Tuesday December 31 2019

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Scripture: John 5:1-15

Reflection: Jesus has come up from the city of Cana to the city of Jerusalem where he found himself beside the pool of Bethesda. Lying around the pool are those who are sick and paralyzed. They have come to this spot because there was a legend that an angel would come and stir up the waters of the pool and the first one to get into the water would be healed.

Jesus was drawn to one particular man who had been coming to the pool for many years, being sick for 38 years. Jesus asks him a very strange question.

Do you want to get well?

I don’t know what you think about New Year’s resolutions, but what if this was the question for today?  Do you want to get well? Have you considered that God might have something new for you as we move into 2020?

Maybe a New Year’s resolution is not enough.

New Year’s resolutions help us look into the future to see who we want to become. The resolutions create a plan of action.  However, resolutions are often future-focused. It takes us out of the moment and focuses on what we do not have in our lives.

What if we instead set a daily intention for 2020. A daily intention helps us focus on where you are in this moment so that we can live out our values. They provide a map for how to live each day with purpose.  We choose how we INTEND to live instead of WISHING life would be different. A daily intention could be one WORD to live throughout this year or even for this first month of 2020. It means getting up from whatever pool we find ourselves at every day, waiting for something new. It is finding hope that Jesus offers this man beside the pool in Bethesda.

Take a few minutes before your feet hit the floor every day to reflect on your daily intention. This faith practice is about joining God in the world with intention. Let’s follow Jesus into 2020. One step at a time.

Prayer: God, empower us to live into 2020 with intentionality and faithfulness. 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 30 2019

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Scripture: 3 John 1-15

Key verse: (4)  “I have no greater joy than this, to hear that my children are walking in the truth.”

Reflection: Today’s epistle lesson offers you the opportunity to read an entire book of the Bible for your devotional!  When’s the last time you read a book of the Bible in one day?  Granted, it’s the shortest book in the New Testament, fewer words than any other book. So today, in honor of 3 John, I offer a brief devotional.  Love one another.  That’s it.  That’s what John writes in 1 John, 2 John, and in 3 John, that’s what it means to walk in truth.

Prayer: Thank you for your love, O God.  Help us live out your love in our lives.  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].

Friday December 27 2019

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Scripture: 2 John 1-13

Key verse: (5) “I ask you, not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but one we have had from the beginning, let us love one another.”

Reflection: When I was in college, there was a really popular professor who taught religion courses, Dr. Na. He could do anything, he knew seven languages, rode a motorcycle, played violin, could take apart his computer and then put it back together, he was impressive. In his classes students often tried to impress our professor with lofty complex answers to his questions. I remember one day when Dr. Na asked a question, all of us students gave our best shot at long convoluted answers with complex theological arguments. To this day I don’t remember what the question was, but I just remember that we were all wrong. Dr. Na finally said, “The answer is ‘Jesus loves you’, so you must love one another.” That was it, the answer was that simple, something we had been taught a long, long time ago but often didn’t live by.

In our passage for today the author is writing to a church that he identifies as “the elect lady”. John is reminding the congregation of something they already knew, that they are to love one another because Jesus loves them. They may have known Jesus’ love, but they weren’t living by it. Jesus’ love for us and our call to love others is not new information, but it gets lost as we often engage in heated debate, personal arguments, and issues we hold closely to heart. It is good to faithfully move into complex issues, but may we never lose sight of love. May we never lose sight of Jesus’ love for us and our call to love one another. Take time over this Christmas season to sit in Jesus’ love for you, examine where you may have moved away from that simple yet profound message for the sake of complex arguments, or the desire to be right. May you hold fast to Jesus’ love for you and share that love with one another.

Prayer: Holy God, we give you thanks for your love for us. Soften our hearts that we may receive your love and embolden us that we may share that love with others. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[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 26 2019

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Scripture: Matthew 18:1-14

Key verses: (4-5) Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Reflection: Children in first-century Palestine had no status, no rights, no voice. So, the answer Jesus gives to the disciples’ question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” is a surprising one. The question comes filtered through earthy understandings of power and status; are the greatest not those who have titles, those who have wealth, those who command large armies, or those who sit on thrones of gold? Perhaps they expect an answer that lifts up the most pious follower or one of the wise religious leaders, or even they expect the answer to be one of the prophets of old. Jesus calls a little child over to them, pointing out that those who are like children are the greatest.

Using children as models for who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus reverses expectations about who is valued and accepted. The social and economic understanding of children in Palestine during the first century is evidence to the radical message of Jesus and provides a deeper meaning to those who belong in God’s kingdom. Children do not claim anything for themselves. They are utterly dependent on others for survival. Jesus uses a child to model the life of faithful discipleship, a life that is completely and utterly dependent on God.

We have waited, watched, and prepared in Advent. We have celebrated the birth of Christ; our long expected Jesus has come. Now it is time to live in the knowledge of God’s indwelling on earth. The ministry that was birthed at Christmas is a ministry of reversal: from last to first, from lowly to lifted high, from weary to rested, from child to King.

When you think about children, what comes to mind? Pure joy and unabashed laughter; deep and expanded imagination, stretching reality beyond perception; humility and acceptance and love? I wonder what life would look like if we became like children. I wonder how the world would look through the humble eyes of a child. I wonder how we could partner with Christ in ministry with the expansive imagination of a child.

God calls us beloved children and that is what we are.

Prayer: As a child you came to dwell with us, O God, your Word made flesh. In the Christ-child your kingdom is revealed. Humble us so that we may become like children, utterly dependent on you. May we join in Christ’s mission with imagination, joy, and love. Amen.

Author: Ben Brannan

[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 25 2019

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Scripture: 1 John 5:1-12

Key verses: (11-12a) “And this is the testimony:  God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; . . .”

Reflection: Today is the day in the Christian calendar when we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus.  Yesterday, on Christmas Eve, we listened to the story again as we lit candles and remembered that Jesus is the light of the world; the source of love and hope.  Jesus was born like every other human being on earth.  He was not born into wealth or privilege, but rather he was born into an everyday family.  He continues to be born into the hearts of all those who receive the gift of faith.

May you and your family have a very Merry Christmas!

Prayer: Loving God, light of the world, hope of the nations, be with us now and always as we seek to live out the love and justice of the baby of Bethlehem, Jesus, in our daily lives.  In his 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 24 2019

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Scripture: Psalm 27

Key verse: (1) The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Reflection: It’s Christmas Eve. In worship today we will light our candles to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, the light of the world. As the room darkens, the candlelight will shine across all of those faces.

One Christmas when I was growing up, my mother received a Clairol makeup mirror as a gift. Maybe it was from my dad?! The makeup mirror had two rows of lightbulbs on either side of a center mirror. At the bottom was a dial to turn to choose a filter for the lightbulbs. There were four settings for the light – daylight, office, home and candlelight. The candlelight setting softened the bulbs with a warm hue. The mirror was still illuminated but the little wrinkles and defects were no longer obvious. Every face seems more beautiful in candlelight!

How perfect that we light candles today! The beauty of God shines in the baby Jesus born long ago in Bethlehem. God’s beauty also shines through each of us with our unique gifts, experiences and quirks. God’s beauty shines through the gathered community as we lift our voices together to sing praises to God. For a moment our defects aren’t quite as obvious. God chose to become flesh and live among us. Our faces glow with the good news that we are loved by God. I bet, when God looks at us, the dial is always set on candlelight!

Prayer: Love has come and never will leave us!

Love is life everlasting and free.

Love is Jesus within and among us.

Love is the peace our hearts are seeking.

Love! Love! Love is the gift of Christmas.

Love! Love! Praise to you, God on high. Amen.

(prayer is verse three of hymn #110 Love Has Come, in Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal)

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 23 2019

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Scripture: 1 John 4:7-16

Key verses: (7-8) Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.

Reflection: A lot things drown out this message of love in these days before Christmas. Remembering where we hid all the gifts. Wondering if we got something for everyone! The stories we tell ourselves about what we think is happening. Our expectations about how things should happen this week and how people should love us. Those are just a few things that drown out this good news.

Dear friends. Let’s love each other, because love is from God.

We don’t have to buy it, make it or create it. Love comes from God for each of us and the good news is that love is going to show up this week.

The God who created the heavens and earth, the sky and the earth below, the God who knows us and still loves us is coming again to live among us.  Even though we know the story, it is always a love that takes our breath away. It is an unexpected love.  Love shows up, for you and me and this crazy world.

Love shows up when no one else will … and when it is needed most. I know you have a story about how love has shown up for you this Christmas.

Dear friends, let’s love each other. Let’s be the love that shows up for each other as we wait and watch for a deep abiding love that WILL show up again.

Prayer: Holy God, this is breathtaking space in-between what has been, what is and what is to come. With each breath, I know your love for me and my capacity to love. May I live into that love every minute of today. 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 20 2019

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Scripture: Luke 1:57-66

Key verses: (59-60) “On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’”

Reflection: What is the story behind your name?  Are you named after family, or perhaps a close friend of your parents?  Or were you named after someone famous, or perhaps a biblical character?  Or did your parents just like your name?  I’m named after my grandfathers, Joseph Michael Clifford and John Henry Troeger.  Growing up I was called by a double name: Joe John.  What’s the story behind your name?

There is quite a story behind John the Baptist’s name.  In fact, it takes up the majority of the first chapter of Luke’s gospel.  His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth had been unable to have children.  After winning the clergy lottery to make the offering of incense in the holy of holies, he came face to face with the angel, Gabriel, who told him his wife was going to have a baby.  Understandably, he questioned how this could happen, and Gabriel took offense, striking him mute for his lack of faith.  Today’s reading relates the story of John’s birth, and his circumcision ceremony.  At the point they would name the child, the priest assumes he’ll be named, “Zechariah,” after his father.  But Elizabeth tells the priest their son’s name will be “John,” (יוֹחָנָן ,Yochanan in Hebrew,) meaning, “God is gracious.”  Zechariah confirms this in writing, and at that moment, his tongue is freed and sings praise to God.  Now that’s quite a story behind John’s name!

“God is gracious;” that is the meaning of John’s name.  It’s also the meaning of his birth, a gift of grace to a couple who had been unable to have children.  It’s the meaning of his life, to announce to coming of the Messiah, and to anoint him in the waters of baptism.  God is gracious.  This is the central truth of the Gospel. As we near Christmas, John’s name reminds us to prepare our own hearts to receive God’s most gracious gift to the world, the Christ child.

Prayer: Your grace is fresh every morning and sustains us through each day, O God.  Thank you.  Thank you for your graciousness.  Thank you for the gift of this day.  Thank you for the breath we just took and the one that, by your grace, we are about to receive.  Help us to live in response to your graciousness by living gracefully in this world.  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].

Thursday December 19 2019

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Scripture:  2 Samuel 7:1-17

Key verse: (6) “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt.”

Reflection: Each Christmas when we sing “Away in a Manger” what images come to mind with the words, “Away in a manger no crib for his bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head”? Do you imagine serene nativity scenes, Christmas pageants with our children, or perhaps you are a new parent thinking no way was this baby sweet and silent sleeping in hay! The image of Jesus in a manger is one quite familiar to us, it would be strange if the inn keeper had space in the inn and Jesus was born in a house. What would we do with the sheep and the lowing cattle and all of the other stable animals that we love so much?

And while we love the manger scene, maybe our comfort with Jesus being born outside of a house, among the animals, is deeper than appreciation for live nativities and little figurines. From our scripture reading today we see that it is part of God’s character from the very beginning to not want to be confined within the walls of a single place. In 2 Samuel King David had just established his rule and built for himself a great house. The kingdom was getting settled after a rough reign from the first king Saul. But with David in the seat of power there was growth and stability within the kingdom. And yet the ark of the covenant, the place where it was believed that God resided, still remained in a tent. In his love for God, David desired to build God a house as well, but God said, “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt.” God didn’t want a house, God liked the tent which was mobile, agile, easily moved.

And so when God became flesh and dwelt among us in Jesus, it would only make sense that there was no room in the inn, that God would be born outside of restraining and confining walls, the manger opened God up to the whole world. As we draw closer to Christmas with pageants, concerts, decorations, and parties, may we remember that no walls ever confined God and the same is true today. Take a moment today and peer out your window, where do you see God on the move? If you haven’t stepped out of the church walls in a while, I encourage you to engage with one of our mission partners to better see how God is on the move. Give thanks that the God who created the world and all that is in it moves among us and with us wherever we are.

Prayer: Loving God, in the anticipation of Advent may we recognize your presence with us each and every day. Open our hearts to your presence which is bigger than any building, home, or church. Through Christ we pray. Amen.

Author: John Magnuson

[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 18 2019

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Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

Key verses: (28-30)   28And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

Reflection: How fitting that going into the last Sunday of Advent we read the Annunciation. Each year we are reminded of this story, how Mary, a virgin woman, was told by an angel that she will give birth to a son, and he will be great and be called the Son of the Most High. Two things stick with me as I read: favor and call.

Mary is the “favored one” and is told “do not be afraid.” To be favored is to be regarded as worthy, endowed with special gifts, or providing preferential treatment. It is no small thing to be regarded and favored, especially if you are exceedingly aware that you should not be. Mary is set apart as worthy and told that she will conceive and give birth to the Son of God. Was there ever a time you when you were favored or highly regarded? What emotions and feelings come to mind? As we near Christmas day, in the midst of everything this season throws your way or _______ (fill in the blank), what would it feel like to know, remember, and experience the knowledge that God favors you? This season is often other-focused: the shopping, the gatherings, the giving, the hosting. To remember God’s favor towards you, in the middle of all this stuff, shifts my priorities and helps to reclaim the incarnational celebration. How about you?

This passage is also a call story. We find all the typical elements present: a greeting (1:28), a startled reaction (1:29), a “do not fear” exhortation (1:30), a divine commission (1:31-33), an objection (1:34), a reassurance (1:35), and a sign of confirmation (1:36-37). Mary is called to a prophetic task, one in which no other human will ever be called: bearing and nursing Jesus, the Son of God. Mary is one of the many people of faith the Scripture bears witness to and we celebrate, but she is the only one who is identified as “God-bearer” (theotokos in Greek). It is this distinctive vocation that she serves as a model for the church in relationship to God, revealing what it means for us, in turn, to bear God to the world.

Mary was favored in the eyes of God and was called to a particular vocation. Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord.” Mary turns out to be not simply the mother of Jesus but an ideal role model for all followers of Jesus: a servant of God who embodies faith and faithfulness. Recognizing Mary’s call as theotokos and her faithfulness during her life leads us to ask questions about the character of our relationship to God. What does it mean to say that Mary (and we) are the bearers of God? I wonder how things might shift if we constantly remind ourselves (and others) of our divine favor and divine calling. The angle speaks to us too, “the Lord is with you… Do not be afraid.”

Prayer: Calling God, in all my brokenness, here I am, a servant of the Lord. Help me, by your mighty grace, to be a beacon of your light in the world. In the midst of the busy holiday calendar, remind me of your call on my life, to share in the good news of your coming Son the hope of indwelling love.

Author: Ben Brannan

[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].