Follow the Star

A Devotion for Epiphany January 6, 2018
Read Matthew 2:1-12

“Going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.” Matthew 2:11-12

Wise men, astrologers, magi – all names for those men who went searching for a king with only a star to guide them and a prophesy to direct their way. It seems a strange quest, this following a star, this search for a newborn king. Yet, follow they do. These magi, search where the star will lead. The journey will cover a thousand miles with an uncertain destination. Yet they set out in a search not only for a king, a promised messiah, but a search for meaning and purpose. They will be surprised as they discover their destination is not a palace, but a humble home in Bethlehem.

Arriving in Bethlehem, they lay their treasures down. Being warned in a dream – they return home in another way. There is a sense that all of us, having gone to Bethlehem and arrived at Christmas, dare not return by the route we have taken. Christmas ought to change us, ought to cause us to be like those who are wise and be different from whom we were before we met the Christ.

It ought to bring us to a place of changed lives. Christmas, encountered in all of its fullness does change us. It causes us to take stock of our lives. It asks us to look at the values we are living by and rid ourselves of those that have neither merit nor value. Christmas ought to cause us to return home a little kinder, more generous . . . less fearful and more faithful. For if it doesn’t we haven’t truly encountered the Christ

The star continues to lead seekers to God’s truth, to kneel at Bethlehem’s child and leave as new people . . . People who have been set free from yesterday’s sins, failures, fears and doubts. Set free to live and love more graciously with a generosity of spirit and with hope in their  hearts.  Brian Wren’s Christmas Hymn shares the message of a changed life.

There’s a spirit in the air,
telling Christians everywhere:
‘Praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working, in our world!’

 When believers break the bread,
when a hungry child is fed,
praise the love that Christ revealed,
living, working, in our world.

 Still the Spirit gives us light,
seeing wrong and setting right:
God in Christ has come to stay.
Live tomorrow’s life today!”

Prayer: God of the Christmas Star, guide each of us as we follow the stars you set in our skies. Lead us again to the Christ, give us dreams to follow and the courage to follow them. Lift our spirits and our eyes to see more clearly your vision for us.  Help us to  trust you to take us where you want us  to be.  May our lives be a blessing.      In the name of the Christ Child we pray. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found by clicking here – Advent and Christmastide Devotions.

Life Wrapped in Unexpected Packages

A Devotion for The Twelfth Day of Christmas January 5, 2018
Read Isaiah 42:8-12

“See, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth,
I tell you of them.” Isaiah 42:9

Writer, Max DePree’s granddaughter Zoe was born during the 24th week of pregnancy weighing only 1 lb.7 oz. In her early days he started to write letters which eventually became the book, “Dear Zoe: Letters to my Miracle Grandchild.”

One day Zoe’s nurse came to him with advice on the importance of his being there for his granddaughter. The baby’s father had left so there was no dad around to hold Zoe. He writes to his granddaughter, “While we were looking at you, a wonderful nurse named Ruth came over to chat. After a few minutes she turned to me and said, ‘For the next several months, at least, you’re the surrogate father. I want you to come to the hospital every day to visit Zoe, and when you come I would like you to rub her body and her legs and arms with the tip of your finger. While you’re caressing her, you should tell her over and over how much you love her, because she has to be able to connect your voice to your touch.’ I’m sure Ruth’s suggestion is going to be very important in our relationship together. I also have the feeling that she has given me something enormously profound to ponder.”

Zoe’s birth is a life changing event for Max. The miracle of her life stretches his heart. Her fragility reminds him that when life “seems most secure, it is unspeakably fragile” and “when it is most precarious it is yet unspeakably good.”

God’s gifts of new life come wrapped in unexpected packages. What looks to be defeat becomes an open door to healing, hope and new life. God moves in our lives to change and lift up. We encounter people whose presence causes us to rethink some of our assumptions.  About the time we are ready to give up, God breaks in with Christmas promises, of Peace on Earth. God entered the world in Jesus to show us a better way to live, to be with us in all of our challenges and especially when life is “Unspeakably fragile.”

Prayer: God of Hope and Promise, Thank you for the hope you brought into the world at the birth of Jesus. We give thanks this hope lasts longer than a single season. When our lives are fragile and we frantically struggle to survive, be with us. Open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to the “new things” you are doing among us. Amen.

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

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.

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