O little town of Bethlehem

 

2016-10-29 12.13.30.jpgIn 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.

Present reality

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God is our refuge and strength,

a help always near in times of great trouble.

That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,

when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,

when its waters roar and rage,

when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. ~Psalm 46:1-3 (CEB)

“But God is present in reality no matter what unreality our practices and our ponderings imply. He is forever trying to establish communication; forever aware of the wrong directions we are taking and wishing to warn us; forever offering solutions for the problems that baffle us; forever standing at the door of our loneliness, eager to bring us such comradeship as the most intelligent living mortal could not supply; forever clinging to our indifference in the hope that someday our needs, or at least our tragedies will waken us to respond to his advances. The Real Presence is just that, real and life-transforming. Nor are the conditions for the manifestation of his splendors out of the reach of any of us! Here they are; otherness, openness, obedience, obsession.” ~From The Captivating Presence by Albert Edward Day.

Heavenly Father, Thank You for your sustaining presence. Help me to feel your presence this day as I take up the tasks laid before me. May I continually turn to You for strength and not forget Your love. Amen.

Let it be as you have said…

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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.

One long night

2016-10-15 19.33.44.jpgNearby 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 Elvis 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 for 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 supposed 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 by 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.

Wash me of preconceptions

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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 affected 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.

My soul dances

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For in [Christ] every one of God’s promises is a “Yes.” For this reason it is through him that we say the “Amen,” to the glory of God ~2 Cor. 1:20 (NRSV)

“God’s apparent lack of restraint when it comes to creating things is but a symptom of a deeper ‘problem’: God lacks restraint when it comes to loving, too. In fact, God is most unrestrained when it comes to loving. Put another way, God cannot love except abundantly.

We see this abundance of God’s love demonstrated throughout [Hebrew Scriptures] The Chosen People turn away from God again and again. What does God do? Does God throw up his divine hands in disgust and cry, ‘Enough already!’ and zap those Israelites into kingdom come? No, God continues to love them, taking them back again and again and again. There seems to be no end to God’s love. There is no end to God’s love.” ~From Abundant Treasures by Melannie Svoboda

My soul dances in delight, O Lord, for You have visited me with unspeakable promise, which You alone can perform. Amen.

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God’s preposterous promis

 

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Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior. He has looked with favor on the low status of his servant. Look! From now on, everyone will consider me highly favored because the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is his name. He shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next, who honors him as God. He has shown strength with his arm. He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty- handed. He has come to the aid of his servant Israel, remembering his mercy,  just as he promised to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Abraham’s descendants forever.” ~Luke 1:46-55 (CEB)

“Mary’s song of praise must have been a shock- even to Elizabeth and surely to everyone else who heard it. It bordered on treason and blasphemy and must have left every adult who heard it angry, confused, embarrassed, surprised, curious, or frightened. And it could be that all these feelings were swirling around in the hearts and minds of those who heard this message of radical revolution.

First of all, here she was a simple peasant girl, announcing that God had chosen her for great responsibility, honor, and blessing. Only Elizabeth could hear this song without a knowing smile, attributing all this nonsense to teenage idealism. As a matter of fact, Mary’s declaration would likely have been dismissed as teenage daydreams if it had not all come true!

And what about this prophecy that God would bring down the rich and powerful and lift up the weak and powerless? Where did she get this nonsense? Again we might say it was youthful idealism, out of touch with reality and an absolute absurdity in our world. We could say that- if we didn’t know about Jesus and his proclamation and practice of the same truth.

The final straw was the youthful confidence that God can be trusted to keep promises. Where did a mere child get the wisdom and the faith to bear witness to God’s trustworthiness so boldly? Perhaps from the same God who dwelt within and spoke through the voice and actions of Jesus. Jesus trusted God as loving Abba and taught and lived his faith in a God who was absolutely trustworthy. He not only taught people to receive God’s love but also taught them how to trust, love, and obey this trustworthy God.

God’s promise seems no less preposterous today. Turn the values of this world upside down? Rich become weak, poor become strong? Each of us is chosen to be God’s special witness to God’s promise of love and justice? It does seem like a preposterous promise, until we listen carefully to the Advent story, observe the life of Jesus, and listen to the Spirit’s voice today. But then we see that the promise is for us. The responsibility to tell the story is ours. And yes, the blessing and honor come to all whose lives point to Jesus Christ and God’s revolutionary purpose in the world. ~ From A Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God Ruben P. Job

Heavenly Father, through this season of Advent may I be reminded that Your promises are never empty and always true. Although they may at times seem preposterous, Your values can be counted on, Your justice and love are true. Let me hear the Spirit’s voice this day as more and more of Your story are revealed. Amen.

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