Wednesday, January 20th
Luke 18: 15-17
The Little Children and Jesus
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”
I can't read these words without thinking of my two school age sons who many of you have watched grow up over the years. My faith has developed and matured as I have watched my sons' experience their own growing faith. Sometimes Jesus' teachings come out in ways in our home that make me smile. I remember one occasion where one boy was yelling at the other after some infraction, and I heard "THAT IS NOT NICE! JESUS SAID TO TREAT PEOPLE HOW YOU WANT TO BE TREATED!" Jesus probably wouldn't have shouted it, but the sentiment was there and children get it.
Luke mentions receiving the kingdom of God like a child. We need to remember what our faith was like as children. It was straightforward and simple. Children can remind us of basic important truths that we can forget as adults. For example: do not lie, love your neighbor, every morning is a gift etc. As I observe a trend of general selfishness in our society, I am reminded of the necessity to remember to have the eyes of a child. After all, we are all children of God.
Let us pray:
Help us to trust you and seek out the simplicity of childlike faith as children of God. Amen.
Wednesday, January 13th
based on Isaiah 41:17-20
17 When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
19 I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 so that all may see and know,
all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.
It is good to remember that God provides for us. Even before we pray for help, God knows what we need. God knows what we need better than we do at times, most of the time. With so much struggle in the world, we don't always see how God is providing for us. In this passage, the struggles of the Israelites are being heard. As Isaiah prophesied their return to Jerusalem, it involves a long desert journey. But they are assured that God will provide and answer their needs. A little thing like a tree in a desert to provide shade and refuge from the sun, which easily could be overlooked, was a form of God providing for them. This is still true today, when we are struggling. Whether we are struggling as an individual, a family, a community, a country or the world. God hears and answers our prayers. God provides us with our needs, often through the actions of those around us. Like a tree in the desert, most of what God provides is easily overlooked. If we open our eyes to it, we will find we see the work of God providing for us in the words and actions of those around us.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, Many people are hurting and in need of your care. Our communities and our country are hurting and in need of your care. Be with us and all who cry out for your help. We ask that you comfort those in need, strengthen and guide our leaders and that you open our eyes to your constant presence in our lives. Use our words and our actions to help and love our neighbors, now and always. Amen.
Wednesday, January 6th
The voice of the Lord is upon the waters. (Ps. 29:3)
1Ascribe to the Lord, you gods,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2Ascribe to the Lord the glory due God’s name;
worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders;
the Lord is upon the mighty waters.
4The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice;
the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor.
11O Lord, give strength to your people;
give them, O Lord, the blessings of peace.
In these trying times the psalm assigned for Sunday, January 10, the Baptism of Our Lord, reminds us that God has the power and strength to overcome adversity. We can rely on that power and strength which is given to us by the Holy Spirit. Although Jesus did not need baptism for the forgiveness of sins, he did need the empowerment and blessing given by God at his baptism. “You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.” That was the beginning of baptism by water and the Spirit, giving us the gift of the Holy Spirit who accompanies us on our life journey, giving us strength and blessings.
Heavenly Father, even though we may at times feel overwhelmed by this frightening and dangerous pandemic, we know your Spirit accompanies us on the journey. If we listen, we hear your voice, reminding us of your powerful love for us. We know that you walk with us, that you give strength to all our medical personnel, our frontline workers, and caregivers. You offer compassion for all who are ill and mourn with all who have lost loved ones. We pray for your continued strength to guide us through this time, and we live in the sure and certain hope of the blessings of peace. Amen.
Wednesday, December 23rd
based on Romans 12:9-18.
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone."
For our last Advent season devotion, we're focusing on Love. In Paul's letter to the Roman's, he discusses what it means to Love. As we prepare for Christmas and the birth of Christ, we usually think about the people we love in life. We aim to find the perfect present for them, sometimes thinking the more costly the gift the more it shows we love them. We are all guilty of this, especially in a year that we cannot physically see all of our loved ones. Last year I was able to visit my family in December. It was the last time I saw them in person. It was the last time I was able to hug them. I tend to go overboard with presents for my nephews. I don't really remember what presents I gave them or received. But I remember making an insane amount of Christmas cookies with my nephews. I remember watching them decorate the tree with all of the ornaments that have been on my parents tree since I was a child. I remember seeing my Aunt, Uncle & cousins all together for the first time with us in over 10 years. I remember the love of our family!
As we approach Christmas, we are more focused on the materiality of the commercialized season, than on the true gifts of Christmas. But in a year, in 5 years, in 10 years, we're not going to remember those physical gifts. We're going to remember the memories together. We are going to remember the love we feel for those around us. As Paul tells the Romans, we should be devoted to one another in love (during this season and always). We should be joyful, patient and faithful. We should live in harmony with one another. We should share with those in need. The actions we take now, in love for our neighbors, are going to be the kind gestures that they remember in future years. The actions done in love will be remembered.
Just days before Christmas, it is good to take a step back and center our minds on the true gift of Christmas. The gift that God gave us over two thousand years ago. God gifted us with Jesus. Jesus, who would be an example of how to live and save us from our sins. This gift was love and out of love for us. Just as our actions this season that are done in love will be remembered, so we also remember God's act of love for us. The most important things are done in love!
Let us pray (prayer from ELCA's Worship in the Home, Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 20, 2020)
Blessed are you, O God. In Jesus you came to live among us. Give us hearts ready to welcome you when you come to us in friends, neighbors, and strangers. Amen.
Wednesday, December 16th
based on Luke 1:46-55. Blessings.
"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.”
Advent is a time of year to rejoice, to celebrate, to find joy in the little things. In these verses Mary, the mother of Jesus, is celebrating the greatness of God, the blessings to her own life in being chosen as the mother of our Savior. Blessings don't always feel like blessings at first. Imagine Mary, when the angel first came to her. She was engaged but unwed, and expected to be carrying a child not of her betrothed. He easily could have dismissed her and she would have had to return home disgraced to her family. Although Mary trusted in the Lord, this blessing may not always have felt like a blessing. She may not have felt joy every moment leading up to the birth of Christ. I'm sure there were times of uncertainty that went along with the blessing. But Mary trusts in God. Earlier in Luke, when the angel comes to visit her she tells the angel "I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me." It is with this trust that she is blessed and rejoices.
Through the struggles we face, there are blessings from God. We may not always recognize the blessings, especially if we are too focused on the struggle, but they are there. It can be as simple as a friendly smile when you've had a hard day. Small or large, these blessings are cause to rejoice, celebrate and praise God for all that we receive. The joy we feel this season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus is a joy that we should keep with us all year. Joy is not limited to the Advent/Christmas season, It is a celebration, rejoicing and thanks to God that we should recognize for all blessings we received from God. As Mary does, we should rejoice: "my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant"
Let us pray:
Almighty Father, We thank you for the blessing of your son. We thank you for all of the blessings, small and large, noticed and unnoticed, that we received in our lives. We rejoice in your love for us, your children. We ask that you help us to see the blessings around us and to be a blessing to those around us, especially during this Advent season. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.