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.

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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.

12-15 Advent Devotional

. . . and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s

Julie King

Obadiah 1:17-21

Amos 9:11-15

There are different ways to think about what is just and right in the world. For centuries, God’s people lived by the “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” system of Leviticus. Whatever one inflicted upon another, one must endure in punishment.

But the prophet Obadiah brings a different message, not to Israel but to Edom. The Edomites were terribly cruel to the people of Israel when the Babylonians took them into exile. They didn’t just look on and laugh—they also looted the homes and cities and turned refugees over to Babylon to be enslaved or killed. They heaped great misery upon Israelites already overwhelmed with sorrow.

Obadiah’s message to Esau was a warning that the people of Israel hadn’t forgotten what the Edomites had done. They would be back to take over Edom and rule over them. Such a message must have caused some anxiety as the people considered what Israel might do to them in retaliation.

But the last verse in this short book describes how Israel was to rule over the Edomites. “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” The kingdom of God’s people shall be marked by justice, fairness, mercy. As Eugene Peterson puts it: “a rule that honors God’s kingdom.”

As God’s people, we are called to live by a different standard.  We’re part of a new kingdom, not ruled by human leaders or driven by nationalistic agendas. We seek not to dominate but to serve, not to conquer but to care, not power but purpose. We seek not our own glory but justice for those who need it, not to strike out at those who strike us but to turn the other cheek instead.

This is what we wait for in this Advent season, but it’s also what we’re called to strive and work for. This kingdom of justice and fairness and mercy, established by Christ, is in our hands. If “an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” as Ghandi said, then in God’s kingdom, may all who are part of it see and hear and experience true justice and true peace.

Julie King is the pastor of Macon Presbyterian Church and First Presbyterian Church, Brookfield  (PCUSA) in northern Missouri.

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

12-14 Advent Devotional

Isaiah’s Vision

Chris Deacon

Isaiah 11:1-9

 Sandy Hook.  Iraq.  Pulse.  Syria.  Mother Emanuel.   Afghanistan.  We don’t have to look far to see violence in the world.  We see needless killing both in our own communities and abroad.   The world can be a very scary place.  Isaiah was living in a scary place too.  King Uzziah had died, leaving uncertainty and the Assyrian Empire was expanding beyond Judah’s borders.

It is no wonder that Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah was one who would bring peace.  It is a message we can’t hear enough of today.  Isaiah gives a litany of natural enemies not only coexisting, but cohabitating.  The wolf and the lamb live together, the leopard lying down with the baby goat, and the calf and the lion together. The cow and bear lie down together while the lion eats straw like an ox.  What beautiful imagery!  Natural enemies living together in harmony.

As we celebrate advent, we wait for the time when Christ will come again.  We wait for the time when Isaiah’s vision will come to be.  We wait and pray for a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb, when violence will cease, when God’s peace will rule.  As we wait, we should remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,” and ask ourselves who are our enemies?  What are we doing to make peace with them?

Rev. Chris Deacon is a pastor in the PC(USA). He is currently serving the United Parish of Bowie in Bowie, Md, outside of Washington D.C.

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