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.

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Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

Come Thou Long Expected Jesus

An Advent Devotion for December 11, 2017                                           Read Psalm 103:1-13

“For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is (God’s) steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west,  so far he removes our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion for his children,  So the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.” Psalm 103:11-13

Willa Cather’s story, “The Burglar’s Christmas” portrays a young man named Willie who moved west seeking his fortune.  The story takes place on Christmas Eve.   Rather than a fortune, Willie loses everything he has.  Both  destitute and  ashamed of the person he has become, he stops sending letters to his parents.  He simply disappears from their lives.  On that Christmas Eve,  Willie  has spent the day  wandering  the streets of Chicago.    Having neither food nor friends, he decides to break into a nearby home. Willie has done many things since leaving home, but never before has he stooped to theft.  He tells himself that he was owed some food, at least on Christmas Eve.   Slipping into the strange new house, he is puzzled by familiar items . . . Items from his childhood. Had his parents  moved in the years since he last contacted them and he had somehow stumbled into their home?

Just as he is about to grab something and leave his mother catches him stealing.    There is both shock and hope in her face as she recognizes him.  She can only say, “O, my boy, we have waited so long for this! You have been so long in coming, even I almost gave you up.” Looking up with eyes full of shame her son responded, “I wonder if you know how much you pardon.”

“O, my poor boy, much or little, what does it matter?” she asks. “Have you wandered so far and paid such a bitter price for knowledge and not yet learned that love has nothing to do with pardon or forgiveness, that it is only loves, and loves and loves?”

Love, loves and loves and loves. The story of  God’s grace and forgiveness is that even as we live out the consequences of our mistakes, the sting of sin is removed from us. God offers us fresh beginnings, new opportunities and the certainty that the stain of yesterday is behind us. God touches us with pardon, compassion and forgiveness. As far as east is from west, God does remove our transgressions from us. Charles Wesley reminds us of this in his Christmas carol, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.

“Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Prayer: God of compassion. Thank you for your grace and kindness, for offering us new beginnings, freed from the weight of yesterday’s mistakes. When we doubt your love, when we wonder if we are forgiven, remind us that your forgiveness is real. Remind us that you came to set us free from the mistakes of yesterday and our fears in today. Help us believe this promise is not only for others, but also for us. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   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

Angels Watching Over Me

An Advent Devotion for  December 7, 2017                                Read Matthew 18:1-7, 10

“Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven” Matthew 18:10

Jesus tells us that every child has an angel in heaven whose face is turned to God. Angels show up all over the birth narratives about Jesus. They make announcements of impending births to parents of coming children. They stop an upset fiancee Joseph from ending his promise and relationship with Mary. They warn of danger to the Holy Family. They share the joy of Jesus’ birth with shepherds doing night duty.

Most of us would not make claim to having heard the voice of an angel. One of those mysterious messengers of God, who bring “good news.” Angels are charged with bringing the word of God. We make no claim to having heard angels, yet we are mindful of those messengers who have come to us in our need. Those moments the word of God was spoken to us and we had heard “Good news.”

“She’s going to be alright.”
“The tumor is benign.”
“Your children are safe.”
“He pulled through the surgery.”
“We got to him in time.”
“I’ll be here to see you through this difficult time.”
“You’ve got the job.”
“I’ll be home for Christmas.”
“ No one was injured.”
“I just wanted you to know that I’ve been thinking of you.”

At the sound of those words – we have heard angel’s singing. Our hearts have lifted. We have heard “good news.”

The old African American Spiritual reminds us of the words of Jesus.

“All night, all day,
Angels watching over me, my Lord.
All night, all day,
Angels watching over me”

Prayer: God, thank you for the angels you’ve put in our path, who encouraged us and loved us and whose voices have lifted our spirits. Thank you for the grace of these angels among us, you have blessed us with. May we open our hearts and spirits to love as they have loved us. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Advent – The Promise of Peace

An Advent Devotion  for December 4, 2017                                    Read Micah 4:1-5

“He shall judge between many peoples,
and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more” Micah 4:3

The image of a day when nations no longer go to war and the tools of war are recycled into tools of providence instead, encourages our souls. Who among us doesn’t want there to be an end to war, and an end to soldiers dying or being maimed? Who of us doesn’t want an end to the death, injury and harm of innocents forced to flee for their lives? Who doesn’t want an end to the suffering of people trapped by war?

God gives us a vision so we will work for it . . . A vision that encourages us to work for peace and not for war. It is the vision in the Christmas song which Noel Regney and Gloria Shayne captures in the music “Do you hear what I hear”

“Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light.”

 

Prayer: God of peace, your vision seems so far from us. Pictures of war fill our screens. Obstacles to peace appear insurmountable. We fear a nuclear disaster. We ache for the wounded soldier. We cry for the lost children. Our hearts bleed for lost lives. May we begin to look at your words of hope, not only as a dream, but your dream for all of us to live into. Amen.

Additional Advent & Christmastide Devotions can be found at:   Advent & Christmastide Devotions

Advent – Jesus Came to Save the World

Advent Devotion  for the First Sunday of Advent,    December 3, 2017  

Read John 3:16-17

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17

One of the first verses I learned was John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”    It would be years before I realized the importance of the verse that followed it. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:17    The writer of the gospel of John  wanted us to know that Jesus was sent into the world, not for destruction, but to save the world. The world, as God claims this world, includes not only human beings but everything in it.

God’s care extends to the whole of creation. Every creature, every plant is cared for by God. Jesus referred to the lilies of the field being clothed by God, reminding us that not even a sparrow falls, without God’s loving concern. I find great comfort in knowing God’s intent in Jesus was to bring about the salvation of the world and all that is in it. We hear that yearning expressed in John Wesley’s Advent Hymn, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”

Prayer: God, you called this world into being. In the birth of Jesus you came to proclaim your love for the whole world and all of its people. May we carry that same vision in our mind and spirit as we begin our Advent journey. May we love as you love. Amen

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