23 December 2020 – Reflection

Waiting

Mark 11:1-11

Advent is a marked season of waiting in the Church calendar. A season of waiting for the return of Christ, and we wait with hope, joy, peace, and love. We recognize that this waiting is not always easy, but it allows us to be formed more fully into the image of Christ.
The Jews of Jesus’ day were familiar with waiting. They had been waiting many, many years for their Messiah. There were many ideas about how the Messiah would save the Jews from their years of captivity. Most often, it was imagined that the Messiah would bring a military victory, defeating the earthly kingdoms that had kept them from living out their faith and living into the freedom they find in God.
Mark 11 paints a picture of the triumphant entry into Jerusalem that the Jews would have been expecting for the military messiah. A triumphant entry was usually reserved for victors returning home from battle. The city gathered in the streets to cheer them on, celebrating their victory. Jesus’s triumphant entry in Mark 11 reminds us that he ultimately has the final victory over sin and death. Jesus might not have been the Messiah that the Jews of his day were expecting, but he brought much more than a military victory; he brought salvation.
For many of us, 2020 has felt like a long season of waiting. The good news is the same promise Jesus brought to the world in Mark 11, and it is alive and active for us today. So, we wait for the fullness of the Kingdom of God to be present with us with the understanding that it will be greater than we could ever imagine.
So, this Advent season, let us wait with hope, joy, peace, and love as we hold onto the promises of what is to come.

22 December 2020 – Reflection

His Law is Love and His Gospel is Peace

Hebrew 8:1-13

The theme of the last week of the Advent season is love. Honestly, when I began to think about writing this devotional about love, I felt a little depleted. It has felt hard to love at times in 2020. But when I kept thinking, the words of my favorite Christmas hymn, “Oh Holy Night,” came to mind:
Truly he taught us to love one another;
His law is love and his Gospel is peace.
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother,
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise his holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise his name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
When I think about love in this way, I remember the ways that so many in our community stood up to love the outcast and the marginalized in 2020. I think about how people choose to love their neighbors by wearing masks to protect them. I think about the millions of people who stood up against systemic racism, recognizing that it has no place in the Kingdom of God. I am reminded of the churches who sacrificed worshipping in-person to care for themselves and the community around them. We saw educators re-imagine the education system to keep our children and communities safe.
There are also so many examples of small kindnesses we experienced this year. There was sourdough starter shared by coworkers. Zoom helped us share memories we would have otherwise missed, like Easter lunches, game nights, and birthday parties. I hope we remember socially distanced porch sits with kind neighbors and delicious meals made by family.
It is when I consider the love of the Gospel that I am reminded of the love that can be found in this year. I believe these big acts of love and small kindnesses all matter in the Kingdom of God. I hope we will all continue to live out this love in big and small ways. It is this love that helps sustain us as we continue to wait for the return of Christ.

21 December 2020 – Reflection

Mary’s Magnificat

Luke 1:46b-55

When you think of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, what comes to your mind? As a Baptist, I had not thought much about Mary before I entered Seminary. I have to be honest; most of my thinking about Mary was colored by the song “Mary, Did You Know?” and the children chosen to play Mary in the Christmas Nativity every year. Unfortunately, I did very little thinking about what Scripture has to tell me about the Mother of Christ. Thankfully, Scripture has a lot more to share with us about Mary than popular songs and cute kids in costumes. 
In fact, each Gospel shares its own picture of Mary. As I have come to understand the importance of Advent in the liturgical calendar, I have also come to understand the importance of Mary in all of her portraits. In Mark, we are introduced to Mary, a concerned mother, worried that her son is making himself unpopular in their community. Matthew introduces us to a young woman whose future is uncertain as she chooses to trust in God instead of running away. In John’s Gospel, “the mother of Jesus” is unnamed, but we know that she stands at the cross as she witnesses her son’s death.
It is in Luke’s Gospel where the world is turned upside down by the Kingdom of God as ushered in by Jesus Christ. In Luke, Mary is a woman proclaiming the work of God for her ancestors and for those to come.  It is here that we meet the Mary who proclaims the glory of God through the Magnificat, a hymn of praise and revolution. I have to admit, my favorite portrait of Mary is in the Gospel of Luke. She says:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
It is through Mary’s words in the Magnificat that we come to understand that Mary’s concern is not with herself but with the work of God. She is marveling, from the depths of all she is, at the way God is turning the world upside down. When is the last time you have permitted yourself to marvel at the work of God? For yourself? For your ancestors? For those to come?
Friends, allow yourself, like Mary, to marvel at the work of God today.

21 December 2020 – Saint Thomas the Apostle

Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with firm and certain faith in your Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

20 December 2020 – Reflection

A Kingdom Without an End

Psalm 89:1-4, 9-26; Romans 16:5-27; Luke 1:26-38

 
The call of Mary to birth Jesus, shows us the ability we have to participate in God’s work in this world. We are participants, each used with our unique and different skills to proclaim God’s glory in this world. What a beautiful thing to be a part of…
 
Mary was potentially just going about her daily work when an angel appeared. She was frightened, and I think not only because of the sudden appearance of a majestic being, but also because of the message he brought. With this, I am reminded of the prophets of ancient times who were messengers to the people of Israel. Sometimes they had good news and other times they brought bad news. Mary, being Jewish, knew about these types of encounters and maybe that was partly her fear. Then, the angel proceeds to tell her that she is going to be with child and his name was to be Jesus. The child she would carry was the Son of the Most High, the one who had been given the throne of His father David, and whose kingdom will have no end. Of course, Mary knew about the awaited Messiah before the angel told her about him, and I can’t help but put myself in her shoes and think of all the emotions and ideas she must have gone through. Finally, she responds with “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” She was obedient and surrendered to God’s calling of bringing Jesus into this world.
 
Mary was fearful, but a kingdom without an end – where God’s Spirit moves in and with Creation – is worth it. When I think of this I am reminded of this verse:
 
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
 
Being part of this world is hard. This year has most certainly proven it in many ways. However, we are still called to be the shining light in this world, and I am encouraged to know that the most awaited Jesus promised us peace. Live out your calling and spread love. The Prince of Peace is with you, so do not fret.
 
If you feel overwhelmed take some time for yourself. Take deep breaths and bring your focus to Jesus…He is our Healer, our Counselor, and Lord of Lords. You are not alone.

19 December 2020 – Reflection

So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him. Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The officers answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” 

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; Judges 13:2-24; John 7:40-52

John 7:40-52 paints the picture of the crowds early in Jesus’ ministry. In this passage, half of the crowd is amazed at his teachings, proclaiming that he was the long-awaited Messiah; the other half refused to believe this since the Messiah was prophesied to come from Bethlehem (while they believed Jesus to have originated from Galilee). Many people were resistant to recognize Jesus for who he was because he was not what they expected. The most interesting part of this story (to me at least) is that the crowd knew the scripture which prophesied the birth of the Messiah to reject this prophet from Galilee, and they knew that the prophecy must be true, regardless of the stories and miracles surrounding Jesus. They were right in knowing the Scripture, but they were wrong about Jesus’s history and where he was born. 
I wonder if the crowd that rejected Jesus would have responded differently if they learned that Jesus was, in fact, born in Bethlehem, the town of King David. Would they have changed their minds and pronounced him the Messiah or would they have found a different reason to dismiss him because Jesus was not what they expected? Was the prejudice in their hearts too strong for them to hear the teachings of God?
What biases or prejudices exist in your life that could keep you from listening to God? What have you rejected simply because it was not what you expected? What have you put aside because it didn’t fit into your predestined plans? 
How can you be more open today, even if things come unexpectedly?

18 December 2020 – Reflection

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

“The Journey of the Magi” T.S. Eliot

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; 2 Samuel 6:12-19; Hebrews 1:5-14

The story of the magi is more traditionally reserved for Epiphany (the Christian feast day celebrated 12 days after Christmas), but I’ve decided to make an exception. The excerpt above is taken from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Journey of the Magi” which describes in its stanzas the journey across countries to see the Christ. In this rendition, the magi actually witness the birth of Jesus, but the experience is not what they expected. 
The agony witnessed by the magi could refer to many things, as is the nature poems. Was the agony the physical labor of Mary, gritty and real in ways that stylized, sanitized images of the birth rarely are? Is it the melancholy of knowing that, while we celebrate birth now, the crucifixion is coming? Is it the death of all the things that we thought we knew about ourselves, about the world–truths which we thought were so fundamental until the meaning of the event turned the world upside-down? Is it the juxtaposition of the wondrous birth, full of hope and life, to the painful, broken world it will redeem? 
This experience of “we thought we knew what to expect, but we were so wrong” seems very apropos for the entire year of 2020, and instead of ignoring that feeling of loss, confusion, and revelation to be joyful and merry, today reflect on it. The magi left the nativity feeling resolutely changed, even if they didn’t understand why.
Today consider the circular nature of death and birth. Consider the old ways of understanding that die to make way for the revelation of “God with us.” Consider the ways that a broken world needs the passion of Easter just as much as the joy of Christmas. 

17 December 2020 – Reflection

I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever;

    with my mouth I will make your faithfulness known

    through all generations.

I will declare that your love stands firm forever,

    that you have established your faithfulness in heaven itself.

Psalm 89:1-2

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26; 2 Samuel 6:1-11; Hebrews 1:1-4

I was listening to an artist speak a few weeks ago about Advent and the Christmas Day celebration. He said something that should not have felt profound, but did; we only celebrate someone’s birthday while they’re still alive—there is no other dead person whose birth we celebrate. The fact that we still celebrate Jesus’s birth (in addition to the cultural hoopla and anticipation of Easter) means that we still believe that the Christ is here year after year 
How would we celebrate Christmas differently if it was not simply a memorialization of the incarnation, a observance of something wondrous that happened long ago. How would we celebrate Christmas differently if we were celebrating God with Us here and now. 
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son. Hebrews 1:1-2

16 December 2020 – Reflection

Go there Running

Malachi 3:16-4:6

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. “

I once heard a pastor that many people know as JP describe the Gospel in this way. In Biblical times, war was a common occurrence with special traditions that followed. After a battle was won, the winning army would send one person ahead of the cavalry to their home. The purpose of this soldier was to declare victory to the townspeople and have them begin to prepare for the celebration. The army should arrive home with the celebration ready to commence. The soldier’s sole purpose was to let the townspeople know of the “good news” that was to come. The return of the victorious army.
 
Malachi’s approach with this letter is similar. The people have begun to love civil unrest and blame God for not fulfilling God’s promises. The Jewish people are deciding to turn their backs on God because God has (in their eyes) not kept the promises of the former prophets. Now, Malachi begins to calm them and fix their eyes on the faithfulness of God. Malachi is using this letter as a means to prepare them for the coming of the LORD. Throughout the text, mainly in our specific verses, Malachi continues to remind them to fear the LORD and anticipate the great day of return.
 
Can you see where we are going with this? Malachi is the soldier (symbolically of course) that is sent to the townspeople with the “good news”. The good news is that the LORD is coming back. We, as Christians, do not have to sit in the hardships of life and think “Where is God in all of this?”. We know exactly where God is. God is with us. We know there is more to life than this earth. 1 Peter describes us as “exiles in a foreign land” because our home is not of this Earth – not its kingdoms, corporations, or governments. Our home is to be in the presence of God’s Spirit within the kingdom of God.
 
The child that reset the entire calendar and dating system was born in a manger. A manger heavenly ordained as the birthplace of God incarnate. The inn had no area where a birth could take place, and the manger was the only semi-private space available for this event. The household of donkeys, horses, sheep, and other animals was now the home of the King of Kings. The Son of God had to come save creation before He could one day return to redeem it. Now, I take the place of the soldier for a moment.
 
Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, lived a life of a Jewish rabbi. He followed and interpreted Torah. He practiced a life of faith. He believed in God’s faithfulness and lived a life of surrender to that vision. He taught and practiced the kingdom of God (as the movement of God’s Spirit) as present and available here and now.  He lived a righteous life under Torah, and offered us a life of resurrection. We patiently await the return of Jesus Christ to redeem all of the Earth! All of Creation.
 
Your turn to be the soldier.
 Take that “good news” and go to the townspeople running.
 
A book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name. They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possessions, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him.”