Category Archives: Advent2015

Christ is Born!

 

Readings: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:17-19

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Today the  Word is made flesh. This Word that was in the beginning, that created all things, is now here in our midst as one of us. I love Eugene Peterson’s translation of John’s prologue in The Message: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood…” and now the neighborhood, the world, the cosmos is changed forever. Merry Christmas indeed! I love equally the joy experienced by the shepherds who are the first team of missionaries making known to all their conversion experience. And I love Mary—she who treasured and pondered all that had happened and is happening. This Grand Miracle, as C.S. Lewis calls it, may be best expressed in a “Hymn on the Nativity” by Ephrem of Syria (c.306-373).

Your mother is a cause for wonder: the Lord entered her
and became a servant; he who is the Word entered
and became silent within her; thunder entered her
and made no sound; there entered the Shepherd of all,
and in her he became the Lamb, bleating as he came forth.

Your mother’s womb has reversed the roles:
The Establisher of all entered in his richness,
but came forth poor; the Exalted One entered her,
but came forth meek; the Splendrous One entered her,
but came forth having put on a lowly hue.

The Mighty One entered, and put on insecurity
from her womb; the Provisioner of all entered
and experienced hunger; he who gives drink to all entered
and experienced thirst: naked and stripped
there came forth from her he who clothes all.

Holy Family artwork offered by Margaret Hill and words offered by Bill Albritton, companions seeking the Christ Child.

Come and Worship

Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

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There is a certain stillness to this moment
the journey is over, a place of rest has been found
the pain of birth is yet to begin
there is a certain stillness to this moment

We know it will not continue so
we know the journey will begin again—all too soon
forced by fearful rulers whose only desire is to protect their position
and their power
we know the struggle to live and grow and learn and love will once again
commence
we know, too, that for the child born this night it will lead to conflict, to
controversy
to suffering and to death
we know that life will take its toll on him
as it does on everyone
as it has on us
we know all that, but now there is stillness
now we can rest and know a peace more profound than any other
the peace that comes from knowing God is in this moment

In the quiet, in this God-given moment, the child stirs—the time has come
there is pain, contracting pain, as all of life contracts
into this one moment through
which it must pass
there is pain—all creation groaning in the pangs of childbirth
there is pain
and God is here now, too—in the pain as well as in the peace
God is here now, too

Because God is here the pain has a new dimension to it
there is hope in the pain
there is love in the pain
there is joy, even joy, in the pain.
Yet the pain increases, its intensity grows—it becomes greater, and greater still
until it is fulfilled
fulfilled in the birth of newness and wonder
fulfilled in the birth of a child who is a king
fulfilled in the birth of our salvation
and she brought forth her firstborn child and wrapped in swaddling clothes
and laid him in a manger
it is through this pain that our salvation is born!

There was stillness on the hillside that night as well
shepherds watching over the flock by night
there was a stillness
perhaps a fire glowing for light and warmth
perhaps a tiredness that comes from work—hard work over a long day
now there is stillness—sheep are safely grazing, shepherds resting
now there is stillness

Until the words of wonder are spoken
by presence felt—in voice unknown, unknowable
good tidings of great joy—great joy for all the people
unto you is born this day a savior who is Christ the Lord
unto you is born this day salvation and all its splendor
unto you is born this day a child, wrapped in swaddling cloths and
lying in a manger
unto you is born this day a babe of unwed mother, without power or
prestige or position
unto you is born this day another poor and lowly baby, a child of the
no-accounts, the nobodies of this world
unto you is born this day the king of kings and lord of lords
unto you is born this day the one who shall reign forever and ever
hallelujah, hallelujah amen

Let us now go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which has come to pass,
which the Lord hath made known unto us
in words of wonder, words of faith they proclaimed the deepest desire of
the human heart
to be in the presence of the holy
to connect with that which is eternal
to worship God
and they came and found the child

they knelt down and they worshipped him.

And now the wonder of the ages comes to us
it is no longer long ago and very far away
it is no longer about birthing in a manger and shepherds on a hillside
it is now—it is here—it is us
in the stillness of this moment God is present
in the stillness of this moment the child comes—to us.

Christ is born this night—come and worship

Forgiveness is born this night—come and worship
and at the stable find release from guilt and fear
find love beyond measure to make up for all you have done and left undone
all the ways you have failed
all the things you could be but haven’t yet become

Peace is born this night—come and worship
and among the lowly animals find a warmth that even warms the soul
find comfort for your grief, calm in the midst of the trials of your living

Healing is born this night—come and worship
and in the love that is present here find wholeness for all your brokenness
find a balm for wounds of the body and torments of the spirit, a salve for
every sinsick soul

Joy is born this night—come and worship
and in the cries that echo forth find not just happiness but something far
more precious
find joy, deep, abiding joy that depends not on good times or pleasant
circumstances
find joy that only comes in living as God’s own children

Salvation is born this night—come and worship
and in this manger rude and bare find everything that matters
find life and love and life made new
find God, find even God

Christ is born this night—come and worship.

Offered by Jeff Jones, seeker of the Christ Child, child of God.

Artwork offered by Margaret Hill, drawer of the Holy, pray-er, child of God.

Heart Full of Joy

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55, Micah 4:6-8, 2 Peter 1:16-21

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. Luke 1:46b-49

None of us can imagine all of the private thoughts and questions of Mary, but I think of Mary’s expression of what she feels in her heart – namely, joy.

She spends most of the time describing the way God is in general. Her spiritual beauty reaches its emotional peak in the first part of her song where she responds from the heart to all God did for her: My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior. Mary mentions what God has done specifically for her as an individual (verses 48 and 49).

I am moved by Mary’s other-centeredness. She doesn’t look at her situation through the lens of her own personal situation. She displays a sense that she is the most privileged and most blessed person for her God given role, even though it would come at a great personal cost. Would there be disgrace? Would she be an outcast? Would she be stoned? Would she be divorced? This is astounding coming from a teenage girl!

I can’t help but ask: What and how did Mary at such a young age acquire such faith and trust? I am reminded and convicted of how important it is to a young person’s life to hear scripture read and to teach and live God’s word around them. Allow God’s word to soak into their hearts. I am so challenged by Mary’s level of complete other-centeredness.

I consider the parallel between Mary and every Christian. Do you and I share in Mary’s joy?

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered by Donna Eby, worker for the needy, student of scripture, child of God.

Tipping the Scales

Readings: Luke 1:46b-55, Micah 4:1-5, Ephesians 2:11-22

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He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;

he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy. Luke 1:52-54

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered by Colin Fredrickson, artist, high school senior, child of God.

Through and For

Readings: Psalm 113, Genesis 25:19-28, Colossians 1:15-20

He is the image of the Invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers – all things have been created through him and for him. Colossians 1:15-16

All things have been created through him and for him? The one who was with God from the beginning, who is God, is the one I’m walking to Bethlehem to see? Nothing is disconnected from him, and nothing is lost to him. Billions of stars and uncountable sub-atomic particles are joined together in him. All the creatures who ever were, all who are, and all who shall some day come to be, are related in him.

No one is lost, abandoned, or forgotten. Everything is held by God, created for God’s delight. Perhaps God came to us as a baby so we might have the gift of holding him.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Insignificant

Readings: Micah 5:2-5a; Luke 1:46b-55; Hebrews 10:5-10a

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… Micah 5:2a

For he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant... Luke 1:48 a

Ever feel insignificant? By whose definition? Well, we know it’s not God’s if we even casually read the scriptures. Bethlehem is called one of the little clans of Judah, insignificant by most standards. In The Message, Eugene Peterson calls it “the runt of the litter.”

And what about Mary – a lowly servant who sings of how the proud are scattered and the powerful are dethroned and the lowly lifted up? The Bible is replete with so-called insignificant places and people being exalted by God. It seems God’s standards of significance are quite different.

When God emerges from the womb of an “insignificant” young woman to walk among us, heal us, feed us, save us, whom does this Jesus choose as his closest companions? Pretty much a bunch of insignificant people. As we celebrate the coming of our Lord this week, let us be reminded of True Significance, of what really matters (one definition of significant is the extent to which something matters).

Born of a lowly servant in a one-horse town, in a stable with that horse and other insignificant animals, and worshipped by a group of lowly shepherds, we find the One who matters the most in our lives as Christians. The One who changed the world.

Maybe we should reconsider our definition of insignificance as we welcome him into our hearts. And may we know our true significance in the heart of God this Christmas.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered by Bill Albritton, prayer team leader, faith educator, child of God.

 

Console

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7, Isaiah 66:7-11, Luke 13:31-35
How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Luke 13:34b

There are few things more compelling than a baby’s tears. We adults are hard-wired to respond to them, so we get up in the middle of the night to nurse a hungry infant or change a wet diaper. We pace the floor with a colicky child on our shoulder, and we hold them when their crying has no obvious cause. We sing to them, even those of us who don’t sing. We do our best to console them, even when they will not be consoled.

I’ve wondered lately if God came as an infant to show us that it’s okay to be loved, rocked to sleep, and held when afraid or sad. If Almighty God was okay with such nurturing, perhaps we can be, too.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Leading the Blind

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7, Isaiah 42: 10-18, Hebrews 10: 32-39

I will lead the blind by a road they do not know, by paths they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These things I will do, and I will not forsake them. Isaiah 42:16

There’s a difference between being lost and exploring a new place without a clear idea of my current position. I’ve been both in Boston. If I stray off the ever popular Freedom Trail, with its line of bricks to guide me, I end up who knows where. With a bit of faith and luck, I’ve ended up eating a delicious meal in the North End, finding the Museum of Fine Arts by way of the Fens, and standing in Cambridge and Boston at the same time in the Museum of Science. I’ve also ended up on dead end streets lined with dumpsters, the Charles River Esplanade in plain sight and no way to get to it. Lost or exploring new territory? For me, the difference is mainly emotional. Lost feels anxious and not quite safe; exploring feels exciting and confident.

But what if I walk in blindness? How would I know where I stood? How could I tell someone else how to find me? If my eyes cannot see, an unknown pathway means I am lost. Would I have the courage to walk such a path in the dark? Staying put or walking, I am afraid if I am alone.

The same could be said for this journey that is my life. In times of blindness, I am afraid to walk and afraid to say put if I am alone. But I am not alone. I have a guide who loves me and brings me home. Not only that, this guide turns my blindness into light. No longer blind, held fast, brought home.

Guide me, Lord, in life and in life beyond death. Amen.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Rules and Hearts

Readings: Psalm 80:1-7; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 10:10-18

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. Jeremiah 31:31-34

The temptation is to think that Christians have it made on this one. That somehow we’ve moved beyond the law to a relational faith based in Jesus. Because it is relational, we reason, it’s not about rules and regulations, but truly is a covenant written in our hearts.

Not so fast!

People are by their very nature, it seems, rule makers. So we good Christians who have been offered the gift of relationship with Jesus Christ have just as many rules, regulations and laws about faith as anyone else. Depending upon your theological orientation these “laws” are about prayers that need to be said, practices that need to be engaged, good deeds that need to be done, or beliefs that need to be held. These are what provide entre into the relationship or prove that the relationship is genuine. It’s all rational, cerebral and in almost all cases can be quantified. Even churches do it, keeping detailed accounts of the number of programs offered, pastoral visits made, baptisms perform, attendees in worship, and the size and growth of the budget. This, we assume, is a sign of faithfulness and provides assurance of God’s blessing. But it’s not about the heart.

Faith based in the heart is relational in the truest sense. It is fostered in love and shows itself in love. It dismisses rules and quantifiable criteria and lets go of the need to prove anything to anyone. This is the relational love we celebrate in the Incarnation. And the truth is it is so foreign to the way the world operates, we need to take significant time to prepare ourselves to receive it. That’s what Advent is about. It is a time to let go of the law that governs our existing and embrace the love that give full, abundant and eternal living possible. This is the covenant that is within, the gift that is offered to us at Christmas.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

Offered by Jeff Jones, writer, teacher, pastor, child of God.

The Stump

Readings: Isaiah 11:1-9, Micah 4:8-13, Luke 7:31-35

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1

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This image uses twigs from the artist’s family home; she is living in Virginia, attending college.

Offered by Riley Anderson, artist, seeker of wisdom, child of God.