Tag Archives: Advent

Longest Night

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. — John 1:5

Read:  John 1:1-9, 14

Ponder:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Reflect:

Well, the world didn’t end today. Surprise! Surprise! It was the winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Here in south central Pennsylvania it was a chilly, gray day complete with a few snow flurries. Night settled in all too fast, and the wind has been howling through the screens ever since.

The good news is that in a few hours, dawn will break. It may be another gray winter day, but the promise of shorter nights and warmer days begins tomorrow. The darkness will never permanently be with us. There is always hope and light and love.

Thanks-Living:

Give thanks for the light. Do something today to spread a little light and a little love. It can be as simple as a smile or as generous as a gift of time or resources. You know the needs; you can be that light.

Photo by Balaji Dutt. Thanks!

No Time for Fear

Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the Lord God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. — Isaiah 12:2

Read: Isaiah 12:2-6

Ponder:

“The overcoming of fear—that is what we are proclaiming here. The Bible, the gospel, Christ, the church, the faith—all are one great battle cry against fear in the lives of human beings. Fear is, somehow or other, the archen­emy itself. It crouches in people’s hearts. It hollows out their insides, until their resistance and strength are spent and they suddenly break down. Fear secretly gnaws and eats away at all the ties that bind a person to God and to others, and when in a time of need that person reaches for those ties and clings to them, they break and the individual sinks back into himself or herself, helpless and despairing, while hell rejoices.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer (from a sermon preached in Berlin, second Sunday after Epiphany, January 15, 1933)

Reflect:

Sandy Hook Elementary School, the Fiscal Cliff, the Mayan Calendar, disease, climate change, war–these words and many others conjure up feelings of fear and anxiety in most folks. Fear and anxiety curve us inward on ourselves and prevent us from experiencing fully the life God desires for us.

Now I’m not suggesting one throw wise, prudent behavior to the wind to follow pure impulse. Not at all. Rather, I believe that we simply cannot let fear corner us into inaction, hate, and avoidance. We can’t afford to turn our homes into little fortresses, ignoring our neighbors and opting out of community.

We serve a creative, relational God who both desires an active and full relationship with us and also intends for us to share such relationships with others. It is all too easy to let natural feelings of fear and anxiety that accompany tragedy to drive us apart and to create a wedge between us and God.

Don’t let that happen. Be defiant in the face of evil and loss. Step into the breach, reaching out to others and sharing the love and hope that is found in Christ. The world needs you, yes you, right now wherever you are. In these dark days, choose to reflect the light.

Thanks-Living:

Today consider writing one or more notes of encouragement and support to the schools in Newtown, Connecticut. Be that candle in the dark by showering a few words of love on those whose lives have been marred by this tragedy.

Newtown Public School District

3 Primrose Street

Newtown, CT 06470

 

Sandy Hook Elementary School

12 Dickinson Drive

Sandy Hook, CT 06482

(Photo by anaeastudio. Thanks!)

My Prayer

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best… — Philippians 1:9-10a

Read: Philippians 1:3-11

Ponder:  “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” — St. Augustine

Reflect: Paul wrote his letter to the believers at Philippi while under house arrest in Rome. He had every reason to be discouraged, but instead he overflows with joy, thanksgiving, and encouragement for this young worshiping community. He praises their generosity, and infuses the entire letter with a sense of hope and belief that this group of Christians will, through love, discern how to serve and be the light of Christ to all whom they encounter.

Sometimes it seems we live in a very dark world. Hate, anger, violence, and fear move like heavy fog across the landscape of our days and nights, settling in life’s deep valleys and the remote crevices of our hearts and minds. We cry to God in the face of injustice, evil, and pain. How can this be?

Paul would, I think, encourage us to live on in love, to continue to find joy in every circumstance, and to trust in God’s gracious presence and never-ceasing love for even the most broken parts of this world.

Even in the darkest and coldest days of winter, light is just beyond the horizon–waiting to dawn and spread hope like sweet honey. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ keep you through the darkest hours of night, assuring you of the promise of light and the presence of love. This is my prayer for you.

Thanks-Living:

Light a candle tonight for peace in the face of evil, brokenness, and darkness. Watch how one small light begins to outshine the dark. So it is with love; love conquers all. Indeed, love has already won. Pray for strength, courage, and wisdom to share and spread love as we await Christ’s coming again into our world.

Photo by thienzieyung and Klearchos Papoutsis. Thanks!

Squeaky Clean

But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap… — Malachi 3:2

Read:  Malachi 3:1-4

Ponder:

“This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road. All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified.” ― Martin Luther

Reflect:

I don’t know about you, but I like things squeaky clean. Unfortunately, with a busy life, children, and pets, my home is rarely squeaky clean. I’d like to think my spiritual life would past the proverbial “white glove” test, but I know that is not the case. I will never be perfect in this life, and I can never be “good enough” for God. Without grace and mercy I am nothing. Thankfully, by grace I am a work in progress. I am being scrubbed clean–purified and sanctified–in the discipleship process. Like Martin Luther wisely said, we grow, are healed, and are becoming what God intends for us to be.

The process is not always easy or smooth. Pain is often part of growth. We may find ourselves burned, stripped bare of all pretense and illusion, of everything to which we aspire or think we ought to be. God has a way of scrubbing us right down to our bare humanity, sanding our rough edges and cleaning away old coats of unnecessary fluff and nonsense.

When the going gets tough, just remember that you are a work in process–a work dearly loved by your Creator. You are precious. You have purpose (even if you haven’t discovered it yet). And you have been bought with a great price. Squeaky clean? Nah. Getting there? You betcha!

Thanks-Living:

Clean something. It can be dishes, clothes, your kitchen, the floors, the bathroom. Find something to clean and do it mindfully. Watch as the grime and dirt wash away. Use natural substances if possible like lemon, mineral oil, salt, vinegar, and baking soda. Take delight in making something sparkling and fresh. Imagine…this must be at least a tiny bit akin to how God feels as we are being made new and being purified.

Photo by internetsense. Thanks!

Alert & On Guard

Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly….Be alert at all times. — Luke 21:34, 36a

Read: Luke 21:25-36 (Yes, this is the same reading as yesterday, but it bears re-reading.)

Ponder:

“Sometimes it seems as though we spend our lives waiting. Daydreaming about an upcoming vacation, worrying over a medical test, preparing for the birth of grandchild-our days are filled with anticipation and anxiety over what the future holds. As Christians, we too spend our lives waiting. But we are waiting for something much bigger than a trip, bigger even than retirement or a wedding: We are waiting for the return of Jesus in glory. Advent heightens this sense of waiting, because it marks not only our anticipation of Jesus’ final coming, but also our remembrance of his arrival into our world more than 2,000 years ago.”  — Anonymous

Reflect:

What lies heavy on your mind and heart today? What worries are you harboring and nurturing? What needs to be let go so that God can infuse your very being with expectation, hope, and joy?

If you find yourself hurrying through this season with too much to do and not enough hours in the day, do something quite counter-intuitive: sit still and do nothing. Simply be. The to-do list will still be there, and maybe some of it will turn out to not be worth doing anyway. Maybe some of it doesn’t even matter in the grand scheme of the cosmos.

Be alert. Be ready. Watch for those “God-sightings” in your home, during your worship and time with friends, and even waiting in the check-out lane at the grocery. An encounter with the Divine might be just around the corner or down the next aisle. Look for God in the ordinary and extraordinary. Trust me…God is already there.

Thanks-living:

Consider calling up a friend to go for coffee or tea. Make a date with your spouse, partner, or significant other. Make special time to spend  one-on-one with your child or children. Write your parents a letter. Attend an extra worship service or Advent event in your community of faith. Find one thing to do that requires your complete presence and attention. Put those to-do lists aside and experience some joy and anticipation.

What I Did:

Last night my spouse and I were invited to have dinner with friends. Sure there is more work to be done in this season than we have hours for, but we gladly accepted their invitation, and what fun we had! Not only did Liz prepare an amazing meal, but we had conversation, laughter, and a rousing game of “Words with Friends” that we’ll savor for days to come. Thank you, Liz and Tom, for giving us the invitation and permission to simply “be” for an evening and enjoy the gift of friends and fun. Truly the love, grace, and spirit of our Lord was with us all.

Photos by paralog and Minette Layne. Thanks!

Signs

There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  — Luke 21:25-26

Read: Luke 21:25-36

Ponder:

“Advent: the time to listen for footsteps – you can’t hear footsteps when you’re running yourself.” — Bill McKibben

Reflect:

A quick glance at global news headlines can be a terrifying thing. Headlines announce war, murder, destruction, natural disaster, hunger, poverty, and abuses of all kinds in a macabre parade of words and images. It’s enough to put one into flight mode–at least metaphorically.

One way some folks cope with this onslaught of devastation is to ignore it by running to other activities, passions, and pleasures. The problems seem so big, so bad, and so complicated that it’s easier to ignore them. Thank about it: after the horror of 9/11 we were encouraged to shop, to get on with life as usual and keep the economic machine running smoothly.

Luke’s gospel tells us something completely different. Instead of fleeing, falling, and fearing, we are to “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (21:28b). We are to look and listen for the footsteps of God’s redemption in our world.

The season of Advent provides the space and opportunity to slow down, give our “running shoes” a rest, and listen in prayer, worship, and daily life for the signs of divine action in the world. The signs are there. They are hopeful. And  they are very, very real! Dear friends, look for these signs of real life abundant and overflowing with mercy, love, and grace. Be still and encounter God.

Thanks-living:

Take a “news fast” today. Avoid encountering news on television, radio, and website. Instead, play some music that inspires you. Take a walk outside if weather permits. Bake some bread or sweets and fill your home with the fragrance of love’s creative action. Share your baked goods with family and friends. Choose an inspiring film to watch–or a comedy if you’re in need of a laugh. Most importantly, light a candle and pray for the wisdom to work for peace and watch for God-signs in the world. Blessings on your day.

Like Dave Brubeck? Remember him this week by listening to “Pilgrim’s Progress.” Check out David Anderson’s article about Brubeck, who died December 5 at the age of 92, here.

Photo by kt Ann. Thanks!

Thanks Enough

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Read: 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Ponder:

“For everything that lives is holy, life delights in life.” — William Blake

Reflect:

Committing to a life thanks-living means expressing thanks in all conditions and at all times. The apostle Paul knew a thing or two about being thankful in any situation. Even while imprisoned in Rome with an uncertain future, Paul still found time to give thanks for the communities he had helped to mentor on his missionary journeys.

The baser side of our human nature encourages us to think of what we do not have. Whatever is bad, sad, or ugly in our lives floats to the surface like toxic flotsam. It clouds the waters of our perception and prevents us from seeing all the blessings of God.

Today try to see the world through Paul’s eyes. If that doesn’t work for you, read some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work.  I recommend The Cost of Discipleship for starters. Click here to read excerpts. To read an inspiring story about finding the best in the worst of situations, click here to read the story of two men who forged a friendship from the ashes of anger and death. If your thoughts turn to the negative, take a deep breath and find something to praise or something for which to be thankful. Remember that you are where you are and who you thanks to the work, love, and sacrifice of many others, including Jesus who gives you life forever.

Thanks-Living:

Today make a list of people and things for which you are thankful. Give thanks to God for your many blessings. Call or write one person on your list to let them know that you prayed for them and give joyful thanks for them. Take delight in the life you have this day.

The Open Door

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. — Psalm 25:10

Read: Psalm 25-6-10

Ponder:

“A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes… and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent. ” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Reflect:

During the frenzied pace of these December days, remember that God’s love for you is steadfast. The Hebrew word in this psalm is chesed, and its meaning is so much deeper than our English translations convey. Chesed is a concept rooted in covenant language, in the understanding that God will not let God’s people go. That is good news for all of us, especially in a the world that seems to chew folks up and spit them out.

We are created to be in relationship with God,and the hole at the center of our being that we so often try to fill with all manner of stuff and nonsense can only be satisfied when we trust and dwell in God’s chesed. The psalmist understands this need, this spiritual thirst that can only be slaked when we align our wills, our hearts, and our actions with God’s intent for us.

It’s a funny thing how we humans lock ourselves in prisons of our own frivolous construction, putting up barriers between the One who loves us beyond measure. Even as we desire God, we push against the bonds of this great love. Even though we build the cell, lock the door, and throw away the key of freedom, we are still dependent upon the mercy and chesed of the LORD.

The season of Advent reminds us that God is coming again to set us free. In the birth of Jesus we recall and experience how intimately we are loved by the Creator. God cares so much about every fiber of our being and each molecule of creation that the WORD put on flesh and lived with us. God comes again to open the door to our hearts.

That’s not the end. The good news doesn’t stop there. God writes on our heart, placing deep within us the teachings and instructions that lead to abundant life. The LORD again and again shatters barriers and breaks down walls.

Don’t let the frenzy of this season lock the doors of your heart and fog the windows of your soul. God’s steadfast love is here to wrap you in love,  mercy, beauty and light–a veritable patchwork of grace. Breathe in. Open your eyes and hold out your hands. God is near. The door is open.

Thanks-Living:

Today take a few minutes to sit quietly and think about anything that threatens to separate you from living fully in the LORD’s chesed. Are you too frazzled, too busy, too stressed to be attentive to your covenant relationship with God? Resolve during this Advent time of preparation to remove one barrier so that the manger of your heart is ready to receive God again at Christmas.

Photo by jgurbisz. Thanks!

Lift

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To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. /O my God, in your I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. — Psalm 25:1-2

Read: Psalm 25:1-5

Ponder:

“He came down from heaven” can almost be transposed into “Heaven drew earth up into it,” and locality, limitation, sleep, sweat, footsore weariness, frustration, pain, doubt, and death are, from before all worlds, known by God from within. The pure light walks the earth; the darkness, received into the heart of Deity, is there swallowed up. Where, except in uncreated light, can the darkness be drowned? — C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer

Reflect:

Yes, light walks the earth so that we can lift our weary faces and souls to the LORD and be renewed. Despite the shortening of the days and longer shadows of night, the bright, crisp morning light dawns to cheer and warm. Turn your face to the light. Lift up your soul to the Creator of atoms and ants, mountains and molecules, water and wonder. Can you feel it in your bones? Listen. Do you hear the breathe of heaven and hum of creation? The LORD of Word and Light is drawing you–and all of creation–into pure love. The days are surely coming when all will be made new.

Lift your soul. Lift your heart and hurts and hopes. Lift your hands in praise and prayer. The Advent of the LORD is here. God is with you. God has always been and will be, speaking and spinning the cosmos into a web of redemption. And you, you dear child, are being lifted into that coming reality. God quickens and readies the Christ child to enter again into the manger of your heart. Kindle the fires of this season of waiting and preparation and anticipation. Put your trust in the Light that the powers, principalities, and darkness of this age cannot overcome. Wait this day with a glad and thankful heart. Your salvation draws near.

Thanks-Living:

Resolve to avoid all that seeks to separate you from the Light of Creator God on this second day of Advent. Take several mini-breaks to pray, breath, look, and listen. See how that last leaf hangs tenaciously on the branch outside your window. Observe the joy of a child at play. Savor a cup of your favorite tea or coffee. Tell as many people as you can that you love them.

Lift and be lifted. Make this a day of waiting–all day long–anticipating and expecting the Divine presence to lead you.

Photo by martinak15. Thanks!

The Days are Surely Coming

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The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. — Jeremiah 33:14

Read: Jeremiah 33:14-16

Ponder:

“One of the essential paradoxes of Advent: that while we wait for God, we are with God all along ,that while we need to be reassured of God’s arrival, or the arrival of our homecoming, we are already at home. While we wait, we have to trust, to have faith, but it is God’s grace that gives us that faith. As with all spiritual knowledge, two things are true, and equally true, at once. The mind can’t grasp paradox; it is the knowledge of the soul.” — Michelle Blake, The Tentmaker

Reflect:

It’s here already! Can you believe it? Today we lit the first candle on the Advent wreath and sang the first Advent hymns. While the season may be here, the days are surely coming and the promises of God are being fulfilled.

We live in the already and the not yet–all of us–in a state of tension. Our lives are pulled in many directions; there is always something to do. Our culture encourages us to hurry up and get ready for that perfect Christmas by searching for the latest and greatest and most perfect of presents. Images and sounds of Christmas bombard our senses at every turn. But wait…it isn’t Christmas. The days are surely coming, but the twelve days of Christmas are not now, not yet.

Right now it is Advent. God gives us the gift of 24 wonderful days to wait, to anticipate, and to be present in the moment. Advent reminds us that we are created as human beings rather than human doings. Instead of overspending our time, our energy, and our resources Advent encourages us to spend our love lavishly, to wait in wonder, and to experience life rather than rush through our precious days.

Dear friend, if your “to-do list” is spiraling out of control and your energy is flagging, then stop and be still. Sit and listen. Breathe. Pray. Relish this moment in faith that your work will get done and you will keep Christmas. The days are surely coming, but not just yet.

These are the days to sweep clean your cluttered mind and clear away any cobwebs of anxiety and dust bunnies of despair. God is coming again and God is already here. No perfection is needed, only an open mind, a quiet heart, and peaceful soul. You do not have to “out-decorate” your neighbor or “wow” your child with baubles and trinkets or throw the most memorable party. In the end those things will not matter or even be remembered.

The days are surely coming, but this is the day you have. Live it. Love it. Pay attention to it. And open yourself to the miracles of the Creator.

You will not be disappointed.

Thanks-living:

Today do nothing or as little as possible. Enter Advent on the hours of a gentle Sabbath. Experience God as fully as possible and rest in the divine hope and grade that are already yours.