Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 25

Matthew 2:19-23 

When Herod died, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who were seeking the child’s life are dead.’ Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went to the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus was ruling over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And after being warned in a dream, he went away to the district of Galilee. There he made his home in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, ‘He will be called a Nazorean.’

The Path is Never Straight and Clear by Mike

The threats to Jesus’s life are immediate and constant. Herod is the enforcer of death – willing to kill large numbers of children, just to make sure the One is dead. From birth Jesus – an infant – forces His family to become refugees. So it must be a relief to hear the news, “when Herod was dead.”

This is often my approach to threats of any kind – “Once BLANK is gone, everything will be better.” Perhaps this is Joseph’s though, “Herod is dead,” all is clear. The path ahead will be clear and smooth. “Get up and go home – to Israel.”

It lasts only a minute, and the plan changes, new threats, a different path, an end point previously not considered.

And yet…”All is fulfilled.” That is a reminder to me that there is not one path, but many ways to the same ends. Perhaps this season, the message we need is to let go of searching for the clear, direct, smooth pathway. Like Joseph, to embrace the goal, obey, keep moving and trust God sees and travels with us – no matter who threatens us on the way.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 24

Matthew 2:16-18 

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
    wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
    she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

It’s Christmas Eve, and I am

This passage is only three verses long.  It starts with Herod being furious because his ego is wounded. So his irrational impulsive decision is to slaughter every boy under the age of 2 in Bethlehem and its vicinity.  That all happens in the first verse. We don’t have to read the last 2 verses to know what happened.  Of course, there will be weeping and mourning.  Of course, no one will be comforted.

If I take time to feel the feelings in the passage, I could easily enter into all of the stages of grief and I didn’t even know any of the children or families.  Grief is a no win situation.

As part of the writing process, I tried to feel what “Bethlehem and its vicinity” were feeling and now I am angry, out of control, refusing to be comforted, tears streaming, I am having a very ugly cry even as I type.

Doesn’t this passage remind us of mass shootings? Of black lives lost to gun violence? Of nightclubs, religious services, or concerts disrupted by gunfire?  Of war torn countries and refugees longing for safety?

But it does change some things. This reading, horrible as it is, opens us up to feel, to connect, to be human just as God is about to become human.  Maybe in my ugly cry, in the death of all these toddlers, in these feelings, we connect to each other and to Jesus.  Perhaps unwrapping the gift of being human is the true gift of Advent.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 22

Matthew 2:1-12 

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

How to read the Daily News

The ‘BREAKING NEWS’ of the day didn’t arrive via flashy TV pundits, internet, Twitter, or a newspaper headline. The news came slowly, observed by some and heard secondhand by others. Just like our breaking news, not everyone takes in the message in the same ways.

‘Where is the child?’ The prophets foretold his arrival, the stars announce it is time. Some prepare to worship, while Herod is ‘troubled’ – just like today, what is good news to some is troubling to others. Even among the powerful King Herod and the Wise Men – the news evokes very different responses.

These differences in responses are often hard to detect – the worshippers and the duplicitous can sound the same, making it hard to know how to act. So hard, that the Wise Men – having read the stars and the prophets correctly, journey far and come with gifts to worship – are uncertain about what to do with Herod.

They rejoice with the child Jesus and his parents – how could they not give Herod the same opportunity, after he asked so politely? Even these Wise Men need help, they need a warning from the divine. I suspect what makes them wise is that they accept the help, they listen to the voice and respond to their dream. ‘they departed for their own country by another way’

This advent season, let us be wise and accept the help we need.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 21

Luke 2:21-29 

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
    according to your word.

How long must I wait?    

Waiting is not something I enjoy. In fact, having to wait mostly makes me cranky and irritable. Lines at the BMV, people with too many items in their cart at the grocery, traffic, it is easy to think of the annoyances of having to wait. Waiting is so hard, I find it much easier to complain. In fact, complaining about having to wait is a favorite hobby – not that it does anything to shorten the wait or make it enjoyable. Usually, it just makes me more irritable and difficult to be around.

This is not the case with Simeon, he appears to have waited his whole life – without my grumbling and complaining – just for the sight of the Savior. A savior who has yet to do anything – given that he is an 8-day-old baby. All Simeon needs is to see the child and he is at peace knowing his hopes are fulfilled….BEFORE Jesus has done anything, before he is old enough to do anything – Simeon already knows the wait has been, and will be, worth it.

This season, how will you wait like Simeon?

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 19

Luke 2:8-20 

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

To Marvel at Glory by Mark

I think we often forget to look up and marvel at what is before us. We forget how wonderful and amazing it is that trees grow. We forget to admire the stars and the light that comes to us from millions of billions of light years away. When was the last time you stopped, took in the scene around you, felt human, and also felt God’s glory at what He has made?

The shepherds saw glory and were afraid, which seems like a common reaction today. When we find ourselves with something new we see it as something that could be challenging, or it feels overwhelming and we are unable to process what it could mean. The body is a marvel. Did you know, that if you look at challenges as something to surmount, versus something that could bury you, your body does not perceive that as stress? Instead, it responds with the same reactions when you have feelings of courage. That is AMAZING!

How could we change our view to be more in marvel of the glory we see around us versus ignoring it or being afraid? God puts these moments in front of us so that we can marvel, smile, wonder, be amazed, be surprised, and to know the vastness of His glory.

This season, I pray that we can remember to marvel at the sights in front of us as God’s glorious work.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 18

Luke 2:1-7 

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Seeking Shelter by Beata

Traveling many miles.  Joseph – steadfast, patriot. Mary – pregnant, so very pregnant. What do the miles matter? The baby moves with each bumpy step of the donkey.

I try to envision the traditional images of a serene Mary traveling with Joseph walking beside her. Instead, I see groups of tired, hopeful, some angry people – walking, walking, walking; pregnant mothers, men, women, parents, and little children running alongside who are laughing, playing, tiring, and wanting to be carried. However, their parents’ arms are full of meager belongings – you don’t bring a lot when you are fleeing. Will they find a safe place? Will their babies be born in a place of hope and safety? Or, like Mary and Joseph, will they be turned away?

Oh God in heaven, blessed be your name above all names. As you watched over Mary, as you brought Jesus into the world to bring hope and love, please be with the immigrants, the refugees, the asylum seekers. Bring them to a safe place, give them love, give them hope. Amen

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 17

Luke 1:67-80 

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
    that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

To Guide Our Feet Into the Way of Peace by Angela

Jesus’s birth was the manifestation of peace. Peace is an action that reminds me of the quietness of God. The comfort, the stillness, the presence of God.

When I think of peace, it is an ongoing process. It is not just something that can be done only in a day or on one thing. Peace is a mindful decision, which has to be made on a minute, hourly, daily basis. A decision to be more focused on a place of peace with God. A decision to be more focused on Him and the purpose He has for my life.

To be focused on the troubles of life is not good and not helpful to a healthy life or walk with God. He speaks to me the most to remind me not to worry on what’s wrong and focus on Him and the process. Even if I don’t see or know what the outcome will be.

Peace is a mindful decision. Remember, it is an action.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 16

Luke 1:51-66 

He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

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.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

The surprises keep on coming! 

The story of advent is all about surprises. God enters humanity, as a helpless child, born to obscure parents, in a location far from the powers of the world. But, before all of this come the surprises for Zechariah and Elizabeth.

In their old age, Elizabeth is pregnant while Zechariah is mute. The child arrives – and she insists he be named John – now the town is talking, the surprising news is spreading. But wait, there’s more – Zechariah speaks!

Now the town is past surprised – they are in awe. ‘The fear came on all who dwelt around them’ and they could not stop discussing it. This is fear and excitement, possibility and wonder, the lowly being exalted. The beginning of….what?

As you walk through advent this year, may you embrace the surprises ahead.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 15

Matthew 1: 10-25 

and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.

And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation to Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations.

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
    and they shall name him Emmanuel’,

which means, ‘God is with us.’ When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.

God’s Timing by Marj

What struck me first about this passage was the number of generations that passed before Joseph, and by extension the birth of Christ, took place. The collective components of events, people, and circumstances unfolded before the time was right for the Holy Spirit to arrive through the Virgin Mary. Was this by design? Why wait for so many generations and circumstance to unfold? What was it about this point in time and history for Christ to be born? Were the authors of this story accurate in their story telling?

The other thing that struck out at me was Joseph’s obedience to the angel who appeared, saying “Do not be afraid”…”Your wife conceived in her the Holy Spirit…”

Jospeh heard and obeyed, including giving the name Immanuel-“God is With Us”.

What I heard through this passage is we have to wait for God’s timing. Even with all power and energy that created worlds, the time, place, and series of events and circumstances had to be right before the Holy Spirit could arrive.

In this current time and place, I must wait and be patient. The series of events must unfold as they do so that you end up where you are. Hindsight shows that time and again. Things unfold in the way they do for a reason. Your presence and how you relate to others is the cooperative component in others lives. I find this similar to the series of events which had to take place before the Holy Spirit coming to human form.

This validates, for me, faith in God’s timing. Even Jesus had to wait for several generations to pass before coming to fruition.

I want us to remember to give God time. God is waiting for the perfect timing for you. He is setting things up for you. He is creating the collective and cooperative series of events, people and timing to come to you, in order for things to unfold. Miracles do happen. With God all things are possible. The Virgin Mary was able to conceive the Holy Spirit, also known to us in human form as Jesus.  This gives hope to remind me, and the world, that God is with Us.

Toda la Tierra (All Earth Is Waiting)

Dice el profeta al Pueblo de Israel;
“De madre virgen ya viene Emmanuel,” será “Dios con nosotros,” hermano será, con él la esperanza al mundo volverá.

Thus says the prophet to those of Israel, “A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel”: One whose name is “God with us,” our Savior shall be, through whom hope will blossom once within our hearts.

Alberto Taule, translated by Gertrude C. Suppe

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 14

Luke 1:46-56 

And Mary said,

‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.

Magnify! by Andrew

Do you like surprises? Maybe a surprise party, or gift, or a visit from a friend or family member? I’ve found most people only, “sort of,” like them…they prefer to be prepared. At the very least, the size of the surprise definitely correlates with one’s comfort toward it. So how about that bomb the angel dropped on Mary? This very young woman, not yet married, was just told she would be bearing God’s Son! But with all that, what was her response? This beautiful collection of verses (us bible nerds like to call them a “periscope”) that reads more like a poem than what a typical surprised teenager would say!

This periscope is often called, “The Magnificant,” (Latin for: my soul MAGNIFIES the Lord) or the “Ode of the Theotokos,” (Greek for: God-bearer) and has been set to music countless times for hundreds of years. When was the last time someone took your surprised response and set it to music?

I think that sometimes those of us identifying as Protestant Christians get funny about venerating Mary, but in reading this, her response to what would likely be the biggest surprise of her life…girl deserves some credit.

How can we be more like Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer; when surprises enter our lives…particularly those we maybe didn’t want or ask for? Through this song we can see an example of seeking help initially (she is saying this to her relative Elizabeth who she’d stay with the next three months) and she then processes what good God will do through this “surprise.”

So this Advent, a time of year when we know surprises, whether big or small, are imminent, let’s be like Mary. Seek help from the loves ones, take time to reflect on these surprises, and let God guide you to the good that can come from them – and ultimately MAGNIFY God through our lives.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 13

Luke 1:39-45 

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. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

The Visitation by Tamasha

The first time Mary and Elizabeth see each other after learning that they are both pregnant is simply referred to as The Visitation. It conjures a common memory in readers about a time when they’ve been reunited with a loved one after something notable has occurred in the lives of one or both of them.  (My highly-excitable Aunt Joanie whoops and hollers whenever she sees someone that she hasn’t seen in a few months, life circumstances notwithstanding, so I get it!)  So it’s not surprising that Elizabeth was delighted to see that Mary had come to visit, and although we don’t know what greeting Mary gave upon seeing her cousin, we do know the immediate effect of her words.  The baby Elizabeth carried in her womb, the boy who would become John the Baptist, had cause to “leap in [her] womb for joy” at the very sound of Mary’s voice.  Not physically born into the world yet, The Messiah by his very presence, still inside of Mary, cleanses Elizabeth’s child of sin, filling him with Divine Grace, and filling Elizabeth with the Holy Spirit.

I can remember with each of my pregnancies, my babies would immediately begin moving upon hearing my husband’s voice.  How amazing it was to feel each child respond to him in that way!  Those memories and this passage are reminders to me that we are absolutely wired from the very beginning to receive grace.

It’s also a reminder that our Lord speaks to us through other people and uses them as vessels of His message.  Maybe that’s through an act of kindness, a smile, a compliment, an acknowledgement… Don’t we all, then, have the power to touch another’s spirit and bring them joy?

Think about the last time your own spirit was moved… moved to the point that your body had a physical reaction.  Did you hear a song, or witness an event, or dial in to a sermon, or was it something else? What exactly was it that moved you, and why did it speak to your spirit so intensely?  How can you make that happen in another person?

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 12

Luke 1:26-38 

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

The Expectation of Miracles by Tamasha

MIRACLE :  “A surprising and highly improbable or extraordinary event.”

Any time I’ve thought about this passage, I’ve immediately considered it to be about the miraculous possibilities that exist when a situation is considered to be impossible.  The implication is enormous, especially when thinking about how our Lord and Savior came to exist and physically walk this earth.  Truly, the argument can be made that, other than the resurrection, the Incarnation of Christ is the most divine example of a miracle that we could imagine.  Have you ever thought about this story, though, as NOT a miracle at all, not as an exception to the rule, but as the rule itself?

As we move through this passage, we think about Mary and Elizabeth, who represent the virgin and the barren.  Pretty straightforward.  One has never been with a man, and the other is incapable of producing children.  The trouble here is that these definitions only scratch the surface of what the words, in their entirety, really mean.

A virgin can also be “a person who is naïve, innocent, or inexperienced in a particular context”.  In this way, a virgin can be someone who is simply without experience, lacking confidence, without absolute knowledge of a situation or idea.  He/she is a novice. I immediately think about my oldest child, and how he’s beginning to ask questions about learning to drive.  He’s terrified and full of “what-ifs”, constantly needing the reassurance that he’ll eventually learn and become so good at driving that it will become second nature to him.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is barren. Barren, what we immediately define as unable to bear children, is also defined as “desolate; deserted; ruined; saddened by grief or loneliness”.  Haven’t we all, at some point, experienced these very feelings?  Haven’t we all hit a brick wall at some point in our lives – perhaps even recently – when we felt that we had nothing more to give; nothing more to produce, and were empty?

Here is where it all comes together.  For both the unknowing and naïve, and the deserted and grieving, the virgin and the barren, there is a promise of conception. To conceive is to develop a plan or begin a process. The moral of the story, then, is that (regardless of our history and circumstance and lot in life) we have an absolute promise of new development and new beginnings, as the blessed and highly favored children of the Most High God.  Every single day. Again and again. Unending. Absolutely UNENDING. (Yeah…think about that for a second!)

As I sit with this and again think about what MIRACLES are, I can’t help but consider that our stories of Mary and Elizabeth – very specific examples of how God delivers on His promise that we will live in fullness, our lives dripping with possibilities and new beginnings and abundance even when we are convinced otherwise – those promises are not “improbable or extraordinary”.  Those promises are constant.  They are the very essence of probable; they are likely, and certain.  Should we be surprised by that which is certain and continuously proven?

What would life look like, in terms of disappointment and setbacks or circumstances of uncertainty, if we changed our thinking to always simply expect “a miracle”?

Holy Living and Loving God, Thank you for the ultimate gift of promise that you deliver to me each day. Thank you for making the impossible, expected; the improbable, likely; the barren, overflowing; the doubt, conquered. Let me be open to receive your gifts and accept your promises as truth. Amen.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 11

Luke 1:5-25 

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’ The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’

I’m too old for this %$# by Mike

Zechariah is an honorable man, a priest before God; married to Elizabeth who is an honorable woman. They have lived properly, following the rules, doing whatever has been required of them to be faithful.

They have a history of doing what is right, but their lack of children appears to them as a sign something must be wrong. And now, worst of all, they are getting old. Too old. So old that when Gabriel gives Zechariah the news – happy, joyous, news for which he and Elizabeth have waited…he cannot believe it.

‘But’, he says, “I’m too old”.  Too old to accept what he has always longed for, to believe God is answering their prayers.

This advent, follow the faithfulness of Zechariah…right up until he says, ‘But I’m too old’. He was not too old and neither are you.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 10

John 1:1-18 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.”’) From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

We All Have the Light by Vicky

There are times when our light, given to us by God, does not shine or is dampened by what is happening in the world. There are moments when it is hard to see that light in others.

Dear Lord, inspire us to let our light shine and to see the light in others. Especially during this time of busyness and holiday stress…How can we have the patience and appreciation for that light to shine in ourselves and in others?

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 9

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16 

Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’

But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.

Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.

The Plans We Make VS. God’s Plans by Quinn

I am not a planner. I don’t like deciding what to wear ahead of time. I don’t like setting lunch dates, even informal ones, until the morning-of. I am not the one to have a 5- or 10-year plan. I. Am. Not. A. Planner.

However! Once I HAVE decided on something, I tend to dive in whole-heartedly and with fervor. And if someone tries to slow me down, it upsets me as if I had been planning this activity or project for years. So, I can relate to David in this passage.

In verse one, we see David and the people of Israel in a rare moment of rest and peace. War and wandering have characterized the nation’s past, and so the House of the Lord has always been the Tabernacle – the tent curtains David mentions in verse two. David, in his moment of peace, gets the sudden idea to build the Lord a permanent home – a temple – because why shouldn’t God sleep in a house if he himself, the SERVANT of the Lord, sleeps in a house? He gets the idea, and he whole-heartedly decides to run with it!

That is, until Nathan is called by God to burst David’s bubble.

David is told that this is not the time for a temple. Israel will be led to a land that will be their home, where they will establish their nation, but it is not here and not now. David will NOT be the one to establish the temple. I can feel the let-down David may have experienced. God ruined his “plans!”

However, God still had a promise for David. His name, his lineage, his kingdom will be ever-established! David was called to patience – to wait – in the face of the promises God had made. He had to trust that the Lord would be faithful to the promises made.

David never saw the temple constructed. And he never saw the establishment of his name as a great lineage. ::cough cough::Jesus::cough cough:: But thousands of years later, we have benefitted from the faithfulness of David.

In Advent, we are called to slow down and participate in David’s waiting; to lean into the promise that Jesus will be born and fulfill the establishing of David’s lineage as a great nation.

This Advent, may we find peace and rest, and in that time of calm, may we patiently look forward to the birth of our Lord. And may we celebrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of promises made long ago.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 8

Micah 5:2-5 

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
    who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labour has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.

    If the Assyrians come into our land
    and tread upon our soil,
we will raise against them seven shepherds
    and eight installed as rulers.

It’s OK to be Small by Mark

I don’t like crowds. This is mainly due to the fact that when you are in a crowd there are probably more strangers around you than you might normally experience. When you don’t know the people around you, it can make you feel out of synch, small, or disconnected. At least that is how I feel.

When God is speaking to the town of Bethlehem as a place that is ‘little among the thousands,’ that gives me some anxiety. What would that be like, to be little amongst thousands? Would you feel even more disconnected? But then I remember that this is the beginning of a story that will bring Christ to connect us all. We are all a part of God, and part of this story. We all know are connected because of the that small place. It’s OK to remember what our scale is, it is ok to remember to feel small sometimes – but do not let it overwhelm you. We are never too small or too disconnected with God. We are just the right size for where we are today. God’s body is infinite, and we are connected to the body through Christ’s birth. We are a flock, a pack, and part of the everlasting too. It’s ok to be small with a big God beside you. Feel what you need  to this Advent season, and know you have a big God beside you.

Lord, I pray that I accept the small feelings. I pray that I can know that even when I am small, you and the body of your flock are right there beside me in those anxious, disconnected moments.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 7

Isaiah 61:1-4 

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
    and the day of vengeance of our God;
    to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
    they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
    the devastations of many generations.

A Commitment to Help by Joey

One of my fondest memories of the advent season growing up is of packing onion bags full of donated food in our church’s basement to be delivered during the Christmas season to families in need. As I’ve gotten older though, direct service has become less and less of a habit. Service during the Christmas season is often a familiar and joyful experience for many Christians. Let us reflect upon the reading today and recommit ourselves to helping those who are less fortunate.

Lord, may we recommit or continue to be of service to the poor. Let us always show our love to others through our actions and our deeds. May our works seek to alleviate suffering, lift up the poor and help free all people who are in captivity. Whether they are incarcerated or held captive by addiction or poverty, let us ease their suffering and help them rebuild their lives.

In this season, let us not forget the systemic nature of poverty. The desolations of many generations cannot be rebuilt with a few hours or a single day of service. We must also seek to empower leaders who will repair our ruined neighborhoods. May we empower those who will work day in and day out to rebuild the ruined cities and create beauty in their midst.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 6

Isaiah 40:1-11 

Comfort, O comfort my people,
    says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’
    And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
    their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
    when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
    surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
    but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
    O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
    O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
    lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
    ‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
    and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
    he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
    and gently lead the mother sheep.

 The Grass and the Seeds by Kiley

Isaiah 40: 6-8 reminds me of a phrase I wrote above my desk during a particularly difficult season at work: “Even if I am just softening the soil so that someday someone may rest in the shade of a tree.” It gave me great comfort to think that even if I was just flailing around in the dirt, maybe somehow a pocket of earth would open… a seed would fall… a tree would grow… and years down the road, when I was no longer here (or there), someone in need of a moment of peace could rest under its branches.

And when I read this—that we are like grass and our faithfulness the flowers of the field—I feel that same comfort. We are not meant to exist forever. Neither are we meant to remain static. But we ARE the grass that sneaks through the sidewalks and finds its way to the sun. The grass that blankets the earth and softens the steps of the barefoot. The grass that quenches the thirst of those tiny bitty bugs that call it home. And the grass whose flowers of faith WILL fall— not because of some failing on our own part, but because the breath of the Lord blows on upon us.

Faithfulness is meant to be shared. I love the idea of the Lord blowing His breath, scattering the flowers into the wind… and those flowers dropping their seeds into those pockets of earth where all those random people flailed and stomped and hoped for the best.

Lord, may we take comfort in the fact that we are like grass and our faithfulness like the flowers of the field. And may we trust that you are growing each of us exactly how we are meant to be.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 5

Isaiah 35

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
    the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
    the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
    and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.’

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
    the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
    but it shall be for God’s people;
    no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
    nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
    but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Exile + Transition by Tamasha

I am reading this passage after returning to Ohio from a visit home, to Pulaski, Virginia.  My trip was to see my grandmother, who is in the process of transitioning from this world to heaven.  My grandma, Miss Estelle to most, is who you picture in your head when you think of Mrs. Butterworth or Aunt Jemima:  a heavily-statured dark-skinned woman, never sitting still, mouth always full of laughter, cautionary tales of Appalachian superstitions, and what she thought the Bible meant, though she could not really read it for herself. Today, though, she cannot move.  Her mouth is silent and her body is barely skin and bones.  She is without expression, and looks altogether wilted.  Sitting by Grandma’s bed at night, I would listen to her labored breathing and the rattling inside her chest. Walking around her property, I could clearly remember the many summers of baseball and horseshoes in the backyard, and melting as I helped tend the multiple gardens, and having to use the old outhouse at the end of yard rather than running in and out of the house and “letting all the cold air out”.  That outhouse is now just a pile of gnawed wood, the broken window the only evidence of the prior structure that alleges that something else was once there.

Now, although this passage in Isaiah describes the exile of the Judahites and promises glory and paradise to those seekers of The Kingdom, I believe it is both literal and figurative.  Certainly, the exiles physically traveled from one place of desolation to another of abundance, and we see that multiple times throughout the Bible.  But I’m wondering here if the message is most powerful when applied to our own individual lives, in the present.  Every ailment and shortcoming is reconciled as the blind shall gain sight, the deaf shall gain sound, and the feeble shall gain strength.  But the environment is also changed as the wasteland becomes lush and flourishing, and the chaos of untamed wilderness becomes cleared raised paths – highways — that are without threat or menace, guiding even a fool that he will not go astray.  It’s about moving towards something else.  It’s about the growing pains of Becoming. It’s about transition.

As I drove back from Virginia in the rain, my heart was heavy as I considered I would not likely see my grandmother alive again.  But as I traversed the West Virginia mountains I found I could not escape the beauty of the changing leaves on both sides of the highway.  Even going through the long, dark tunnels, the view on the other side was even more magnificent than the former.  It dawned on me that the rattle I’d heard in my Grandma’s chest may just have been her humming the tune that she now hears as she nears her destination.  I cannot help but smile when I consider what Miss Estelle will look like and feel like and sound like when she has been renewed.

Lord, please replace our anguish with joyous anticipation.

Guide our steps.  Ease our footing. Settle our spirits.  Amen.

Advent Devotional Series 2019 – Day 4

Isaiah 11:1-10 

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
    or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
    and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.

On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.

Words + Pictures by Mike

Isaiah has news. The news is for everyone – those looking for news and those without a clue. Isaiah has words – wisdom, understanding, knowledge, equity, power, righteousness, faithfulness – To announce the news. Isaiah has pictures – wolf/lamb, cow/bears, children/snacks – images that evoke trouble, presented at peace, with no threat of pain. The news is for everyone – those who are familiar and those who are strangers.

It will be everywhere, ‘as the waters cover the sea’ – Is there such a place where water does not cover the sea? – Certainly not, the idea makes no sense.

Whoever this person is – everyone will know and Isaiah concludes with the obvious. ‘Gentiles (strangers) will seek him.’ But of course, the words and the pictures are clear and compelling to all. The response is instinctive – we need to be with this One. And so begins our journey this season, it is as natural a response as breathing.

This Advent, let us seek freely, like the strangers in Isaiah. Uncomplicated, simply responding to the compelling news – in words or images.