12-25 Christmas Devotional

The Best Gift

Allison Byerly

Luke 2:8-20

 An American couple worked with orphans in Russia, sharing with them the story of Christmas. Many of the children were hearing it for the first time. After they finished, the couple gave the children a craft to make their own manger with the baby Jesus. They walked among the children, offering help and praise.

They came to one little boy named Misha. They were startled to see that there were two babies in the manger and asked him about it. Solemnly, he retold them the Christmas story, but when he got to Mary putting Jesus in the manger, he ad libbed.

“Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no momma or poppa and no place to stay. Jesus said I could stay with him, but I told him no because I have no gift for him. But I wanted to stay so much that I asked, ‘If I keep you warm, will that be a good gift?’ And he said, ‘That would be the best gift.’ So I got in the manger with him and Jesus said I could stay with him always.”

Misha reminds us that we received the best gift on Christmas – Jesus. On this Christmas Day, spend some time with Jesus who invites us to abide in his love always.

Rev. Dr. Allison Byerley is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Hawkins, TX.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-24 Advent Devotional

God’s Census

Mary Austin

Luke 2:1-7

 The story of Jesus’ birth opens with a display of the emperor’s power, but the power of God is at work in even deeper ways. God’s plans are unfolding for people who have been waiting for centuries. A ruler now long forgotten issues an order, and his plans gets Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem to be part of God’s plans. God’s power is revealed, as the unlikely heir to David’s throne is born in the city of David.

History preserves the names of kings and queens, generals and inventors, but the Bible gives us the names of everyday women and men who are part of God’s plans. Mary. Joseph. Rahab. Ruth. Daniel. Lazarus, and so many more. If God were having a census, the registering of names would be completely different.

As the Christmas story is read, we can be sure that our names are counted in God’s registry, too. We each have a place in the Christmas story. In the year that Grace was an accountant, God was born into the world again. In the year that Bob was a teacher, Juan was an engineer, Darya was elected to the state house, God chose to be born into our world again. In the year that you or I took our place in God’s plans, the time came and God was born into the world again.

Faithful God,

Behind all of our waiting,

We know that your plans are growing to fulfillment.

Use our lives, we pray,

To be part of your story of love, grace and welcome.

In the name of the Christ Child, Amen.

Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church, a diverse Presbyterian congregation in Detroit.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-23 Advent Devotional

Sometimes we have to wait

Bart Roush

Luke 1:67-80

 Toward the beginning of the Gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel comes to Zechariah to announce the birth of his son. The angel tells Zechariah that the child will be filled with the Holy Spirit and will change people’s hearts to prepare them for the coming of the Lord. Zechariah cannot believe this to be true so the angel strikes Zechariah mute for his disbelief. For months, Zechariah is unable to speak.

When the child is born, and he is to be named, Zechariah’s wife Elizabeth declares the child’s name to be John. When people questioned the name, Zechariah writing on a tablet confirms what Elizabeth has said. Having confirmed the name, Zechariah who once was struck mute is now free to declare the good news – his son will be the herald of the hoped-for Messiah. Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit and cannot help but to sing a song of praise to God.

Advent is a time of waiting and a season of already and not-yet. We are already in the reign of Christ, but we do not yet see the full reality of God’s kingdom. The light has come, but we still long for it to shine to its fullest extent.

Sometimes it is difficult to see what God has in store. Sometimes we need a period of sitting in silence until we can see the full reality of what God is doing. Sometimes we need the time before we can sing at the top of our lungs of God faithfulness, grace, and peace.

Bart Roush is pastor of Madison Square Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, TX.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-22 Advent Devotional

Leaving Tradition

Julie Holm

Luke 1:57-66

 My husband and I had a tradition, as many families do, of Christmas Stockings.  We have beautiful stockings, cross-stitched by my mother, which we filled every year with treats and gifts for each other.  On Christmas Eve we set the table for Christmas morning, stuffed stockings, for each other and our children.  My husband loved to overfill my stocking so it spilled out all over my plate and onto the table with surprises.   As the kids moved out, and our pile of stuff became more choking, this tradition began to have less meaning for us.  Last year, we decided to forego the tradition, and see how it felt.  It felt freeing.  It was time. This year we didn’t even ask.  We still hang the beautiful stockings my mother made, we simply no longer fill them.

Zechariah’s family has a tradition of naming children after family members.   But Elizabeth and Zechariah know the time has come to let this tradition go.  Something new is springing up to take the place of tradition.  God is doing a new thing in John.  The change is freeing for Zechariah, spiritually and physically, as his tongue, silent since the announcement of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, is freed and he embraces God’s new thing.

Are there traditions in your Christmas that it is time to leave behind, so that God can do a new thing in your life, and with your Christmas?  What if by leaving a tradition behind you could see Christmas through new eyes?  Would you?

Rev. Julie Holm pastors the Brush Valley Fusion of Faith in Rebersburg and Madisonburg, PA:  St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, St. Peter’s Lutheran (ELCA) and Christ United Church of Christ. She also edited this booklet.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-21 Advent Devotional

Magnificat

Lynn Bohlmann

Luke 1:46-56

 As we get another day closer to the day we celebrate Jesus’ birth, we are reminded again that we wait for God to come to us.  We wait in hope for we know that the presence of God-with-us transforms us, transforms our world.

In a world with so many hurt people, in a world that is broken, in a world that seems to elevate the powerful and proud, we sing our song of hope with Mary. We wait and we remember that the birth of Jesus is transformative in ways that we only begin to imagine.  We wait in hope.

Echoing the song of Mary as she praises God not only for being with the poor, the low, the broken but also in bringing them up, Dietrich Bonhoeffer considers the amazing hope of the birth of Christ.

“God is not ashamed of the lowliness of human beings. God marches right in. He chooses people as his instruments and performs his wonders where one would least expect them. God is near to lowliness; he loves the lost, the neglected, the unseemly, the excluded, the weak and broken.” (God in the Manger)

Much of the world is in shock at the results of the US election, wondering just what the promises of hate will amount to and wondering how, if and when God will enter the scene.

As we wait for God, in this birth story and beyond, we trust that Christ is always being born in whatever dark circumstances grip our world. We wait in hope.

Rev. Lynn Bohlmann is the Pastor of Congregational United Church of Christ in Jacksonville, IL., USA. 

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-20 Advent Devotional

Elizabeth

Susie Webster-Toleno

Luke 1:39-45

 With what wisdom did Elizabeth understand

the fire of life that approached her,

costumed as her simply country cousin?

 

What was the sacred seed of joy

that leapt within her,

and how did it come to be

planted in such an unlikely host?

 

With what insight did she recognize

that something holy,

something blessed,

had taken root?

 

I am not Jesus.

I am not Mary, vessel of such holiness.

I am not John, the leaping seed or the raging prophet.

 

May I be Elizabeth,

she who notices holiness

and calls it by name.

 Susie Webster-Toleno is an ordained UCC pastor serving a groovy little micro-congregation (Congregational Church of Westminster West, UCC) in rural southern Vermont in a half-time capacity. She is also a hospice spiritual counselor.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-19 Advent Devotional

Infertility

Julie Holm

Luke 1:4-25

 The beginning of the Gospel of Luke centers around two women.   One, Mary is young and finds herself pregnant with Jesus.  The other is Elizabeth.   Elizabeth is barren, but finds herself pregnant with John the Baptist.

In biblical times being barren was a great hardship.  Sarah, Hannah, and a host of other women struggle with infertility.   These women were non-persons in a society and they suffered deeply for it.

Women still suffer from infertility.  The promise of expensive fertility treatment does not always succeed.   Mothers suffer, too.   Those with prodigal children, with handicapped children, who bear children who die, during pregnancy or during life, bear deep sorrows.

Luke, and other bible writers, identify God as the solution to this.  But the miraculous births in scripture might have a bitter taste those dealing with these sorrows.  The scandal of a God who lets children die befuddles many a theologian.  Christmas is bitter to those dealing with such deep loss.

But through this darkness some have found a relationship with God in the darkness.   Some have found a God who walks with them through their bitterness and sorrow.  Let us remember and have compassion on those who suffer at Christmas – for whatever reason.   Let us reach out a hand, not to explain – we can’t – but to journey through the dark with them.  At Christmas and always.

Rev. Julie Holm pastors the Brush Valley Fusion of Faith in Rebersburg and Madisonburg, PA:  St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, St. Peter’s Lutheran (ELCA) and Christ United Church of Christ. She also edited this booklet.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-18 Advent Devotional

How Can This Be?

Jo Mead

Luke 1:26-29

“How can this be?” she asked. This may be a question you are asking this season of waiting and wondering. How can I set one less plate at the holiday table? How can it be that the years are adding up on my driver’s license?  How can it be that I have pushed away the ones I need the most? How can I hope that something might work out? How can this be?

Even in the dark days of winter we stand in the hope of Light coming into the world. An angel appears with a message beyond any of our wildest dreams. How can this be?   One of the mysteries of faith is hearing the voice calling you to your purpose in life. It may come from a friend, a stranger or simply the awareness of knowing.  You may argue or discount the call but it continues to seek you.

How can this be that God is breaking into our lives? These lives that are complicated with depression, heartache, grief and disrespect. These lives that are broken and need healing. How can this be? Because God’s love will continue to break into our lives, sent by unexpected messengers, calling us forward to living into the kingdom here and now with hope, love, joy and peace. This can be.

Reverend Jo Mead is a native Kansan. She serves University United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-17 Advent Devotional

Light for the journey

Jessica McCrae

Zephaniah 3:14-20

 “There is a crack, a crack, in everything …

that’s how the light gets in …”

No matter where you are in the world, I think it is fair to say we’ve all been through a lot this year – 2016 has been challenging.  We have witnessed war, the desperation of refugees fleeing, terrorism, missile test launches, the American election campaign, and the Brexit vote. We are bombarded with fear, signs of division and far too much anger.  So, it wouldn’t be surprising if we feel we are journeying through this advent with a few aches and pains, and a whole lot of yearning.

How wonderful then, to encounter Zephaniah today!  His song of joy today feels like a balm to our tired and bruised hearts, describing a time when disaster will be removed, shame will be transformed to praise and joy will be our song.

Imagine!

A life without fear.

Despite how broken the world may seem, this vision God has is breaking into the darkness, the light is getting in, preparing to be born into our world.  Let’s reflect it when we find it, and help guide each other home.

Rev. Jessica McCrae is with the United Church of Canada and the minister of Humbercrest United Church in Toronto, Ontario.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-16 Advent Devotional

Zephaniah ben Cushi

Julie Holm

Zephaniah 3:9-13

 I am a white woman.  Therefore it is unusual that I went to Howard University for Seminary.  The flagship historically black university, Howard has been called the “Black Harvard.”   And, yes, I was the only white person in most of my classes.  I learned to see Jesus, a marginalized child born in the poverty of a manger, as black.

Zephaniah’s heritage, noted at the beginning of his prophecies tells us he is from Ethiopia, in Africa.  With a first name that means “YHWH protects,” Zephaniah diversifies the Hebrew prophets in his own body, through his parentage.

Zephaniah’s message diversifies the scriptures.   Sitting at the end of a series of eight oracles, calling the nations to task nation, this oracle brings it together.   From the edges of the earth, in Africa, God’s people will come, giving offering.  Not just the Israelites.   Everyone. Like Isaiah’s, Zephaniah’s God is a “light to the nations.”

It is far too easy to understand God coming in terms of ourselves and our own culture. This prophet reminds us, in stark terms, that God’s love, God’s message, and God’s grace are for all of us.  And God comes to and is with all of us.

Yes, to see God clearly, we need to see that the people of God are of all sorts.  If we only see God in those like ourselves, we will miss the divine presence.    Yes, one of the prophets was African.  And sometimes white folks like me need to see the babe in manger as black.

Rev. Julie Holm pastors the Brush Valley Fusion of Faith in Rebersburg and Madisonburg, PA:  St. Peter’s United Church of Christ, St. Peter’s Lutheran (ELCA) and Christ United Church of Christ. She also edited this booklet.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.