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

Each Child a Miracle

A Devotion for the Third Day of Christmas on December 27, 2017 
Read Luke 2:21-24 

“When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.” Luke 2:22

Holding a newborn gives us a sense of awe and wonder. We marvel at their tiny fingers and toes. My youngest daughter was two weeks old before it was safe for me to hold her. I wondered at this tiny, tiny child who could fit in my hand. By the time I held her, I had almost given up on ever having her out of her isolette and into my arms.

Every child is a miracle. Each one a gift. Realizing that the child’s well being depends on you can stir us to deep humility. In our hands there lies one to be molded and shaped by our actions and love . . . Shaped by our values, hopes and dreams. Our children will discover what is important in this world and what is not through us. That child will look to us to build a foundation he or she can rely on. Through our nurturing our child will learn about compassion, faithfulness, integrity and love for God.

Mary must have been a remarkable people for God to trust them to be the parents  of Jesus.  Together they would teach Jesus his earliest prayers and show him the way of righteous living.  Mary and Joseph will encourage him and help him to grow into the one who would come as messiah, the Christ. But those early days, were ones to simply love their baby, cradle him in their arms, quiet his cries and give him the reassurance that he was loved.

Prayer: God of the children, Thank you for the children you have set in our lives. May we always be conscious that what they see and hear in us has an impact in their lives. May we be people who encourage, support and nurture the children. May we be faithful to the trust you have placed in us. Amen.

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

Mary’s Yes, Both Gift and Dilemma

An Advent Devotion for December 17, 2017
The Third Sunday of Advent                     Read Luke 1:26-38 

“The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid . . . ” Luke 1:30

Tom Long says, “Gabriel’s first surprise to Mary was ‘The Lord is with you, do not be afraid.’ You can be sure that Mary was gripped with fear. We call it the virgin birth; I don’t know what Mary called it, a mess, a dilemma, a thorny problem.” Mary’s life becomes quite complicated after that moment of wonder and amazement.  The angel’s visit turns into the hard practicalities of living it out. Trying to explain the coming birth to the man you are engaged to and to your parents was no easy task. Why would anyone believe her outlandish tale?

Yet Mary, having said “yes” – begins the preparations. There is cloth for swaddling to prepare, plans for a birth, a midwife to alert and arrangements to be made. In the midst of what was supposed to be somewhat normal, is an untimely trip to Bethlehem with a child coming. Not quite the exodus or exile of war time, but not the best time to pick up and go on a ten-day trip. Scripture knows nothing of a donkey to carry Mary. No, this soon to be mom is most likely walking the entire distance. Gathering up all which will be needed for the birth, with a child soon to come, Mary & Joseph begin the grueling one hundred mile journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Mary will be deeply  challenged  as she accepts both the difficulties and trials of the journey ahead. She responds with graciousness. The journey will test her often. She will need to remember the angels’ words, “The Lord is with you . . . do not be afraid.”

Prayer: Persistent and caring God, remind us that with you at our side, we do not need to fear the future or the present. You are with us and for your presence we are grateful. Help us to live as people who know that.    Amen.

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

Needing a Certificate of Martyrdom?

A magazine advertisement I once read offered a Frameable Certificate of Instant Martyrdom printed with these words: “The suffering you have had to endure at the hands of life has been almost more than any person can bear. Rarely has such a noble soul been forced to put up with such undeserved agony. In recognition of your extraordinary plight, the Church of World Peace hereby awards this ‘Certificate of Martyrdom.’ ” To receive this certificate” the ad read, “all you need to do is list in your letter three horrible events in your life, enclose $10, and you will have in hand something “to console your misery.”

The writer of Hebrews had a better solution for those times when we feel overwhelmed with the trials in our life. Its author suggests: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses … let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1) In our moments of discouragement, it is tempting to give up . . . Tempting to think of ourselves as the only one who has ever endured the loss, hardship or loneliness that we encounter.

The writer of the book of Hebrews points us instead, to the lives of our ancestors in faith who have walked in painful, difficult places before us. In spite of their trials, they continued to trust in God. Something in me soars whenever I read the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. . . “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen . . . By faith Abraham (and Sarah) obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going . . .all of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth.”

Within its long list of faithful are people who remained steadfast, continued in hope and believed that the final victory was God’s. “Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.”

I generally gain some perspective about the time I reach these verses. Life can be difficult. Heartaches come. Our lives can get really messed up. Bad things happen to some very good people. Our hearts bleed when grief strikes and when grief strikes people we love. What gives me strength, and I believe gave our ancestors in faith strength, is  the assurance that even when life is hard, God is at work.  Troubles come.  But, in the midst of our trials God is with us to walk with us through them.

In your times of despair and doubt, when the race seems hard and you are weary  – Remember that there are those who have run before you on this journey of faith. Those so running would testify to God’s faithfulness and the wisdom of continuing the race. For they know in the deepest part of their being that the final victory is God’s.  Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

Checking Pharaoh’s Power

Shiphrah and Puah are two of my favorite women in the Bible. They are courageous  midwives who defy Pharaoh. Their story is recorded  in the very first chapter of  Exodus.  Pharaoh had instructed them to kill every  newborn baby boy born to Hebrew women.   They not only defy him, but when asked to explain why they weren’t obeying – they use his own prejudices to explain themselves.

Who, but a person blindly prejudiced,would have believed their story?  The story about how Hebrew women weren’t made like Egyptian women that he knew and loved. No, they told Pharaoh,  the  Hebrew women had babies that came so fast the midwives never got to the woman  before the baby was born. This was especially true of their boy babies. It must have been hard to hide their laughter as Pharaoh swallowed their story.  They were, of course, only telling Pharaoh something he already believed.  Those  Hebrew  were different – not at all like him and his kind.

Life in Egypt had started well for the Israelites after Joseph literally saved the people of Egypt. An earlier Pharaoh was indebted to Joseph. He welcomed Joseph’s family  when they arrived in  Egypt, making a place for them.  They found a good place to raise their families. With the blessing of Pharaoh these new immigrants quickly became successful and prosperous. But, memories dim with time. New generations don’t recall details of an earlier one. Memories of Joseph and what he had done for Egypt faded, until eventually, a Pharaoh comes to  power who knows nothing of the story.

Not knowing the story, the new Pharaoh  is afraid of the Israelites. Fearful they will join in war against the people, he decides to contain the people he fears. This was the kind of reasoning that sent thousands of Japanese Americans into camps, causing them to lose their possessions, homes and livelihoods after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. It is what made German Americans suspect during the First World War. The root of all racism is fear – fear of a person not quite like ourselves. We either grow afraid of what we do not understand or seek to understand what we do not know. For the Israelites racism takes a sinister form. First the people are enslaved and put to the hard labor of building cities and monuments to Pharaoh. Eventually, Pharaoh devises a form of genocide, that will effectively rid the nation of Hebrews by eliminating every boy baby born. He assumes he will be able to assimilate females into the Egyptian world.

What Pharaoh was not expecting was the defiance of the two midwives, Puah and Shiphrah. They listen instead to a higher authority. Fearing God, they will not harm their patients or break their trust. Their moral code will not conform to the mind set of Pharaoh. Because the women stayed close to God, they were prepared when faced with the words of Pharaoh.  Puah and Shiphrah chose to live by a higher law. In the process they checked the power of Pharaoh and saved the lives of the children. William Sloane Coffin, wrote, “Fear distorts truth, not by exaggerating the ills of the world . . . but by underestimating our ability to deal with them . . . while love seeks truth, fear seeks safety.” –William Sloane Coffin, The Courage to Love (New York: Harper and Row, 1982), 60

Shiphrah and Puah risk everything. The story could have gone so  differently had they followed Pharaoh’s order – the destruction of our ancestors in faith. Instead,  these courageous women refuse to  violate the trust, faith, hopes and dreams of the people they serve. Throughout history there have been those who have chosen not to follow orders of a Pharaoh – choosing to be true to God instead. Members of the underground railroad helped escaped slaves find freedom. Others joined Ghandi’s long walk to the sea. Some sat at lunch counters in violation of unjust laws, refusing to leave during the Civil right era.  Shiphrah and Puah left us a legacy of courage, in checking Pharaoh’s power. They were life givers – giver’s of hope. Women of courage. Women of faith. Examples to follow.

Grasping Hold of the Vision

Grasping Hold of the Vision

IMG_7702“Where there is no vision, a people perish,” says the wisdom writer of the Biblical book of Proverbs to a son. (Proverbs 29:18a). The writer knew that vision drives our focus. When we invest in what we hope to accomplish – our energy, time and finances are directed that way. To have a vision on a personal level is to invest ourselves in something larger than ourselves. God gives us visions and dreams to follow. Much of the meaning and purpose God intends for our lives comes from committing ourselves to those visions. Which is not to say that every vision is easy to reconcile with our current situation. Our lives may require a radical reshaping if we are to prepare ourselves to follow. There may be an addiction to work through or schooling to get before we can embrace the journey God is leading us on.

I like what Woodrow Wilson said, “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

I was thirty-five, divorced, with seven children when the Call to Ministry hit me hard. It wasn’t that God hadn’t tired before that. From the time I was a teenager I felt a pull to go into the ministry. The years of college and seminary simply seemed too much. At intermittent times along the way, I continued to feel a sense of call to Ordained Ministry. But always there were complicating factors that easily convinced me that this was an impossibility.

I was, of course, only finding excuses not to pursue the call that God had set in my heart. Fortunately, God is not put off by our procrastination or our running away. God’s persistent call continues to follow us throughout our lives. And when we finally listen, it is amazing how God opens hearts to our need. What seems an impossibility becomes a path laid out for the future. Whatever dream it is that God is planting in your heart, may you be gifted with the courage to follow and the faith to trust God to take you into that tomorrow.