A New Year – A Time to Bless and to Heal

A year’s ending gives us a peculiar vantage point. We look back on the events, people and circumstances we’ve encountered. There have been moments of joy, others of sorrow. Some came as the bitter sweet irony of both. We have had times to savor and celebrate. There have been losses which caused our hearts to bleed. People who have been precious to us are deeply missed. There were times we acted on our best impulses and our highest motives. To our regret, there were other times when were less than we wanted to be.

A year’s turning gives us opportunity to rethink where we have been and how we want to live our lives in the future. Howard Thurman’s writes in his book of essays and prayers, “The Centering Moment,” “We anticipate tomorrow, not because it is our promise and our due, but because there is within us a deep yearning for the fulfillment of that which we have not known before, for the opportunity to be what, if we have another chance, we think we may become. Brood over us as we stand on the threshold. . . Make tender our spirits that we may not through any callousness of mind or hardness of heart, hurt and maim and injure where we could bless and cure and heal. Leave us not alone to the independence of our minds or to the hardness of our hearts and spirits, but surround us with Thy caring, that what we do will be what we mean and what we say will be inspired by the integrity of the intent.”

May this New Year, truly be that for you. A NEW YEAR. May it be an opportunity to start fresh.   For we have been to Christmas. We have seen the star. We have heard the angels singing. We have knelt at the manger. It has been given to us to know that the light of Christ is in our world and darkness has not and cannot overcome it.

May your New Year be blessed with the deep assurance that Christ’s light will be with you throughout this year.

“So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”   II Corinthians 5:17

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

By God’s Grace, Light Will Shine

IMG_8060The last weeks have been difficult ones for some in my family.  A long and unexpected hospital stay, including surgery, left part of my family struggling through the Christmas season.   I once  heard Henri Nouwen  say, “Jesus didn’t come to take our pain away, but to be with us in it.”   While I would like God to fix everything that is amiss in my life and the lives of those I love,  that was never God’s promise.   The promise wasn’t to fix,  but to be with us in  the difficulty and complexity of  life’s challenges.

Brennan Manning, in his book, “Reflections for Ragamuffins”  mentions a man who was reflecting on the gospel of John where it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word was made flesh and dealt among us.” (John 1:1-5) As the man thought about the passage it seemed to him that God was saying, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.”

Brennan Manning goes on to say, “On that last day, when we arrive at the Great Mansion in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home” sign on the door.”

We do not know what this new year  holds for us. For some of us there will be great trials.  We may  face enormous challenges or confront heartache and sorrow.  High mountains  may be conquered . . . where we will revel in the accomplishment of long sought dreams. Along the journey, it may be that we find ourselves in turn, battered, bruised, bloodied, weary and worn by the turnings of life.

In the birth of Jesus, we witnessed God’s fresh start in our world . . . God coming to live among us, to show us how to live life with integrity and with power. In Jesus, God entered a weary world and the earth has never quite been the same.  God’s gifts of comfort, strength, hope and joy came with Jesus. It is God’s gift, freely and abundantly available for all . . . God’s welcome sign, sent to all the worlds people. We call this gift grace.

May your life be touched by “grace filled moments” where you have cause to marvel at God’s good gifts of love for you.

Turning the Pages of a Year

Turning the Pages of a Year

OXYGEN ChristmasI remember a year that I was really glad to turn the pages of. It began with our newly home from the hospital, preemie getting sick, very sick. Her first three months had been spent in the neonatal unit at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital. After five weeks at home with six older siblings, she had been exposed to everything that was going around their school.  A day earlier, her six and a half year old brother was running a temperature of 105. By Friday night, of that 1st weekend of the new year, it was becoming obvious that what had appeared to be a small problem with my daughter was much larger. On Saturday, she’d been put in the pediatric unit of the hospital where our doctor practiced. By Sunday morning, the hospital called to tell us that she was being transported to life support at Children’s hospital.

Meanwhile, that same Sunday morning, our two year old, four year old and six and a half  year old were in the emergency room of another hospital, with bronchitis and tonsillitis. Later that week would see my four year old admitted to the hospital with pneumonia. I don’t know how we managed to have children in two hospitals, but we did. Most everyone else was sick at home too, except for my two older children who avoided all of the rest of us. On the positive side, our yearly family deductible had been met for our insurance by the end of the first week of January.

I wish I could say that the rest of the year had gone better. The youngest was very sick again in February and hospitalized in March with bronchial pneumonia. A series of illnesses would plague her through the year, until in late December, she was back in life support at Children’s having an apnea study done. A heart monitoring system would follow that stay.

I think it was the overwhelming sense of everything going wrong at the same time, which made it so difficult. Like Mary discovering she was in labor at the very moment she and Joseph were being told there was no room for them in the inn. But life went on. The child survived. Difficulties were overcome. By the time the magi arrived at Christmas, scripture records the couple living in a house.

The magi’s visit would force additional changes upon the young family. Being warned in a dream, Mary and Joseph flee the city with Jesus, to live in Egypt for a time. Once more their life had to be reconstructed. Fortunately, Joseph’s carpentry skills were useful anywhere. For the magi, that Christmas miracle, would send them home in another way, avoiding Herod and his plans to kill the child.

The gift of Christmas is not and has never been, a stress free – pain free life. Rather, the gift of Christmas which we carry every day, is that Christ has come.    What I treasure most about the gift of Christmas is knowing that whatever the new year will bring,  God is with us.   God will be with us in our joys and in on our griefs. God will be near to pour healing on our wounds, blessing on our prayers, and calming waters on our fears.  Christ has come to be with us in our pain and our sorrow, our joys, our dreams, our hopes and our fears. We have been visited by one who has chosen to live and remain among us.

A New Year – Leaving Christmas Behind

I have to admit that I stumbled across more than my share of impatient people on the highways in the past month. Some may have just needed a refresher course in driver’s ed, but I suspect what I’ve been witnessing is a deeper phenomena. We arrived at 2016 carrying stresses and strains of a difficult year.

The threat of terrorism towers over us. We were unprepared for ISIS with it’s barbaric ways. Yet, our faith calls us to trust, even in anxious times . . . To trust in the one who has provided for us in the past and promises to do so in the future. Our world sends us ample opportunities to get the lesson straight. One period in my life forever stands as a time of learning to trust. My personal world had collapsed. I wondered where on earth God had gone off to. Had God abandoned me? If not, where was God anyway? I’ve since learned that God is working hardest in our lives when we hurt most deeply. God surprises us in unexpected moments of love, mercy, forgiveness and compassion. I learned that God’s love is far greater than I had thought, for God’s love transcends our hurts, our sorrows, our worst mistakes; our most crushing defeats . . . even death and life.

The good news is that wherever we find ourselves today, we have been given the joy of new beginnings. Bethlehem is God’s commitment to be with us in all of life’s journeys. A promise that wherever we find ourselves, whatever our failures or successes, whatever our mistakes, whatever our sins, our personal struggles, God has chosen to enter our lives, to love, accept and be with us where we are.

On this day Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas, we are reminded that when the Magi came to Jesus, after offering him their gifts, they left and returned “home in another way.” The God who comes to us in our brokenness does not intend to leave us in our grief and sorrow, but rather, to lead us to a life of meaning and significance. May this New Year be one of trusting God, day by day. As you “Return home from Christmas” may you do so is such a way that you are touched by the transforming presence of the one who entered our world in Bethlehem. Of whom it was said, they will call him Emmanuel, which means, “God with us.”

God’s Welcome Sign, For All the World’s People

Remember how back in 1999 fears spread over the Y2K bug. The bug really wasn’t a computer bug, the way we think of them today. Instead it was a problem with the design of both the hardware and software of older computers, which didn’t allow for the changing over from the year 1999 to the year 2000. It was built into major computer systems when the year 2000 seemed a distant time and place. Only a few recognized the problem it would one day be. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the actual concern did not become widely known, until the new millennium was almost upon us. We worried and fretted over the problem. We wondered if there would be water and electricity come January 1, 2000. Fortunately, a warning issued decades before was finally heard. Around the world emergency fixes were made. Catastrophic failure of public utilities and telecommunications feared by many, did not materialize, except in a very few places.

We never know what a new year will bring us. Some of what we do know is that there will be trials in our lives. Among our circle of family and friends, there will be those who face enormous challenges. Others will confront heartache and sorrow. There will be moments when we climb the high mountains and revel in the accomplishment of long sought dreams. Along the journey, we may well find ourselves in turn, battered, bruised, bloodied, weary and worn by the stresses of life.

Brennan Manning, in his book, “Reflections for Ragamuffins” tells the story of a man who was reading the first chapter of the gospel of John where it is written, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . . The Word was made flesh and dealt among us.” As he pondered the passage it seemed to him that God was saying, “Yes, the Word was made flesh. I chose to enter your broken world and limp through life with you.” Manning goes on to say, “On that last day, when we arrive at the Great Mansion in the Sky, many of us will be bloodied, battered, bruised, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a ‘welcome home’ sign on the door.”

In the birth of Jesus, we witnessed God’s fresh start in our world . . . God coming to live among us, to show us how to live life with integrity and with power. In Jesus, God entered a weary, battered, bruised and limping world. Since Christ’s coming, this planet we live on has never quite been the same. Emmanuel – God with us, Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, wrapped in an infant named Jesus. One who chose to live among us, to share in our world and our trials . . . this one came to stay and walk with us each day. We call this gift grace. God’s gift, freely and abundantly available for all . . . God’s welcome sign, put out for all the worlds people. We may not know what the future will bring any of us. We do have this assurance though, whatever we face, we will not limp through this world alone.