Advent Week-4 (2019): The Candle Of Love

“By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35).

When Jesus came to this earth, He brought a special kind of love. This love is unselfish, compassionate, unconditional. He loves us just as we are. Our condition is irrelevant to His love. It is a love that picks us up just where we are in life and carries us further than we could ever go on our own.

He gives us His love so we can give it away in the same unselfish, compassionate, unconditional way He gave it to us. He tells us this love will be our trademark. It will distinguish us as followers of Jesus.

Your actions reflect Jesus to the world around you. You can choose to offer love or to hold it back. In situations where it is hard to offer love, ask Him to give you an abundance of His own in your heart so you are able to give it away.

As you move into Christmas this week, be reminded of the distinguishing mark you carry as a follower of Jesus. Ask for His love to be evident in your words and actions as you interact with others. Seek to bring unity and balance into relationships or situations. Listen to people with sincerity and interest. Ask for a graciousness that comes from His Spirit as you mingle with those in your circle.

Wear the love of Jesus as your distinguishing mark as His follower.

A PRAYER FOR LOVE

Heavenly Father,

The whole meaning of Christmas can be explained in one little four letter word…LOVE. You sent your gift of pure love to us that first Christmas. Love descended from heaven to be born of a virgin. Love lay in the scratchy hay of a manger in a meager barn in Bethlehem. All of your love, God, was robed in the delicate skin of a baby and wrapped in swaddling clothes. This final week of Advent, help us to reflect on the magnitude of love that was made manifest in Jesus.

Your word became flesh and you made your dwelling among us when Jesus was born. You set aside all of the glory and splendor of heaven and chose the most humble way to enter into your kingdom. Beneath the stars, surrounded by all of the hosts of heaven, Love came. Welcomed by an earthly mother and father, shepherds and wise men, Love came. 

You are King and King and Lord of Lords, Messiah and Ruler of All, yet you came not as a lion but as a lamb. You came as an innocent baby whose purpose was walk this earth in complete love, and then to sacrificially give his life as an atonement for the sins of His children. Emmanuel. God with us. Love in the form of a man.

That was your plan. From beginning to end, you knew every minute of Jesus life. You knew that the cross of Calvary was waiting for Jesus, yet you still sent your only Son so that our sin debt could be paid and we could walk blameless because of the shed blood of Jesus.

There is no greater gift then this, that a man should lay down his life for his friends. You willing gave the gift of your life because of your love. Your righteous blood covered our sin. You redeem and restore us when we confess you as Lord and Savior of our life. In that moment you give us the gift of your love for all eternity. We receive grace upon grace and mercy upon mercy in that moment.

The greatest gift of all came that first Christmas. It wasn’t wrapped in a beautiful package and set under a decorated tree. The greatest gift came wrapped in the flesh of baby Jesus and laid in the rough wood of a manger. Our perfect gift would later be rewrapped in the scars of our sin and nailed to the rugged wood of a cross on Calvary, all because of love.

Father, this final week of Advent, fill our hearts and minds with the significance of that truth. Thank you, Lord, for loving us enough to send Jesus.

In Jesus’ precious name we pray.

Amen

 

Many thanks and blessings to Gail Rodgers and Bobbie Schaeperkoetter

A Visit and a Song (Part 04/04)

A Blessing Called Sanctuary

You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
entirely—
nothing of you
found foreign or strange,
nothing of your life
that you were asked
to leave behind
or to carry in silence
or in shame.

Tentative steps
became settling in,
leaning into the blessing
that enfolded you,
taking your place
in the circle
that stunned you
with its unimagined grace.

You began to breathe again,
to move without fear,
to speak with abandon
the words you carried
in your bones,
that echoed in your being.

You learned to sing.

But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger
in safety,
in stasis.

The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found–
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart:

that you are beloved,
precious child of God,
beautiful to behold,
and you are welcome
and more than welcome
here.

~finished.

by Debie Thomas

#MoralStory: Admire Their Glow

I looked at my beautiful Christmas tree and sighed. It was time. The New Year was a week old and my tree still stood in the corner of our room with its collection of memories proudly displayed in a shower of colorful lights. I’d procrastinated long enough.

I got up, went to the garage and hauled all the boxes into the room. The garland was the first to come down. The tree looked naked already. I took the large ornaments off next. They made a large pile on our bed. An hour later, our bed was covered with Christmas memories. Each pile contained an ornament along with its matching brothers and sisters from sets purchased many years ago.

I prepared the boxes and carefully placed ornaments in their protective packaging, pausing every few minutes to admire a favorite. “Hey, little Santa!” I held the Santa from my childhood. “Thanks for being my friend for almost fifty years.” He was a little ragged but still gives me a flood of wonderful memories. “Until next year, my dear friend.”

There was a collection of handmade ones. My children made them in their first years of school, more than twenty years ago. Made by tiny hands, they are far from perfect in design, but every year they go on my memory tree – memories of young giggles on Christmas morning and a smiling face when they handed them to me when I came home from work. “Look what we made, Daddy!”

“Oh! It is beautiful. Let’s find a special spot on the tree for it.”Read More »

#ShortNews: “Did you know Christians were the first Iraqis?”

Leaders of Iraq’s Christians unanimously cancelled Christmas-related celebrations in solidarity with the protest movement — but the aims of their stance go deeper than tinsel and fairy lights. Slogans of a united Iraq free of sectarianism resonate deeply within the community, which since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein has fearfully observed its diminishing influence amid growing Shiite-dominated politics shaping state affairs. The Christians have also left Iraq in huge numbers over the years, after being targeted by militant Sunni groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.

Falling demographics capture their existential anxieties, explained Sako. Christians numbered around 1.5 million before the U.S. invasion 16 years ago, roughly 6% of the population. Today the Christian population is believed to be less than a third of that figure, though accurate estimates are hard to come by given the lack of census data in Iraq.

Christmas decorations were forbidden within the fine interiors of Baghdad’s Chaldean Patriarchate.

Source: https://apnews.com/07cfd7a97feb61b371708fcc6db0ab8e

#ShortNews: God’s works are unpredictable, Pope tells musicians

The time before Christmas calls us to ask ourselves: what is it that I am waiting for in my life?  What is the great desire of my heart? You too, with your songs, help awaken or reawaken this healthy human “yearning” in the hearts of many people. Deep down, it is God Himself who puts this desire, this “thirst” in our hearts. And He comes to meet us by this route. Certainly not in the vain compulsion to acquire possessions or to keep up appearances. It is not there that God comes; no one will meet on that route. But surely He comes wherever there is hunger and thirst for peace, hunger and thirst for justice, freedom and love.

In this act of humility, we find ourselves before a disconcerting mystery. God is unpredictable and constantly acts in unforeseeable ways. By taking us aback in this way, He constantly invites us not to grow proud but to grasp His disarming power in every little gesture of goodwill. This is all the more true for those who – like you – work closely with young people, and have a certain influence on their ways of thinking and acting. Speaking about your role, Saint Paul VI observed that the world “needs beauty in order not to sink into despair. Beauty, like truth, brings joy to the heart of man; it is that precious fruit that resists the wear and tear of time, unites generations and makes them share in wonderment” (Address of Pope Paul VI to Artists, 8 December 1965).

Read more Holy Father Frances’s greeting the audience, in the Vatical Apostolic Palace last Saturday; http://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/bollettino/pubblico/2019/12/13/191213c.html

Advent Week-3 (2019): The Candle Of Joy

As I re-juggled my “to do” list of Christmas preparations, my thoughts bounced around the changes that have come and how Christmas will be somewhat different this year — good changes, challenging changes, hard changes — the interesting mosaic of life. It’s different for all of us, yet we all share in that changing landscape of life. Sometimes finding joy in the changes is easy. Other time it’s very challenging.

As I pondered the changes in my life, and in our world, I thought about Christmas and the birth of Baby Jesus. Sometimes that manger scene seems so irrelevant and so far removed from day-to-day life. Yet an old verse in the Bible brought freshness to my soul this week as I pondered how the Baby Jesus impacts my life today. It truly gives new cause for joy — to stop and listen again.

“For unto us a child is born …and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6-7).

Any need you have in life and in the changing landscape of your mosaic can be answered by Jesus. If you need wisdom or strength, He will be your Counselor. If you need a mountain moved, He is your Mighty God. If you need comfort, forgiveness and gentle healing, He is your everlasting Father; and if your heart is anxious and troubled, He will be Peace to you. Jesus is our rock and our hope — our cause for joy!Read More »

A Visit and a Song (Part 03/04)

The gift of hope: Once Mary receives both community and blessing, she finds her prophetic voice. At the end of our Gospel reading, she bursts into song. Not just any song, but a radical, hope-drenched song that soars with promise for the world’s poor, brokenhearted, and oppressed. Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes the Magnificat this way: “It is at once the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary Advent hymn ever sung. This is not the gentle, tender, dreamy Mary whom we sometimes see in paintings…. This song has none of the sweet, nostalgic, or even playful tones of some of our Christmas carols. It is instead a hard, strong, inexorable song about the power of God and the powerlessness of humankind.”

“My soul magnifies the Lord,” Mary sings, and then her song goes on to do just that. To make more visible and clear — to magnify for the world — a God invested in revolutionary and lasting change for his creation. Mary describes a reality in which our sinful and unjust status quo is gorgeously reversed: the proud are scattered and the humble honored. The hungry are fed and the rich sent away. The powerful are brought down, and the lowly are lifted up. Mary describes a world reordered and renewed — a world so beautifully characterized by love and justice, only the Christ she carries in her womb can birth it into being.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this essay, Mary’s song is so subversive in its cultural, socioeconomic and political implications, it has been banned many times in modern history. When the British ruled India, the Magnificat was prohibited from being sung in churches. Similarly, during the “Dirty War” in Argentina, after the mothers of disappeared children postered the capital plaza with the words of the Magnificat, the military junta banned all public displays of the song. Too much hope, they decided, is a dangerous thing.

But “too much hope” is precisely what we’re called to cultivate and proclaim on this fourth and final Sunday in Advent. The Messiah is almost here, Mary tells us, and the promise of his lasting reign changes everything. There is no unjust system, oppressive hierarchy, or arrogant leadership structure that God will not upend. No promise God will fail to keep. No broken, exploited life God will not save. So find your voice and sing your song — and share it with the world. What does your Magnificat sound like? How is God magnified through your unique perspective and vision? What words have you found to express the radical, revolutionary hope of the Messiah you carry?

I want to close this essay with a poem by Jan Richardson, about the Visitation. As we come to the end of this Advent season, may her words encourage you to receive and share the gifts of community, blessing, and hope. The Messiah is coming! So make haste. Be blessed. And magnify the Lord.

to be continued…

Mary Did You Know?

mary-baby-jesus-angels
*
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know
That your baby boy has come to make you new?
And this child that you’ve delivered
Will soon deliver you Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby
You’ve kissed the face of God
Oh, Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know?

The blind will see
The deaf will hear
And the dead will live again
The lame will leap
The dumb will speak
The praises of the lamb

Mary, did you know
That your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know
That your baby boy is heaven’s perfect lamb?
And this sleeping child you’re holding
Is the great I am

*

Advent Week-2 (2019): The Candle Of Peace

And then the angels proclaimed “Peace on Earth” when the Baby Jesus was born. Today we wonder as we listen to the evening news, is peace possible? We all need two kinds of peace in our lives. We need inner peace, but we also need peace with others. God addresses both. He tells us what to do to find that peace.

INNER PEACE

Inner peace begins with a relationship with God, and it continues as we focus on His strength and allow Him to fill us. We can exchange our weakness for His strength in any area of life. God’s Word says, “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is focused on You because He trusts in You” (Isaiah 26:3).

Personalize that verse with your own name in it: “God will keep me in perfect peace as my mind focuses on Him and trusts Him.” Inner peace hinges on your trust in God.

If inner peace is eluding you these days and anxiety is spilling over in your life, choose to trust God. You can choose to put your hand in His and draw from His patience and wisdom as you take each step. He will guide you through the maze of life if you ask Him. Choosing to trust God with those blind corners in your life will take you down the road to inner peace. Choosing not to trust Him will take you down the road to stress and worry. Inner peace is there for the choosing.

PEACE WITH OTHERS

Read More »

A Visit and a Song (Part 02/04)

The gift of blessing: Part of what’s so challenging about Mary’s story is its brevity. We know from the Gospel accounts that she’s perplexed by Gabriel’s announcement. We also know that she says yes to the angel’s request, anyway. But so much lies hidden beneath that seemingly quick and simple “yes.” So many questions. So many possibilities. So many occasions for doubt. Again, Luke doesn’t elaborate, but I can well imagine the questions I’d ask if I were in Mary’s place: Is Joseph going to stick around? Will my parents still love me? How will I survive the pain of childbirth? Who will help me when my time comes to deliver? Who will support this baby if my fiancé bails? Who am I to raise the son of God? Is any of this for real, or am I losing my mind?

Into this maelstrom of questions comes an outpouring of blessing: “Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth tells Mary, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Elizabeth astutely connects the dots in Mary’s story; she makes the connection between trust and blessing. In Elizabeth’s mind, Mary’s “favored” status has nothing to do with wealth, health, comfort, or ease. Her blessing lies solely in her willingness to trust God and to surrender to God’s will. To lean hard into God’s promises and believe that they will sustain her, no matter what.

I wonder how desperately Mary needs this blessing by the time she lands on Elizabeth’s doorstep, exhausted and scared. How badly she needs someone to remind her that even after the angel leaves, the light fades, and the vision recedes, God’s faithfulness remains.

My guess is, Mary carries Elizabeth’s blessing in her heart for the rest of her life. After all, her vocation as Jesus’s mother is not easy. It leads her straight from scandal to danger to trauma to devastation. How blessed can she feel when she delivers her firstborn in a smelly stable? When she becomes a refugee, fleeing to Egypt to prevent her son’s murder? What does blessing feel like for her years later, when her miraculously conceived child is arrested? Beaten? Mocked? Killed?

God’s call on Mary’s life requires her to be profoundly courageous and countercultural, to trust an inner vision few others understand or value. Elizabeth recognizes that Mary’s faith is precious — that faith alone will fuel the ongoing surrender Mary’s journey will require. So she names and blesses Mary’s capacity for deep trust as a gift worth cherishing.

We don’t live in a time or culture that encourages us to bless one another, and that’s a terrible shame. What would it be like to recover Elizabeth’s vocation of blessing? To cultivate spiritual attentiveness? To gaze long and deeply at each other, looking for glimpses of God? How would our churches change if we made a point of discerning, naming, and blessing the divine gifts we see in each other? Elizabeth “exclaims with a loud cry” when she recognizes God’s life-changing work in Mary. What a compelling image. Joy flourishes when we’re willing to humbly bless each other.

to be continued…