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

Giving Thanks for Saints in our Lives

Like an onion, peeling memories till they placed her in a different time and era, my mother slowly lost memories of her family. Frustrated that she no longer knew everything she once did, she wondered out loud how it was that she could forget the people she loved. It seemed less cruel to tell her that my dad would be there if he could, rather than to remind her again that he died. In this odd period of her life I was touched by her passionate love for my father. She told me how she loved to hold her babies. I reveled in her memories of myself and my siblings as infants and the way that she cherished each of us. I saw a precious part of her I did not know

I was reminded of the words of scripture, “Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. . . ” –Isaiah 49:14-16

My mother died just two days before we celebrated All Saints at the church I was serving in 2010. Worshiping at the special service, I took comfort in the knowledge that God will never forget us or those we love. I felt the assurance that when my memory fails (and family history isn’t too positive on this) that God will continue to love and care for the people I love . . .   All of those who live in my heart.

November 1st is the traditional celebration of All Saints, remembering those people who have been a precious part of our lives.   C.S. Lewis once wrote  that a saint  “is a person who makes God believable.”    All Saints is a day of both remembering and giving thanks for people who have touched our lives with grace, blessed  us with their love and nurtured  us with their presence.  It is a day to celebrate and  be grateful for the Communion of Saints, those living both on earth and in heaven.  As we remember these cherished souls, may it be a  reminder to live in such a way, that others will look at our lives and celebrate the people that we are.

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.

Susanna Wesley – A Mother For the Ages

Susanna Wesley, mother of *John & Charles, was an amazing woman. Born in England in 1669 her seventy three years were lived during a challenging time. Susanna bore some nineteen children in a period of nineteen years. Nine of those children died as infants—including two sets of twins. One baby was smothered by a maid. Another was crippled for life in a tragic accident. Yet, in spite of those losses, Susanna carried on. She was a tireless worker and teacher of her children. She encouraged other’s to teach their children to pray as soon as the child could speak and to reward their children for good behavior.    The story is told that  Susanna expected her children to learn the alphabet within a day’s time. All but one of her children learned to read by the age of five. That must have been the child it took two days to teach the alphabet to.

I’ve often wondered how she managed to do these things.  William Henry Fitchett describes the Wesley children as “a cluster of bright, vehement, argumentative boys and girls, living by a clean and high code, and on the plainest fare; but drilled to soft tones, to pretty formal courtesies; with learning as an ideal, duty as an atmosphere and fear of God as law.”  Every week, each child had an hour of Suzanna’s time, to learn and to talk about the spiritual side of life.

I get tired just thinking of all that this woman did. Yet as I look around me (including my daughters and daughter-in-law) I see examples of modern women, just as dedicated to their children as Susanna was to hers. With rare exceptions, mothers are a breed  who don’t  give up on their children. As a mom, you never stop being a mom. It doesn’t matter if your children are infants, young adults, or parents themselves.   A mother’s concern and prayers for her children never end.

Susanna Wesley had a deep spiritual side. Her husband Samuel was a pastor but it didn’t keep him from Debtor’s prison.  There were no safe guards for the poor and poverty was rampant in England.   Twice Samuel  was sent to prison for nonpayment of debts.   During those periods, Susanna opened her home for Bible Study. Word got back to Samuel that Susanna was bringing disgrace to the parsonage with her Bible Studies which were inappropriate for her, as a woman, to be leading. Samuel got upset and sent a message to stop immediately. Susanna Wesley answered him by reporting what good the meetings had done.   She pointed out that there were only two people who opposed them. Then she wrote, “If after all this you think fit to dissolve this assembly do not tell me you desire me to do it, for that will not satisfy my conscience; but send your positive command in such full and express terms as may absolve me from all guilt . . .  for neglecting this opportunity for doing good when you and I shall appear before  . . .  our Lord Jesus Christ.” Samuel had nothing more to say on the subject after that.

Susanna was one of those women I wish I had known personally. A woman of faith, a mother to the end and one courageous human being. May her numbers increase.

* John and Charles Wesley are the founders of the Methodist movement.  John was the greater evangelistic, while Charles was a prolific writer of hymns.  His more well known hymns include, “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Come thou Long Expected Jesus,” and “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.”