Monday, August 1, 2016

Listening to Love

You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.   
M. Scott Peck

I watch my son sit on the couch with a cup of tea when he comes to pick up his daughter after a long day at work; he pulls out his cell phone and disappears. Tugs for attention from his 3 year-old are met at first with, “Just a minute.”  Soon he will resurface and become a fully engaged dad who romps and reads and interacts and loves and listens, but that brief glimpse gives me an inkling of what Sherry Turkle reports in her most recent book, Reclaiming Conversation.

Jesus said to his disciples, “As I have loved you” -- as I have traveled with you, shared meals and conversations and silence with you, spent time face-to-face with you – “so you also should love one another.”

And yet we live in a culture where “face-to-face” interaction is increasingly rare and, for some, even scary. Turkle reports that a lot of kids are growing up with parents who are never more than half-there, constantly absorbed in their texts and emails. When my husband and I were at a small café in northern California last month, I watched parents in the next booth hunch over their respective cell phones while their son, about 12 years old, stared silently out the window. Kids growing up in this kind of eerie silence haven’t experienced deep listening, so they haven’t learned how to understand and empathize with others; they don’t know how to interact in person.


Some stories from Turkle’s book: a father tells of chaperoning his daughter’s 2nd grade field trip, during which he took hundreds of photos with his cell phone. On the long bus ride back, he spent an hour sending the photos out to various friends and texting about where they’d been, totally ignoring his daughter sitting beside him until she finally said, “Dad, put your phone away.” He’d been texting about her, but he never actually talked with her.  This father later admitted that he didn’t know how to have a conversation with an 8-year-old. No wonder a college student reflects, “It’s very special when someone turns away from a text and silences their phone; it sends a signal that they are there, they are listening to you.” But it doesn’t happen very often. A college sophomore states that she would never confront her roommate about a serious issue face-to-face. “It’s too emotional.” They text. A high school senior responds, “I’ll tell you what’s wrong with face-to-face conversation! It takes place in real time and you can’t control what you’re going to say” (unlike a text, which you can edit).

Sherry Turkle acknowledges that, unlike texting, actual “human relationships are rich, messy, and demanding.” That’s what unnerves a lot of young people these days, but that, precisely, is where Jesus calls us to take our children and grandchildren: into that mess, into empathy with one another, into love. Those lonely college sophomores who share a room but not a conversation aren’t likely to develop much a friendship. And that high school senior terrified of face-to-face real time conversation, how will he survive a job interview, let alone the intricacies of love? Like that father on a field trip, like those parents at Woodrose Café, will he find himself in years to come unable to talk with his own child? 

Perhaps Jesus might add another phrase to his commandment: that we listen to one another as a way of learning to love.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Easter breads to make with kids

Here is a favorite for the season. Enjoy!

Making Hot Cross Buns
             Originally these were very plain buns with a cross made out of dough across the top; they were eaten on Good Friday.  Now the buns are sometimes filled with fruits and nuts, then topped with a cross made of frosting.  They are often eaten throughout Lent, as well as on Easter.
As you make these buns with the children, tell them how the bread of sorrow became the sweet bread of celebration.  While you’re working, if you know the old street vendor’s “Hot Cross Buns” call, teach it to them. You can find a lively version here.
            To make hot cross buns, use your favorite basic sweet bread recipe, or go online to find one. You can also use frozen bread dough, defrosted. Whatever dough you use, while you are kneading, you can add either candied fruit or dried apricots and raisins, steamed soft and (for the apricots) cut into small pieces; you can include chopped walnuts, too, if the children like nuts, and flavor the dough with a teaspoon of allspice or cinnamon.  Dough made with four cups of flour will make about 20 buns. After the dough has gone through one rising, punch it down and have the children shape it into smooth balls,.  Set them two inches apart on a greased baking sheet and flatten slightly with the palm of your hand or the bottom of a glass or mug. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Let the buns rise until double in bulk, brush with a wash made of an egg yolk beaten with a tablespoon of milk or cream, then bake for about 12 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks and -- after they are cool -- draw a cross on each bun using a simple confectioners sugar frosting (a cup of powdered sugar, a tablespoon of cold milk, and a teaspoon of vanilla).  Note: if you try to put the frosting crosses on while the buns are still hot, the frosting will melt and slide off.  Hard as it is to wait, do let them cool before frosting! Then eat and enjoy!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Eggs, whales, and butterflies, Easter preparation from 2013 redux

Let's start with the most basic of all Easter activities: dying hard boiled eggs.  Although the intricate designs of Ukrainian eggs are famous, another tradition of the Ukraine is to dye eggs in a single bright color.  For a step by step explanation of how to do this, check out:<>.
Before your Easter dinner, have the children place the eggs in the containers of newly grown grass (from last week's suggested activity).

Historic note:   During the Middle Ages when infant mortality was high, bereaved mothers in the Ukraine took comfort during Easter by sending something tangible to the souls of their children. They told the story of the Blazhenni, spirits who live on the edge of the world where all the streams and rivers come together; these Blazhenni, they believed, were the souls of unbaptized babies.  On Easter, grieving mothers would throw the shells of red-dyed eggs into nearby rivers and streams, believing that when the shells reached the Blazhennni, they would know that it was Easter and they, too, could celebrate.  The Blazhenni were gentle spirits who ate no meat, except on the day the red shells reached them. 
More things to do: Another activity in preparation for Easter is to decorate an Easter Tree with ornaments of eggs, whales, and butterflies.  Choose a tree or shrub in the yard, or bring a branch indoors to use as your Easter Tree. 

In preparation for making whale decorations, tell the children the story of Jonah and the whale (read it from Scripture, paraphrase it on your own, or use one of the many picture books -- Amazon lists 1,618 versions of this story!). Jesus told his followers: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” No wonder the early church celebrated the story of Jonah and the whale as symbolic of Jesus’ death, entombment, and resurrection!
Then as the children work on butterfly decorations, tell them about the metamorphosis of caterpillars into moths and butterflies through the seeming tomb of the cocoon, and tell them that the butterfly--also symbolic for the early church--is still used today to represent Jesus’ resurrection.  Both Golden Books and Scholastic Books offer readable explanations and clear illustrations of the metamorphosis, or you could read Eric Carle’s lively classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 
If you haven’t talked about eggs while coloring them, do so as they make egg ornaments. Since ancient times, eggs have been symbols of fertility and new life.  Many cultures believed that the world began as an egg; the Hindus, for example, said that the “World-Egg” was formed in “the waters of chaos” before the beginning of time.  Christians adopted the egg as an Easter symbol because, like the dry, hard seed that brings forth new plant life, seemingly hard eggs bring forth new animal life.  In both cases, what seems dry and hard and dead actually contains new life.  This hiddenness is part of the strangeness and surprise of Easter itself. 
Additional activities: For activities that echo this theme of hiddenness, have an old fashioned Easter egg hunt, either with hard-boiled eggs or with foil-covered  chocolate eggs.  Be sure to have extras to pass out at the end so that the less successful hunters don’t have empty baskets or bags.  (If the successful egg-hunters complain, tell them the parable of the laborers in the vineyard from Matthew 20; or use Dina Strong’s retelling of this parable in her book The Vineyard and the Wedding.)  Another option would be to get a piñata that holds hidden treasures; if you can’t find piñatas locally, you can online -- eggs, whales, or butterflies! Hang the piñata from a high place, and take turns blindfolding the children and having them swing a broomstick or other long stick at it (remember to have everyone else stand far back while this is going on). When a child finally manages to break open the piñata, all the children get to gather and share the goodies. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

Watching the grass grow: helping children get ready for Easter

(I'm re-posting suggestions from last year.)

Looking at Lent as a purely penitential season isn’t necessarily helpful for children, who often have an exaggerated sense of guilt to begin with. 

While it’s important to acknowledge that we don’t always get things right or behave as we should, it’s also essential to let children know that God loves and forgives, always. Nothing we can do can separate us from God’s love. We always have a chance at new beginnings.

That’s why I’m going to use these last weeks of Lent as a time to suggest ways that families can get ready for the celebration of Easter, rather than provide specific activities for Lent itself.

I’m starting with this first activity because it takes time to prepare – and then there’s the waiting.  We’re going to grow grass.

A week or ten days before Easter, have the children plant wheat grass seeds in small containers such as paper cups or small bowls.  You can check with health food stores for whole wheat seeds (sometimes called wheat berries), or you can get grass seeds to grow for indoor cats from your local pet store or online at such places as (which is the source of the photo above).  

You will also need potting soil to put in the small containers. These containers of grass can then be used as nests for colored eggs and put at everyone’s place at the table for Easter dinner. There's something alive and lovely about growing grass indoors.

For an art activity before you fill the containers and plant the seeds, have the children decorate their containers with pictures of grass or flowers or the sun or bright abstract designs--whatever pleases them.  They can make the designs on paper and tape or glue them to the containers, or they can work directly on the containers themselves if the surface allows. 

Once you have seeds, potting soil, and decorated containers, here’s what to do:

·      * soak the seeds in water overnight 
·      * plant them in small containers of potting soil
·      * water enough during the week to keep the soil damp

Before or after the children plant the seeds, you can teach them the Easter song  “Now the Green Blade Rises.”  Below are three different presentations of the song.

·      * with guitar accompaniment:
·      * by a college quartet:
·      * Ely Cathedral choir:

Slightly varied versions of the lyrics can be found:

Where I live in Maine, the grass outside is often buried under snow until long after Easter.  One year when the snow was especially deep, I planted wheat grass seeds in a ceramic bowl and took it to school where it spent a month on my desk. Adolescent students in my English classes would walk by and touch the growing grass, pat it, run their hands over it. That small container of earth and green evoked such longing for spring in all of us that it seemed a sacred thing in a very secular place.

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springeth green.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Be salt: stories from children

"You are the salt of the earth!" Jesus said in yesterday's gospel.

Another way to put it: "You are what gives flavor to the world. Your good deeds, stirred into the mixed-up chowder that human beings make of life, are what make it savory, what ultimately save it."

"Be salt."

At the family service yesterday, some of the kids passed out a small blank card and a marker to everyone there. "Write on the card one thing you've done this week that was salt," I suggested, "a good deed that might have changed the flavor of someone's day." They wrote, then kids and grown-ups all brought their cards up and "salted" the green cloth-covered altar with their good deeds.

A sampling from the children:  "I waved to a neighbor." "I cried with a friend." "I kept my brother company when he was sick." "I helped my mom."

These kids don't know the phrase "ministry of presence," but they live it. I imagine, for example, the lonely neighbor, perhaps especially isolated this snowy winter here in Maine, whose day was brightened by a happy wave from a child; the solace given by sharing a friend's sadness; the family dynamics that are salted and changed by kindness and companionship; and as I think of these and all the other "grains of salt" scattered on the altar yesterday, I know that each small good deed literally changes the fabric of the universe; each tiny grain of goodness makes a difference, day by day, act by act, person by person.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Celebrating Epiphany: Music, Foods, Crafts, and a Game to Play

star of wonder


Jesse's Song

If you've shared Star of Wonder about the young shepherd who saw the star and led the way,  "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" would be a fun song to follow up with, but it's great fun no matter what! It's an American folk song, easily found online at such places as (music and lyrics), or on YouTube (videotaped performance). 

Star caroling

As the children learn the song, consider having them actually play follow the leader: Put a star on a stick to lead the way, with the children passing the star along after each refrain so everyone gets a chance to be the leader. This tradition of gathering in groups to follow a star while singing Epiphany carols is called "star caroling." Make your star caroling as lively and festive as you like; consider having an adult as the first leader, setting the stage for creative adventuring by taking the children over and under furniture as they follow the star.

Shepherd Costumes

Because Epiphany is a holiday with a tradition of performance, consider having the children make easy shepherd costumes using extra-big t-shirts or pillow cases with arm holes, tied at the waist with a scarf, necktie, or other length of fabric. Then when they parade around singing "Rise Up, Shepherd, and Follow" they'll look like a band of shepherds and shepherdesses. 

on the loose in boston

Royal costumes and caroling

In honor of the Three Kings, those three strangers that Jesse welcomes, you could also teach the children "We Three Kings" and use the same star to lead the way on another costume parade. If you aren't sure of words or tune, you can see it sung here, with printed lyrics or look at Jennifer Avalon's video. To turn shepherds into kings and queens, have each child make a crown, and then, for a royal robe, tie or pin a towel over the shoulders, or make simple capes out of scraps of fabric, held together with snaps, velcro, or pins. Once again pass the star around so the children get to take turns being the leader. 

Combined caroling

Another option is to have the children choose one costume to create, and have a parade of both shepherds and royalty as the children parade from room to room—even outside if the weather is good—singing both songs alternately

House Blessing

Since Epiphany used to be one of the holidays when families would bless their homes, you might consider closing the parade with a blessing of each room in your home, stopping for the children to give thanks for the good things that happen in each space. Weather permitting, you could conclude by circling the outside of the house or apartment building, still following the star, singing the Doxology as a way to bless the place:
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise God, all creatures here below;
Praise God above, ye Heavenly Host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
(For those like me who can't actually sing, star caroling may be more of a "joyful noise" than what anyone would call "music," and I admit that I usually stick with "We Three Kings" because it's more familiar, but it can still be fun, and as children learn the words and tune, their voices will carry you along.) 


For a family game, you could have the children play "Journey of the Magi" by taping a star to the wall, blindfolding them one by one, spinning them gently, then seeing who ends up closest to the star (hence the Holy Family). The child who comes closest to reaching the star could then be the first to lead the star caroling (or the second, if you want an adult to begin). 

Marking the door

Another Epiphany activity is to decorate your front door with the initials of the three kings sandwiched between the numbers of the new year, for example 20 + C + M + B + 13 for 2013. The initials of the magi—Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar—also represent the motto "Christus mansionem benedicat"—or, "May Christ bless this house." If marking the door doesn't work for you, children can write on the sidewalk or street out front. 

After the children finish decorating the door, you can say the words, "May Christ bless this house," or you could do a more formal house blessing

Marking the door

For additional ideas to help celebrate Epiphany, visit 



Because Epiphany celebrates Jesus' manifestation to the whole world as represented by the Three Kings who came from different continents and cultures, a festive Epiphany meal should include a variety of foods from around the world. Select a few easy recipes for ethnic dishes that the children could help prepare. 

Snack: curried peanuts

One easy—and happily noisy—snack you might try is curried peanuts: just pour a jar of dry roasted peanuts into a paper bag, add a teaspoon or so of curry, and have them take turns shaking the bag. (If the children find the taste too strange, suggest that they each put a small amount in a plastic baggie, tie it with a pretty ribbon, and give it as an Epiphany present to a favorite adult.) For older children you might try a more sophisticated recipe that involves some frying. 

on the loose in boston

Soup: peanut butter soup

Make an easy version of peanut butter soup from West Africa (simply blend of one cup peanut butter, one cup milk or cream, and four cups of chicken or vegetable broth, flavored, if you like, with sautéed onions and cayenne pepper). Or try a traditional butmore complex African chicken and peanut stew. 

Main course: stir fry

Help the children prepare a Chinese stir fry. If they're too young to help cut up vegetables, you can use already cut-up frozen vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, sugar snap peas, and whole green beans: have the children put them in a strainer and run hot water over them for a minute, drain well, and pat dry with paper towels. Stir fry the vegetables quickly in a frying pan or wok, adding cut up meat, poultry, or fish if desired; season the dish with soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and a little honey. Top the stir fry with sprouts if you like, and serve with rice. Another easy stir fry recipe can be found here. Or, for vegetarians, try a simple recipe for tofu and vegetable stir-fry with ginger

Bread: crescent rolls with hidden messages

Adapt the Chinese fortune cookie idea by rolling up lines from Scripture or from Epiphany carols or other simple messages inside crescent shaped dough. Some sample fortunes are:
* "You are the light of the world"
* "Follow your star"
* "God's angels are with you"
* "Take delight in the Lord, and you shall have your heart's desire"
* "Arise, shine, for your light has come."
Type the messages and cut them into strips. For the dough, you can use your favorite bread recipe, frozen dough, or refrigerated crescent dough in a tube. 

If you start with the tubes of crescent roll dough, follow the directions for separating the rolls, brush them with butter, then place the folded messages at the wide end of the triangles, then roll them up, starting at the wide end; bake as directed on the package. 

Working with homemade or frozen (defrosted) dough, roll it out into circles about one quarter inch thick, brush it with melted butter, cut the circle into 8 or 12 triangles, fold the typed messages in half or thirds and place them at the wide end of the triangles, then roll them up, starting from the wide end. Curve each roll into a crescent moon shape. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the rolls on a greased cookie sheet, let rise for 20 minutes, then bake until nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes. 

Dessert: Epiphany cake, sometimes called a King Cake

For a basic version, use any spice cake recipe baked round, either in a tube pan or two round layer cake pans, topped with a dairy-based frosting: whipped cream, cream cheese, or sour cream. Or you can try a French version, or a Spanish "King Cake."

It's traditional to bake a dried bean—or an almond—into the cake, and the one who gets the bean is then hailed as King or Queen. Besides being given a paper crown to wear, the King or Queen can be the first to name the best blessings of the past year—a nice way to close the meal, with everyone naming blessings. 

This meal includes foods from the three continents of the Kings: Africa, Asia, and Europe—but feel free to experiment with plenty of other ethnic dishes as well. 

Decorating for the meal

For additional crafts, you can have each child make a star shaped name card to put at his or her place at the table for the Festal Meal, or you could have them make ornaments for next year's tree. (If you have kept the Christmas greens until Epiphany, also take time during the day to put away the tree and other ornaments; if the children want to display their new decorations, you could make them into a mobile by suspending them on different lengths of thread from a coat hanger.) 


In Star of Wonder, Jesse pressed his hand into fresh snow to make a star shape. Instead of making star-shaped name cards, you might want to consider buying a plain white paper tablecloth (sold in most supermarkets and discount stores) and have the children decorate it with finger-painted handprints in a variety of colors.

Apple stars

The children can also make star prints made from cut apples. To make apple star prints, fold paper towels and put them in foil pie pans; soak the paper towels with tempera paint; cut an apple in half crosswise to reveal its star-shaped core; press the cut apple to the paper towel and then to the tablecloth. Tape the tablecloth to the table—or the floor—to keep it in place while the children work. If you do this at the table itself, each child could make a star print or a handprint right in the place where he or she will sit for the meal. 

For more detailed directions, visit the apple star stamping page at

Monday, December 30, 2013

Carrying Christmas into Epiphany: Celebrating the Rest of the Season!

Merry 6th Day of Christmas! A week from today, on Jan. 6th, it will be time to celebrate Epiphany, a great way to extend the season with family and friends! Later this week, on Thursday, I'll post some ideas for games and foods and music for Epiphany, but today I'm offering a little background along with some of the legends and traditions associated with the season. You can find more about Epiphany on the website for the book Star of Wonder  -- which is where these illustrations are from. (This would be a perfect book to share with children as part of any Epiphany celebration.) 

Why Celebrate Epiphany?

The joyful energy of Epiphany has always inspired games and pageants, music and meals. It's a multi-cultural celebration because the Three Kings who followed the star to find the Holy Child came from different cultures and continents. 

star of wonderEpiphany comes at the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas—on January 6th. Although American tradition focuses on Christmas Day as the primary day to give and receive gifts, in some southern European and Latin American cultures, Epiphany is actually the accepted time for gift-giving. Instead of expecting Santa Claus to deliver presents on Christmas Eve, children wait for the Three Kings to bring them gifts on Epiphany. 

When my children were little, I could never finish all my shopping and planning by Christmas Day, so spreading out the celebration between Christmas and Epiphany became a happy solution (besides, it let me take advantage of post-Christmas sales). It also helped refocus Christmas Day on the Holy Birth instead of just the glut of presents. 

Epiphany comes after older children are back in school, so it can feel like a special treat to have the holiday season extend into "ordinary time."

And if, by chance, you are separated from your children (or grandchildren) on Christmas itself, you still have the chance to share this very special holiday together.

star of wonder 


Epiphany celebrations throughout the centuries: Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holidays, celebrated since the second century in the Eastern Church. In its early years, Epiphany was a double celebration honoring both the birth and the baptism of Jesus. The Syrian church maintained a combined festival, seeing the baptism as Jesus' "spiritual birth," and in some places Epiphany is still called "the holiday of the second birth." 

star of wonderThe Western Church adapted Epiphany to focus on the visit of the Magi, wise men (often called "kings") from afar who were able to interpret the stars. The whole Epiphany season celebrates manifestations of Jesus to the world; seasonal readings in the Western Church begin on January 6, Epiphany Day, with Matthew's account of the visit of the Magi, while the following Sundays in Epiphany include readings about Jesus' baptism by John in the Jordan, his first miracle at the wedding feast in Cana, and the miraculous feeding of 5000. 

For the shepherd boy Jesse in Star of Wonder, holding the hand of the infant Jesus is his Epiphany, his "aha!" moment of recognizing the Holy Child. 


Festival of Light

star of wonder

Because of the bright star which led the Magi to the Holy Child, Epiphany also became a festival of light.

This was especially evident in the huge bonfires in the center of each village as everyone brought Christmas trees to be burned on Epiphany Day, singing,
Farewell to thee, O Christmas tree!
     Thy part is done
     And thy gifts are gone,
And thy lights are dying one by one.
Remnants of this tradition endure in places that still have a Christmas-tree-burning on Epiphany; when my children were little, they looked forward to "the beautiful fire" at the town dump as part of our Epiphany celebration. 

Good-bye to the tree

Good fortune was said to come to those who kept their Christmas greens until Epiphany. One European tradition connected to this belief was called "Plundering the Tree." On Epiphany, villagers would go from house to house and dance around their neighbors' trees, then eat the last of the Christmas treats. The hostess would have taken the ornaments off the tree and set them in piles around the room, and each guest would choose a pile to take home to use next year; in this way, Christmas decorations circulated among the whole village year by year. At the end of the evening, all the plundered trees were taken to the center of town and burned. 

Plays and parties

Although the visit of the Magi on Epiphany was celebrated with a certain solemnity during the Middle Ages, it became an occasion for wanton frivolity during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I—so outrageous, in fact, were the antics presided over by the Lord of Misrule that the Puritans rejected not only Epiphany but Christmas as well because the whole holiday season seemed to have lost religious significance and become an excuse to party. Epiphany was celebrated at court with jesters, jugglers, music, storytelling and plays. In France, the performer who received the most applause was clothed in a scarlet robe and crowned as King, reigning over the evening's festivities. Performances of one sort or another remain part of the Epiphany tradition even into more recent years. "We Three Kings," the well-known Epiphany carol, was actually written as part of a pageant at General Theological Seminary in New York City. 


star of wonder 

The Three Kings on their journey

In Matthew's original account of the Magi, no specific number of wise men is given. Although Syrian tradition says there were twelve wise men, most note only three—based on the three gifts they bring of gold, frankincense, and myrrh—and most traditions name them as kings. 

Tertullian writes of Epiphany as the "festival of kings." In the "Armenian Childhood Book," an apocryphal writing from the end of the sixth century, the Magi are called three Persian kings, and an angel—not a star—shows the way. 

The Venerable Bede, who died in 735, called the Magi "kings" and gave them names: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. He also established their backgrounds as being from the three known continents: Europe, Africa, and Asia.

The Three Kings in later life

According to legend, St. Thomas the Apostle late in his ministry found the three Magi and baptized them as Christians. He ordained them to the priesthood and then as bishops. At the end of their lives, the star which led them to Bethlehem appeared again and reunited them. Their remains were brought to Constantinople in the fifth century, then to Milan, and finally to Cologne in 1164. Their shrine in Cologne is still popular among pilgrims. Since the Magi are known for their journeys, they are often named as patron saints of travelers. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Jesse Tree finale: the Story of John the Baptist

Elizabeth was Mary's relative and a descendant of Aaron, but like Sarah she had grown old without having any children. Her husband Zachariah was a priest, and one day as he was burning incense in the temple, an angel appeared to him and told him that he and Elizabeth would have a child. Their son was John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus, and who baptized Jesus at the start of his ministry:  
     "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized [by John] and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him like a dove."

Luke 1:5-24, 3:21-22

Potential ornaments for the Jesse Tree: a bee (because John ate wild honey), a dove (for the Holy Spirit)

This is the last posting for the Jesse Tree. Tomorrow begins a new chapter in salvation history: the birth of Jesus, the Holy Child who became our Savior. The long wait is over; Christmas is here. May the blessings of this holy season bring peace to your hearts and your homes. 

For those wanting to extend the Christmas season, on Monday I'll post some suggestions for Epiphany activities, games, and foods. Enjoy the full 12 Days of Christmas!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jesse Tree: the Story of Joseph and the Angel

Joseph, a carpenter, was a descendant of the great king David. He was a good and righteous man, engaged to Mary. When he learned that Mary was pregnant, he was greatly troubled -- but an angel of the Lord came 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." And so Joseph married Mary, and they traveled together to Bethlehem where Jesus was born.

Matthew 1:18-25

Potential ornament for the Jesse Tree: a saw

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Jesse Tree: the Story of the Annunciation

Many years after the people of Israel had returned from Babylonian captivity to their own land, Rome claimed Israel as part of its Empire. It was during this time of Roman occupation that God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee "to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary." The angel told Mary that she had been chosen by God to bear a child, "and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High...the Son of God." Mary answered the angel by saying, "Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word."


Potential ornaments for Jesse Tree: an angel, a lily (symbol for Mary)

Jesse Tree: the Story of Daniel in the Lions' Den

During the time of exile in Babylon, the Israelite Daniel served under King Darius.  When the king signed a law that any  person who prayed to anyone, divine or human, besides the king himself should be "thrown into a den of lions," Daniel continued to pray to God.  He was caught by men who were jealous of him and brought before the Babylonian king.  Now King Darius was distressed because he liked and respected Daniel, but the jealous men reminded him that no law the king had made could be changed, so Daniel was thrown into the lions' den.  The king spent the night fasting, and in the morning "the king got up and hurried to the den of lions."  Daniel was alive!  He said to King Darius, "My God sent an angel and shut the lions' mouths so that they would not hurt me."  The king freed Daniel and threw his accusers to the lions instead.  Then he wrote to all his people, advising them to "tremble and fear before the God of Daniel:  For this is the living God, enduring forever."

Daniel 6

Potential ornament for the Jesse Tree: a lion

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jesse Tree: the Story of God's New Covenant with the People in Exile

During the time of exile, when the people of Israel had been captured in war and taken away to Babylon, the Lord spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah.  Even though it was their disobedience that had led to their captivity, God grieved over the people of Israel and promised a new covenant, a new beginning:   "It won't be like the covenant that I made with Moses and Aaron and Miriam and all the Hebrew people when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.  This time I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

Jeremiah 31:33-34

Potential ornament for the Jesse Tree: a heart

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jesse Tree: the Story of Elijah and the Ravens

Many years after David reigned, Ahab became king of Israel.  He was an evil king: "Ahab did more to provoke the anger of the Lord, the God of Israel, than had all the kings of Israel who were before him."  Ahab even let his wife Jezebel talk him into serving false gods.  During this time, the Lord spoke through the prophet Elijah, telling Ahab that because of his wickedness "there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."  The land became dry and parched, but God sent Elijah to live in the wilderness east of the Jordan River, and God sent ravens to bring food to Elijah every morning and every evening.  The drought lasted three years, and in all that time, God continued to look after Elijah.

1 Kings 17:1-7

Potential ornament for the Jesse Tree: a raven (or any black bird) 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Jesse Tree: the Story of David's Anointing

The boy Samuel grew up to be a great prophet.  At this time, Saul was king over Israel, but Saul had stopped paying attention to what God wanted.  So God spoke to Samuel: "How long will you grieve over Saul?  I have rejected him from being king over Israel.  Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided myself a king among his sons."  (Jesse, remember, was the grandson of Ruth and Boaz. He's also the one who gives the Jesse Tree its name.)  So Samuel went to Jesse's house in Bethlehem.  God said to Samuel, "The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart."  Instead of choosing any of the older, stronger sons, God chose the youngest boy, David, saying to Samuel, "'Rise and anoint him; for this is the one who will be the next king.'  Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward."

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Potential ornaments for the Jesse Tree: a horn of oil, a crown

Jesse Tree: the Story of God's Call in the Night

Samuel was a young boy who served God in the temple under the direction of Eli, an aging priest.  One night Samuel heard a voice call him by name in the darkness, "Samuel!  Samuel!" and he said, "Here I am!" and rushed to see what Eli wanted.  But Eli had not called him.  This happened three times.  "Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy," so he told him next time to answer, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening."  And the next time Samuel heard his name called in the night, he answered to God, and was given a vision of the future.

1 Samuel 3:1-18

Potential ornaments for the Jesse Tree: an oil lamp, a candle