Advent Devotions December 10

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2 Corinthians 8:7-9

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking. I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Paul is calling the community of Corinth to task and encouraging them to be mindful of their stewardship and how it affects others. Like the Corinthians, we may be good at many things but there is always room for improvement in other areas of our lives. We may not be commanded to do certain tasks within our lives. We should though be encouraged to certain tasks simply through our faith and following Jesus’ actions.

Jesus was rich in many aspects of his humanly life and gave it all up on the cross so that we would become rich in God’s grace overflowing. Nothing is required of us as we receive this gift of grace. Our faith and the love of God should call us into action to share in this generosity with those we encounter. The Christmas season is a great time to practice that generosity through sharing the gift of love, compassion and even physical needs to those that simply need it. The love that this Mall Santa shared with this little boy with autism reflects part of the true meaning of Christmas.

Let us pray.

Giving God, your generosity is continuous regardless of our actions and response to your love. May we be able to reflect even just a sampling of that love this season so that others may experience your grace. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 9

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Luke 7:24-26

When John’s messengers had gone, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who put on fine clothing and live in luxury are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

There is some curiosity that surrounds John the Baptist. There is something in his voice and the passion that he exudes through his proclamation that draws people in. While some people turn away from him thinking he may be some false prophet, others are attracted to the message that he is sharing: The promise of the Messiah that is to come after John prepares the way.

The people are not drawn to the way that John is dressed. They are drawn to his words. He draws people into the wilderness, which is not a place that people wander about willfully. The wilderness is where Moses and the people of Israel wandered for 40 years. It was the wilderness that they were eager to leave. John draws them back into the wilderness to share the incredible news of Jesus.  What draws you into the places that are challenging? John comes bearing hope and a promise which alleviates the challenge of the wilderness.

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, we give thanks for women and men that call us into something greater. We pray for the wilderness places in our lives and ask for your presence with us as we enter into them. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 8

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Psalm 126

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.

Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.

May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.

Are we looking back or are we looking forward? These words of the psalmist can definitely be looking back and rejoicing the time that Zion was restored, and the people of God were brought back to their ancestors homeland. These verses could also be seen as a hope for the future to come, especially during this season of Advent.

To rejoice is to be filled with laughter and the feeling of complete joy. To rejoice lifts burdens that have weighed us down. To rejoice wipes away all of the tears that have come to us during times that we are lost and desolate. To rejoice is healing.

Let us pray. God, we give thanks for this Advent season and rejoice in the little things of life that we bring us joy and healing. May we continue to abide in the hope and promise that is yet to come. AMEN.

Book Review: Simplify: 7 Guiding Principles to Help Anyone Declutter Their Home and Life

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This is a great book to get people thinking about their way of life and to examine where we may go a little overboard in our possessions.

Every time that we move I think to myself that we have way too many things and there has got to be a much easier and simpler way. It is amazing the things that a household of four can accumulate just living and being. I am encouraged as I finish Becker’s book to look at some of my own possessions and see what I may be able to downsize myself. His 7 guiding principles provide a starting point and allows the person that has the desire to declutter to not feel so overwhelmed. As I look at simplicity and the way that St. Francis speaks to it, I know that I have way too many things and that to get rid of some of them can be freeing.

The examples that Becker shares are great and it is relatable to people that  have had successes in downsizing. The thing is, once you start to simplify your life and realize that you do not need everything you think you do, you can then buy nicer things that will last longer. It also allows you to spend more time with those that you love as you have fewer things to distract your time.

The only issue I have with the book is that he writes it from the viewpoint of only being a rational minimalist for a couple of years. However, he writes well and has a website in which you can follow up. Even if you do not have the desire to simplify, this book could be a great quick read and you may feel inspired.

Advent Devotions December 7

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Romans 8:22-25

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

I will have to admit that I do not know what the experience of labor pains are like. I know that as my wife’s contractions gained in strength I was rooting to see how high the number could get on the monitor, while she was glaring at me! While natural, labor pains are not something that we look forward to. However, they are necessary to bring about new life and the hope for the future.

Paul states that the whole world has been in labor pains until now. Yes, the Messiah has come into the world and walks side by side with the first disciples. We would hope at this point that labor pains would have come to an immediate end as he died on the cross and rose on the third day. While we have the promise that we too will be raised in eternal life, we still live in a world whose labor pains seem constant. For constant warfare among tribes and the fear that is heightened anytime we hear of another mass shooting in our own country, the world groans and God weeps. It is in the hope of Christ that we look toward. Our faith carries us forward in this time of waiting.

Let us pray. Patient God, you are patient with this world as we continue to create havoc among ourselves and live in constant labor pains as the promise of new life moves us forward. May you continue to guide us in this Advent season to be patient ourselves, awaiting the promise you have gave us. AMEN.

Prepare the Way

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Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

So, here we are, the second week of Advent. We are still waiting. We are waiting for Christmas Day to arrive and the reminder of Christ that was born into this world to walk among us, both fully human and fully divine.

In the midst of this waiting we find ourselves making preparations. We are good at preparing for things. We prepare ourselves for the first day of school. We prepare ourselves to go on vacation and make arrangement for things to be taken care of when we are not home. This season we are preparing for Christmas and all of the joy that it may bring. May of our local communities have had their parades and tree lightings and we are starting to hear of gatherings to celebrate this time of year. We are in the midst of holiday concerts, like the community choir concert and the upcoming concerts at our local schools. At times it is easy to say that we are caught up in the busyness of the season. We can get ourselves so wrapped up in the preparations at times that we can forget the most basic things in life.

In the midst of this Advent season we still have terror and violence residing within our world. This past week we have been shocked by to more mass shootings in Savanah, Georgia and San Bernardino, California. We wonder when it is going to end and if we can have a voice in anyway that may make a difference. Yet we still are waiting and in the meantime we find ourselves in preparation.

Luke, being one of the most scholarly Gospel authors, presents us this morning with a lesson with history as its basis. H e adds historical reference to his Gospel so that we may be able to locate the time of the gospel story he writes. Perhaps, her is preparing for the future readers of his Gospel and providing a basis for us to place the happenings in a historical context. Luke’s lesson this morning speaks of John the Baptist preparing the way for Jesus. This is after the birth narrative and both John and Jesus are grown men. Jesus is about to begin his ministry.

What a fitting inclusion in our Advent lessons though. The preparations take place for Jesus to come into this world as we await the story of Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay. We are all in the midst of preparation.

In the midst of John’s preparation we are fully aware of his backstory. We know that he is the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah. We know that before his birth that he was already set apart to be a prophet, as the Song of Zechariah informs us in Luke chapter 1. We know that he is to go before the Lord and Prepare the way.

It is very possible though that the majority of people in Israel have no idea of what is going on. This strange guy, named John, comes out of the wilderness to speak of a Messiah that is supposedly on the way. Who is to say that he is just another one of these false prophets, a street corner preacher, speaking nonsense. He most likely is ridiculed and disregarded by many, but also is starting to gain a gathering and his own disciples as well.

Things have changed today. Christianity is now established as the largest religion in the world. We have thousands of denominations and even more leaders within those denominations that all have their own theologies and beliefs. The church, much like John, is not taken seriously all of the time either. The church is not fully respected and is at times disregarded by those that are not a part of the church. Often times we cause this ourselves. We argue with one another about who is right and wrong while forgetting some of the most basic teachings of Jesus.

In the midst of this though God is at work. As we make our preparations, God is at work. And the amazing thing is that God is at work in the least likely of people. God was at work in John the Baptist, this strange guy that wanders out of the desert proclaiming a message of repentance and baptism. John could have possibly been laughed out of the towns that he went into preaching, yet God was present with him. In the strength that he gathered from God, he continued on his journey, in his calling to prepare the way.

God regularly chooses people whom the world sees as insignificant though whom do marvelous things. Mother Theresa reached out to the poor and the needy and touched many people through her simple acts of kindness throughout the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a movement that would change the direction of race relations in this country. Malala Yousefsai was shot in the face to be silenced, but now is a Nobel Peace Prize winner advocating for the education of young girls. The ELCA’s Nadia Bolz-Weber, tattoos and all, is not your first thought as you think of an ELCA pastor. But she has influenced many people and just published her own book, titled Accidental Saints, naming those that God is working in and through.

These are just a few people whom God is working through that may at first glance surprise us. In this Advent season I am sure we can think of hundreds, if not thousands of more people of faith to give thanks for and are preparing the way.

We do not have to be anything special to proclaim God’s Word. We do not need to be on a Who’s Who list of Christian leaders. God is calling us into action and preparation using the gifts and talents that we already have. Those gifts that God has given us. We may see God at work in all aspects our lives; our jobs, family, and civic life. God is working through people all around us in the least likely of ways.

So, this Advent, as we are waiting, I encourage you to look around. Where this past week have you seen an activity in which God was using someone or a group of people to help care for the world in the midst of its brokenness?

As we continue on in John’s ministry to prepare the way, part of it is to see God at work in our midst. Yes, there are horrible things that are happening around the world and even in our own country. I am positive though that we can witness God in many more things then things where evil reigns.

We are chosen by God to do wonderful things. Each of us this Advent Season can do marvelous acts of love for our neighbors and brothers and sisters. May we share the gifts of Grace from God that are freely given to us. In Advent, we may wait, but it is in the hope and promise of the cross that we are made free.

Advent Devotions December 6

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Philippians 1:8-11

For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

How does one become pure and blameless? This is the challenge that Paul has placed to the Philippians in the beginning of his letter to them. He is already quite proud of the work that is being done in Philippi and prays that they continue in their practices that they are doing. In this time of waiting we have the time to do many things. We prepare for Christ as John the Baptist does in one of our other accompanying readings today.

We have been making preparations for the last month probably and many of our are just waiting to be able to celebrate with neighbors, friends, and family during this season. From Thanksgiving meals to New Year’s celebrations we have many opportunities to gather and be together. As part of these preparations, how have we kept God in our daily activities and continued in daily prayer? As we celebrate this season, let us also strive to deepen our relationship with God. It is here that we work toward the righteousness of God.

Let us pray. Pure God, be with us this month of celebration and parties. Let us not lose sight of our relationship with you and draw us closer. AMEN.

 

Advent Devotions December 5

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Luke 1:68-79

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

As I do my personal daily devotions this passage is always a part of my Matins (morning prayers). This Song of Zechariah, which is also known as the Benedictus, is historically a part of Matins within many communities.

It speaks today to the Advent season and the place that John the Baptist has within the story of Jesus. As John prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah we get this announcement from his father that he will be the prophet to prepare the way. We all have high expectations for our own children and it is here that Zechariah shares his, which he has received from God.

This sounds like a lot of pressure to put upon one child, yet as we read ahead a couple of chapters in Luke we know that he is up to the task at hand. Many times we want our children to be the “one” with it all that is in charge and is looked up to and admired by everyone else. John is in a place of honor simply by preparing the way and being the prophet of the Most High. May we be so proud to proclaim the gospel of Jesus as well.

God of Light, we pray that as we move forward into this Advent season that you continue to guide and lead us so that we may follow the example of John the Baptist and continue to prepare the way of the Messiah. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 4

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Philippians 1:20-24

It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be put to shame in any way, but that by my speaking with all boldness, Christ will be exalted now as always in my body, whether by life or by death.

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

The greetings Paul brings to the Philippians makes them aware of his current situation and the hopes that he has for them. The hope that he speaks of is the hope that we have for the world and one that rings louder during our time of Advent. We wait anxiously for the coming of Christ, and in the midst of the violence that we hear about daily it is nice to hear Paul’s words knowing that in Christ is gain.

The boldness in which Paul speaks should be an example for the world today as we boldly proclaim the Gospel in our communities. We must not be ashamed of the message that we have to share and shall remember that Jesus too was not welcome in his hometown of Nazareth. The hope that comes to us in the Word is one that needs to be loudly proclaimed in the midst of everything that occurs in our world today.

Empowering God, we ask for boldness today as we go out to proclaim your Gospel and ask that you may lead and guide us on the path. May the hope that breaks through during Advent enliven us to preach boldly. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 3

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Philippians 1:12-14

I want you to know, beloved that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ; and most of the brothers and sisters, having been made confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, dare to speak the word with greater boldness and without fear.

Is Paul just trying to look at the positive side of being imprisoned? It is true that the spread of the Gospel did increase greatly during the time he was imprisoned and may have gave others courage to continue in its proclamation. Others though may have been discouraged for fear of the same thing happening to them.

In the United States, we really do not know what it means to be a martyr or what that looks like within our current culture. That does not mean that it does not happen around the world in other places where Christianity is not the majority faith. We pray for those in countries where it is dangerous to carry one’s Bible or speak of Jesus Christ. They may also be emboldened by Paul’s words throughout his many letters.

In our country there is a vast apathy for social justice. We like to assure that we are taken care of, narcissism at its best, and push off those causes around the world that do not affect us. Jesus was not afraid to speak up in these circumstances though and neither was Paul. What cause do you choose to support this Advent season?

God, may you guide us on the right path in caring for our neighbors and brothers and sisters around the world. May we banish apathy with love and turn towards you in all we do. AMEN.