Thursday December 17 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 25: 1-13

Key verse: (13) “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Reflection: Cleaning or clearing out is very rewarding for me. I just got rid of Christmas chair covers, a snowman Jello mold and four bags of Christmas bows. If I am not putting it up this year, it is going to Crisis Assistance Ministry.  I know there is someone who needs one of the seven Christmas T-shirts I own.

We invest in so much STUFF that does not prepare us to see God’s Kingdom.  That is the mistake of the foolish.  Not only do we waste our money but we waste our time shopping for all of this stuff.

What is helpful in preparing us to see God’s kingdom?  It may be the Advent wreath your family gathers around each Sunday in Advent or the Nativity set with each character that slowly appears at the manger. It could also be eyes that study God’s word or watch with wonder for God’s work in the world. As hard as it is, we could prepare to see God’s kingdom by listening to the cries of God’s children all over the world instead of ignoring anything painful.  What is required in this time of Advent waiting is investing in all that prepares us for the coming of God and God’s kingdom.

The mistake of the unwise bridesmaids was not that they were tired. It was that they ran out of oil.  What are you waiting for? Do you have enough light to endure the long days and nights of waiting? I wonder if this parable is a message about how we are to be the Church together.  Preparing together for the coming of Christ, investing in our work and helping each other through the longest night is what the Church is all about.

Prayer: Wake me up, God, to seek the Christ child. Make me aware of the pain so many bear, even as I am confident in your healing. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Wednesday December 16 2015

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Scripture: Matt. 24:45–51

Key verses: (46) “Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives.”

Reflection:  If my memory serves me, when I was a child there was a time in the weeks before Christmas when I would try to “clean up my act.” My hope was that any behavior that might put me on the “naughty” list would be outweighed by a burst of “nice” right before Christmas. Maybe I was thinking that Santa’s short-term memory was better than the long-term.

The Church’s lectionary approaching Christmas has this parable from Matthew’s gospel about faithful and unfaithful servants. When the master of the house is away — or delayed in returning — the servants have two choices: continue as though the master (read: boss/supervisor/parent/etc.) were actually there, or “party while you can.”  If the master shows up unexpectedly, those who are working (the nice ones) are recognized as the responsible servants.  Those who are caught in embarrassing situations (the naughty ones) are punished as hypocrites.

As we await the coming again of Jesus we may be tempted, like the wicked servants were, to embrace the naughty, because we can. We may think we can act in wicked ways most of the year and make up for it by being nice around Christmas. We may think, unless someone is monitoring our behavior, that wicked is okay. But, it is not.

Cultural Christmas says that the birth of Jesus, his coming into the world, happens once a year. Christian faith says that Jesus is always coming into the world, ready to be born anew in those who are faithfully living out God’s intentions, and ready to hold to account those who are not. To be followers of the one born on Christmas means to live like a faithful disciple all the time, not just when baby Jesus shows up. The real, live Jesus, the Christ, is coming 24/7—365 days a year. So get to work. Christ is coming soon. Act like it.

Prayer: You have given us charge over your world and assigned us to nurture your people. O God, keep us strong and faithful, never giving in to wicked distractions.  Instead, anchor us in your promised return, in the world, in the Church and in our lives as we work and wait for your coming again.  Amen.

Author: Von Clemans.

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Tuesday December 15 2015

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Scripture: Revelation 3:14-22

Key verses: (17-18)  17For you say, ‘I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.18Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.

Reflection: These words of God were given in a vision. They were to be written to a church, to tell the people to repent. The church of Laodicea is told that they are neither cold nor hot. God calls them lukewarm (not a compliment!) We read of reproval, discipline, and a refiner’s fire. These words sound harsh, like a warning. Overhearing them for our own situation we learn that, despite our own comfort, we are actually “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

And yet in the middle of these warnings come words of care and grace. God offers refined gold to the poor, and white robes to the naked, and salve to the blind so they may see again. God stands ready to comfort and sustain those called “wretched” and “pitiable.” God’s warnings come wrapped in love.

It makes me think of the baby in the manger. Jesus, a revolutionary justice-seeker, came wrapped innocently in swaddling clothes. His words as an adult call us to a new way of life, in hard ways. And yet his way of life is born out of God’s amazing love and grace. May we prepare ourselves again to welcome him in, receive his gifts, and heed his call.

Prayer: Holy One, open my ears and my eyes. Wake me up to your call. Strengthen me to receive all that you bring: love and grace and challenge, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Monday December 14 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 24:15-31

Key verse: (20) “Pray that your flight may not be in winter . . .”

Reflection: She had breast cancer. It metastasized to her spine so that the spine disintegrated. She could no longer walk. She also had gone blind, tragic for this person who loved books. Yet she lingered.

His mind was perfectly clear. Yet he was trapped in a body stricken by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease. He could not walk.  His arms didn’t work. His voice was gone. Yet he lingered.

I do not understand suffering. It happens. Jesus knew it happens. Jesus knew it was excruciating.

Suffering was coming upon the people of Jerusalem. The city and the temple in its midst were going to be destroyed. Jesus urges the people to flee. He knew the flight would be hard.  “Pray that it is not in winter.”

In this season full of joy for many, there is deep suffering for many as well. Suffering in war zones. Suffering in refugee camps. Suffering as people are profiled because of their race or religion. Suffering caused by guns in the wrong hands. There is suffering in families coming apart, in relationships ended by death, in bodies wracked by illness.

Jesus doesn’t tell us why there is suffering. Yet, he also knows suffering does not get the last word. It is not the end. The completion of life is beyond the suffering.  That is when the Son of Man comes and will “gather his elect from the four winds.”

That is part of the promise of Advent. Suffering is not forever. Beyond it is a wondrous gathering of all God’s people home.

That woman, that man who lingered so. They were my parents. I am convinced Jesus prayed that their suffering didn’t have to endure a long winter. I rejoice that beyond it they experienced a gathering home.

In this season let us join Jesus and pray for the suffering, and, by our standing with them as Christ’s Body, give them a tangible sign that suffering is not the final word about their lives.  Rather it is that they matter and will travel beyond the suffering and will be gathered home in the community of all God’s people.

Prayer: Lift up in prayer one you know is suffering.  If possible, find a way to stand with them this day. Let this be your enacted prayer.

Author: Pete Peery

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Friday December 11 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 23: 27-39

Key verse: (37) “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”

Reflection: A wise mentor of mine once said:  “Don’t pretend you have more religion than you do.”

This passage in Matthew reminds me to examine myself and my motives in the context of the powerful love of Jesus.  Advent is a good time for all of us to do this kind of self-examination and to ask questions like:  How are we living?  Does the light of Christ shine is us? Or are we white-washed tombs – attractive on the outside, but dead inside?  Do we pretend to have more religion than we do while appearing to be righteous?  It is easy to hide our true selves from others, but eventually who we are spills out into the world and our choices and actions will be seen. I imagine Jesus trying to gather us together, like a mother hen gathers and protects her chicks, so that he can shelter us in his love.  But, we resist.  It is hard to trust Jesus and respond to his call.  There is a risk involved. But, what a gift we could be to others if we would turn back to Jesus and let his light shine through us.  It is God who transforms us. And when we consent to God’s action and presence within, we will change.  The power of the Holy Spirit will do this in us.  Remember today how much God in Jesus Christ loves you, examine your motives and actions, and move under God’s sheltering wings of love.  Jesus is waiting.

Prayer:  Gracious God, we give thanks for your unfailing love.  Help us when we try to be something we are not.  Help us to surrender to your love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Author: Deborah Conner

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Thursday December 10 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 126

Key verse: (1) “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.”

Reflection: These are sweet, joy-filled words.  Can you hear in this psalm both gratitude and expectation, fulfillment and longing?

But more than just nice thoughts and beautiful prose, these are words that someone needed to write down in Hebrew, then Greek, Latin, German, French, Spanish and here now for us in English. If generations felt these words were a treasure to cherish it must equally be costly to forget these sacred, holy words — no?

What would we miss this Advent if the words of Psalm 126, or 139 or 27 were not as familiar and present to us as our ever-growing Christmas to-do lists?

I encourage you this Advent to find a psalm and make it your own.  Invite your family or Bible study group to sponsor a psalm by sharing it with each other every time you gather for dinner or to talk.  Make the words of the psalm your screen saver, a friend on the commute to work. Record your voice reading it onto your iPod, find a musical version of it on iTunes, listen to it while you work or run.  Let the words of your psalm be a pillow for you at night and a companion at day’s beginning.  Do whatever it takes, but make one of those 150 psalms your own this Advent.  And when you are finished setting those words on your heart pick another one and start again.

There are days when it will feel like a chore and days when those words will be just the companion you need.  When Christ was in his darkest hour, when everything and everyone failed him, he recited a line from the 22nd Psalm: My God, My God why have you forsaken me? Did it bring him any kind of comfort in that painful hour to know that, no matter how bereft he felt, there had been another who felt the same and uttered the same prayer?

Befriend and be befriended by a psalm this Advent. Our psalm today couldn’t be a better choice, and discover again that you are never alone.  You belong to a place and a people. You are a player in a holy history. You are claimed by a God who loves you wildly, deeply and more than you can ever imagine: Emmanuel. The psalms will remind you of that every time their words are on your lips and in your ears.

 Prayer: Lord, let your words on a page be a truth planted firmly in my heart and a loving presence through my days.  As we get closer to our Christmas celebration, draw me closer to you through your word.  Amen.

Author: Derek Macleod

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Wednesday December 9 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 23:1-12

Key verses: (11-12) “The greatest among you will be your servant.  All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Reflection: Jesus is the Lord of reversals, reversing the standards and values of the world.  In today’s passage he is teaching his disciples the dangers of spiritual leadership.  It is easy to let leadership “go to your head” and to let power corrupt.  Before you know it you find yourself expecting special treatment.  You find yourself using a double standard to demand a lot from others and very little from yourself.  You find yourself craving attention and seeking recognition.

Jesus calls his followers to a different way of life, a way of humility and service.  That sounds good but it’s difficult to live that way. Even when we serve we hope to be recognized and rewarded for it.  We look around to see who noticed.  We grumble if we aren’t thanked for what we have done. Disciples who serve in church leadership are particularly susceptible to these dangers.  Jesus calls us to live with humility and to serve without concern for our position.

As we journey through Advent, we do our Christmas shopping and baking and errands.  It can be easy to give in hopes that we will receive in exchange.  It can be easy to focus on our efforts in a way that makes the holiday about us, and not about Christ.  How are you called to prepare for the coming of Christ through service today?  What can you do to serve with humility?

Prayer: Dear Lord, we confess that sometimes we serve with mixed motivations and mixed expectations.  We confess that sometimes we desire recognition and we long for reward.  Forgive us.  Teach us to follow Jesus Christ with humility and service.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

Author: Millie Snyder

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Tuesday December 8 2015

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Scripture: Matthew 22: 34-46

Key Verses: (37-39) 37He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38This is the greatest and first commandment. 39and a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Reflection: My son has a new rule he created after Halloween. Any time we put up Christmas decorations, we have to do some push-ups. I like to decorate for Christmas before we leave for Thanksgiving and it about did him in — and me.  His annoyance continued the day after Thanksgiving when I put in a Christmas CD while traveling.  He has relented a bit but anytime he sees obnoxious decorations, his eyes roll.  He reminds me that Christmas cannot be created on our own. It is not something we buy, eat or decorate.

I am not sure my son can articulate clearly what he is feeling, but I believe he just wants to watch and wait. The incarnation is something to behold and not something we can consume.

So let us watch and wait. In our waiting let us follow the greatest commandment. Let us love one another, ourselves and the strangers with all of our heart, with all of our soul and with all of our mind.  Let’s love all of our neighbors.

Prayer: God of life and love, all praise and honor be yours. Open my eyes to the wonder and joy of this season and give me patience in my waiting.  I pray in the name of the one who is coming again. Amen.

Author: Michelle Thomas-Bush

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

 

Monday December 7 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 145

Key verses: (8-9) “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

Reflection:  When you see something mentioned over and over again, the repetition suggests the message is important. This particular message shows up again and again throughout the Old Testament. We saw it a while back in Exodus 34:6. It is a regular feature of the narrative of the prophets. Quite apart from the conventional understanding of the Old Testament deity, the God portrayed here is a God of compassion, mercy and steadfast love.

The Christian faith maintains that the God of the Old Testament is the same God revealed to us in Jesus the Christ in the New Testament. While that God holds us accountable for our actions, the God we meet in Jesus the Christ is one he called Father or “daddy.”  From Moses to the prophets, the God we meet surprises and sometimes offends us with mercy more gracious then we would ever offer.

Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to except a God that is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. We aren’t like that and can’t imagine a God that is. Yet the Psalmist is bold to say: “The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.”

Is that how you imagine God? According to a lot of faithful people in the Old Testament and the New that’s exactly how God is.

Prayer: Break through our defenses, O God. Help us to hear, open our hearts and hold on to your steadfast love on this and all of our days. We pray in the name of the merciful Lord, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

 Author: Von Clemans

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].

Friday December 4 2015

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Scripture: Psalm 130

Key Verses: (5-6)

5    “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
6   my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.”

Reflection: We are indeed waiting. In Advent, we wait for Christmas. We wait for the kingdom of God in all its fullness. We wait for Jesus to show up again, and bring justice and peace and love. We live between what already is, and what is still to come.

The whole world is waiting with us. In refugee camps and at closed borders, people wait. In places where violence has shattered lives: Paris, Mali, Syria, and neighborhoods near and far from home, people wait. In hospitals and at gravesides, where mourning threatens to overshadow joy, people wait.

And yet, Advent promises us light in the midst of darkness. We see new life born out of pain. We hear again of God’s incarnation into the world, and promise to return. In his word, we hope.

Prayer: O come, O come, Emmanuel. Help me watch, and wait, and hope. Amen.

Author: Julie Hester

[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].