Advent Devotions December 20

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Micah 5:2-5a

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

A prophecy of the leader that will come out of the town of Bethlehem. Much like many of the other royal psalms that speak of the shepherd or king that will come to rule with peace.

This points towards Jesus as we open up this fourth Sunday of Advent and continue to wait in the midst for the birth of the newborn king. The signs and the prophecies continue to point to Jesus as we venture into various verses of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) throughout this Advent Season. It is a season for us to wait. It is also a season for us to prepare. Through these scriptures, Christ is present and alive among them and is evident that he does not come to us in just the New Testament. As Christ can be present among us today in every bit of our lives, he was also present with our ancestors more than 2000 years ago, back to the beginning of time. The Christ that is, was, and will be.

Let us pray.

Eternal God, we give thanks for prophecies point us towards your son, Jesus Christ. We ask that he may continue to guide us today, tomorrow and into the future to come. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 19

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Isaiah 66:7-11

Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children.Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

The image of mother is very strong in this passage as the author refers to Israel returning to their homeland after the time of exile. This is the time to rejoice and celebrate for everything that they need is present.

The return from exile was a long time coming through many struggles and hardships. The book of Isaiah takes the reader through all of these from pre-exile to a time of exile and then post-exile. It is a story of the people and one that spans a long length of time. As Isaiah comes to a close, the story of the people does not. They have returned to their promised land and it is here that they may be satisfied with everything that is necessary for a good life.

We too, enter into these dark times of life where we may feel as though we have been exiled. God is present in those times whether we sense it or not, just waiting for the right time for us to return to God’s love.

Let us pray.

Loving God, we pray for those times in our lives that are dark and at times appear hopeless. May you break through the darkness with your light that brings hope and promise. AMEN.

Podcast: OnBeing

I subscribe to many different podcasts that I listen to during the week (another blog later down the road). One of the most recent ones that I have listened to is an episode of OnBeing by Krista Tippett. Her interview with Martin Sheen is wonderful as he shares his faith with her and where he currently is as a person and activist. Simply one of the best OnBeing interviews I have listened to. Check out the website.

Advent Devotions December 18

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Hebrews 10:32-36

But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

The author of Hebrews is referring to an earlier time when the listeners had first received the good news of Jesus and endured many hardships. It was not easy to be a follower of Jesus in first century Israel as there were many persecutions and people being tortured and killed because of their faith. All we have to do is turn to Acts to see this.

Is it much different being a Christian today? There are still many places around the world where the Christian faith is not welcome and people are persecuted. The Gospel message of Jesus Christ is one that questions the status quo and turns people towards a God of love and acceptance. Yet, many remain strong and follow the letter to the Hebrews in the regard that they must endure through any hardships and struggles. They know what is most important in life and their faith is strong. Following the teachings of Jesus even in America at times is counter-cultural. May our proclamation continue to shine Christ’s light in the darkness.

Let us Pray.

Lord, we pray for those around the world that do not have the freedom to openly express their faith in you. Be with them and provide them peace and comfort in times of hardship and struggle. May we be a voice for those whose voices are not heard. AMEN.

 

Advent Devotions December 17

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Verses from this passage are also included in today’s selection from Hebrews in the daily lectionary. As we get closer and closer to Christmas the anticipation builds and we are drawn to the manger. The promise that comes to us in Jesus can reflect the covenant that is spoken of in this passage of Jeremiah.

One of the verses that will forever strike me within this passage is, “I will put the law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” This law, or covenant, is already in each and everyone of us. We are closer to God than we realize, even those that claim they do not know or want to know God. God is present within each and everyone of us from the day that we came to being. It was this verse that continually went through my mind and heart when I had the opportunity to witness an open heart surgery while doing my clinical pastoral education. As I watched the patients heart beating outside of their body I marveled at the wonder of God within each of us.

Let us pray.

God of the covenant, we give thanks for the promises that you make to us and pray that we continue to live into this promise. As you have written the law on all of our hearts may we live into the mystery in which you have bestowed upon us. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 16

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Isaiah 11:6-9

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

These verses at first may seem shocking to both the hearer and the reader. Here, two things are brought together that at most times would be a danger to one another. This is the foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God, that is to come to the world.

Today amidst our violence we pray that we too may resemble this scripture in our lives. We pray for those that are at odds with one another may get along well and learn to live peacefully, even in disagreement. May people of all faiths come together in a common collective to serve their sisters and brothers so that everyone is treated with love and respect.

Unfortunately, the violent acts of people have tarnished the reputation of an entire group of people, at this present time it is Muslims. There are many Christians as well that carry out acts of terror, but for some reason this gets overlooked. University Lutheran in East Lansing is a great example of faithful people working together regardless of their faith.

Let us pray.

Dear gracious God, we give thanks for all we have and ask that you guide us in this time of uncertainty. May we reach out to our neighbors in loving compassion with your good news. Amen.

Advent Devotions December 15

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Isaiah 11:1-4

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

The Jesse tree is a great tradition to be a part of, either in the church or in the home. It tells the story of creation from the beginning of Genesis to the birth of Jesus. This is similar to what we would imagine as our own family tree as Jesus’ ancestry can be traced back to Jesse, the father of King David. 

It is nice to know where you came from and the origin of your family. The Jesse tree takes it a step farther reflecting all the way back to creation. Have you ever looked into your own family tree? There may be some great treasures within it. While we know that we are all children of God, it is always interesting to see whom your tree may be holding. One great way to start on this journey is to talk to family and start your research in that manner. Not only do you find out some history, you also strengthen relationships. We are called to not only be in connected relationship with our family but to truly be with the people we call family.

Let us pray.

Loving God, we give thanks for family and the ability to know where we came from. As part of your family we give thanks and ask that our relationship continue to deepen. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 14

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Hebrews 13:8-9

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by regulations about food, which have not benefited those who observe them.

How reassuring. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. His love for us never changes and this can be a reassurance in times of struggle and consternation. It is the teachings of Jesus that we are to follow and we can not let those teachings of others to lead us astray.

There appears to be a large number of people that speak counter-productively today to the Gospel. I am not so sure if it is any different than it was hundreds or a thousand years ago though. The truth is that we have so many different forms of communication today that news travels fast across many different channels that we can hear the view points of hundreds of different people in a matter of seconds. While these changes occur throughout the world, it is wonderful to know that Jesus Christ does not.

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, we give thanks for your presence throughout time that does not vary. You love is welcome and uplifting in this season of Advent and in the midst of everything happening in the world. AMEN.

Expectations!

John the Baptist seems to have quite the way with words.

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” Luke 3:7

First, let me say that I am glad that this gospel lesson was not one of the firsts that I had to preach on here at Trinity. You need to build up a little authority and trust with the people around you before you go and start calling them a brood of vipers. John seems to have built that up. He is a good preacher and those that follow him respect his teachings.

This Third Sunday of Advent we get a few more details about John in addition to what we learned last week. Our preparations are now well underway and honestly it is beginning to feel like the Christmas Season, minus the snow of course. As we continue to wait in this Advent season we are beginning to be filled with expectations.

Expectations do have a positive affect on our lives. They can also pull us in the wrong direction as well. First, we feel as though expectations are placed upon us by others. Those expectations can be real or unreal. Maybe there are certain ways that we must act or look. Maybe there are certain possessions that we must obtain or have to be considered part of our society or culture. The idea of keeping up with the neighbors, insuring that we at least match or having something of more value or greater quality seems to be a part of our society. We want to keep up with the Jones! All you have to do is watch the advertisements on television some evening and many will reflect these expectations.

Second, part of the expectations that surround us are of our own doing. We create them in our own minds and have this image of what we want and what others may want of us. Often times we can set high expectations for ourselves and then feel let down when we fail to meet up to those expectations. We also may come to expect certain things just because of who we are or our position within society.

John the Baptist in Luke’s Gospel this morning speaks to some of these expectations and also builds some up for the people that are following him. The first expectation that John lays out for us is to bear fruit worthy of repentance. John does not want the people to just expect something because they are the ancestors of Abraham. Just because your ancestry contains a cornerstone of the faith does not mean you can do whatever you want. You are encouraged to bear fruit in your words and actions. We must also still seek repentance for those things that we do that are not acceptable in the eyes of God. John then becomes the teacher as the crowds ask him, “What then should we do?”His prescriptions to each of the groups that ask are ones of love for them as well as for their neighbors:

  • Whoever has two coats and extra food must share with those that have none.
  • Take no more money than what is prescribed for you.
  • Do not extort money from anyone through threats or false accusations. Be satisfied with what you have.

This filled people with expectation. There was even some murmuring that John may be the Messiah. He is quick to make sure that he does not lead them down this path. He proclaims that one who is greater than him is yet to come. An expectation of the hope and promise to come.

As I examine the prescriptions that John has given to his followers I am reminded of a book I recently finished by Joshua Becker, Simplify. What if we were to disregard the expectations placed upon us to have this and to have that? What if we changed our own expectations? Becker states seven steps to starting to simplify your household and in turn having a positive impact on your life, because in reality you are able to do more! Those seven steps are:

  • Be convinced. Be convinced that this is the step that you want to take and want to work on simplifying.
  • Make it work for you. What areas in your life need to be simplified the most.
  • Jump right in. Do not hold back. Pick an area and jump right in.
  • Stop the trend. Stop the buying habits that are leading to clutter in your lives. If possible remove yourself from the temptation.
  • Persevere. It is not going to be easy.
  • Share the joy. As you start to simplify, it will bring joy into your life because there will not be as much to worry about. Share it!
  • Simplify Everywhere!

The human expectations that we place upon ourselves are not the expectations of God. I am starting to become more convinced that the expectations that God has for us are truly simple and probably more reflective in the steps that Becker has laid out in his book. As I read of and from some of our early Christian sisters and brothers, it is truly a simple way of living that they are drawn. St. Francis renounced the wealth of his family and listened to God’s calling. St. Lucia, whom we commemorate today, did the same in the third century as she vowed to give her inheritance to the poor and was eventually killed because of it.

May we be filled with expectations this Advent season. Not the expectations that are placed upon us by greater society. The expectations that we find in John’s proclamation. The expectation of hope and promise that comes to us in the Gospel. John is just the beginning, for someone greater is yet to come. As we continue to prepare this Advent season and lay in wait for Jesus Christ, may our expectations turn toward the manger, and the hope and promise of light that only Jesus can bring into the world and vanish the darkness. It is in this expectation that each and every one of us are able to give witness to the in-breaking of God in our day and age.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Advent Devotions December 13

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Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

The third Sunday of Advent has often been celebrated as Gaudete Sunday through much of the Western Churches major denominations. This includes Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. Gaudete, which is Latin, means to “Rejoice.”The third Sunday of Advent gives us a chance to rejoice in God in the midst of the rest of the Advent season which is a little more penitential.

Many churches have a pink candle in their Advent Wreath for this day. To set this day apart to rejoice in the Christmas to come brings us into an expectation of the light coming into the world. While we still have more than a week before Christmas arrives, it is nice to take a moment to rejoice and not worry.

Let us pray.

Joyous God, we give thanks for the times of joy in our lives. We ask for your presence to direct and guide us throughout the rest of this Advent season. AMEN.