Age is a great place to gain information and power, but is not a great place to be a human person.

    This is, in one sense, a progression of history: the obsession with information over wisdom in the 20th century led to a modern, lonely society. But it is actually an ancient problem—perhaps the most ancient of problems.

    In Genesis we are told that Adam and Eve went from walking and talking with God in the cool of the day to being banished from his presence. This disconnect affected their relationship with God, to be sure, but also their relationship with one another. After leaving the Garden, humanity began the long journey of being alone together.

    All of this, because Adam and Eve wanted a shortcut to wisdom.

    Wisdom was meant to be slowly gleaned through a relationship with God, not grasped in an instant.

    But when our First Parents took and ate of the fruit of that tree, it represented an attempt to shortcut this process. It was a desire for information instead of relationship.

    Satan said to Eve, ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’

    After they ate, notice their first reaction:

    They covered their most intimate parts from each other, and then they hid from God.

    The human pursuit of information and power over relationship began in the Garden of Eden. And it has continued—with destructive results—ever since.

    Fast forward from Genesis 3 to John 3—to a late night conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus. A different context, a mostly different cast of characters, but the same old story.

    Nicodemus is a fascinating character throughout the Gospel of John. He is a Pharisee—a member of the Jewish sect that was convinced that God would send his kingdom once his people got their act together and started following the Law. The whole Law.

    And in order for that to happen, God’s people needed to know how to read the Law, and properly interpret the Law, and properly follow the proper interpretation of the Law.

    As you can imagine, to pull this off would require a lot of teachers teaching a lot of students a lot of information. There were few communities better at transmitting information in the ancient world than the Pharisees.

    We don’t know if Nicodemus was sent by the Pharisees or if he was just curious, but we do know this: he snuck out in the middle of the night to ask Jesus a question.

    Nicodemus was seeking information.

    Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do, unless God is with him.

    I would like for you to teach me something, Jesus. Do you have any nuggets of wisdom for me? Any new teaching that I can add to my repertoire? Something I can share with my friends at a dinner party to sound like an intellectual?

    Sure, said Jesus, here you go: If you want to live forever, you need to experience birth again.

    It is a jarring response, isn’t it?

    But Jesus isn’t finished. When Nicodemus justifiably expresses confusion over this saying, Jesus rebukes him:

    Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand this?

    In other words: how is it that you spend your days reading and meditating on the Scriptures, and yet still think that the problem with humanity is a lack of information?

    Nicodemus came to Jesus seeking new information; what he needed was new birth.

    Birth is one of several running images throughout the Scriptures. There is something about birth that captures the core of where a redeemed person stands in relation to God.

    In other words, there are several things that are true about physical birth that ring even more deeply true about spiritual birth.

    To be born is to utterly depend upon another. This is obvious on one level: an infant cannot feed themselves or move on their own. Parents of newborns can attest that they can hardly even sleep without being cared for by someone other than themselves.

    This is true of many creatures, but it is most true of humans.

    We are born long before we are capable of sustaining ourselves. Other mammals are born with far more developed brains than we are. (Parents around the world can attest to this…)

    A human fetus would need to remain in the womb for 18 to 21 months in order to match the neurological and cognitive development stage of a newborn chimpanzee.

    Simply put: Human Beings were created to be relationally dependent.

    We grow out of some of this dependence in some truly important ways, but by and large humans only flourish when we share some level of dependence on another: a neighbor, a roommate, a friend, a spouse, a child, a parent, and ultimately, God.

    Embracing this dependence on God is the crucial first step on the journey that is the Christian life.

    Nicodemus’ last words to Jesus in this encounter were simply, “How can this be?”

    We don’t know if Nicodemus was changed that night. But John does leave us some clues. Nicodemus appears two more times in his Gospel.

    The next Nicodemus sighting comes when Pharisees are arguing with the Temple Police about arresting Jesus. Nicodemus speaks up, suggesting that they not rush to judgment on Jesus and his teaching.

    John leaves us with the impression that perhaps Nicodemus has been intrigued by what Jesus said to him.

    But the final sighting of Nicodemus in the Gospel of John is perhaps the most convincing. We encounter it each year on Good Friday—at the very end of Holy Week.

    After Jesus is crucified, John tells us that Nicodemus

    who had at first come to Jesus by night, went to Jesus’ tomb, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. He took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths.

    The man to whom Jesus said You must be born again was now wrapping our Lord in burial clothes adorned with spices.

    I think it is safe to say that Nicodemus had experienced new birth.

    The problem with humanity is not a lack of information. You and I are not one New York Times opinion piece away from a changed life.

    Our first, second, and final step towards eternal life is to recognize, and then embrace, and then eventually enjoy our dependence on God.

    Perhaps more so that any other Liturgical season, Lent can help move us along the path towards increased dependence.

    The failures we experience throughout Lent are part of the gift of Lent.

    When you find your fasting difficult to maintain, or when you drop a practice that you meant to maintain throughout the season, allow these shortcomings to remind you of your utter dependence on God.

    Lent: Effort and Grace in Action

    One of my favorite bits of dialogue in Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring presents us with an age-old debate about spiritual disciplines in general, and the Christian season of Lent in particular.

    Before embarking on their Journey to Mordor, Elrond—the Lord of Rivendale—shares a final message with the Company that is to join Frodo on his quest.

    Frodo himself is bound to complete the journey, while the members of the Company are “free companions” that may “come back, or turn aside into other paths, as chance allows.” Gimli, the renowned Dwarf warrior, gives a response that begins the dialogue in question.

    ‘Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens,’ said Gimli.

    ‘Maybe,’ said Elrond, ‘but let him not vow to walk in the dark, who has not seen the nightfall.’

    ‘Yet sworn word may strengthen quaking heart,’ said Gimli.

    ‘Or break it,’ said Elrond.

    Gimli argues that a vow made on the front end of a journey may serve as a sustaining force for when difficulty is faced. Elrond counters that, at times, the weight of such a vow might actually break one’s will along the way. Both positions are worthy of considering further, but what light can this conversation shed on the ancient Christian practice of Lent?

    The Church Calendar has historically served as a way to center our lives around the life of Christ, and the season of Lent serves (1) as an opportunity to re-live Jesus’ forty days of fasting in the wilderness and (2) as a period of preparation for our celebration of the Crucifixion and Resurrection. It has traditionally been celebrated as a season for fasting, the adoption of a new spiritual practice, and giving of time and money to the poor. These practices are not particular to Lent, but are in fact some of the most central practices of the Christian faith, commanded repeatedly throughout the New Testament (see Matthew 6:1-18). In this sense, Lent is a season that simply asks Christians to act as Christians.

    So how then should we approach Lent? With Gimli’s determination and rigidity, or with Elrond’s patience and grace?

    The Church’s answer to this questions, as is so often the case, is “yes” to both.

    Be like Gimli as you fight against sin in your own life and injustice in the world. Use this period of 40 days to re-center your spiritual life. Don’t allow our various cultural calendars dictate your devotion to Christ. Put forth effort to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). On Ash Wednesday, after all, the Church is called to “the observance of a Holy Lent.”

    But also remember that we are often more like the first Adam, who failed his temptation in the garden, than we are like the second Adam, who triumphed over temptation in the wilderness.

    Be like Elrond as you let your failure during this season serve as another reminder of your need for a savior. Don’t let your adoption of new disciplines “puff up” your ego, but instead recognize them for what they are: gifts from God given to a sinner who does not deserve them.

    May this Lenten season be for us one more way “that we may remember that it is only by God’s gracious gift that we are given everlasting life.” (BCP, 265)

    O Emmanuel

    Come, O God with us


    The final O Antiphon of Advent is below—in its Latin and English forms. Subscribers can keep reading below the image for a short reflection and another response poem by the brilliant Fr. Malcolm Guite.

    I hope these brief moments of reading and reflection have helped you capture the heart of Advent in this busy final week before Christmas.

    O Emmanuel

    Latin Text
    Veni, veni Emmanuel, 
    Captivum solve Israel, 
    Qui gemit in exilio 
    Privatus Dei Filio.

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Adaptation O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel, That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear.

    A Poetic Response, by Fr. Malcolm Guite

    Tomorrow, I will come.

    In this final O Antiphon response, Malcolm Guite looks back at the previous six titles for Christ, but he also looks forward, “… beyond Christmas, to the new birth for humanity and for the whole cosmos, which is promised in the birth of God in our midst.”

    As a special treat this Christmas Eve, click here to listen to Malcolm read his poem.

    O Emmanuel
    O come, O come, and be our God-with-us
    O long-sought With-ness for a world without,
    O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
    Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
    Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
    O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
    Be folded with us into time and place,
    Unfold for us the mystery of grace
    And make a womb of all this wounded world.
    O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
    O tiny hope within our hopelessness
    Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
    To touch a dying world with new-made hands
    And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

    O Rex Gentium

    Come, O King of Nations


    Today’s O Antiphon is below—in its Latin, English, and adapted forms. Subscribers can keep reading below the image for a short reflection and another response poem by the brilliant Fr. Malcolm Guite. I hope these brief moments of reading and reflection help you capture the heart of Advent in this busy final week before Christmas.

    O Rex Gentium

    Latin Text
    O rex gentium, et desideratus earum,
    lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum,
    (veni, et) salva hominem quem de limo formasti

    English Translation O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Adaptation O come, Desire of nations, bind In one the hearts of all mankind; Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, And be Thyself our King of Peace.

    A Poetic Response, by Fr. Malcolm Guite

    The original Latin version of this O Antiphon draws our focus to the creative nature of the King of Nations. (This is, unfortunately, lost in the hymn adaptation.) Yes, Jesus is the King of all, but he is also the one who formed our very race from clay.

    And—as is entirely appropriate on this penultimate day of Advent—Guite draws us to the humility of the King taking on the form of clay in his Incarnation, before reminding us that it is Jesus’ first and second Advents that prepare us for his final Advent.

    His work of shaping us is not yet complete.

    O Rex Gentium / O King of Nations

    O King of our desire whom we despise, King of the nations never on the throne, Unfound foundation, cast-off cornerstone, Rejected joiner, making many one, You have no form or beauty for our eyes, A King who comes to give away his crown, A King within our rags of flesh and bone. We pierce the flesh that pierces our disguise, For we ourselves are found in you alone. Come to us now and find in us your throne, O King within the child within the clay, O hidden King who shapes us in the play Of all creation. Shape us for the day Your coming Kingdom comes into its own.

    O Oriens

    Come, O Dayspring


    Today’s O Antiphon is below—in its Latin, English, and adapted forms. Subscribers can keep reading below the image for a short reflection and another response poem by the brilliant Fr. Malcolm Guite. I hope these brief moments of reading and reflection help you capture the heart of Advent in this busy final week before Christmas.

    O Oriens

    Latin Text
    O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
    et sol justitiae:
    veni, et illumina sedentes
    in tenebris, et umbra mortis

    English Translation O Dayspring, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Adaptation O come, O Bright and Morning Star, and bring us comfort from afar! Dispel the shadows of the night and turn our darkness into light.

    A Poetic Response, by Fr. Malcolm Guite

    The "Bright and Morning star" or "Dayspring" refer to the first ray of light appearing when the darkness of night is pierced by the sunrise. The beauty of the first trace of the sunrise has captured the attention of poets for millennia, from the prophet Malachi's "sun of righteousness" to Francis Scott Key's "by the dawn's early light."

    It is no accident that the Church prays O come O Bright and Morning Star on December 21st. This is the winter solstice; the day that contains the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. And on this winter solstice, Fr. Guite's poem helps us remember that Jesus is our Bright and Morning Star.

    O Oriens / O Dayspring
    First light and then first lines along the east
    To touch and brush a sheen of light on water
    As though behind the sky itself they traced

    The shift and shimmer of another river Flowing unbidden from its hidden source; The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.

    Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice Are bathing in it now, away upstream… So every trace of light begins a grace

    In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam Is somehow a beginning and a calling; “Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream

    For you will see the Dayspring at your waking, Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking”.

    O Clavis David

    Come, O Key of David


    Today’s O Antiphon is below—in its Latin, English, and adapted forms. Subscribers can keep reading below the image for a short reflection and another response poem by the brilliant Fr. Malcolm Guite. I hope these brief moments of reading and reflection help you capture the heart of Advent in this busy final week before Christmas.

    Latin Text
    O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
    qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
    claudis, et nemo aperit:
    veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
    sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
    English Translation
    O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
    you open and no one can shut;
    you shut and no one can open:
    Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
    those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death
    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Adaptation
    O come, O Key of David, come
    and open wide our heavenly home.
    Make safe for us the heavenward road
    and bar the way to death's abode.

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    A Poetic Response, by Fr. Malcolm Guite

    The ancient O Clavis David verse describes Jesus as the Key that locks and unlocks life's ultimate mysteries; opening to us the way of life, while closing to us the way of death.

    In today's poem by Fr. Guite, that same theme is also highlighted. But Guite also helpfully reminds us that there is only one key for our lock. Without that specific key, we have no hope.

    We know our problem, and want a solution. And so we cry out for the advent of our Key.

    O Clavis / O Key
    Even in the darkness where I sit
    And huddle in the midst of misery
    I can remember freedom, but forget
    That every lock must answer to a key,

    That each dark clasp, sharp and intricate, Must find a counter-clasp to meet its guard, Particular, exact and intimate, The clutch and catch that meshes with its ward.

    I cry out for the key I threw away That turned and over turned with certain touch And with the lovely lifting of a latch Opened my darkness to the light of day. O come again, come quickly, set me free Cut to the quick to fit, the master key.

    O Radix Jesse

    Come, O Root of Jesse


    Today’s O Antiphon is below—in its Latin, English, and adapted forms. Subscribers can keep reading below the image for a short reflection and another response poem by the brilliant Fr. Malcolm Guite. I hope these brief moments of reading and reflection help you capture the heart of Advent in this busy final week before Christmas.

    O Radix Jesse

    Latin Text
    O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
    super quem continebunt reges os suum,
    quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
    veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

    English Translation O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Adaptation O come, O Branch of Jesse’s stem, unto your own and rescue them! From depths of hell your people save, and give them victory o’er the grave.

    A Poetic Response, by Fr. Malcolm Guite

    Though it reads as a response to the virtual world we have all increasingly lived in to various degrees since March 2020, today's poem by Fr. Guite was written well before the pandemic. It draws to mind our rootedness in salvation history, and presents Jesus to us as a return to the way we were created to live.

    O Radix / O Root
    All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
    Rose from a root invisible to all.

    We knew the virtues once of every weed, But, severed from the roots of ritual, We surf the surface of a wide-screen world And find no virtue in the virtual.

    We shrivel on the edges of a wood Whose heart we once inhabited in love, Now we have need of you, forgotten Root The stock and stem of every living thing Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove, For now is winter, now is withering Unless we let you root us deep within, Under the ground of being, graft us in.

    O Adonai

    Come, O Lord


    Today’s O Antiphon is below—in its Latin, English, and adapted forms. Subscribers can keep reading below the image for a short reflection and another response poem by the brilliant Fr. Malcolm Guite. I hope these brief moments of reading and reflection help you capture the heart of Advent in this busy final week before Christmas.

    O Adonai

    Latin Text
    O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
    qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
    et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
    veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento

    English Translation O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Adaptation O come, O come, Great Lord of might, who to your tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times did give the law in cloud and majesty and awe.

    A Poetic Response, by Fr. Malcolm Guite

    Today's poem by Fr. Malcolm Guite plays on the most important name God gives himself throughout the Scriptures: Yahweh, "I Am." The four letters YHWH—referred to as the Tetragramaton—spell out the Divine Name of God.

    This name is considered so sacred that both ancient and modern Hebrews have refused to write or speak it aloud. In its place, scattered all throughout the Old Testament, is the word Adonai, most often translated as "Lord."*

    This poem captures the reality that the God whose name is so Holy it cannot even be said aloud has met us face to face in the form of a child.

    O Adonai / O Lord
    Unsayable, you chose to speak one tongue,
    Unseeable, you gave yourself away,
    The Adonai, the Tetragramaton
    Grew by a wayside in the light of day.

    O you who dared to be a tribal God, To own a language, people and a place, Who chose to be exploited and betrayed, If so you might be met with face to face, Come to us here, who would not find you there, Who chose to know the skin and not the pith, Who heard no more than thunder in the air, Who marked the mere events and not the myth. Touch the bare branches of our unbelief And blaze again like fire in every leaf.

    O Sapientia

    Come, O Wisdom

    Christians throughout the ages have spent the final week of Advent singing, praying, and reflecting upon the seven great O Antiphons. These ancient verses have been captured in the lyrics of the great hymn O Come, O Come Emmanuel, but existed far before the hymn itself.

    These O Antiphons describe to us more fully who it is that we anticipate during Advent.

    Yes, “God with Us” is coming afresh on Christmas this year; but Jesus is always far more than we imagine him to be. Each of the seven O Antiphons capture just a bit more of who Jesus was and is, and what he offers to bring when he comes to us.

    December 18: O Sapientia (Wisdom)
    December 19: O Adonai (Lord)
    December 20: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse)
    December 21: O Clavis David (Key of David)
    December 22: O Oriens (Dayspring)
    December 23: O Rex Gentium (King of the Nations)
    December 24: O Emmanuel (With Us is God)

    But here is where it gets fascinating.

    These seven antiphons, when reading backwards from Christmas Eve, form an accrostic: ero cras, which is latin for "Tomorrow, I will come."

    So today we begin this seven day journey with our first Antiphon: O Sapientia. Below is the text of the ancient verse, the text of the modern hymn, and a poetic response to this verse by Malcolm Guite.

    O Sapientia

    Latin Text

    O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,

    attingens a fine usque ad finem,

    fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:

    veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

    English Translation

    O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

    reaching from one end to the other mightily,

    and sweetly ordering all things:

    Come and teach us the way of prudence.

    O Come, O Come, Emmanuel Adaptation

    O come, O Wisdom from on high,

    who ordered all things mightily;

    to us the path of knowledge show

    and teach us in its ways to go.

    A Poetic Response, by Fr. Malcolm Guite

    O Sapientia / O Wisdom

    I cannot think unless I have been thought,

    Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.

    I cannot teach except as I am taught,

    Or break the bread except as I am broken.

    O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,

    O Light within the light by which I see,

    O Word beneath the words with which I speak,

    O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,

    O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,

    O Memory of time, reminding me,

    My Ground of Being, always grounding me,

    My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,

    Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,

    Come to me now, disguised as everything.

    Fourth Week of Advent: Salvation

    Jesus is Emmanuel

    We all already follow a wide variety of calendars. Sometimes those calendars conflict with one another. (I am serving this morning at Church while the World Cup final is being played, for example. Two of my favorite calendars are not playing well together…)

    Of all the Church seasons, it may be Advent that is most often at odds with our other cultural calendars. While we celebrate Advent, a season of reflection, penitence, and anticipation, our other calendars tend to increasingly fill up with business and festivities.

    I think this is most true during the final week of Advent, as the cultural Christmas season reaches the crescendo of its intensity just as the Church season is asking us to persevere in learning to wait, pause, anticipate, and reflect.

    So as you finalize your hosting and travel plans, and cross the last few items off of your shopping list, all while squeezing in a holiday party or two, allow the final week of Advent to do its job my taking just a moment each day to pause, pray, read, and reflect.

    To help towards that end, Rhythms of Habit will be sending out short reflections on the seven O Antiphons each day for the next week. These antiphons have traditionally been sung along with the Morning and Evening Prayer Psalms in the final week leading up to Christmas. They are known most commonly today as the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.

    The first of those emails will be sent out this evening to subscribers. Be sure to subscribe now, or consider gifting a subscription to a friend, if you would like these daily emails between now and Christmas.

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    For now, read below for a few notes about the theme of this final week of Advent.

    Fourth Week of Advent: Salvation

    So far throughout Advent we have heard themes of Judgment, Repentance, and Rejoicing. In the final week of this season, our attention is now turned to the Salvation offered in Jesus, God-with-us. A few notes about this theme are below, as well as the Gospel reading and Collect for this Sunday.

    • The previous weeks of Advent have instilled in us a deep understanding that we stand in need of salvation. This final week prepares us to recognize Jesus as that salvation.

    • There are two names given to Jesus in this week’s Gospel passage, and St. Matthew makes sure that his readers understand what each of them mean. Jesus, God saves, is also Emmanuel, God with us. Salvation and relationship go hand in hand.

    • This theme is also highlighted by a refrain found in Psalm 80, appointed for today:

    Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

    • Turn your face to us, and we shall be saved. The final week of Advent reminds us that in the Incarnation of our Lord, God has taken on a face for the purpose of our salvation.

    • Our task is to prepare to receive Emmanuel when he arrives. Jesus’ first Advent was in a manger; the collect this week asks God to help us prepare our own hearts to be more hospitable than Bethlehem.

    Gospel Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

    Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

    “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel,”

    which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.


    Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Third Week of Advent (Rejoice!)

    The One With the Pink Candle

    Liturgical colors—those featured in various Holy Days and Holy Seasons—do more than remind us of what season we are in. (Though that is always helpful.) In a future post we’ll explore the ins and outs of these colors—what they signify and what they do to us.

    But I mention colors this week because you have likely noticed that Advent candles are not uniform in color: most of the candles are purple (the color of the season), and there is sometimes a white or gold candle in the center to be lit on Christmas Day. But there is also a seemingly misplaced pink candle that is to be lit on the Third Sunday of Advent.

    Continue reading to discover why the candle is pink (hint: it isn’t actually pink), what to focus on during this third week of advent, and even a bonus micro-lesson on Latin verb conjugation!


    The color for the Third Sunday of Advent is not technically pink, but rather rose. Rose is the liturgical color for rejoicing. The only other time rose is used liturgically throughout the year is on Laetare Sunday in the season of Lent. In both cases, rose is a call to rejoice even while living within a season of penitence.

    Advent is a penitential season; a time to reflect on our need for a savior and in doing so, to anticipate the advent of that savior. As we have mentioned previously, it is even common practice to fast in some way throughout the season.

    As much as we should reflect, repent, and anticipate, there is also reason to rejoice throughout Advent. The coming of Jesus is, after all, good news.

    In this spirit, the Third Sunday of Advent is traditionally known as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is latin for rejoice, but it is worth noting that it is actually the second-person plural present active imperative form of the word gaudeo (rejoice).

    In other words: gaudete is a command (imperative) for all of us (second-person plural) to rejoice this week (present active).

    The readings and prayers for this week of Advent are still calling us to reflect, repent, and anticipate, but there are signs of rejoicing throughout. In the Gospel reading the blind see, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them, and in our Collect we ask God to come among us to do the same.

    At this point, we are halfway through the season of Advent.

    While Gaudete Sunday is more than a pick-me-up in the middle of the season, it is not less than that. In practice, it would be liturgically appropriate—even encouraged—to find a way to rejoice this week. Don’t spoil the anticipation entirely by abandoning your whole fast, or raiding the Christmas tree and stockings early. But perhaps you can intentionally modify your fast—skip one element and feast instead—or otherwise mark this week as one of rejoicing that Jesus is coming among us.

    Gospel Reading

    Matthew 11:2-11

    When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

    As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written,

    ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
    who will prepare your way before you.’

    “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

    Collect of the Week

    Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

    Second Week of Advent

    Advent as a call to joy through repentance.

    There are some things that are very real, and yet very invisible.

    We often see the result of these things, but the thing itself remains unseen.

    Wind may be a good example. Wind is very real—nobody would argue with that. But it is also very invisible. There are no wind particles that make up “wind.” We can see trees or dust or debris being moved by the wind, but we cannot see wind itself. 

    Gravity is another good example. As a force, it is not something we can see. But we do see, and experience, its effects. 

    This is a created universe.

    And as such, this universe operates according to the will of its creator. 

    Much of the work of Science—especially in the fields of Chemistry and Physics—is to simply discover the invisible rules that govern the physical universe. And when humans grow in their understanding of the invisible physical rules that govern the universe, it leads to more flourishing. 

    We can design airplanes that don’t subvert the force of gravity, but rather harness it, along with other invisible forces, to allow us to travel great distances with relative ease.

    This is a created universe.

    And as such, this universe operates according to the will of its creator. And this will of its creator most often plays out through invisible realities—invisible rules that hold the physical world together and ensure it continues to exist.

    This is as true in the moral realm as it is in the physical realm.

    The universe operates—physically and morally—according to the will of the creator. 

    We are capable of ignoring the invisible realities of the physical realm. And we are capable of ignoring invisible realities of the moral realm.

    Sin is the word the Scriptures give us to describe the reality that as creatures, we are capable of choosing to work against the moral grain of the universe.

    Human suffering, evil, discontentment. These are the result of humans willfully operating against the grain of the universe. 

    Our creation was not a morally neutral event.

    We were created to live in accordance with the designs and desires of the one in whose image we were made.

    When we ignore the laws of gravity, there are consequences. For us, and for those around us. 

    And when we ignore the moral laws of the universe, there are consequences. For us, and for those around us.

    You do not always do what you ought to do, because you are not always who you ought to be.

    This is the message of the prophets of the Old Testament. It is the message of John the Baptist—the last of the Old Testament prophets that just happens to come to us at the beginning of the New. 

    It is even the first sermon preached by Jesus.

    Before you can say the all-important “yes” to the ways of God, you have to come to a point that you are tired of the ways of the world. Before you attempt to align with the moral grain of the universe, you have to recognize the specific ways you are fighting against it. 

    A “yes” to God is first a “no” to the world.

    And the word we have for this experience is repentance.

    Repent. For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.

    John the Baptist, by William Wolff

    The Second Week of Advent: Repent

    On the second week of Advent, we ask God for a gift. A gift that we cannot give ourselves. One that requires God to act on our behalf.

    We ask God this week for grace to heed the warnings of the Prophets, and to forsake our sins.

    Repentance is at least three things.

    • It is a recognition that there is an invisible moral grain to the universe. It is an apocalyptic moment, and epiphany. A seeing of things that can’t be unseen. Of course there is a moral law. Of course it works just like our physical laws. It is not a list of rules; it is a force that holds the world together. It leads to flourishing and thriving, to whole human relationships. With our selves, with one another, and with God. Repentance is a recognition that God has created the world to work a certain way.

    • But repentance is also an acknowledgement that we fail to live out the moral law in our own lives. It isn’t a pointing of fingers at those around us or above us or below us. It is owning up to the reality that we fall short. We intentionally and unintentionally work against the grain of the moral law. And we want that to change. Repentance is a forsaking of our sin, a desire to align our lives with the ways of God.

    • Finally, and perhaps most crucially, repentance is knowing that we have no power within ourselves to help ourselves. The first time you see the moral law for what it is, and have a desire to change your ways, you might think that you alone are capable of making things right. Of just trying harder. Of pulling yourself together. 

      But for most of us this isn’t our first rodeo. We’ve been down the path of trying to fix ourselves on our own. It doesn’t simply not work: it most often makes things worse.

      Repentance is a gift from God—one that he never tires of giving. But it is first and foremost just that: a gift. Unearned favor from our creator. 

    We can choose to continue down the path of doing things our way, of working against the grain. Or we can heed the warning of the prophets and repent. We can turn to God for salvation, and for the grace to increasingly align ourselves with His ways.

    What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our capacity for ultimate Joy.

    We will stand before our creator one day. 

    Those who seek the grace of repentance here and now will be prepared to greet that day with Joy.

    So this is the message of the second Sunday of Advent:

    Repent, and learn to live a life the runs with the moral grain of the universe now, so that when you meet it face to face on That Day, you will be able to greet Him with Joy.

    Gospel Reading: Matthew 3:1-12

    In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

    “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
    ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
    make his paths straight.’”

    Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

    But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 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. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

    “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

    Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent

    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.

    First Week of Advent

    Advent as preparation for judgement.

    What is the theme of each week of Advent? and What do each of the Advent candles represent? are the sort of questions that illicit a wide range of answers. 

    It is probably most common today for the themes of Hope, Peace, Love, and Joy to be linked to each of the four weeks of Advent. An older tradition asks us to focus on the four last things during this season: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Still others would have us focus first on the Old Testament people of God, then the Old Testament Prophets, then John the Baptist, and then finally on Mary. 

    On first glance it is hard to find a common link between these various approaches to Advent. But I think you can see how each of these themes are in some way centered around one or more of the three advents of Jesus.

    Throughout Rhythms of Habit we will follow the lead of the Book of Common Prayer in suggesting themes of each week of a particular season. More specifically, we will take our themes from the Collects (prayers) for each Holy Day and Holy Season, as well as their assigned Gospel readings.

    On each of the Sundays of Advent, I will share the text of the Gospel passage and the Collect for the week, along with a few comments about how these themes can help us faithfully approach each week of Advent.

    If you are theme-less this Advent, use those provided by the Book of Common Prayer as your guide. If you already have a theme for each week provided by your church, dive head-first into those themes and use the Rhythms of Habit emails as helpful supplements along the way!

    Keep reading below for the First Week of Advent theme and reflection.

    The First Week of Advent: Preparation for Judgment

    As you read the Gospel passage and Collect below, it is worth taking a moment to consider a few things. I have also found it helpful to pray the Collect below each day of the first week of Advent.

    • Judgement is a good thing. In the end, we want all things to be set right. We feel this sense most strongly when we have been wronged. The problem is that we, too, often find ourselves in the wrong.

    • You will stand before Jesus, and see him face to face. In God’s mercy, we might just enjoy that encounter.

    • Preparation for that Day involves God’s gift of grace in our lives, followed by our own effort. When we emphasize one of these things at the expense of the other we do ourselves a disservice.

    Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-44

    Jesus said to the disciples, “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: 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.”

    Collect for the First Sunday of Advent

    Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

    Advent is Coming: Set your Intentions

    A Holy New Year

    The Church Year begins afresh tomorrow with the First Sunday of Advent! 

    Some of you recently began intentionally following the Church Calendar and are looking for ways to be more formally shaped by this ancient practice. Others of you have followed the calendar for years, and have a fairly seasoned set of traditions for each major season. 

    Regardless of where you are on your journey with the Church Calendar, Advent offers not just an opportunity to prepare for the season of Christmas, but a fresh start—a new year—of Christian discipleship.

    Mark your Intentions

    Whether you are preparing to celebrate a Holy Day or a Holy Season, taking a few moments to set specific intentions ahead of time will help you get the most out of the Church Calendar. These intentions are a series of things you intend to do throughout the upcoming season. They can be things you start, things you stop, or things you intend to change

    Sometimes they are specifically seasonal in nature: I am not going to eat meat on Fridays throughout Lent. Other times intentions for a specific season can be meant as a way of introducing a more permanent practice to your life: starting in Advent—and hopefully continuing for the rest of my days—I am going to read at least a chapter of Scripture every single day. When possible, it makes sense to align the intentions with the general theme or purpose of the season itself. 

    Whatever your intentions and however many you choose to adopt for this season of Advent, keep reading below for a few tips about intentions in general, as well as a broad overview of the season aimed at helping you craft a few meaningful practices for the next four weeks.

    Advent: Jesus is coming

    The word advent comes from the latin word for “arrival’”, and is a season of marking the three arrivals of Jesus:

    • His First Advent (The Incarnation)

    • His Advent in our lives (our own conversion)

    • His Second Advent (at the end/beginning of all things)

    Any intention that helps you reflect upon, recognize, and prepare for any of these Advents is a good one for this season! You can aim to have an intention for each of these three Advents, or just choose one to focus on this year.

    Penitence and Anticipation

    The fact that Jesus is coming is truly good news, but it should still inspire a sense of awe and holy fear within us. How do we feel moments before hosting someone important into our homes? What emotions run through our hearts when an unexpected visitor catches us unprepared? If Jesus walked up to you right now in this very moment, what would you experience?

    The reality is that we are all not entirely prepared to meet our maker. The season of Advent is a microcosm of our entire lives in the sense that it is a period of time that helps make us more prepared to see Jesus face to face. 

    The entire Church Calendar is a cycle of Fasts and Feasts: seasons of reflection, preparation, and repentance followed by seasons of celebration and feasting.

    Advent is one of the fasting seasons. Its liturgical color (purple) is the same as that of Lent. It is a moment to anticipate the arrival of our Savior in part by reflecting on our own need for a savior. 

    The intentions you make during a fasting season will look different from those you make during a feast. In that sense, it might be appropriate for one of your intentions to involve some sort of meaningful fast throughout this season. (I would at least recommend against intentions that include indulging. But don’t worry - feasts always follow fasts, and Christmas is coming!)

    Tips for your Intentions

    • Write them down, preferably somewhere you will see regularly. 

    • Share them with your family and friends.

    • Though there is a place for the occasional dramatic intention aimed at shocking your system, I would recommend that most of your intentions most of the time be realistic and achievable.

    Rhythms of Habit this Advent

    Over the next four weeks, you can expect Sunday reflections on the theme of each week of Advent, plus a few special emails about specific Holy Days found within this season.

    All Saints Day and All Souls Day

    November 1 and November 2

    Thank you for subscribing to Rhythms of Habit! As we enter the month of November, it is worth noting that Advent—the beginning of the Church Year—is quickly approaching. If you know someone who may enjoy these emails as we enter a new Christian year together, please encourage them to subscribe or consider purchasing a gift subscription on their behalf.

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    The Communion of Saints?

    The Apostles Creed includes an affirmation that may strike many modern Christians as unusual. In a relatively short Creed that has served for almost two millennia as a basic outline of Christian belief, we find this line:

    “I believe ... in the communion of saints.”

    Among the doctrines central to the earliest Christian church, the affirmation that we (the living) remain in communion with the faithful departed was considered important enough to include in a summary of the Christian faith.

    In the spirit of passages like Hebrews 11, All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2) teach us to honor most those people most worthy of honor. And in the spirit of passages like Revelation 21-22, these Holy Days also remind us that death is not the end, and that at this very moment a great cloud of witnesses comprised of those who have gone before us are offering praise to God in the heavenly realm.

    (You can read more about why saints are worthy of commemorating throughout the year in the Why celebrate Saints? article that is now unlocked for free subscribers.)

    So for today, continue reading below for the fascinating history of these two Holy Days, as well as a habit to adopt as we encounter them year after year.

    An icon of the nineteen martyrs of Algeria, Written by Odile. (Icons are not drawn, they are written.) You can read more about these monastic martyrs here, or in the wonderful film Of Gods and Men.

    All Saints Day

    The earliest celebration of something akin to All Saints Day had the specific purpose of honoring those who were martyred for their Christian faith. As early as the beginning of the 4th century, Christians set aside a day to honor these martyrs, though they usually did so in the spring, and often in conjunction with the season of Easter and Pentecost.

    By the year 800, Bishops from modern-day England (Alcuin of York) and Austria (Arno of Salzburg) noted their celebration of All Saints Day on November 1st. Within a century or so, the Church of Rome universalized that date, which most western churches still recognize today.

    As the Christian faith became increasingly legalized throughout Western civilization, the church began to expand its honoring of martyrs to include all those who lived as faithful witnesses in their various contexts. (The word martyr, though generally reserved for those who have died for their faith, simply comes from the Greek word for witness. To die for Christ is a bold witness to the Gospel, but so is living for Christ.)

    Since many “famous” saints have their own days of commemoration throughout the Church Year, it is common for All Saints Day to be a recognition of the relatively unknown and even unnamed saints throughout the ages.

    A Collect for All Saints Day

    Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

    All Souls Day

    All Souls Day (November 2) follows All Saints Day, and shares a common theme of honoring and following the examples of those Christians who have gone before us.

    But All Souls Day is more specifically a commemoration of all the faithful departed—not just those recognized formally or informally as saints—with a special emphasis on those whom we have lost in the past year.

    Many Christian traditions continue to offer prayers for the dead, a practice that dates back to the earliest centuries of the Church. These prayers are not attempts at overriding the will of those who have passed, nor are they aimed at coercing God to act in a manner outside of his nature. Rather, these prayers are a means of expressing to God our love for those who have died, and of seeking to follow their Christian example in our own lives before we meet again in the life to come.

    The Book of Common Prayer contains a short catechism, and I find its answer about why we might honor or pray for the departed to be worth considering, whether or not doing so is a regular practice of yours.

    Q. Why do we pray for the dead?

    A. We pray for them, because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, until they see him as he is.

    Below are a two examples of such prayers, taken from a liturgy for burials in the Book of Common Prayer.

    Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to you our brother (sister) N., who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism. Grant that his death may recall to us your victory over death, and be an occasion for us to renew our trust in your Father's love. Give us, we pray, the faith to follow where you have led the way; and where you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, to the ages of ages. Amen.

    Father of all, we pray to you for N., and for all those whom we love but see no longer. Grant to them eternal rest. Let light perpetual shine upon them. May his soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

    Habit to Adopt

    Make a list of names of those whose passing has impacted you in the past year. For those who come to mind, you may find it helpful to also write a brief note about the example they have set for you in Christ.

    On these two Holy Days, make time to thank God for their life, and pray that their examples may live on in your own. You can spend time praying spontaneously, or you could consider using one or more of the prayers above as a guide.

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