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

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

December 19

Matthew 1:18-25

God’s Change of Plans

Think about it:Joseph did not understand what was going on.  An angel had appeared to Mary saying that she would be the mother of Jesus, but Joseph had not been there.  So he decided it would be best for him not to go through with the marriage.

It must have been hard for him to change his plans.  But it seemed like the best thing to do.  Then an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream, telling him not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife.  So Joseph changed his plans again and made a home with Mary for the Savior of the World.

Change is hard for us, just as it was for Joseph.  But when love, love for God and love for each other, is the most important thing, we can change gracefully.  No doubt the coming days will have their share of changing plans. We can look at them as opportunities to show our love for one another and the Lord.

Frank Jones

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.

Monday, December 11, 2017

December 11

Isaiah 61:1-4

In this poem, the prophet sings of good news, freedom, gladness, and joy. He sings about a world where the greatest possible number of people will be happy and fulfilled. The prophet is so full of God’s Spirit, so anointed with power, that he is able to make a joyful difference in the world. And when Jesus stands to preach for the first time (Luke 4:16-30), this is his text. He announces this is exactly why he has come into the world – if the world is ready to accept his offer.

There is nothing new about this invitation. When Jesus read the song of Isaiah, it was already five hundred years old. What’s more, when Isaiah sang the song, it was hundred of years older than him. You see, chapter 61 has some code words for an ancient idea. When Isaiah says, “liberty to the captives,” “release to the prisoners,” and “the year of the Lord’s favor,” he was talking about something called the Jubilee. In the faith of Israel, the Jubilee year was the fiftieth year. You multiply a block of seven years by seven times – and once in a lifetime you reach the fiftieth year. That was the Jubilee.

As far back as Moses, the people were invited to make the fiftieth year different from all the other years. According to Leviticus 25, here’s what you are supposed to do in a Jubilee:

·       You forgive everybody. Even if they have done you wrong, set them free.
·       You cancel all the debts. If anybody owes anybody else, all of it gets cancelled.
·       You let the land lie fallow. Even the land is to have a Sabbath rest.
·       You find out what belongs to whom and give it back. Every property is returned to the rightful owner.
·       If anybody is a slave or a hired worker, the Jubilee year sets them free.
·       There is no longer a gap between the haves and the have-nots. Everybody is treated equally. Everybody starts over. Blow the trumpet, and announce God has given everybody a new beginning.

Jesus said, “This is the acceptable year of the Lord.” Jubilee is the year to blow the trumpet, and announce that everybody is forgiven and free. At its heart, it is a festival of joy.   And everybody up in Nazareth said, “What a wonderful idea!” That’s what they said, until they realized what it’s all about.

Do we really want a Jubilee for Christmas? Really? More than anything else?

Bill Carter

Sunday, December 10, 2017

December 10

 John 1:19-28

As a musician, my first thoughts when reading these passages are of a musical setting of verses 19-23 by the English composer, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). That piece is in the form of a verse anthem, a genre popular with English composers of the Reformation period, in which passages for a soloist alternate with passages for a choir. The choir simply repeats the last few words of the soloist, using the same melody but adding some harmony. (You can give it a listen at 

As I re-read these passages, I began to focus on how John the Baptist, like a soloist, steps out ALONE, preaching and baptizing in the wilderness and then facing the questions of the sanctimonious Pharisee Priests and Levites. His responses to their questions culminate in a description of Christ as similarly singular (there is ONE standing among [all of] you) and the passage also references the prophet Elijah, who stood alone against the followers of Baal.

Over the past year I have seen many personal acts of bravery; individuals speaking or acting out against hate and injustice. Their “No!” has been echoed by two then ten then sometimes even hundreds or thousands. Speeches and marches that sought to glorify intolerance and separate people have been drowned out, dissolved or cancelled. Individuals who abused the power they held over others have been called to account. Because someone had the faith, courage, and conviction to start the solo, a choir then formed and the message was amplified.

Returning to Gibbon’s verse anthem, there is one other group at the performance. The audience. They sit, they watch, they listen, and when all is done, they applaud and say, “good work.” Fine for a concert but these are troubling times. A famous quote is sometimes ascribed to the anti-Nazi dissident, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil…Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

As we close a year in which we celebrated our Protestant Reformation while also seeing much hate, intolerance, and selfishness emerge from the darkness, it would be good to remember that Luther wanted all of us to sing.

Alan Baker

Saturday, December 9, 2017

December 9

As famous as John the Baptist was, the most remarkable thing about him was his avoidance of calling attention to himself. When the religious authorities went out to question him, John’s response is essentially this: it’s not about me. I am not the One. I’m not very important at all. What a remarkable re-direction! They went to interrogate, and it is they who are exposed.

To look around our time and our place, there are a lot of people who are focused on themselves. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman told the National Press Club, "In a world where everyone has a cell phone with a camera, everyone's a paparazzi. In a world where everyone has a blog, everyone's a reporter. Now everyone else is a public figure, leaving digital footprints everywhere." We live in a Selfie culture, among people not particularly interested in looking beyond themselves.

The Gospel of John is not surprised by any of this. We live in a world that is turned in upon itself. We live in a world that is suffocating on its own self-absorption. We live in a world that justifies whatever it wants to justify. As one old crotchety Presbyterian teacher once said, “Sin is nothing more, and nothing less, than being inclined in our own direction.”

John the Baptist gets it right. He says, “It’s not about me.” The One who is coming is so great that we can’t even untie the thong of his sandals.

Bill Carter

Friday, December 8, 2017

December 8

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

Have you ever tried to put a shovel into the garden in late December?  It bounces back. In our part of the world, the land hardens in the winter.  We know it is coming, and accept it when it does.  But we look for another, softer time.

When Narnia is under the spell of the White Witch it is always winter but never Christmas.  The animals hide out; life recedes to the edges, people keep their distance, meeting only in secret. 

We wish and hope for the restoration of life, when the land will yield to the shovel and life will spring up anew from the earth.  In Narnia, it is Aslan’s breath that brings the spring. For Christians, it comes as God speaks, and returns to hearts grown cold from the hiding and separation.

In Advent, this is what we hope for and anticipate.  As winter hardens around us, we are reminded that much of our lives are lived in this hope.  It is the season of waiting.   The psalmist reminds us of this with the little word “will,” used in almost every line.  “Will” is not “might”; our advent hope is not uncertainty, but it is anticipation of what is coming but is not yet.   What we anticipate is the fullness of what we have known in bits and pieces throughout our lives--when someone we love kisses us or we have the privilege of watching new life emerge from the womb or the barren ground. 

The psalmist reminds us that a time is coming when the bits WILL come together in full embrace, righteousness with peace, and the land WILL yield its increase. The anticipation sees us through, and points out a way, as we set our course over the frozen ground.  

Charlie Pinches

Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 7

Isaiah 40:6-11

For sheer beauty, Lord,
both in content and in poetry, there are few words
in the scriptures that can equal these.
Read aloud from the pages of the English Bible
they are magnificent. Sung as a tenor aria
in Handel's Messiah they resonate within the soul.
Recited in the original Hebrew,
as I heard them first in seminary,
they breathe a passion and a tenderness
that speak direct from heart to listening heart.
If ever human voice might bear the language
of divinity, then Isaiah reached that pinnacle
when he sang these hallowed words.

It is my hope and my believe, my Lord,
that here, as in few other places - until the coming
of the Christ - I can see clear into your heart,
and that heart is filled with love,
with longing for the welfare of your children,
with promise that, however dark the night,
however grim the prospect, your word is sure,
your providence is trustworthy, and you will feed
your flock like a shepherd with his lambs.

Let me rest in this promise, good Lord.

J. Barrie Shepherd, from A Child is Born: Meditations for Advent and Christmas (Westminster John Knox Press, 1988)

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

December 6

Comfort, comfort my people says your God

This familiar passage from Isaiah reminds us that Advent is a time of preparation. God is offering us peace from the constant warfare in our lives.  In order to obtain this peace we need to clear the way and make room for God in our lives.  The paths in our life must be straightened and leveled off so that we will be ready for Jesus. 

In addition we should look for ways to give glory to God in our lives not only in this Advent season, but for the rest of our lives. During this Advent season let’s look for the comfort and peace God is ready to provide us.  Instead of filling our days with ‘busyness’ let’s fill our days with meaningful actions and moments of quiet reflection.

On Sunday December 10th come to church and hear this passage sung by our Chapel Choir!

Connie Weiss

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

December 5

2 Peter 3:8-15

Time.   Sometimes it crawls.  Other times it moves too quickly.

These days, we live by the clock.  Schedules, appointments, calendars on cell phones, reminder beeps  . . . all play their part in helping us to fill our lives with so many activities that we need a shoehorn to squeeze in anything else.

Is this any way to live?

It’s not like that with God. God is timeless, “outside of time.”

Our passage says that this life (of ours) is not forever. God promises to take care of us forever, doesn’t want any to be lost when the Lord comes again.  God is patient with us, allowing us time to repent and prepare for His coming.  But eventually, the New Heaven and New Earth will come to be, like a thief, unannounced.

So, about those schedules, appointments, cell phones calendars, beeps . . .

Is God on your schedule?

A prayer for today (from a favorite hymn):

God, whose giving knows no ending, from your rich and endless store, 
nature's wonder, Jesus' wisdom, costly cross, grave's shattered door:
gifted by you, we turn to you, offering up ourselves in praise;
thankful song shall rise forever, gracious donor of our days.

Nancy Owens

Monday, December 4, 2017

December 4

Mark 1:1-8

As I was reading Mark 1:1-8, which describes John the Baptist and how he looked, I was amazed at how people flocked to him to be baptized, and some thought him to be the one come to fulfill their desires for the person to save them. If a man clothed like this was to appear in public today and speak out like John did, he would find himself in a institution to be examined for mental stability.

But then, shouldn’t all of us be a little more like John the Baptist? To speak of our beliefs, to do good unto others?

We can start by visiting those unable to get out or who are sick. Or to shovel a neighbors sidewalk for them, just because it needed it, or to cut their lawn for them. How about buying a small bouquet for someone you know is down, or lonely?
A simple visit to have a cup of coffee or tea will make a person's day. Too many times we would like to respond to the needs of others, but then think someone else will do it.

How about getting together and have children’s sports scheduled in the afternoon so the family can attend church in the morning; as these are both great family needs?

I have seen people leave food or a small gift in the kitchen and tell the intended to take it home. This is easy to do and very much appreciated; and you won’t lose your head for doing some of these things.

John Conklin

Sunday, December 3, 2017

December 3

Isaiah 64:1-9

Wouldn’t it be so much easier if God showed Himself to us, at least every once in a while? Wouldn’t it be nice to have the burden of faith lifted from our shoulders, because He made himself known, visible, accessible? That would certainly end all of the turmoil between the different religions, wouldn’t it? We would finally be able to show the disbelievers and better yet, the followers of other gods, that we were right and they were wrong. That should stop the fighting once and for all!

The bottom line is that none of us knows for sure if our beliefs are correct or not. The Holy Spirit moves within us and the indescribable feeling of that experience is the only “proof” that we have. That’s why they call it faith. The word faith is derived from the Latin word fides, which meant reliability, and was most often used as a description of a person’s character – the ability to be trustworthy in a relationship, with God and with others.

Even if all people of other religions were able to be converted by seeing our God, or meeting Jesus in person, there would still be other differences upon which to fuel our prejudices. A better way to make God known is through loving, trustworthy relationship with others. In this way, we can be God’s presence in the world – even in His “absence”.

Tabbi Miller-Scandle

Saturday, December 2, 2017

December 2

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

Three times in Psalm 80, the praying people ask God, "Let your face shine, that we may be saved." To let your face shine" means to be present with someone with good results. This refrain is at the heart of Psalm 80, and at the heart of the refrain is the cry "come and save us."

Certain questions are asked of God in this psalm, but they are not answered. The people have been faithful in worship, asking for God's help, but God has not responded. The question is "How much longer, Lord?" (80:4)

The city walls have been broken down, leaving a heap of ruins and rubble. Such scenes are not uncommon in our times. The city Munster in Germany was bombed on a sunny Sunday afternoon in October 1943. Hundreds of house and buildings were destroyed, including churches. Hundreds of innocent citizens were killed, including children. The question remains, even today: Why, Lord?

In many such cases, the questions will always remain questions. But somehow, despite these unanswered questions, God's people have survived. They have had to learn to live with mystery. Somehow, they have been enables to go on, remembering mighty acts of God in the past, hoping for God's acts in the future, and praying to a God whose ways they do not understand.

Let your face shine, O Lord, that we may be saved.

James Limburg
in Psalms: Westminster Bible Companion (Westminster John Knox Press, 2000)

Friday, December 1, 2017

December 1

Mark 13:24-37

As the season of Advent begins, here is the word of Jesus: Stay awake.

According to the Bible text, Jesus and his twelve disciples have just come out of the Jerusalem Temple. One of them says, “Golly, isn’t this the biggest building you ever have seen?” Well, of course it was. For a group of up-country fishermen who lived in one story hovels, the Temple was enormous. Not just as a building, but the whole institution.

Scholars say the Temple was more than the center of the people’s religious faith. It was the center of commerce and the important trade businesses, much like a cathedral in medieval Europe. The Temple kept track of your ancestry. The Temple dictated your moral life. The Temple gave stability to your life and answered questions you never dared to ask. But Jesus says, “You see this Temple? The whole thing’s coming down.”

That turned out to be a prediction for the people who read the Gospel of Mark in 70 A.D. Mark also declares this was the judgment of God: the Temple is corrupt, it has to come down. In its place is the Kingdom of God that Jesus has been speaking about for most of this Gospel. In place of priest and sacrifice, there will be a direct relationship with God. In place of professional ritual and hierarchy of social status, all people have direct access to God. Through the death of Jesus, which rips open the Temple curtain that separates the holiness of God from the filthiness of the world, there is no buffer to keep God away from you or anybody else.

Stay awake, says Jesus. Watch for this. Keep your eyes peeled for God to come and dismantle every human system that separates God’s healing power from the needs of the world. Jesus has come as the bearer of God’s new Kingdom. And as he faces his own cross, he will pay the one and only ransom payment to take back the world from the powers of evil and give it back to God. Watch for this, he says. It will come as a great disruption to all business-as-usual, and the glory of God will be in the middle of it.

Prayer: Holy God, this world that you created has always belonged to you. Come and claim what it rightly yours. Establish your justice. Enlarge our compassion. Keep up awake to see what you desire for the world. Through Christ we pray, Amen.

Rev. Bill Carter

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Welcome to our Advent devotional blog

Hi everybody -

We offer this online blog as a gift from the people of our congregation. Together we watch and wait for Christ to be born among us. Each day, someone from our church family will offer a reflection on an Advent scripture text. We pray that this will be helpful for you.

You can click on the text listing and it should take you to a site where you can read the scripture text.

Here is how to keep up:

  • You can get a daily e-mail every time this blog is updated. Just type your e-mail address in the box on the top of the right column.  
  • Those of you who wish to "subscribe" to an RSS feed (if you know what this is), use the subscribe tab on the right column.
  • If you have a "blog catcher" app on your iPhone or Android phone (Rev. Bill uses a free one called feedly), you can add the site to it and it will be automatically updated.
  • And, as some have asked, we will print out a small number of booklets for those who wish to pick them up in the church's narthex.
We pray this is a holy season for you. Blessings on your spiritual journey!

With every good wish,
Rev. Bill Carter