Tuesday December 22 2015

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Scripture: 2 Samuel 7: 18-29

Key verse: (18) “”Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”

Reflection: Today’s text is a prayer spoken by King David in response to a message from God delivered by the prophet Nathan. David was worried that the house he lived in was much grander than the tent where God resided (in the ark of the covenant). He wanted to build a proper place for God to reside.  Since God had given him so much, he wanted to do something for God.  His prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving and humility as David recognized God’s greatness. He hoped that God  would continue to sustain him and give him strength to do even more for God. What a marvelous response to God’s gift of steadfast love!

As we approach the end of the Advent season, how are we responding to God’s presence in our lives?  How is God claiming us and establishing Christ’s kingdom through us?  Do we stand in awe as we remind ourselves that there is no one like God?  God wants to save and redeem us in order that we might show others God’s great love and mercy. David had the courage to pray to God and ask for a blessing because he knew that God was faithful.  God continues to be faithful. Even in the midst of our struggles and challenges God remains. There may be times we feel abandoned or lost, yet God’s words and promises are true even in the midst of doubt and worry.  As we get ready to celebrate the birth of Christ, let us remember who we belong to and how God has promised to always be with us – Emmanuel.

Prayer:  Loving God, you are our stronghold. Help us when we lose heart and feel like you are far away.  Remind us that no one is like you – creator of the cosmos and lover of our souls.  We are grateful for your covenant with your people. Pick us up when we fall down, give us hope when we are discouraged and shelter us from the storms of life as we seek refuge in you. 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].

Monday December 21 2015

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Scripture: Luke 1:39–48a (48b–56)

Key Verse: (46) And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord”

Reflection: A quiz to start your day: What is the oldest Christmas carol?

The Magnificat — the song we hear Mary sing today in Luke’s Gospel.   German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer noted that the first Christmas hymn was the best Christmas hymn and no one has improved yet on it its themes, though many songs have strayed from them. Bach, Mendelssohn, John Rutter, are but a few of the giants who have put this text to song, though no one can sing it better than Mary. It’s called the Magnificat because in Latin that is one of the first words in the song Mary sings:

My soul magnifies the Lord.

Her song really sounds unlike many of the Christmas songs we sing. In Mary’s hymn there is no infant holy or infant lowly, but there is a God who scatters the proud and brings down the powerful from their thrones.  Mary’s talk isn’t about decking the halls but about the poor being fed.  With all of the warm harmony that comes with this time of year Mary’s song almost strikes a discordant note.  We like nostalgia at this time of year not revolution!  But, in Mary’s hymn everybody is transformed — the rich, the poor, the powerful and the powerless. No one is untouched, uncared for or left the same. Mary’s hymn turns the world upside down in order for it to be right side up.  Her hymn is a declaration that God in Christ does not want the world to be left the same. Christ’s love will change us, all of us, so that none will be hungry or afraid.

Not only the first hymnist, but it has also been said that Mary was the first Christian preacher — upon hearing the good news of Jesus Christ, she proclaims it mightily.  One has to wonder that, if Joseph taught our Lord to be a carpenter, did Mary teach Jesus to be bold and courageous?  When Christ preaches ‘blessed are the poor’ is it because he remembered not only his Father’s will, but his mother’s song?  Proud, faithful, Mary.

 Prayer: Lord, in Mary you found a faithful servant, willing to say yes to your will.  We praise you for her faith and seek the same desire to trust and respond to you in our lives and in our world.  May our souls this Advent day magnify you, O Lord.  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].

 

Friday December 18 2015

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Scripture: Genesis 3:8-15

Key verse: (10) He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

Reflection: Christmas is a week away; shouldn’t we be reading a heartwarming passage from scripture that inspires joy and peace? Maybe not. Perhaps today we are called to remember the “why” behind the “what” of Jesus’ birth.  Why did God choose incarnation?  Why be born among us as a vulnerable human baby?

Today’s scripture reminds us that over and over again humans choose to turn aside from God’s way.  We do the very things we know are wrong. And then we find ourselves facing the consequences of our sinfulness. We feel guilt and shame. We struggle with questions about our own identity and worth. The man and woman in the garden chose to eat the fruit from the tree, even though they were told not to eat it and were warned about the consequences.

When God came to walk in the garden the man and woman hid. They were afraid. Take note – this is the first time the humans are afraid of God.  They were ashamed of their nakedness. Their relationship with God has been distorted by their guilt, their shame, and their fear.

In some way we are all naked before God, our sins exposed and our guilt and fear distorting our faith.  In this Advent season we give thanks that God chose to be revealed to us in Jesus Christ, assuring us of God’s love and grace. That vulnerable baby doesn’t come to punish us but to redeem us.  That baby grows up to be a man, walking beside us just like God walked in the garden with the man and woman. As we prepare for Christmas, let us confess our sin and seek God’s presence.

Prayer: Heavenly Creator, forgive me. I have turned aside from your way and I have made choices that I know are wrong.  Relieve me of my guilt and wash away my shame.  Fill my heart with trust in you and in your faithful presence beside me.  Through Jesus Christ I 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].

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].