Saturday, December 24, 2011
Reading: Grab your bible and read Isaiah 9:2-7
At the start of the Advent season the promise to David of an everlasting dynasty was remembered. Now, as the season draws to a close, and we move, finally, to Christmas, the promise is repeated again - this time with a sign of fulfillment in the Child who will be born.
Now, as we read this, we cannot help but think of the baby at the centre of the Christmas celebrations. Isaiah, of course, knew nothing of Jesus, but through the ages, whatever these words meant for the people of Isaiahʼs time, followers of Christ have recognised Christʼs birth in Isaiahʼs prophecy. It is not surprising that we believe that this prophecy was amazingly and universally fulfilled in Jesus.
What is amazing is that the prophecy speaks about a king ruling from Davidʼs throne. David was a warrior king, conquering his enemies with force and ruling with the same grand displays and power-games that every human king has done. But, the way Jesus rules transforms the throne of a warrior king into a place of mercy and justice, peace and comfort. The names of this new ruler are not names that strike fear into the heart. They are names that welcome and inspire us, that reassure and encourage us. And the amazing thing about this new Reign is that nothing can ever destroy it. It canʼt be conquered by armies or removed by a vote. Once it has taken root in a heart, its influence will always be felt, and its impact on the world will always continue.
In what ways has this new Ruler taken up residence on the throne of your heart? How do the names of Jesus listed in this prophecy challenge and inspire you? How can you live more intentionally as a citizen of this Reign this Christmas, and every day?
Itʼs amazing God, how you can take the thrones of warrior kings and turn them into seats of gracious and just government. Itʼs wonderful how you redefine what Rulership looks like, and how you call yourself by names that invite us into your comfort, peace and love. As I celebrate the birth of Jesus - the Baby-God-Monarch - keep me always mindful of how it is Jesus who enables me to live as a citizen of your beautiful Reign. Amen.
Friday, December 23, 2011
To a people who had been broken and conquered, these words of restoration must have sounded like a wonderful, but distant, dream. Two elements of this prophecy that stand out as I read these words are the promise that God will live with Godʼs people - a promise fulfilled in Jesus - and that God delights in people. The words are celebratory and passionate, and they indicate that Godʼs love is not some cold, vague, sense of wanting our good in the end. Rather, Godʼs love is vibrant, involved and radically powerful. When we hold this against the truth that every judgement that is mentioned in Scripture is brought on to people by themselves, that there were always lots of warnings before the fact, and that the judgments
were pretty much always simply the consequences of their short-sighted actions, we can begin to let go of any image of God as an angry deity waiting to destroy us all when we mess up.
Jesus said that, if we want to know what God is like, we have only to look at Jesus. Jesus - in his message and mission, his character and behaviour, shows us the truth about God and the picture is one of infinite, creative grace and love and welcome. In these last few days before Christmas, we have a wonderful opportunity to remember and celebrate this.
What is your most powerful picture of God? Does it match the God that Jesus reveals in the Gospels? How does your view of God impact your worship, your faith and your life? How does it change things to realise that God delights in and celebrates you? Spend today reminding yourself of this amazing truth!
Forgive me, God when I hold on to ideas about you that are unworthy of you - when I think of you as an angry old man on a cloud waiting to punish me when I make a mistake. Please show me how to let Jesus define the way I see you, and please keep reminding me that you delight in me. Of course, this also means that you delight in others, too. Please keep reminding me of that and help me to see what it is in other people that brings you such joy. Amen.
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Sometimes it feels like God is hard to find, and that Godʼs presence is as distant as the stars. Sometimes when we feel like this, we try to protect our relationship with God by reverting to law, by making decisions and drawing to determine who is “in” and who is “out” (Paul refers to this as saying “who will go up to heaven?” or “who will go down to the place of the dead?”). The problem with this reaction, though, is that the legalism and control can never give us the life and liberty of Godʼs Reign. Rather, we are called to faith - the kind of faith that chooses to believe that Godʼs presence, Godʼs word, is near to us even when we donʼt feel it.
This faith is at the heart of the Advent journey. Advent leads us through stories of people who had every reason to believe they had been abandoned by God, but who continued to believe. The Old Testament Israelites, the people of Jesusʼ day, John the Baptiser, Mary, Samuel, the New Testament Church - all of these people and groups that we have been reflecting on over the last few weeks had moments when God felt distant, but many of them trusted God anyway, and discovered that God is always available. This is why Paul can confidently assure his readers that anyone who calls on Godʼs name will be saved.
How can you make the choice for faith in those times when youʼre not sure if God is still around? In what ways can you continually choose to “call on the name of the Lord?” and help others to do so? How can you resist the temptation to legalism and control and embrace the freedom of Godʼs Reign today?
Forgive me, God, when I doubt your presence and your love. Forgive me when, in my doubts, I start trying to work out things like who is going to heaven - who is “in” - and who isnʼt, hoping that this will make me feel more secure. Teach me the lesson of simple faith, of always trusting your presence, even when Iʼm not aware of it. Teach me to call on you at all times, and to be for others the answer when they call. Amen.
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
It is a good exercise to compare Jesusʼ triumphal entry into Jerusalem with Maryʼs Magnificat from yesterday. Both give a glimpse of the difference between Godʼs Reign and the power structures of our world. Where human empires dominate by force, Godʼs Reign wins over hearts. Where human empires boast of their power with grand displays, Godʼs Reign is humbly seen in hidden villages, in the lives of young girls, and on the backs of young donkeys. Where human empires take themselves way too seriously, Godʼs Reign is almost laughable in its strangeness and humility.
The truth that is revealed, though, in both of these stories is that Godʼs Reign has a way of spreading through people and nations. It has a way of resisting human force and overcoming, and it has a way of bringing the small things, the least and most insignificant people and creatures, into the centre of things.
Where do you see the humility and levity of Godʼs Reign at work in your life? What small things might God be wanting to shift to the centre of your world? What empires might God be seeking to overcome with love and grace?
They call you “King” Jesus, but the way your “Kingdom” appears is not like any other kingdom Iʼve ever seen. There is no pomp, no domination, no force, no boasting. There is just humility, simplicity and love. Teach me to embody the values of your Reign in my life, Jesus, and please undermine any places where the spirit of empire is being seen in me. Amen.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Reflection: Todayʼs reading is Maryʼs famous song, known as the Magnificat. It is a strange passage in many ways. In Lukeʼs narrative, it is as Mary arrives at the home of her relatives, and Elizabeth remarks at how the unborn John leapt in her womb at the presence of Mary, that Mary responds with this amazing prayer. The words are strange ones to be coming from an ordinary girl - they are filled with prophetic images of Godʼs justice and mercy to Godʼs people. In a country oppressed by a foreign empire, they were subversive words, but they pointed to the truth of what Christʼs coming was all about - bringing the just and loving reality of Godʼs reign into the world.
Read the passage again. What stands out for you? What surprises or disturbs you? What does this song tell you about Mary, and about the way she was viewed in the new Christ-following community out of which Lukeʼs narrative was written?
Now think about what this means for you. The moment when we celebrate Christʼs birth is just days away now, and this passage gives us a glimpse into who this Jesus is and what he came to do. Justice, grace and love were at the heart of Jesusʼ message and ministry from the very beginning, and as followers of Christ we are called to embrace these values too. How can you live them out today in your own life and spheres of influence?
The way your Reign is described in the Scriptures - in prayers like Maryʼs - is beautiful. In what Jesus came to teach and do, I see what the world could be, and I long for it to be like that. But, I know that it starts with me - with my ʻyesʼ to your Reign in my life. And when I give you my ʻyesʼ, I know that, like Mary, my ordinary life becomes an extraordinary contribution to the mission of your Reign in the world. Amen.
Monday, December 19, 2011
There are strong resonances between the story of Samuelʼs birth and that of John the Baptizer. Samuelʼs mother, Hannah, could have no children, but then, in answer to prayer he was born. Elizabeth, Johnʼs mother, was also called “barren,” but in her old age gave birth to a son. Both John and Samuel were dedicated to God and both of them were marked by their dress and behavior (Samuel was a Nazirite whose hair was not cut and who never drank wine, and John dressed in skins and ate locusts and honey). And both of these men became forerunners for chosen servants of God - Samuel anointed David as King over Israel and John prepared people for the coming of Christ.
In both cases it was the faithful and humble devotion of the parents in humiliating circumstances that opened the door for God to work. We need to be careful not to make too strong connections between these stories and our own lives - what is descriptive of an ancient event is not always prescriptive for us. There is no question, though, that when we offer
ourselves to God for Godʼs purposes, God always takes us at our word, and the results can be amazingly dramatic, even though our contribution may be very small or commonplace.
What part of your life may God be asking you to offer to Godʼs service? How can you make this offering? If youʼre not sure youʼre ready to do it yet, is there a way you can begin to prepare your heart so that at some time in the future you will be?
God, itʼs amazing and humbling how you use simple human beings, who are willing to offer themselves to you, to accomplish your purposes. Itʼs also challenging, because I recognize that there are parts of my life - abilities, talents, resources, time - that you ask me to offer to you. This Advent season, may I learn to give myself to you more and more, even as you continue
to give yourself to me. And may I learn, in whatever small way I can, to share in your transforming, saving work. Amen.
Reflection: We have heard Maryʼs story so many times that it can be difficult to approach with a fresh mind, free from the years of sermons, assumptions and images that we have accumulated. It may be helpful for you to take a moment to go back and read the passage again slowly, watching for anything that you may be expecting that isnʼt there, or watching for anything you may have previously missed.
Some time ago there was a song that was popular in my church which affirmed that, “in the presence of the Lord there is peace, love and healing.” I believe this is often the case, but not always. In Maryʼs case, as she was visited by this angelic messenger, we read that she was “disturbed and confused”. In my experience, these two feelings are as common in Godʼs presence as love, joy and peace. When we are faced with the presence and purpose of God, it is almost impossible for us not to be challenged, surprised, confused, disturbed, uncomfortable and even upset. When God comes to us it is always with the intention to change us (which is why Jesusʼ first sermon was “repent”) and to challenge us to become participants in Godʼs work. When God sought to be incarnated in human flesh, God sought out human partners with whom God could collaborate, and Mary, this ordinary teenage girl, was Godʼs primary co-worker.
Nothing has changed. God still seeks partners to share in Godʼs saving work. God still seeks those through whom God can be incarnated into the world (albeit in a different way). God still disturbs, confuses, changes and challenges us when we are confronted with Godʼs presence. In what ways have you experienced Godʼs presence as disturbing and confusing? In what ways is God asking you to be a collaborator with God in Godʼs saving work this Advent season?
We like to think of you as gracious and loving - easy to be with, comforting in your presence and reassuring in your coming. But, thatʼs not how Mary experienced you. Itʼs not how many people through the ages experienced you, and itʼs often not how I experience you. Help me to embrace the disturbance and confusion of your presence, O God, and show me how I can participate in your saving work. Amen.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Third Saturday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read John 7:40-52
Reflection: As the old saying goes, “thereʼs none so blind as those who will not see.” The religious leaders in this passage are a clear example of the truth of this statement. They had become so convinced that the knew the only correct way to interpret the Scriptures, and that they knew exactly how God operated that they were completely blind to what God was doing through Jesus. In spite of the power of his teaching, and the amazing things he was doing, their closed hearts and minds made it impossible for them to recognize Godʼs coming. They were so sure that the Bible said that the Messiah could not come from Galilee that they looked no further. They didn't check out Jesusʼ story, nor did they question their own assumptions, and as a result they missed the boat completely.
Itʼs an easy trap to fall into - and we all do at some point in our lives. Whenever we are tempted to follow the example of another well-known cliché - “Iʼve made up my mind; donʼt confuse me with the facts” - we run the risk of missing Godʼs surprising presence. God will not be domesticated to our agendas, and God will not fit into our assumptions or interpretations. The Scriptures are given to point us to Jesus, but when they blind us to Godʼs activity or Godʼs coming, they have become an idol. We do well to follow the example of Nicodemus who, unlike the other religious leaders, was willing to investigate, to meet with Jesus and to
open his heart and mind to the possibility that he had something new to learn.
In what ways might you be allowing your certainty and assumptions to blind you to Godʼs surprising presence and activity in your life? In what ways might you be allowing the Bible, or your interpretations of it, or the influence of some leader, to close your heart and mind to Godʼs unexpected coming? How can you let go of your assumptions and open yourself to the new thing that God is doing in your world?
Although I sometimes forget it, God, you cannot be controlled by my agendas or expectations. Although I may be disturbed or surprised by it, God, you donʼt avoid doing unexpected things, or coming in unexpected ways, or working in and through unexpected people, for my sake. Rather, you call me to let go of what I think I know, and to be open to your new work, your new coming.
Please teach me this Advent to learn to recognise you even when you come to me in ways that I would never have imagined. Amen.
Friday, December 16, 2011
As a result of some strange and disturbing events the Ark of the Covenant - the box that represented Godʼs Presence with the Israelites - had been stored at the home of a man called Obed-edom for a time. And in that time, Obed-edom had experienced great blessing. As a result, King David becomes determined to take the Ark to Jerusalem - perhaps so that the entire nation could enjoy the blessing of Godʼs presence again. As the Ark was brought into the city the joy that David felt overflowed him and he could not stop himself from dancing. He stripped down in order to remove all the trappings of his royal authority and show that, before God, his kingship was unimportant - he was just a human being like all others. Possibility this is why his wife Michal, who was a daughter of the previous king, Saul, and who had been raised as part of a royal family, was so offended. Perhaps, unlike David, she was unwilling to give up her privilege and authority even for God. Perhaps, as is often the case when people are faced with a humility they donʼt understand or canʼt embrace, all that was left to her was to mock the devotion of her husband.
The Advent season is rather like this for us. We celebrate the presence of God who, like the Ark, comes into our world and our lives. For those who have known the power of Godʼs presence, the only appropriate response is humble celebration and thanksgiving. Some may view our joy as foolish, naive or even delusional. Some may be offended by our willingness to strip ourselves of our pride in devotion to God. But, whatever others may say about us, when we have known the presence of God, we can do no other.
In what ways have you experienced the joy of Godʼs presence in your life? How has this joy moved you to humble celebration? Have you felt the pressure of others to downplay your devotion to God? In what ways does this Advent season challenge you to be more devoted and passionate in your worship?
God, your presence is a mysterious, wonderful, joy-inspiring thing. I am constantly awed by the unexpected joys, the breath-taking beauty and the humbling power of your presence in my life. Thank you for all of these blessings, and for this Advent season that reminds me of them. Forgive me when I allow others to embarrass me into hiding my love for you, O God. And help
me to be gracious to those who may choose to mock because they have not yet understood the incredible joy of your coming into their lives. Amen.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Third Wednesday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read Mark 9:9-13
John the Baptizer was - and is - a mysterious figure. When he was challenged about who he was, he refused to say anything other than that he was the voice in the wilderness. He denied that he was Elijah returned (John 1:21), and yet Jesus here is clearly referring to John when he says that Elijah has come. Perhaps Lukeʼs Gospel helps us when, announcing Johnʼs birth, the angel tells Zechariah that he will have the “spirit and power” of Elijah (Luke 1:17). This is not a reincarnation of the prophet, but rather a manifestation of a ministry that is akin to the Old Testament messengers of God. But, in spite of this, the people failed to recognize Godʼs calling and anointing on John, and he was persecuted and executed like many prophets before him.
In spite of all this, John was the first to acknowledge that he was unimportant in himself. It was his message that counted, and the One who would come after him. And he was willing to give his life to get people ready for the Coming One, and to ensure that when Jesus came, the people would be able to receive the life he offered them. For John it was all about the message, and all about Jesus. Who John himself was, was completely beside the point. What a challenging example he sets for those of us who now seek to follow Jesus and participate in Godʼs reign.
In what ways does John challenge and inspire you? In what ways does his willingness to sacrifice himself frighten and/or encourage you? What can you do today to make Jesus and his message more visible and important in your life?
I like things to be about me. I am very aware of my needs and desires, my longings and dreams. I like to think that things are working out for my benefit and that my faith in you is a guarantee of a full, comfortable life. But, then I am faced with people like John, and I realize that itʼs not about me. Yes, you love me and seek what is best for me. Yes, you promise me abundant life. But, that life is found not by indulging my wants, but by laying my life down for the sake of your reign. Help me to learn, O God, that my greatest joy, my most meaningful life, is found when I stop making it about me, and start making it all about you. Amen.
Third Tuesday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read Psalm 125
Reflection: This Psalm, taken at face value, is both comforting and difficult. The comfort comes from the reassurances that it offers of God’s protection and care. The difficulty lies in the fact that we don’t always experience those assurances in our own lives. Many people of deep faith do not find themselves to be secure, and we all find ourselves, at least at times, ruled over by those we could consider “wicked”.
But the truth of this Psalm becomes clear when we place it in the context of the Advent season, and of the reality of God’s reign. In this setting, our security is not about outward circumstance, but about our sense of being part of God’s life and God’s purposes, which ensures that, no matter what our circumstances may be, we know the sustenance and care of God. In this setting, we are never ruled over by those who are wicked, because we are really only ruled over by God and by the principles of God’s reign - no matter who our national, corporate or religious leaders may be. Advent is all about recognizing the truth of this Psalms message - that God surrounds us, and cares for us, and is the final authority and frame of reference for our lives. When we say “Jesus is Lord” we are making the revolutionary claim that no one else is Lord, regardless of their status, position or capacity to impact our lives. When we submit to God’s reign, we know true security and liberty!
In what ways are you feeling insecure in your life? How does the message of Christ’s lordship offer you greater security and comfort? In what ways can you share this security with others in your family, your church and your neighborhood?
It’s easy to say the words that acknowledge your authority, but it is when I allow the truth of it to sink into my heart that the power of your reign really makes the difference in my life. When I realize that nothing can separate me from your love, and that it is only your reign that really rules over me, I find a deep security and a comforting reassurance that gives me the strength to face whatever this world may throw at me. So, today I pray that your reign may take hold of me even more, and that I may learn even more to recognize your presence that always surrounds me. Amen.
Monday, December 12, 2011
Third Monday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read: 1 Kings 18:1-18
Elijah was called to be a prophet at a dark time in Israel when it looked like the forces of evil had the upper hand. But, as this story shows, even among the evil kingʼs servants were good people, committed to God’s ways, who continued to serve and save others. The challenge for the faithful Obadiah, though, was to trust God and Elijah enough to risk his life for the sake of Godʼs purposes. He did this, firstly, through secretly protecting and caring for the prophets who were being threatened, and secondly, by bravely carrying Elijahʼs message to a very angry king. He may seem like an insignificant player in this great drama, but Obadiah, through his simple faithfulness, made a significant difference.
We live in a time of great turmoil in our world, and, while most of us will not have our lives threatened for following Christ, we will find that if we seek to live out our faith, we will be called to make some tough sacrifices and do some really difficult jobs. It is here that our faith is really shown for what it is. It is natural for us to question and doubt, to wrestle with God and to be afraid. But, if our faith is genuine, we will, in the end, step up and live out what we believe. This may mean speaking out when it would be easier to stay silent or staying silent when it would be easier to speak. It may mean standing up to those in authority over us when they act like bullies in order to defend others, and it may mean giving up some of our privilege or comfort so that others may be more comfortable. Whatever the call, if we can trust in God’s presence and purposes in our lives, we will find the courage to respond faithfully.
What tough choices is God calling you to make today? How can your faith help you to do the right thing? How can you commit now to living courageously and faithfully each day?
The world is a tough place to live. There are struggles, disasters, and conflicts everywhere, and it can be hard to know what you are calling me to do. But, in the small daily decisions I make to live faithfully, or to hide my faith, I either allow you to work through me or not. Teach me the courage to put my faith into action and to co-operate with your grace and love and justice each day in whatever small ways I can. Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
In what ways do you see Jesus living up to this dream in his own life and ministry? How does this view of Jesus’ mission change your understanding of who Jesus was and what he came to do? As we draw closer to the celebration of Christmas, how does this vision change your view of this important day?
In your own life, how can you follow Jesus in this work of bringing freedom, restoration and joy to others? How have you experienced Godʼs liberating work in your own life? What one small liberating thing can you do for someone else today?
When I think about the struggles and injustices in the world it all feels so overwhelming. It’s exciting to think that Jesus came to bring love and justice to our world, but when I recognized that you call me to follow Jesus, and that this means I must share in this liberating work, it gets very scary. But, I can share in your work. I may not be able to change the world, but I can change my heart. I can make a difference in the lives of my loved ones, my neighbors, my friends. Help me, Jesus, to take every opportunity I get to be a channel of love and justice today. Amen.
Saturday, December 10, 2011
Second Saturday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read Matthew 21:28-32
Today’s reading offers a tough parable which Jesus told to confront the religious leaders with their failure to recognize God’s message through John the Baptizer and God’s coming in Christ. In this section of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus challenges the religious leaders of Israel because, although they think they are part of God’s Reign, they have missed the point. Though they think that “sinners” are being excluded, through Christ the rejected ones are discovering God’s love and life. It’s an important warning, especially as we reflect on God’s coming through this Advent season. We may be tempted to think that God is only coming to “us” and those who are like us, but Jesus makes it clear that God comes to all people, and if we become complacent and self-righteous, we might just miss the signs of God’s Reign when they’re right in front of us.
The tragedy of the Gospels is that, as Jesus pointed out with respect to John’s message, these religious leaders failed to heed the warnings they were given, and they never did learn to recognize God’s coming to them. They could have shared in the wonderful liberation of God’s reign, they could have discovered a new life together with those that they had previously thought of as unworthy. But, instead, they clung to their own view, and they missed God.
In what ways are you like these religious leaders, clinging to your view of how God works, and closed to any radical, new ways God might be revealing God’s Self to you? In what ways are you different from them - more open to the radical inclusivity of God’s reign, and more aware of the challenging message of the Gospel? How can you be even more mindful of God’s presence and grace in your life and those of others?
Sometimes your love is offensive. Sometimes I find you loving and accepting and welcoming those whom I think are unworthy - those who live or believe or worship differently from how I believe they should. But, then you remind me that it is only your grace that gives me a place in your Reign, and so the same must be true for everyone else. And, if that’s the case, then I don’t get to say who is “in” and who is “out”. I only get to learn to love and serve the ones who are around me, whoever they may be. Thank you for your grace and love. And thank you for teaching me the welcoming ways of your Reign. ~ Amen.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Second Friday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read Habakkuk 3:2-6
How do you respond to Habakkuk’s vision of God? It is an awesome picture of power, judgment and glory, and it fits well within the message of this Old Testament prophet who was aware that a time of judgment was coming on his nation. In our world, it may feel a bit out of sync, though. It can be hard to put together these glorious visions of God with the image of God that Jesus revealed - but it is important to do this work. There is so much that can be said about this, but perhaps the most important is to recognize that Habakkuk’s vision of God is not a contradiction to the God we see in Christ.
Jesus made it clear to us that the heart of God is grace and love, and so even these powerful visions of God should be seen in this light. What can help us in this work is to recognize that whenever God expresses judgment against people in the Scriptures, it is because of human injustice.
What this means for us is that our relationship with God cannot be separated from the struggle for justice in the world. In some way we are called to connect our daily choice to follow Christ with God’s desire for a world of love and justice. This is why Jesus’ message of the Reign of God is so important. On our own we may not be able to make much difference, but as we contribute our time, talents and treasures toward the work of God’s Reign, our small contribution is added to the work of God’s people everywhere, and it does make a difference.
In what ways can you imagine the sight of God coming to judge injustice in our world? How does this fit with Jesus’ concern for the poor and marginalized? How does God’s desire for a world of justice impact your understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ? How can you contribute today, in some small way, to the work of God’s Reign?
Some of the visions we see of you in the Bible are really frightening, and I find myself uncertain of how these visions fit with the way you showed yourself in Jesus. But, I know that behind your acts of mercy and your acts of judgment are the same motivations - grace, love and the longing for justice in the world you created. Teach me how I can be part of your compassionate Reign in my daily life, and strengthen me to use what resources I have in service of you and others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Second Thursday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read Philippians 3:7-11
The message that John the Baptizer preached was one of preparation for the Coming One. Then when Jesus came, his work was to invite us into the life of God. It is this life that the Apostle Paul celebrates in his letter to the Philippian church. Written toward the end of Paul’s life, this letter reflects a longing for intimacy with God that had not diminished throughout Paul’s life and ministry, in spite of the many hardships he had endured. In his life, the ministries of both John and Jesus had done their work!
In this Advent season, we do well to reflect on our own experience of God and God’s life. We may want to ask ourselves whether we share the longing that Paul expresses whether the message of God’s life has taken root so fully in our own hearts. The wonderful opportunity that this season offers us is to nurture our longing for God, and to remember again that God is always coming to us, always available to us, and that, if we desire intimacy with God, we need only make the time and space for it to happen.
In what ways do you feel a longing for more of God’s presence and life? How does that longing show itself in your life? In what ways can you nurture your desire for God, in order to grow into a deeper relationship with God? How can this Advent season help you to do this?
O Loving God,You know how much I long to know you more. You know my desire to be closer to you and to love you more. I know that this longing is a good thing, and that, in one sense it will never be satisfied, because there is always more of you to get to know. Teach me to nurture my love for you in small daily acts of worship. And teach me to let my love for you be seen in my life so that it may stir a longing for you in others. Amen.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Reading: Grab your bible and read Luke 1:5-17
John the Baptizer was born to be the forerunner of Christ. It all sounds so easy when we read it in the Gospels, but for Elizabeth and Zechariah the experience of being challenged by God’s call, of being confronted with God’s messenger while burning incense, of becoming parents-to-be in their old age, and of carrying the weight of this child’s significance through the pregnancy and then through John’s childhood could not have been easy!
It is always like this when we respond to God. It may be tempting to think that following Jesus is meant to make life “work”, meant to take away all struggle and pain and sacrifice from us, but the Scriptures give a very different picture. The life God offers is indeed full and vibrant and meaningful, but it does not get this way by putting us in some “bubble” away from the realities of the world. Rather, it is as we engage the pain and struggle of the world, as we offer our lives in service of God and others, as we learn to live out of God’s call, and help others to encounter the God who seeks to welcome them into God’s amazing reign, that we discover abundant life. Elizabeth and Zechariah took on a huge responsibility when they were called to be Johns parents, but with all of the struggle, work and heartbreak they also knew God’s presence and life in a way that they could never have done any other way. If their son was faithful in fulfilling his calling, it must have been, at least in part, due to the courage and faithfulness of his parents!
In what ways is God asking you to take on new responsibilities or challenges for the sake of God’s reign? What struggles may you have to endure as you seek to follow Christ? How can you learn to embrace God’s abundant life in the midst of service and sacrifice, rather than by trying to escape from the world’s difficulties? Can you commit to one thing today?
God, sometimes I wish you wouldn’t call me to be part of what you are doing in the world. Sometimes I wish you would just swoop in like Superman, fixing everything and leaving me to just watch in amazement. But, you don’t work like that do you? You ask for human hands and wombs, human voices and hearts to be the channels of your grace and love - and sometimes the human “resources” you seek are mine.
Help me to embrace the challenge of being a participant in your coming into the world, into the lives of the people around me. And help me to willingly give myself in whatever ways you may ask of me, to serve and love you and others. Amen.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Second Tuesday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read Psalm 27
Though life sometimes gets very hard and painful, and we feel threatened by forces beyond our control, the Psalms offer the comfort of knowing that God’s people have always had to navigate these realities. In today’s reading, the Psalmist finds refuge in an intimate relationship with God, knowing that nothing that can happen will ever be able to severe the deep connection that God’s people have with God.
Three wonderful gifts arise from sheltering in God in this way. Firstly, the Psalmist discovers that worship becomes a source of life even in the midst of the turmoil. Secondly, flowing from the act of worship, prayer flows easily and honestly, because the Psalmist knows that God is near and is always caring. Finally, out of prayer, flows a confidence in God’s ability to bring life and joy even in the darkest of situations. These gifts were, essentially, what John the Baptizer was offering to the people as he prepared them for Christ’s coming. They were living in difficult times, and were longing for God to come and deliver them. John assures them that in the midst of the turmoil, God has not forgotten God’s people, and that they will know God’s presence, God’s confidence and God’s protection no matter what outward circumstances they may have to face, because God’s Sent One is soon to be walking among them!
In what ways do you need to be reminded of God’s gracious and sustaining presence today? How can you best open yourself to God’s presence and comfort? Alternatively, who might need you to be a John to them, reminding them that God has not forgotten them, but is coming to strengthen and save them? How can you best offer this message to them?
God, even in the most difficult times, you are always coming to me, always bringing your comfort and shelter for me to take refuge in. Thank you!
Help me to trust in you even when life gets hard and painful. And help me to find ways to be the agent of your grace and comfort to others who need your healing touch. In the many names of Jesus we pray. Amen.
Monday, December 5, 2011
Reading: Grab your bible and read Acts 2:37-42
The confidence and humility which John and Jesus displayed continued to be seen in the new community which formed around Jesus message and mission. They knew that if they were to continue the work that Jesus had given them, they needed to do it together, with each one taking their proper place, and using their unique abilities in harmony with others. The result of this way of life was an amazing impact on the people around them.
It can be tempting when we are part of a community to fade into the background and allow others to do the work. It can also be tempting to take control of the things we are passionate about, and keep others from sharing or participating effectively for fear that they may “step on our toes”. But, something miraculous happens when we embody, together, the life and message of Christ: it literally changes the world! John the Baptizer may have been the messenger heralding the coming of Christ, but we are all, together as Christ-followers, messengers of the coming of Christ’s reign - Gods new community of love and grace – into our world.
In what ways can you share, co-operate with and help others in your community as you, together, seek to share the life and message of Jesus? Where might you need to step up and take your role with greater sacrifice and commitment? Where might you need to step back a bit and make space for others? In what ways can your participating in a Christ-following community help to demonstrate God’s reign to your neighborhood?
God of Grace and Love,
It’s good to be on this journey of life and faith with others, but sometimes I feel like it would be easier if I just left it all to them. Other times I feel like I wish they would just let me do what I know I’m good at and stop getting in my way. But, you have called me to be part of a community, and part of my journey means learning to live and share and participate with others.
So, please teach me how to belong and how to help others to belong. Teach me to share in whatever way I can in the life and work of your new community. And teach me to take my part in showing your grace and love to the world. In the many names of Jesus I pray. Amen.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
Second Sunday of Advent
Reading: Grab your bible and read Mark 1:1-8
The man, John, is an important figure, both in the Gospel story and in our learning to follow Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel there is no dramatic narrative telling of his unique birth and no clear mention of his relationship with Jesus. There is just this strange man who comes, at it were, out of nowhere with a manner and a way of dressing that would immediately have evoked images of the Old Testament prophets in the minds of his hearers. He catches peoples attention, but he doesn’t draw attention to himself. His whole purpose is to point the crowds to another, more important person to come. He is there for no other reason than to prepare people for Christ, and when his job is done, he simply slips into the background again.
There is a tremendous confidence and a tremendous humility represented by John. He was confident in who God had called him to be and in the job he was to do. But, he was humble enough not to let this go to his head, not to claim more for himself than was his right, and not to resist letting go of the attention of the crowds when his time was up. He knew his task, and he did it - no more, no less.
Which raises some challenging questions for us. We may not be Johns or Christs. We may not have any kind of public platform, or any task to do that holds such global significance. But, we are all called and we all have a part to play in God’s reign. So, who are you in Christ? What has God given you to do for the sake of God’s reign? How good are you at judging when to act and when to retreat, when something is yours to do, and when your task is to stand back for others? In what ways can you be more intentional this week at fulfilling God’s call on your life?
Who is always preparing me for the coming of your reign, " and who is always calling me to help others prepare, " teach me what you would have me do; Do not let me hide or despise my particular gifts or tasks, And nudge me when I need to get out of the way " and let others do the work; Most of all, help me to have confidence in who you have called me to be, " and the humility simply to be myself. ~ Amen