Skeletons in the Closet

A Devotion for The Eleventh Day of Christmas January 4, 2018
Read Matthew 1:1-17

“An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew 1:1

The world Matthew lived in did not normally include women in the list of ancestors. Which is why the record of Jesus’s birth recorded in the gospel of Matthew is so important to us. It includes the names of five women, last of whom is Mary, mother of Jesus. Each suffered from prejudice in one form or another. Each woman included in the genealogy of Jesus has been a person on the outside. Through the words in the first chapter,  Matthew tells us that the Savior came for people who are the least loved in the world.  He does that  by naming the skeletons in the closet of Jesus.

Each of the women have compelling stories. Tamar’s story is found in the 38th chapter of the book of Genesis. Tamar is a young widow. In her world it was expected that when her husband died his brother would become her husband.  The tradition insured that the line of the lost child would continue, as well as support his widow.   Judah was Tamar’s father-in-law.   When  Tamar’s husband died,  she married his brother.   But, then that brother died.  Judah was convinced that Tamar was jinxed.    With the passing of years Tamar realized that Judah was never going to allow her to marry another of his sons.  Yet, she cannot legally marry anyone else. One day, disguised as a temple prostitute of a pagan religion, she meets Judah on the road. He spends time with her and she becomes pregnant. Some months later Judah  is outraged when he learns that Tamar is pregnant. He is ready to put her to death – until he discovers he is the father of her child. Among the ancestors of Jesus is the woman Tamar. Matthew is telling us that the Savior comes for people who have been unloved and unwanted.

The story of Rahab is told in the 2nd Chapter of Joshua. The Israelites are ready to move into the promised land. Rahab is a prostitute, forced into the trade by her economic circumstances. She offers to protect the scouts who stay at her home,  as she comes to believe that their God is the one true God. Rahab is brought into the community of Israel. According to rabbinic tradition, she is one of the four most beautiful women in the world and remembered for her kindness and courage. Among the ancestors of Jesus is Rahab, mother of Boaz. Matthew tells us that the Savior comes for those who have not always been proud of the way they have lived their lives. The Savior comes to give fresh starts and new beginnings.

The Familiar story of Ruth told in the book of Ruth, is the third woman named by Matthew. She is from Moab, a land and people hated by the Israelites. After her husband’s death, Ruth insists on going to Bethlehem, the ancestral home of her mother-in-law Naomi. Soon the village of Bethlehem sees Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law. They see her kindness, loyalty, and goodness. In spite of her immigration status she wins the hearts of the people and the heart of Boaz. Matthew tells us that among the ancestresses of Jesus is a foreigner. The Savior comes for the immigrant, the alien, the foreigner – anyone who is an outcast in society. Matthew tells us that the Savior came for people who have not found acceptance elsewhere.

The Wife of Uriah is the last before Mary to be mentioned. We find her story in the 11th chapter of II Samuel. Her name is Bathsheba and her story could be on the front pages of our newspapers. A powerful man and King takes advantage of her. She is caught between love for her husband and being a subject of a king. Her husband is off on the field of battle when King David spots her one day. She is a beautiful woman and he wants her for himself. Not long after he sends for her, he discovers that Bathsheba is pregnant. David decides to cover the deed by sending Uriah into the front lines, knowing he is likely to be killed in battle. Uriah dies, then David takes Bathsheba for his wife, but their first child dies. Bathsheba experiences losses and tragedy. She is violated by a king. Her husband dies in battle. Her life is manipulated by David. Since her first encounter with David, her life becomes crisis after crisis, filled with loss and pain. Later she will give birth to Solomon. Bathsheba stands in the line of Jesus as a statement that Jesus the Savior comes for those who have been violated and used by others.

Most all of us have some kind of skeleton in our closets. Along with the ancestors and family stories we tell only in whispers, there are the deeds we are ashamed of.   We remember moments when  we lost our temper. There are words we would take back if we could and attitudes which have been  destructive. We carry shame for things that have happened to us . . . ones we blame ourselves for. We keep our secrets tucked away. There are regrets and actions of an earlier day.

The promise of Christmas is, that the Savior comes for those who have reached their emotional and physical limits. The Savior comes for everyone who has felt forced by circumstances to compromise their deepest beliefs and values. The good news is that in Christ there is forgiveness for sins, a place for the outcast and acceptance for those who are living with shame. Most of all there is a love which frees us from our prisons of fear, of shame and of guilt.

Prayer: Loving Savior, You came to walk this journey with us. You came to free us from the hurt, pain, guilt and shame of yesterday. In this day, may we be willing to surrender our hurts, our pain, our guilt, our shame to you, trusting that in your love you will accept and love us even  as we are. We give thanks for the message that each of us is loved and cherished by you. Amen.

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

I Have Called You by Name

A Devotion for The Tenth Day of Christmas on January 3, 2018
Read Isaiah 43:1-2

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1b

Moss Hart lived in the early 1900’s. His family was desperately poor. One year his father had taken him shopping on Christmas Eve. As he told the story, he said, “The cluster of lights ahead were those of 149th street and Westchester Ave. And those lights seemed to me to be the brightest I’d ever seen. Tugging at my father’s coat, I started down the line of push carts. I would merely pause before a push cart to say with as much control as I could muster, ‘Look at the chemistry set,’ or ‘There’s a printing press,’ or ‘Look at the stamp album,’ and each time my father would pause. He would ask the push cart man the price and then without a word, he would move on to the next push cart. Once or twice he would pick up a toy of some kind and look at it and then at me as if to suggest that this might be something that I would like. But I was just a ten-year-old kid and my heart was set on a chemistry set or a printing press. There they were, on every push cart, but the price was always the same and soon I looked up and saw that we were nearing the end of the line. Only two or three push carts remained. My father looked up too and I heard him jingle some coins in his pocket and in a flash I understood it all.”

My father had managed to get about 75 cents together to buy me a Christmas present and he hadn’t dared say so in case there was nothing to be had for so small a sum. As I looked up at him, I saw a look of despair and disappointment in his eyes that brought me closer to him than I had ever been in my life. I wanted to throw my arms around him and say, ‘It doesn’t matter. I understand! This is better than a printing press. I love you!’ But instead we stood shivering beside each other for a moment and then we turned away from the last two push carts and we started silently back home. I didn’t even take his hand on the way home nor did he take mine. We were not on that basis. Nor did I ever tell him how close I felt to him that night and that for a little while the concrete wall between a father and a son had crumbled away and I knew that we were two lonely people struggling to reach each other.”

In moments of deep loneliness, God calls out to us saying, “I have called you by name, you are mine.” God knows our name, speaks to our hearts and reminds us that we are beloved and precious children. Our lives may be imperfect. Our Christmas celebration may have been far less than what we have hoped for. Still God calls to us with the message, “You are mine.” In that message is both our hope and our promise. For if we belong to God, we are God’s children . . . Beloved and cherished children of God.

Prayer: God, You know our name. You love us just as we are. On those days when our lives are far from perfect and crises overwhelm us, draw us close to you. Encircle us with your love and compassion. Renew our hearts and spirits. Tell us again that we belong to you and we are truly yours. Amen.

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

Christ our Hope

A Devotion for The Ninth Day of Christmas on January 2, 2018
Read John 1:1-18

“No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made God known.”

Ann Lomott tells the story of a friend of hers in her book Operating Instructions. The friend had put her toddler son into his playpen in a darkened room, while she tried to catch up on some work. “Her son somehow managed to get out and push in the little button on the doorknob. So he was calling to her, ‘Mommy, Mommy.’ After a moment, it became clear to him that his mother couldn’t open the door, and the panic set in. He began sobbing. So she ran around like crazy trying everything possible, like trying to get the front door key to work, calling the rental agency where she left a message on the machine, calling the manager of the condominium where she left another message, and running back to check in with her son every minute or so. And there he was in the dark, this terrified little child.”

“Finally she did the only thing she could, which was to slide her fingers underneath the door, where there was a one-inch space. She kept telling him over and over to bend down and find her fingers. Finally somehow he did. So they stayed like that for a really long time, on the floor, him holding onto her fingers in the dark. He stopped crying. She kept wanting to go call the fire department or something, but she felt that contact was the most important thing. She kept saying, ‘Open the door now,’ and every so often he’d jiggle the knob, and eventually, after maybe half and hour, it popped open.”

When the language of God seems foreign, when the room is dark and the door is locked and we only want to be free again, Christ is our hope. In Christ we see a crack of lighting spilling under the door. God has entered our world in Jesus . . . God was in Christ – reconciling the world unto God’s self. In him was life, and the life was the light of Humankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never conquered it.

Prayer: God of light and hope, For the light you sent in Bethlehem, for the child who grew up to be the very light of the world, we give thanks. When darkness falls around us, remind us that the light of Christ dwells among us, that you have come to walk with us through the darkness into your joy and peace. Amen.

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

The Power to Become Children of God

Christmas

A Devotion for The Eighth Day of Christmas & New Years,  January 1, 2018
Read John 1:10-17

“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God . . . And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John 1:12, 14

The following quotation from Jose Rizal reminds me that each of us has the power to turn back darkness.  We hold the power to increase light and hope for others.    A single candle he says, added to another and another can change the world.

A Candle is a small thing.
But one candle can light one another.
And as it gives its flame to other,
see how its own light… increases!
You are such as a light.
Light is the power to dispel darkness.

“You have this power to move back the darkness in yourself and in others–with the birth of light created when one mind illuminates another, when one heart kindles another, when one (person) strengthens another.”

“And its flame also enlarges within you as you pass on! Throughout the history, . . . Children of Darkness have tried to smother this passage of light from (person to person) Throughout the history; Dictators, large and small, have tried . . . to darken, . . . to diminish, . . . and to separate (people) by force! But . . . always in the end, . . . they fail!”

“For always somewhere in the world the Light remains! … ready to burn its brightest where it is dark; … a Light that began when God created the world! To do our daily part to increase this Light, We must remember that a candle alone . . . is a small thing, a (person) alone . . . is a small thing, and a nation alone . . . is a very small thing.”

“Remembering this . . . , We must recognize something much more than our indispensability to others. We must also remember their indispensability to us.”* Jose Rizal

Jesus came as light, to share the light and to spread that light through us. In Christ we received the power to become children of God. We received the power to live the life Jesus showed us how to live.    Jesus said, “You are the Light of the World.” Matthew 5:14. In those words he asked us to be people reflecting our lights into the dark places, to be people who care enough to reach out to those in need. To love, even as we have been loved in Jesus.

Prayer:   God of Hope and New Beginnings, as we begin this New Year, may we open our hearts to receive you and accept our place as your children in this world. May our lives reflect your light to all we encounter. Amen.

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

*Jose Rizal is a national hero in the Philippines.  He encouraged the people to be a light for  each other. A gifted writer and poet, in his poem “The Eternal Light” he showed his people a way to be that light.

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