Saturday, December 08, 2012

December 9, 2012

Today's text

In the fifteenth year of Tiberias Caesar's reign, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judaea, … the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah, in the desert.  He went through the whole Jordan area proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the sayings of Isaiah the prophet: A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight! Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be leveled, winding ways be straightened and rough roads made smooth (Luke 3:1-6)


No matter what else you are preparing for this Christmas, prepare a way to come home.

We need to return home to the place where our hearts belong, where anxiety evaporates, shame disappears and hope fills every corner of our soul.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah imagined a highway for exiles to return home. Mountains would be laid low, and low places built up. Crooked roads would be made straight.

John the Baptist echoes this image, calling us to repent that God may come to us and our hearts may find their way home to God.

Repentance is much misunderstood. It is not a word of condemnation but an invitation to come home.

It literally means to go beyond the mind you have, to enter a new mind, a new way of seeing and being. It means to find your right mind so you may know the truth about who you are and who God is.

It is easy to lose your mind this time of year. Thousands of voices tell us to buy the right gift, shop at the best store, get the newest digital gadgets and prepare until the wee hours for parties and gatherings of all sorts. Go faster, work harder. You need to keep the season bright.

Amid the rush, we lose touch with our deepest realty, forgetting that we are created for love, to know love and to become the love of the One who comes to us wrapped warm in Mary’s arms.

Repentance is about turning from your overwhelmed weariness and the anxiousness of the season to regain your sanity, reclaim your identity and arrive again at the love for which you were made.

It begins with a quiet prayer that we might feel ourselves truly loved by God, a prayer for God to chase away our feelings of failure, self-hatred and unworthiness that we might know that we are beloved beyond our wildest imaginations.

Only then are we in our right minds, and the road is ready for us to walk home into the love that awaits us every morning … and most certainly on Christmas morning.

For prayer & reflection

  • What drives you out of your right mind during this season?
  • What do you most need to do to prepare the Lord’s way within your heart and life?
  • Where does the word of the Lord speak to you--in the wilderness of your heart--this time of year?

 Another voice

Then cleansed be every heart from sin. Make straight the way for God within,
shine forth and let your let restore, and spirit blessed forever more.
To heal the sick stretch out your hand, and bid the fallen sinner stand.

(“On Jordan’s Bank”, Charles Coffin, 1974)

Friday, December 07, 2012

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Today's text

 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin's name was Mary He went in and said to her, 'Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favor! The Lord is with you.' … Mary said, 'You see before you the Lord's servant, let it be with me as you have said.' And the angel left her (Luke 1:26-28, 38).


When the angelic messenger came to Mary, he was not speaking just to her. He was speaking to all of us, “Rejoice, favored one. The Lord is with you.”

You are favored more than you know. For you, too, are Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and Mary is all of us. She is the model of our humanity and the key to the mystery of our souls. She reveals our proper destiny, our greatest joy and most profound sorrow.

We are to bear the divine life of God in our mortal flesh.

Like her, we each are pregnant with the sacred seed of God’s gracious life and love, the God seed, planted deep within us.

We each are to be the mother of God, nurturing divine life within our hearts that Christ may live in us--and we may become the soul we are created to be.

The mystery of Christ’s birth among us is not so much a story to be believed … or rejected; it is a life to be received and cherished in the depth of your being.

For if Christ be born a thousand times in Bethlehem, what difference does it make … if he is not born also in us?

Mary shows the way. She bows in humility and trust, “Here I am, the Lord’s servant. Let it be to me according to your word.”

Let it be. This is Mary prayer … and ours.

“Let it be. I cannot control the future. I do not know where life will lead or what the new year will bring. So let it be, Lord, according to the word of your promise. May the life you are grow in me that I, too, may be your dwelling place.”

Some of the most precious moments of my day are spent in a basement office, listening to gentle music. It opens up space in my noisy heart that I may hear the Lord’s voice speaking, “I am with you, closer than you imagine. I am the seed of divine life in your own heart.”

Then, with Mary, I pray, “Let it be with me as you will.” And Christ is born again.

For prayer and reflection

·         What ideas, feelings, hopes and memories are awakened by today’s reflection?
·         How can you nurture Christ’s life within you? What people, places and practices help? How do you hinder Christ’s birth within you? What gets in the way?
·         Quietly read and repeat Mary’s words in Luke 1:38: Here I am; the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” What is awakened in your heart and mind?

Another voice

The angel Gabriel from heaven came, with wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame; “All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary, most highly favored lady.” Gloria!
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head. To me be as it pleaseth God, she said. My soul shall laud and magnify God’s holy name. Most highly favored lady. Gloria!

(“The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came”, Sabine Baring-Gould, 1955)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Today's text

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death light has blazed forth (Isaiah 9:2).

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79).


The lights came on in the narthex last Sunday. Normally, it is a bit dark there, but on Sunday the room glowed and it had nothing to do with the overhead lights.

Jim and Jennifer walked into the entry of the church with their four-year olds twins, Niklas and Sydney. They had just returned from Boston and Sydney’s fourth open heart surgery.

No one needed to say how things had gone. The light in their eyes told the story.

The anxiety that had shadowed their eyes in recent weeks was gone. The lights had come back on … in them. Christmas had come once more.

Christmas comes, as it always does, resplendent with light that scatters the darkness, chasing away our fears and warming our hearts.

Glorious light, joyful light plays and dances through the stories and songs of Christmas.

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Arise and shine for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen on

The dawn from on high shall break upon us to give light to those who sit in
            darkness and in the shadow of death..

The glory of the Lord shined around them.

A great star arises in the sky to announce the arrival of God’s light in human

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.

We sing of a little town called Bethlehem in whose “dark streets shineth the everlasting light.” Our hearts are moved to deep quiet in a silent night when “all is calm, all is bright” and “love’s pure light” radiantly shines from the face of a child.

We understand the songs because we have felt the darkness, and we know the exhilaration and peace that fills us when the light comes on in our hearts.

It awakens undeniable hope and the certain awareness that the light of God’s presence has come and always will. The dawn of God’s eternal day will penetrate the world’s darkness, scattering the doubt and hopelessness of human hearts that we may live with joy and love with strength.

As the year wanes and nights grow long, our need to see and feel the light of God’s loving nearness grows urgent. We need to hear, once more, that the light of God’s dawning is always near, always at hand.

Come Lord Jesus, pure brightness of the ever-living God. Come lighten our darkness.

For prayer & reflection

  • What experiences or hopes did today’s reflection stir in you?
  • What is your favorite Christmas song or story? What grace and blessing does it give you?
  • What darkness do you bear this year which needs the light of God’s dawning?

Another voice

Voice in the distance, call in the night, on wind you enfold us, you speak of the light. Gentle on the ear you whisper softly, rumors of a dawn so embracing. Breathless love awaits darkened souls. Soon we will know of the morning.
(“Night  of Silence,” Daniel Kantor, 1984)

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Today's text

And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because he has looked upon the humiliation of his servant. Yes, from now onwards all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is his name, and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him. He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart. He has pulled down princes from their thrones and raised high the lowly. He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his faithful love (Luke 1:46-54).


We romanticize the scene. The angel Gabriel and Mary greet each other with a gentle bow, and he tells her not to fear. “The Lord is with you,” he says. “You have found favor with God and will bear a child, the Son of the Most High.”

But Mary lived in a land of fear, when the hopes and fears of all the years had met in battle, and fear won.

Near the time of Jesus birth, uprisings sprouted across the land as would-be messiahs revolted, trying to rid the nation of the Romans with their oppressive taxes and overbearing military.

One rabble rouser gained a large following at Sepphoris, about an hour’s walk from Nazareth, Mary’s town. The Romans sent more than 20,000 troops to pillage, rape and burn the town, reducing survivors to slavery.

One can only guess how bad it was for nearby villages like Nazareth. Mary surely heard the stories about the day the Romans came and knew those who escaped with their lives and perhaps those who never came home.

She had seen fear, and knew Rome’s brutality. The promise that she would bear a new messiah certainly awaken fear of further imperial cruelty. Knowing this, her song of praise to God takes on visceral meaning.

She sees God trampling the oppressors underfoot so that the wounded poor who walk the dusty streets of Nazareth might taste justice and be filled with blessing.

She dares to trust, believing with all her might in the God who remembers and keeps his promise to show mercy to the lowly ones, like her.

Lifting her arms, she shouts praise to the listening skies. Shaking her fist at Rome and any others who would dare crush her hope in God’s promise, she cries out, “My soul proclaims the greatest of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).

She is one of the lowly ones, but in her praise and defiant trust she stands unbowed, strong as the love of the God who cannot forget her … or us.

Come, Lord Jesus, stir our hearts to defiant hope in your mercy and justice that we may live strong as your love. 

For prayer and reflection

  • Does today’s reflection change your image of Mary?
  • What fears, or situations trouble you, stealing your hope to know God’s mercy and presence?
  • Slowly read Mary song, the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). What does she say to you?
  • Does praising God make you strong?

Another voice

My soul proclaims your greatness, Lord; I sing my Savior’s praise! You looked upon my lowliness, and I am full of grace. To all who live in holy fear, your mercy ever flows. With mighty arm you dash the proud, their scheming heart expose.
(“My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness,” Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1995)

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Today's text

Mary set out at that time and went as quickly as she could into the hill country to a town in Judah. She went into Zechariah's house and greeted Elizabeth. Now it happened that as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said, 'Of all women you are the most blessed, and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Luke 1:39-42).


There are times I like Christmas shopping. Sometimes a deep quiet settles over me, and I am alone with my thoughts amid the scurry of people moving from one store to another at the mall.

I move slowly amid the hustle, watching faces and wondering what they are looking for. I listen to the music, too, waiting for a song of substance to slip into the holly-jolly play list and transport me into that mysterious love waiting within me to be born again.

Sometimes I see happiness on the face of someone whom I imagine has purchased that ‘just-right’ gift.’

But I also see emptiness on the faces I meet, and I am reminded that the worst thing you can feel at Christmas is … nothing, and nothing is what we sometimes feel, emptiness, barren loneliness.

Many congregations know this and hold “longest night services” in December, timing them near the winter solstice, the longest and darkest night of the year. The services provide a gracious space to acknowledge and pray the weight sadness that won’t go away.

The longest-night symbolism cuts to the heart of many, perhaps you, who come to Christmas hungry for happiness but burdened by loss and grief, disappointed hopes or fears of threatening illness.

The burden of melancholy magnifies in the expectation that Christmas should be a happy time. When it isn’t, we wait for a song or grace to awaken some small gladness that, for a moment, makes us feel alive again.

Until then, we wait, like Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is a little celebrated character in the Christmas story. Wanting a child, but ever barren, she is getting old when the miracle happens. Her emptiness stirs with life, and her heart leaps in hope that her womb might yet bear life and beauty, happiness and grace into this world.

Luke’s gospel says that when a pregnant Mary, the mother of Jesus, came to visit, Elizabeth’s child leapt in her womb.

That child was John the Baptist, the forerunner of Jesus’ ministry. But first, he was the joy of new birth amid barrenness, a sign that God awakens life precisely when hearts are empty and hope seems lost.

God is bringing life, even when it seems nothing is happening. So, come, Lord Jesus, awaken life in our barren places.

For prayer & reflection

·        When have you felt empty and lifeless at Christmas … or other times? What brought you back to life and joy?
·        What is hardest and happiest for you in this season? What thoughts and memories appeared as you read today’s reflection?
·        What joy are you hungry for? Read Luke 1:24, 39-45 or the song below. What do the words awaken in you?

Another voice

Unexpected and mysterious is the gentle Word of grace Ever loving and sustaining is the peace of God’s embrace. If we falter in our courage and we doubt what we have known, God is faithful to console us as a mother tends her own.
In a momentary meeting of eternity and time, Mary learned that she would carry both the mortal and divine. Then she learned of God’s compassion, of Elizabeth’s great joy, and she ran to greet the woman who would recognize her boy.
(“Unexpected and Mysterious,” Jeannette M. Lindholm, 1977)

Monday, December 03, 2012

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Today's text

Arise, shine out, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen on you. Look! though night still covers the earth and darkness the peoples, on you the Lord is rising and over you his glory can be seen. The nations will come to your light and kings to your dawning brightness (Isaiah 60:1-3).


There were people in the streets of Naperville last night. They carried candles in the darkness. Children’s faces were wet with tears.

“It’s okay to be sad,” said a little girl into a television camera. “It’s okay to cry.”

She cried for a whole community as her neighbors mourned for two young children murdered in a mother’s knife-wielding rampage.

The girl’s face shimmered with tears, but if you looked closely and opened your heart you saw not her face but the face of God. Her tears were the sorrow of God who mourns for a broken world, for beauty cut down before full bloom, for souls that would have brightened the hearts of those they would have known and loved through the decades.

God mourns for beauty lost, for life cut down.

St. Ignatius taught a way of praying to prepare for Christmas. Look at the world around you, listen to  what is happening in the daily news, and imagine God looking down at all that happens on earth.

See the divine Trinity huddled as one, Father Son and Spirit, gazing across the face of the earth, taking in the pain and loss, the wars and grief, the wounding of souls, the destruction of creation’s beauty.

Hear what the Lord is hearing, see what he is seeing, feel what he is feeling until a passion builds in your soul that cries out, “This should not be!”

Then see him extending the divine arm to the Angel Gabriel, pointing at the Earth and mouthing a single word, “Go!”

Christmas is born in the passion of God to save the children of earth from themselves. For God surveys the glory and tragedy of all that happens here, seeing, too, a little girl’s tears on a chilly November night.

God sees, too, a little girl’s tears on a chilly November night.

Look at her face, and make no mistake: Here is the face of God. Her tears are God’s own.
Her shimmering cheeks are the light of the Lord shining in the darkness, the brilliance that shines from that other child’s face, born in Bethlehem stable.

Come, Lord Jesus. Illumine our darkness.

For prayer & reflection

  • Where do you feel the passion of God to heal and make things right?
  • What feelings, images and memories came to mind as you reflect on the meditation?
  • Where has the brightness of God’s arising appeared for you?

Another voice

God of all places; present, unseen; Voice in our silence, song in our midst. We are your presence, sent forth afraid. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
God of all people, dust and the clay. Breath of a new wind, fire in our hearts. Light born of heaven, peace on the earth. Come, Lord Jesus, come!
(“God of All People,” David Haas, 1988)

Sunday, December 02, 2012

December 3, 2012

Today's texts

So the Lord God expelled him [Adam] from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he had been taken (Genesis 3:23).

Go up on a high mountain, messenger of Zion. Shout as loud as you can, messenger of Jerusalem! Shout fearlessly, say to the towns of Judah, 'Here is your God.' Here is Lord Yahweh coming with power … . He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep (Isaiah 40-9-11).


I remember Christmas Eve when I was 15.

The stone block church on the west edge of town was festooned for Christmas. Garland hung around the walls. A giant white star with gold glitter hung high from the ceiling, lifting worshipers eyes if not also their hearts.

The star shimmered in a spotlight Pastor Maxim trained on it for the children’s program the week before. It was a high-tech special effect for our village, the highlight of the season for our church.

But a week later on Christmas Eve there was no light, no shimmering star in my heart, only darkness, the lonely hunger of a heart longing for a peace nowhere to be found.

I sat alone in the darkness of the back pew, weeping, wondering if whatever my heart needed to be happy, to feel known and understood, would ever come.

Adolescent angst, I suppose. “Growing pains, “adults might have told me had I possessed the courage or words to name what was in me. “Get over it,” I was told if I moped about. “It will pass.”

But it didn’t. It just kept going, and it still does.

There was a longing in me deeper than the lonely disorientation of being 15 and misunderstood. I felt the grip of a yearning common to human souls everywhere … and of every age.

It is the longing of exiles for home. We want to come home but don’t know the way.

A deep ache in the human heart feels its separation from the Love who made it, the Love who wants it, the Love who gives rest and peace, assuring us that we are wanted and treasured and always will be.

We live east of Eden, far from the garden of God’s constant nearness, the only true home for our restless hearts.

It is no surprise that the poetry of Isaiah, spoken to exiles long ago, tugs at our hearts and stirs longings we try to bury beneath layers of busyness. If we are lucky, those longings never leave us.

That Christmas Eve, years ago, the prophet’s words released a torrent of tears in the back pew of the old stone church: “He will feed his sheep. He will gather the lambs in his arms … and carry them in his bosom.”

That’s what I wanted then and still need now. It’s what we all need.

So, come, Lord Jesus, gather us in. Carry us in your arms. Take us to the depth of your heart where Love abides.

For prayer & reflection

• When do you want to come home but don’t know the way?

• What do Isaiah’s words stir in you? What longing or desire for this Christmas?

• What memories, joys, hopes or pains are awakened by today’s reflection?

Another voice

But your word, O God, is faithful, your arm O Lord is strong; you stand in the midst of nations and you will right the wrong. You will feed your flock like a shepherd, the lambs you’ll gently hold; in pastures of peace you’ll lead them, and bring them to your fold.

(“There’s A Voice in the Wilderness,” James Lewis Milligan, 1908)