December 31, Year A

Inspired by 1 Kings 3:5-14

“And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.” 1 Kings 3:7 (NRSV)

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations we’re simply not prepared for.  We have authority greater than we’ve ever had before; we have responsibilities beyond what we’ve ever imagined.  Even if it’s something we’ve worked and striven for, we’re struck with fear once we’re there.  We feel inadequate to the task, perhaps like a child suddenly mistaken for a grown-up.

But we need not meet our responsibilities alone.  God is Lord of all, and his wisdom applies to all situations.  He knows our talents, he knows our weaknesses, and he can guide us in all our ways.  Indeed, even when we feel confident about the task at hand, it’s better to appeal to God’s wisdom than to rely on our own cleverness.  When we trust in ourselves alone we may fail to recognize our own limits and make decisions based on our own desires rather than reality.  But if we humble ourselves and seek the will of God we’re better able to see truth and respond accordingly.  We’re more likely to recognize those we’re responsible for as beloved and valuable in their own right, rather than mere tools for our task.

Whatever authority we may have, all authority comes from God.  Seek his counsel and follow his ways, and you’ll be able to accomplish all you are called to do.

Let us pray.  Lord of all, you are the ultimate authority in the universe.  Let us seek you for direction, that our leadership will reflect your wisdom and grace.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 30, Year A

Inspired by 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“So we do not lose heart.  Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.”  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (NRSV)

Life isn’t easy.  Regardless of your religious faith, you will face pain, disappointment, loss, and sorrow at different times in your life.  Some take comfort in believing that God causes suffering for a good purpose known to him but hidden from us.  Others believe they know the reason God is afflicting them: he’s testing their faith and preparing them to be worthy for heaven.  Both approaches assume that the reward will come later, and all we have to do now is endure.

While this can help some to get through difficult times, it disregards the goodness and value of the world we live in.  Yes there is suffering and cruelty in this world, but there is also creativity and kindness.  Much of our suffering is, at its root, caused by the worship and pursuit of material things, not divine design, and all of these things are temporary.  But things like kindness, generosity, and mercy have effects that benefit us now and endure through eternity.  In this way we are being renewed in this life even as we prepare for eternal glory.  That glory is not a reward for how stoically we endure our suffering now, but a continuation of the grace of God that is, and that was, and that is to come.

Our lives are made up of a complicated web of the seen and the unseen.  Some of those things are temporary, and need not define us.  But whatever is good can lift us up today, and we can trust that it will last beyond the confines of this world.

Let us pray.  Eternal God, your eternal glory fills both heaven and earth.  Help us to recognize your presence in the midst of our difficult times, that we may be comforted and renewed in our spirits now, even as we look ahead to your future.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

First Sunday of Christmas, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 63:7-9

“I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, because of all that the Lord has done for us, and the great favor to the house of Israel that he has shown them according to his mercy, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”  Isaiah 63:7 (NRSV)

We have so many blessings in our lives it’s easy to take them for granted and fail to recognize how much God has done for us.  But when we actually take the time to account for his deeds, we begin to realize just how gracious he’s been to us.

Make a list.  Put everything on it that you’re grateful for.  It may be difficult at first; start small and simple.  Do you have a home to protect you from the elements?  Put that down.  Is there anything in your home that brings you comfort, like a favorite chair or a collection of books?  Those count.  How about family or friends who provide you companionship and support?  Each one is an individual blessing.

As you begin to write your list, you’ll find it’s easier and easier to come up with more items to put on it.  You’ll be surprised by just how much you have to be thankful for.  Recognize that each of those items is a blessing from God, and praise him for his mercy.  Then look at how many people you’ve listed, and go out and share his abundance with others.  Perhaps you’ll end up on someone else’s list, grateful that God put you in their lives.

Let us pray.  Praiseworthy God, you have blessed us out of the abundance of your steadfast love.  Inspire us to share your blessings with others, that all may be aware of your generosity and care.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 28, Year A

Inspired by Isaiah 49:13-23

“But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.’  Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.  See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”  Isaiah 49:14-16 (NRSV)

Much is made—with good reason—about the bond between a mother and her child.  From the moment she discovers she is carrying to the moment when that child is laid at her breast for its first meal outside her body, many women feel an indescribable closeness and love.  That closeness is celebrated and idealized in cultures across the world and across the ages.

And for many women, that closeness is their lived reality.  But for some, it isn’t.  This ideal, almost sacred experience fails to touch them the way it touches others.  Perhaps it touches them less; perhaps it doesn’t touch them at all.  For whatever reason, this most celebrated relationship means little to them.

For all that God feels toward us the idealized version of a mother to her child, God also recognizes that this image has problems.  And he assures us that even though some women fall short of the ideal, his love for us will never fail.  Not only has he nurtured and sustained us, he has etched us on his very being.  Wherever we are, whatever we have done, whatever we are facing, we can be assured of God’s continued care and sustenance.

Let us pray.  Nurturing God, you created us out of your love and tenderly care for us.  Assure us of your faithfulness, that we may be comforted by the depths of your love.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 27, Year A

Inspired by 1 John 5:1-12

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.”  1 John 5:1-2 (NRSV)

As we practice our lives of devotion, we try to focus on pleasing God with our prayers, worship, and piety.  We want to show him that he’s our everything, that we’re willing to disregard other things in our life in order to keep him as our highest priority.

But sometimes when we turn ourselves so fully towards God, we also turn our backs on those around us.  We neglect our families and ignore the material needs of others, all so we can spend more time praising and worshiping God.  Or we sit in judgment over others, substituting our own authority for God’s, believing we’re doing his work.

God didn’t call us to judge our brothers and sisters in Christ, and he certainly didn’t call us to ignore them.  If we claim to love God, then by definition we must love his children.  If we claim to love God, then we show that love not with our private prayers or personal piety, but by caring for those whom God loves.  If we love God, then our lives of devotion are spent obeying his commandments to care for the sick and suffering and to help the needy.

If we can’t find it in our hearts to love God’s children, then we must question how much we really love the God who adopted them and who sent his only Son to die for them.

Let us pray.  God of love, you have adopted us as your children and made us heirs to your kingdom.  Help us to respond to these gifts by loving your people, that we may show your love through our actions.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 26, Year A

Inspired by Acts 7:59-8:8

“That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria…Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word.”  Acts 8:1b, 4 (NRSV)

Sometimes something terrible happens that completely disrupts our lives.  We’re forced to learn a new environment, new routines, or new people.  Whatever is comfortable and familiar is either gone completely or changed beyond recognition, and we’re left wondering how to move forward, when all we want to do is go back.

Such times are indeed painful and confusing, but they need not be tragic.  In fact, they could be the beginning of a new stage in your life, full of opportunities you’d never even dreamed of.

Those who heard the apostles in Jerusalem and came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah enjoyed what may have been the golden age of the early church.  All the believers worked together in harmony, sharing all their possessions with one another so no one had need of any kind.  They were comfortable and secure in their new faith.

And then Stephen was killed and the persecution began in earnest.  Those who had been comfortable and secure in their new faith were forced to flee their homes because of it, and scatter to the surrounding countryside with no plan beyond escaping Jerusalem with their lives.

Yet once in the countryside they recognized an opportunity.  Their lives had been so changed by hearing the gospel, and now they were among people who hadn’t yet heard it.  Rather than hunker down and lick their wounds, these people began to spread the gospel beyond what the persecutors could extinguish.  Word of Christ’s salvation spread far and wide, and endured well beyond those who sought to stifle it.

What began as a tragic death became a widespread proclamation of eternal life, because those who were forced into a new situation were able to recognize an opportunity in the midst of their confusion and loss.

Let us pray.  Lord of the unexpected, you are able to turn darkness into light, and loss into gain.  Open our eyes to the many opportunities around us, that we may seek to serve you no matter how our situations change.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Day, Year A

Inspired by Hebrews 1:1-4

“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.  He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.”  Hebrews 1:1-3a (NRSV)

Jesus came to testify to what he had seen, but what was it that he had seen?

Jesus was the son of Mary, a human being just like us, with skin, hair, emotions, desires, and fears.  He was fully human in appearance and experience.

But he was also the Christ, the Son of God, who had been with God since the very beginning of all things.  When God the Father created the world he did so through the Son and in the Spirit.  When the man Jesus testified to what he had seen, he was speaking as the Son, because Jesus was fully human and fully God.  And as God, Jesus reflected God’s glory and brought God’s very being down to earth, in a form that we could comprehend and relate to.

Jesus told us of God’s unending love for all humanity, and he knew the truth of that love, because it was his own love.  When Jesus was crucified, he placed eternal divinity in the place of sinful humanity, and defeated the power of death forever.  God in Christ was at the beginning of all things, God in Christ will be there at the end of all things, and God in Christ is with us in the midst of all things.

Let us pray.  Incarnate God, you chose to take on our flesh and live as one of us.  Open our hearts to your truth, that we may recognize your divine presence in the midst of our ordinary lives.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Nativity of Our Lord, Christmas Eve, Year A

Inspired by Titus 2:11-14

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly.”  Titus 2:11-12 (NRSV)

Piety.  Worldly.  Self-control.  Upright.  Godly.  These words are thrown about by Christians trying to live according to their faith.  In their fervent desire to live lives worthy of the gospel, they strive to be pious, self-controlled, upright, and godly, while trying to avoid impiety and worldly passions.  Unfortunately, there is no universal agreement on what any of these words mean in relation to gospel living.

Instead we make our best guesses at what they mean, and then try to compel others to live according to our definitions.  The result is legalism, division, accusation, and condemnation, none of which reflect the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Rather than focus on the details of our response, why not focus on what it is we’re responding to?  The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.  God has already brought his grace and salvation to everyone—not because of our pious behavior, but in order to inspire it.  And how are we to respond to that grace?  By remembering that Jesus gave himself for us that he might redeem us, and following that example.  We’re not called to compel others to behave according to our definitions; we’re called to give ourselves for others.  How we do that is dependent upon our individual gifts and circumstances, and no single definition can cover all eventualities.  Only grace can do that, and grace is what we’ve received from God and what we’re called to proclaim.

Let us pray.  God of grace, you saved us not because we deserved it, but because you love us.  Enable us to proclaim your grace with our words and actions, that all may come to know your salvation.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

December 23, Year A

Inspired by Galatians 3:6-14

“Just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ so, you see, those who believe are the descendants of Abraham.”  Galatians 3:6-7 (NRSV)

God made his covenant with Abraham and with all of Abraham’s descendents.  The generous promises of God were limited to Abraham’s family.  But God never intended for his grace to be limited by something as arbitrary as genealogy, and God opened the door for anyone—regardless of birth—to be counted among Abraham’s descendents.

Thousands of years later, people with no genetic tie to Abraham whatsoever can claim the blessings of the Abrahamic line.  People who don’t know their family of origins or who are limited by their family’s circumstances are free to connect themselves to this family history.  People who are proud of their family’s accomplishments can recognize that there’s more to life that their own privilege, and choose to be a part of something greater than themselves.

Abraham was chosen by God not because he was a great man, but because he believed God’s promises.  We who believe God’s promises today are also chosen, and can count ourselves blessed along with Abraham and his many descendents.

Let us pray.  Generous God, you have blessed all the peoples of the earth through your servant Abraham.  Inspire us to claim that narrative as our own, that we may participate in those blessings and continue to bless others through the goodness of your promise.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year A

Inspired by Matthew 1:18-25

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way.  When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.  Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.”  Matthew 1:18-19 (NRSV)

By all accounts, Joseph was a good man.  Luke describes him as righteous, and in Matthew and Luke’s telling of the Christmas story he is always depicted as being gentle and caring towards his young wife.

Yet despite his righteousness and faithfulness, he still experienced hurt.  He was engaged to Mary, an arrangement that expected and assumed sexual faithfulness.  Yet before they were married his bride-to-be was discovered to be pregnant.  Surely Joseph felt deep hurt and betrayal.  According to the social customs of the time, Joseph was entitled to publicly disgrace her for her sin.  The laws of Moses even allowed him to demand her public execution.  Yet in the midst of his hurt and betrayal, Joseph was still merciful.  Marrying her was out of the question, certainly, but he would not humiliate and disgrace her.  He would simply let her go peacefully her own way.

Joseph is often celebrated for how he responded to learning the truth about Mary’s pregnancy.  He chose to join with her in raising this strange son who wasn’t even his own flesh and blood, and that indeed is worth celebrating.  However Joseph should also be celebrated for how he responded before learning the truth.  He didn’t let his feelings of hurt and betrayal lead him to seek Mary’s humiliation or destruction, even though the law and culture of his time expected such a response.  In the midst of his pain, he chose to be merciful.  God didn’t just choose Mary to be Christ’s mother; he wanted this man to act as his earthly father.

Let us pray.  God of mercy, you desire your people to be merciful.  Help us to follow Joseph’s example when we experience betrayal and disappointment, that we may end the vicious cycles of violence and retribution.  Through Christ our Lord, Amen.