Scripture: Luke 1:26-27
When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary.
Thought for the Day: Reread those two verses. There is a lot packed into those two sentences. The author segues one story (Elizabeth) into the next in such a way that a connection is made, yet the connection is not specifically named (it will become clear in time). We also have information about geography, genealogy and even the rather intimate details of a young girl’s sexual history (or lack there of). And there is God – followed by the divine messenger that isn’t sitting on a cloud playing a harp, but has entered into a very specific setting as an envoy of the One who sent him. In yesterday’s devotional, we were eased into the story, but today, we are thrust quickly and efficiently into the storyline. It’s as if the curtain hasn’t even been fully pulled back, and we are already gasping for breath as an audience member. As I think about these two stories, I see an interesting parallel to the life faith. There are times when it feels as if we are gently drawn into our experiences of God that shape and form us. There are other moments when the movement is dramatic and sudden, leaving little time to think – only react. The unique circumstance, along with the people involved, influence how God is perceived and received. And whether your Advent is gentle and measured (Elizabeth’s story), or is sudden and shocking (Mary’s story), the good news appears to be that God is present within both.
Prayer: However I need to receive the gift of this season, O Lord, I trust that you will find a way that speaks to my unique situation and personal peculiarities. Amen.
Scripture: Luke 1:5-7
During the rule of King Herod of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. They were both righteous before God, blameless in their observance of all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant and they both were very old.
Thought for the Day: The writers whose material was compiled to make the Bible were really good storytellers. The set-up for the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner to Jesus, starts in such a way that the reader might doze off before arriving at the first hint of conflict. A husband and wife living faithful lives under the Roman occupation would not have sounded like the setting of a story that would change the course of human history. For faithful Jews in the first century, these words would not have felt out of the ordinary. And even in the last line above, the shift in the story as the conflict begins to arise could be missed if the reader is not paying attention. But for those who were the original audience of Luke’s Gospel and knew the ancient stories of Israel, there would be an immediate connection. Many of those ancient stories started with issues of infertility, and the reader would see “Elizabeth was unable to become pregnant” as a not so well veiled hint of where this story is headed. And then place over it the reality of their age, and suddenly the reader is thinking about Sarah and Abraham whose promise from God appeared impossible. Yet it wasn’t just about a child being born. It was about God’s redemptive vision for the world moving forward in spite of obstacles. I imagine the mundane start to this story was intentional, for anyone in first century Palestine would have heard it as current, even personal. They might say to one another, “Well that’s just like our local priest and his wife.” The moment that happens, the audience members will go from simply being listeners to participants in what is to come.
Prayer: Draw me into the story of this Advent season. I desire to do more than the cultural Christmas. Draw me in, O Emmanuel, so the story I hear becomes the story I live. Amen.
CONCERT THIS SUNDAY NIGHT
Scripture: Matthew 28:20
…teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.
Thought for the Day: This is a passage from the end of Matthew’s Gospel, yet this is the season for us to focus on the beginning of the Gospel. I’m drawn to it because of a specific word – obey. That’s the word I have always heard associated with this passage, but it’s not necessarily the best (maybe I should say not necessarily the only) translation. The Greek word is: Tereo, which some believe might be related to another Greek word Theoreo, which means to behold. There are some translations of Matthew 28:20 that read, “…teaching them to observe everything that I have commanded you.” Using observe seems to fit if it is related to the word behold. I raise this because I see a common happening in today’s world. There is an expectation for people to obey the teachings of Jesus, even some forcefully demanding that we must strictly obey them. It is not for me to disagree, but I would like to suggest that many people haven’t a clue what they are to obey. They hear a lot of religious cliches and cute trivialities, but they have not observed Jesus enough to know him and to understand what needs to be obeyed. As we turn to the beginning of both Matthew and Luke’s Gospels for this Advent season, I invite you to closely observe the Jesus of scripture.
Prayer: Awaken me and clear my eyes so that I can observe your gift to the world, O Lord whose presence comes anew. I desire to observe Jesus, and then to follow and obey. Help me to spend some quality tim during this Advent Season with my eyes and mind on the birth stories found in the Gospels. Amen.
Scripture: Isaiah 9:2
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. On those living in a pitch-dark land, light has dawned.
Thought for the Day: A lot is changing! The Season of Advent is upon us, and our senses are being bombarded with all that is to be experienced this time of year. Much of what will be experienced will come through our sense of sight, and it will be in the form of lights. Now I like candles and lights on the Christmas tree, and even tastefully done lights on the outside of a home. It is when lights become a competition that I become concerned. It’s like we are fighting to see who can have the single highest electric bill for the month of December. I cannot imagine this is what the Prophet had in mind when he spoke of seeking a great light. The Prophet Isaiah, in these early chapters, was announcing to a people who had walked away from God and into the darkness. There were some outside influences, but for the most part, the Prophet placed the blame squarely on the people – specifically the leadership who deprived the needy, rob the poor and committed injustice toward the widow and the orphan. In response, the Prophet told the people to put as many lights on their houses as possible. NO, that’s sarcasm. The Prophet was angry, but hope remained. The light of God, shining in the form of compassion and justice will find its way back. A candle or lights on a Christmas tree can remind us of this light, but it should never replace the light of God that is to shine through us all in the form of compassion and justice.
Prayer: May the beautiful lights of this season be tools you use for inspiration, O Lord. May the darkness I see around me be a call to reflect your light in such a way that others find real hope for their lives. I ask this in the name of the one who is light to the world. Amen.
Prayer for the Week: We believe that you accept our prayers of thanksgiving, O Merciful God, even when we are not as enthusiastic as we should be. You hear our songs of gratitude even when the passion is lost amidst all the distracted of this season. You see our expressions of appreciation, even when they lack the customary fervor. For one reason or another, we do not always demonstrate a genuine gratitude even when such thankfulness should come easy… even when the gifts we have received are copious and good. Forgive us when the attitude of our spirits does not match the altruism of your Spirit. Forgive us, and then awaken us again to all the gifts that surround us – for the gift of other human beings who love us even when we are not the most enjoyable people to be around; for the gift of food and sustenance that keeps our bodies moving and our hearts pumping; for the gift of music and other forms of art that inspire us; for the gift of children whose laughter is contagious; for the gift of science by which life-saving medications are developed; for the gift of creative people who discover solutions to what was thought to be an insurmountable obstacle; for the gift of Jesus Christ whose grace has provided hope and peace. There is so much for which we are thankful, and even when life is difficult and problems are multiplying, give us a spirit of gratitude as there is always something, even something small, that is worthy of a thank you. Amen.
ADVENT BEGINS THIS SUNDAY
Scripture: Mark 4:35-38
Later that day, when evening came, Jesus said to them, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” They left the crowd and took him in the boat just as he was. Other boats followed along. Gale-force winds arose, and waves crashed against the boat so that the boat was swamped. But Jesus was in the rear of the boat, sleeping on a pillow. They woke him up and said, “Teacher, don’t you care that we’re drowning?”
Thought for the Day: Today in worship, we will be talking about the sea and storms as a Biblical metaphor for chaos – that emotional and spiritual bedlam that comes into the lives of all of us at one point or another. It is a fairly accurate metaphor, especially when you feel as if you’re being knocked around by the storms of grief, suffering, injustice or a true natural disaster. When you think about ancient cultures, prior to the science of meteorology, storms were mysterious and frightening. They were destructive, without rhyme or reason. Watching the aftermath of the fires in California, I was struck by the many metaphors I heard used by those directly impacted. When one of the newscasters asked the question that always causes me to roll my eyes, “How are you feeling right now,” to the person whose home was completely destroyed, I thought the response was revealing. The man said while gesturing to what remained of his home, “It feels as if the very structure around me is gone.”
The disciples were caught in the chaotic storm while Jesus seemed unaware. Since the Gospel of Mark was written in response to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the audience would have heard this story on a literal level (as they lived close to the Sea of Galilee and knew of its storms), but also as a metaphor of their lives in the aftermath of the Romans cracking down on the Jewish community which would have included the early Christians. Might their prayers spoken in desperation started out with the words, “Oh Jesus, are you asleep? Are you not paying attention?” The power of story and metaphor to communicate feelings that would otherwise be impossible to share is so very important and cathartic. You can just imagine the audience nodding their heads as a way affirming the truth of the story on so many levels.
Prayer: You understand the chaos of our lives, O Lord, even when the storm appears to be taking us down. You are the One who remains present to us when everyone and everything else has failed us. Thank you for your everlasting love. Amen.
See You In Worship
Scripture: Psalm 55:22
Cast your burden on the LORD— he will support you! God will never let the righteous be shaken!
Thought for the Day: A good friend of mine was from Claremore, Oklahoma, the hometown of Will Rogers. Rogers wrote, “Worrying is like paying on a debt that may never come due.” As one who is known for worry, I appreciate those words. They are logical, but the problem I find is that worry is not logical. Worry works outside the parameters of what is rational, and for that reason, the Psalmist invites us to cast our burdens upon the Lord. Among those burdens, at least in my own life, I would need to list worry. When God’s grace is able to provide a buffer between me and my worry, suddenly I am able to look at life a bit more thoughtfully and judiciously.
Prayer: With your assistance, O Gracious Lord, I feel confident that I will recognize the difference between an awareness of problems that I can change and the problems that are simply beyond my capacity to change. Allow me to recognize the difference, and then handover for safekeeping what I cannot control and is thus unworthy of my worry. Amen.