Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year B

Inspired by 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

“I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’” 2 Samuel 7:6-7 (NRSV)

We are human beings, and as such we think as human beings. God, however, is not a human being, though we frequently project our own desires and preferences onto him, as though they were his own.

David recognized that this period of rest from his enemies, and the fact that he was settled in a comfortable home, were blessings from God, and he believed that God should be blessed the same way. So he endeavored to build a house for the ark of the Lord, assuming that God would enjoy the same comfort.

God has his own priorities, and they involve the well-being of his people. He had no interest in the roof and four walls David envisioned for him, even as he knew that such comforts and symbols of security were essential to his people. Rather, he desired to be present among his people, with them in their daily lives, just as he does now. The things we treasure—comfort, security, wealth—are not what God desires from us. He would rather receive our love, our devotion, and our acknowledgment of his presence in our lives.

Let us pray. Transcendent God, your ways are not our ways. Help us to give to you that which you desire, that we may recognize all we enjoy as signs of your gracious love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 4, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by John 7:40-52

“When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’” John 7:40-42 (NRSV)

The devil is in the details. Jesus’ words and actions identified him as the long-awaited Messiah, yet there were some who were ready to dismiss Jesus on the grounds that—as they understood scripture—he had been born in the wrong place. The geographical location where Jesus’ mother happened to be when she gave birth was a more important indicator of the Messiah than Jesus’ own words and actions.

It may seem silly to us, but in many ways we make some of the same arbitrary claims regarding how God can and cannot work in the world. We have our own favorite litmus tests we use to determine who is a ‘true’ Christian and who is not. Perhaps it’s a specific interpretation of how scripture addresses a social issue that didn’t exist in biblical times. Perhaps it’s a particular moral code and how strictly one adheres to it. Perhaps it’s a style of worship or piety, or the display of certain gifts of the Spirit. Whatever it is, we elevate that particular detail to an importance that outweighs all other evidence of how God might be working in this person or in this situation, and we allow ourselves to be blinded to God’s truth by our devotion to our own limited understanding.

God does not fit neatly into the boxes we create for him, and he does not follow the rules we set for him. And praise God for that, for if he did, then all of us would be denied his grace, because someone else would believe we hadn’t earned it. Instead, God gives his grace freely and generously, more freely and more generously than we may be comfortable with, but it’s his to give, not ours, and because of that, we are able to receive it despite our own limited sight and understanding.

Let us pray. God of grace, you have given us the ability to think and to understand much of the world around us. Help us to recognize the limits of our own wisdom and understanding, that we may use such gifts not to judge others, but to serve you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 4, Friday, Year B

Inspired by 2 Samuel 6:12-19

“When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.” 2 Samuel 6:18-19 (NRSV)

It is standard practice in many churches to dismiss the congregation with a command along the lines of, “Go in peace, serve the Lord!” The congregation responds by saying, “Thanks be to God!” and then everyone gets up and goes about their day and the rest of the week. But how do we serve the Lord once we leave our weekly worship service? How are we supposed to serve the Lord?

The chronology of events in this reading from 2 Samuel is interesting. First David worships, then he goes out and blesses everyone else in the name of the Lord, and then he shares the richness of his own material blessings (good food) with them. He does not do these things in order to earn favor with God, but rather as a response to worshiping God. As David ‘went in peace and served the Lord’ he did so by proclaiming God’s love to those he saw when he left the worship space, and sharing with them his own possessions.

While we may not have the riches of King David, we still are capable of responding in the same way. Many people who don’t attend worship still need to hear that God’s blessings are upon them. Most of us, if we’re being honest, will acknowledge that we have more material possessions than we strictly need, and are able to share some of those blessings with others. Being able to worship the Lord of hosts is such a blessing to us; as we leave the worship space, let us truly go in peace, and serve the Lord.

Let us pray. Lord of hosts, you have blessed us not only with your presence among us, but with your grace and with material possessions. Refresh us in worship, that we may be so filled with your love that we can’t help but proclaim your good news and share all the good things you have given us. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 4, Thursday, Year B

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.” Hebrews 1:1-2 (NRSV)

Change is a part of life. People change, cultures change, expectations change, even language changes. Sometimes it seems as though the only thing you can count on is that everything will change, and finding your way through this tumultuous world can be very difficult.

But one thing that doesn’t change is God’s love for us. As the world changes, God finds new ways to communicate that love to us. First God created the world through the Son whom he loves. Then he spoke to his people through the prophets. Then he sent his Son into the world to speak to us directly. And now we are the body of Christ, a living, breathing, dynamic body of love that can adapt to our current environment and continue to proclaim the never-changing love of God to an ever-changing world.

Let us pray. Lord God, you are the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Help us to be the body of Christ in the world, that we may be your voice and proclaim your love and grace to all your creation. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 3, Wednesday, Year B

Inspired by Mark 9:9-13

“As they were coming down the mountain, [Jesus] ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.” Mark 9:9-10 (NRSV)

The historical figure of Jesus was many things to many people: a teacher, a healer, a miracle worker, a friend. Looking at his actions and his words, we can learn much, as his disciples did. But if we look only at his actions and words, we miss the most important aspect of Jesus—that which gave all he said and did power that endures even today.

There have been many people who have done great things, but none of them brought salvation. The historical figure of Jesus was God incarnate, God made flesh. Jesus was the Great I AM, living as a mere human being, telling us what he wanted us to know, demonstrating for us how we can help make life more bearable for our fellow human beings, and then taking the penalty for our sins upon himself. God incarnate died for our sins, and then defeated death, not only for himself, but for all of us. There are many other wise teachers and moral leaders, but none of them accomplished that.

Jesus Christ is no mere example to follow; he is the one who brings salvation. And because he has conquered death, the actions and the words from his life continue to hold true today, because his life itself continues today.

Let us pray. Savior God, you became truly human. Help us to reflect on your earthly life, that we may better understand how you have given us eternal life. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 3, Tuesday, Year B

Inspired by Acts 3:17-4:4

“Repent, therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah appointed for you, that is, Jesus, who must remain in heaven until the time of universal restoration that God announced long ago through his holy prophets.” Acts 3:19-21 (NRSV)

In Dickens’ classic work, A Christmas Carol, the spirit of the late Jacob Marley is depicted as being weighted down by chains of his own forging, and he tells Scrooge that he’s also been forging the chains of his own entrapment by the choices he’s made in his life. The idea of being literally burdened under the weight of our own choices is a poignantly accurate image of what it means to live without God.

But, like Scrooge, we have a chance to free ourselves from the burden of our sins. And we don’t have to have a frightening night spent with ghosts to do it, either. All we need to do is let go of our chains and turn to God. God our Father will help us unfetter ourselves from the dark, heavy burden of our sinfulness, and refresh us with the lightness and the purity of his love. Even as we continue to live in this world, groaning as it waits for redemption, we will be free from the bondage of sin, and embraced by his grace through the love of his Son Jesus Christ.

Let us pray. God of the ages, you have given us a way to be free from our self-made chains of bondage. Help us to turn to your grace, that we may not only stop forging the chains of our own enslavement, but may shed the chains we’ve already created. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 3, Monday, Year B

Inspired by Ephesians 6:10-17

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:10-11, 13 (NRSV)

Some branches of Christianity emphasize spiritual warfare, and present the Christian life as a battle that is constantly being fought against the devil and all the forces of evil. There is a great deal of talk about ‘attacks’ on the devil and ‘beating him down,’ all for the ‘glory of the Lord.’

God doesn’t need us to fight his battles. This passage from Ephesians, while frequently cited as support for Christians fighting spiritual warfare, is much more defensive than offensive. It acknowledges the presence of evil, its reality in Christians’ lives, and gives instruction on how to stand firm in the face of it. The strength and the power belong to God alone, and it is the armor of God that protects us. That armor is almost entirely defensive: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, shoes that will help us to proclaim the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation. A weapon—the sword of the Spirit—is listed last, and then identified as the word of God.

There is evil in the world, but we are not called to fight it on God’s behalf. Rather, God has promised to protect us from being overcome by it, and has shown us the tools he has given us to help us stand firm, dressed from head to toe in his love and grace.

Let us pray. God of our strength, you shelter us from the storms of evil and destruction. Strengthen us in your love, that we may stand firm against whatever evils or temptations may try to draw us from you. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Third Sunday in Advent, Year B

Inspired by Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

“The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the LORD’S favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.” Isaiah 61:1-2 (NRSV)

Anyone who has watched medical dramas on TV are familiar with the scene: the doctor comes out of the operating room to talk to the family. They are edgy, worried, and don’t know if they want to hear what the doctor has to say. Depending on his report, they might scream at him in anger and blame him for the death of their loved one, or they might dissolve into tears of gratitude and hug him as though he himself were their loved one returned to them.

We all want to receive good news. Especially in these trying times, we want someone to tell us that it’s going to get better, that there is hope, that the greed and the selfishness of the world isn’t the final word. What those of us with faith sometimes fail to realize is that we have heard that good news, but we aren’t sharing it with others who need to hear it. In this passage from Isaiah, we’re so busy identifying with the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, the prisoners, and those who mourn that we forget that we are also the messengers. We’ve received the good news, and it’s just too good to keep to ourselves, especially when there are so many others who desperately need to hear it. The year of the Lord’s favor is already upon us; how can we not spread the word?

Let us pray. God our Comforter, you have sent your Son into the world to be the good news to all. Help us to share that good news, that all may be comforted by your grace and love. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 3, Saturday, Year B

Inspired by Habakkuk 3:13-19

“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails, and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold, and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will exult in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.” Habakkuk 3:17-19a (NRSV)

God is with you. So what? When everything seems to be going wrong in life, when nothing seems to be working out or going your way, what good is having God with you? It doesn’t seem as though faith in God protects people from starvation, natural disasters, or violence, so what’s the point in having faith in a God who doesn’t seem to do anything useful?

Yet there are people who seem to have lost everything, and still have a quiet dignity and unshakable spirit about them. They acknowledge their pain, the tragedy that has befallen them, and they acknowledge just how difficult and uncertain the road ahead is. Yet they are hopeful and determined. They will not be beaten by the ills of this world, and they recognize the small blessings that still exist in their lives. Without exception, those people have faith in God. Their serenity in the face of chaos gives those around them the courage and the strength to move forward, and not give up, and then healing and rebuilding takes the place of disaster and tragedy. Creation is renewed.

It’s always nice when things go well, but our God is a God who enables us to stand strong in the face of misfortune and sin, and whose creative and redeeming power cannot be diminished by those things which seek to destroy. Our God is a God who not only walks with us in the good times, but who carries us and revives us in the bad.

Let us pray. Faithful God, you are with us in good times and in bad. Strengthen our faith in you, that we can be blessed ourselves and be a blessing to others, and thus be part of your redemptive healing in the world. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

Advent 3, Friday, Year B

Inspired by Philippians 3:12-16

“[F]orgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13b-14 (NRSV)

It is common, comforting, and completely true and appropriate to remember that whatever shortcomings or sins we have in our past are not counted against us when it comes to receiving God’s grace. It is less common, less comforting, yet also completely true and appropriate to remember that whatever achievements or good deeds we have in our past are not counted for us when it comes to receiving God’s grace.

It’s not that God doesn’t want us to be good people or do good things, but such deeds are not the basis for receiving the free gift of grace that is offered to us through his death and resurrection. Christ’s love alone is the basis for that gift.

Strive to live in right relationship with God, but do so knowing that such living is itself a gift from God, and not something you can do that will make God owe you his grace. We have new life in Christ; we are not owned or defined by our past failures or our past successes. We can only ever look forward, to the ever renewing call of God in Christ Jesus.

Let us pray. Savior God, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Help us to trust in your grace, that we may view our own good deeds as evidence of your love, and not payment for it. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.