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.

Present reality

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…

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

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.

Wash me of preconceptions

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.

The scrapebook in my heart

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one about whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is really greater than me because he existed before me. Even I didn’t recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he might be made known to Israel.” John testified, “I saw the Spirit coming down from heaven like a dove, and it rested on him. Even I didn’t recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit coming down and resting is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.” ~John 1: 29-33 (CEB)

“Jesus does not shift the balance in the relationship between creature and Creator. This balance rests only on the human’s act of abandonment and God’s act of gratuitous love.

I should say that, although Jesus has given us the “photograph” of the Father in the gospels, the mystery, the “unknowing” of God remains. We see, and yet we do not see; we become acquainted, and yet we still need to become further acquainted; we know, but we are still very ignorant. It is a photograph that we are able and unable to see.

It depends on you. You are the camera, able to fix inside yourself what you see and what you don’t see in the gospels and thus make a photograph of your own. You know that the power of fixing an image in the soul depends on the Holy Spirit, who is love, who alone is able to make that photograph in proportion to your intimacy with him.” ~From The God Who Comes by Carlo Carretto

I am a lens through which to experience God. Only I can zoom in on the pictures that are meant for me. The pictures are mine to capture. No one can take them for me; I have to gather my own pictures of God’s love. My life is a scrapbook pieced together carefully and intentionally by Him. It is a story of His love for me.

Thank You Father for the pictures I have stored in my heart of Your love for me. Help me to remember to look through this scrapbook of Your love for me regularly so that I may never forget that I am beloved by You. Amen.

By faith

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out without knowing where he was going.

By faith he lived in the land he had been promised as a stranger. He lived in tents along with Isaac and Jacob, who were coheirs of the same promise. He was looking forward to a city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

By faith even Sarah received the ability to have a child, though she herself was barren and past the age for having children, because she believed that the one who promised was faithful. So descendants were born from one man (and he was as good as dead). They were as many as the number of the stars in the sky and as countless as the grains of sand on the seashore. ~Heb. 11:8-12 (CEB)

“Knowing the stories of our faith, and how they connect with our own life experiences, means that we can celebrate the faithfulness and grace-bestowing love of God that was given to Abraham and Sarah, to the Israelites in Egypt and in the wilderness, and to the disciples. We can celebrate what is given to us as we join others in claiming God’s promise and rejoicing in God’s love as we gather at the Lord’s table. We can celebrate what will be given to us and to all creation in times yet to come because God is faithful and God keeps God’s promises.

We know who we are- children of God loved and forgiven and called by God! And we know Whose we are- children of God who are called to be witnesses to God’s love and care for all the world. We are therefore able to share in the festivity that grows out of our shared stories and visions. Our identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters causes us to seek ways to celebrate and repeatedly affirm that we are who we are!” ~From Rituals for Resurrection by Linda J. Vogel

Through others’ stories I can ferret out who God calls me to be. As I hear about other people’s journeys I begin to see how I fit into His Story. My faith is bolstered as I see others who are secure in their belief and show how to live a life trusting and accepting God’s will.

Heavenly Father, as I travel away from who I want to be and come closer to who You call me to be may I find security in my faith. Help me when I feel weak to believe that Your promises are true and that You are faithful even when I am not. Help me this day to be more than I am. Amen.

A walk in the desert

The LORD said to Abram, Leave your land, your family, and your father’s household for the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation and will bless you. I will make your name respected, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, those who curse you I will curse; all the families of earth will be blessed because of you.”

Abram left just as the LORD told him, and Lot went with him. Now Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all of their possessions, and those who became members of their household in Haran; and they set out for the land of Canaan. When they arrived in Canaan, Abram traveled through the land as far as the sacred place at Shechem, at the oak of Moreh. The Canaanites lived in the land at that time. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, “I give this land to your descendants, ” so Abram built an altar there to the LORD who appeared to him. From there he traveled toward the mountains east of Bethel, and pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and worshipped in the LORD’s name. Then Abram set out toward the arid southern plain, making and breaking camp as he went. ~Gen 12:1-9 (CEB)

“So we see that heeding God’s call can mean leaving home and all that is familiar. It can demand our accumulated wealth and security or dare us to place our blessings, even our lives, at risk. It can also mean simply living where we are but with an entirely new set of priorities. In every case, our particular vocation in God’s service arises from our repose to the basic call to radical availability.” ~From Companions in Christ: Participant’s Book, Part 4 by Gerrit Scott Dawson

God sometimes comes into our already established lives and asks us to change. It may be a complete change in scenery or the same scenery but changes non-the-less. Sometimes it is tempting to avoid the encounter thus preventing us from changing our comfortable lives. But it is good to remember that every encounter with God, even if the result is change, comes with bountiful blessings. If Abraham had not been willing to step out in faith, accept the change that God was asking of him, he would have missed out on a manifold of blessings.

When I chose to ignore God’s knock, what might I be missing out on?

Heavenly Father, give me the strength to step out in faith to either put it all on the line, or simply to live righteously where I am now. May I live this ordinary day radically. Amen

The end of the Story

Look, God does all this, twice, three times with persons to bring them back from the pit, to shine with life’s light. Listen, Job; hear me; be quiet, and I will speak. If you have words, answer me speak, for I want to be innocent. If not, you must hear me; be quiet, and I will teach you wisdom. ~Job 33:29-33 (CEB)

“The symbol of Christmas- what is it? It is the rainbow arched over the roof of the sky when the clouds are heavy with foreboding. It is the cry of life in the newborn babe when, forced from its mother’s nest, it claims its right to live. It is the brooding Presence of the Eternal Spirit making crooked paths straight, rough places smooth, tired hearts refreshed, dead hopes stir with newness of life. It is the promise of tomorrow at the close of every day, the movement of life in the defiance of death, and the assurance that love is sturdier than hate, that right is more confident wrong, that good is more permanent than evil.” ~From The Mood of Christmas by Howard Thurman

What Christmas means to me is that promise of tomorrow. When I close my eyes each night I have the assurance that I will open them again whether here on earth or in heaven. This life I live is not all there is to the story. Today when I climb into bed my heart may be weary and my body may feel a little beat up from simply living. But when I close my eyes I dream of rainbows and possibilities. Death is never the end. Evil will be revenged. Love is larger than hate. Good will ultimately win. With each new day hope stirs again… hope which ultimately will be fully realized in Heaven.

Heavenly Father, I thank you for the promise held in rainbows and new births. May I embrace the possibilities that these things symbolize. I don’t know what all this day will hold Lord, but I know the end of the Story and it ends with Your glory. Amen.

God’s preposterous promise

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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