December 22, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 96

“For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” Psalm 96:4-6 (NRSV)

There is so much vying for our attention. We have relationships with families and friends. We need to make a living to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. Then there’s the never-ending bombardment of social media and entertainment. Some of these things are very important. All of them have a place in our lives. And all of them try to claim the position of utmost importance. Any or all of them can become an idol.

Is there a good book or movie that would temporarily distract you from your daily stress? Then enjoy it! But don’t allow pursuit of those temporary enjoyments to distract you from the life God has blessed you with. Do you use social media to keep up with old friends or distant family? What a wonderful use of that tool! Don’t become absorbed with how many friends or followers you have, or cease to live your life because you’re too busy reporting it. Are you working to earn a living? Great way to provide for yourself while making profitable use of your gifts! Don’t allow your profession to determine your identity, or your paycheck to determine your value. Are you raising children or nurturing your spouse and close friends? What a blessing you are to them and they to you! Don’t lose yourself in the needs and wants of others at the expense of your own well-being, or base your own worth on the happiness of others.

All the good things we have in our lives are blessings from God, yet we must beware of worshiping the blessings instead of worshiping the one who blessed us. There is only one God, and he is to be praised for all that we have, and he is to be revered above all those good things which he has seen fit to give us.

Let us pray. Lord of all, marvelous are your works. Keep us focused on your majesty and grace, that we may appreciate the blessings you’ve given us as gifts from you rather than idols to be worshiped. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

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.