O little town

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. ~Luke 2:1-7 (CEB)

O LITTLE TOWN OF BETHLEHEM

by, Phillip Brooks, Lewis H. Redner.

O little town of Bethlehem,

How still we see thee lie;

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep,

The silent stars go by.

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting light;

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight.

For Christ is born of Mary,

And gather’d all above

While mortals sleep, the angels keep

Their watch of wond’ring love.

O morning stars together

Proclaim the holy birth

And praises sing to God the King

And peace to men on earth.

“No matter how often we sing them, the simple words and music of Phillip Brooks’ ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ transport us to that night in which the Christ child came to earth. Through a gentle, quiet tune and pictures made by words, we enter the time and place when God, transcendent and unfathomable, was born into human history- in a human way. In terms a human being could best understand.

As the carol proceeds, our words become a prayer. It is a prayer that asks for something incredible: that the miracle be reproduced, and that this time, the event not simply happened in history, but in us.” ~From Faith, the Yes of the Heart by Grace Adolphsen Brame

Peace on earth seems so far away sometimes Heavenly Father, I am thankful for the retelling of the Christmas story because it reminds me that You were willing to come down here with us on Earth. Although the world doesn’t seem peaceful and quiet, if I turn to You I can always find that peace that passes this present understanding. Amen.

Let it be as You have said

Then Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.” Then the angel left her. ~Luke 1:38 (CEB)

“We know we are entirely dependent upon God, yet we forget and try to make our own provision for tomorrow or waste our energy in anxiety and fear that we will be forsaken when tomorrow comes. Mary was able to trust her life fully to the everlasting arms, sure that she would be upheld no matter what the future brought. ‘I am yours’. Help me to remember you provided for me as a helpless baby: you provide for me now and will provide for me through eternal ages. Help me to live as one life totally given to you.” ~From A guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, Rueben P. Job

Heavenly Father, I know deep in my heart that You will provide all my needs, especially as I try to walk in obedience to your will. Guide my steps, strengthen my will, hold my hand as I try to walk this day for You, I am Yours. Amen.

Wash me of preconception

 

 

From ancient times, no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any god but you who acts on behalf of those who wait for him!  ~Isaiah 64:4 (CEB)

The contemplation of God is not effected by sight and hearing, nor is it comprehended by any of the customary perceptions of the mind. For no eye has seen and no ear has heard, nor does it belong to those things which usually enter into the heart. One who would approach the knowledge of things sublime must first purify one’s manner of life from all sensual and irrational emotion. That person must wash from his or her understanding every opinion derived from some preconception and withdraw from customary intercourse with companions, that is, with sense perceptions, which are, as it were, wedded to our nature as its companion. When so purified, then one assaults the mountain.

The knowledge of God is a mountain steep indeed and difficult to climb- the majority of people scarcely reach its base. If one were a Moses, he would ascend higher and hear the sound of trumpets which, as the text of the history says, becomes louder as one advances. For the preaching of the divine nature is truly a trumpet blast, which strikes the hearing, being already loud at the beginning but becoming yet louder at the end. ~From Gregory of Nyssa

Help me O Lord, to climb the mountain. I want to hear the trumpet blasts this Advent season. May all my preconceptions be washed away so that I can truly experience You in my life. Amen.

One long night…

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. ” Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us. ” They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told. ~Luke 2:8-20 (CEB)

Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. Isn’t it? TV shows and commercials illustrate Christmas time as the … “most wonderful time of the year…” So if Christmas makes you blue… (now I have Evis singing in my head) or even flat out depressed it can be isolating in the sea of celebrations. It can leave some people gloomy finding the holidays anything but jolly, while still others will have experiences that make it difficult to be merry and bright.

When I think of the Advent story it seems to me to start out in the dark and cold, even in the midst of hopelessness. But it is also part of a bigger story of God’s grace waiting our discovery. It is a story of hope.

Sometimes the hype and clichés of the season distract us. The clever marketing ploys succeed in making us desire tangible things we can hold in our hands. Marketing gives us false illusions of how we can find happiness. However all the marketing efforts, hype and catchy logos cannot answer the deep questions of the heart, or address the pain that might reside there, explain the mystery of God’s presence, or even comprehend the meaning of our existence. It also does not help us to understand why bad things happen.

Advent can give us hope though in the midst of our isolation and false illusions because it tells us a story of how God humbled himself, intimately and personally through the birth of Jesus. Sometimes we blow off Advent as just another blip on the church calendar but it is meant to be something more. It is meant to lay a new path of faith for the new year ahead.

In the remembering and retelling of the magical story we are reminded that God loved us so much he allowed Jesus to come down here in the form of a fragile infant to be born in the lowliest of places. The retelling of the story is to remind me why Jesus came into the world in the first place, so that I might have life and live in the light.  I am reminded with the Advent story that God is a hands-on God willing to become vulnerable just so that I might catch a glimpse of how much He loves me. This story tells me that Jesus loved me so much that he came down to earth to be in the darkness with me and to walk with me as I search for the light.

Advent is meant to confront me once again with God’s unparalleled effort to communicate the message that I am embraced and held by a God of love. The Advent season is the time that I can shake off the failures, the victories and the sorrows of the past. I am given a new clean page. Again and again we see in the Bible that God is a God of second chances and the healer of broken hearts. Jesus Christ has come, is present with us, and will come again in final victory when all darkness, pain and evil will be no more.

Heavenly Father, it gives me great comfort to know that You are big enough to handle all my sorrow, all my questions and all my fear. I am thankful that You are a God who is willing to come down to earth and be with me where I am, even if the place You find me is darkness. Even in the darkness I am not hidden from You. I may be worried that I will put others off during this “happy season” with the questions and fears that are hidden in my heart, but I know that You will never turn from my sorrow. You will never brush off my questions. You will never be upset with me if I have the “wrong feelings” for the season. You simply tell me that feelings just are.  Dear Lord, I thank You for sitting with me here right now, waiting with me through this long night, reminding me that there is always a dawn. Amen.

The faith of my actions

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth. God won’t let your foot slip. Your protector won’t fall asleep on the job. No! Israel’s protector never sleeps or rests! The LORD is your protector; the LORD is your shade right beside you. The sun won’t strike you during the day; neither will the moon at night. The LORD will protect you from all evil; God will protect your very life. The LORD will protect you on your journeys— whether going or coming— from now until forever from now. ~Psalm 121:1-8 (CEB)

There is no need to multiply examples of what is so patently and essential condition of the Christian walk. We are saved through faith – an unflagging, unwavering attachment to the person of Jesus Christ.

What is the depth and quality of your faith commitment? In the last analysis, faith is not a way of speaking or even of thinking; it is a way of living. Maurice Blondel said, ‘If you want to know what a person really believes. Don’t listen to what he says but watch what he does.’ Only the practice of faith can verify what we believe. Does faith permeate the whole of your life? Does it influence the way you read the newspaper? DO you have a divine sense of humor that sees through people and events into the unfolding plan of God? When things are turbulent on the surface of your life, do you retain a quiet calm, firmly fixed in ultimate reality? As Therese of Lisieux said, ‘Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you. All things are passing. God alone remains.’ Does faith shape your Advent season this year?” ~From Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning

Heavenly Father, as I wait, I pay attention, keeping my focus on You. Help me to see You in the little things so I can be bolstered for the big. Help me be ever watchful as I wait for Your plans to unfold. Hold my hand in the dark moments as I look to the light of this season. Amen.

Truly to trust

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. ~Jer 29:11-12

I have a dark secret. I worry about my children. Sometimes it is that deep dark crippling kind of worry where I find that the air has stopped flowing through my lungs. God has recently confronted me about these fears I have for my children.

I have embraced God’s promises and I know that He will take care of me and provide for me. I know deep in my heart that there is nothing that can separate me from God’s love and that He will take care of me. But do I have enough faith in God to think the same things for my children? Apparently not. I so worry about the hurts my children have sustained. I worry over the choices that they make. I can see the long term effects cut deep into them and how it could follow them through life.

God asked me one day. Do you not think that my promises are for your children too? Do you not think that I can use all of these things, their hurts and choices for their future? Do you not believe that I can use all these things for their good?

Despite the choices that my children make, despite the hurts they incur, God is holding them in His hands just like he has me in His hands. God has used all my pain and suffering and turned it into glory for Him. He will do the same for my children. That doesn’t absolve me of training them in the way they are to go but it does release me of the control and give control to God.

Heavenly Father, again I turn my children over to you. Protect their hearts, lead them in the way they are to go. I know that You will use all things to their ultimate good. I know that it will all be for Your glory. I trust that You love my children even more than I do. Amen.

 

To still hope

One day Zechariah was serving as a priest before God because his priestly division was on duty. Following the customs of priestly service, he was chosen by lottery to go into the Lord’s sanctuary and burn incense. All the people who gathered to worship were praying outside during this hour of incense offering. An angel from the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw the angel, he was startled and overcome with fear. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this? My wife and I are very old.” The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in God’s presence. I was sent to speak to you and to bring this good news to you. Know this: What I have spoken will come true at the proper time. But because you didn’t believe, you will remain silent, unable to speak until the day when these things happen.” ~Luke 1:8-20 CEB)

Have you ever thought that it was a little harsh that Zachariah was told he would not be allowed to speak for the next 9-10 months? What great sin did he commit to receive such a punishment? It struck me today when discussing these verses with a group that Zachariah forgot, in all his obedience, to continue to expect a miracle. He had prayed for years for a child and over time came to accept that it was not meant to be and had begun to believe it was not going to happen. Maybe Zachariah continued to pray for a child but had somewhere in his waiting stopped believing that it could happen.

In times of waiting, we have to be careful to still be watching… to still believe in miracles. I have to admit it is difficult for me to accept my circumstance and yet still believe in a miracle. After 20 years of diligently praying I have come to accept my circumstances. I have been aware of this and struggle with how to come to terms with it. I have assumed that the long silence on this matter has meant that God’s answer to me is a “no”… and I have adjusted my life in such a way that I have moved on.

Is this what Zachariah is guilty of? Accepting his circumstances and going through the motions of obedience? Did he stop looking for the miracle? In his waiting did he forget to watch… to continue to hope?

My questions are how do I live expectantly while waiting and patiently obeying? How do I believe in the possibility of a miracle, still hope for it and yet go about my daily life? In trying to live above despair I have stopped looking for the miracle. I am sometimes afraid to still hope when each day starts again with disappointment.

Lord, help me to live expectantly and yet still have that “peace that passes all understanding.” Help me claim that Hope and that Peace while I still wait for a miracle. I am looking Lord. I am watching. I am expecting mighty things. Help me in my unbelief. Give me the strength to face each day… knowing that even though today wasn’t the day, there is always tomorrow. Amen.

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