Advent Reflections

First Week of Advent Meditation: Jennifer Force

Luke 21: 25-36

As we enter this season of waiting, we need to keep our guard up. We have so many obligations we enter into during this season and we tend to spread ourselves so thin. We need to remember to stop each day and devote some of our time to God. Only He can keep us grounded and remind us each day what we are waiting for during this season. Try each day to stop and listen for bells ringing, look up as the snowflakes fall, enjoy every holiday light you see as you are stopped at a red light, savor each Christmas Card and letter you get in the mail. Enjoy the meals you share with friends and family and be present while you are with them. Smile at everyone you see as you rush through the crowded stores, may they smile back at you and warm your heart. Keep the hope of this glorious season alive in all you do this season.

Second Sunday of Advent: Rev. Vinnetta Golphin-Wilkerson

Who shall see God’s Salvation?

After reading the text for this week this question nags me -Who shall see God’s Salvation?  In the Advent Season our minds and activities often turn to acts of charity. Around our communities we see red kettles collecting for the “poor & needy”, and tv news segments on some charity donation of toys for children or holiday meals for the homeless.  For some our attention turns to matters of justice and pictures of children crying at the border, prison pipelines, or Native American lands swallowed by corporate greed.  For others we see victims of gun violence, the #metoo sheroes/heroes, veterans tangled in bureaucratic refuse, or people of color who die at the hands of those who don’t deserve the honor of carrying a badge. Surely these are the people who need to see God’s Salvation.

Perhaps, the people who need to see God’s Salvation most urgently is the church, we who gather regularly for word and table. We are the church down the street, in the neighborhoods, the suburbs, and the country lanes. We are the ones, who need to see God’s salvation.

John the Baptist echoes Isaiah’s call to the people of God, instructing us to remove the obstructions that block our vision of God’s Salvation.   Luke reminds us of this call, so that we, the church, can examine our context and recognize the barriers.

What are the hills and crooked places that block our vision?

  • The mountain of “Immobilizing Fear” is a barrier. Many fears immobilize the church, the Fear of scarcity of resources, fear of core level change, and fear of a new cultural context.  These fears can block our ability to see the God of creation who brought new order to chaos. Fear keeps us from seeing God whisper to Sarah, to Hannah, to Elizabeth and to Mary – “is anything too hard for God”.
  • The valley of “Idol Worship” is a barrier. Our theology, politics, friendships, cliques, pews, traditions, or connections can block our ability to see God’s Salvation.  Our idols blur our vision and keep us from seeing God heal the man by the pool at Siloam who had been there too long, the bent-over woman who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, or the widow at Nain’s son who was too far gone.
  • The crooked path of “Self – Importance” is a barrier. Our nostalgia for sacred memories (real or imagined); our skills, talents, abilities, and accomplishments; or our desire for recognition/acceptance can block our ability to see God’s Salvation.  Our self-importance can block our vision of God as the one who assigns our gifts to match our role in God’s plan.  We can’t see God’s Salvation because we have become our own central focus, blocking God.

God’s plan is for all the world to see (live/experience) God’s salvation.  If we the church can see (live/experience) God’s salvation, we can be the beacon of hope that will remove barriers for others.  How do we live/experience God’s salvation?

  • Replace the Fear with Faith in God who designs the impossible and blesses each day with new mercies and new possibilities.
  • Fill in the valleys with choices and actions reflecting God’s love which welcomes the stranger, the leper, and the widow into fellowship, voice and value.
  • Straighten the crooked places with authentic worship that places God at the center of our lives with humility and obedience.

Lord, we see injustice, hunger, pain, loss all around us.  At times it is overwhelming, and we retreat into customs and rituals, to hide our fear, idolatry, and arrogance.  We repent Lord and turn to you.  Remind us you are God of all and nothing is impossible for you.  You are God of creation and nothing separates us from your love. You are God alone nothing can take your place. We need to see your salvation and to see ourselves as part of your plan to meet the needs of our neighbors.  Help us to respond with action so that all the world may see your salvation through us. Amen

Luke 3:5 (NIV)
5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.

Third Sunday of Advent Meditation: Rev. Shelly Garrison

“Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing… Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! Let men their songs employ, While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains Repeat the sounding joy…” On the third Sunday of Advent we light the candle of joy. While there is more than enough to lament in our world, still in God and the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ we have plenty to celebrate! Sometimes I think if we could all focus a little more on the joy that we have in Christ, we might have an easier time spreading the hope, peace and love that He embodied and exemplified also – and it is hard to think of anything more central to our worship, praise and celebrations than music and singing. Did you know that singing to the Lord is the most recorded commandment in our Bible? Yes, it is mentioned well over one hundred times! Victor Hugo said, “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” And Pablo Casals said, “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.” So, as you are no doubt hearing Christmas music everywhere you go these days, it is my prayer that God will use all of the songs, both Christian and secular, to redirect your thoughts to the coming of Jesus and the joy that He brings – and may you be so moved that your voice is added to the chorus!

The Fourth Sunday of Advent: Rev. Joan Bell-Haynes      Luke 1:39-56

39In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit . . .”.

Our Advent waiting is nearing its fullness as we make our way with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem where the birth of the Christ-child will unfold. But wait, we should not be too anxious to get to Bethlehem and miss the remarkable story of this last Sunday of Advent. Because of what God has done for Mary and Elizabeth, two cousins, pregnant by divine appointment, there is plenty good reason for unspeakable joy and unrestrained praise. Their stories should not be missed in the hustle and bustle of Christmas merrymaking. And if truth be told, the not so merrymaking of Christmas too.

Mary is appointed by God to give birth to a child who is not her fiancé Joseph, but God’s. Whaaat?

“… the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. … he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. … “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[d] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1:26-36

That is enough to make you leave home with quickness and go seek sanctuary with someone you trust. Elizabeth and Zechariah have been yearning for a child for a very, very long time.  God, mindful of the desires of their hearts, fulfills their dreams. She and Zechariah, a priest, become pregnant to their surprise, long past the acceptable years for having children.

But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.  Luke 1:7

Luke tells us Elizabeth went into seclusion for five months.  She was probably terrified about delivering a healthy baby.  In the sixth month Mary comes to their home. The moment Mary greets Elizabeth, the baby jumps in Elizabeth’s womb in such a way that it brought joy to her. The photo above was posted by a friend on Facebook without knowledge of the artist.  But it is a beautiful rendering of Mary and Elizabeth greeting each other.

Luke’s narrative makes the point repeatedly that everything occurring in, with the births of John and Jesus was “of the Holy Spirit.”  Mary and Elizabeth’s stories are ones that calls us to wait in community on God and never give up; to awaken to God’s agency at work on our behalf in and through the Holy Spirit, and God unwavering faithfulness to keep God’s promises. 

What are you waiting and hoping for during Advent?  What prayers are you praying and waiting for God to answer? Seek out persons of Godly wisdom to spend time with, to share your hopes and dreams with. Or look for opportunities to be that person to others. Decide to be that person who brings joy to others.

Where do you see the Holy Spirit at work in: Your life? Your community? Our world?  Share where you see God’s presence at work through the Holy Spirit.  Be open to God’s call to you to be God’s messenger of good news in your circle of influence.  Remember the angel Gabriel’s words to Zechariah: ““I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. Standing in the presence of God for Gabriel equipped him to go with boldness and carry it his assignment as God’s messenger. What does “standing in the presence of God” look like for you?

The biblical stories of our faith tradition are filled with God’s promises. What are the scriptural promises of your spiritual journey that reveal you are living in expectancy of God’s saving grace?  Mary must have been hoping for God’s promises to come to fruition for herself and her community when she began to sing the Magnificat. Her Psalm to God …

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Mary is amazed that God considered her as one worthy of God’s attention.  That recognition alone merits a song of joy and gratitude! But she goes on to sing praises to God about injustices to the people in her community. . . “God has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.”  Mary is magnifying what she sees God doing to auto correct the injustices beyond the doorstep of her own home.  She is just as concerned about others as she is about herself.  Mary was chosen. It was her assignment, her calling to bring into the world God’s child. The Child who would bring life and light to the world of darkness and death.

What is that you want God to do for you? What is God calling you to do for God? What injustices do you see in your community that cause you concern? What is happening in your world that you believe causes Jesus to weep?  God’s promise is to bring goodness and light to our lives and our communities.  Where are you bringing goodness and light in our world?

Mary sings because she knows God would never cease to be merciful, helping her and God’s people. She knew God’s promises to her ancestors, yours and mine. She trusted God and believed God would forever keep God’s promises to God’s people and creation. 

Which one of God’s promises claims your heart in these days of great uncertainty, fear and violence.  This is one of mine:

“For I am mindful of the plans I have made concerning you—declares the LORD—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a hopeful future.”     Jeremiah 29:10-11 TANAKH JPS Jewish Publication Society

God was mindful of Elizabeth, Zechariah and John the Baptist. God was mindful of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.  And Surely, God is mindful of us.  Let us sing with joy a new song to our God for the promise fulfilled of a Savior, who will be called Son of God!  That is God’s plan for our hopeful future!

 

Christmas Day Reflection 2018: Rev. Brad Barton

Luke 2:1-14

“Merry Christmas!”  These are the words we’re supposed to say.  “Hope. Peace. Joy. Love.” These are the feelings and emotions for which we’ve been preparing.

Make no mistake, it is my sincere desire that everyone who reads this experiences these things this season…today.

And yet, as I read Luke’s birth narrative for what seems like the thousandth time, I wonder if the hope, peace, joy, love and merriment for which we long and which we do feel this day…I wonder if they are of the correct variety/flavor/brand.  As I anticipate the holiday parties, the Christmas meal, the time with family, and the presents under the tree, and I juxtapose this anticipation against the birth narrative of Luke 2:1-14, something seems more than a little off.

I anticipate the comforts of those who HAVE; I am one who has.  Then, I read words that begin with power – Emperor Augustus and Governor Quirinius – I read words that begin with human power and continue onward to ever more lowly people, to have nots, all the way to a baby born in a manger because there was no place at the inn.  I read words about shepherds, the least of these, celebrating. I read a story about an unparalleled upheaval of, well, everything. By the end of the story, the lowly are rejoicing while the powerful are…no longer even worthy of mention.

Upheaval of the world.  Turning power structures upside down.  That’s what’s supposed to give us hope.  God’s way of love for the least, the lost, and, yes, even the sinners and our enemies: that’s what we’re supposed to be celebrating.  I wonder, is this really what we ARE celebrating? I hope so. I do.

When we become God’s modern agents of continuing the upheaval, the turning the ways of the world upside down, that God began more than 2,000 years ago through the birth of a child in a manger, then we will have the kind of “Merry Christmas” we seek.

 

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