Friday December 30 2016

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Scripture: Isaiah 25: 1-9

Key verse: (9b) “This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

Reflection: What role will faith play in your life this coming year?  Perhaps 2016 was a challenging year and you want some relief.  Good riddance!  Or you might be entering 2017 with doubts about the future.  The year-end doctor’s appointment revealed a bad diagnosis, your child just went into rehab, or your best friend is on the verge of divorce.  The future is unknown to all of us.  All we have is today to live in and hopes for tomorrow that may or may not come true.  But, instead of being cynical about the twists and turns of life, what would happen if we turned to God for our strength?  What if we were willing to wait knowing that God has already saved us?

Last week I was reminded of God’s remarkable presence with us.  In a song called The God of Every Story, singer songwriter, Laura Story writes:

You’re the God of every story,

You see each tear that falls.

We may not understand but one thing is certain.

You are faithful, you are a faithful God.

God is with us in the waiting and uncertainty and in the blessings.   None of us know what 2017 will bring, but we can rejoice in the gift of God’s grace – a grace that can’t be taken away.

Prayer: Holy God, we give thanks that you are a refuge from the storm, a defense for those in distress, and the one who works wonders.  As we wait for you, give us hearts of love and gratitude for our salvation.  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 29 2016

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Scripture: Revelation 1:1-8

Key verse: (8) ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega’, says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.

Reflection: “Don’t start faster than you plan to finish.” Some free advice I once received from a friend of mine who spent one summer hiking through Wales and Scotland.  And while he was eminently qualified to give such advice its nothing you and I didn’t learn reading Aesop’s Fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Perhaps I shouldn’t say learn as much as heard — it is advice we have heard, as I for one still need to learn how to apply such wisdom.  I have started many runs in the morning full of energy, certain I could keep up the pace only to find that I was finished long before the run was.

It’s different with Jesus.  I don’t know how he would do with a 3 mile run at 5 a.m. but with his life, ministry and in ushering in of the kingdom of God, he was prepared to finish how he started.  That is to say that while he grew up, he did not grow away from the Christ child whose birth we celebrated days ago.

His birth told us about his life and death: people and places you didn’t expect would be lifted up, trust would be needed, the poor welcomed, the forgotten remembered, and the saviour of the world would be cradled by some planks of wood.

Birth and death though opposite share much don’t they?  Neither one we expect or can control.  And ultimately we are carried and held by others — completely vulnerable and helpless.

This is not to strike too somber a chord during this festive time as a new year approaches.  It’s more of a reminder that wherever we find ourselves right now, at the end, beginning or deep in the middle with no clear direction either way — Jesus is present.  Whatever the new year holds, Christ is already there.  And if Christ is there then we are far from hopeless.

Prayer: God of our past — thank-you.

God of our future — trust you,

God of the present we claim you.

In Jesus’ name. 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 28 2016

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Scripture: Matthew 18:1-14

Key Verse: (5) “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.”

Reflection: This passage from Matthew is often quoted to lift up children’s ministries, or outreach programs to children.  It warms our hearts to consider the image of Jesus embracing a cute little child and lifting up their innocence as a standard for God’s beloved community.  In our society, children are of central importance. Parents sacrifice for their kids.  Nothing pulls at our heartstrings like a child in need.

That was not the case in Jesus’ day.  Scholars tell us 30% of children died in infancy, and 60% died before they reached the age of 16. As Tom Long puts it in his commentary on Matthew, “Indeed, a child was a ‘nobody,’ the social equal of a slave.”  Jesus says such people are the greatest in God’s eyes.  Not only are they the greatest, they embody Jesus’ presence in our midst, as Jesus goes on to say, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.”

While we say children are of central importance in our world, sometimes I wonder if all children are important to us.  What do Jesus’ words mean in a state where 25% of our children live in poverty?  What do they mean in a nation where 13 million children live in homes that have food insecurity? What do they mean in a world where 8.8 million children will die before their fifth birthday?  What would it mean for us to see Christ in the face of suffering children in our world?

Prayer: Open our eyes to see your face in the face of children, O God—not just my children, but all children. Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[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 27 2016

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Scripture: John 13:20-35

Key Verse: (21)  After saying this, Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

Reflection: This is an odd reading for two days after Christmas! We just gathered to sing Silent Night, we opened gifts, we ate a feast with family. And the reading launches us from the birth of baby Jesus in Bethlehem to the table of the last supper. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, taking the form of a servant to care for them, and then called them to follow his example.

Then, Jesus disrupts the cozy dinner table with these words about betrayal. I imagine the disciples were shocked. How could he suggest that one of them would betray him? They ask Jesus “Lord, who is it?” I suspect they were each reeling in introspection about their own loyalty and their own steadfastness in the face of difficulty. Would I be the one to betray him?

Perhaps this reading fits this week very well. We just sang “O come let us adore him” and “let every heart prepare him room” and likely we have already returned to normal life and much of the time are ignoring Jesus. In our own ways, we are betraying him with our attitudes, our priorities, and our choices. We turn aside from his face in the least of these who long for our love. We get caught up in our own busy-ness and our focus quickly shifts to ourselves again. What would it mean to live out our Christmas proclamations this year? How can we remain steadfast and faithful in following Jesus?

Prayer: Loving Lord, help me to follow you wherever you lead me. Help me to love you wherever I encounter you. Help me to live with integrity so that my faith in you shines in my life. Forgive me when I betray you and set me back on the right path. 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].

Monday December 26 2016

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Scripture: 2 Chronicles 24: 14-15

Key verses: (14-15) He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant in steadfast love with your servants who walk before you with all their heart— 15 you who have kept for your servant, my father David, what you promised to him.

Reflection: It is December 26, which means I can take down my Christmas tree and put away my Christmas music — right? Christmas seems to be over, but it is just beginning. We just heard some really good news of great joy — the good news of Christmas that seems too good to be true, perfect love revealed to an imperfect world. Christ brings joy to our broken world, our broken lives, and our broken hearts. Claim this hope.

With Christmas, God became more than just a theory. Love, justice, and peace became real. The good news is that God entered all of the agonies and joys of life. There is nothing so broken that God’s presence cannot give some light or love. This is the meaning of Christmas. The manger proclaims that love and grace are the center of our reality. It is too good to be true — but believe it. For unto us a child has been born. Thanks be to God.

Prayer: Loving God, may I never tire of proclaiming the good news with great joy. 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].

Friday December 23 2016

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Scripture: Luke 1:57–66

Key verse: (63) He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed.

Reflection: Where did your name come from? I was named after my father’s brother. Many of our names come from our family or friends or famous people. It is an honor to carry someone else’s name and it is an honor to name someone.

When Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, was ready to give birth, all her neighbors and relatives celebrated the new baby. As was the practice, mom (Elizabeth) and dad (Zechariah) brought the newborn child to be circumcised and named. The community was sure the baby would be called Zechariah (Jr.) since that was the traditional pattern. But Elizabeth said the child would be called John. Apparently, the mother’s wishes were dismissed since the community went immediately to Zechariah to see what he wanted to name the child. Since Zechariah had been struck mute by the angel who first told him that he and his wife would have a child, Zechariah wrote out his response. “His name is John,” which is what the angel Gabriel told him to name his son. Then Zechariah could speak again. The neighbors and friends were amazed – that Zechariah joined with Mary to break tradition in the naming; that Zechariah could speak again; and that something amazing was going on with this older couple and with God. Word spread and amazement swept the country.

In the Bible, names are identity. Rather than following tradition, Elizabeth and Zechariah followed God’s leading and named their son according to the angel’s command, letting their son’s identity be shaped by God. John grew up to be John, the Baptizer, the one who prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah.

We may want children to grow up to be rich and famous, but God wants them, and us, to be faithful, opening the way for the world to see Jesus.

Prayer: Lord God, in all the choices and decisions of our lives, help us to follow you. Claim us and name us as your children, that what we do might prepare the way for the coming again of the Messiah. In the name of Jesus we pray. 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].

Thursday December 22 2016

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Scripture: Luke 1:39-56

Key verses: (39-40) In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

Reflection: Our Christmas hymns show us Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a quiet figure. We sing of “gentle Mary,” “mother mild,” “mother kind.” In art she is often depicted the same way, with lowered gaze and a submissive posture. She does defer to the will of God, as described to her by the angel Gabriel, and she does spend time after the birth of Jesus “pondering things in her heart.” But before and after the birth of Jesus, she shows herself to be a remarkable woman, in both her actions and her words.

After Gabriel tells her of God’s intent that she bear the Messiah, Mary sets out to visit her cousin Elizabeth in Judea. We’ll see her again on difficult, even dangerous journeys: to Bethlehem in the last days of her pregnancy, to Egypt as a refugee fleeing violence, to Nazareth to build a life, to Jerusalem more than once when Jesus young. And again to the foot of the cross in Jerusalem, when he is crucified. She is more than just a silent vessel for the son of God. She goes where she is needed, even if the cost is great.

And she speaks up. Her song at Elizabeth’s house, early in her pregnancy is not a lullaby of a meek and mild mother. I’ve seen it described as a political manifesto, with a bold agenda: “to bring the mighty down from their thrones; to scatter the proud in the imagination of their hearts, to fill the hungry with good things and send the rich empty away.” I imagine Mary today might be in Raleigh or DC protesting on behalf of justice and human rights. She would be serving a meal or overnight at the shelter, if she weren’t one of its residents. She knows, before anyone else, that the child she mothers will usher in a world–turned-upside-down future. His birth in a barn was just the beginning.

One of the hymns in our new hymnal captures some of her bold vision and spirit. It’s an Irish tune for a paraphrase of Mary’s song in our verses from Luke for today. Imagine her singing it as she traveled where God called her. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9QeTmRCpW4

Prayer: Lord, give us the vision and spirit of Mary. Help us trust in your plans. Help us seek your kingdom in all its power and justice. As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child, prepare us to follow wherever he calls us. In his name we pray. 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].

Wednesday December 21 2016

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Scripture: Luke 1: 26-38

Key verse: (37)“For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Reflection: This message from the angel Gabriel was quite unusual — Mary’s older relative Elizabeth would have a baby in her old age and Mary would conceive a baby through the power of the Holy Spirit, even though she was a virgin. Like any person, Mary asks: ‘how can this be?’ And the angel announced that nothing was impossible for God. At that moment we see Mary’s remarkable faith. She humbled herself under God’s will and accepted what God was going to do in her life. Her response? Here I am! What startling devotion for a teenage girl to display!

How often do we work from the premise that most things are impossible for God? We impose limitations on God and ourselves. But, God is ready to do great things in our ordinary lives when we are willing to listen and believe. The angel Gabriel might not appear to us, but God is still at work around us. Are we paying attention?

As we approach Christmas Day, may each of us have faith and devotion like Mary to act like servants of the Lord. What might happen if we become willing to open ourselves to new possibilities for the future, including changing our plans when God challenges us to go another way?

Prayer: Loving God, we give thanks for Mary and the example of her faith. Help us to cultivate the faith you have given us through humble obedience to your life-giving word. 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].

 

Tuesday December 20 2016

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Scripture: Luke 1:5-25

Key verse: (12) 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.

Reflection: In our super-sized, superlative-loving culture we took the word “whelmed” (it means to turn over, to cover, to bury) and added the word “over” so as to highlight just how buried and covered we are.  We also added the word “under” to describe how little buried and full and covered we are. But however you wish to say it, the point today is that a faithful, old priest named Zechariah who had served the Lord his whole life had an encounter with the Lord that literally left him speechless.  He was whelmed.

He served God but did not really trust God anymore.  Too many unanswered prayers, too many days unfulfilled, too many years upon him, too few years ahead of him and in it all God had not come through in the way he and Elizabeth had hoped and deeply desired.  God was perhaps a tradition, an idea, a habit, but God for Zechariah was definitely not anymore, a living presence, a power, a light, a friend.

And then God, through a messenger, showed up and turned Zechariah upside down and inside out (God whelmed him).  When God does God’s thing we might imagine it takes us from bad to good, chaos to peace, weakness to strength (and many hope from rags to riches).  Maybe so.  It seems more likely, however, that when God interrupts our life, like Zechariah’s, we go from what is predictable to what is unknown, what is manageable to what is uncontrollable, what is hard to accept to what is hard to believe.  With God we are invited not to fall so much as to leap.  We are invited not to embrace the darkness but to trust that there is light within it.   And all of that is hard.

Zechariah and Elizabeth (rare that we do important things on our own) embraced each other and their God and with fear and trembling, tenderness and trust, took up their part in the greatest story ever told.

Now it’s your turn.

Prayer: Holy God of precious peace, in these Advent days we enter the mystery of  you-with-us. Fill us with joyful expectation and courageous trust. Prepare us for your presence among us and help us in ways we cannot help ourselves.  Remind us not only do we need saving but that you have come as a Savior. In the name of Jesus. 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].

Monday December 19 2016

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Scripture: Psalm 122

Key verse: (1) “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’”

Reflection: What is your favorite part of Christmas Eve worship?  For many it’s the lighting of the candles during the singing of “Silent Night.”  For others it’s the beautiful music offered in worship.  For me, it’s the opening hymn, when we rise and sing together, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”  There’s something about a packed sanctuary singing that glorious hymn I’ve waited all year to hear that just makes my soul soar.  I can’t wait!

That’s the feeling of Psalm 122.  It’s the “O Come, All Ye Faithful” of the Hebrew hymnal.  It’s a pilgrimage song sung by those who have made their way to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple.   Their anticipation is finally fulfilled as they arrive at their intended destination—Jerusalem, the City of God, Zion.  “Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.”  We finally have arrived.

Can you imagine being that excited to worship God?  Can you imagine that burning desire to make it to God’s house to offer worship and praise?  In a world where worship attendance is in rapid decline, I wonder what it would take for us to discover that driving desire of the pilgrim to go to the house of the Lord.  I wonder what it would mean for our relationship with God to long to be in God’s house with the pilgrim’s heart.

Prayer: As we move toward the celebration of Christmas, stir within our hearts the desire to go to your house, O God, to stand within your gates to give thanks for the incarnation of your love in Christ Jesus, our Lord.  Amen.

Author: Joe Clifford

[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].