Thursday, December 12, 2019

December 13

Jim Thyren

“Be patient…until the coming of the Lord.”  That’s a tall order, whether we are waiting to celebrate the birth of Jesus or the return of the Lord, as were the people to whom James offered that command. Nevertheless, James gives us a down-to-earth example of what such patience looks like: the farmer passing the time in between the sowing and the harvesting of precious crops. In Palestine, the early rains softened the ground so it could welcome the seed and give it the moisture needed to begin to sink roots and put forth shoots.  The late rains provided the much needed boost to nourish the grain to grow to maturity.  Between the rains there wasn’t much the farmer could do to foster the growth of the precious crop in the field.  Or was there?

My earliest years of ministry were spent in farm country. Many a meeting was preceded by conversations about how and when the fields were being planted. It also gave a young pastor the opportunity to spend a fall afternoon harvesting soy beans in South Jersey, and to catch and stack hay bales in a wagon towed behind a tractor in New York State in the heat of summer. While feeding grain to the cows as they came into the milking parlor I heard a lot about what farmer’s do between planting and harvesting: the tractors, the hay balers and the harvesters required service; the vegetable garden the stocked the stand by the road needed tending; there was time to advise the children as they prepared their 4H calves for the county fair, and time to be there in the bleachers as their entrees were judged.  The patient time in between seedtime and harvest wasn’t a time to be idle. It could be summed up in the phrase: “Don’t just stand there; do something!”

For those to whom James was writing, that “something” was two-fold: “Strengthen your hearts,” and “do not grumble against one another.”  Though these commands appear to be directed to each individual hearing the letter, both of them have implications for the life of the community as a whole. The first provides encouragement individually and together to do those things which build strength and stamina for the long haul: feed on the Word, build the bonds that enable the bearing of one another’s burdens, work for the good of all and not just your own. The second command is a reminder not to tear down the community that is there to hold you up during the waiting.  Grumbling about who did or did not help hang the greens, or who baked an elaborate dessert for the covered dish while another brought a sleeve of cookies bought at the last minute, breaks down what we are meant to build up and strengthen. James urges us to avoid the petty comparisons that undermine the integrity of the community, all while waiting together patiently for the coming of the Lord.

God of seedtime and harvest, sow in us the patience required to strengthen our hearts, and nourish us to maturity as we grow in love and service while waiting for the coming of the Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

December 12

Brent Eelman

John, the prophet who baptized, announced the coming of the messianic age.  In the 11th chapter of Matthew, he was imprisoned, an enemy of Herod the king.  There, in chains, he hears about Jesus and sends one of his disciples to find out if this is “The One.” 

Jesus greeted John’s disciple and paraphrased Isaiah, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers[ are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” But then Jesus turned to his own followers, to you and me, and confronted us with the reality of the announcement of the coming kingdom. 

In this message we experience the hard reality of the gospel announcement.  The message of “comfort and joy” is proclaimed, not by a “prophet” in soft robed finery; nor by a silver tongued orator whose words whistle in the wind and then blow away.  No!  The coming kingdom is proclaimed by imprisoned prophets, dressed in animal skins and feasting on locusts.  The message itself, is harsh: “Repent!”  It means we need to change. We can shake our head in agreement. “Yes, this world needs to change.” and then continue down the paths we have chosen in life.  No! This is personal. 

It means I need to change.  The finger of the prophet, John, points at me and confronts me with the reality of my fallen humanity. 

But John also points that finger beyond my humanity, beyond my own failures, and beyond my sinfulness to the Messiah.  The great 20th century theologian, Karl Barth, wrote his multi-volumed Dogmatics beneath a copy of Grunevald’s Crucifixion. 

In this masterpiece we see John the Baptist holding a book (the Gospel!), and pointing to the crucified Christ.  In that amazing image we come face to face with the reality that John not only preaches to us, “a brood of vipers,” he preaches a message of the One who comes, the One who dies, the One who forgives, the One who saves, indeed the Crucified Christ.  The message is not soft and robed, but rather as thorny as Jesus’ crown, and as real as death.  It is hardcore Gospel.  It is the Good News.   

Prayer:  Gracious God, enable me to hear the words of the prophet John, and prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  Do not spare me from his harsh words, but allow them to till the soil of my hardened heart so that the grace of Christ may be planted and blossom. Amen.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

December 11

Barbara Norton

I’m always comforted by this glorious prophecy of redemption, but never more so than in Advent days, when the familiar round of seasonal tasks ---hauling out the decorations, shoveling the snow, gift shopping--- has me "sighing" in despair about my own "weak hands," "feeble knees," and other assorted worn parts.  (I remember when these chores were much, much easier.) 

God promises a time of everlasting joy, when fear, pain, and infirmity are no more, and the very earth rejoices.  Awaiting that day, our hope is our strength.

Monday, December 9, 2019

December 10

Bill Carter

Every church believes it is warm and friendly. Perhaps it is, if the fellowship is tight knit. But not every church is welcoming. As I visit other congregations, I notice the people talking among themselves and ignoring me. The announcements are designed for the regulars. The pulpit jokes are for insiders. I've wondered as I've wandered: where they expecting me?

In this passage, Paul the Jew is speaking to a church full of Gentiles. He reminds them how once they were outsiders, and thanks to Jesus, now they are included. All the grand Jewish hopes for peace, joy, and salvation are now offered freely to the non-Jews who are adopted into God's family.

The apostle knew his Bible. As a Jew, he knew the law of Moses is clear: "You shall love the stranger, for you yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Deuteronomy 10:19). As a one-time defender of a Jews-only faith, he also knew what a long journey it is to welcome people that God loves - and you exclude.

So what will I do today to reach out to somebody who doesn't believe they belong? What will I do to extend my hand to the people who think they are unworthy of love? How can I offer the grace of Christ to the person who wants nothing to do with the church?

Sunday, December 8, 2019

December 9

Connie Weiss

In Paul’s letter to the Romans he reminds us of the hope present in the scriptures.  Those who have gone before us have written down their stories so that we might learn from them.  When we are feeling low we can turn to the sufferings of Job and realize God has not left us.  When we are afraid we can turn to the Psalms and find comfort.  There are many more examples! So many faithful people have gone before us and left their words of encouragement.  During the Advent and Christmas season we hear the words of the prophets and others as we listen to and sing the songs of the seasons. In Handel’s Messiah we hear the words of Isaiah 40 – Comfort, O Comfort my people. The story of Christ’s birth appears in many carols, but my favorite is ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’.

Paul also encourages us to live in harmony with one another.  Even though this letter was written over 1900 years ago we are still striving to live in peace with our neighbors near and far.  Our world is so fractured and harmony seems unattainable, but we mustn’t give up.  We need to keep on trying.  This is the season to reach out to others and offer a helping hand.

In the final verse of this passage Paul exhorts us to glorify God with one voice. He doesn’t tell us to shout over the voice of others, nor does he tell us to whisper.  Instead he wants us to join our voices with those around us so that we can be heard. Each of us has a distinct voice, but we need to blend our voices with others.

Lord, during the busyness of this holiday season remind us to slow down.  Nudge us to take the time to read the scriptures and look around for those who need our help.  Encourage us to add our voice to others who seek to bring your Word to the earth. Amen

Saturday, December 7, 2019

December 8

Nancy Owens

Psalm 72:1-14 talks about an ideal king: a king who is perfect in every way, demonstrating righteousness and justice, and seeking peace for all.

This king cares for all people, but particularly for the poor. The king leads in such a way that all the inhabitants of the kingdom reflect this behavior (v. 7-may righteousness flourish) of demonstrating righteousness and justice. 

As the psalm continues, it speaks of this ruler “having dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth,” and that “all kings fall down before him,” and finally, this ruler lives “while the sun endures, and as long as the moon,” (forever).

Only Jesus can fulfill this description. 

Here is part of Hymn #149 from our hymnal, which says it better:

“All hail to God’s anointed, Great David’s greater Son!
All hail, in time appointed, Your reign on Earth begun!
You come to break oppression, To set the captive free,
To take away transgression And rule in equity.
You come with rescue speedy to those who suffer wrong,
To help the poor and needy and bid the weak be strong . . .
All rulers bow before you . . . All nations shall adore you . . .
Your rule is still increasing; your rule is without end.”

Prayer: Holy God, keep us ever mindful that your rule is over all time. Amen.

Wishing you a blessed Advent and Christmas season.
Nancy Owens

Friday, December 6, 2019

December 7

Isaiah 11:6-9
Brent Eelman

I am haunted by two artistic visions of the world. 

Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica” was the artist’s vision of the horror of modern warfare.  The occasion was the Nazi bombing of the Spanish Basque village of Guernica in 1937.  It was, many believe, a test run for the new type of warfare: aerial bombardment.  The giant canvas is filled with grotesque images of animals and humanity distorted and screaming from the canvas. Picasso offers us a frightening vision of the future.   

The second is the 19th century rendering of “The Peaceable Kingdom” by Edward Hicks, a Quaker artist from Bucks County.  The occasion for this vision was Hicks’ interpretation of Isaiah 11:6-8.  This text became a central theme in his art, producing 62 canvases based upon Isaiah’s vision of a peaceable kingdom. 

During this Advent season, we need to acknowledge these two visions of our world and choose. The world is filled with a million Hitlers and Herods.  They distort truth as well creation.  They revel in the grotesque.  The child we proclaim in Advent and Christmas points us to a vision of peace, not only manifest in the created order, but also in justice and love.  It is a vision of Shalom.  Which vision will we choose, this day, each day, and tomorrow? 

My prayer is from our hymnal, Glory to God: #373     “O Day of Peace”

O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God’s grace our warring world
shall see Christ’s promised reign of peace. Amen.