Monday, December 25, 2017

Devotional 12-25-17

Lectionary Readings:  Isaiah 9: 2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 2: 1-20.

4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, unto the City of David which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David) 5to be taxed with Mary, his espoused wife, who was great with child. 6And so it was that while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2: 4-7 KJV

History tells us that women have been carrying babies and delivering them without the benefit of hospitals and professional care givers for centuries.  As a nurse and as a mother, I am very grateful that I have lived in a different age.  But looking at Mary’s pregnancy and delivery experience I am still in awe.  The entire experience must have been overwhelming—the journey to Jerusalem during the last month of pregnancy on a donkey; the labor and birth in a stable with no record of any assistance of a midwife, mother, cousin or other family; and the lack of the amenities of home such as water, bedding, etc.  According to the Gospel of Luke, his birth was heralded by angels who sang to a group of shepherds and they became the baby’s first visitors.  And yet, in these humble beginnings, Mary brought forth the son that she knew was also the Son of God.

Fast forward to 1995:  my house fire occurred the morning of December 7th and I spent a week or so in the hospital for smoke inhalation.  My son, David, and I were homeless and living with my brother.  My speaking voice was gravely at best, I couldn’t sing and was still very weak, but I wanted to attend JM’s Christmas Eve service.  My son and his fiancĂ© volunteered to drive through the icy weather to escort me to JM.  The picture is a little more complete when you know that Kirsten was also “great with child”. David notified me the next morning that Kirsten was in labor and my firstborn grandson made his entry into this world at about 6:30 pm on Christmas Day. Austin was the most marvelous gift and immediately changed our  lives!!!  He was surrounded by family which included multiple generations, as well as a host of immediate and extended family members.  He was attended by professionals who measured and evaluated all his bodily functions.  The room was filled with light and was warm and pleasant.  Mother and baby were healthy and doing well.

The “birth story” for these two babies was very different, but the boys were no less loved or warmly greeted. Both of these babies were very precious to their mothers.  However, God had very different plans for their lives.  God loved us so much that he sent his only son to earth to become a human who would ultimately give his life for all of our sins.  This marvelous, extravagant, matchless gift of love would change the world.  Two thousand years later, we are still trying to understand and accept this life changing gift.  Many of us struggle to believe that we are loved to that degree because the sacrifice of a son would be more than a mother or father could bear.  But that is exactly how much we are loved by God.

This great gift, given just for us, is that we are loved just as we are.  God loves us with all our flaws and cracks, rough edges and faults.  When we offer ourselves to this love, we are enveloped in the loving outstretched arms of one who is delighted with us and sings and rejoices that we are his.  He calls us by name, reminds us to “be not afraid” and loves us beyond our understanding.  Just as a baby lifts up its arms to be held, God offers us a baby to love, once again on this Christmas Day.  This baby will change our lives and show us that love is indeed the greatest gift of all.

“Love came down at Christmas
Love all lovely, Love divine;
Love was born at Christmas;
Star and angels gave the sign.

May you be showered with Christmas Blessings today and always!!

Chyrl Budd

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Devotional 12-24-17

Luke 1:26-38, and 46b-55 are the scripture readings for the day.  This familiar story includes a surprising twist, one that speaks as powerfully to our time as it did to the first hearers, two thousand years ago. The angel Gabriel is sent to Nazareth, a town (not really a city) in Galilee, to a young unmarried woman named Mary.  Given the time and place, Mary is almost surely a teenager; she avows in the story that she is a virgin.  Approached by a messenger from God, she initially needs reassurance: “Don’t be afraid,” Gabriel tells her.  After the announcement that she will bear a son, and name him Jesus, a ruler for David’ s house and kingdom, Mary begins to find her voice.  She asks, point blank, “How...?” Gabriel tells her she will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and this baby will be God’s Son. He tells her that her relative Elizabeth is six months pregnant, even though she is old and was thought to be unable to conceive a child.  Whether one is old or young “nothing’s impossible for God,” Gabriel insists.  Mary says “let it be with me just as you have said.”  

The Mary in this part of the story is often portrayed in art as a meek, quiet small-town girl, eyes downcast, as she says that big “yes” to God.  But this is where the story begins to move, literally and figuratively, into new territory.  In Luke’s narrative, Mary immediately leaves her home and most of her family (not to mention her fiancĂ©’ Joseph) and travels to the hill country, to Elizabeth’s home. This is a surprising journey for a young, unmarried woman in 1st century Galilee.  She is welcomed and affirmed, both by Elizabeth and her unborn son.  And then Mary breaks into song.  The Magnificat, as it is known, is Mary’s song glorifying God and celebrating the powerful reversal that God can create. Mary begins with the personal--”He has looked with favor on the lowly status of his servant,” but moves quickly to the universal: “He shows mercy to everyone...who honors him as God.” Mary praises God for action in history: “He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations.  He has pulled down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.” She testifies from her own experience “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.”  Mary praises God for coming to the aid of her people, “just as he promised to our ancestors....”

For me, the powerful movement in this story is how God’s Messiah has already changed Mary’s life and world, even before his birth.  She begins as a frightened young woman, asking questions and then moving to acceptance.  That could be all we hear.  But instead, Mary becomes a person with a mission.  She takes a journey, shares her good news, and then celebrates that news.  She recognizes that the promise isn’t just for her, but will radically transform the world.  Mary sees the reversal of favor from the “rich and powerful”  whom the worldly assume are recipients of God’s favor, to the “lowly and hungry,” and she sings thanks and praise.  God is with us! Even when we have limited resources, whether we are old or young, wherever we are, God remembers God’s promises, and offers new life in this world and the next.  Thanks be to God. Amen. 

Rev. Terry Deane

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Devotional 12-23-17

Universal Application

It is the day before Christmas Eve, the most anticipated day of the Advent Season.  If we read the suggested lectionary readings in chronological order, we find a review of the story or God’s plan for us.

In 2 Samuel 11 we learn about God’s promise to David and how it came to be.  David feels that now he has a permanent home, he wants to give God a permanent home instead of a tent. He tells Nathan who at first thinks it is a good idea but learns that God does not. God appreciates the intention or gesture.  He wants to give David a House. Thus, we learn about God’s Covenant or Promise to David.  From the House of David would be God’s son who would be born of woman. David does not completely understand but he believes in God’s promise.

This praise of God’s love is in Psalm 89. Which says that His Love will stand forever as well as the Covenant with David to establish his line and make the throne firm throughout all generations.

In Luke 1: 26-38 we find the story of the angel’s visit to Mary in which Mary is told that she will bear the son of God. Immediately, Mary feels that she is blessed but wonders how since she is a virgin. The angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will cause the conception.  She tells Mary that all things are possible with God. She mentions that even Elizabeth is too old to bear children but she is 6 months pregnant as an example. Mary goes to visit Elizabeth.

Luke 1: 46-55 is known as Mary’s Song.  Mary was glorified when she was told she would bear God’s Son.  She would be God’s humble servant and felt for all generation be blessed. Elizabeth had believed her and that helped in her understanding.  Mary also praised God for helping Israel by being merciful to Abraham and his descendants as he promised our ancestors.

Romans 16: 25-27 seems to put the ribbon on the Advent Story.  Paul talks to the Romans.  He tells them that the Gospel is finally disclosed to ALL PEOPLE, not just to Israel.  God is the savior to all people, all generations.

Years ago when I taught English Composition, I would give a specific statement about a certain reading and ask the students to write a composition that showed how the statement could be universally applied.  Statement: Over 2000 years ago,
A virgin gave birth to a baby boy in a manager. How does that apply to today? What have we learned?

We have learned that sometimes the “intention” to do something can be as important as the accomplishment. We also learned that the giving reflects the greatness of the giver and not the receiver. God appreciated David’s plan but God’s gift to David showed his greatness. David understood this.  The birth of God’s Son applies to all of us even in 2017. Let us see the universal application of a baby born in a manager and feel as blessed as Mary did in her song.

Lord, Hear our Prayer:
Dear Heavenly Father, help us to always remember that that baby boy dies for all of us as we anticipate the celebration of His birth.  Amen

Carolee Brown

Friday, December 22, 2017

Devotional 12-22-17

God’s Promise to David

Lectionary Reading: 2 Samuel 7:1-11

At this point in scripture, David has emerged as a warrior. Winning battles against his enemies then being anointed King over Judah.  In addition, he was able to get Israel to join with him and conquer the Jebusites in Jerusalem.  This is why Jerusalem is sometimes called the city of David.  Once all this was done, David settles into his palace and enjoys rest from his enemies.  It is at this juncture that David reflects on living in splendor while the ark of God remains in a tent.  David makes plans to build the temple in Jerusalem so that God might have a proper house to dwell in.  However, God has other plans and has Nathan, the prophet, declare that David will not build the temple but his offspring will.

I suspect most of us are sometimes like David- at least during Advent ! While we may not be engaged in battles or uniting tribes I think we all have a tendency to get our own jobs, cares or dreams taken care of first. Only after we have achieved what WE want- do we begin to think about what God may want from us!  During the secular Christmas Season we get bleary-eyed from all of the advertising, promotions and sentiments that come our way. This can serve to distract us from God’s plan for us.  Like David, we tend to make decisions for God that we think is right.

However, Advent calls us to a higher purpose. During these turbulent times we must ask ourselves this question.  Do we favor God by working for him or do we savor God  by worshipping him?  Your answer will dictate how you feel on Christmas morning.

Prayer: Heavenly Father we thank you for our time on earth. We thank you for the many blessings you have bestowed on each of us.  Help us to respond to your gift of grace, your gift of living water, your promise of everlasting life as we await that house not made with hands but eternal to the heavens.  Amen

Marv Jones

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Devotional 12-21-17

’Tis the Season

 Please read Luke 1: 46B-55

This is the season of giving, celebrating God’s gift of Jesus to the world. What an amazing gift that was! God used Mary and in using her, He blessed her beyond her imagination. Mary celebrated that gift and all of God’s goodness in her song the “Magnificat.”

 How often do we celebrate God’s gifts to us? It is always so easy to forget how blessed we really are. It is especially easy at this time of year when we are overwhelmed with to do lists and rushing from one activity to another. The best gifts come from the heart and don’t necessarily involve money. They do often involve time. I know that’s in short supply right now, but that makes it that much more meaningful. This Christmas give God the gift of your time. Settle yourself and think of all the blessings in your life. Let the realization of God’s love for you permeate your whole being. Then go out and sing your own “Magnificat” by spreading God’s love to the world! Isn’t that the true meaning of the season—to spread God’s love?

Margaret Williams

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Devotional 12-20-17

In December last year,  I promised myself that this year, I would end the craziness of all the preparations for Christmas—shopping, decorating the house, writing Christmas cards,  and wrapping presents, early—to spend more time in prayer, meditation, silence, and rest (Oh, yes! Sweet rest…!) to focus on the true meaning of Christmas. Finishing up my tasks early, about a week or so before Christmas Eve (at the very latest), will give me time to read, study, and focus on the meaningful truths of the birth of Christ.

I will read the Advent devotionals slowly, taking time to think about the message each has for me.

I will pray for those suffering, throughout the world, under governments which are ruthless and violent.

I will pray for those here at home who are less fortunate than I—those who are alone with no home, no family, no food, no security.

I will pray for abused and neglected children, that they may find safety and love in a place where they will feel secure.

I will pray for those who suffer from substance abuse.

I will also pray for God’s small, innocent and vulnerable creatures who may be lost, abused, and neglected, that they may find “furever” homes.

These thoughts weigh heavily on my heart, and I will pray for guidance to see ways in which I, though just one, can make a difference.

I read once about reading, studying, then comparing the Biblical rendition of the birth of Christ in Matthew l: 18 through 2:12, and Luke 2:1-20:
1) What do I see for the first time?
2) What strikes me about the narratives?
3) How are the two accounts different?
4) What do the stories reveal about God?

 And I plan, too, to rest (Ah, sweet rest!)—as often as I can, until the arrival of Christmas Eve.

All this being said, perhaps I can experience Christmas in a fresh, new, and powerful way.  You might want try it, too!

Diane Feaganes

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Devotional 12-19-17

Is it really only 6 days until Christmas!!  With all of the hustle and bustle, time certainly seems to fly.  At our house the Christmas Holiday season is full of traditions. The decorations, candy making, cookie baking, and of course preparation of the Christmas feast with all of the trimmings.  When my grandparents were living, we found ourselves at their house on Christmas Eve to open presents with them and usually a Monty’s Pizza was involved. It was a magical time of year when we also celebrated my mother’s birthday.  I remember one special Christmas in 1979, when I went into labor with our first son, Matthew. Mark and I were leaving his parents’ house after lunch when it all started. Well Matthew did not want to see the cold world and his arrival did not occur until the morning of Dec 26. I remember family being there to provide support waiting through the night to see this precious child. As I reflect on this momentous event, I am reminded of how alone Mary must have felt without her family around as she gave birth to our savior. Isaiah 41:10 reminds us that we are never alone. When we are feeling our loneliest and afraid we need to remember that God is with us always and provides the strength we need. We are never truly alone.

Sharon McAllister
 

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