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

A Garland Instead of Ashes

An Advent Devotion for  December 8, 2017    

Read Isaiah 61:1-4

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Isaiah 61:1-2a

The people of Israel remembered the days of King David when the poor were treated with justice. But those days of compassion passed and justice was sorely lacking. All was not well in Israel. People yearned for the return of justice. They yearned for a messiah who would change both the present and the future. Jesus turned to this passage when he first spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. Quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah he announced the fulfillment of these words.

He wanted the people of  his hometown to know that he did not intend to pursue any conquering of a foreign power, but the conquering of the human heart. There would be no warrior restoring the wealth and prestige of the nation. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted. He would also leave the unfinished work of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless to his followers.
Howard Thurman captures the essence of Isaiah’s words and Jesus’s call to us in his poem, “When the Song of the Angels is Stilled.”

“When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

Prayer: God of Hope, When we weary in our waiting, when our sense of justice goes unmet, when evil seems to win and all we have worked for is erased – grant us a sense of place. Grant us an assurance that you are still at work in our world. In this Advent, may we be people who feed the hungry, rebuild the nations and always seek to make music in the heart. Amen.

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

Angels Watching Over Me

An Advent Devotion for  December 7, 2017                                Read Matthew 18:1-7, 10

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” Matthew 18:10

Jesus tells us that every child has an angel in heaven whose face is turned to God. Angels show up all over the birth narratives about Jesus. They make announcements of impending births to parents of coming children. They stop an upset fiancee Joseph from ending his promise and relationship with Mary. They warn of danger to the Holy Family. They share the joy of Jesus’ birth with shepherds doing night duty.

Most of us would not make claim to having heard the voice of an angel. One of those mysterious messengers of God, who bring “good news.” Angels are charged with bringing the word of God. We make no claim to having heard angels, yet we are mindful of those messengers who have come to us in our need. Those moments the word of God was spoken to us and we had heard “Good news.”

“She’s going to be alright.”
“The tumor is benign.”
“Your children are safe.”
“He pulled through the surgery.”
“We got to him in time.”
“I’ll be here to see you through this difficult time.”
“You’ve got the job.”
“I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“ No one was injured.”
“I just wanted you to know that I’ve been thinking of you.”

At the sound of those words – we have heard angel’s singing. Our hearts have lifted. We have heard “good news.”

The old African American Spiritual reminds us of the words of Jesus.

“All night, all day,
Angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me”

Prayer: God, thank you for the angels you’ve put in our path, who encouraged us and loved us and whose voices have lifted our spirits. Thank you for the grace of these angels among us, you have blessed us with. May we open our hearts and spirits to love as they have loved us. Amen.

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

Reflecting God’s Light

An Advent Devotion for December 6, 2017                                     Read Luke 1:57, 67-79

“By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” Luke 1:78-79

As a young woman, there was a time when I desperately clung to a thread of hope. When I think back on those days, I’m reminded how people simply cared for me. Near strangers reached out to me. They showed me Christ like love and compassion. The world needs people to care, to show the way through the darkness . . . people who will reflect Christ’s light. People who through actions and words give the gift of hope, expressing love to troubled souls.

Most of us will never be in a position to negotiate a peace deal with Iran, North Korea or Afghanistan or resolve the nations health care crisis. But, each of us can be an instrument of love and hope in another person’s life. We can be a person who lets another know that we care. We can be part of the light splintering the darkness for another person. We can be one who gives the gift of hope.

Zechariah was visited by an angel who told him not only that his wife would have a son, but that his son would prepare the way for the coming messiah. At John’s birth words long held back, spilled out of Zechariah’s mouth as he prophesied. “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Advent is a good season to spread the light of Christ where we live and work, in our homes and in our neighborhoods. For there is one who has shown us the way through the darkness and who guides our feet into the way of peace.

In the week ahead:
Put a candle in your window to remind the world of the way home.
Send a note of love and care.
Give a gift card to a person who is struggling economically.
Call or visit someone you know is discouraged.
Drop some dollars in a Salvation army kettle or volunteer to be a bell ringer.
Give a hug.
Be a friend.   Advocate on behalf of one who needs a voice.
Send some flowers.
Find a way to reflect light to the world.

Prayer: God of Advent, In our Advent waiting, show us who needs us to reach out in love and compassion this season. Show us ways to care, to share what we are able to share. May we be your instruments of love and grace. In our Advent waiting may we reflect your light to the world. 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