On a Silent Night

Christmas Eve Devotion for December 24, 2017
The Fourth  Sunday of Advent                                            

Read Luke 2:1-7

“While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Luke 2:6-7

Ted Loder tells of visiting a ninety-four-year-old woman named Ann, who said to him, “I suppose that worship is supposed to bring us deeply together and heal us, make us strong and daring . . . Then she added, “And there’s that other part, about ‘without us, God will not.’ I love God for that . . . It makes life so exciting and full.”

Life certainly became full and exciting for Mary. But, I wonder if Mary was lonely that first Christmas Eve as she prepared to give birth to the Christ child.  There she was away from her family in that strange place without the support of people she has known all her life.  There must have been a sense of being so terribly alone.  Confined to a stable of all places with her infant child. Mary  must have wondered about the promises of the angel and why everything had become so difficult for her and Joseph. Indeed, she might well have questioned just what God was doing in all those complications. Scripture records nothing of her feelings. Only later do we read, that Mary “Ponders everything she hears in her heart.”

We too ponder the birth of Jesus. The words of Joseph Mohr’s “Silent Night, Holy Night” draw us to awe and wonder. Every Christmas Eve, when the lights dim and carols are sung, I’m drawn once more into the mystery of Christ’s coming in Bethlehem so long ago.   Near the end of the service when we sing the words, Silent Night, Holy Night my heart grows still with the power of love revealed in Jesus.  Today as you sing these words, may your own heart be warmed with God’s love.

“Silent night! Holy night!
All is calm, all is bright
’round yon virgin mother and child!
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
sleep in heavenly peace,
sleep in heavenly peace.”

“Silent night! Holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
radiant beams from Thy holy face
with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth!
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth!”

Prayer: Loving God, Plant within us the courage that when we are challenged to reach beyond our comfort zones, when your dream grows inside our hearts and you call us to follow you, that we will trust you.    Give us  the inner strength to carry out your vision. Grant us grace to trust your wisdom in calling to us. Amen

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

A Dream and the Voice of an Angel

An Advent Devotion for December 23, 2017
Read Matthew 1:18-25

“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.” Matthew 1:20b

Joseph was confused and hurt. The woman he planned to marry was pregnant. In the first century, the act of betrothal was as binding a covenant as a marriage. Discovering that Mary was pregnant was devastating to Joseph. He loved Mary and didn’t want to hurt her, yet his own hurt was overwhelming. Agonizing over the right thing to do, he planned to set the marriage aside in the legal manner available to him.

Then in a dream, God’s word comes to him. It changes the direction of his life. Confusion was replaced by God speaking words of comfort, encouragement and promise. Often it is when we are most confused that God breaks in, causing us to look at our lives differently. When our plans are disrupted and our world falls apart, God speaks to our hearts. When we listen, we hear God telling us quietly that God’s plan for our lives may be very different from the one we’ve been pursuing. When we listen, when we really hear God’s plan and follow it, our lives take on a significance they did not have before. Joseph listens to the voice of the angel. As he does so he believes this child must be given a chance to be nurtured and loved.

A friend wrote this words, “So it is with all of us. Christlike understanding must be given a chance . . . Must be nourished until it’s big enough to cast a healing saving influence across the earth.” Joseph reminds us to make room both in our hearts and our homes for the Christ child to be nurtured and to grow within us.

Prayer: Loving God, We give thanks for Joseph, who in his confusion followed his heart, listened to your words of comfort and opened both heart and home to the Christ child and Mary. May we also open our hearts to the children you’ve put in our lives. Amen.

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

The Longest Night

What is it about the Longest Night
That captures our imagination?
It’s not a night without end
But a sense of the long wait
till  night’s dangers pass.

Still, Some like  working in the night
amid a quiet camaraderie
of the similarly afflicted
joining together
in their own dance.

I’m a child of both day and night –
The night,
Where God seems close without distractions
of sun and light.

But where would we be without the light?
Some nocturnal animal who sees
Only glimpses of reality, unillumined.
Tonight, the long night
keeps me awake
an unexpected adrenaline high
Without my usual caffeinated waking companion.

This night – A Holy Night,
with memories of loved ones gone
and gifts they gave
While I lived in their presence.

Unwind me God,
From stresses of neither day nor night
but yearnings;
for understanding hearts
missing friends,
now with you
Instead of me.
Still yearning for that perfect Christmas
which can’t exist
Except in imperfection.

Christmas, Your gift to
an imperfect world,
living a nocturnal existence
in need of a savior.
One to lead us
away from ensnarement of dark’s shadows,
And of days.
Pulling us to truth
Your truth
Your yearning for justice.

God in this longest night
be my calm center
my healing balm
My quiet certitude.
Be my stay – tonight
my peace
My all.

The Trip to Bethlehem

An Advent Devotion for December 22
Read Micah 5:2-5

“But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.” Micah 5:2

Bethlehem is called the City of David because the great King David grew up there. Another name is “House of Bread” for it’s fertile ground. It is the place where Jacob’s wife Rachel died and where Ruth found compassion ( see the Biblical book of Ruth).

For Mary and Joseph the route to Bethlehem began when Caesar August decided that everyone needed to return the village of their ancestors to be accessed for taxes. Quirinius was given the job to make it happen. According to the structures in place at that time, Mary and Joseph both had to go and be accounted for.

Unknown to the powerful and mighty and clearly unknown to Augustus, his demand that all people return to their ancestral homeland, will bring about the fulfillment of the words of the prophet Micah
“But you, O Bethlehem . . ,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel”

The wise, proud and powerful make their plans. Yet it is God who works in the midst of those plans, bringing good out of evil, twisting dynamics till truth is born. Michael Perry’s Christmas Hymn reminds us of the prophets and the plans of God.

“Blest be the God of Israel,
who comes to set us free;
who visits and redeems us,
who grants us liberty.
The prophets spoke of mercy,
of freedom and release;
God shall fulfill that promise
and bring the people peace.”

Prayer: Gracious God, remind us that you are working in the world even when the powerful manipulate events for selfish gain, and when they resist the work of your love and compassion. Remind us, that you really are in control, especially when we doubt. Amen.

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

Mary’s Song

An Advent Devotion for December 21, 2017
Read Luke 1:46-56

“He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things . . . ” Luke 1:52-53a

In the least expected of places our hearts are opened to Christmas. For me, it was our annual visit to the Mission Farm in Plymouth MN which housed troubled men, who would otherwise be homeless. Every Christmas a group from my church would go there to sing carols. Eventually, we would end up in their chapel. Then Roger, with his deep bass voice, would sing “O Holy Night.” Roger’s voice would reverberate as he sang out. Each year I would listen to the power of the words and music as they flowed together into a message of hope.

“O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine
Oh night divine.” Placide Cappeau

As the words filled the chapel, I would watch tears come to faces of men broken by life and my own heart would be filled with the essence of Christmas peace.

Mary would sing, “The Mighty One has done great things for me . . . God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation . . . God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:46-53  (Selected verses). Christmas does not depend upon our material worth or even upon our goodness. For Christmas is God’s gift of love in Jesus Christ for all people.

Prayer: God of promise and hope, you do fill the hungry with good things. You send your messengers of love to us when we most despair. You surprise us with compassion and grace. Your words speak to our hearts. For all the moments we were surprised by your compassion and love, we give you thanks. Amen.

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

The Strength of a Mother’s Love

An Advent Devotion for December 20, 2017                        

 Read Luke 1:39-45

“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke 1:41

We know little of Mary, only that she was a young woman/ engaged to Joseph. One wonders what it was about Mary that God chose her. Was it an openness, a love for God? Humility? Was it her strength – her endurance – a mother’s love already buried in her heart that would give her strength to protect her child? Mary would need to be strong as Jesus grew.

I remember another mother -standing over an isolette watching her first son – knowing the difficulty ahead for him. I remember her face. I remember the concern and the pain in her eyes as she shared in her son’s struggle for life. I remember too the joy of each milestone -each battle won – each day which came that was another day, she had not expected him to see.

Beyond the first joy of a child being born into the world, Mary would experience painful moments with her son. There would be times when he would completely mystify her. He would see the world and his place in it differently than Mary had hoped and planned for him. She would wish that life was easier for him. Mary would celebrate the good moments always wondering what the words of promise meant. When her cousin Elizabeth said to her, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” She would remember how Elizabeth said that her own child “leaped for joy” at the sound of Mary’s voice. It would take great faith to walk the difficult journey from Bethlehem, to Egypt, Nazareth and Jerusalem.

Mary reminds us of all mothers who have suffered with a child, grieved over a child’s loneliness or illness . . . All mothers who have wept for a child’s pain.

Prayer: God, you hear the cries of all mothers who weep over their children. You know the pain of a child’s death and the pain of a mother dying.   Comfort those who grieve. Give hope to mothers whose children are sick or hungry. Grant wisdom to mothers whose children are confused or frightened. Grant courage to mothers who live in abusive situations and need to protect their children from injury. To all mothers, pour out your blessings and all the gifts they need today. Amen.

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

A World of Enough

An Advent Devotion for December 19, 2017
Read Isaiah 11:6-9

“The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.” Isaiah 11:8

A missionary in Haiti, helping with relief efforts, told the story of walking with a lawyer one day when they came across a young Haitian boy. The lawyer asked the boy about his future. The child’s response was, “I am working so that all children in Haiti will have enough to eat.” His statement was translated from Kreyol to French for the lawyer as, “The boy wishes to see all children in Haiti have enough to eat.” But the child, who understood French as well as Kreyol, interrupted and corrected the translation, saying, “Wishing for children to have enough to eat implies that I am not working now, and that there is a chance that it may not come to pass. I want you to know that I am right now working so that all children in Haiti will have enough to eat.”

God has always had a special love for the poor – be they the children of Haiti, Puerto Rico, Syria, the Sudan or our near neighbors. God asks us to show our love for people who lead very different lives than ours. That may be through our gifts and donations. Even more importantly, it may be in advocating on behalf of the poor as we support legislation that benefits the poor.

Love must be seen in tangible and concrete ways to be believed. The image of a child playing over the den of poisonous snakes is one of a day when the entire earth is transformed. It is of a world where there is enough for everyone and there need be no fear. Isaiah’s vision continues,

“They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9

Prayer: God of Mercy and Compassion, Even as you have shown compassion to us, may we be people of compassion. Where we have the resources to share, may we be generous to those who struggle daily for the bare necessities of life. In our Advent waiting, strengthen our resolve to live fully into the generosity of spirit you invite us to. May our hearts be full of your knowledge. Amen.

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