Monday, December 18, 2017

December 18

Isaiah 9:2-7

Anyone familiar with Handel’s Messiah will want to break into song in the middle of this passage: “For unto us a child is bo-oh-oh-oh-oh-on! Unto us, a son is given! . . . . .   Wonderful! Counselor! . . .” and so on.  We know this passage is about Jesus’s birth, and we know we can sing about it with joy and gusto. 

We less often notice that the passage is really about a regime change. The darkness the people have walked in was political, put upon them by an oppressor.  They have been working under his yoke, whipped by his rod.  The child sets them free from this; his birth is also the occasion of the incineration of the implements of war. 

Why has war and oppression reigned? Why has it bent the shoulders of the people? Because it has usurped authority; it has taken hold where it should not be.  That is the hidden good news of this passage: darkness and oppression have NO RIGHT; their grip on us is illegitimate. By contrast, the child is the rightful one.  We can greet him with shouts of joy not just because he is new and different, or young and energetic, but because he is our rightful ruler.  And when he comes we recognize him, as if, without knowing it, we were waiting for him all along. 

In the season of Advent we wait in the shadows for the light. Because it is dark we may feel unnerved, disoriented, lost.  But the darkness in its own way teaches us about the light. Although we do not know how to lift it ourselves, we know that it is not right that we remain in the darkness.  We know we are meant to live another way.  And when the light comes, we recognize it.  It is the justice and righteousness and endless peace for which we have always yearned. 

Charlie Pinches

Sunday, December 17, 2017

December 17

Luke 1:46-55

Revolutionary Carol
A poem by Thomas John Carlisle

Like Hannah, Mary
knew how to sing
the topsyturvy upsidedownside
good news carol
for the poor and hungry,
victimized, oppressed.

At our eternal peril
we choose to ignore
the thunder and the tenor
of her song,
its revolutionary beat.

Thomas John Carlisle
Beginning with Mary (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986)

Saturday, December 16, 2017

December 16

What we have here is a story about the turning of the ages. The old Elizabeth – barren like Sarah, barren like Rebekah, barren like Rachel, barren like Hannah[1] – she is having a child because of the generosity of God. She stands for the women of every age who are disregarded and dismissed because they cannot produce for their men – and God provides what their men cannot provide for them.

It’s like the ancient vision of the prophet Isaiah:
Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
burst into song and shout, you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate woman will be more numerous
than the children of her that is married.[2]

Something is happening through Elizabeth – the barrenness of centuries of Jewish hopes is now being countered by the grace of God.

And something is happening in Mary, the young unmarried woman. Her child comes as a complete gift, unrequested, unexpected, without the initiation of any man. The Spirit comes upon Mary, and that’s all it takes to have a child. This child of hers will grow to honor women and men as equal children of God. He will push aside the cultural restrictions of his day to speak to women, to heal them, to welcome their support of his work. He counters the world’s disgraceful assessment of women with God’s abundant grace. So it is the women who sing first of his birth, and women who will first share the announcement of his resurrection.

How can this be? It’s because God gives God’s own self to the world. God breathes God’s Breath as a way of pushing open something new. Without the Holy Spirit – without God’s purpose or presence in our lives – we are left only to ourselves. All we have is our own words, our limited hopes, our restricted abilities. But when God comes into our midst, we find ourselves players in a much larger plan.

Bill Carter

[1] Genesis 11:30, 25:21, 29:31, 1 Samuel 1:2
[2] Isaiah 54:1

Friday, December 15, 2017

December 15

Luke 1:26-38

Zechariah was a priest who was not prepared to see an angel standing beside him.

Mary makes a wonderful contrast with Zechariah. Though Mary is a young girl, the angel's presence doesn't bother her as much as the angel's words:  What is all this about being "favored" or "the Lord is with you"?  When the angel explains what will happen, Mary, then, says, "Let it be with me according to Your Word."

Let us be like Mary and keep our hearts open to receive all the marvels that our God wants to give us, continuously showering us with blessings and benefits.

Each breath of life is precious and calls for thanksgiving. Every day is filled with wonders if we are ready to accept them.

Lord Jesus, as we get closer to receive the gift of Your birth, may Your Will be done in these days of celebration.

Kay Ten Eyck

Thursday, December 14, 2017

December 14

Psalm 126

The first verse appears to be talking about the return of Israel from the Babylonian captivity. After over 70 years in captivity, they are suddenly on their way back to Jerusalem and their joy is unbounded. Even the Gentile nations recognize that “the Lord has done great things for them”.

It seems that things are not going so well now for the Israelites, perhaps referring to the many hardships endured by the returnees from Babylon. The psalmist is asking the Lord to bring back the joy and prosperity of those earlier times. He is relying upon the former blessings granted by the Lord as a sign that Israel can again be blessed. As long as the sowers are diligent and trust in the Lord, they can be rewarded with a joyful spirit and a bountiful harvest.

So it can be with us. Our journey may be difficult, but with diligent work, good seed (the Word of God), and tearful dedication, “we shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves”.

John Weiss

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

December 13

Paul and his co-worker’s letter to the church in Thessalonica is believed to be the earliest of all New Testament writings, perhaps written as early as 43 A.D.

In this passage we learn about the way God wants us to live.
Rejoice!  Pray!  Give thanks in all circumstances! (Even when life is difficult)  See 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Do not quench the Spirit!  In Matthew 3:11 we are told that God baptizes us with the Holy Spirit and fire.  In 2 Timothy 1:6 we learn that a Spirit of power, love and self discipline is a gift of God.  May the God of peace keep our Spirits, souls, and bodies whole and blameless.

He came!  He comes to us!  He will come again!
Let us live whole heartedly and alive in the Spirit.

     Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee:

Thou art giving and forgiving, Ever blessing, ever blest,
Wellspring of the joy of living, Ocean depth of happy rest!
Thou our Father, Christ our Brother, All who live in love are Thine;
Teach us how to love each other, Lift us to the Joy divine.
                          (A verse from The Poems of Henry van Dyke, 1911)

In the hymn, Joy to the World, the words of Isaac Watts, 1719, also express the way God wants us to live.

Written in the joy of Christ’s coming by Myrna Diven

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

December 12

Isaiah 61:8-11

What becomes of the brokenhearted? Think of it as a multiple choice question:

  1. They make all-new angel wings for the Christmas pageant.
  2. They sit stiffly in the pews, biting the insides of their cheeks.
  3. They weep quietly while the candlelight is being passed.
  4. They stay home, but everyone else is too busy to notice.
  5. They wonder why no one else wonders how they are feeling. 
Unless we have lived through December heartbroken, it may not cross our minds how hard the lead-up to Christmas can feel for people in the midst of loss, failure, or hopelessness. Their imprisonments can look like being stuck in a dead-end job or a bad relationship; they might be crushed by grief or weighed down by depression. The unabated cultural frivolity cannot be avoided. It decorates our grocery stores, coffee shops, and town squares. It dominates our print, digital, and broadcast advertising. 

And it rules our churches. Even in places where Advent is strictly observed and carols are held back for Christmas Eve, the background preparations for Christmas must take place. We must organize ourselves to provide hats and mittens to underprivileged children in the community and gifts to the local nursing home or county jail in a timely fashion. We must schedule rehearsals of cantatas and plays and concerts in order to make a worthy offering of our talents. We must check the supply of Christmas Eve candles and circulate order forms for Christmas poinsettias. 

All this happens alongside what the Grinch described as the "noise, noise, noise, noise," and we hear it not just in Whoville but in Everytown. We move through December juggling party invitations or a lack of them, Christmas TV specials, and commercial assurances that everything will fall into place if you give—or receive—the perfect diamond ring. You would have to be a hermit not to hear about Christmas, and a robot not to have some sort of feelings about the season, past or present. (Remember, the Grinch's problem was a heart problem.)

What a gift it is, then, to be reminded by Isaiah that the Messiah will not come to congratulate the happy couples, or high-five the winners, or bend an elbow with the successful. He will come to walk with the widow, to comfort the lost, and to take to his knees with the oppressed. Mark this. The prophet promises release, liberty, comfort, rebuilding, binding up of the brokenhearted, and restoration of what has been lost. This is the good news. 

Let's look around, then, for who is not among us, or who is over-functioning, or who is simply too still or too quiet. Maybe we have been the ones, in some years past. Maybe some Advent future will hold that time for us. In this December present, let's live out the good news in some small way. Let's wonder how other people are feeling and offer them the oil of gladness, the phone call of comfort, the chai of concern. 

"May those who sow in tears," says the psalmist, "reap with shouts of joy."

Martha Spong, The Christian Century. Used by permission.