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

Star Child

An Advent Devotion for December 18, 2017
Read Isaiah 11:1-4a, 6

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6

One of the most touching images of scripture is the prophesy found in the book of Isaiah. “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.’

We yearn for a place of peace, justice and harmony . . . Not only in our nations but in our homes. We yearn for family members to get along with each other, to treat each other with respect and love. We yearn for a time when the heartache of division is gone. We yearn for a day when images of war fade into distant memories of an earlier generation. We yearn for a day when justice rules the earth and little children no longer starve. We yearn for a day, when every person is treated with dignity. We yearn for a time when there are no children who die in their mother’s arms because of starvation.

Shirley Erena Murray captures that yearning in her Christmas Song, Star Child:

“Street child, beat child,
no place left to go,
hurt child, used child,
no one wants to know,

Hope-for-peace Child,
God’s stupendous sign,
down-to-earth Child,
Star of stars that shine,

[Refrain] This year, this year,
let the day arrive
when Christmas comes for everyone,
everyone alive!” *

The child spoken of in Isaiah came to be known as the child of Bethlehem who grows up to be, not only a healer of individuals, but a prophet to the nations. Throughout his ministry, Jesus would return again and to the plight of the poor. Isaiah writes, “For with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.”

Prayer: God of justice, lead us to be people who stand with those who carry the weight of injustice. Make us your instruments of love, working for a more just and holy world. Amen.

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

*Shirley Erena Murray, from her book Every Day in Your Spirit (Hope Publishing Co., 1996, No. 23)

Making Ready a People

An Advent Devotion for December 13, 2017   

  Read Luke 1:5 – 17

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John . . . He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God . . . to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

There is a contemporary saying which goes, “Angels can fly because they take themselves so lightly.” Angels are God’s messengers on earth who bring us good news. They look at our fear and tell us not to be afraid of the things we fear – the unknown which is unpredictable and uncertain. Zechariah has been chosen to enter the holiest part of the temple. It is a once in a life time opportunity. I would guess that as he prepared himself for that moment, he carried his prayer with him. The one that has been in his heart which he had long since given up on. What words did he actually say? Did the angel’s appearance stop him from saying what was in his heart? The angle came to Zechariah with a message of divine love and hope. The long sought child would come. He would have a special task in life, to prepare a people fit for the Lord. When he left the Holy place, Zechariah carried a new message in his heart. He had discovered grace and compassion. Silence would follow him. He would have months to ponder the angels message,

The word angel, simply means messenger. A person who brings a word from God to us. If we look into our lives we can name some of God’s angels who have visited us. They have arrived with kindness, a shoulder to lean on, help when we most needed it. They have brought us comfort and assurance. Sometimes they have challenged us to do more with our lives that we had been intending. Go back to school. Learn a new trade. Risk love again. Follow the dream God has set in your heart.

Most often our angels come in human form. They arrive in boats when trapped in flood waters. They dig into the earth and carry rubble to rescue all they can when the earth shakes and buildings collapse. They knock on our door with meals. They visit us in hospitals with prayer shawls. The speak through the words of people who care. They calm our fears. They bring us good news. When we are afraid, they remind us that the God of the universe is holding us. In Advent, angels seem to be everywhere. Zechariah, Mary, shepherds and in a dream Joseph will see angels.

Prayer: Holy One, Open our eyes to see and our ears to hear your angels this Advent, lest we miss the message of hope you would bring us. Amen.

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

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

Empty Your Pockets

I write this on a warm September day in Minnesota.   So much of our life in this section of the country revolves around the seasons. We glory in the changing colors of fall. We treasure days, with their crisp sense of urgency, when we  can  enjoy and  celebrate the world around us. Our steps are lighter on days like this.       Yet, I wonder if we sometimes get it wrong, because every day – whatever the outside condition – is a gift God has given us.  It comes to us on trust. Our job is to take that day and to use it in the best way we can.

Erma Bombeck was known for her humorous journalism.  Yet,  she frequently seasoned her humor with pinches of wisdom. At the end of a newspaper column on March 10, 1987, Erma wrote these words:    “I always had a dream that when I am asked to give an accounting of my life to a higher court, it will go like this: “So, empty your pockets. What have you got left of your life? Any dreams that were unfulfilled? Any unused talent that we gave you when you were born that you still have left? Any unsaid compliments or bits of love that you haven’t spread around?”

“And I will answer, ‘I’ve nothing to return. I spent every-thing you gave me. I’m as naked as the day I was born.”(Detroit Free Press)

Erma had a sense of how best to spend a life. What about you? Have you got any dreams to work on? Unused talent to put to work? Some unsaid compliments that need to be spoken? And is there any love that you need to spread around?  May your day be blessed with wisdom and the joy of using this day as the gift God created it to be.

The apostle Paul prayed that followers of Jesus would discover the gifts available to each of us.   He wrote,  I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”  Ephesians 3:16-19

Stumbling into God’s Arms

It is comforting to recognize that all of Jesus’ disciples, followers and friends slip. We flounder just after we’ve received the fresh insight, just when we think we’ve figured it out. We falter just at the time when we think we’ve come to terms with life and with God. Even those first disciples of Jesus swung between great insights and a certainty that Jesus was the Christ to the other side, of thinking that he had come to reclaim the power of a king in Jerusalem, replacing Herod. They had it together some days and others – not so much. One day they were faithful followers, the next doubting Jesus altogether. John Procotor, says of them “Enviable though their place in time may be, these disciples still flounder between insight and failure . . . their journey involves both progress and stumbling.”*

As do our journey’s. The grace-filled thing about this is that when we stumble, we stumble into God’s arms. We stumble between insight and failure. I think we feel this more, the greater our love for God is. We may see failure. God sees an opportunity for us to learn and grow. We get another opportunity to learn about kindness and grace. We are reminded of forgiveness and mercy. Humbling moments carry their own lesson on true humility.

There are times when we look to the giants of the faith, comparing ourselves to them. Yet, even they were not perfect. Mother Theresa had her moments of doubt. Others had issues with anger, relationships or grudges. Each of us carries a set of vulnerabilities. Some days we fail miserably and other we know we’ve done our best. We are frail human beings who need friendship, compassion, affirmation, love, encouragement and companionship. We need to know that we are both loved and loveable. God reminds us that no matter how high or how low our status, God loves each of us. God loves us in our fragility, woundedness, dysfunctional behavior and everything else. God loves us when we are at our worst and at our very best. God’s love never fails. But whenever we stumble, God gently and quietly draws us forward, pulling us back to places of healing and rest. For this I give thanks.

*John Procotor, “Feasting on the Gospels Matthew Volume I” Reflection on Matthew 13:10-17