Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

An Advent Devotion for December 11, 2017                                           Read Psalm 103:1-13

“For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is (God’s) steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,  so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children,  So the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” Psalm 103:11-13

Willa Cather’s story, “The Burglar’s Christmas” portrays a young man named Willie who moved west seeking his fortune.  The story takes place on Christmas Eve.   Rather than a fortune, Willie loses everything he has.  Both  destitute and  ashamed of the person he has become, he stops sending letters to his parents.  He simply disappears from their lives.  On that Christmas Eve,  Willie  has spent the day  wandering  the streets of Chicago.    Having neither food nor friends, he decides to break into a nearby home. Willie has done many things since leaving home, but never before has he stooped to theft.  He tells himself that he was owed some food, at least on Christmas Eve.   Slipping into the strange new house, he is puzzled by familiar items . . . Items from his childhood. Had his parents  moved in the years since he last contacted them and he had somehow stumbled into their home?

Just as he is about to grab something and leave his mother catches him stealing.    There is both shock and hope in her face as she recognizes him.  She can only say, “O, my boy, we have waited so long for this! You have been so long in coming, even I almost gave you up.” Looking up with eyes full of shame her son responded, “I wonder if you know how much you pardon.”

“O, my poor boy, much or little, what does it matter?” she asks. “Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon or forgiveness, that it is only loves, and loves and loves?”

Love, loves and loves and loves. The story of  God’s grace and forgiveness is that even as we live out the consequences of our mistakes, the sting of sin is removed from us. God offers us fresh beginnings, new opportunities and the certainty that the stain of yesterday is behind us. God touches us with pardon, compassion and forgiveness. As far as east is from west, God does remove our transgressions from us. Charles Wesley reminds us of this in his Christmas carol, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.

“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Prayer: God of compassion. Thank you for your grace and kindness, for offering us new beginnings, freed from the weight of yesterday’s mistakes. When we doubt your love, when we wonder if we are forgiven, remind us that your forgiveness is real. Remind us that you came to set us free from the mistakes of yesterday and our fears in today. Help us believe this promise is not only for others, but also for us. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

A Bruised Reed He Will Not Break

An Advent Devotion for December 10, 2017      

The Second Sunday of Advent

Read Isaiah 42:1-4

“A bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.” Isaiah 42:3

Today, your life might be tumbling, helter-skelter around you. You may simply be scrambling to find your way or afflicted with chronic pain. You may be feeling unfairly judged or criticized . . . hemmed in by circumstances which you have little control over.
Today, you may be buried by stress, heartaches, life’s sorrow and pain. You may be wondering what God has to say to you, in your pain. You may be asking what future you can you look to? You may be feeling like a “bruised reed, a dimly burning wick.”

I think of the people I know who have struggled with the same question. Illness, homelessness, chronic pain or botched medical care cause us to wonder where God is. I think of a woman who slept with a knife under her pillow, afraid of her husband’s anger. I think of parents who struggle with the chemical dependency or mental illness of a child, or who agonize over the too soon pregnancy of a teen. I think of couples where one spouse quits working in a marriage. Broken hopes and messed up dreams shatter our lives.

The book of Isaiah says of God’s promised one, “A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick, he will not put out.” The scripture tells us that in the midst of all that might consume our hopes . . . in those moments we feel God more by absence than presence, we have not been forgotten. God’s compassion is for people who are hurting, for all who have been battered and bruised by life. James Montgomery’s Christmas Hymn, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” reminds us that it was for the hurting and battered in life, that Jesus came.

“He comes with succor speedy
to those who suffer wrong;
to help the poor and needy,
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in his sight.”

Prayer: God of Mercy and Compassion, In those moments when we wonder where you are, and if you care, send your messengers of love to us. Remind us through the scripture of your great care for us. May we see your hand in unexpected kindnesses, note and calls from friends, in the compassion of a stranger. Open our eyes to your mercies and kindnesses today. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

A New Heart

An Advent Devotion for December 9, 2017                                 Read Ezekiel 36:25-27

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you.” Ezekiel 36:26

Who among us does not need a new heart from time to time . . . one that is not tinged with resentment, envy, self-righteousness, greed or selfishness. We make mistakes. We do some really dumb things. We hurt people we don’t want to hurt, and neglect people who need our care. Negative experiences in our lives can harden our hearts. Not wanting to be hurt or be used again, we push people away. We turn our eyes from human need, ignore the cries of the world’s people and forget, that we too have a need for forgiveness and grace.

God, knowing our human condition, promised “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Daniel Schutte’s beautiful and powerful hymn, “Here I am Lord” is a response to God’s call in our lives. In one verse we hear God speaking to us echoing the words of Ezekiel,

“I, the Lord of snow and rain,
I have born my peoples pain.
I have wept for love of them. They turn away.
I will break their hearts of stone,
Give them hearts for love alone.
I will speak My word to them,
Whom shall I send?”

Chorus: Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night
I will go, Lord, if you lead me
I will hold your people in my heart.

Schutte’s hymn calls for a response from each of us. Will we go? Will we hold God’s people in our heart?

Prayer: Lord of Advent, as we journey to Christmas, may our hearts become more open, more generous, more kind. May we answer your call to go and hold your people in our hearts. Melt, Lord, our hearts of stone and give us hearts for you alone. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Advent – Emmanuel, God With Us

An Advent Devotion for  December 5, 2017                                        Read Isaiah 7:14

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” Isaiah 7:14

The word Emmanuel means “God with us.” Early Christians looked at this passage as one which pointed toward Jesus as the messiah. God with us means that there is nowhere in life we can go, that God is not present. God is with us when our world crashes and God is with us when our hearts are full of joy. God never promised a life without pain, anguish or struggle. There was no promise we would have simple answers to complex questions. We were not promised that we would not get sick, have an accident, or succeed at our every effort. God did not promise we could go through life without trouble, pain, sorrow, hurt or loss.

Today, you may be struggling in your personal life. Some hardship or loss has taken hold. You wonder how you will make it and if you will have strength for tomorrow or the day after. Sometimes you wonder if there is any use in trying. You may be asking where God is in all of this . . . the job, family issues, health crisis or painful loss.

While God did not promise to take away our pain, God did promise to be with us in it. The promise was, that God would be with us in the struggles we faced each day. Jesus came to walk among us. He came so we would know there was nothing in life or death we would ever face alone. That hope and certainty has sustained me in my most difficult moments.

It is the same hope that causes the early hymn writer to pray:
“O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Prayer: Loving God, you know how the pain in our lives can overwhelm us. Our hearts break. Hurt and loss threaten to devour us. In those moments, remind us that you are near as a breath and a prayer. As we pour out our hearts to you, may we find both comfort and peace. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Advent – The Promise of Peace

An Advent Devotion  for December 4, 2017                                    Read Micah 4:1-5

“He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more” Micah 4:3

The image of a day when nations no longer go to war and the tools of war are recycled into tools of providence instead, encourages our souls. Who among us doesn’t want there to be an end to war, and an end to soldiers dying or being maimed? Who of us doesn’t want an end to the death, injury and harm of innocents forced to flee for their lives? Who doesn’t want an end to the suffering of people trapped by war?

God gives us a vision so we will work for it . . . A vision that encourages us to work for peace and not for war. It is the vision in the Christmas song which Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne captures in the music “Do you hear what I hear”

“Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light.”

 

Prayer: God of peace, your vision seems so far from us. Pictures of war fill our screens. Obstacles to peace appear insurmountable. We fear a nuclear disaster. We ache for the wounded soldier. We cry for the lost children. Our hearts bleed for lost lives. May we begin to look at your words of hope, not only as a dream, but your dream for all of us to live into. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Advent – Jesus Came to Save the World

Advent Devotion  for the First Sunday of Advent,    December 3, 2017  

Read John 3:16-17

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17

One of the first verses I learned was John 3:16. “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.”    It would be years before I realized the importance of the verse that followed it. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17    The writer of the gospel of John  wanted us to know that Jesus was sent into the world, not for destruction, but to save the world. The world, as God claims this world, includes not only human beings but everything in it.

God’s care extends to the whole of creation. Every creature, every plant is cared for by God. Jesus referred to the lilies of the field being clothed by God, reminding us that not even a sparrow falls, without God’s loving concern. I find great comfort in knowing God’s intent in Jesus was to bring about the salvation of the world and all that is in it. We hear that yearning expressed in John Wesley’s Advent Hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”

Prayer: God, you called this world into being. In the birth of Jesus you came to proclaim your love for the whole world and all of its people. May we carry that same vision in our mind and spirit as we begin our Advent journey. May we love as you love. Amen

 

Christmas Will Come and Go – But the Christ of Christmas Will Remain

Candle

Christ Came as Light

Some years back, a person kept taking a cab to the same location several days in a row. He simply asked the driver to stop at a certain place where he would sit and stare out the windows. After the third night, the cab driver became suspicious. He contacted the police who came to talk to the man. The man told the officers that his wife was very ill. The future did not look good. He wasn’t, he said, a very religious person and found it hard to pray. Pointing to the stained glass windows, glowing in the darkness of a nearby church, he said, “Something about its light gives me strength and peace and somehow, looking at it, I have the words to pray.”

Something about Christmas and that light which came into our world gives me strength. Strength to face trials, hurts and the inevitable losses that life brings. It gives me strength to face whatever lies ahead for good or for evil. Because God chose to be present in our world, not only for a season, but for all time.  Christmas is about hope. It is about the light that breaks into our darkest night, our most anguished moment. Light that gives direction when we are confused or broken. Light that surrounds us and embraces us. We never really come to terms with Christmas and what Christmas is about, until we realize that Jesus was born for us – you and me. Light came into the world to meet every single one of us in our personal darkness.

I’ve been reminding myself of this as the season of Christmas has come with complications in my family. An extended hospitalization for a family member with surgery scheduled just before Christmas, has changed agendas and plans as well as created anxiety. Other family will be out of town. The forecast is not conducive to trust that many of us will be able to get together.

I’m reminded that this Christmas will come and go, but the Christ of Christmas will remain, shedding light into our world. A light that does not diminish with the years or shine only for a season, but lasts through each day. Christ came into our darkness to be our light, to be our hope, to be our peace and to give us life  – not only in the distant future  – but here, today,   at this moment.   The New Testament writers looked to the words of Isaiah to describe the changed reality. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined.” (Isaiah 9: 2)   There really is something about that light that stirs the soul, moves the spirit, encourages us and gives us strength.