Thursday, December 08, 2016

Devotional 12-8-16

Giving and Receiving
We are well into Advent with thankfulness for a time of preparation of our hearts and spirits.  Indications that Christmas is near are all around us: packages in the mail, catalogs searched for just the right gift, online shopping for bargains and convenience, malls filled with people, glitter and decorations.

If you are like most persons, including myself, we focus a lot on giving.  After all, are we not reminded: “It is better to give than to receive.”  Certainly, with so many needs in the world there is much truth in these words. It may be better to give than to receive but perhaps it is more difficult the other way around: to be the recipient.  I find this to be the more challenging of the two and yet, isn’t receiving at the heart of Christmas?  I confess that I must remember at times that it is not the content of the package received but the love of a family member or close friend who has given a gift to me.  I need more attention to receiving graciously and gratefully.

Have you ever had the experience of no acknowledgment of a gift given or sent in the mail?  Perhaps not often, but this leaves us with uncertainty.  Was the gift received?  Did the recipient dismiss it casually?  I have wondered if this is the way God may feel at Christmas.  He has given the perfect gift, that of Himself in the form of a little child who came to live and dwell among us, sent to be the Savior of the world.  The gift of the Christ child is for anyone and for all; we have only to receive God’s gift with gratitude.  Receive and be blessed.  May this be the season when we open our hearts to do just that at Christmas and in the coming year.

       “How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
        So God imparts to human hearts
        the blessings of His heaven.
         No ear may hear His coming; but in this world of sin,

         Where meek souls will receive Him;
         Still, the dear Lord enters in.”

Sue Darlington Woods
with an inspiration from Dr. Richard Lancaster, (now among the saints in heaven.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Devotional 12-7-16

New Life and Joy
This coming Sunday Dec. 11th is Joy the Third Sunday of Advent and as you prepare use this Mediation.  Let the Joy of Christ’s Birth and new life fill your heart.

What must it be like to encounter a season of new life and rebirth in the midst of the winter of the soul?  Like an oasis in the desert, life has the ability to spring up at God’s command.  But we so often can’t see it.  Maybe it’s because we aren’t looking.  God meets us in our hope to bring joy and fuel our anticipation.  It is in this season of expectation that we encounter a reading from the Book of Isaiah on this third Sunday of Advent.

Isaiah 35: 1-10 (NRSV)
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 traveler, 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.

God you are a never-ending source of Joy.  As I follow and live in your light God, let me be sustained through the darkest night and know that joy can defeat hopelessness.  Your light will provide me deep and abiding sense of joy.  “Sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isaiah 35: 10).  Amen.

Fred Herr © 2016 by Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church, PO Box 340003, Nashville TN 37203. Telephone (877)899-2780, ext 7073. Used by permission. Permission is granted to download, adapt, edit, copy, and use in congregational or home worship with the inclusion of this entire copyright citation on each copy. It may not be sold, republished, used for profit, or placed on a website without permission.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Devotional 12-6-16

Finding the Words

Luke 1:46b-55 is referred to at The Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise upon learning her role in God’s advent into the world. Imagine a young peasant girl, pregnant and unmarried, giving birth to God. At first, she asks incredulously, “How can this happen? I am not married!” (Luke 1:34). After her historic function is confirmed by another humble and expectant mother, Elizabeth, Mary breaks forth into her eloquent song.

As I read the beautiful and poetic verse, I find I can often be too practical. Did Mary really come up with these words spontaneously? Or does Luke put them in her mouth?

Upon further review, the idea of Mary impulsively singing her hymn of praise is not beyond comprehension. She searched the depth of her heart and soul for the words that could be the proper response to God’s calling her into service. She found the words in an ancient hymn from the Scripture, words that were likely etched in her heart.

The Hebrew Bible tells the story of Samuel and his mother, Hannah. Hannah’s childlessness was the cause of her torment by other women. When God answered Hannah’s fervent prayers for a child, Hannah responded with a song that is recorded in 1 Samuel 2. Mary’s song parallels Hannah’s, but I’m not suggesting plagiarism. Rather, Mary’s heartfelt response came from the Scripture that was inscribed on her soul.

One of the things I love about Methodism is that we sing our theology. As a “cradle Methodist,” the Wesleyan hymns as well as other favorites from the official hymnal and other songbooks, including the old Cokesbury brown hymn book, are embedded deep within me. When I don’t have the words for praise, or the expression of lament, a hymn text will come to me. I love the texts. I read and study them. Sometimes during a sermon, I thumb through the hymnal. The songs and hymns of Sunday school, bible school, worship, Wednesday night hymn sings, picnics and other gatherings became the language of my soul. Hymns for the Use of Methodists, which John Wesley published in 1780, distilled his spirituality and theology to such an extent that it was called “the grandest instrument of popular religious culture that Christendom has ever produced.” The Wesley brothers incorporated hymns into their worship services to “implant Methodist teaching in the minds and memories of the people.”

It worked for me! When I lack the words, a hymn text rises up in my memory as a gift. And so it is not unreasonable to think that when Mary was bursting with joy, looking for the right words to offer praise to God, she found them within herself in the Song of Hannah.

Rev. Jeff Taylor

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Devotional 12-5-16

Psalm 146:5-10 Common English Bible (CEB)

5 The person whose help is the God of Jacob—
    the person whose hope rests on the Lord their God—
    is truly happy!
6 God: the maker of heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
God: who is faithful forever,
7   who gives justice to people who are oppressed,
    who gives bread to people who are starving!
The Lord: who frees prisoners.
8  The Lord: who makes the blind see.
    The Lord: who straightens up those who are bent low.
    The Lord: who loves the righteous.
9  The Lord: who protects immigrants,
        who helps orphans and widows,
        but who makes the way of the wicked twist and turn!
10 The Lord will rule forever!
    Zion, your God will rule from one generation to the next!
Praise the Lord!

I am the only member of my family that didn’t go to seminary. Both of my parents are currently serving churches. My brother is a minister in a church in Pittsburgh. My sister in awaiting a call (Presbyterian ordination process) in Chicago, after graduating in May. My aunt is a minister, my grandfather, my great uncles… and on back…all minister. Then I married a minister, who’s father was a minister, and who’s grandfather was a minister. There is never a lack of theological discussion at my house. I think that is a lot of the reason why I love Advent and Christmas.

For just about 1/10th of the year (the four weeks leading up to Christmas, then the 12 days of Christmas) we surround ourselves with reminders of what has happened and what is to come. We put up trees and tell stories about the ornaments on that tree… my favorite is the crystal star that Benjamin and I were given by a church member on our first Christmas. It was an ornament she and her husband, who had recently died, received on their first Christmas, about sixty year prior.  We make batches of Chex mix, put hot punch on the stove, sit in cozy couches, and read by the light of the many Christmas trees we have in the house. During Advent we do everything we can to prepare the house to be a place you want to spend time. We set the stage and then the discussion follows.

When I read all of the assigned passages for today (Isaiah 35:1-10, Psalm 146:5-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Luke 1:46b-55) I see a pattern. (Except James, but now you’ll just have to read them all to see that it doesn’t fit) I see a lot of different people remembering. They are not just praising God they are acknowledging the things God has done.  The psalmist tells us about the creative God, that continues to protect those in need. Mary talks about a good God, who cares about all people. John asks Jesus about the things he is doing, which was referencing more memories and more scripture. These aren’t just praises. They aren’t just someone else’s scripture.  They are memories. They have become real to John and real to Mary. They are like that crystal star on the tree.  It may have been someone else’s ornament at one time, but now it is ours, and hopefully one day it will be in someone else’s Advent devotional.  We do the preparations and it becomes real. We can have our own theological discussions about the second coming of Christ, giving exegesis on the Christmas stories, or discussing the fact that there isn’t an innkeeper and there aren’t three kings. All of these things are wrapped up in the Christmas story.  Making it real again… to a new time… to a new people.  As you surround yourself with Christmas this Advent season, be thankful like the psalmist and Mary for what God has done, and that your own memories can be added to the memories from these stories of God.

Tobyn Domske Wells

Devotional 12-4-16

“Reach for the Star-Child”

I don’t know about you, but I cannot let the Christmas season go by without watching every version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Yes, I know it was a novel first, and I have read it a few times, but I do occasionally like for Hollywood to do my thinking for me.

Whether my visions are brain or television induced, I have found that one scene has grown in significance to me lately.  When the Ghost of Christmas Present pulls back his robe to reveal the two children hiding there, Ignorance and Want, I feel helpless. What’s more, I think if Dickens were writing his book today, he would have to include a few more children under that robe.

In the hymn “Star Child” by Shirley Murray, we are reminded of all the children who are in need of our help. In 1994, she wrote the lyrics and set it to a beautiful melody by Carlton Young.

C. Michael Hawn wrote an article called “History of Hymns: “Star Child” for the United Methodist website, Discipleship Ministries. He made this observation: “While I do not wish to play Scrooge during this season of wonder and hope, our songs should include those that remind us that there are many among us for whom the joy of Christmas has never been experienced.

All of these children are created in the image of the “Star - Child, earth - Child” of stanza one and the “Hope-for-Peace Child” of stanza five. “This year, let the day arrive,” is a petition for the presence of the “Christ Child” for “everyone alive.”

Let this hymn be a gentle reminder that although we have made great strides by helping Lily’s Place, our Johnson Memorial Backpack Ministry, and the Ebenezer Community Outreach Center, there is more to be done before Christmas comes to everyone alive. Let’s reach for the Star-Child.

 “Star Child” by Shirley Murrays

1)Star-Child, earth-Child,  
Go-between of God,
Love Child, Christ Child,
Heaven’s lightening rod.(Refrain)

2)Street child, beat child,
no place left to go,
hurt child, used child,
no one wants to know (Refrain)

3)Grown child, old child,  
Memory full of years,
Sad child, lost child,
Story told in tears, (Refrain)

4)Spared child, spoiled child,
having, wanting more
wise child, faith child,
knowing joy in store. (Refrain)

5)Hope-for peace Child,                  
God’s stupendous sign,
Down-to-earth Child,  
Star of stars that shine. (Refrain)

This year, this year,
let the day arrive
when Christmas comes for everyone,
everyone alive.

Becky Warren

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Devotional 12-3-16

The smell of the city was indescribable
And it was nothing like home.
The crowds, the sounds, the noise,
Was foreign.
The pain in her back
As she rode the donkey
Could be ignored
If she concentrated on the people around her.
It was unlike anything she had seen before.

When Joseph had told her
That they had to go to his hometown,
She thought Bethlehem would be interesting.
She wanted to know more about the man
Who would be her husband.
She never considered that the journey
Would take her through Jerusalem.
She was looking everywhere,
She hoped that they would leave soon.
It was unlike anything
She had ever seen before.

She ran a hand over her swollen belly,
Ignoring the rough feel of the cloth
To marvel at the push of the tiny feet
Against her skin.
Still amazed that there was life growing inside of her.
Still shocked that she had been chosen
By God.
To carry this child.
To be mother to the incarnate God.
It was unlike anything
She had ever imagined before.

It was all so very much unlike

She remembered the stories
Her parents had told her as she was growing up.
Stories of Solomon and his palace.
Stories of Kind David.
And she looked around,
Wondering if she would see
Where these wonderful places
Had been.
Wondering if she would pass the temple.
The holy place of God.

Where would this trip take her?
What would it mean to her life
That she had said yes to God’s angel?
What would it be like to give birth
To a baby?
To this baby?
To be a wife?
To be a mother?
To raise the man who would be greater
Than King David?
It was unimaginable.
It was unlike anything
She had ever seen before.
Kim Matthews

Friday, December 02, 2016

Devotional 12-2-16

“In those days came John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness of Judea.  And saying, Repent ye: for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  Matthew 3:1-12

These are the beginning scriptures where John the Baptist tells the people of Judea, to not only repent of their sins, but to be prepared for the Kingdom of Heaven.  In the next verses he rebukes the Sadducees and Pharisees for their activities.

However, rather than focusing on John the Baptist’s warnings about the Sadducees and message of repentance, I prefer to see the verses as the essence of Advent, the preparation and coming of the Christ child and the Christmas season.  I see it as a prediction of a time of joy and celebration.  I believe that the Christmas spirit is best embodied and described by that noted author, Dr. Seuss, who described the feelings of the Grinch, who thought he had stolen Christmas but then he hears a joyous noise and singing coming from all the Whos in Whoville.

“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
“It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”

Have a Joyous Advent Season!
Lee Oxley

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Devotional 12-1-16

Psalm 72:18-19
Bless be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his Glory!
    Amen and Amen!

The feeling of thankfulness is wonderful, we are full of joy, we have just what we wanted.  But how long does that joyfulness last?

Like so many Christmas gifts, we have waited expectantly, been dazzled by the wrapping, and were excited to reveal the wonderful thing inside.  Maybe we are happy, grateful for the love and thoughtfulness expressed by our loved ones.  Maybe it is one of those special gifts, the one we never thought we would ever get, because it is state of the art expensive, exquisitely and artistically crafted, and we jump up with shouts of joy.

Once the excitement is over, and it’s time to get back to the business of taking care of things, anywhere from seconds to minutes, maybe even as much as an hour later, we are complaining about the mess, the work, and the lack of help.  Our gift is still there, put on a shelf, hung in a closet, and we are off looking for the next new thing, checking the fliers for the after-Christmas sales, rationalizing just a few other purchases put onto our credit card, extending the payments out just a couple of more months.

We don’t think of that emergency that is bound to come up, and when it does we cry and demand, “Why God!  What am I going to do?  How can you do this to me.”  Not only do we rail against God, but forget our many gifts, including the gift of being able to make our own poor choices, and the gift of resources we have squandered.  Resources that could have helped in our emergency.   Instead of being thankful, we are complaining.  Instead of being hopeful, we despair.

Some people just seem to know, beyond all reason it sometimes seems, that they are going to be okay.  These people have faith, and are at peace, and instead of worrying they are joyful.

Our faith comes from the promise of the Bible.  The promise of welcome and forgiveness.  Instead of piling up gifts for ourselves we are called to share our gifts.  Instead of squandering our resources we are called to share our resources.  Instead of complaining we are called to give thanks for what we have.  Instead of blaming God, or others, for the problems of the world, we are called to get to work, to feed the hungry, welcome the homeless, fight for justice, protect the weak, and share our hope.

No life is free of trials.  This Christmas, let us remember our mistakes and missteps don’t stop God’s blessings, so let us praise God and be thankful.
April Sutton

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