Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Today’s text

Matthew 2:10-12

The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. But they were given a warning in a dream not to go back to Herod, and returned to their own country by a different way.


Once again, the wise men listened to their hearts.

Maybe they didn’t need a nocturnal warning to avoid Herod. They understood his interest in a newborn heir was a threat to him, and everyone knew Herod’s blood-soaked reputation.

Still, the wise men’s action protected the holy family and gave them time to escape Herod’s soldiers. But they also protected their souls.

They listened to the way the Word of Mystery comes to us. They took seriously that God is and God speaks.

They didn’t cut their minds off from their bodies, their intellect from that deep internal intuition where one knows love and truth, beauty and wonder. The wise men listened and knew to depart another way.

They listened to what their inner being was saying to them as they went their way, knowing they could never go home the same way they’d come. They may not have understood who Jesus was or what he would do, but they knew they’d seen a heavenly promise fulfilled.

The light of the star had drawn them, and they believed something ordained by the power and Soul of the Universe was unfolding.

Contemplatives and mystics of every tradition urge us to let the surface chatter of our lives drop away so we might listen, … listen until that deeper voice emerges from the center of the soul where our souls and the Soul of God are like two sides of a coin.

Some call this the virginal point within us from which we know our deepest truth, our truest voice, the worth and value of our lives, the mystery of love and the reality that our lives are the speaking of another Life into our little moment of time.

Every spiritual practice we might do seeks to clear away the chatter so we can hear that voice that is both our truest voice and the Truest Voice. That Voice speaks of the love in which we are held, and let’s us know what we must do to be ourselves and know such peace and joy as we can.

It speaks in dreams, intuition, in nature and in sudden surges of awareness that come over us. It speaks in moments when we just know something we truly need to know.

The wise men listened, and the truly wise among us know to listen beyond the surface noise of life, for there is another Voice speaking love and truth.

As we hear, the heart grows quiet and assured, knowing the wonder of life--and the certainty of Love and Life who bubbles at our core.

Pr. David L. Miller

Friday, December 28, 2012

Friday, December 28, 2012

Today’s text

Matthew 2:7-11

Then Herod summoned the wise men to see him privately. He asked them the exact date on which the star had appeared and sent them on to Bethlehem with the words, 'Go and find out all about the child, and when you have found him, let me know, so that I too may go and do him homage.' Having listened to what the king had to say, they set out. And suddenly the star they had seen rising went forward and halted over the place where the child was. The sight of the star filled them with delight, and going into the house they saw the child with his mother Mary, and falling to their knees they did him homage. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.


I have always thought the wise men were older, in their 50s or 60s, maybe older still. The story offers no hints other than to suggest they were learned in ancient arts of astronomy. That took time.

As a child, older people, grandmas and grandpas seemed to know things the rest of us didn’t. They looked at the world through eyes less driven by ego and the need to prove something.

They seemed more secure and relaxed with themselves and didn’t always feel the need to speak. They had less to protect or prove and could hear better.

Not all of them, but enough to make me think that had I met the wise men they would have reminded me of some of those older people I knew growing up.

I wanted to be like them. They were less about themselves and more open to receive life as it came them. They were also less concerned with making a name for themselves and more interested in my name.

Here lies some of the difference between Herod and the wise men. Herod was a driven, suspicious man, constantly on guard to protect his power and position. He saw threats everywhere and had no compunction against brutality stomping them out.

The wise men were protecting nothing. They came to see and receive, surrendering their bodies to the risk of a long journey. They risked their minds, too. Not knowing what they might find at the end of their search, their considered understandings of the world might be shattered by what they discovered.

Or they might find nothing at all and discover they had been fools for setting on the journey in the first place.

At the end of the journey, they found delight that their lives had been guided by a force beyond their own minds and decisions. They had been led to something, someone worthy of worship and fell on their knees.

They gave their gifts, of course, but their wisdom lies elsewhere. They received the gift to which the mystery of God had led them, and they worshiped.

Each new day comes, a gift from the One who leads us, too, even though we may know nothing of it. Somewhere today I want to receive the gift of this day to which I am led … and worship with delight.

Pr. David L. Miller

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Today’s text

Matthew 2:1-2

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.


Many of us travel during the days of Christmas. The question, ‘Where are you going?’ is common among us.

Most answers are predictable: ‘Going home … going to see my wife’s family … taking the family south to catch some sun … or north to find some snow.’

On Christmas Eve, I asked a young man I hadn’t seen in a while where he was headed, and one word was quickly on this lips, “Nepal.”

It wasn’t a Christmas trip. There would be no holiday celebrations, but there would be gift gifting. The primary gift was the young man himself, his open and heart and mind, along with those of his companions.

They were going to listen, learn and work among poor children, especially those caught up in the sex trafficking rampant in that part of the world.

They would not return unchanged, which is why they are traveling in the first place. They want to be changed, to have their minds enlightened, their hearts moved and their wills steeled to live with greater compassion.

They are not on a trip but a pilgrimage where they hope and expect something holy and deep to happen to them, something they cannot control or force.

They go with open hearts, willing to let the sights and faces, stories of pain and redemption take them to places in themselves they cannot predict.

Who knows what they will find or what it will do to them?

They are pilgrims, not tourists. The difference between tourists and pilgrims is that the pilgrim travels in order to be changed.

Pilgrims do not seek to control what happens on the journey but move with faith, trusting there is another will, another power and grace at work that will do its work in them … and through them.

The pilgrim trusts this power seeks the redemption of his soul, moving him to greater life, purpose and compassion.

The wise men were pilgrims, not tourists. They brought gifts to Jesus birthplace. But their greatest gift, symbolized by their willing journey far from home, was openness of heart.

They trusted there was something they needed to see and hear--and that it would change them into beings more alive and human than they had been

The trick, of course, is to live each day as a pilgrim, not knowing, but always trusting.

Pr. David L. Miller

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Today’s text

Matthew 2:1-2

After Jesus had been born at Bethlehem in Judaea during the reign of King Herod, suddenly some wise men came to Jerusalem from the east asking, 'Where is the infant king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose and have come to do him homage.


And now we return, but not too soon.

For most of us return to so-called normal life won’t happen for a few days. Christmas parties and family celebrations continue, the best of them with giddy children eager to rip through boxes beneath the tree.

Hearts will remain full. Joy will be found in the joy of those we most love, and we will feel connected (or we certainly hope) with a few other souls and realize we actually have missed them.

But we also have missed this awareness, this feeling of being connected to larger realities from which we receive life, as though we each are small branches in a great intertwining vine.

Separation from the vine diminishes, while the connections we may feel in these days stir joy and a welling goodness in our inner being.

We don’t make it happen. We just feel and know, sometimes with surprising pride, sometimes with tears, our connections with family and friends. We feel the intertwining of our lives with other lives, … which is to say with life itself, … which is to say with the great vine of life from which all grows.

In these connections, we grow larger with life and joy as we are more connected with the vine, the One vine which is the Source of this aliveness we are given and of which we always want more.

So we make trips through crowded airports and down wintry roads. We cook, clean and prepare for hours for those who will descend on our living rooms, hoping that the sacrament of human connection will awaken our hearts to love, life and beauty.

We hope, too, to feel connection with that great something we cannot name, the vine of life, the Source, the Love that wells up within during this holy season, for it is that connection that makes this season holy in the first place.

This is the 21st century, and we are far removed from wise men traveling to find an infant king with only a star to guide them. Or … are we?

Are they, like us, on a life journey in search of their souls, hoping to find the one who will awaken their hearts and minds to see and feel the Life to which we are all connected?

That’s why they followed the star. It’s why we all follow it.

Pr. David L. Miller

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

December 25, 2012

Today's text

And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told (Luke 2:20).

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men; and the light shines in darkness, and darkness could not overpower it (John 1:1-5).


Be born in us, O Lord. Illumine our souls with the light of your loving presence for this is the birthday of life.

As once you were born into the darkness of our world, be born in our hearts that our coldness might be overwhelmed by your warmth;
That our confusion might be washed away by the certainty of a love that always was and always will be; 
That our mortality might be filled with your immortality; 
That our narrow hearts might be expanded by the immensity of your encompassing compassion.

Let Christmas come and banish all sadness. Let every soul see cold winter’s darkness drenched in sunlight. Fill us with the joy of your eternal morning as the light from our savior’s cradle seeks every corner of creation, leaving no forgotten place.

Be born in us. Raise us from the lethargy of grief, from preoccupation with what we have lost and from anxious fears of what may come. Warm our flesh with the light of your love deep within that we may know that you are with us and will never depart.

Assure us once more that you are greater than every sadness, stronger than the anxieties that erode our joy and more powerful than the forces of death that cloud the future.

Make our souls like a bright winter morning.

Bare trees rejoice amid winter’s cold for the world is clothed in laughing light. It plays across the yard and stretches throughout creation. 

Your light draws shepherds to the brightness of your rising and sends them dancing into the daylight of your presence, swallowing every fear.

Teach us to dance with them in the laughing light of your loving nearness. Open our eyes and hearts to see your light in the places we live our days.

Be born in us every day and most certainly on Christmas Day, for today is the birthday of life.

Fill us with the light of the morning that gave you birth that we may live each day … like its Christmas.

For prayer and reflection

  • Remember a Christmas Day that was particularly happy or meaningful to you.
  • When do you most need Christmas to come to you and fill you with the joy of God’s light and life?
  • What do you want and need to receive from Christmas and carry with you into the new year?

Another voice

O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; oh, come to us, abide with us, our Lord Immanuel!
(“O Little Town of Bethlehem,” Phillips Brooks, 1890)

Monday, December 24, 2012

December 24, 2012

Today's text

As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19)


What did Mary see as she gazed at her infant son, pondering the night that gave him birth? What moved in her heart as she stroked the tender flesh of his palms and learned each line? I think I know.

About 30 years ago, I stood before Salem Lutheran Church on Christmas morning and nodded at Lisa, holding out my arms for her to hand me her infant son, Cody.

I cradled him in my arms and preached a sermon, speaking softly, barely looking at the congregation. I looked at Cody, studying his hands and wondering aloud what they would do, what they would touch, who they would love and bless.

What pains and joys would these tiny hands know on the plains of rural Nebraska or wherever life might take him? At the end of the sermon, we baptized him into the life of Christ to prepare him for his journey.

We were all Mary that day, every one of us pondering a child, our hearts filled with a love only tears can speak. We knew her. We felt something of what filled her heart as she traced the lines and creases of these precious hands.

But there was so much she could not know that first Christmas morning.

She could not know that the hands of her child would bless and heal billions. They would welcome the weary and cast out demons that disfigure human souls. They would brush away detractors and beckon children to come and be enfolded in his love.

These hands would reach out and touch those others rejected. They would hold the bread of life and break it to feed thousands. They would wash the feet of his friends and forgive them when they failed him.

These hands would send men and women on the holy mission of loving this crazy world with all their hearts … because he loves it so much.

And at the end, his hands would bear the brutality of the executioner’s nails, wielded by those who could not risk being loved and changed by the grace of his touch.

Mary didn’t know all this. But we do.

We know: Jesus’ hands bear the touch of heaven to the wounds of earth. His are the hands of the One who is Love Unbounded, Mercy Unsurpassable, Beauty Inexpressible.

In his touch, we see and know the Love who draws us to know him, so that we may know the home, the peace, the total welcome for which our hearts have never ceased longing.

Look at his hands. They tell the story.

This year, on Christmas morning, we will baptize Harper Noelle Taylor at St. Timothy, and I will look at her hands. Once more, I will know Mary … and the God who comes in the tenderness of human touch.

For prayer and reflection

  • What images, feelings, ideas or stories came to you as you read the reflection? What does God’s Spirit say to you?
  • When have you felt like Mary?
  • What have you been pondering as Christmas approaches? What does your heart need and want this Christmas?

Another voice

And who could be the same for having held the infant in their arms, and later felt the wounded hands and side, all doubts dispelled. Who could but sigh: Immanuel! Who could but shout: Immanuel!
(“Peace Came to Earth,”  Jaroslav J. Vajda, 1984)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

December 23, 2012

Today's text

So they [the shepherds] hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds said to them (Luke 2:16-18).


Joseph stands watch, silently listening. He never speaks. But he hears with his ears … and in his soul.

Mary shifts her weight and tries to sleep. The infant whimpers, crying out from time to time, and Mary instinctively pulls him closer. Sheep in the stall shuffle in the hay.

It’s a poor place for a newborn, and there is no one to call if the child and his mother need help. The sound of his aloneness closes around Joseph as he realizes it is all up to him and Mary, and she has all she can do to keep the child warm and fed.

He is alone with his thoughts and fears. Is the story true? Is this child the presence of God visiting his people? Could this child actually be the savior who brings … what?

How can a child save anyone? He is entirely dependent on us or he dies. Joseph’s mind trails off in a fog of fatigue, stirred at the sound of footfalls outside the stable.

Cold fear grips his gut. Who is out and about at this hour? Thieves? Drunks? Beggars looking for a handout? He steels himself for confrontation.

But none comes. Several shepherds appear in the stable opening. Two of them bend at the waist, breathing heavily from a hard run. The others look in, mouths hanging open, startled at what they see.

 It is just as it had been told them. Their feet scrape in the dirt as they step inside and stammer, “Did you see? Did you hear?”

A tale of light in the night sky and angelic messengers tumbles out of them, as Joseph stands agape, listening. Mary lifts her head toward them for only a moment, her gaze steady on the child she cradles.

Joseph had heard and seen nothing, and now these messengers come with a story as fantastical as the one Mary told him about the wonder of this child on that awful day he learned she was pregnant.

This child is the savior, the new king descended of the great King David. He is the Christ, the anointed one who uniquely bears the presence of God to cold stables on dark nights, when doubts distress and fears gather..

The shepherds believed what they’d heard and brought the message to the manger. We hardly think Mary and Joseph needed to be told what was happening.

But God sent messengers even to them that they might truly know their lives were caught up in the great story of God making his mind and heart flesh.

So is yours.

So look at the child … and know. God is not to be found by climbing mountains or in fits of spiritual ecstasy. God finds us in our common lives and stories where the love in Mary’s arms becomes flesh and blood.


For prayer and reflection

  • What moved you or caught your attention in the reflection as you imagined the scene?
  • Do you identify with Joseph or anyone else in the story? What do they show you?
  • Do you think Mary and Josepha needed messengers to remind them of the wonder of which they were a part? How and when do you forget that you are part of that story? What brings you back?

Another voice

Who is the baby an hour or two old. Looked for by shepherds far strayed from their fold. Lost in the world though more precious than gold? This is God with us in Jesus.
Who is the man who looks on at the door, welcoming strangers, some rich but most poor. Scanning the world as if somehow unsure? Joseph, the father of Jesus.
(“The Aye Carol,” John L. Bell, 1987)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 22, 2012

Today's text

Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.' So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger (Luke 2:15-16).


For years, I have prayed this story in my imagination, and each time I see a dumbstruck shepherd holding the infant Jesus.

But the story starts elsewhere. It begins with feet stumbling over rough ground. A handful of shepherds rush to see what is happening, thankful that something--they know not what--has interrupted the boredom of another long night among dumb sheep.

Coming to a stable, they stand mute at the opening, not ready to enter.

A small fire illumines the dark interior. A cow and three or four sheep lay in an enclosure to the right. A man on one knee looks down at an exhausted woman, turning his head as they approach.

He gestures, and they hesitantly enter, unsure if they should intrude. But they are not intrusion. They are the reason this whole thing is happening.

Coming close, they stand wide-eyed before a mother and infant child, nestled close amid the cold. The oldest of them steps closer to see the beauty of new life in Mary’s arms.

This is not strange to them. The shepherds know birth. They have helped ewes give birth and held their fragile young in calloused hands. They know what to do.

Mary looks at her child and into the eyes of the old shepherd and slightly lifts her bundle, a gesture he understands. She lays her child in his arms.

He says nothing but looks at the child, holding the blessing of midnight he will never understand. He understands only that it’s a night like no other he has seen: angels in the starlight, songs in the night, a child in his arms, his old eyes beholding the life he tenderly holds.

What he cannot understand is that the life he holds in worn hands is the life who holds him. He holds heart of God beating in the heart of a tender child. Looking into Jesus infant face, he cannot know that he gazes into the mystery of Love Unbounded.

Theologians of every age have sought to answer the question of why the Inexpressible God became mortal flesh. Some read the Scriptures and conclude the primary purpose of the incarnation was to atone for sin and forgive human guilt.

Others say, “no,” the incarnation did not take place because of human sin. God always planned to appear in mortal flesh, taking all that we are into himself, holding it close and loving it all, just like the old shepherd cradling Mary’s child.

Christmas Eve will soon be upon us, and once again we are the shepherds, beckoned to hold the child who holds us all.  

For prayer and reflection

  • What did you see, feel, hear and notice as you imagine the scene of the shepherds coming to the manger?
  • What message comes to you as you see the shepherd holding the child? Can you put yourself in the scene, holding Jesus?
  • How do each of us complete creation, allowing God to be incarnate in our flesh?

Another voice

Jesus, Lord of all creation, sleep now close beside your mother, Mary. Bring us light amid the darkness, promise of life without end. For a child is born, the world rejoices! Shepherds and angels proclaim his birth. This is Jesus the Lord, our Savior and brother, bearing  God’s peace to the earth.
(“Nativity Carol,” Francis Patrick O’Brien, 1992)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

December 21, 2012

Today's text

And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favors (Luke 2:13-14).

For a son has been born for us, a son has been given to us, and dominion has been laid on his shoulders; and this is the name he has been given, 'Wonder-Counselor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace' (Isaiah 9:6).


Peace is an elusive experience for most of us. It is hard to know what it is, let alone how to find it.

But we know it when washes over us. There is a total release of inner tension and a feeling of wholeness. Our soul is soaked in the awareness that all is well and all will be well no matter what may come.

This is the oft-quoted conviction of Julian of Norwich, a 14th century English mystic. She lived at the time of the Bubonic Plague, the Black Death that killed a third of the population.

Some might say it was obscene for her to know peace at a time of such suffering. But her words reveal the promise of God for every one of us.  

I want what she had. I want the peace the Christmas angels promise.

We have too little peace in our lives and in the world. Rockets from Gaza are raining down on Jerusalem as I write. Civil war continues to roil Syria, killing thousands who only want freedom.

In the U.S., political operatives continue to offer accusatory explanations of what happened in the recent presidential election, undermining each others’ efforts instead of working for the good of all of us. No peace here, either.

And too little in our hearts. We live far from the angels’ song, but their strains bid us to quiet our hearts and listen that the song of God’s soul may fill us.

“On earth … peace, in my heart … peace, among the nations … peace, for those with whom I struggle … peace.

Turn it into a mantra, a prayer that the peace of heaven might fill your soul and cover the earth. Say it a hundred times a day or more. Repeat it as often as you think of it. Speak it quietly when you are caught in traffic or when frustration rises.

Say it as a prayer over the evening news and when you see the distress of others.
Pray it with a smile of gratitude at each sight of beauty, every song that moves you and in every moment of joy.

Make this your Christmas and New Year’s prayer, “Peace.”

The angels sing; do them the courtesy of listening for a moment and repeat their chorus, “On earth … peace.”

They will teach you what Julian knew far better than any of us. Peace has less to do with the outward circumstances of our lives than with the condition of our hearts.

It begins when we receive the love who comes to us everyday, and most certainly on Christmas Day.

For prayer and reflection

  • When have you experienced the peace of God? How does it change you? Where do you need peace this year?
  • How might you use the angel’s song as a prayer mantra? Have you ever prayed this way?
  • What is our calling as Christians in a conflicted world and nation? How can you live as a person of God’s peace?

Another voice

Child of mercy, child of peace, Jesus bread of life, food to fill our longing. Child of justice, child of light, Jesus saving cup, Emmanuel, God with us. We name him: Wonder, counselor, hero mighty God, the Holy One for ever; Prince of peace!
(“Child of Mercy,” David Haas, 1991)

December 20, 2012

Today's text

And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven, praising God with the words: Glory to God in highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favors (Luke 2:13-14).


Christmas comes, inviting us to see ourselves and our world as God sees.

God looks with favor on the lowliness of his servant, Mary sings in the Magnificat. The angels proclaim peace to those God favors. This is not a message for a few but for all nations, every time and age … and you.

God looks with favor on the face of creation and on your face.

Imagine sitting in silence, looking into the gentle smile of someone who loves you more than you can understand, someone who loves you more than yourself.

Imagine their smile beaming complete love, utter welcome and total delight in having you near. Feel the grace that hungers to share your hopes and dreams, a love for which bearing with your burdens is not a burden for them, but a privilege and joy.

God looks at you with this smile, the smile of divine favor, refusing to turn from your failures and sins, your arrogance or presumption, nor even from the moments of your life you wish you could forget.

God sees it all, loving it all and all of you.

We can barely imagine such love, but we so desperately need it and long to believe in it. And it is doubly difficult for those wearied by disappointments and low esteem to believe that this is how the Loving Mystery of God sees them.

The smile of God’s good favor shines on the lowly ones and the lowly places in each of us. The Divine Majesty looks on creation, the world in all its beauty and brokenness, grace and glory, longing to make it whole.

The angels’ song proclaims the truth of God’s favor, which is a wonder we cannot know with our minds but only in the depth of our being where deepest feelings and convictions dwell.

God comes to share our human flesh in Jesus Christ. He comes with the smile of divine favor to heal and warm, to grace and welcome, to give us the peace of God.

For that, we truly pray: Come, Lord Jesus.

For prayer & reflection

  • What experiences or longings are awakened by today’s reading?
  • Try to imagine the face of Christ smiling at you, showering you with the smile of divine favor. What is moved and awakened in you?
  • What makes it hard for you to accept and know you are God’s favored one?
  • For what troubled part of our world do you hunger for the peace of God?

Another voice

In your love you now fulfill what you promised to your people. I will praise you Lord, my savior, everlasting is your mercy and holy is your name.
(“Holy Is Your Name,” David Haas, 1989)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

December 19, 2012

Today's text

The angel said … ‘today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. And here is a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.' And all at once with the angel there was a great throng of the hosts of heaven praising God with the words: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favors (Luke 2: 11-14).


The search for a savior is common among human souls. Saviors bring salvus, health and wholeness not only to our hearts but to the heart of world. They imitated justice, peace and prosperity among the nations. We want such salvation, but who brings it?

Jesus was not the only one who bore the title ‘savior’ in the ancient world. Most notable was Octavian, otherwise known as Caesar Augustus. In 31 BCE, he had ended a prolonged civil war that had ripped apart the Roman Empire and thus much of the world.

Reuniting the empire, he was hailed as Augustus, the ‘Divine One.’ He was called The Lord, Bringer of Peace, Redeemer, Liberator, Son of God, Savior of the World, divinity incarnate.

Virtually every title attached to Jesus had already been assigned to Octavian for bringing peace to a war-weary world.

Octavian, the savior, brought peace through violence, conquering and subduing the forces of chaos that threatened the world.

And Jesus, infant son of peasants born in a far corner of the empire, what does he bring? What can he possibly bring to a world much wider yet as troubled as when he walked the earth?

He brings no armies, no subjugation, no force to destroy our enemies. He brings a table. And around that table he invites friend and enemy alike to eat and drink, feasting on the infinite generosity of God.

Peace comes through the sharing of bread and justice, mercy and compassion.

For the most part, the world is in thrall to Octavian’s way. Most don’t believe in Jesus way of peace, including most Christians. Victory over those who trouble us, the use of force and threats to get our way, these are considered the wisest and safest course in a menacing world.

But the angels’ song has never died out through 20 centuries. They continue to pull at our souls, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace for those he favors.”

The angels announce the dawning of a new age. Their song of glory carries our hearts to the manger of the real savior who bears God’s favor and salvation for every last one of us.

For prayer and reflection

  • What does the angel’s song awaken in your heart and mind?
  • What is the difference between Christ’s way and the way of Caesar Augustus?
  • How can you live Jesus’ way of peace during this season and beyond?
  • To what saviors do the world and the nations look for salvation?

Another voice

Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn king; peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled. Joyful all you nations, rise; join the triumph of the skies; with angelic hosts proclaim, Christ is born in Bethlehem. Hark! The herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn king!
(“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” text: Charles Wesley, music: Felix Mendelssohn, 1830)

Monday, December 17, 2012

December 18, 2012

Today's text

An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified, but the angel said, 'Do not be afraid. Look, I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:9-11).


There are moments when you know why you were born.  

I open my e-mail and find a thank you note. “Your gentle questions and love helped me,” it says. “Thanks for talking with me even though I knew you were very tired.”

The note goes on, but through tears I can no longer read.

This feeling should not be confused with happiness. Happiness happens more or less when we expect it. Something goes our way; the marriage, the job, the vacation, the good things we want come to us. Circumstances turn ’round right.

But this is joy, and joy is something much more.

Joy is the fulfillment of heart. It comes when our in-most being experiences completion, ultimate satisfaction, and it is as likely to come in moments of great sorrow as at times of happiness, maybe even more likely.

Joy springs to life when our depths are touched by the divine, when mortal flesh meets the eternal substance of God and our inner emptiness is filled by love unlimited.

The Christmas story is shot through with such joy. John the Baptist leaps for joy in his mother’s womb as Mary approaches. Mary herself rejoices in the God who looks with favor on his beloved people. Angels announce good news of a great joy for all people to a clutch of shepherds on a hillside.

The angels announce the birth of the one in whom heaven and earth meet. Jesus comes as savior, the one who brings the joy of God’s life to our mortal neediness.

It seems unlikely that a child born in a cattle stall can bring anything to earth other than more poverty, let alone the joy of fulfillment

But that’s the message of Christmas. Christ comes filled with the fullness of God, the fullness we taste and know in moments when love fills our frame and our hearts taste the completion God intends.

So come once more to the stable. Run with the shepherds to see him. Run until your chest aches and all breath has left you. Gaze into Jesus face and sing songs of the miracle he is. Receive the joy awakened within.

And you will long to live everyday like its Christmas.

For prayer & reflection

·         What thoughts, memories and emotions did today’s reflection awaken in you? 
·         What Christmas was most joyful for you?
·         When have  you been surprised by joy, the fulfillment and filling of your soul?
·         Have you ever experienced joy amid sadness or sorrow?

Another voice

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let all their songs employ, while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sound joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy!
(“Joy to the World,” Isac Watts, 18th century)

December 17, 2012

Today's text

In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night. An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified (Luke 2:8-9).


There are conflicting traditions about shepherds in the biblical world. One on hand, great figures of Israel’s history were shepherds. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob were all shepherds.

Kings were called shepherds of the people, and David, Israel’s greatest king, grew up as a shepherd. Biblical prophecies of the Messiah say he will gather his sheep and feed his flock … like a shepherd.

On the other hand, shepherds were thought so destitute and unsavory they were not trusted because they stole to support themselves.

Their work could be brutal. Shepherds kept watch for predators skulking in the darkness eager to devour fresh meat, a wearisome task filled with hours of grinding boredom interrupted by tsunamis of terror.

They had no great expectations for their lives. Their hopes for fulfillment were small-- drinking with friends, convivial laughter, the comfort of a woman.

Nor did they aspire to learning or places of importance. Such hopes belonged to those more favorably born. They lived in the darkness on the edge of society, watching dumb animals, keeping beasts at bay.

But it is out there that the glory of the Lord shines in the night, and fearful shepherds hug the ground.

Their reaction is all wrong. They should have stood, arms outstretched to receive the shining light of God’s nearness. They could have shed their cloaks and basked in the warmth of the Holy Presence.

But that’s the way it is with human hearts. We flee from the things we most need, running from the love that seeks to enfold us, and few needed it more than a bunch of shepherds huddled in the darkness.

Like them, we stay busy enough with what demands our attention.  But we seldom lift our eyes to hope that our lives might be extraordinary, filled with light and love from God’s infinite store.

Such exceptional grace belongs to others, not to us. But they do belong to us. That’s the message of Christmas.

The light in the night sky, illumining the shepherds, shatters our earth-bound expectations and anticipates all  Jesus would say and do.

He is the face of the God whom no eye has seen. The warming light of his nearness shines first on the outcast, the forgotten, the despised and misunderstood, bearing good news to the poor and peace to the oppressed.

In that light, they began to see their lives are extraordinary, created for the glory of a great love they could not imagine.

In the darkness, they saw what we miss.

Questions for prayer and reflection

  • Do you identify with the shepherds in any way?
  • What keeps you from seeing and feeling your life as extraordinary, intended for God’s love and blessing?
  • Imagine the scene of the shepherds keeping watch as the glory of the Lord shines around them. What do you see, hear and feel in the scene? What is most important or powerful?

Another voice

Shepherds, in the fields abiding,watching o’er your flocks by night. God with us is now residing, yonder shines the infant light. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn king.
(“Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” James Montgomery, 1857)

Saturday, December 15, 2012

December 16, 2012

Today's text

Now it happened that at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be made of the whole inhabited world. This census--the first- took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria, and everyone went to be registered, each to his own town. So Joseph set out from the town of Nazareth in Galilee for Judaea, to David's town called Bethlehem, since he was of David's House and line, in order to be registered together with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Now it happened that, while they were there, the time came for her to have her child, and she gave birth to a son, her first-born. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the living-space (Luke 2:1-7).


Old photos float across my computer screen. Every few seconds a new one appears. Today, I see Rachel, my daughter, riding on a merry-go-round.

She is not a child but a mother. She stands beside a wooden horse looking down on a dark-haired little boy whose face is electric with wonder. Ethan is two, and life is new. Each fresh experience awakens his tender soul to the startling joy of being alive.

Older eyes grow jaundiced, having seen it all, the exhilaration of living, sadly, worn off. But not these eyes. These eyes are alive to the wonder of living, filled with joy that it can be so good.

But he is not most the arresting face in the photo. That accolade belongs to Rachel, who looks down at him, her gentle eyes and smile filled with a love she probably didn’t know she could feel until she first felt the stirring of new life in her womb.

She transports me to the manger. Hers are the eyes of Mary, the eyes of a mother moved beyond words at the miracle of bringing forth new life and cradling it in her arms.

Our eyes are hungry for Christmas. We need to see it … to feel it. We need Christmas to fill us with the miracle of the love that shines in Rachel’s face. We need it to come and transport us beyond our world-weariness and re-awaken the joy of the little boy in this old photo.

So we come to the manager, open the eyes of imagination and watch Mary pick up her child. She wraps him in strips of cloth, not because she is poor but because she loves him more than she has words to say.

We look again into her eyes and see shining there a love beyond her own, the love who brings Christmas, the love who hungers to fill our souls and make our hearts supple and new once more.

Mary wraps her child and looks down into his sleeping face. We’ve seen such scenes before. So look again with the eye of memory and imagination.

See the heart of God nestled by a human heart. The sight will awaken you to the wonder of the Love who humbly comes, resting in a donkey’s feed box, swaddled in human love, hungry to be held … by you.

For prayer and reflection

  • What thoughts, memories and emotions did today’s reflection awaken in you?
  • Where do you see and feel Christmas re-awakening your heart this year?
  • Remember a Christmas when you wanted and needed your heart to be made new. What happened?

Another voice

Silent Night, holy night! All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child. Holy Infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.
(“Silent Night”, text: Joseph Mohr, music: Franz Gruber, 1840)

December 15, 2012

Today's text

In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things came into being, not one thing came into being except through him. What has come into being in him was life, life that was the light of men. … The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-4, 14).


God speaks into the silence of night. It has always been that way.

In the beginning, there was nothing but silent darkness. Then God spoke and worlds exploded into existence. Physicists tell us a big bang sent matter screaming through space at unbelievable speed, scattering into distant corners that hadn’t before existed.

Over billions of years a universe came to be--immensity and beauty, life and intelligence, where nothing had been. God spoke in the silent darkness awakening life and wonder.

That’s the way it always is … and certainly at Christmas.

Christmas comes in the deep silence of night when few are awake to notice the birth of divine life in human flesh. Songs of the season transport us to the night Jesus was born to listen to all God is saying … and know.

 “Silent Night, Holy Night; It Came upon a Midnight Clear; O, Holy Night; other songs carry us to the dark streets of Bethlehem that we might see and feel the light of life entering our world and our souls

But the silence of night is not always our friend. It does not always bring grace.

The wee hours are times when memories haunt and fears attack. In the dark hours, restless hearts are perturbed by past wounds and mistakes, and the looming future holds as much threat as promise.

But here, too, God speaks in the silence of our night. God invites us to the stable that saw Jesus’ birth that we may imagine and look into his fragile infant face.

Imagine yourself there. Place yourself in the stable, standing near an exhausted Mary, fitful, trying to sleep. Joseph kneels at her side and holds her arm, and you stand close, cradling an infant wrapped in strips of cloth, enfolded in your arms.

Put yourself there … and listen. Listen to your heart. Listen in the great silence of your soul where fears come and you wonder what life is about.

Listen … and look at this child. What does God say in the silent darkness of your all-too-human heart?

Whatever else comes, hear the tenderness at the heart of the God who hungers to be held and loved by you. In the deep silence of your days and nights, God whispers a love that comes for us and always will.

For prayer and reflection

  • What emotions, thoughts and memories were stirred by today’s reflection?
  • When do you most need to hear what God is saying through the birth of Jesus this year?
  • Where and when is it most possible for you to hear God speaking to you?

Another voice

Cold are the people, winter of life. We tremble in shadows this cold endless night. Frozen in the snow lie roses sleeping. Flowers that will echo the sunrise. Fire of hope is our only warmth. Weary, its flame will be dying soon.
(“Night of Silence,“ Daniel Kantor, 1984)