Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Prayer for the Twelve Days of Christmas

Peter Drury:

Holy One, I pray for peace between peoples

and the wisdom of leaders.

I pray for peoples,

for countries,

and for the spirit that may unite us together.

I pray for a sense of identity

which is more profound than national, but global.

I pray for peace on earth,

good will toward all,

and a song of joy everywhere.

Help us to mend the earth, O God.

I pray for people – here and everywhere –

that we may grow in understanding,

in hope,

in prosperity,

and in faith.

Help the religions of the world not cause division,

but nurture peace.

Help me understand my place in the world.

(Silent Prayer)


Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day - December 25

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14

Marietta Tower:

One of my favorite ways to picture Jesus is on the day of his birth. As he lives his life he becomes someone I respect and strive to emulate, but not someone I can easily see myself in. On the day he is born, however, he is just like every other baby that has ever been born – a perfect blend of the human and the divine. I remember looking at each of my babies faces at the moment they were born and being struck by how tender and raw they were, so beautiful it was almost incomprehensible. The light of God seemed to radiate off of them. I remarked on the day my first child was born and I still maintain that I don’t see how anyone can not believe in God when they have witnessed a birth and gazed into the face of a newborn baby.

We need to remember that we each started out just as precious and light filled as Jesus did. We too started with an even mix of God and humanity, but the difference is that Jesus maintained this balance throughout his life while the rest of us covered up and buried that piece of God inside us under thick layers of hurt, sadness, anger, unkindness, and greed. Our job as Christians is to work to peel away some of those layers and let the light of God within us shine. We are all precious children of God, full of grace and truth; let us remove our protective shell and share that divine part of us with the world.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve - December 24

And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people . . .
Luke 2:10

Juanita Kirkland:

Christmas, truly kept, is love. A person very close to me lives by the creed, "If whatever you do is done in love, you are indeed doing the will of God."

Are you willing to forget what you have done for others, and to remember what other people have done for you . . .

To ignore what the world owes you and to think what you owe the world . . .

To see that your fellow humans are just as real as you are, and to try to look behind their faces to their hearts, hungry for joy . . .

To close your book of complaints against the management of the universe, and look around for a place where you can sow a few seeds of happiness . . .

Are you willing to do these things, even for a day?

Then you can keep Christmas!

Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and the desires of little children . . .

To remember the weakness and loneliness of people who are growing old . . .

To stop asking how much your friends love you, and ask yourself whether you love them enough . . .

To trim your lamp so that it will give more light than smoke . . .

Then you can keep Christmas!

Are you willing to believe that love is the strongest thing in the world - stronger than hate, stronger than evil, stronger than death . . . . and that the blessed life which began in Bethlehem 2000 years ago is the image and brightness of eternal love?

Then you can keep Christmas!

And if you keep it for a day, why not always? But you cannot keep it alone . . .

God of Christmas,
God of our hearts,
May we bear the Christ
to all who need Him,
and allow His birth
in us again. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Love - Wednesday, December 23

You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:19 (NSRV)

Jeremiah Oliver:

To love with an open heart is the highest command Jesus delivers. To love the stranger, to love that which is unknown, no matter the actions they have performed, no matter who they are, no matter the actions they plan to perform, is to acknowledge that the heart is more important than having clues and evidence and concrete judgements. Loving fully is an act of courage, saying: not only are you worthy of the graces light offers, but the parts of me which I do not know or am not happy with or do not appreciate, these too, are worthy of the love that transforms strangers into friends, friends into families, families into communities. Love acts through compassion—approaching people and situations from a point of view that is not singular, is not judgemental, but is open to hearing and learning. Love binds light together. Love is what creates life, the greatest miracle. Let our hearts be a channel for the love that lets us see strangers as we see ourselves.

May the earth support your heart and make it strong and whole.
May the winds blow through and leave it clear and open.
May the heat of fire fill it with passion and energy.
May the waters flow through your heart, carrying that love to others.
May the divine light illuminate all that is good for your heart, awaking that good all around you.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Love - Tuesday, December 22

Lori Hutchings:
At the age of six I spent a week in the hospital, and most of the memories are not pleasant. Everyone was kind, but things were different 50 years ago. No one wanted to explain to kids what would happen; it might scare them. The grown-ups talked in whispers a lot.

I remember calling for my mother often during the first night. She was always there. Years later she told me that the staff was displeased at her refusal to leave. My parents were charged extra for a "private room" — for the privilege of my mother’s spending the night sitting in a metal folding chair, surrounded by four little sick kids in white-painted iron-frame beds.

It was a long week, though visitors and presents arrived every day. Abdominal surgery made stomach sleeping impossible. Early one morning I was awake at 3:00 AM. My roommates had gone home; it was dark and the halls were quiet. Restless, bored, and insignificant, I leaned toward the window and looked out, resting my chin on the bedrail. There were only a few cars in the parking lot. Far below, someone was walking. Squinting, I tried to get a better look. He was wearing a white coat——a doctor. Suddenly he stopped, turned, looked up, saw me and waved. Thrilled, I waved back. He stood there a few moments, waving, then blew me a kiss and continued walking to his car. Comforted, I watched him drive around the corner and out of sight, then settled down and fell asleep wondering how that doctor could see me way up there, looking out one window in hundreds.

Psalm 36:5 Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies, and to one little girl on the 28th floor of Children’s Hospital, Washington D.C. in 1958.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Love - Monday, December 21

Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it.
Proverbs 15:17 (NRSV)

Maria Drury:

Advent: "The coming or arrival of something extremely important."

My father blessed many people with his gift of baking and cooking. For many years he used that gift in his ownership of a bakery and restaurant, but clearly the gift went beyond that. After he retired, he continued to bake and cook for others. His talent and labors touched many people, and he was very gifted at his craft.

But his gift transcended the years of training and practice that he invested in his livelihood. His special ingredient was love. It went into every twist of a pretzel and loaf of bread.

Well before Christmas, he would be preparing dough and batter for the baking that would culminate in gifts to friends and family. When he owned a bakery, it was a professional necessity. After he retired, it was a true labor of love, and no less important to him.

Baking was not my father’s first choice of a profession; it was something of an afterthought. He learned the craft of bread-baking, and taught himself pastries when learning that side of the baking trade was denied as an apprenticeship.

Learning the baking trade was his preparation for life work. The love he gave to his work and to the people who received the fruit of his love labor was spirit-filled and touched many lives.

This season is a fine time to practice the labor of love in our preparation, whether that be for gifts or as tasks, at home or office. How we do what we do touches our own lives, and ripples out to the world around us. May our doing be the gift.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Love - Sunday, December 20

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth.

When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.

And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord."

And Mary said, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."
Luke 1:39-55

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Joy - Saturday, December 19

Rejoice in the Lord always:
Again I say, Rejoice.
Let your gentleness
be known to everyone.
The Lord is near.

Philippians 4:4-5 (NSRV)

Jeremiah Oliver:
Have you ever just had a cranky day for no particular reason? And, then, sometime during the day, maybe you see a stranger smiling, or hear a loved one laughing, or see people happily bantering—and it brightens your mood, and you find yourself smiling. You then choose to put the cranky feeling aside because you do not know its reason in the first place, and share a smile with someone. Joy is contagious. Joy is a conscious decision, and a powerful one! Joy can banish anxiety and needless depression, unrest and dis-ease.

When you choose joy, you choose to be a beacon of light for anyone who may be having an unreasoned cranky day. It is a simple, curious love, suitable for all situation, fostering the attitude that finds the silver lining or gives thanks for small miracles, or makes the act of just being one of more than just contentment—it is joyful! Again I say, Rejoice! (Why do people always do it once half-heartedly before they will give in and just do it?!) Joy is contagious! Bring some to the table.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Joy - Friday, December 18

You show me the path of life.In your presence there is fullness of joy,in your right hand are pleasures evermore. Psalm 16:11 (NSRV)

Devin Kitchel:

There are times in life when we are so ready for joy that it is inevitable. A beautiful summer wedding, the birth of a child, the start of a long-overdue vacation - the list goes on… major events that bring the happiness that we anticipate. I’ve taken on the practice of noticing little things that bring joy to myself and others, for really life is made up out of so many more little events in our lives than the major ones. The following might be cliché but I refuse to let that interfere with the pleasure that they can bring! An infant’s dimples as you give them a wink and a smile, the look of happy surprise that a stranger gives you when you complement her on her colorful scarf, putting away your groceries – knowing that you’ll be well fed, the smell of nature after a cleansing rain, the warmth and comfort of a good hug, the tangy bite of a juicy tangerine, the refreshment of a clear relaxing breath. Happiness is there to be found and experienced in the everyday. The most simple of actions can bring joy and gratitude if you celebrate it. I am aiming for bliss in just being, with no action necessary. If I can revel in the moment by merely existing, then (as my dear German Teacher, Frau Clauson would say) everything else is just gravy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Joy - Thursday, December 17

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.
Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)

Maria Drury:

Rising stars, shooting stars, flickering stars… So much of our star imagery involves moving stars. The motion indicates increasing power, excitement, or perhaps awe at the distance of space. And yet here is a short little bible verse in which a star stops. The motion ceases. It sounds like equivalent of time stopping. The natural movements of the universe have suddenly shifted – or come to a complete standstill.

That sounds like a terrifying prospect. Historically, such phenomena as eclipses have struck terror into the hearts of people across cultures and eras. A star stopping is an even greater phenomenon. And yet, "they were overwhelmed with joy."

What a concept it is, to be "overwhelmed with joy." It flies in the face of stoicism. The idea of being "overwhelmed with" allows us to consider joy as a cataclysmic force – a power to change the way things are, an upheaval of the "natural state of things," yet in a direction completely opposite of the destruction that the word "cataclysm" implies.

There are many possibilities for experiencing fear in our day-to-day lives; the news reports bring us numerous examples. Occasionally, those reports will include reasons for celebration, and those are to be noticed, remembered, and lifted up.

More often, we must find our own versions of the "stopped star" and let that occasion overwhelm us with joy. These days, that might require some permission or some seeking. But really, those who first saw the star stop were seeking, weren’t they?

Let us seek within our own lives and daily experience for opportunities to be "overwhelmed with joy." It is an awesome idea.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Joy - Wednesday, December 16

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be complete.
John 15:11 (NRSV)

Juanita Kirkland:

Is your joy complete? I have considered myself a person who does not experience joy easily. Yes, there are moments of quiet joy: in the sun which softens the winter world, in the reawakening of earth and the freshness of new life bursting forth in the spring, in the sunshine and warmth of long summer days, and in the colors and "settling" of Autumn. Joy also abounds when I witness my grandchildren empathizing with a distressed friend or with me.

Joy IS all around us. It is I, who is out of tune! There is a stumbling block which nags and bruises like a pebble in my shoe. Its name is "Expectations."

My mind snares me with an image of a perfect Christmas, peopled by a perfect family. Each one of them is full of God’s grace and love. Oh, the joy we will feel! But of course the bubble bursts when reality hits. The perfect family has feet of clay, the children are exhausted, the hostess is grumpy about an over-cooked turkey and lumpy potatoes . . . . You can no doubt add to the picture.

I need to learn to let go of expectations and perfectionism, and learn to be fully present to each moment of joy, and to be thankful for each gift from God who blesses us so freely that our cup of life should overflow with pure and abundant joy.

I wish each of you that Holy gift in the Holy season. I WILL remove that rock from my shoe!

I hear laughter deeply felt and am wrapped in a blanket of joy.

I see God smile and experience a sacred moment.

How will you receive the gift of Jesus this Christmas? Will you show and feel joy and gratitude to God and share your excitement with others?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joy - Tuesday, December 15

How happy are those who hear the Word of God
and practice and obey it!

Luke 11: 28 (NSRV)

Lori Hutchings:

Have you ever had a good deed "backfire," or a situation doesn’t turn out the way you expect? Dad’s elderly cousin ate a few bites of my homemade chili, put the bowl down for the dog, and announced, "He likes it!" as Bosley gobbled the food. A friend asked me to play the piano at the Norse Home. At age 22, I felt important for giving up my Sunday afternoon. As we walked in, a resident pointed at me and said, loudly, "What makes you think you can come in here?" At a Weight Watchers support meeting, my neighbor and I didn’t feel supported. Most people there had already met their weight loss goals. One slender creature said "I’m having trouble eating enough to use all my points for the day." My neighbor whispered in my ear, "Shall we take her out and make her eat dessert after the meeting?" Oh, well.

On the other hand, have you ever been especially successful at pleasing someone? Last Christmas our nephew Chris really liked his multi-function fishing tool. My brother said "I’ve been wanting one of these," about his solar powered light and compass. Our nephew Andrew loved the buckwheat-filled travel pillow he got — just in time for the trip home to New Zealand. It feels good to "get it right." It feels even better to get it right with God; we don’t have to guess at what pleases Him.

A while ago Juanita and I were discussing after-school care of grandchildren, and she mentioned supervising homework every afternoon. "That’s the Mom’s job," I said loftily. "My dues are already paid. No more field trips, bake sales, auctions or fund-raisers, either." Possibly because of my bad attitude, a few days later God told me to volunteer in my grand-daughter’s classroom. No doubt about it, this idea was not my own. But I offered, the teacher accepted, and the time spent was so rewarding, I always left school smiling. What joy there is in the blessings that follow obedience!

Joy - Monday, December 14

. . . let the field exult, and everything in it.Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy . . .Psalm 96:12 (NSRV)

Marietta Tower:
I am blessed to live with someone who is a living embodiment of the word "joy" on a daily basis – my dog Bailey. Bailey is a twelve year old Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix who we adopted a little over four years ago. Like many dogs, Bailey would prefer to be with us twenty-four hours a day, which makes him get a little lonely when Michael and I are at work and the kids are at school. Due to this, every time we come into the house after being gone for any length of time, when we open the door there Bailey is smiling and prancing around on his paws, running from one of us to the other giving us happy little sniffles, his two inch long Cocker Spaniel tail wagging so hard his whole backside sways from side to side. You can feel the joy radiating off of him, and no matter how bad of a day I have had I can’t help but feel joyful as well.

As we get older and older it seems we refrain from showing our joy to other people, maybe out of embarrassment or maybe just because the joy gets overshadowed by our larger worries and concerns. As Bailey has shown me, however, joy is contagious, and if we could just freely express ourselves in those joyful times we will brighten the lives of those we come into contact with. Especially in these difficult economic times and short, rainy winter days, my hope is that we can each recognize those joyful moments in our day and share them with those around us with uninhibited abandon.

Joy - The Third Sunday in Advent

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.

Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7