Saturday, December 25, 2021

Devotional 12-25-21

Christmas Day 

You are Going to Get Wet

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  (Titus 3:4-7)

It’s Christmas Day.  We opened the packages, emptied the stockings, and shared good meals with our families. Today is Christmas day, and what we might want more than anything is a nap.  But the time has come.  Christ has come.  Now what?

The passage we read today tell us that Christ appeared, and brought salvation – not because of acts of righteousness, but because of God’s mercy.  “The spirit is poured out on us richly through Jesus."  

A few years ago, we were with our boys at an amusement park in Florida.  We were having a great time together when the rain started.  This was not a drizzle, or a sprinkle; this was a downpour, unlike anything I had seen before.  The rain came down from heaven by the bucketful.  We were soaked – as they say – to the skin.  There was no escape, there was not dry shelter to be found. The water covered us, and we have never been that wet.

For me, that is what is means when the author of the passage says, “The Spirit is poured out on us richly through Jesus.  As we read these words on Christmas day, imagine that grace falls like that downpour upon us.  Drenching our lives.  Covering us completely.  The spirit pouring on us. This is grace, abundant and overflowing.  Covering us not because of anything we have done or not done, and not because of anything we have earned.  Grace covers us not because of who we are, but because of the mercy of God.  

Christ has come.  Now what? We are covered in grace so that we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  Open your hands and feel the hope land gently upon them.  Open your hearts, and know that hope recreates you.  Open your eyes and see the difference hope makes in your life.  

And then, because it’s Christmas, give it all away.  

Kim Matthews

Friday, December 24, 2021

Devotional 12-24-21

Christmas Eve

Scripture readings for the day:  Isaiah 62:6-12, Psalm 97, Titus 3: 4-7, Luke 2: 1-20

And 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 Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”   Luke 2: 10-11

We are almost there.  All the last-minute things are getting done. There is a hum of energy and melody in the air. It isn’t just us--it is all of creation.  That thin line separating heaven from earth is so fine you can almost see through it. God’s own is coming among us. His name is Emmanuel—God-with-us.  This gift of God is made of the same stuff we are and is made of the same stuff God is. 

This time is filled with Christmas dreams and memories. We have this wonderful idea of how it should all be, but it doesn’t always live up to our expectations. We thought this Christmas would be better and easier than last year. Instead, we are still hoping for a calmer, purer, more centered, non-COVID time. 

We know the story. We have an idealized image of how it should be. We expect one of those Christmas card images where the artist focuses on all the right things—the softness of the baby’s skin; the warm bodies of the animals standing around the child, heating the air with their breath; Mary and Joseph offering there serene, attentive love. But everything didn’t go as perfectly as we picture it. Mary and Joseph were tired and frustrated. They were away from home and family. Mary has given birth in less-than-ideal circumstances. There was no bed in which to rest. Joseph had to prepare the food, and he was a better carpenter than cook. They weren’t expecting company—certainly not a bunch of scruffy shepherds. And yet, God was still there, right in the middle of the picture. Peace was there, and joy, and hope, and love—not only for the best of times but also (and maybe especially) for the difficult and unusual moments. 

It is God-with-us; not God up there somewhere who answers our prayers by lifting us up out of our lives, but the God who comes to us in the midst of our living. That is where God is born—in any cradle we will offer. 

A lot of us hope for a moment tonight or sometime tomorrow when everything will be perfect—just like it seems in our neat and clean nativity sets or Christmas card pictures. We want to be transported into that heavenly feeling of calm and wonder and awe, where we will know and feel, without any questions that powerful presence of God in us. But all our work will not make that happen: Someone’s gift won’t fit; an expensive toy won’t work right, and a child’s overflow of anticipation will give way to tears; all the parts will not fit together the way the diagram shows; and that one relative will still know how everything should be done, while sitting there doing nothing to help. It will never be Christmas perfect.  

And that is all right, because tonight, all of heaven is coming down to us; right into our own Bethlehem, bringing us the God who has decided to make a home in our arms. Christmas becomes perfect as we open our arms and hearts to receive the Christ God gives to us. For God is with us.  Christ is born.  Alleluia!

Prayer:  God of great love, remind us of the good news, for we sometimes forget. Take us to see Jesus, for it is easy to lose our way. Grant us the joy of your presence and the assurance of your steadfast love. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, may the light and power of Christ come into our hearts that we may find peace with you now and forever. Amen.

Rev. Dr. Mark Conner

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Devotional 12-23-21

 Isaiah 9:2-7

When we do the Advent devotionals I usually look for the readings about the day the baby was born. I love babies, holding them and whispering in those tiny ears how much I love them.

This time I read all the lectionary readings and Isaiah jumped out at me. The reason is that it talks about the people walking in darkness shall see a great light.

The last 22 months we have walked in darkness. I realize our country, the world have faced things like this before. Part of the difference is that we didn’t have 24 hour news talking to us constantly telling us how bad things are and how much worse they can be.

I’ve had to be very careful about the news I watch. I want to know what’s going on, I just don’t want to hear all the despair they pour out.

What I do want to see and remember is the tiny glow in the darkness. The lamp in the manger, the star in the sky that announces the birth of hope.

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the old testament foretold the coming of the tiny baby who was and is the hope for every day. Isaiah and you and I know.

Everyday we need to give thanks to God for the gift of his son, the light of the world.

When it’s a dark day, talk to your Father in heaven. Thank him for the greatest gift ever given.
It was given for you and for me.

Merry Christmas!

Dear heavenly father, We thank you for the original gift that keeps on giving.  You gave your son to us and he gave his life for us.  Please dear Lord, help us to remember each and every day that you love us and care about who we are and what we need. May we go forth ready to care that same way for others we meet. May we share your love always and forever.  Amen.

Debbie McGinnis

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Devotional 12-22-21

 The Unexpected

Read Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26 – 38

Do you have a favorite quote from a movie or television show?  One that you repeat often?  I didn’t until recently.  

Steve and I were watching an episode of a fun British television series.  One of the main characters received an unsolicited, surprising job offer.  She questioned the one making the offer and his reply stuck with me – “Embrace the unexpected.”   That one phrase made me stop and think.

For me, “embrace the unexpected” is a good motto to take to heart.  We never know what life may throw at us, so keeping a good attitude is a must.  The central characters in our Christmas story may have had a similar feeling.

Mary was visited by the angel Gabriel, advised of a pregnancy and learned that her son would have the throne of David.  This situation was certainly not what she anticipated.  Mary’s “yes” was the ultimate embrace of the unexpected.

How about Joseph?  He was visited by an angel in a dream. The encouragement to take Mary as his wife and news that her baby was from the Holy Spirit had to be surprising. Yet, he did what the angel asked.  He embraced the unexpected.

And you?  Have situations come your way which required an embrace of the unexpected?  I know they have.  While we may not know where the unexpected will lead, we know we can follow with the confidence of children of God.  The situation may be unexpected, but God’s presence and guidance are assured.

As we near the end of this Advent season, I am thankful for the responses of Joseph and Mary to the challenges they encountered.  Their embrace of the unexpected brought God’s great gift to the Earth. 

Prayer:  Heavenly Father – As we ponder the Christmas story, we are in awe of the willingness of Mary and Joseph to do as you asked of them.  May we be as obedient and trusting in our lives, especially when we must embrace the unexpected.  Amen

Shelly Shideler

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Devotional 12-21-21

Please read Luke 2:1-20

In 2019, Mary and I participated in a tour of Israel to walk where Jesus walked. We started within the walled-off city of Bethlehem. 

I looked forward to seeing the place of Jesus’s birth. My expectations of what the place would look like were developed by annual nativity displays and Christmas pageants. I know I had seen several presentations and looked many pictures of others’ trips to the Holy Land in my lifetime, but somehow I hadn’t realized that Jesus was born in a church basement. 

Well, not exactly. But the site we visited as the place of the birth of Jesus is in the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity. Since the second century, according to Greek theologian Origen, this grotto has been traditionally believed to be the very cave where Jesus was born because there was no room in the inn. 

I should have known, but learned on my trip to the Holy Land, that most of the holy sites have had various shrines and chapels built on them since the third century, CE, when Helena, the mother of Constantine, visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Christian pilgrims from all over the world visit the Church of the Nativity. You enter bent-over through the Gate of Humility. Then you snake around the roped lines slowly leading to the steps down below to the grotto. You’re shushed several times for being too loud because worship services are taking place in other parts of the church. You jostle for position to see the very spot, marked by an ornate star. You’re invited to kneel and touch or kiss the star—this trip was pre-COVID—but then a monk urges you to move along because others are waiting. You can briefly pause to look at the manger, or perhaps a manger like the manger, where Jesus was laid. It is not a wooden feed trough like I had seen in my Uncle Bryce’s barn or in the live nativity at home. It is a rock shelf covered with marble.

I wanted to feel something when I saw the spot, knelt and touched and kissed it. I just wasn’t what I anticipated, and I was a little disappointed. 

That same evening, we had the opportunity to break into smaller groups to visit the homes and have a meal with Christian families living in Bethlehem. Six of us from our West Virginia group visited a home in neighboring Beit Sahour, basically a suburb of Bethlehem. Beit Sahour is translated as House of Vigilance or, more literally, House of the Night Watch. This is near the area of the Shepherds’ Fields. The nearby Church of the Annunciation, which is built over the spot where the shepherds kept watch over their flocks, and where the angel appeared to them to announce Jesus’s birth. Our gracious hosts trace their ancestral roots to the shepherds who first received the good news. What a joy it was to meet them and to receive their hospitality.

While I had looked expectantly for Jesus in the grotto beneath the Church of the Nativity, it was in the breaking of the bread in the multi-generational home of our host family that I recognized the presence of Jesus. Sadly, their news is not so good today. Since the Six-Day War in 1967, Beit Sahour has been under Israeli occupation. The original Christian occupants are being driven out of town as Israeli settlements occupy land and Israeli courts rule Christian homes as illegal and subject to demolition.

The economy of Beit Sahour is largely based on tourism and related industries, such as the manufacture of olive-wood carvings. I know many of our group have olive-wood carvings to serve as reminders of our special time with the shepherds.

Today, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for the faith and witness of those vigilant shepherds watching their flocks on the first Christmas eve. And I pray for their descendants, keeping watch at night as they are driven from their homes. Come Holy Spirit, come!

Jeff Taylor

Monday, December 20, 2021

Devotional 12-20-21

 Let Christ be our Light

Isaiah 9:2-7

When I awoke this morning the song “Christ, Be Our Light” began playing in my mind.  This song was sung during our service this past Sunday’s “All Saints Day” at our church.  The Sunday in which we celebrated the life of those that had passed, during the past year, from earthly life to life eternal into the light of Jesus.  

The passage for this Fourth Week of Advent, Isaiah 9:2-7, was also in the background of my mind. So how do the two relate to the other?

Isaiah was a Prophet that lived some 700-800 years before Christ was born.  His prophecy for the people at that time was that their darkness and despair would become light by the coming of the Messiah.  That the Messiah would be a child born to be:  Isaiah 9:6-7 ESV  6“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.   7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.  The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”

This message from Isaiah is the same today.  In the song “Christ Be Our Light” it speaks to the needs we all have in our life.  A way out of the darkness, looking for truth, for peace, and for hope. It speaks of the needs that all people have; for food, for warmth, for shelter, to belong and be accepted.  

Isaiah’s answer then as now is to “Let Christ the Messiah”, be the Light that ALL can see.  We are to be that Light through our servanthood to all.  Using the gifts, we have been given to serve others that are in need or searching.  Just as those Saints that passed to life eternal this past year.  They shared their gifts and love for all, they shared their Light of Christ for all to see.   

As we yearn for the darkness in our lives to be lifted, for peace to rein, look to the one that will guide us through our life and one day we will sit with him and all the saints before us in heaven.  As in the refrain, paraphrased.  “Let Christ’s light shine through our hearts, shine through the church.”  

Father God thank you for sending your Son the Christ to be our Light to the world.  Thank you for walking among your people to show us the way to serve.  We are not perfect people but through your unconditional love we strive to be the best we can be.  We pray for all those in the darkness that we can be a light to lead them to Christ, so that they too will be a light for all.  We thank you for all those Saints that have gone on to life eternal.  May we follow their example of serving and loving others.  Father may this be our prayer through your son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit now and forever. Amen.

Fred Herr

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Devotional 12-19-21

Scriptures for the Day:  Micah 5:2-5a, Luke 1:46b-55, and Luke 1:39-45

Several years ago, I visited a nursing home in Parkersburg to sit with a member of my church who had recently moved there.   She and her out-of-state family had decided that her increasing dementia made it unsafe for her to live alone.  She sometimes forgot that the stove was on, or that the car was running, or that milk needs stored in the refrigerator.  But Lona (not her real name) was a retired school teacher who liked to tell amazing stories about her long life during the great depression and World War Two. The further back in time an event, the clearer her recall seemed to be.  I was a fairly new pastor then and was surprised, but in the years since I have seen that pattern in many people.   On this day, we started with her reminisces about her childhood.  I asked how many brothers and sisters she’d had, and she described a huge family—-and then said that she’d lost most of them during the flu pandemic that ravaged the world while she was still a girl.  She told about the experience of wearing a mask and of many painful goodbyes. I sat there, stunned.  How terrible and tragic.  But it was a story for another age: as we chatted in her room on that sunny afternoon we assured each other that with all the antibiotics and improvements in medicine, nothing like that would ever happen again.

It seems na├»ve of me now but if anyone had told me two years ago about the pandemic journey that we’ve had to take in 2020 and now all of 2021, I’d have been incredulous.  On some days, I still am.  The masks, the shortages, the closed businesses and remote learning, endless zoom meetings, online worship, sad goodbyes, lonely isolation for some and constant work in essential fields for others…..we all have a list of the experiences that have marked us. It’s not what we expected, is it? It’s not what we prepared for.  So, to quote the opening lament of Psalm 137, how do we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?  How are we the People of God in this new reality?

The lectionary texts for this week may not supply easy answers, but they help point us toward faithful responses.  The prophet Micah, writing 700 years before the birth of Christ, promised that Bethlehem would one day bring forth a “ruler in Israel” who would “shepherd his flock” and become “one of peace.”  Given that Micah lived during the time when the northern kingdom of Israel was conquered, and Judah was repeatedly attacked and threatened, his hopeful words about the coming Messiah show deep faith and quiet confidence.  Centuries later, the young girl Mary and the much older Elizabeth bond over the reversals in their lives as they greet each other and Elizabeth recognizes that Mary carries the Messiah. Then Mary breaks into a song of praise, celebrating the way that God is at work “from one generation to the next,” bringing down the powers that be and lifting up the humble, hungry, and lowly. These scriptures affirm that God is at work, even during times when things seem broken, strange, unsure. Renewal and restoration are coming!  With Mary, let us glorify God and lean into the future God walks toward with us.  

Prayer for the Day:  God of all generations, we thank you for your mercy and your strength down through the ages.  In this, our age of uncertainty and challenges, give us your wisdom and grace. Help us to live as faithful witnesses to the reality of the new life in Christ.  Amen.     

Terry Deane