A Moment of Grace

A Devotion for the Seventh Day of Christmas on December 31, 2017

Read John 1:1-5

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:5

In 1979 the American Embassy in Iran was overrun and those who lived there were taken hostage. The first contact the West had with the hostages was at Christmas that year.  Some clergy were allowed to go in and conduct religious services. William Sloane Coffin was one of those.  Two armed students met him at the  Embassy, led him  to a room and left him  there.  Eventually,  they returned with four of the hostages, Marines who had been assigned to guard the Embassy.  Coffin  passed out books of Christmas carols, and played the piano while they sang.   Afterwards, he passed around his Bible and let each person read a part of the Christmas story.

As he spoke to the men, he told them that the Holy Family had been rejected, abandoned, and isolated in a barn. But God’s love changed that barn into a holy place. “This will not be your most joyful Christmas, but it could be your most meaningful one.”

Asking everyone to join hands, he invited the Iranian guards to join hands with them. To his surprise, they did. Standing in the circle Coffin prayed that “they might experience a moment of grace when, in the sight of God, there be neither American nor Iranian, neither captive and captor . . . but that their hearts would be big enough to receive the Christ Child, and that one day they might gather around the manger as one family.”

Coffin said he could see one of the Iranian guards was crying, trying to fight back the tears. “I began to weep, too, because after all, that is why God gave us tears. To wash away all bitterness, the sorrow, and the anger.”

Jesus was born into a world that needed light. In that light, in that love . . . bitterness, sorrow and anger can wash away.   Tomorrow begins a new year, a fresh canvas to be painted on with our actions, thoughts, commitments, compassion and our love.  It is  a year where we can be people who live  in the  confidence there is one who washes away  bitterness, sorrow and anger . . . One who brings us new life.   May the New Year be a joy and a gift to you.

Prayer: God of Christmas, may we remember that the light you sent in Christ came into the world to stay . . . To light our journeys, illumine our darkness and lead us to life in you. Be with us in this New Year in all we encounter and in all we face.   May we trust in the power of your light and the joy of your presence. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Do Not Lose Heart

A Devotion for the Sixth Day of Christmas on December 30, 2017
Read II Corinthians 4:16-18

“So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.” II Corinthians 4:16

The world Christ was born into was a dark and troubled one. Long years of bondage to a foreign power had broken the spirit. September 11, 2001 troubled the waters of our country. Around the world, candles were lit. Each lit as a sign of light against the darkness that tore us apart. Often, it is in moments when we are most broken that we are most conscious of the light of Christ. Light comes as a sign of hope when all else is obliterated by darkness and despair.

The story is told of a European town which was known for its beautiful stained glass window. The window was shattered in a storm. There was nothing to do but store the pieces in a box. Some time later a stranger, hearing of the loss, asked if he could have the fragments. They were useless to the villagers so he easily received the permission needed. Two years passed. One day the people of the village were invited to a showing of the work of a famed artesian in a nearby village. When the artist unveiled his work, there were the fragments of stained glass – seemingly useless after a storm, but now fashioned into a window of far greater beauty than the original.

The apostle Paul would write, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

God is the one who takes the fragments and splinters of our lives, then remakes them. Christ came not only to save us from our sins, but to take our lives and transform each one into a masterpiece. The message of Christmas is not only that Christ came, but that Christ continues to come, again and again whenever . . . wherever there are those waiting to receive him in.

Prayer:  Holy God, You are the one  who restores and remakes us.   Come to us again this day.   Take the shattered pieces in our lives that need your  healing touch.   Reassure us of your presence and care.    In those moments when we are ready to lose heart,   remind us that you are the one who takes the tattered pieces of our lives and turns them into places of beauty.  Help us to trust  that we really  are held in your hands of  love.    Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Confronting Evil – Even at Christmas

A Devotion for the Fifth Day of Christmas on December 29, 2017
Read Matthew 2:13-23

“A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:18

Lest we had forgotten, we have been reminded of evil again and again these last weeks. Mass shootings in Las Vegas, in a church in a small town in Texas and a near miss with a school in California have all been poignant reminders that evil is among us. The promoters of evil do not take Christmas off.

In a perfect world there would be no Hitler’s, Osama Bin Laden’s. Certainly no Herods or people like Herod who think nothing of killing the innocents. There would be no children starving in Syria, or mutilated in the Sudan.  There would be no children forced to be soldiers and no deaths on the streets of our cities. But we do not live in that perfect world. We live in a world where good people get hurt and bad things happen to very good people all the time. We live in a fallen world where the forces of evil coexist with good. Daily we are given the choice to embrace the evil in us and in others, or to embrace the good. We live in a world where the forces of evil catch even the best of us. We can  reject God and in that rejection do terrible things, cruel things. We can act out of fear and follow the darkness of our diseased hearts.

Herod was such a man. He was a paradox, a man who could be generous and kind. He managed to keep peace in a place that had not known peace for long years. It was Herod who had renovated and enlarged the temple in Jerusalem. During an economic downturn he had remitted taxes and in the years of famine had his own gold plate melted down to buy food for the poor.  But as the years passed he became more and more paranoid. Terrified that he would be overthrown, he did terrible things to protect himself, evil things. He ordered the assassination of three of his sons, had his wife and her mother murdered. Augustus said of him that it was “safer to be Herold’s pig than his son.”

At the rumor a future king had been born in Bethlehem, Herod was again terrified . . .  So much that he ordered the death of every infant and toddler boy under the age of two. Joseph, warned in a dream flees to Egypt with his wife Mary and the child Jesus. Of the other children in Bethlehem we know nothing of their story. Were their children hidden and kept safe, or others spirited away? We know only of those left behind whose mother’s heart break and Rachel’s tears flow as they cry for children who are no more.

In Bethlehem, we come face to face with evil and the consequences of evil. The slaying of children, be it by Herod’s sword or a terrorist attack, leaves those who remain to pick up the pieces of life. In a perfect world there would be no need for a savior, no need for a Jesus. God’s answer to evil was to send a child born in the little village of Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ. The world will have it Herod’s, Hitler’s and Bin Laden’s. There will always be people acting out of greed and grasping for power. There will be those with misguided ambitions causing hurt and pain. Some will try to put out the light in Christ.  But the light that is Christ will not go out. No evil is so strong, nor darkness so great. There is nothing that will take the light of Christ out of our world.

Prayer: God of light and goodness, Remind us when we face evil, when we are afraid and it seems like our world is out of control . . . that you are here. You are here to walk with us as we face the evil. You are here to give us strength and courage for today and hope for tomorrow. Remind us that though we may have tribulation in this world that in Christ you have overcome the world. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Christmas is for Those Who Refuse to Grow Up

A Devotion for the Fourth Day of Christmas on December 28, 2017
Read Luke 2:25-38

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:29-32

Joan Chittister, in her book “In Search of Belief” speaks of Christmas as “a strange season. When you’re a child, it is a season of presents. . . . A season of parties . . . but when you get older, Christmas changes color drastically. Suddenly, out from behind the advertisements and big dinners, through the haze of old carols and soft candles, past the dazzling altars and sumptuous crib scenes, we begin to see what Christmas is really all about. Christmas is about finding life where we do not expect life to be ‘There is a child’ she says, “in each of us waiting to be born again . . . Christmas is for those who refuse to give up and grow old, for those to whom life comes newly and with purpose each and every day, for those who can let yesterday go so that life can be full of new possibility always.”

The world has always had its seekers – people looking for what others are unable to see. Simeon has waited for signs of this coming messiah for a very long time. Each day he would search the temple for a sign until one day a young couple enter the temple with their newborn son. There in the arms of Mary his mother, Simeon recognizes the Christ.   Christmas is never real until we recognize the Christ of Christmas . . . until we turn and worship him. Cards, gifts, celebrations of the season all have their place and their joy. But the richness of Christmas is found in the Christ who came to journey with us, to be our Lord, to be our Savior to come again and again and again as he journeys by our side.

Prayer: Lord Jesus, In this season of Christmastide, may you become real to us. May we recognize your presence in our lives. Help us to surrender ourselves into your loving hands and trust you with our lives and our being. Come, Lord Jesus come. Come and fill us with your presence, with your peace and with your healing touch. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Each Child a Miracle

A Devotion for the Third Day of Christmas on December 27, 2017 
Read Luke 2:21-24 

“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” Luke 2:22

Holding a newborn gives us a sense of awe and wonder. We marvel at their tiny fingers and toes. My youngest daughter was two weeks old before it was safe for me to hold her. I wondered at this tiny, tiny child who could fit in my hand. By the time I held her, I had almost given up on ever having her out of her isolette and into my arms.

Every child is a miracle. Each one a gift. Realizing that the child’s well being depends on you can stir us to deep humility. In our hands there lies one to be molded and shaped by our actions and love . . . Shaped by our values, hopes and dreams. Our children will discover what is important in this world and what is not through us. That child will look to us to build a foundation he or she can rely on. Through our nurturing our child will learn about compassion, faithfulness, integrity and love for God.

Mary must have been a remarkable people for God to trust them to be the parents  of Jesus.  Together they would teach Jesus his earliest prayers and show him the way of righteous living.  Mary and Joseph will encourage him and help him to grow into the one who would come as messiah, the Christ. But those early days, were ones to simply love their baby, cradle him in their arms, quiet his cries and give him the reassurance that he was loved.

Prayer: God of the children, Thank you for the children you have set in our lives. May we always be conscious that what they see and hear in us has an impact in their lives. May we be people who encourage, support and nurture the children. May we be faithful to the trust you have placed in us. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Telling the True Story

A Devotion for the Second Day of Christmas December 26
Read Luke 2:15-20

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Luke 2:20

Rich Barger and his family lived in Iran during the revolution that eventually led to the overthrow of the Shaw. On Christmas Eve 1978, they were gathered around the Christmas tree in their home in Tehran. They were under a mandatory curfew; otherwise he and his family would have worshiped in a local German church. On that night they would do church in their home.

As nighttime fell, he writes, “we heard the sounds we had become accustomed to hearing each night. We would hear voices shouting in Farsi from the rooftops; ‘God is great!’ and ‘Death to the Shaw!’ and ‘Death to America’ we would hear the deafening rumble of armored military transports rolling down the street outside our door, taking soldiers to their positions in the city. We would hear machine-gun fire and other eruptions of violence. Inside, my wife, a friend from the US, and I were singing Christmas carols as loud as we could to keep our small children, whom we held in our arms from hearing the mayhem outside.”

Two stories were being told that night. The story told in the street was a version of one of the oldest stories, the story of Cain killing his brother Abel. That story has been reenacted in every age – a tale of the quest for power and the use of force to seize it. It is a story we have never been able to resolve. The second story told that night was the story disclosed in the words of our carols. ‘Hark the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the newborn king; Peace on Earth and “Mercy Mild, God and sinners reconciled. Silent Night, Holy Night! All is calm, all is bright – round yon virgin mother and child.’ Only one of these stories can be true. Only one will have the last word.”*

At Christmas we dare to proclaim the Light of Christ which is the true story . . . God’s story. It is the story of how light came into our world to stay. Darkness has not overcome . . . will never overcome it. For Christ came to be our light, to be our hope, to be our peace and to give us life. On that holy night, the shepherds returned, telling everyone they could find all that they had seen and heard. The spoke of angels with a message of  “Peace on earth,” a child wrapped in “swaddling clothes” . . . and of angels singing “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Prayer: God, you send us messengers. We look for halos and wings, but most often your messengers come wrapped in the ordinary faces of friends, neighbors or the strangers who surprise us with care. May we hear the messages you are sending to us, embrace the words and follow, even when we wonder how what we hear can possibly be true. Amen

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Christmas – He is Born

A Devotion for the First Day of Christmas on December 25
Read Luke 2:1-14

“And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

My first memory of hearing these words, comes from the Christmas Pageants of my childhood. There would be that magical, mystical moment when under dim lights we would see Mary, Joseph and the baby. We would ponder God’s gift to the world. When I became a teen,  I went from being in the pageants to planning them.    One pageant stands out in my memory. I was directing the play in my small childhood church. Curtains were hung on a string that ran from behind the piano to the other side of the church. Between the wall and the piano  were some very rambunctious angels.

At one point in the play, the angels managed to pull the curtains down. We were forced to make speedy repairs. Throughout the pageant, a teenager was singing a song of eighteen verses spaced between scenes of the play.  We were near the end of the program, lights dimmed and only one  small  light on the piano to see by, when one of our angels pulled the cord. Our light was gone. We were left to sing and play by the light of a solitary street light.  As Mary sang, in the darkened sanctuary, one could sense that Christmas had arrived, in spite of or because of . . . our Messed up angels.

Anne Weems writes in her book, “Kneeling in Bethlehem”
“Each year the Child is born again.
Each year some new heart
finally hears, finally sees, finally knows love.
And in heaven – there is great rejoicing!
There is a festival of stars!
There is a celebration among the angels!
For in the finding of one lost sheep,
the heart of the Shepherd is glad, and
Christmas has happened once more.
The Child is born anew – and one more knee is bowed!”

God’s message of forgiving and reconciling love . . . continues to break into our world, even on this day, when tensions between the nations rise and fears abound. Christ was born  for a time like this time, to remind us of both our future and our hope.

Prayer: On this Christmas Day, we give you thanks O God, for the gifts of life and hope in Jesus, for the wondrous gift of love. Pull us back from our wanderings and open our hearts to joy. May we know the gift of your love and your presence in our hearts. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions