Hope in a World of Darkness

An Advent Devotion for December 12, 2017 

Read Isaiah 9:2-7

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined. Isaiah 9:2″

On August 5, 2010 thirty-three Chilean miners were trapped twenty-three hundred feet underground after a cave-in at the San Jose copper and gold mine. Seventeen days later the world discovered they were still alive and in a shelter. Long weeks would follow that discovery as a plan was set in place to rescue them. During those dark hours, a moment of joy pierced the gloom.

September 18, 2010 a miner learned of the birth of his daughter. Ariel Ticona and his wife Elizabeth had planned to call their daughter Carolina. Buried deep in the earth in Chile, having just been miraculously found, Hope seemed a more appropriate name. The birth of his child “Hope” became a sign of hope for all thirty three miners during those long weeks. Hope that somehow the miracles would continue – hope that would pierce the darkness of that underground tomb. “Hope,” he would say, “for getting them out , hope to keep fighting for his daughter, hope to unite his family.” Hope that one day – he would hold his child. Hope that each of them would return to their families. The world watched and waited with them until on October 13th that day arrived

When there is nothing else and we wonder who we can trust or where to turn, Isaiah reminds us of God’s light, calling us to hope. This ancient word continues to speak, wherever there is heartache or sorrow. “Those who dwelt in a land of darkness, on them has light shined . . . For to us a child is born – a son is given – and he shall be called wonderful counselor, mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end.”

Prayer: Loving God, in the words of Isaiah you call us to hope. To hope even when we find ourselves in painful and difficult circumstances. Remind us, in those moments, that you have come in Jesus to be present in our darkest and most painful moments, shining the light of Christ to guide us and lead us into the ways of healing and peace. Amen.

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

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 Garland Instead of Ashes

An Advent Devotion for  December 8, 2017    

Read Isaiah 61:1-4

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Isaiah 61:1-2a

The people of Israel remembered the days of King David when the poor were treated with justice. But those days of compassion passed and justice was sorely lacking. All was not well in Israel. People yearned for the return of justice. They yearned for a messiah who would change both the present and the future. Jesus turned to this passage when he first spoke in the synagogue in Nazareth. Quoting the words of the prophet Isaiah he announced the fulfillment of these words.

He wanted the people of  his hometown to know that he did not intend to pursue any conquering of a foreign power, but the conquering of the human heart. There would be no warrior restoring the wealth and prestige of the nation. Jesus came to bind up the broken hearted. He would also leave the unfinished work of feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison, and sheltering the homeless to his followers.
Howard Thurman captures the essence of Isaiah’s words and Jesus’s call to us in his poem, “When the Song of the Angels is Stilled.”

“When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”

Prayer: God of Hope, When we weary in our waiting, when our sense of justice goes unmet, when evil seems to win and all we have worked for is erased – grant us a sense of place. Grant us an assurance that you are still at work in our world. In this Advent, may we be people who feed the hungry, rebuild the nations and always seek to make music in the heart. 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

Planting Seeds of Mercy, Compassion and Love

Howard Thurman, in his book, Disciplines of the Spirit writes, “There are many forces over which the individual can exercise no control whatsoever. A farmer plants a seed in the ground and the seed sprouts and grows. The weather, the wind, the elements the farmer cannot control. The result is never a sure thing. So what does the farmer do? The farmer plants, always the farmer works at it . . . in confidence and assurance that even though this seed many not grow to fruition, seeds do grow and they do come to fruition.”

These past months have brought turmoil in many sectors. Our political divisions continue to separate us. We demonize those whose viewpoints are different than ours. Last weeks confrontation in Charlottesville, Virginia symbolized for me how fractured we have become. White nationalists, proud of their evil symbols of hate and bigotry marching with torches, brought shades of another era and time. It was as much symbol of our political discord as it was of the attitudes which formed it. And then the tragedy when a young man drove his car into a group of pedestrian aiming to injure and kill.  This has been a time of questioning who we are and what we are becoming as a nation.

At moments like this we ask ourselves what we can do to challenge the forces of evil in our world and in our nation. We wonder why we should keep trying, when nothing seems to be working.  We grow discouraged.  Challenging moments are those in which we most need to remember that seeds do grow.  Our task in God’s kingdom is to sow the seed.   Seeds grow. We know they do.   We  have seen that growth in our own lives.   We know too,  that without planting at appropriate times there would never be a harvest of good fruit.

Like the farmer, we are never certain which seed will grow. Planting seeds of faith, nurture, love, acceptance, compassion, tolerance, mercy, integrity, hope, joy, peace, commitment and service continues to be our task. Sowing good seed, loving God’s people, risking, caring and forgiving are ways we live out our faith day by day. No, our efforts are never a sure thing. But, God asks only that we try, that we do our best, and leave all which remains to God.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Put Your Hand in the Hand of the One Who Quiets The Storm

Lake Pepin on the Mississippi River in Minnesota USA

One of my favorite routes to travel is Hwy 61 south of the Twin Cities along the Mississippi River. The beauty of God’s creation is always on display, from bluffs, to waters, forests and eagles flying overhead.  One windy day I stopped at Lake Pepin in Lake City where the river widens. Usually Lake Pepin  is  filled with sailboats, but  on that warm spring morning, not many ventured out. Those who did were tested by the waters and the wind.

I thought of the gospel writer who records the disciples saying of Jesus, “Even the winds and the waves obey him.” The setting was the Sea of Galilee after a sudden storm arose while they were trying to get across to the other side. Jesus’s disciples were frightened, terrified in fact. As people of the sea, they had a healthy respect for storms which arose, seemingly out of nowhere. It was no small thing to be tossed by the waves and blown off course by the winds. Disoriented, with neither sun nor stars to guide them, fear grew.

When we find ourselves in the middle of one of life’s storms we can quickly become disoriented. Winds and waves of a storm can throw us off course. What we thought we knew to be true may “no longer fit” the reality of our lives. It is at these times we most need the one who calms the seas and quiets the winds. When the disciples cried out “Lord save Us” both wind and sea quieted.

Song writer Gene MacLellan composed the words of a song that come back to me when I’m troubled, reminding me to trust the one who calms and quiets us:  He wrote:

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself
And you can look at others differently
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee

The calm that Jesus brings is one that quiets our spirits, calms our troubled hearts and reassures our broken emotions, allowing us to reset our lives and build on more trustworthy and firmer ground. Storms are inevitable, but as certain as storms will come, is the knowledge there is one who is with us in the midst of each of them. One who still grants us a quiet center, even and especially in the most  turbulent of times.

Easter is God’s Message of Hope

My confidence in the arrival of Spring wanes in years of bitter winter nights and sluggish March days.   Yet, even when I doubt, God’s provision for Spring is already on its way. Today, I see slivers of hope. Leaves are thinking about pushing their way into our Minnesota landscape. Driving down my street,  I spotted a lone magnolia tree sporting some blooms.   Our lives follow a similar pattern. There are winter times, when life is hard. We go through days of struggling and working through our current trial. We wonder when the pain will end. We wonder if it ever will.

The day Jesus was crucified, his friends and family were devastated. All the events which transpired were outside of the control of his followers. Jesus on a cross brought little hope for any kind of a future, yet the record of history and God’s actions in the city of Jerusalem, tell us of a different reality. There is no keeping Jesus in the grave. Two thousand years bear record to that great truth.  Easter is God’s message  telling us not to  lose hope. God is working in our lives, even though it may not look like it at the moment.

Our hearts may break. We may despair. The power of Easter is that because Christ lives, we can live also. We can face tomorrow. We can do so without fear.  This Easter you may be troubled of spirit and soul.   There may be difficulties and trials. The bitter taste of rejection and injustice may linger.  Your heart may be buried in grief.  I have no easy answers. But, while much of God remains a mystery to us, of one thing I am sure. God is a God of resurrection power. Witnesses continue to proclaim this truth. In God’s providence, Easter will follow Good Friday. Life stirs into being after death. Spring inevitably arrives in spite of winter’s hold. New life is God’s gift to each of us.

Charles Wesley’s Easter Hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today” includes this verse:

“Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!
Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!
Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!
Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!”

May this Easter bring you hope. Where life has been hard, may you see glimmers of how  God is working in your life.  Where there has been the loss of one held dear, may you find hope in the mystery of Easter and God’s love for you and your lost loved ones.   May you be reassured that God holds tomorrow and is working, even now,  to make all things new.