A Dream and the Voice of an Angel

An Advent Devotion for December 23, 2017
Read Matthew 1:18-25

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 1:20b

Joseph was confused and hurt. The woman he planned to marry was pregnant. In the first century, the act of betrothal was as binding a covenant as a marriage. Discovering that Mary was pregnant was devastating to Joseph. He loved Mary and didn’t want to hurt her, yet his own hurt was overwhelming. Agonizing over the right thing to do, he planned to set the marriage aside in the legal manner available to him.

Then in a dream, God’s word comes to him. It changes the direction of his life. Confusion was replaced by God speaking words of comfort, encouragement and promise. Often it is when we are most confused that God breaks in, causing us to look at our lives differently. When our plans are disrupted and our world falls apart, God speaks to our hearts. When we listen, we hear God telling us quietly that God’s plan for our lives may be very different from the one we’ve been pursuing. When we listen, when we really hear God’s plan and follow it, our lives take on a significance they did not have before. Joseph listens to the voice of the angel. As he does so he believes this child must be given a chance to be nurtured and loved.

A friend wrote this words, “So it is with all of us. Christlike understanding must be given a chance . . . Must be nourished until it’s big enough to cast a healing saving influence across the earth.” Joseph reminds us to make room both in our hearts and our homes for the Christ child to be nurtured and to grow within us.

Prayer: Loving God, We give thanks for Joseph, who in his confusion followed his heart, listened to your words of comfort and opened both heart and home to the Christ child and Mary. May we also open our hearts to the children you’ve put in our lives. Amen.

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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.

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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.

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A World of Enough

An Advent Devotion for December 19, 2017
Read Isaiah 11:6-9

“The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.” Isaiah 11:8

A missionary in Haiti, helping with relief efforts, told the story of walking with a lawyer one day when they came across a young Haitian boy. The lawyer asked the boy about his future. The child’s response was, “I am working so that all children in Haiti will have enough to eat.” His statement was translated from Kreyol to French for the lawyer as, “The boy wishes to see all children in Haiti have enough to eat.” But the child, who understood French as well as Kreyol, interrupted and corrected the translation, saying, “Wishing for children to have enough to eat implies that I am not working now, and that there is a chance that it may not come to pass. I want you to know that I am right now working so that all children in Haiti will have enough to eat.”

God has always had a special love for the poor – be they the children of Haiti, Puerto Rico, Syria, the Sudan or our near neighbors. God asks us to show our love for people who lead very different lives than ours. That may be through our gifts and donations. Even more importantly, it may be in advocating on behalf of the poor as we support legislation that benefits the poor.

Love must be seen in tangible and concrete ways to be believed. The image of a child playing over the den of poisonous snakes is one of a day when the entire earth is transformed. It is of a world where there is enough for everyone and there need be no fear. Isaiah’s vision continues,

“They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11:9

Prayer: God of Mercy and Compassion, Even as you have shown compassion to us, may we be people of compassion. Where we have the resources to share, may we be generous to those who struggle daily for the bare necessities of life. In our Advent waiting, strengthen our resolve to live fully into the generosity of spirit you invite us to. May our hearts be full of your knowledge. Amen.

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Advent’s Waiting Time

An Advent Devotion for December 14, 2017
Read Habakkuk 2:1-5

“Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time . . . If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:2-3

The people of Israel waited for a promised messiah, not fully understanding just who the messiah, they yearned for would be. They waited in hope and clung to the promises that one day, a messiah would be born. That yearning was buried in the hearts of the people.
Advent is a time of waiting. We wait with expectation and hope. We wait longing for God to be more fully present among us. We wait for the Christ to be born not only into the world, but into our hearts.

Barbara Brown Taylor writes of waiting, “Waiting is an essential part of the Christian life . . . our waiting is not nothing . . . it is something . . . a very big something . . . because people tend to be shaped by whatever it is they are waiting for . . . When you want something enough – your whole life tends to rearrange itself around that goal” Whatever it is, Taylor writes, “chances are that it has something to do with our vision of what it would mean for us to be made whole, to be transformed into people who are not afraid anymore (whose basic needs are met) and whose wounds are healed and who are more nearly the people God created us to be.” *

Advent is a story of our waiting, our longing for God. But more than that, it is the story of God’s longing for us. It tells us of God’s willingness to do whatever is necessary to find us, to save us, to be with us and to lead us home.

Prayer: God of Advent, In our waiting times grant us the gift of hope, knowing that you and your purposes will ultimately be done on this earth. When we are discouraged, open our eyes to what you are doing and  where you are working in our world today . . . Not only in the world around us, but in us and through us, even as we wait. Amen.

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*“Gospel Medicine” 1995 , Barbara Brown Taylor

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.

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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.

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