Advent Devotions, 2016
November 26, 2016
No one knows when Jesus is coming. Everyone will be carrying out their daily activities without being aware of the end.
In hindsight, you make different decisions because you now know the result or outcome. Don’t live wishing you made different choices. Live every day to the fullest, helping others and making choices ready for the coming of the Lord.
November 27, 2016
Daniel 9:15-19 Daniel prays for forgiveness for the Israelites
Forgiveness is hard to ask for. It requires that we admit that we are in the wrong, but we are blessed by the actions of a Risen Christ who opened his arms on the cross and took our sins on himself to make us right with God. When we confess that we have failed to do what is right, or done what is wrong, we do it with confidence that we will be heard.
As we read Daniel’s plea for forgiveness for his people, who have done great wrong by turning their backs to the ways of God, we feel his pain and the intensity of his plea. It took great strength of spirit to confront God and ask forgiveness because they were still His people even though they had forgotten to live in His ways.
Dear Heavenly Father, we live in an angry and anxious time. Help us to confront the anger and anxiety by allowing your love to flow through us to those who need it. Give us strength through the knowledge that our sins are forgiven, through Jesus who allowed himself to be crucified. We may pray with all the intensity of Daniel, but know that we will be answered.
Lord give us love, Lord give us strength. Give us the will to be your forgiven messengers to our broken world. Amen
November 28, 2016
Genesis 6: 1-10 The wickedness of humankind.
The earth was full of violence & wickedness except for Noah and his family.
It sounds like the cities we hear about in the news every day, the sex crimes, murders, hate crimes of all kinds.
Yet we know there are good people there too and sometimes these stories get through.
Only a few though as the media is more focused on the terrible.
Guideposts and Angels magazines have great inspirational stories of good people that are everywhere too.
Now that we have Jesus, we know what we are supposed to do.
We need to examine our thought, words and actions and align them with Jesus’s teachings.
Heavenly Father, Let us focus on the good. Help us to be kind, patient & helpful to each other. Amen
November 29, 2016
Genesis 6: 11-22 – Noah’s Charge to Build an Ark
In reading your Bible, you’ll relive what our Biblical friend Noah heard and understood as God spoke to him – in a sense, “Out-of-The-Blue”. Noah was over 400 years old, and considered by many as a Prophet, when God told him of His plan to destroy the world with a flood. And, specifically why it had to be destroyed. God commanded, In Genesis 6: (17 For my part, I am going to bring a flood of waters on the earth, to destroy from under heaven all flesh in which is the breath of life; everything that is on the earth shall die).
Why was Noah chosen by God? This was done because Noah was the only man on Earth, at that time, that pleased God. Old Testament history teaches us that in the eyes of God, Noah was a devout and righteous man. He was also known as a man “who walked with God”. More importantly, God looked upon him as perfect and blameless in a generation whose wickedness and corruption were so great that God was sorry he had created man. The longevity of per-flood people could reach 500 or more years. And, it only took about ten generations since God created Adam and Eve – for Gods World to be taken over by evil, violence, sin, and corruption.
Based upon God’s love and trust, God established a Covenant with Noah… In Genesis 6: (18 But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you). Noah had qualities of patience and persistence, and his faithfulness to God did not depend on anyone else. His faith was singular and unshakable in an entirely faithless society. According to the Bible… In Genesis 6: (22 Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him).
During his entire life-time Noah is most famous for building God’s Ark, and preparing it to hold God’s chosen people and animals. At the very moment Noah was called, he worked relentlessly for over 120 years building the Ark, aided by his wife, and his three sons and their wives.
Noah has always been looked upon as a true hero of Faith in religious writings, beliefs, values, held within common Judeo-Christian traditions.
What lessons have we learned from Noah’s life experience that still hold true today?
The faithfulness of God to God’s people continues through today. God Treasures one who can listen to His Word and Obey Him.
Noah’s life, and unshakable faith in the midst of a faithless society has much to teach us today
We learn from Noah that it is possible to remain faithful and please God even in the midst of a corrupt and sinful generation. Noah diligently accepted his calling and never wavered from it.
God blessed and saved Noah just as he will faithfully bless and protect those of us who follow and obey him today. Our call to obedience is not a short-term and a one-time call. Like Noah, our obedience must be lived out over a lifetime of faithful commitment. Those who persevere will finish the race.
Our Prayer: Almighty God our Father, your faithfulness to us is unwavering. You bestow blessings upon us daily. May the Holy Spirit enable us to have unshakeable faith in the midst of a faithless society. We acknowledge your goodness, give thanks for your blessings, and continue serve you willing and obediently, in Jesus name, Amen.
November 30, 2016
Genesis 8: 1-19: The flood subsides
Evidence exists that a massive flood occurred during Old Testament times, and that the beloved Noah and the ark story may have been an effort by the writer of Genesis to explain an incredible natural catastrophe in a more understandable way. Similarly, this writer is emphasizing the power of an almighty God making all things new if we but trust and believe in Him as did Noah.
This biblical classic is especially appropriate during the Advent season as we anticipate God making all things new again in the birth of his son Jesus. Rather than our natural world receiving a second chance, we are now promised a new, everlasting, spiritual life where our mortality is transcended by the love and ultimate sacrifice of Jesus. This renewal can occur on any day, any time through Christ’s immeasurable love, grace, and compassion.
Lord, be with us this day as we eagerly anticipate the arrival of your son. Remind us of Your promise of everlasting life and that each of our days is a new beginning in our spiritual journey. Prepare our hearts and minds to welcome the reality of this incredible gift given through Your unfailing love and grace. Amen
December 1, 2016
Genesis 9:1-17 The covenant with Noah.
The story of Noah and the great flood manifests itself in God’s desire to bring harmony back to His creation of all living things. Rather than seeing God’s action as done through wrath, we must see it through the love that He has for His people and the despair that He felt over man’s rebellion. God’s plan of a new beginning and recreation is borne out of a remnant of the first creation, a continuation of life. The newly restored relationship comes with a covenant and promise of God calling us back to be His own.
Open our hearts and minds to the everlasting promise of your desire for us to be all that you created us to be. Amen
December 2, 2016
Isaiah 54:1-10 The eternal covenant of peace
Whether we turn on the television or open the newspaper, much of what we see in the news is about ongoing wars, poverty, diseases and illnesses, accidents, violence, and the inability of some of our population to be accepting of others regardless of their race, ethnic background or religion. At times, one starts to question “What is this world coming to?” and “What does the future hold?” This is when we need to turn to the good news to learn of the promises of our loving and forgiving Lord who provides us with the promise of peace.
Today’s lesson from Isaiah addresses Jerusalem, referred to as the barren and abandoned wife. “She” is told to rejoice because she will soon have numerous children and will enlarge her home to make room for them. This chapter anticipates the restoration of Israel, begun in part at the restoration of the exiles from Babylon after a time of when they were chasing false gods.
God promises his everlasting love, forgiveness and mercy in verses 4-7. Isaiah presents the promise of a “new covenant of peace.” In verse 10, we are promised that “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed.” Reading on, we learn that this return from exile does not mark the end of his promises. Rather, that there remains a final more glorious culmination of God’s covenant at the end of the ages.
Prayer: Lord, help us learn to live in faith, knowing that we are safe in your love and mercy, and your everlasting promise of peace.
December 3, 2016
Matthew 3:1-12 John predicts the coming Messiah
In this reading God chooses an unlikely character like John the Baptist to prepare everyone for Jesus’ coming. In Matthew’s gospel, both John, and later Jesus, state “Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” For John, this means to confess your sins, be baptized and live a life that bears fruit. The Messiah, he says, will come to judge. It is necessary that persons prepare for his coming. John’s message is for everyone. Even the Pharisees and the Sadducees need to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. They cannot rest on their laurels and rely on their spiritual heritage, but rather, must repent and bear good fruit also. We too are no different.
Like trees and their fruits, the character and actions of a person ought to be consistent and consistently good or face the consequences of judgement. As Martin Luther said, “Good works do not make a person good, but a good person does good works.”
The Christian life is one of both a gift and a responsibility. It is a life that is gifted by the Spirit and that leads to the task of bearing the good fruits of the kingdom of God. “We Love because He First Loved Us.” We are called into service to share God’s love. We are the hands and feet of Christ. How can share God’s love to the world around us?
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for loving us and sending your Sone here on earth as an example of your love. Help us to bear good fruit by sharing your love to those around us through our words and deeds. In your name we pray. Amen
December 4, 2016
Isaiah 11:1-10 The peaceful kingdom.
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord — 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
The beautiful, peaceful kingdom. Is it a place that is within our reach, or is it a kind of Utopia that will never really exist? We have become so fractured and divided that it is hard to imagine the wolf lying with the lamb and causing no harm. Even those claiming to be filled with the knowledge of the Lord are not necessarily talking about the same Lord. Fear and anger overwhelm us. Malevolence and hate divide us. Righteousness and faithfulness are rare qualities. We wallow instead in greed, deceit, and revulsion. But, despite all that we face in this world, Jesus stands “as a banner for the peoples.” As we go forth through this life fighting for justice and goodness in the face of seemingly impossible odds, we go with the knowledge that when we get to the end of our trial, we will be rewarded with a glorious, beautiful, peaceful kingdom.
We give thanks to you Lord for giving us your example of love and caring. Give us the strength to fight oppression and hate. Let us love and inspire by following the example of your son, Jesus Christ, so that we may reach that glorious resting place of peace. Amen.
December 5, 2016
Isaiah 4:2-6 Jerusalem will be restored
In contrast to the words of warning just before these verses, the prophet Isaiah provides an image of hope. This is a spiritual restoration for those who remain in Jerusalem. The “remnant” will be blessed, even though God’s judgement must sometimes be fierce, it will never destroy everything or everybody. Isaiah reminds the remnant that it’s only purpose is to promote NEW life and permit NEW beginnings. He reminds the remnant of the cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night as their ancestors were led for 40 years in the wilderness. The hope and promise for us in these times in which we live is that God loves us no matter what happens. There is always hope for the righteous, even though we sin and fall short of God’s glory, he will never leave us or forsake us. His love endures forever.
Prayer: Holy and almighty Father we thank you for your mercy and grace in our lives every day. We thank you for your promise to us in Ephesians 2, Your promise that by grace you have been saved through faith and it is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Amen
“Lefty” Biser ,
December 6, 2016
Isaiah 30:19-26: God’s promise to Zion
This passage from the prophet considered by scholars to be Third Isaiah has much in common with other prophetic writing in that it assures God’s people that God is with them – a message we are hungry to receive still today. Hearers through the centuries are exhorted to respond with undivided devotion and to follow the ways of God.
In Advent, we are again reminded to live meaningfully and in balance with all levels of life in the world around us.
Dear God, we week to show our gratitude for the benefits you have provided via your comforting presence and grace as we try to look beyond ourselves and share that very grace. Amen
December 7, 2016
Isaiah 40: 1-11 God Takes Charge – With Power and Tenderness
The reading’s early verses begin with the widely quoted “Comfort, comfort my people”. God is speaking to the hosts of heaven – those who are exalted or who have exalted themselves in the heavens. Yet none are as high as God Himself as He exerts his dominion over all of heaven and earth.
God does not deliver a sword, but rather comfort, saying His people have suffered enough in their Babylon exile, and have been pardoned for their sins and idolatry.
A voice in the wilderness describes an enormous earthly alteration to reveal the Glory of God to all flesh! The earthly prophet asks what shall I cry to my people? Say that all flesh grows, blossoms, and withers like grass. But the Word of God stands forever. Shout to all the lands “Behold your God”. He comes with power and might but with undeserved rewards for His people.
His people are called to be His sheep and to be comforted by the Almighty Shepherd, with love and tenderness.
Dear God as we grow and briefly blossom the earth, let us find our roots in you and stretch forth toward the heavens, reflecting your glory. Amen
December 8, 2016
Isaiah 24:1-13 Impending judgement on the earth.
This prophecy tells of a gruesome future, and hardly one I would associate with Advent. We are looking ahead to coming of our Messiah and we are told about a future living in a miserable, barely inhabitable world. And these horrific conditions are blamed on the people for their transgressions (v. 5). I don’t think the ancient Israelites intentionally polluted their water or laid waste to their land. What I believe happened was that the people began to pay more attention to their immediate lives, consequently disregarding their land and resources. We are in the same place that the Israelites were, but we have the means to see what we are doing to God’s creation. As we see the consequences of our neglect of creation, we can also realize that by paying attention to how we live in our world we can begin to restore creation! We can spend time outside – walking, playing, meditating, praying and soon we will notice how our lives affect creation. Our noticing will lead us to actions that make the planet more livable. Even in small ways we can prepare to welcome the Messiah into the world of which we are stewards and caretakers.
December 9, 2016
Isaiah 41:14-20 God Assures Israel of His Help
Written for the exiled Jews during their long and painful captivity in Babylon, this passage in Isaiah is meant as comfort for the Israelites. God, who supplied all of Israel’s needs in the wilderness of Sinai, would work God’s miracles now. All difficulties in the Israelites’ way will vanish.
As I write this devotion, people in Haiti and along the east coast are still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Matthew. Isis threats and attacks place our global community in danger and despair. A presidential campaign has completely gone amok with vicious innuendo and verbal slurs. Wars, famine, and natural disasters abound.
Sometimes it is hard to believe that God is present in our lives and the lives of those around us. But God is here to comfort and refresh suffering people in their journey through this world. We must be open to God’s presence and direction for our lives.
O Lord, as we face our conflicts, help us to remember that You are our light in the wilderness – showing us the way to peace, hope, and love. Amen
December 10, 2016
Matthew 11:2-11 Message from John the Baptist
Advent is a time of expectantly waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus at Christmas. John the Baptist was in prison and sent his disciples to find out information about the Messiah. Jesus told them of all the acts of healing he performed and the good news being preached. John fulfills Old Testament prophesies by being the messenger ahead of the Messiah to prepare the way. The season of Advent prepares our hearts and minds for the birth of Jesus.
Dear God, Thank you for sending John the Baptist to prepare the way for Jesus. Remind us the true meaning of the season and help us to share the good news of the birth of Jesus with others. Help us go and tell others what Christ has done for us.
December 11, 2016
Genesis 15: 1-18 “God’s Covenant with Abram”
“After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir.’ He brought him outside and said, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.’ He brought them all these and cut them in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.
As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. Then the Lord said to Abram, ‘Know this for certain, that your offspring shall be aliens in a land that is not theirs, and shall be slaves there, and they shall be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions. As for yourself, you shall go to your ancestors in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation; for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.’”
Just like a generous host who invites an unsuspecting guest to a sumptuous dinner party, God prepares a “feast” to honor God’s faithful servant, Abram. Though he isn’t perfect, Abram is good. He has followed God’s call wherever God has led him, praying to God and building altars for worship throughout his nomadic travels.
Instead of setting a table with the best lamb, spices, bread and wine, however, God lays a promise on the table to stand by Abram forever; to make him his own. What’s more, God offers Abram his heart’s desire; the opportunity to father a child, to be the progenitor of a nation, and to have a place to call “home.” Indeed, Abram, until this day, is the father of the world’s three largest religions; Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.
We call God’s generous promise to Abram a “covenant.” The biblical term infers a serious agreement between two individuals or between two political, familial, or social units. It’s not a relationship to be taken lightly. In some cases, a covenant has conditions for both parties. In the divine covenant between Abram and God, however, God takes on all the responsibility for its creation and for its safeguarding. God expresses God’s love and acceptance of Abram through the covenant, and its existence implies God’s loyalty to him.
Herman Stuempfle and Mike Martine’s beautiful hymn, “Braband” (named in honor of our own Tim and Barbara) articulates God’s generosity in poetry and song:
“Oh, God, you made this fruitful earth
A home for humankind.
The feast of life was full of mirth;
In peace your creatures dined.
Our host, you garnished all with grace;
You saw that all was right.
The bounties that you set in place were meant for our delight.
Come one, come all the feast is spread,
Thrown open is Love’s hall.
Come eat, come drink;
Your host awaits,
Invites you with Love’s call.
During this Advent season, we anticipate God’s new covenant of grace, formed in the womb and delivered as a vulnerable child just like us. Despite our human frailty and failure to fully honor God, God will honor us by becoming human and standing with us. Once again, God will take on the responsibility of relationship. It’s been an ongoing promise, realized soon in another remarkably openhanded act. We may ready ourselves to receive God’s invitation to the feast yet again.
Prayer: God of creation, you are a good and generous God. Thank you for all the gifts you have bestowed on your people throughout the ages. Thank you for the loving promises you give and keep. Bring peace to our hearts and our world as we anticipate your son, the ultimate articulation of your eternal covenantal love. Empower us in faith and obedience, expressions of our grateful hearts’ desires. Amen.
December 12, 2016
Romans 15:4-13 Please others, not yourselves.
I must admit, this was the first time reading this Scripture and I read it over and over trying to find the meaning, particularly how it relates to pleasing others before yourself. I believe the easiest way for me to relate to this text is to relate it to present day. With all of the tension, hate, and violence in the world today; we live in a time of a ‘me’ first perspective on life and it’s led to a world divided. This goes against everything we’re taught as Christians.
What I got from reading Romans 15:3-14,is that we can gain hope and encouragement from Scripture. We can learn from the life of Jesus and try to follow the examples of love and compassion that he lived. We should accept one another, no matter if they’re a fellow Christian or a non-Christian. By putting others ahead of ourselves, we’re following Christ’s example and in turn praising God.
While most try to find happiness through material possessions and living for themselves, true happiness and living a righteous life comes from helping others. By helping one another, we’re living the life that God meant for us to live, and by praising God, we can find happiness in ourselves.
December 13, 2016
ROMANS 15: 14-21 WHY PAUL FEELS HE MUST WRITE BOLDLY
When reading these verses my mind immediately goes to the cliché that we’ve all heard at some point, “preaching to the choir”. In today’s passage Paul is addressing the Christian Church in Rome. He reminds them that he is confident that they are filled with goodness and knowledge and fully able to instruct each other in the faith. But he also reminds them that through the grace given to him by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus he has chosen to proclaim the good news of Christ in places where He is not known.
To me this message applies to us in our preparation for Christ’s coming by reminding us not just to “preach to the choir” (those who know and already believe) but also to proclaim the good news of God’s love and grace to people in our lives and in our communities that do not know of His coming and living among us.
Heavenly Father, give us faith and strength to find people and places that may not be as safe and comfortable, where we can proclaim the good news of your coming.
December 14, 2016
Matthew 12: 33-37 A tree and its fruit.
“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgement you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
When I first read this passage, I thought, “Great.” Judgement? Brood of vipers? Just my luck. But then, I got to thinking about how Jesus might have felt at this point in his journey… tired, weary. Perhaps sick and tired of all these people following him around and asking him to perform miracle after miracle? Frustrated that no one seemed to “get it.” I know I would be.
One of my favorite writers and theologians, Barbara Brown Taylor, writes a lot about the life of being a priest. Sometimes, it’s a lot like what Jesus was experiencing in this chapter of Matthew. Most of the time, it’s full of tension. She quotes:
“A priest is someone willing to stand between a God and a people who are longing for one another’s love, turning back and forth between them with no hope of tending either as well as each deserves. To be a priest is to serve a God who never stops calling people to do more justice and love more mercy, and simultaneously to serve people who nine times out of ten are just looking for a safe place to rest. To be a priest is to know that things are not as they should be, and yet to care for them the way they are.”
Jesus knows that oftentimes we are not as we should be. He knows that sometimes our fruit is bad… that sometimes we say things we do not mean, or say other things with the wrong intention. Often, we speak when our hearts are in the wrong place, we judge, we deceive. I can imagine Jesus being frustrated with me, with us, with the world today.
But still, despite the fact that we do not live from the abundance of God’s love for us, Jesus meets us wherever we are and cares for us. Jesus tends to us in times of good fruit—plentiful harvest and scarcity. Amidst our sin and shortcomings, Jesus welcomes us into mercy, begs us to seek justice, takes hold of our burdens, and gives us rest.
As we wait for the birth of Jesus during this Advent season—this season that can be stressful, that can leave us weary—we wait in the abundance of God’s love. A love that brings us Jesus, the ultimate priest, who tends to us through the good and the bad, who knows that we don’t always act as we should and yet loves us anyway.
“God, you alone are the judge of humankind, yet you call us to work toward justice. Help us make the judgments necessary for faithful living without becoming judgmental, that we may celebrate the mystery by which your justice is your mercy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” –Shane Claiborne, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals
December 15, 2016
Isaiah 4:2 – 6 “The Future Glory of the Survivors of Zion”
In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The LORD will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.
The Book of Isaiah is considered by many to be one of the most important books of the Old Testament. The book is a collection of prophecies. A common theme is the message of salvation. In this passage we are told that the Branch of the Lord is both beautiful and glorious, and “the survivors in Israel” will have pride in the fruit of the land. But, are these fruits grown on trees; or are we reading about the Branch of David; the survivors of challenges? The theme is carried into the next sentence, where the writer calls the survivors holy, notes that filth and bloodstains will be removed, and that the bloodstains will be purged by “a spirit of judgement and a spirit of fire.” A “spirit of judgement” suggests a review of all to determine who is worthy. And while fire conveys an image of destruction, it also can suggest a cleansing, or purging; it takes high heat in the sintering process to form metal and remove impurities.
The last two sentences of this reading shift the focus to Mount Zion, a holy area of Jerusalem. Here the faithful will be protected: a canopy of glory, a shelter and shade from heat, and a sanctuary from storm and rain will await the faithful. It will be a refuge.
I believe this was written to entice the faithful to continue their struggle, to buck them up. Despite the oppression they have felt the writer is exhorting them to continue their struggle, for the goal is worth it; God has not forgotten them and will protect them if they just keep the faith. At times we all need a friend or mentor to remind us of our goals, to help us to lead the good life. Reading this passage from Isaiah reminds us that our travails are minor in comparison to challenges that make our family of faith filthy and bloodstained. Are you up for the challenge of being a Christian?
Prayer: Dear God, thank you for the gifts you give us, and for the example of challenges that can be overcome through faith. Help me to show my love for your creation in all my endeavors, and to remain faithful to God, regardless of the challenges I face. In your name I pray. Amen.
December 16, 2016
Isaiah 30: 19-26 God’s promise to Zion
19 Truly, O people in Zion, inhabitants of Jerusalem, you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you. 20 Though the Lord may give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself any more, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” 22 Then you will defile your silver-covered idols and your gold-plated images. You will scatter them like filthy rags; you will say to them, “Away with you!”
23 He will give rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and grain, the produce of the ground, which will be rich and plenteous. On that day your cattle will graze in broad pastures; 24 and the oxen and donkeys that till the ground will eat silage, which has been winnowed with shovel and fork. 25 On every lofty mountain and every high hill there will be brooks running with water—on a day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall. 26 Moreover the light of the moon will be like the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be sevenfold, like the light of seven days, on the day when the Lord binds up the injuries of his people, and heals the wounds inflicted by his blow.
In a class on Isaiah that I took while at Gettysburg Seminary, Dr. Brooks Schramm described the book as a whole, as “The most interesting, the most intriguing, and the most complex book in the bible.”, and made the claim that “to study Isaiah, is to study the entire bible.”
Here, in these verses from Isaiah chapter 30, we find words of promise describing the Lord’s steadfast presence in a time of great affliction. Or, as Old Testament scholar Brevard Childs explains, “a prophetic reassurance that God waits to be gracious and to show mercy, for he is a God of justice.”
Under this theme, the prophet Isaiah speaks through the language of poetry in order to describe the coming age of salvation, where God, who has afflicted his people, shifts from that of judgement to that of forgiveness. That God will remove our tears, hear our cries, and lead us on the path we are to walk.
As we move into the second half of our pericope, the prophet continues to describe God’s boundless presence through the restoration of creation. Plentiful crops will fill the fields, flocks of cattle, oxen, and donkey will graze in wide-ranging pastures, brooks and streams will reach over mountain and hill, and light will break into even the darkest of nights. Through this restoration, we too will be fully restored. Our wounds will be healed and we will be made whole.
As we move through this Advent season and closer to birth of the babe in the manger, we are reminded of the promise made true in Him. In our verses from Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the Lord as the one who binds our injuries and heals our wounds. As Christ followers, we place our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the babe in the manger, who through his life teaches us how we are to live and the path we are to walk, and who through his death, gives us the assurance that when we fail to do so, forgiveness is given. With this we go through life, its ups and downs, knowing that we are loved by God who sent the Son to be born into a broken world and to die upon a cross so that we would have life. May this promise restore order to the world that surrounds you in times of chaos. May it bring light into your darkest hour. And may it assure you of God’s steadfast presence and boundless compassion.
Pastor Andrew Geib
December 17, 2016
Luke 3:1-18: John the Baptist’s Proclamation
Advent is a time of preparation. This passage is one of the most exciting and troubling; clearly telling us what will happen to the sinful yet guiding us in what to do about our sins and declaring the greatness of the coming Messiah.
In today’s busy world I find it difficult sometimes to truly feel and experience the real Jesus. Society tells us to remove him from sight and only discuss or refer to him behind the closed doors of the church, lest we offend someone. Even at Christmas we are told to ignore Jesus. Are we brave enough to proclaim the greatness of Jesus as John does, or do we coward away and succumb to societal norms?
In reading this passage I find great excitement and anticipation for such a wonderful miracle of the coming Messiah. “Prepare the way of the Lord”, “all flesh shall see the salvation of God”, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire”. We are reminded that Jesus asks a great deal of us. Not only are we to seek forgiveness of our sins, but actively live as Jesus asks us. Finally, I believe this passage calls us to be evangelists and proclaim the greatness of Jesus the Messiah.
So how do we proclaim Jesus today? I believe it is when we do his work. We proclaim Jesus when we help those that are hungry, or need a place to spend the night. We proclaim him when we listen to someone that is stressed out, or celebrate when someone is happy. Jesus is proclaimed when we offer a prayer, even when society tells us not to.
Jesus is certainly here and with us. We just have to be willing to see him, accept him, know him, and tell about him.
Jesus, I thank you for being real in our world. Help me to proclaim your greatness in all that I do and help me to know you are always with me. Amen.
December 18, 2016
Matthew 1: 18-25 The Birth of Jesus, the Messiah
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet.
Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, God is with us. When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. Matthew 1: 18-25 NRSV
I saw the title for this devotion was “The Birth of Jesus, the Messiah” and knew that would be the one I would choose. Then I realized that Matthew’s version told us about Joseph and his misgivings. I pondered for a while AND procrastinated before I finally sat down at the computer to write.
I love nativity scenes and I have a collection of nativities of various sizes and textures placed in a bedroom. I pass this collection many times throughout the day. I look at the Holy Family and they “warm my heart.”
Some of them are carved out of various types of wood, some out of stone, one has the family carved into a gourd and still others are made of metal. All look pretty and perfect and everyone is smiling and happy.
But, I know that truly wasn’t the way things went and I am brought back to reality. Mary was a young girl and God asked her to do the unthinkable. She found herself with child from the Holy Spirit. Who would believe her? What would people think? More important: what would Joseph think and do?
Matthew gives us a different view of the story. We never really hear much about Joseph except the role he played as Jesus’ earthly father. We know he was betrothed to Mary and then found out she was with child. One can only imagine how he felt… betrayed by Mary, angry, hurt and probably sad, too. But because he was a good man he was willing to protect her and then walk away.
God had other plans for Joseph and an angel delivered God’s message and thankfully Joseph believed that message. He truly was an amazing man to me. He had faith to believe God and trust him and do what he was told. He cared for his wife and a child that was not his.
The prophecy was fulfilled… and he was named Emmanuel- God with us!
Let us pray: Dear Loving Father, thank you for the faith of Mary and Joseph and for the gift of your son, our Lord. May we always strive to have “their kind of faith”. Amen
December 19, 2016
Galatians 4:8-20: Paul Reproves the Galatians “But now that you know God – or rather are known by God – how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?” (v. 9) “What has happened to all your joy?” (v. 15) It is clear from reading the New Testament that many in the early church were looking for the return of Christ to happen soon, initially even within their lifetime. An adjustment that the early church had to make was to see their faith as a way of living for many years, well into the future, accepting that the Lord’s return might not happen quickly at all. And now, for us, two thousand years have passed and the Lord’s return is not a particularly hot topic that consumes our energy and our focus. Whenever we wait for a long time, perhaps constantly expecting something important to occur “any day now,” we can get so used to the “expectation” that it becomes commonplace, and loses its urgency or excitement for us. We can easily settle into a routine of everyday ordinariness in our faith and stop expecting the return of Christ in any kind of time frame that significantly impacts our lives. In today’s passage Paul is concerned for the Galatians who have lost their joy from the initial gospel message and have returned to a “routine” that is not reflective or supportive of their faith at all. During our advent season, we set aside time to consider what the coming of Christ means to our world; to contemplate and celebrate the joy inherent in the return of Christ and the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. We need to be careful that we don’t find ourselves imply acknowledging that God once entered this world in a unique and life changing way two thousand years ago, but joyfully celebrating God continues to do so again and again and again. “What has happened to all your joy?” Lord Jesus, come into our hearts and rekindle the joy that comes in the news of your birth and promise of salvation in the good news of God’s love. Help us Lord constantly be mindful of the joyful event of your birth and to live our lives reflecting the difference that it makes. Amen.
December 20, 2016
Galatians 4:21-5:1 The Allegory of Hagar and Sarah
This devotional reading maybe off-putting to our modern ears: Its symbolic comparison of Hagar and Sarah to slavery and freedom does not easily resonate. But to Galatians who cherished the stories of Torah, the symbolism must have been powerful in ways that fall short for us. Still our modern hearts and minds can thankfully hold onto the closing words of today’s text:
“Christ has set us free for freedom, so stand free and do not submit to a yoke of slavery.”
We who are habitually tempted to the slavish yokes of work, success, and egoism can surely embrace the message that Christ has empowered us to stand free of these. What good news for us! We can be freed from self-preoccupation and self-absorption. We can be empowered, freed to care for others.
We are grateful for your vision of us, of who we can be in you. With your Spirit keep nudging us to love others and to care for your world. Give us courage. Give us wisdom. Give us love. Amen
December 21, 2016
Genesis 37:1-11 Joseph dreams of greatness.
Like much of the Bible, this passage will resonate in different ways, depending on the context. Children may cherish the story of Joseph’s “Coat of Many Colors.” Adults will likely be more aware of sibling rivalry and how God used the brother’s selfish actions to ultimately save His chosen people. In these days before Jesus’ birth, thoughts of the New Testament Joseph come to mind. This faithful man also had dreams that proved essential to God’s good intentions for His people. Joseph of Nazareth heeded the angel’s message (Matthew 1:20), protected Mary and became the “earthly” father of God’s Son. Through a second dream, he was able to save his new little family from King Herod’s evil grasp.
May God bless your waking and your sleeping, reminding all of us that Jesus comes in new and surprising ways.
December 22, 2016
Isaiah 33: 17-22
Isaiah wrote these words to encourage the ancient Hebrews, who were living as a people incorporated into an empire led by foreign powers, in this case the Assyrians. They never regained their own land and continued to live under foreign domination. So they began looking for a savior, an anointed one, who would throw off the foreign yoke and build them a new kingdom and a glorious Jerusalem. Instead, they got Jesus, a carpenter’s son, born in a stable. But through his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus continues to build a kingdom of love, uniting children of His Father by the Holy Spirit. The glorious city and the good land with broad rivers is the work of Jesus’ followers today, as well as the work done over the previous 2000 years. We are the architects and the citizens of a land built in the love of Jesus. It is wonderful to look forward to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the initiator and ruler of the beautiful kingdom of love.
December 23, 2016
Luke 1: 46-55 Mary’s Song of Praise
“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.
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown great 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, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The beautiful words spoken by Mary to her kinswoman, Elizabeth have been repeated again and again over the ages in word and song. Mary’s Song of Praise or The Magnificat as it is also called, seem to express Mary’s joy and humbleness in becoming the Mother of the Christ Child as well as praising God for keeping his promises to Israel. Martin Luther said” Here the tender mother of Christ teaches us, with her words and by the example of her experience, how to know, love and praise God.”
Dear Father in Heaven, as we near the celebration of your Son’s birth, may we like Mary sing praises to you. Then with your love may we share your mercy, joy and blessings. Amen
December 24, 2016
Luke 2:1-11 The birth of Jesus
The Christmas Story. It might have gone unnoticed among hundreds of other young women who gave birth that night. But Luke draws our immediate interest with his dramatic opening: “In the days of Caesar Augustus….when Quirinius was governor”. Two powerful leaders put us into a time period and under Rome’s control. Joseph travels to Bethlehem, where both he and King David were born. This connects us to the Old Testament scriptures and the lineage of kings.
We want to know more. The birth announcement, so short and simple, (Verses 6-7), makes no mention of animals, wise men, thunderbolts, or trumpets. There is a birth with an infant cradled in a manger – a feeding trough for farm animals.
Then the story takes a strange twist. Apparently unknown to Joseph and Mary, angels visit shepherds in a nearby field and tell them, before anyone else: A child is born: For you: In Bethlehem: This night: A Savior: Who is Christ the Lord.
And the sky erupts with heavenly hosts singing and praising God.
The shepherds go to see this new child and deliver the news. Imagine the most humble peasants and shepherds are selected to tell the anxious parents that their child is the promised one, the Messiah of prophesy.
This is a story beyond imagination that could not be concocted, that springs from scripture at a particular time and place. God comes to us in simple ways, and changes the world. What a story.
Prayer: Gracious God, you have reached down and delivered a child of your enduring mystery into our midst. You raised him from the lowest to the highest, from the cross to your right hand. We pray Lord, tomorrow being a new day for all, make us a part of your Christmas story.
December 25, 2016
Luke 2:15-20 (NRSV) The shepherds adore the child.
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
In this text, God’s greatest miracle was revealed to the shepherds so that they could be a witness to all who would listen. There are miracles that happen all around us, some so small as to go completely unnoticed in the chaos of our daily lives. In these days of cynicism and distrust among people, open your hearts to the possibility of a miracle. Slow down and take note of a child’s smile, or a random act of kindness, or a perfect tree branch shining like a piece of artwork with the sun shining all around it. On this Christmas Day and throughout this season, take notice. Be a witness to the miracles God brings to us every day. Share hope and joy with those around you as a witness to the gift of the Christ Child.
Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank you for the gift of your Son. Open our hearts to see your miracles and give us the courage to be your witness. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
December 26, 2016
Acts 7:59-8:8 Philip preaches in Samaria
During this Advent season let us remember that Our Savior was born to bring hope to our world. Stephen was martyred for his faith and Philip was not discouraged or fearful, he continued to preach and show Jesus’ example of love to Jews and Gentiles despite the possibility of being martyred. Saul would later convert to become one the greatest of all saints and eventually die for Christ. Let us contemplate what these early Christians did in the face of adversity for their faith and follow their examples for what we believe. We pray this for now and in the New Year.
Leon A. Pisano
December 27, 2016
1 John 5:1-12 Faith Conquers the World
Do you remember taking high school geometry? One of my favorite geometry lessons focused not so much on math, but writing and logic: writing proofs. You were given a problem but instead of finding an “answer,” you had to step by step, lay out the “proof.” Each step was called a “reason” and one by one the reasons proved a statement as true or false. At least, that’s how I remember it from 30-some years ago!
These Bible verses from I John remind me of geometry proofs. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” All of the verses build on each other, leading to the next, summarizing Christian living. “For everyone born of God overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
But unlike geometry’s factual statements that can be proven, this entire passage begins with a statement that requires faith and belief: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.”
Do you believe this? Ask yourself and be honest–Do you live every day with this belief planted in your heart, guiding your steps? Two days ago, we celebrated Christmas, the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Believe this—really truly believe it—and let it guide your life, John says, and your faith will overcome this world. The ultimate “proof” will come as your reward in heaven.
Prayer: Dear God, Thank you for the amazing, incredible gift of your Son, Jesus. I believe in Jesus! That makes me your child–a child of God. Help me to live like a child of God every day, by loving others and loving you; by living according to your commandments. Amen
MATTHEW 18: 1-5: ENTER THE KINGDOM AS A CHILD
Young children trust the promises that their parents make. Children look at the world with awe and wonder. They embrace new things. Laughter and joy pour out of them.
We as children of God need to trust in God’s promises. We need to look at God’s creation with awe and wonder and treat it with respect. We see new things to embrace and learn about every day. We have many opportunities to share laughter and joy. No matter our age all of us have these childlike attributes inside us. These are the behaviors that open the Kingdom of God to us here and now and later as we enter the Kingdom.
Let us begin today to encourage each other to trust God’s promises and live a life of wonder, joy, and delight in God’s world.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, by your grace we enter your kingdom with trust, awe, wonder and joy. Thank you for giving us childlike responses no matter how old we are. Amen.
December 29, 2016
Jeremiah 31:16-22 Return To the Lord
There is probably not a parent reading this who has not experienced a time when your daughter/son has done something that has caused you to “become sick to your stomach.” Well, guess what? God, no less, becomes “sick to the stomach” at some of the things we do. In fact, Jack R. Lundbom (who worshipped here with us at SJ for more than a year when he was visiting professor at the Lutheran Seminary a few years ago), says that verse 20 of this passage is telling us that there was “roaring, moaning, growling and rumblings”1 in the digestive track of God because of the way Ephraim had acted. Of course, all of this is symbolic of the Judaism of Jeremiah’s time; more importantly, it is about you and me and the way we too often live our lives. Yes, God gets irritable bowel syndrome over the way we act toward each other and toward God! God lovingly wants Ephraim—us—to confess our sins and return to God.
This is a story of our God, who loves us with the compassion and mercy of a loving parent to the degree that when we act up, God gets so upset that God’s “innards” begin to rumble and moan. It is also the story of the assurance that, however much God has spoken against Ephraim, God will, with parent-like passion, wait excitedly to welcome him (us) back and show us mercy. That is God acting toward us, in the very same way!
During these days immediately following our celebration of Christmas, this is the God who came to us as a Baby at Bethlehem, the God who has come and continues to come into our lives each day. This is the God whose “bowels begin to rumble and churn” when we go astray, but is always longing to welcome us back!
Let us pray: Loving God, even with the arrival of your Son in Bethlehem, we sometimes are not what you want us to be. Give us repentant hearts because we know you are waiting for us to return to you! In Jesus we pray. Amen.
- Jack R. Lundbom. The Anchor Bible. 2004, by Doubleday. Jeremiah 21-36. p. 446.
December 30, 2016
Isaiah 26:1-9 Judah’s song of victory.
1 On that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
We have a strong city; he sets up the victory like walls and bulwarks.
2 Open the gates, so that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.
3 Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace – in peace because they trust in you.
4 Trust in the Lord for-ever, for in the Lord God you have an everlasting rock.
5 For he has brought low the inhabitants of the height; the lofty city he lays low.
He lays it low to the ground, casts it to the dust.
6 The foot tramples it, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.
7 The way of the righteous is level; O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous.
Isaiah was an aristocrat by birth, well-educated and by calling a preacher of God’s oracles, seeing himself as God’s appointed instrument in Jerusalem from 740 to 701 B.C. This lesson is among a series of oracles of both judgement and hope during Judah’s conflicts with Israel and Syria.
With God’s ultimate victory over the ruthless nations and peoples in mind, Isaiah encourages the people to turn and to return beforehand to God in their faith. The city of God referred to is the community of the redeemed and the gates of the city are open for the entrance of the glorious King and His people. Here, God is with His people, He provides security, salvation and a place of refuge. God is like a wall and a bulwark – the everlasting rock – protecting his people from disgrace and making smooth the life’s-path of his people.
Significant for us during this Advent season, the peace he refers to in verse 3 is found in Immanuel. In an earlier chapter and verse (9:6) Isaiah had foretold: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
December 31, 2016
John 8:12-19 I am the Light of the World
God sent his son Jesus to be our light in the world. The world can be very dark and often we are scared and feel that we may lose our way. We may feel all alone. When we turn to Jesus, he can be our Guide, our Savior, our Light in total darkness. He is our road map through our life on Earth. We can lean on him and know that we are not alone.
Dear Heavenly Father. Thank you for sending your Son Jesus Christ to be the light of the World, our light in total darkness. Help us to remember to turn to Jesus when times get tough and we feel like we are lost. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
January 1, 2017
Matthew 2:13-23 Flight into Egypt
Imagine the fear of Jesus’ parents when they find out the news of Herod’s decree. Imagine the sentiment among their neighbors, family and friends. My guess is that their family wasn’t the only to flee the area. We have witnessed in recent years massive ethnic cleansing, many of those threatened fleeting to seek refuge in other countries. Most recently, he flight of Syrian refugees to Europe and the U.S., and earlier Somalis, Egyptians, Burmese, Hmong.
Let us remember those who flee, who become the stranger among us. We are told in Deuteronomy 10 that “the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing.
As we do God’s work with our hands, we do so in raising awareness and striving for justice for the orphan and widow and by loving strangers. We are also reminded that we “shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Many of us live bountifully through God’s grace. May our memories not be clouded, as we were all once strangers in this land, the land that belongs to God, lest we forget.
Prayer: Gracious and loving God of gods and Lord of lords. You have blessed us with many things, including home and community. May our community be your place of welcome to the strangers, loving them and providing them with food and clothing. Amen.
Since the banishment from the Garden of Eden, we humans have been resettling for various reasons. Some as hunters and gatherers, some in search of good land on which to plant crops and water to provide sustenance and transportation, some for lands rich in minerals. Famine and war are two other reasons for resettlement. It was famine that forced many to leave Japan to work in the sugar cane and pineapple fields of Hawai’i, where my family settled, and to Peru, Mexico and Brazil. It was famine that forced many Irish to leave Ireland for the shores of America. The threat of war and violence led many Jewish brothers and sisters to flee Germany, as well as many other Europeans to find a home where they could live freely, finding homes in the Americas. The threat of violence led Mary, Joseph and Jesus out of their native land to the land of Egypt. Many refugees of war and economic refugees flee to lands where they can live and thrive, their hearts remaining in the land of their birth.
January 2, 2017
Hebrews 11:1-12: The meaning of faith
“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” Hebrews 11:1
It is early January and millions of monarch butterflies are at rest in their overwintering site high in the mountains of central Mexico. These monarch sanctuaries are located on just 12 isolated mountaintops and offer the only tree suited for the roosting butterflies – the oyamel fir. The butterflies arrive from North America somewhere around November 1 each year – a date that coincides with what we remember as All Saints Day but that the Mexican people remember as The Day of the Dead. It is tradition that the people living in the mountains believe that the butterflies are the souls of their ancestors returning to Earth for a visit. And they celebrate the return. However, beginning in March these butterflies will emerge from their hibernation and begin a journey north.
The monarch butterfly life cycle and journey is one of the most amazing and mysterious miracles that nature offers. The monarch will undergo a complete metamorphosis in 4 stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly. A female monarch will search for a milkweed plant and lay the tiniest egg – just the size of a pinhead. The milkweed is important since it is the only plant that a monarch caterpillar eats. The caterpillar will eat nonstop until it grows too large for its skin which it then sheds before it changes to the chrysalis stage. Before long a monarch butterfly emerges from this beautiful chrysalis. The entire process from egg to butterfly takes approximately 30 days.
As if this process is not amazing enough, the monarchs that we see in our gardens in late August/September are the great-great grandchildren of the butterflies that flew north from Mexico back in March. These butterflies will fly to those isolated mountaintops that they have never seen before. Although there are theories as to how this can happen scientists still cannot explain how this miraculous journey occurs.
Faith – that which we cannot see but that we are still certain of. The writer in Hebrews tells us that Abel and Enoch, Noah and Abraham had a faith in God that inspired them and moved them to change, to be lifted up, to make a journey. A faith to be part of a future that they could not see. What about our life’s journey? We cannot see the future or where we’re headed. But we have been given all the faith we need to see us through. And how does that faith come to us? It starts with the birth of Jesus. Through our baptism we are born to new life through Jesus. A life that ends on the cross – only to begin again in the resurrected life that God provides for us through Jesus Christ.
Each September when the monarchs come to my garden I look for the egg and the caterpillar, the chrysalis, and then the butterfly. I wish those butterflies a safe journey as they fly south to their winter home. And every year I am still amazed at the wonder of it. And even though I can’t see how it happens I have faith that it does.
January 3, 2017
Hebrews 11:13-22 More heroes of the meaning of faith.
Faith is… “The assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. The reading for the day is a brief review of the stories of Abram and Sara, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
The writer of Hebrews is encouraging new Christians to remember these Old Testament figures who “did not see” but were convinced of God’s presence and direction in their lives. They were examples of people whose faith led them into new lands and to experience unfamiliar times.. They did not “look back’’. These heroes believed in God’s direction and were not afraid to move on. The reading closes with Jacob’s blessing and Joseph’s directions for his burial. Their Faith gave them the opportunity to give blessings to others.
We ponder, and we question our faith. That is quite normal.. Faith is a gift to us when we are baptized. We become a child of God “sealed with the Holy Spirit” a presence we can call upon any time. Our faith is nurtured through the teaching of the scriptures, prayer and worship. Praise be to God…..
We pray that as we walk with our creator we will make good choices that reflect the God who has so richly blessed us.
January 4, 2017
Hebrews 11:23-31 Faith of Moses and Rahab
23 By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and the application of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel. 29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days. 31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.
How strong is our faith? It is easy to believe that the sun will come up tomorrow, since we have actually seen that happen every day of our lives. We may have no trouble having faith in our loved ones, because they demonstrate daily that they love us and can be trusted. But it is difficult to have faith in that which we cannot see. When bad things happen to us, it is hard to see the good and be optimistic. When doom and gloom are all that we hear, we struggle to see that good just may be the next thing that comes along in our lives. Moses had faith. He believed that God would care for him and get him through his toughest times. Believing in all the good that surrounds us strengthens us and helps us prepare for anything that may come along. Having faith in the word of Jesus can help keep us on the right path. Strong faith can provide a foundation to keep us up when we are pushed down. Faith and love can bring strength and joy to our lives, even when we face despair.
Lord, we ask you for strength as we struggle with everyday harshness and difficulty. We thank you for giving us your Son as an example of faith and courage so that we may love and care for ourselves and those around us. Give us faith that we will make it through this world and meet you at the end of our journey. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
January 5, 2017
Hebrews 11:32-12:2 FAITH AND A CLOUD OF WITNESSES
As I write this meditation, All Saints Day is fast approaching. This happens to be one of my favorite celebrations of the church year, as I remember the saints living and dead who have impacted my life as they bore witness to their faith in Jesus Christ. Like the writer of Hebrews, who lists so many heroes of the faith, we too can look back and remember our own faith heroes, who by their faithful obedience and perseverance bore witness to a powerful and saving God.
I look back on my own faith journey and there are many whose love and encouragement helped to shape me. Family, friends, Sunday school teachers, clergy, professors and many others have helped me along on my journey of faith. How blessed I was to meet and marry my wonderful husband. He was a strong believer and together we strengthened one another’s faith. Now that he is no longer on this earth, it gives me great comfort and courage to think of him in that “great cloud of witnesses”. I envision him cheering me on as I continue to live and make choices that honor my faith in Christ.
And so, I keep moving forward. I keep my eyes on Jesus as I run the race of life. I give thanks for all that has been and say “yes” to the future assured, that those faithful saints who have gone before me , cheer me on, pick me up when I fall, and applaud me when I succeed.
Who are the saints in your life? Remember rejoice and give thanks.
God of love, we give thanks for all the people in our lives who by their faithfulness, have encouraged our faith. Amen.
January 6, 2017
Matthew 2:1-1 “The Epiphany of Our Lord” The adoration of the wise men.
Our Christmas Season comes to a conclusion as we remember the magi’s adoration of the Christ child. Although this account often gets mixed into the Christmas and pre-Christmas commercial seasons – “the wise men buying that perfect Christmas gift at Sears” today is the Epiphany, or “manifestation” the revelation of Christ to all nations.
My earliest recollection of this celebration came from the one act opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” written for television in 1951 for the Hallmark Hall of Fame. The opera told the story of the familiar camel back riding magi in search of the Christ child. They happen upon a single mother and her crippled child, Amahl, who enjoys seeing the many gifts carried by these ancient astrologers: Melchior, Balthazar and Kaspar. Out of his poverty, Amahl gifts the only thing he owns to the Christ child – his crutch. When he presents his only possession to the Magi for delivery, he is healed and leaps for joy. This was true gift giving. What about our gifts to the Christ child – our time, our talents, our resources?
Let us pray: “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man I would do my part; yet what I can I give him give my heart.”
ELW #294 “In the Bleak Midwinter” text: Christina G. Rossetti
Timothy E. Braband