Monday, December 25, 2017

December 25

A basic understanding of the Old Testament is quite clearly the foundation on which the
Apostle John composed his gospel account of the ministry and signs of Jesus. “In the
beginning . . .” – sound familiar? John continues – “. . . was the Word, and the Word was with
God, and the Word was God” [1:1]. The ensuing introduction to the gospel [1:2-5] antiphonally
echoes the beginning of the Genesis 1 account of God’s powerful speaking [His word] creation
into existence. After John opaquely introduces himself in vss. 6-8, the Genesis 1-like
description continues with the dynamic discussion of “Word becoming Light” [1:9-10], and that
“Word become Light” coming into the world and “becoming flesh” [1:11-14]. Word, Light,
Flesh, Jesus! Some in Jesus’ day did not receive/believe him as such, while others did; those
who received/believed him became children of God.

John 1:1-14 represents the Apostle John’s presentation of the Advent! Unlike the Matthew and Luke accounts of Jesus coming as a newborn baby, John wants his readers to focus on the coming of Jesus as Word, Jesus as Light, Jesus as Flesh.

As “Word” he embodied the life-giving message of God to humanity [cf. Heb. 1:1-2].
He came as the expression of God, communicating God’s concern over and provision or humankind’s condition and need of a Savior.

As “Light” he epitomized the function of the light spoken of in Genesis 1 – dispelling
darkness. John’s assertion in 1 John 1:5 – “God is light, and in him is no darkness” - sheds further light on his opening statement in the gospel – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

As “Flesh” he experienced and embraced the challenges and difficulties of being human.
At the same time he “fleshed out” God for human understanding – “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father . . .” [John 14:9].

In the Christian tradition, December 25 is identified as the day on which the Advent of
Christ is celebrated. Amid all the gift giving that tends to characterize the season and the day,
perhaps it is appropriate to devote some time to reflecting on the “three-in-one gift” that God
has bestowed on us: Jesus as Word, Jesus as Light, Jesus as Flesh – JESUS.

John Lawlor

Sunday, December 24, 2017

December 24

Luke 2:15-20

Two oft ignored sentences should grab our attention in this section of the Christmas story.  “…the angels had left them…” and “the shepherds returned….”   Together, both statements capture the challenge of this Christmas season. 

The angels left:  “The heavenly host” must have been an awesome display and a profound religious experience for shepherds gathered in the fields. These moments occur in our lives and sometimes catch us unaware.  But the moments when we experience the numinous end.  Indeed, angels leave and return to heaven.  The experience was a call to action for the shepherds.  It arouses spiritual curiosity and they are not merely content with this experience, but seek to understand it: “Let us go ... and see this thing... which the Lord has made known to us.” 

The shepherds returned:  Once again we are confronted with reality.  The sheep still needed shepherding and so the shepherds returned to their flocks.  The daily chores continued There was still a job to do… but with a profound difference.  Work, responsibilities, indeed life itself were transformed by the experience.  It would no longer be the same.  From that moment forth these humble shepherds would “glorify God” and (if we may be Presbyterian) “enjoy God forever!”

Christmas is a time when we are opened to the experience of the numinous.  It may be the sermon on Christmas Eve; the candlelight carol service; an unexpected gift; a smile from a stranger; a sense of hope amidst the despair of the current age.  Christmas is a season of moments, holy moments.  We are touched by angels and even the grumpiest scrooge is not immune.  But moments end.  The angels leave.  As quick as it happened, it is “the day after.”  The tree comes down.  The carols are silenced.  The wrappings of the season are bundled and tossed away.  And we must return.  We return to work.  We return to our routines.  We return to our problems.  We return to our illnesses, our foibles, and our travails.  Indeed, we return to our humanity.  The challenge of Christmas is this return.  Can we join the shepherds and return “glorifying and praising God” for all we have seen, as it has been told to us?  

Brent Eelman

Saturday, December 23, 2017

December 23

Luke 2:8-14
The angel says, “I am bringing you good news of great joy.” Who wouldn’t be excited to receive such an announcement? Everyone can stand a little good news – a promotion, an engagement, a health crisis resolved…we long to hear something positive, to rejoice with another person and share in their happiness. A baby certainly is that. But still, while the shepherds might have gained some momentary warmth and good feeling from the birth of a baby in the nearby town of Bethlehem, it would not ordinarily be enough to take them from their duties in the field, even if announced by angels and heavenly light.

Two small words in the next verse reveal the difference: “To you.”

To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

The angel did not appear in the middle of town, or to the governor, or to the priests of the temple. Instead, the news was shared first with a group of shepherds, lowly and rough, hardly the typical recipients of royal decree and heavenly proclamation…but then, Mary herself was lowly and humble, an unexpected carrier of the Savior. But God chose Mary to bear Jesus, and God chose to share this good news with the shepherds of the field, because the great joy is for all of us to share. “To you” a child is born – and that means you, and me, and all of us. Jesus comes as Lord not to a select few, but to all who receive Him in their hearts. Rejoice!

Jana Schillinger

Friday, December 22, 2017

December 22

Luke 2:1-7
This passage is one of the most familiar to us. Each year we hear it retold: A decree went out from Emperor Augustus…

We’ve heard it so often, in fact, that probably haven’t sat down and thought about it – pictured it – in a really long time. Mary, heavily pregnant, undertaking a long and tiring journey.  Joseph, leading the way, mind likely occupied with worries about Mary, about the work he left behind, about their home sitting empty, about the difficulties they might face in Bethlehem…and, indeed, those difficulties came to pass. Bethlehem was bustling, having welcomed an influx of visitors for the registration, and they had nowhere to go. Imagine the panic, the bargaining, and eventually the resignation – the manger it would be, sleeping among the animals. And then the time came for the birth: no midwife, an unclean shelter, no light, Mary herself young and inexperienced…

Not, perhaps, how anyone would imagine the savior of the world being born. But then again, the Gospels remind us, over and over, that Jesus is a different kind of king. An unexpected Messiah, despite being foretold, and he never quite behaves how the world thinks he should. It is the baby born in the stable at night to poor parents in an insignificant town who is the son of God, not the prince born to acclamation, wealth, and advantage. For while Jesus is fully human and of this world, he is also fully divine, and he comes to remind us that it is not this world that we should focus on, but instead the kingdom of heaven.

Jana Schillinger

Thursday, December 21, 2017

December 21

This passage from Paul’s letter to Titus and the new believers in Crete admonishes them—and us—to deny “worldly lusts.” The bombardment of advertising and its message that we “need” this and that, or a “newer and/or better” version of something we already have, is 24-7, 365 days a year in our country, but seems especially ramped-up as we approach Christmas. As I write this only a few days before Black Friday/Black Thursday, my mind goes to the annual images of shoppers queued up to dash into stores to fight over the biggest sale items, sometimes even hurting one another in the process. I hear and ask myself, “what do you want for Christmas” much more than “what do you need.”

My wife recently introduced me to a new choral work with the provocative title, “Reasons for the Perpetuation of Slavery,” by the composer Elizabeth Alexander, who also penned the poem. You can read about the piece, listen to a performance, and read the complete text at, but I’ll share here some of it. Slavery, Alexander painfully reminds, is still all around us. Because so many are in bondage to “the persistent perception of greener grass,” and “unstoppable wanting,” many, many more are enslaved economically and even physically. Our “cultivation of need” exacts “the price of keeping the prices low.”

The poet lists some of the “endless prepositional possibilities” we use to justify this. My wife more bluntly calls this section “the litany of excuses.”

As a short-term solution, in the interest of progress,
'Til my head's above the water, 'til my feet are on the ground,
For the good of the nation, for the company, for my family,
Despite a few misgivings at the present time,
By hook or crook, behind closed doors,
Beyond our borders as a very last resort,
Between you and me, beyond my control,
On the cheap, on the sly, with my back against the wall,
Out of sight, out of mind, out of my hands,
Under the radar, under the gun, under the table, around the law,
In for a penny, in for a pound, in for a lifetime —
Just this once.

“What do you want for Christmas?”

Submitted by Alan Baker

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

December 20

Thank God! How often do we say that when we want to express our relief over something? Thank God the diagnosis wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Thank God no one was seriously injured in that car accident. Thank the Lord that’s over! These are very prescribed, socially acceptable instances of demonstrating our praise for God. These are declarations with which we can be comfortable.

Then there are examples of devotional displays that might turn a head or two. Yelling out, “Praise Jesus!” or “Amen!” in a public setting (sometimes even when that public setting is the inside of a church) will often be met with disapproval. We don’t do that! - cue eye rolls. Forget seeing many displays of Godly devotion outside of the sanctuary, either. How many of us are comfortable bowing our heads to pray in a restaurant, how many secure enough in ourselves to be a witness for God’s love outside of our protected spaces, when not surrounded by like-minded worshipers.

There is no doubt that we need to find more ways, new ways, to praise God in our everyday lives. Certainly, God provides us with ample reasons to praise Him. Before we can begin to “sing a new song”, however, we first need to begin singing. 

Tabbi Miller-Scandle