Advent Devotionals

December 25th

Of the Father’s Love Begotten

Reading: Luke 2:1-20

I once was talking to a friend of mine who was going through a faith crisis.  He was trying to celebrate Christmas with his family, and when his father got up to read this section of Luke to the family after dinner, he started to cringe.  Did he believe this stuff anymore?  Did he care?  What did Christmas mean now that he was doubting his faith?

And as we talked, he came to the conclusion that he’d never want his father to stop reading this story.  Because, even in the midst of his faith crisis, it was such a story of beautiful hope, beautiful peace, that it needs to be repeated again and again.  Yearly…if not more often.

Wherever you are in your faith life, take a moment today to acknowledge that ultimate beauty at play here in this section of Scripture.  A God who loves the world enough to actually enter into it in the same way that you and I entered into it.  A God who loves the world enough to actually risk flesh and blood to show solidarity.  What is more beautiful than that?

Nothing.

Merry Christmas!

Prayer for the Day:

God, in the coming of your Son you show us that you will risk it all to be near us.  Thank you for that.  Bless us again this Christmas!  Amen.

December 24th

Setting the Bar

Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7

No one does it better than Isaiah.  No one sets the bar, lays out the paradigm about who this Savior is to be better than he.  These are words that really stir us, because when these words are read we know the time has come.  Read them aloud right now:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Really, that’s everything we could hope for, everything our hearts truly desire.  We long for a mighty God, we desire a wonderful counselor who can listen to the burdens of our hearts.  We want the assurance of one who is eternal, yet with us day by day, a Father to guide and guard.  And we crave peace, so it is natural that we would want the prince of peace.

And we get all of these things in Jesus.

The old prophet sets the bar and God meets it-no, God raises it, and no one has ever come close to matching what Jesus has done.  No one has even tried.

“For unto us a child is born.” No verse stirs my heart more than that one.  All that I can say is, “Amen, Come Lord Jesus.”

Prayer for the Day:

Almighty God, you make this day shine with the brightness of the true light.  Grant that here on earth we may walk in the light of Jesus’ presence and in the last day wake to the brightness of his glory.  In his name we pray.  Amen.

December 23rd

It’s Not Too Late

Reading: Romans 13:11-14

What time is it?!  Have you ever woken up in a start, sure that you overslept, to utter those words?  I know that I have, too many times to count…and many more times than I’d like to admit.  I am a heavy sleeper, and I covet good sleep.  But there comes a time, a moment, when you have to get up and wake up.  Christian, if you’ve been asleep this season with the busyness of this season, take this as your wake up call.

What time is it?  It’s time for you to get up and wake up to what God is doing in your life, what this season is meant to remind you of.  It’s not too late; tomorrow is the celebration.  Wake up now how God is working in your life and celebrate that surprise as it is truly meant to be celebrated tomorrow.

Prayer for the Day:

God of time and space, we need a wake-up call.  We are too easily distracted int his long life.  Wake us up today to what you are doing in our lives and in this world.  In the name of the One who came as a child to wake us up to the extent of your love.  Amen.

December 22nd

Singing to God

Reading: Psalm 96

“Sing to the Lord a new song!” How close we are to the great day of Christmas when all of creation sang a new song.  One of the reasons we love this season so much is that we get to sing hymns and songs that pop up at no other time of the year.  The churches and airwaves are filled with the songs of the season, unique tributes to Christmas, be those tributes sacred or secular.

Think about it.  We do not have Lenten songs of the season.  And while we do have Easter hymns, there are really not a lot of pre-Easter secular songs except for “Here Comes Peter Cottontail.”  Advent and Christmas invite us to sing a new song tot he Lord, to sing each day.

Look at some of the songs in Luke’s Gospel that are found in chapter 1.  Mary sings a song of praise for what God is doing in her and through her (1:46-55), and old Zechariah sings a song of praise about what John the Baptizer (his new born son) is going to accomplish (1:67-79).

Advent and Christmas beckon us to sing about the newness that is occurring around us, about the God who says, “Behold, I make all things new!”  Get that: all things.

So sing a new song to the Lord.  Put aside the tired same-old same-old and belt out something refreshing and exciting.  And when you do, don’t be surprised if an angel chorus joins in.

Prayer for the Day:

God who makes our hearts sing, as we near the time of the Savior’s birth again this year, make our song new. Remind us of your great love for us that we might sing your praises with new vigor again this year.  In the name of the one who has taught our hearts to sing, Jesus the Christ, Amen!

December 21st

Family Tree

Reading: Matthew 1:1-17

Can you feel it building?  Soon we’ll be reading those lovely verses that you’ve known throughout your whole life about shepherds and angels, stables and silent nights.  But not yet.  Not yet.

Why slough through this family tree mumbo-jumbo?  Why bother with this background information?  Don’t you want to get to the good stuff?!  Of course you do, and its coming.  But first we must be reminded that Jesus was not just popped into history.  That Jesus is the long-promised one, promised by God from long ago.  Promised for a billion-year-old world at just the right time.  And that the promise does not go away just because it’s familiar.

So what are you to do with these verses?  Why not look up who Jesse is?  Reread the story of Solomon.  Ponder Joseph and Mary in their surprise, humility, in their preparation to make this long journey.  Get in touch with that which is not story, with that which looks a little more like you and me.  And then, perhaps, you can get in touch with just how amazing it is that God came in flesh and blood, like you and me, apart from the nostalgia of silent nights.

Prayer for the Day:

Incarnate God, you came in flesh and blood to be with us.  You came through a promise from the beginning of time.  You came through unusual people, through unusual circumstances, to arrive in our world, in our lives, in our own promises at just the right time.  As we near that day and time, make us ever grateful not just for the nostalgia, but for the reality that is you.  In your name we pray, Amen.

December 20th

Dedicated to God

Reading: 1 Samuel 1:19-28

Elhanah and Hannah did a faithful and courageous thing—a crazy thing in the eyes of most folks.  They gave their son Samuel away.  they gave him to God and not just in a spiritual sense.  They gave him away physically so that he could be in the Temple service of God.  Hannah and Elkanah had been childless their entire marriage until God gave them Samuel.  And what did they do?  They gave Samuel back.  Wow; gutsy move.

But what they didn’t know when they took this little guy to the Temple and dropped him off was the Samuel was to become a great prophet, a visionary of God, an anoint-er of kings, a tireless servant of the Most High god.  If they had known all that he was going through—the good and the bad—they would have beat feet for another land.  But they were faithful.

In the same vein, sort of, Jesus was totally dedicated by God to God and hew knew exactly what was in store for him…and yet he hung in there.  He did it for us.  Crazy, huh?

But then no one has ever accused God of being sane by human standards.  Remember that the Apostle syas that the wisdom of God is pure foolishness to the likes of us.

So let me challenge you this Advent season to do something totally insane: dedicate yourself to God.  That’s right, offer God a blank check on your time, talents, and resources.  Don’t be afraid.  Remember, he loved you enough to give Jesus for you and would do it all over again.

Prayer for the Day:

Lord of all, I dedicate my life to you, not as I should, but as I am able.  May that be enough.  Amen.

December 19th

Freedom-Part 2

Reading: Galatians 4:8-20

In this section of Galatians Paul is pleading with the chruch to not believe the rumors about them that some are spreading: that they must do something to earn God’s love, that they must hold special fasts to earn God’s favor, that God only responds to certain types of actions.  Paul is pleading with them to be free in Christ, the kind of freedom that comes with the promise of unconditional love.

It’s a good thing to hear again today because we too often so easily become slaves.  As mentioned in these devotions a few days ago, freedom means not being chained to those things that are not Christ.  So waht are you chained to?  By now I imagine that you’re chained to others expectations of you, to your work trying to finish things up in the next three days.  Or perhaps you’re chained to those final exams you have, or those final shopping trips that must be made.

Sisters and brothers, I plead with you: be free!  Do not waste your time, or mine, on such things.  There are too many other important things that need to be done, like readying your heart again for Christ.  Chain yourself to Christ…let the rest fall away.

Prayer for the Day:

Lord of all, you call us back to you again and again.  In this season when it’s so easy to be distracted, remind us of your presence, of your nearness, of your call to freedom.  Help us ready our hearts for you! in the name of the one who loves to the point of distraction, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

December 18th

An “Always Possible” God

Reading: Luke 1:26-38

I think that the angel Gabriel had the coolest job in the entire Bible.  He stood in the presence of God and then was the one who got to share important news with people.  He got to watch their mouths drop open when he revealed God’s will, he got to encourage them to have faith in the face of the incredible; he simply got to be in the middle of the action and set the stage for some of the greatest events the world has known.

He also got to say some pretty amazing things like, “For nothing is impossible with God.”  What a great line!  That pretty much sums up God and everything God does.  What this means is that with God it is possible to the love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, be merciful to the unmerciful, be kind to the unkind, generous to the greedy, peaceful to those who stir the pot, have self control in the midst of chaos, and faith when things seem totally out of whack.

It also means that we can believe in God when God confronts us with the unbelievable…like the birth of a child by unusual circumstances.  This means that the truly miraculous thing about the God of the possible is that with God we can believe when doubt and skepticism seem more the rational choice.

That was Mary’s dilemma and Gabriel gave her peace about the whole thing.  “How can this be?” she asked.  “God is doing it, so how can it not be?” he replied.

Apparently that was good enough for her.  Good job, Gabriel!

Prayer for the Day:

Dear God, help me to believe when all the evidence points to doubt, to trust in you when the circumstances scream “turn and run.”  Calm my heart so that I may believe and trust in you and you alone, the god of infinite possibilities.  Amen.

December 17th

Expectant Waiting

Reading 2 Samuel 7:23-29

Advent is the season of waiting.  But it’s not just any sort of waiting, it’s waiting for the fulfillment of a promise.  We’ve all been in that sort of waiting situation: where a coworker is supposed to finish something as we tap our fingers.  Where our partner or spouse is supposed to do a chore, finish a project, complete a task they promised to do and we patiently (and not-so-patiently) await the results.  Or perhaps it’s like waiting for the end of the work day, watching the minute hand tick by as the boss promises to let us go right at five.

Whatever the situation, we’ve all lived into this sort of waiting.  And, I think, we’ve learned not to trust it.  We’ve been disappointed too many times by our bosses, coworkers, and even partners.  We’d rather just do it ourselves.

But in Advent, we can’t do it ourselves.  We only have time and God that can bring about this promise.  And that’s good news.  It’s good news because it teaches us how to patient.  It’s good news because it’s one less thing that we have to do in our lives (as if we  could ever save ourselves anyway…).  It’s good news because God doesn’t disappoint.  God may not always work on our schedule, but God always shows up.  who is like our God?

Prayer for the Day:

God, in Advent you teach us how to wait.  but we grow impatient with this life.  We want things on our own timeline, on our own schedule.  Help this Christmas to be another reminder that you always show up, that you always arrive, that you always keep your promises.  In the name of the one on whom we wait, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

December 16th

Dance Wherever You May Be

Reading: 2 Samuel 6:12-19

I don’t know about you, but dancing is difficult for me.  It’s not that I don’t like it; it’s not that I don’t have rhythm, because I’m a musician and can certainly keep the beat.  I think that it’s because I’m 6’4″ and weigh about 225 lbs, and am probably less than graceful when it comes to shaking my booty.  Perhaps I’m just too self-conscious about moving this big frame around a floor in the presence of others.

But that didn’t seem to be a problem for King David.  In fact, it seems like David did a whole lot of dancing in his career.  On this particular occasion he danced before God with all his might.  The ark was home, the fatted calves were killed, the people were joyous and David hit the center of the dance floor and put on a display that would have made it to the final rounds of “Dancing with the Stars.”

I’m pretty sure that a lot of dancing went on behind the scenes of the universe as it got closer to the birth of Jesus.  With that much joy, how could things not help but dance, and jump, and shout.  No, the earth was not dancing yet; that would come later.  But heaven danced, the stars danced, the creatures began to move in the rhythm of creation, of the Father’s creative Spirit.  Why, if Jesus had been born one second later I think the entire universe would have exploded, the excitement was so high.

So take some time this Advent season to join in the dance.  Join the Lord of the Dance in the dance that has been going on from the beginning of time, the dance that is no where near wrapping up.  Look around, the Lord of Creation is dancing before you.  Why not join in?

Prayer for the Day:

Lord, let me move to the rhythm of love that set the universe in motion, the love that creates and sustains us, the love that sent Jesus.  Let my heart move with your heart and my life move with His.  Amen.

December 15th

Freedom-Part 1

Reading: Galatians 3:23-39

What does it mean to be free?  Does it mean having choices?  Does it mean having license to do whatever you want?  Paul is pondering this question with the church in Galatia today.  He’s positing that the Law (the original covenant as described in the Old Testament) kept people in line until the coming of Jesus Christ, but that now Christ is the new standard for those who know God.  But does that make us free?

Martin Luther had a lot to say about Christian freedom.  Indeed, we are free: we have choices, we can choose to do as we please.  But Luther also contends that, in some sense, the Christian is not free.  We cannot not feed the hungry.  We cannot not clothe the naked.  We cannot not choose to provide for the poor.  All of those double negatives make a positive.

As Paul says, in Christ we are free: free to think of others before ourselves.  In one sense that is true freedom, because we are unencumbered by those worries of self-preservation that we have.  But in another sense, we’re yoked, chained to the Christ that asks us to give of ourselves for others.

So, Christian, how are you giving of yourself in this season of Advent?

Prayer for the Day:

Freedom giver, you have made us free in your work through the Christ.  And yet, we are yoked to you.  Make your yoke light.  Make our actions true and good.  Make us shine with your light in this Advent season so that we may live into the unprejudiced love of your Son.  Amen.

December 14th

Hey…Chill Out, Bud

Reading: Malachi 3:16-4:6

While the book is ascribed to Malachi, whose name means, “my messenger,” it’s hard to believe that the message he brings is from a loving and merciful God.  Most scholars believe that the name “Malachi” is not really that of a person, but just a name that has been traditionally tagged on the book.  All I can say is that whoever wrote it is in serious need of a chill pill.  Maybe he’s just ticked off because his book appears last in the Old Testament.

Personally, I had a bit of difficulty reading this text because of the anger and fear it expresses.  But the point of reading scripture is to read it, and I eventually found the words that made it work.  They come in the last vers of this chapter, of this last book.

Verse 5 says that the Lord will send Elijah before God wraps it all up, before God, the Lord, returns, and when the Lord returns “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…”

If I understand the Advent/Christmas thing then, as Jesus later interprets it, John the Baptizer was Elijah and Jesus was/is the Lord (of course).  So actually, Malachi was truly being prophetic when he wrapped up all that great and terrible Day of the Lord stuff he was talking about, except a lot of time had passed and the old angers had abated.

Jesus, Child of the Beloved, is the one who turns hearts…all hearts.  Even the hearts of those who are most hurt and angry.

Prayer for the Day:

Lord come and turn all hearts…especially mine.  Amen.

December 13th

The Great Divide

Reading: Jude 17-25

Worldly people are causing divisions in this little opened and very interesting book of the Bible.  Jude is definitely a book for a community in crisis…and I’m afraid that many of our communities are already there.

Who is causing division in your life?  Who is causing strife, nit-picking to the point of ultimate craziness?  Somehow it seems that this time of year accentuates those little annoyances that get in the way of seasonal joy.  And perhaps, just perhaps, it’s us who are not paying attention to the Spirit and are causing division…

But if that’s the case, there is always time for renewal.  God has this wonderful way of turning things around…that’s what this season of Advent and Christmas is all about, after all.  So be of good heart!  The Christ who deserves all majesty and glory is making all things new, repairing division, causing wars to cease…whether we’re the cause or not.

Prayer for the Day:

Great healer, you are turning the world around.  You are working places of conflict to bring your peace.  So often we find that conflict in our own communities, in our own lives.  So work your healing power today.  Repair us, renew us, re-energize us in your Son who does deserve all honor and glory.  Amen!

December 12th

Suit Up!

Reading: Ephesians 6:10-17

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and his mighty power!”

If that doesn’t have Advent written all over it I don’t know what has.  This is the season about trusting in the strength of the Lord.  God is doing incredible things so we need to have faith and persevere.

Yet, given the times in which we live, that’s a tall order.  But never fear, for God never asks us to do anything without giving us the means to do it.  As we sometimes say, “God never calls the equipped.  God equips those he calls.”  The reason God does that is that God’s equipment is so much better than ours.

So it is no wonder that the writer of Ephesians reminds us that we are able to equip ourselves with the armor of God. That armor is enough for us to withstand anything that is thrown at us.

But note one thing about this armor.  While it covers every inch of exposed flesh on the front of us, it leaves our backs wide open and seemingly unprotected.  I say “seemingly” because that’s just the way it seems.  Our backs are left un-armored for two reasons.  The first reason is that we are not to turn and run from evil in this world.  We are to meet it head-on.  god needs us to be courageous in the face of things that would destroy hope and love.  The second reason, and most important, is that God has our back.  We need not fear that anything may sneak up behind us.  To do that they’d have to go through God and that’s just not going to happen.

Advent calls us to keep moving ahead in the world, confident that God is with us, before us, behind us, and in us.  Because he is.

Prayer for the Day:

Lord God remind me that you are the God wo equips me for anything life brings.  Remind me that I have nothing to fear today or tomorrow.  Amen.

Interlude

The Divine Wisdom of God’s Imagination

“The scribes wrote, ‘In the beginning God created…”  At first it was enough to give God’s title, just ‘God,’ the God who is God, and to declare that God created the world.  But language moves toward specificity: What we believe to be significant we distinguish linguistically from neighbors near and far.  so the simple noun God was soon found to be meager, insufficient.

So to the question seeking discrimination, ‘But how did god create the world?’ the ancient Hebrews sang a clarification: ‘God who by wisdom made the heavens, whose mercy endures forever.’ (Psalm 136)

What is it about God that created the world?  Wisdom.  What did God use to create the world?  Divine wisdom alone.  Now we have a handle on this untouchable God: Wisdom. Why, we know about wisdom!–the workings of mind meshed with compassion. We can understand a little bit, at least, of God: Wisdom.

~Gail Ramshaw

December 11th

Daily Directives

Reading: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

Today Paul gives us some pretty clear directives.  Perhaps they’re welcome at this juncture in the Advent season.

Rejoice always: even as holiday shoppers crowd the streets.  Even as buying overtakes everyone.  Even as family come into town unannounced…or announced (it usually doesn’t matter). Even as you look at the slush-fund you call a check book slowly but surely deplete.  Rejoice!

Pray without ceasing: even as you get distracted by the holiday music.  Even as your struggling to figure out how that strained relationship will play itself out in this holiday season.  even as you wonder how you can continue to even have a prayer life when you’re not sure what to think about God anymore…pray, and do not cease in doing it.

Give thanks: even if you’re lonesome this holiday season.  Even if you’re unsure what you have to give thanks for.  Even if you’re unsure who will call on Christmas morning, or what kind of world this world is turning into.  Give thanks for life, for breath, for the love of God clearly shown in the Christ.  Give thanks.

Prayer for the Day:

Diving, as we struggle to rejoice, slough through our prayer, and half-heartedly give thanks, work in your wondrous way to turn our weary voices into voices of true rejoicing, earnest prayer, and grateful thanks.  Walk with us in this season of waiting, even when our spiritual practices run dry.  In the name of the one worth rejoicing for, praying to, in the name of the one who gives us a reason to be thankful, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

December 10th

Enough Said

Reading: Psalm 126

I’ve got to tell you that it’s pretty hard to improve on perfection, and Psalm 126 is the perfect song for the season.  Verse 3 sums it all up, “the Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”

Really?  Yes.

Think of all that God has done that brings joy.  We are an anxious people and Jesus leads us from the captivity of anxiety to peace.  We are a people who sin and God sends a Savior to remove the pain of that sin, eternally.  We are a people who go astray because we just have to have it our way and God sends Jesus as way, truth, light, and life.  We are a people who are hungry for certainty and there is no greater certainty of the love of God than the Child of Bethlehem, and the Lord of the Resurrection.  We are a weak people, but we are the people of a powerfully strong God who shows up precisely in our weaknesses.  We are a doubting people and God brings us assurance in the One who shared our skin and walked (and still walks) with us.

The Psalmist talks about us when he says, “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy,” which is another way of saying that God will transform whatever sorrow life brings into moments of laughter and peace.  The writer reminds us that God is about the business of restoration, that is, repairing-restoring-renewing us.  And God knows we need all the help in that department that we can get.

Take a moment and be joyous-and laugh with God for all God is doing.

Prayer for the Day:

Dear God, thanks…thanks for everything.  Make me laugh and be joyous at your goodness. Amen.

December 9th

Unconventional Wedding

Reading: Ruth 4:13-17

A wedding!  Ruth and Boaz (lovely names, right?) decide to tie the knot in today’s reading.  What you may miss, thoug , is that Ruth and Boaz are an unconventional couple, separated by ethnic and even religious boundaries.  And yet they make it work; work enough to have Obed, their son.  And the Obed begats jesse, and then Jesse begats David and, well, we all know about King David.

Here we get a taste of the lineage of Jesus, an historical glimpse if you will.  And it can’t come at a better time.  Now 9 days into December, the Jingle Bells and perfectly round elf found on Coca-Cola cans have clouded our ideas about Christmas.  We’ve begun to believe it’s about kitsch and nostalgia.  but today we get a reminder, a wake-up call of sorts.  The birth of the Christ did not have a picture-perfect, Currier and Ives past.  Jesus came from unconventional stock.

And that’s great news for us who so often fail to create the perfectly nostalgic Christmas, the Currier and Ives dinner.  We come from unconventional stock as well.  I guess we’re in good company.

Prayer for the Day:

Lord, you work in ways that we don’t understand, don’t expect, and often wouldn’t choose.  And we thank you for that.  You give us the freedom to be who we are: hurried, imperfect, rushed, unconventional.  As we await the coming of your Son, in th emost unconventional way, make us ready to greet him however he comes. Amen!

December 8th

Patience…Patience…

Reading: Habakkuk 2:2-3

We really don’t know a whole lot about the prophet Habakkuk except that he was a contemporary of Jeremiah.  He was also a man who had a lively faith rooted in the deep spiritual tradition of Israel.  We also know that he was a man who wrestled with God and suggested to his audience that they should as well.

Why?  Why take on the Almighty?  Because God has things to reveal and the only way that God ever really lets us in on the truth is if we will square off with God and go a few rounds.  Jacob found this to be true, as did a whole host of Old Testament folks and not a few New Testament ones (remember Paul’s Damascus Road adventure?).

So what is it that God wants to reveal?  Reread those verses above and let them sink.  Those are Advent verses written when the people of Israel were in bondage and the first Advent and Incarnation were just scriptural illusions, not cold hard facts.  He talks about revelation, and heralding, of appointed times, of lingering and waiting.  And then he says, “…it will certainly come and will not delay.”  What will come?  The deliverance of the nation, the fall of their Babylonian captors.  What the old prophet with the funny name was saying is that God was going to set them free, but they had to hang on for a while.

That’s what Advent reminds us–God has set us free in Christ.  The day has come—and will come again.  So hang on; it’s almost here, again.

Prayer for the Day:

God of infinite patience, have patience with us.  Teach us to have waiting hearts, hearts that wait on the certainty that your promises will always be fulfilled.  In the name of the One we wait for, yet who has already come, Jesus.  Amen.

December 7th

Dream A Little Dream

Genesis 15:1-18

Dreams are very important in Scripture.  Not in the way that we often think about “dreams” in today’s society, as in “our hopes for the future.”  No.  In Scripture dreams are often the vehicles for moving God’s work in the world, for re-imagining God’s promises, and for the conveyance of revelation once again.

I have to admit, I have some really strange dreams.  And I can’t say for sure that I’ve felt any of my dreams have been visions from God.  But one thing that I do appreciate about the way that the Scriptures talk about dreams is the fact that, in sleep, there is no other distraction.  That is, when God speaks to Abram in a dream in today’s reading, Abram has no choice but to listen because he can’t do anything else.

Do we have uninterrupted communion with God?  Perhaps it’s in devotional reading like this.  Or perhaps it’s in worship.  Or perhaps it doesn’t happen…which is the worst thing of all.  Perhaps sleep is the answer.

A challenge: spend some intentional time with God, right now.  Undistracted.  Five minutes, just right now.  Perhaps you’ll hear and feel something.  Perhaps you won’t but my hunch is that, the more you do it, the more you’ll hear…

Prayer for the Day:

Sacred One, we too often do not spend enough time with you.  Keep us undistracted today, to hear your words, to hear your voice, in our dreams, in our waking, in our lives.  In your holy name we pray, Amen.

December 6th

A Place of Refuge

Reading: Isaiah 4:2-6

Have you ever thought about Advent as a place?  We usually consider it a season of the Church year and so it is, but I want you to consider it for a moment as a place—a place of refuge.  Advent is many things: a season of expectation, a time of anticipation, a period of waiting and longing.  But let’s consider it a place; a place of refuge.

Refuge from what?  Oh my, take your pick!  A refuge from rampant commercialism and consumerism; a refuge from the incessant parties and celebrations that have nothing to do with Incarnation; the endless urge to send that yearly letter of how swell life has been, how perfect everyone and everything has turned out in the year (give me a break); the need to put on a happy face, a face that belies the truth that life is hard.

So let’s consider that this Advent is a place, a place of refuge if you will, even perhaps, a stable.  For in reality the stable (or cave) in which Jesus was born was a place of refuge for Joe and Mary.  Remember, there was a census going on and the city was in a a high spirit.  The streets were filled with political pilgrims and so the vendors were in high cotton.  In the midst of all the clamor, commercialism, and chaos of that day, a young couple was seeking refuge.

So are we.  Whether we know it or not our hearts are seeking the refuge that Advent offers so that when the Christ comes again we will not miss him.

Prayer for the Day:

Come Lord Jesus, come.  And let us be fully awake and prepared for your coming.  May our thoughts and prayers turn to those who seek your refuge at this moment and all moments.  In the name of the Child of refuge, Jesus.  Amen.

December 5th

A Time to be Humble, A Time to be Bold

Reading: Psalm 21

Psalm 21 is an unusual song.  It speaks of strength and protection…unless you’re the person against God, and then it speaks of destruction.  Such words can really be jarring to our modern ear.  Here we are awaiting the King of Peace to arrive at Christmas, and we’re introduced to the God of War in this Psalm.  What is the Christian to make of it?

The Psalms are an interesting group of songs.  They use vibrant imagery in an effort to put emotions into words and symbols.  So today we have the desire of strength and protection against an enemy spoken of with strength and power.  It might be jarring, but it’s the way the Psalmist feels.

Do we dare to speak with such verbosity?  Do we dare to talk in such a way?  Why or why not? I think too often we take too humble of a stance in our prayer and song.  Sometimes we just need to let it out, to tell what we feel in unmitigated terms.  The Psalmist does it, can we?  In this season of Advent, what are you waiting for?  How can you claim God’s strength in your life in powerful words?  Write it down.  Sing it out.  Be bold, if only for one day.

Prayer for the Day:

God of invitation, you ask us to come to you with all that we are, with all that we have.  Make us bold in our proclamation of your work in our lives.  Change our language to reflect your power, your love, not to shock others, but to shock ourselves into realizing your amazing, powerful love again.  In the name of the One on whom we wait to shock us again, Jesus the Christ, Amen.

December 4th

Getting a Break

Reading: Isaiah 40:1-11

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins, ” so says the opening verses of this chapter in Isaiah.  Wow, I get chills just reading those words as if a fresh breeze on a hot summer day rolled across a tired body.

Imagine what it would be like to hear those words on a personal level.  Imagine if you heard the voice of God saying to you, “Take heart Larry, Joan, (insert your name here), rest easy.  Listen to the words, the soft, tender words that God is speaking to your heart.  You’ve suffered enough under that sin and God has taken care of it—you are forgiven.  You’ve been weighted down more than enough and now it’s over and done with.” Can you imagine the relief?

Now imagine that same new breath coming to an entire nation that has been suffering under national guilt and sin for years.  This could be the start of something new—and it was.

Advent is a reminder that the coming One comes with healing grace and comfort for the weary.  Listen again and take it into your heart–comfort, comfort my beloved child.

Prayer for the Day:

Dear God, how we long for comfort these days, the comfort that relieves stress and anxiety, the comfort that brings peace and wholeness.  Always comfort us, O God. Amen.

December 3rd

A New Level of Craziness in John the Baptist

Reading: John 1:19-28

John the Baptist is such an interesting character.  He dresses funny, talks funny, and likes to dunk people under water after they’ve made confession.  It’s all quite odd.

But one thing that John the Baptist has that I think we could all learn from is humility.  The man knows who he is: he is anybody but the Messiah.  Do you know this about yourself?  Or are you too busy trying to save your work, your relationships, your children’s futures, your…name it.  So often we come to church and we hear about the savior, Christ the Lord, and then we go home and try to save ourselves.

Listen to John’s words again, “One stands among you whom you do not know…”  If we know one thing from Scriptures, it’s that God shows up in the most unusual places.  God shows up in the people we meet, in the situations we find ourselves in, as that helping hand that comes at just the right time.  And yet we continually are leaning on ourselves to get things done.

Learn from John today.  He is not the Messiah, he just points to the Messiah.  You are not the Messiah, you’re just called to point to him.  And that can be difficult in this season, as we start to worry about how we’re going to save Christmas for our family…Christ has already done it.  Point to that.

Prayer for the Day:

Heavenly Messiah, so often we confuse us for you and do not see you standing in the person across from us.  Help us to lean on you in this season when the stresses of this life make us desire to call ourselves the Messiah.  In your holy name we pray, Amen.

December 2nd

Repentance and Promise

Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10

God allows U-turns.  That’s right!  It may not be kosher in some places and the DMV may frown on it, but God allows U-turns.  In fact, God encourages them.  God calls it repentance.

People will sometimes say to me, “Pastor, I’ve changed, I’ve done a 360.”  To which I reply, “Really?  And how is that change?” “Oh,” they reply, “I mean I’ve done a 180!”  That’s better.  But let’s be clear about what repentance is and what repentance is not.

Repentance is not saying, “I’m sorry.” That’s contrition.  Repentance is not saying, “I wish I had not done that,” because that’s regret.  Repentance is not saying, “I hope I don’t do that again,” because that’s wishful thinking.

Repentance is heeding the call of the Gospel: “Change the direction in which you are seeking happiness.”  Repentance, therefore, is not saying, it is doing–doing something new.  It is replacing old, worn habits and destructive behavior with reconciliation and renewal.

Jeremiah was called to turn a captive nation back to God because the way they had been living didn’t work out very well…hence their captivity.  They sought a brand of happiness that was destructive and God put an end to it.  The prophet was telling them to find another way—God’s way.

Jesus is God’s way of saying, “Here’s another way to happiness.”  And its true.  When you seek Jesus there are no regrets, no wishful thinking, no turning back.  That’s the promise and God never backs out of a promise.

Prayer for the Day:

God of promise, help me to change the direction in which I seek happiness today.  Help me change because the old ways of doing things are not working anymore.  Amen.

December 1st

New and Improved

Reading: Isaiah 4:2-6

Today we hear about this “branch,” this new thing that God is doing for Israel.  Isaiah does not have some abstract “new thing” in mind, but a very concrete newness…the type of newness that happens when you are at your wits end, you can’t take another step, and BOOM something concrete changes in your life that allows for rest, relaxation, and peace.  That’s what Isaiah is talking about.

Ultimately this newness is salvation.  Not salvation in some heaven light years away, but salvation in the here and now.  Salvation from that stress that has already started to creep into your day.  Salvation from that stress that has continued from earlier this year.  Salvation from that thing that you are sure will drive  you into the ground gasping for breath.  And what is that salvation?  A promise.

A promise that God will not let these things stain you.  Isaiah talks of it as a “blood stain,” that stain that is impossible to get out.  God will not let your troubles have the final say, will not let your stress win the day.  God promises to shade you…because God is always with you.

In Advent we hear that promise and wait, trusting it will happen.  But we’re not often good at waiting, are we?

Prayer for the Day:

Gardening God, you cause newness to spring from the dead stumps of our lives.  Remind us of your promise of salvation again today, a promise that comes with the new dawn.  As we await the Christ child again this season, work in our waiting, remind us of your word, help us to wait for newness.  In the name of the new-born one, Amen.

November 30th

Thanksgiving-Every Day

Reading: Psalm 124

“If it had not been the Lord on our side…” You’ve been there; I have too.  That time, that instance, when we thought we’d never make it out alive…figuratively or literally.  And yet, here we are.  Breathing.  Our lives intact.  Our reputations intact…usually.  Today’s Psalm is the song to sing, to pray, to sit with in those times when we faced peril but came out as champions, even if we’re not sure how.

But do we take time to pray it?  Do we take the opportunity to sing, to dance, to give praise to God in these times?  Usually not, I’m afraid.  So why not now?  In this time of Advent, when we await God’s coming again to us in this new year, why not start the season off with thanks and praise?  Begin now, today, joining the Psalmist in giving thanks for those times that God has pulled you through.  You know, Thanksgiving isn’t the only time for giving thanks…

Prayer for the Day:

Lord God, you bring us daily out of harms way.  You truly are our salvation, our hope for tomorrow.  So as you bring us to life again, also bring us to gratitude.  May we join the Psalmist in praising you for all that you have done, are doing, and will continue to do.  In the name of the one who came to show your amazing grace, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

November 29th

Be Careful

Reading: Luke 21:34-38

One of the first things that we are reminded of in this season is that it is very easy to become overwhelmed.  This is the season of “extras.” Extra work, extra items on the social calendar, extra dollars to be spent, food to be consumed, hours to be burned, anxieties to be borne.  If we are not careful, as Jesus admonishes in Dr. Luke’s version of the Good News, we will become weighed down, or as it says in the translation called The Message, “Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping…do not go to sleep at the switch.”

What Jesus is saying is that we must live in a perpetual state of expectation.  it’s like the character I remember from a book, an individual who would never let herself be drawn into the lower styles of life in which her friends indulged. “I know,” she said, “that some day the great thing will come into my life and I want to keep myself fit to take it.”

We must also remember that this season of Advent can come and go in the blink of an eye, and if we are not careful we can wake up on the 26th of December wondering where it all went and sensing deeply that we have missed something grand and life-giving.

So wake-up, watch, and be careful how you live these days.  Do not let the edge of expectation become dulled.  Keep your heads up and your hearts ready.

Prayer for the Day:

Come, Lord Jesus, come. Give us the strength to persevere on this journey of  faith that we may not miss you when you come, nor when you come again. Amen.

November 28th

Here We Go Again

Reading: Micah 4:1-5

“Okay, this time we’re going to get it right.”  How many times have you heard that before?  How many times have you said it yourself?  If you’re like me (God help you if you are!) then you’ve said it more times than you can count, which means that somewhere along the line you’ve messed something up…again.

Advent is the time of year that we are given the opportunity to get it right again, given the opportunity for a fresh start.  Since Advent signals the beginning of the church year it is the perfect starting point for new beginnings in our own lives.  It’s time for new starts, new hearts, new attitudes, new perspectives…new everything.

I think that’s what the prophet Micah was telling the people of Israel.  God was doing new things in their midst and they needed to start over.  They needed to stop fighting amongst themselves and within their own selves and get to work creating a new day with hearts to match.  he tells them that their old ways just are not working anymore.  So start over with a fresh approach: take your weapons of war, implements of destruction and turn them into implements for growth and creativity; swords into plowshares, spears  into pruning hooks.  War is not working so let’s give peace a chance.

Advent is the time to cease warring within and among.  So take a look at the old ways you’ve been settling issues in your life and let the Prince of Peace refashion your heart into an instrument of growth and peace.  Honestly, aren’t you tired of the battle?

Prayer for the Day:

God of grace, remind us in this season of fresh starts that you make all things new.  Remind us that through your love we can recreate the entire world, but first we must allow you to recreate in us what you would have us share.  Help us to do this for the healing of our souls and the healing of the world.  In the name of the one who comes to heal us, Amen.

November 27th

Keep Awake!

Reading: Mark 13:24-37

Are we serious about Advent, or do we just look at it as “Christmas Light?”  This is the question at heart in our reading today, this weird text from the shortest Gospel, Mark.  If Advent is a time of waiting, a time when we are to be on the lookout like a sailor at sea keeping watch for the light of a lighthouse, are we awake or just practicing Christmas shopping and carol singing?

“Keep awake!” Mark warns us.  Keep awake because you might miss God in the person next to you.  Keep awake because you might miss God in the banal activities of the day, those ones that you mindlessly perform.  You may be missing a spiritual insight, the opportunity to practice something with religious care.

Jim Wallis speaks about a woman he knows named Mary.  Mary worked with Wallis in their church’s food pantry, where every weekend people would line up to receive a hot meal and some small groceries that would hopefully last them part of the week.  Mary, herself, needed the food served at the pantry, and would often go through line as well.  But each weekend she’d stand outside the doors of the pantry as people gathered to offer a prayer for both the clients and the servers.  And each week she’d say, “And Lord, we know that you’re lining up here this morning as well, so we pray that we don’t miss you in our work!”

She was awake.  Are you?

Prayer for the Day:

God of surprises, in this season of Advent which we now begin, make us ever vigilant, meeting you in the people we see, the circumstances we face, and the opportunities provided for us.  Make us awake! Amen.

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