“The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.” Genesis 49:10

On Sunday, April 6th, 1862 the Union soldiers were still cooking their breakfasts when they heard shots in the distance. Camped out near Shiloh Meeting House, the open field was only supposed to serve as a pit stop on the trek down to the Confederate rail center in Corinth, Mississippi. However, a patrol of Union troops stumbled upon 35,000 Confederate soldiers on the outskirts of the Union camp and one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War ensued. With over 100,000 troops engaged and over 20,000 casualties by the end of the fighting, the Battle at Shiloh was the bloodiest occurrence on American soil up to that point in the country’s history.

At the center of all the fighting stood the small Shiloh Meeting House. The Messianic use of Shiloh, meaning “he to whom it belongs,” is found only once in Scripture, in Jacob’s blessing to his sons in Genesis 49. While Shiloh was also a town in Ephraim, the term is alone used with prophetic connotation by Jacob. In blessing his son Judah, Jacob declares that Judah’s tribe will hold the scepter until “he to whom it belongs” comes. Christ, we know now, is the one to whom it belongs.

But it is not just the scepter that is Christ’s. We know from Colossians that all the world was created in and through him. Christ is Shiloh, he to whom it all belongs. I am often left wondering, however, whether Christ would still claim it? In a world were the events, such as the one at Shiloh, Tennessee, have become common place, why would a perfect God choose acknowledge ownership over such a messy reality?

In the incarnation, we are given the answer. Christ, in the incarnation comes, and shows in taking on human flesh and human nature, that it all belongs to him. In the incarnation, Christ claimed every moment from Jacob’s death to a spring morning in Tennessee and beyond. In the incarnation, God, in Christ, surveys all of creation and declares “…this is mine.”

Post by Ben Gibson

Now Prepare for God a Way

Hark, the voice of one who cryeth in the desert far and near,

Calling us to new repentance since the kingdom now is here.

Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way;

Let the valley rise to meet him and the hills bow down to greet him.

Several weeks ago my choir director Terry and I went to a set of lectures sponsored by the New Haven chapter of the American Guild of Organists. The first of these lectures investigated the impact Martin Luther had on the work of J.S. Bach. It was interesting to hear how prevalent hymn singing was in the daily life of Lutherans in Bach’s time. People sang at work and at home. They even sang at executions. So the words and melodies that provided the root for much of Bach’s church work would have been recognized by the congregation. The presenter described some of the choral cantatas as “Hymn Sermons,” with the initial choral quoting known verses and the following recitatives and arias as elaboration on the hymn’s meaning. One of the recurring themes of Luther’s hymns, and thus Bach’s cantatas, is a bit of Lutheran theology that I find very beautiful.

At least in the time of Bach, Lutheran theology acknowledged three advents, or comings of Jesus. The first advent is the birth of the child Jesus. The second advent is the arrival of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in the heart of each believer. The third advent is his final coming in majesty, when all people will fall before him and all that is will be made new. Without this second advent into our hearts, neither the first nor the third advents have any meaning. The first is merely a funny little story, and the third is the end of all things without the promise of everlasting life.

With these three comings in mind, I want to consider what the Liturgical season of Advent, the season of preparation, may be asking of me. I can hardly be making preparation for the coming of the baby Jesus. Those preparations were made over 2000 years ago, and were well heralded by stars and angels. Neither can I really be making preparation for the final coming. For one thing, no one except the Father has any idea when that coming will occur. It is hardly reasonable for me to prepare for an event for which I have no date. For a second thing, I think that the final coming is going to be so world consuming that whatever preparations I could think to perform individually would be immaterial next to its grandness.

So I propose that the preparations I am called to make are actually for the second coming, the daily arrival of the Holy Spirit in my heart. And I do mean a daily arrival. I am a creature that exists in time, which experiences constant change, so my ability to accept the Holy Spirit must be changeable as well. Not that this acceptance cannot become a habit. It most certainly should. I just do not believe that this regular acceptance of Jesus can be taken for granted, or can be viewed as a single event that must leave me forever changed. Some days my preparations will be spot on, and I will joyfully receive the full measure of the spirit. Some days the arrival of the spirit may be startling. Some days I may not be prepared to receive the spirit at all either through distraction or the presence of dark forces. The important thing is that as an individual I have the goal of preparing a way so that God’s will may be done on Earth, through me, as it is in Heaven. Only through daily preparing and enacting God’s will can I build the Kingdom here, and truly prepare for the final glorious advent.

Post by Anne Carroll

Comfort, comfort

Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God;

Comfort those who sit in darkness mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.

Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them;

Tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.

Comfort, comfort ye my people.

For most of my life I have heard these first words as a command. And in Isaiah chapter 40, from which this entire hymn comes, these words are a command. God is speaking, saying “You, Isaiah, speak comfort to my people Israel. Tell them that I have not abandoned them and that all their suffering is coming to an end.” It is also possible to hear these words as the proclamation of a promise. Instead of speaking to Isaiah alone, God is speaking to all the people saying, “You, my people. There is comfort. There is peace waiting for you.”

Recently, I have needed to hear both the command and the proclaimed promise. I am acutely aware that several people who are dear to me are struggling with mental and emotional health in ways I cannot understand. They are people sitting in darkness, and I need to know that there is comfort for them. “Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul, and why are you so disquieted within me? Put your trust in God, for I shall praise him, my help and my God.” Psalm 42.5

But, I also want to know how I can be the messenger of that comfort. I do not claim to be a poet, but these are some words to express my longing to be present and comforting for these friends who are so precious to me.

Know thyself?

I am a joyful person

To be without joy

Is to not be me

Depression is not who I am

So it has not power to keep me

Are there people

Who know themselves to be depressed people?

Is that a state of true being

As joy is my state of truth

Can one fix what is not broken?

Or is it merely something to be managed

Like myopia or chronic migraines

How can you tell a depressed person

“Stop being yourself.”


I wish I could smooth away

The wrinkles of doubt that furrow your brow

And vacuum up the dust of it

That lies on your heart

Leaving the shining surface

That is your confident self

But I do not have the power

To remove the tarnish forever

So I will tell you again and again

How wonderful you are

How powerful, how beautiful

How lively, and how lovable you are

I will reveal your true self to you

Again and again

Because that is what you do for me.


Post by Anne Carroll

Let Earth Receive her King

the WORLD !


These words, inspired by Psalm 98, were written by Isaac Watts about three hundred ago and they are just as relevant for to us today as they were for him. They are so rich in meaning that I didn’t even give you the full sentence! I want to start by thinking about the opening word “joy.” It is a most wonderful word. I think that “joy” runs much deeper than happiness. In the book of Job the Lord is talking to him and says: “Where were you …when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God
shouted for joy?” (Job 38). I love these words as I find light shining in and through the darkness very encouraging or uplifting–somehow this light “speaks” of hope to me.

At this time of year, advertisers want to persuade us that we can purchase “joy,” but our Creator God has a very different view. He gives His people the best possible gifts at no cost to them which leads us directly to the phrase “the Lord is come.” (The present tense of the verb “is” stands out to me. The author could have said “did come” or “will come” but in saying that “the Lord IS come” the author is implying that this LORD is alive now!) At CHRISTmas we remember that God sent his only son, Jesus Christ, as a baby: “For GOD so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that EVERYONE who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Let earth receive her King.

Amen, come Lord Jesus.

Post by Terry Hare

Mary, did you know?

I was surprisingly moved by this contemporary Christmas carol.

The person who shared this carol with me is herself a living testimony.  Her life was transformed when Christ was born in her.  For almost twenty years, it has been a joy watching her become fully alive as the Spirit has reshaped her life.  Overnight she went from a sullen teenager to a bright, vivacious young woman with a contagious smile.  Having grown up in the inner city, she chose not to leave, but to become a teacher and to pour her life into the most at-risk middle-school girls–girls like her.  Many have received from her the mothering and family they needed.  Having grown up in broken homes, she and her husband have worked through their pain to create a loving, welcoming family with three adorable, healthy children.

One of the things I love about this version of the carol is the way it appeals to friends from all backgrounds — from the inner city, from other countries.  The group itself reminds us how we become one community as we come to Jesus.

Post by Paul Smith

Jesus as the Great Shepherd

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep…”
Hebrews 13:20

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” John 10: 14-15

I love the image of Jesus as the Great Shepherd—noble, rugged, striking a pose upon a hill with the sunset in the background, silhouetted with the classic crook, ready to defend his flock at the first sign of danger… I might be idealizing the pastoral lifestyle, but it’s relatively easy for me see Jesus as our regal King and Shepherd who reigns over the world and lords over his fields.

The next step in the metaphor is much harder for me to picture: If Jesus is the Great Shepherd, that makes me… a sheep… Not his friend hanging out in the fields, not a joint member in the family business, not even his pen pal. I’m his livestock.

Admittedly livestock are valuable to the shepherd, but not for very glamorous reasons. Sheep are not intelligent beings; they’re not valuable for their personality or wit or charms. They’re only valuable because they’re his flock.

It’s difficult to swallow, but the reality for us then is that we are not valuable to Jesus for our winning good looks, our impressive resumes, our stellar reputations. We’re only valuable to Jesus because we are his people and he loves us, so much so that he would descend to our level and become like a sheep for a little while in the person of Christ show us his love.

The real kicker of the whole thing is that the distance between Jesus, the Son of God, and us, sinning mortals, is exponentially wider than the gap between a human shepherd and a sheep. Jesus was at the right hand of the Father! He was in heaven! And yet he chose to come down to be with us, incarnate in human flesh, to save his livestock, not because we are in any way worthy, but because he cares for his flock.
Post by Norma Hilary Gibson

Come, Lord Jesus

O, come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,

And be yourself our King of Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to you, O Israel!

The text for “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” dates back almost a millennium. The lyrics stem from Latin antiphonal singing done by monasteries in the days leading up to Christmas. The seven days before Christmas each contained a different antiphonal cry, naming Christ. Among those is the object of reflection today: Christ as the Desire of Nations.

In declaring Christ the Desire of Nations—a title describing the coming work of God in Haggai 2:7—the hymn proclaims the comprehensiveness of Christ’s work or the earth. While each of Christ’s names carries a promise with it, this name carries perhaps the most unexpected of promises. I feel more or less safe positioning Christ as king of my heart, my mind, and my soul. But this name of Christ promises that Christ is the true ruler of individuals, communities, and entire nations. This name is simultaneously terrifying and comforting. To sing this verse is to declare “I am not my own…I belong to another.” In this advent season, I must recognize the advent as a call to salvation, but also as a call to obedience to King Jesus. But I desire a good king, the only good king.

Moreover, this name of Christ speaks to me in the tensions of this present world. I see and feel the confusion of terrorism, racism, and injustice. It is easy to see such events and think that God is removed from such moments in history. But political theologian Oliver O’Donovan reminds us in his book, Desire of the Nations: “Earthly events of liberation, rule and community-foundation provide us with partial indications of what God is doing in human history; while, correspondingly, we must look to the horizon of God’s redemptive purposes if we are to grasp the full meaning of political events that pass before our eyes” (2). History will find its end in the Desire of Nations: divisions will cease and hearts will be bound.

In this season of advent, claim Christ Jesus as King. He is the Desire of Nations.

Post by Ben Gibson