December 25, 2010
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
6There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Reflection by Pastor Bob Holum
When I was a child on the Dakota plains I shared a room with my younger brothers, Charles and Knute. You went up stairs from the kitchen, then down a long, unheated hallway. At bedtime mom would come with us, sit on the edge of the bed, and say prayers with us; "Jesus Tender, Shepherd hear me," we would sing, then "Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep." Then kisses, and, each night, as she left the room, our Source of comfort and safety, one of us would call, "Leave the hall light, and the door open!" And she would, and we knew where and how, if needed, to find her, and so, could fall asleep.
Thank you, Heavenly Parent, for turning on the Light of Christ. Help us to rest, and to live, by this Light. Amen!
Light, for us, as children, the guarantee of safe passage to the comfort of our parents' arms, we now understand, as adults, is the source of life on earth. Energy from the sun, reaching us as light, powers the ecosystems of earth: plants to feed us, yeast to leaven our bread and ferment our grapes, coal, gas and oil to heat our homes and scoot us down highways and across airways to visit our loved ones at Christmas time. More subtly, light, touching the receptors in our eyes, shows us the contours and shapes of faces, telling us we are, once again, surrounded by the people who give meaning to our lives.
Jesus, John's gospel tells us, is the bearer of the "light that enlightens every human being." Christmas is, truly, the Season of Light, light that guarantees our path to comfort, safety and rest, light that inspires and nourishes us and all living things, light that brings meaning to our lives, light that illumines our steps as we journey home towards God. Happy Christmas Day!
December 24, 2010
But the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." Luke 2:10-11
Reflection by Pastor Phil Huber
In my early years as I grew up in our family Advent was celebrated to its fullest -- or should I say until the bitter end. Nothing, and I mean nothing, related to Christmas happened until Advent was over. You might be surprised to know that when you received this meditation today-- December 24th at 6:00 a.m. -- it was still Advent. Advent doesn’t end, and Christmas Eve doesn’t officially begin, until sundown today. Only then could Christmas records (33 rpm LP type) be played, the tree brought in, and decorations be put up.
There are many family stories of my dad, and our next door neighbor Harry Elliott, together, in the dark, on ladders, hanging garland around the front doors and attaching Christmas lights in the cold on Christmas Eve. Most people laughed saying how Harry and Fred were once again the last ones on our street to get their Christmas lights up -- that they were late and last again. But, in reality, they weren’t late -- they were right on time! They had maintained the vigilance, waiting, and hoping of Advent. They had celebrated Advent with their families to its fullest -- even to the bitter end.
But the end wasn’t bitter at all. All that waiting we had to do, all that not listening to Christmas music while others did, all that not putting up our Christmas decorations while others did, all the other homes with their trees shining and decorated while our living rooms remained dark -- now finally unfolded at the end of Advent into a flurry of excitement - trees put in stands and decorated, lights on the front of the house and a readiness to participate in our Savior’s birth and join the “great joy” of the Shepherds. The end of Advent’s crowning moment had come, the decorations were up, and the mangers scene was under the tree -- and NOW, NOW, it was time to celebrate Christmas.
I didn’t always appreciate my dad’s insistence that “Christmas can’t come until Advent is over.” But the willingness of my Mom and Dad to keep Advent vigilance to the end, made Christmas that much more meaningful and exciting. We weren’t tired of Christmas by the time it came. We didn’t miss the fullness of its meaning- because we were made to wait, to expect, to anticipate through the fullness of the Advent season. What they gave my sister and me was a prescription to combat the world’s view of Christmas and the playing of Christmas music 24/7 on local radio stations since before Thanksgiving.
Now today ---actually at sundown tonight, the culmination of Advent gives way to the fullness of our Christmas celebration. John the Baptist will be gone-finally! The call to Wake Up!, ‘Fess Up!, Speak Up!, and Show Up! will give way to joining in the angel chorus of “good news of great joy” that Jesus is born for us, sins are forgiven, life is eternal -- and finally, thank God!, the waiting of Advent is over -- and the fullness of Christmas celebration can begin!
Thursday, Fourth Week of Advent
December 23, 2010
My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name. (vv. 46b-49)
Reflection by Adriano Ayres
When Elizabeth, in her old age was bearing a son, John the Baptist, her cousin Mary came to see her in Judea. Learning that Mary was inspired by the Spirit to have a child she sang this song of joy and contentment because she found hope in the promises of God that were spoken through the prophets that a Savior would come into this world. In ancient Jewish tradition, songs were composed to celebrate something remarkable to be remembered by their descendents as it is to this day. Hymns were sung not only in the Temple but also in the houses. It reminds us of Christmas when many still keep this old tradition of singing carols with family and neighbors at their homes. God blesses us in many ways and it is right to give God thanks for the things He has performed in our lives. May this Christmas be a blessing in you as we go through another year. Peace, Christ is the Lord. Amen.
O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel.
Wednesday, Fourth Week of Advent
December 22, 2010
The angel of the LORD appeared to the woman and said to her, “Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean, for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.” (vv. 3-4)
Reflection by Amanda Wahlig
Of all the times I have read or heard the Samson story, I don’t think I’ve ever really paid attention to the manner of his birth. Here we have yet another story of a barren woman being visited by an angel of God who tells her that she will have a son. Not just any son, but someone who will dedicate his life to God and lead an exceptionally pure life—so pure, in fact, that it has to start with his mother’s behavior while he’s still in her womb.
Then this reading just stops. His hair hasn’t started growing yet, his amazing feats of strength are not yet contemplated, and Delilah is far in the future. Instead, we stop reading when these parents are left with a helpless newborn, their own miracle of whom so much has been promised.
In the same way, in just a few days we will be picturing another set of new parents, holding their infant child and wondering just what the future will bring for this baby. And, much as with Samson, the birth itself is a miracle. Like Samson, we also know how the story will end, so we tend to not stop at that miracle but keep going to the rest of the story. It’s just human nature—when you know how a story will turn out, you look forward to the good part and miss some of the details. In the busy Advent season, it is even easier to keep looking ahead instead of living in the moment.
That’s one of the biggest challenges of life, and not just at Christmas. How do we appreciate each and every miracle that comes to us, even as we go about our lives, full of jobs, friends, family, school, and many other countless activities?
Dear Lord, be with me as I go through the preparations for your Son’s birth. Help me to realize that even though I know how the story ends, I should stop and enjoy the beginning and middle, as well. Thank you for the gifts you give to me every day, not just on Christmas. I pray for the ability to recognize and appreciate these gifts. In the name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.
Tuesday, Fourth Week of Advent
December 21, 2010
Reflection by Steve Brodd
This year at evening prayer during Advent we have been reflecting on the Magnificat, Mary's song of praise in Luke 1:46-55. The song of the Mother of Jesus has striking antecedents in the song of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. I have been thinking about the themes so strongly present in the songs of both of these holy women, themes that are later so prominent in the teaching and ministry of Jesus. Do the actions and attitudes of my life form a kind of song that echoes these themes - of justice and mercy, of allegiance to the power of love and not of hatred and violence, of seeking the Kingdom and trying to bring it forth around me?
Gracious Lord, as Mary showed forth her divine Son as the Savior of the world, help me to show forth his hope, power and love to a world in need. In his Holy Name, Amen.
Monday, Fourth Week of Advent
December 20, 2010
Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them. (v. 17)
Reflection by Danielle Brewer
Thank God for Paul! He was relentless in his faith and mission to spread the Good News. In this passage Paul is pleading with the Galatians to remember the message of Jesus Christ. He realizes that they are surrounded by "false teachers" who want nothing more but to pull them away from Christ but Paul reminds them that believing in Christ is freedom! Paul reminds me of our pastors. Every week they have to remind us of the Good News of Jesus Christ and every week we listen because we need to be reminded. It is very easy to forget and allow the world to draw us into their ways, despite us knowing that Christ's way is the only way we could ever have freedom and peace of mind.
I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you." (vv. 19-20)
I sense Paul's frustration with the Galatians, just as I'm sure pastors all over the world get frustrated from time to time with us as followers of Christ and some of our decisions. It doesn't stop them from sharing the Good News every week and it didn't stop Paul from sharing his frustration, no matter how good the news with the people of Galatia.
God, we thank you for Paul and his relentless faith. We thank you for pastors all over the world like Paul, who can get disheartened, we hope that you keep them encouraged and steadfast in their mission to serve You. Amen
Fourth Sunday of Advent
December 19, 2010
Reflection by Steve Schmoll
I often find myself asking the Lord for a sign when making decisions, both large (should I ask that Beckie girl out) and small (should I order eggs or pancakes). However, as seen in these two passages, there is no need to ask the Lord for a sign since, as prophesized in Isaiah and actualized in Matthew, He has already provided the only sign of His presence and love in our lives we need: Jesus. As Advent winds down and Christmas approaches, I think that the Lord’s sign to us in Jesus resonates in us all. The sign is evident in all of the blessings we have, including that we are blessed enough to be in a position to make our own decisions about our lives, large and small. So next time I am choosing a mate, um, er, ordering breakfast, rather than always looking for a sign from the Lord on what to order, I will be aware that the presence of a choice in and of itself is a sign from the Lord.
Gracious and holy God, give us diligence to seek you, wisdom to perceive you, and patience to wait for you. Grant us, O God, a mind to meditate on you; eyes to behold you; ears to listen for your word; a heart to love you; and a life to proclaim you; through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship)
Saturday, Third Week of Advent
December 18, 2010
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh. Stir up your might, and come to save us! Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:1-3)
And now, O Lord God, as for the word that you have spoken concerning your servant and concerning his house, confirm it forever; do as you have promised. Thus your name will be magnified forever in the saying, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel’; and the house of your servant David will be established before you. (2 Samuel 7:25-26)
He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. (John 3:34-36a)
Reflection by Sara Ayres
One week before Christmas. Most people are spending this Saturday finishing up last minute things to get ready for the festivities next weekend. Getting ready might include some last minute shopping, sending cards or packages, decorating, baking, and getting ready to travel or receive guests. Two thousand years ago Mary was also getting ready. She might not have known exactly when her baby was due, but one week away she probably knew it was going to be soon. She didn’t have much time to prepare since she and Joseph were travelling, but perhaps she was able to set aside a few things in preparation. Most of all, she had to prepare for what the angels had told her would happen. She was going to be the mother of the Savior.
All three of the bible verses for today talk about God’s saving power. Either by pleading for God to “come and save us” like in the Psalm, talking about how God saved the Israelites and asking for similar blessings as in 2 Samuel, or describing Jesus’ saving power in the gospel of John. Like Mary, we also need to prepare ourselves to welcome the Savior. Not as another chore to cross off the list before Christmas, but in joyful anticipation and celebration. Let’s take some time this last week to prepare ourselves as well as our gifts, meals and decorations.
Saving Lord, help us to prepare ourselves for your coming; as the saving Lord of all and as a tiny baby born two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. Help us prepare our hearts to welcome you and the gift of your saving love. Amen.
Friday, Third Week of Advent
December 17, 2010
Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me thus far? And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD, you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant. Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?
....For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant. How great you are, O Sovereign LORD! There is no one like you, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears.
Reflection by Beckie Schmoll
David says this prayer right after hearing a message revealed to the prophet Nathan. David had wanted to build a house for the LORD, but in Nathan's vision, he is told not to. Instead, the LORD says he will be the one providing a home for his people, and will give them rest from their enemies. He also promises to make David's name great, and establish his throne, providing him with an heir, whom he himself will be a father to. That son, not David, will build the LORD a house. And he promises David's kingdom will last forever.
When the gospel writers lay out Jesus' genealogy, they are linking His birth back to this promise. Jesus is David's heir, and God's son, and through Him David's kingdom will continue. Through Him, it will be redeemed.
And David's own prayer of gratitude and wonder is echoed in the words of Mary and of Zechariah as they too respond to prophecies and prepare for Jesus' birth.
LORD, help us to respond to your promises with gratitude and awe, especially when what you offer us is different from our own plans.
Thursday, Third Week of Advent
December 16, 2010
Now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are . . . heirs according to the promise. (vv. 25-29)
Reflection by Ruth Worman
Martin Luther said, “The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle, to which I am betrothed. It is my Katie von Bora.” It was so precious to him, because in it Paul so clearly preaches the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ who makes us children of God through faith.
Paul wrote this letter to Gentiles (non-Jewish people) who had come to believe in Jesus Christ through Paul’s preaching, and had entered the community of faith through baptism. Now there were other “evangelists” trying to convince the Galatians there was something more they must do to be saved: be circumcised, observe the Jewish festivals, follow the kosher food laws.
Paul rejects this idea. The law is a “disciplinarian”, not a savior. The image is one from the Greek/Roman world, where a slave was tasked with keeping the children of a well-to-do family safe and in good behavior. But the children do not belong to this slave. They are children and heirs of the father; when they grow up they stand to inherit everything.
In the same way, Paul says, we are not children of the law. We are children of God through faith. Through baptism we have “clothed ourselves with Christ,” and now, like Christ, we are heirs who stand to inherit everything! Our relationship with God depends not on following regulations, but on being “in Christ”. We rely on the good promises of God for us.
Even more surprising, Paul contradicts and overturns the basic status distinctions of his day. For those clothed in Christ, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” The kingdom of God belongs to those of any land and race; it is the inheritance of those most powerless and poor; it is a realm where even the created orders of “male and female” are secondary to our identity as the family of God.
It is a dramatic statement of Christian freedom. Instead of the certainty of rules and regulations, we live with the precious gift of faith and life in Christ. How will you live this Christ-life? What will you do with this precious inheritance?
Loving God, I thank you for making me your child. Help me to grow into life in Christ. May I carry your light wherever I go, that all may know your love. Amen.
Wednesday, Third Week of Advent
December 15, 2010
Reflection by Edna Hicks
Zechariah is speaking to exiles; those who have recently returned to a decimated Jerusalem and who are starting to rebuild the city but have a long way to go and are quite unsure about where things are headed. There are lots of uncertainties, pain and anger that they carried with them from being forcefully removed from their land and to which they are now returning.
Zechariah’s words are visionary in nature with multiple faceted dimensions. They called for the restoration of the City of Jerusalem; longer life for the old; no more weeping or crying; and the planting of vineyards and eating of fruit. The goal is a place where Jews and Muslims will study together; Israelis and Palestinians will play together in the streets.
When I reflect on Zechariah’s vision it reminds me of hollow political campaign promises that are more disappointing than energizing. I look at the daily news and read the papers regularly trying to be a visionary. However, at the end of the day I have a heavy heart due to the angry and dishonest political infighting and discourse. I am further disappointed in the immoral wars which are being fought. This array of society’s disfunctionality causes me to think and wonder if God gets fed up with our activities or inactivity when we do not practice the Ten Commandments.
God, teach us to have faith and be visionaries and know that “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
Tuesday, Third Week of Advent
December 14, 2010
Psalm 42: 3 – My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?” 5 - Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
Ezekiel 47: 12 – And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing.
Jude 20 – But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.
Reflection by Ruth Beaver
The theme running through all of these parts of scripture is clear. No matter how desperate things become in our lives, God is our hope, our steadfast love, he brings calm to our chaos. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t hear of someone else with cancer or some rare disease in which they are given months or years to live. We don’t know how much suffering we will be given. Yet, we are reminded to have hope, to trust in God, and call upon Him for help. May we comfort and encourage each other with the words in today’s scripture. Let us behold the wondrous gift that God has given us, Jesus in the form of a baby, which sustains us and surpasses all diseases and problems of any kind and leads us to eternal life.
Gracious and merciful God, thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus to help us in our earthly life and bring us to you. Grant us peace and joy that overcomes all sorrow as we prepare for the coming of Jesus into our hearts. Amen
Monday, Third Week of Advent
December 13, 2010
As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for the living God. (Psalm 42:1-2a)
Reflection by Fran Knoll
Our backpacking trip on the John Muir Trail went through spectacular country. The sky was azure blue and the sun was shining bright. The temperature continued to soar as the sun approached its zenith. We huffed and puffed up the trail to a pass at 12,000 feet. We were tired, sweaty and thirsty and that is when we realized we were out of water. “Drat, left the Nalgens at camp.” The map indicated a spring some five miles away. We trudged onward only to be greeted by a dry ditch when we got there. By then we were sunburned, dehydrated and had the beginnings of altitude sickness. With the binocs we scanned a faraway meadow and spied an elk walking to a green copse of trees. “Why is it so green and why is the elk stopping there?” Then it dawned on our water-deprived grey matter what the elk was doing. We hustled over to the elk spot and found the sweetest little spring. There we drank our fill of the cold clear mountain water, topped-off our water bottles and gave thanks for the elk that saved our hides.
I recalled this adventure while reading Psalm 42:
As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My being thirsts for the living God.
Have you tasted God’s water? The psalmist is really writing about God’s love. When we drink in that love, amazing things happen. A peace and strength transcends our being in ways beyond our imagination. God’s love takes away our pain and sins and transforms us bit by bit. The transformation and moments of grace are like chocolate candy! Addicting, in a spiritual way. So, we begin to thirst for more of God’s love and like water, we can’t live without it.
Dear God, fill our thirst and give us our daily bread as our souls long for your love. Open our souls like vessels to receive your gifts this Advent. Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent
December 12, 2010
“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts” Malachi 3:1
Reflection by Karen Sellars
In a rare moment of downtime at work, I decided to visit with a co-worker. We talked about her 5 year old and 3 year old quadruplets as well as everyday happenings in our lives. We must have chatted for an hour, yet the one topic that remains so vivid in my mind was her drive to work that morning.
She stated that traffic had been terribly slow as she drove to work that morning and that her car radio did not work. Quite to my surprise, she added that it had been a great drive to work. She went on to explain that she decided to have a good, long conversation with God. She said that she was ashamed to admit it, but it had been some time since she last spent time praying or talking to God. During the drive, she asked forgiveness for neglecting her relationship with God and for not always acting in a way that was suitable in His eyes. She also thanked God for her family, friends, and the ways He has blessed her life.
I believe that God still sends “messengers” to prepare for His return. Sometimes they are the very people we least expect. They may even be the people standing in front of us. That day, my co-worker was my “messenger.” Still, I wonder how many “messengers” have I dismissed? How many messages have I ignored?
Father in Heaven,
Set our hearts ablaze to follow in the steps of the messenger, John the Baptist. May we bring light and love to all we meet.
Saturday, Second Week of Advent
December 11, 2010
Reflection by Ed Stock
Advent seems to focus primarily on the activity preceding the birth of Jesus.
This passage, however, moves us beyond the birth of Jesus and his early childhood and into his adult life where he is about to truly show why he was born of the Virgin Mary.
John the Baptizer was not a gentle mamby, pamby type of guy. He never cut his hair, he wore camel skins, was tall, bony and his skin was baked by the sun. His long beard almost covered his face. He had piercing eyes that flashed from under bushy eyebrows. He lived alone in the desert. John had not known any love except for his love for God. What a guy! One may wonder why God chose this wild man to go from place to place preaching on both sides of the Jordan River. John’s message was that in order to be forgiven, people should be baptized to show they had turned to God and away from sin. I will say that such a man who looked like this would certainly get my attention.
Isaiah describes John as a “Voice shouting from the wilderness, preparing a road for the Lord to travel on.” John preached, it is not enough just being baptized, you must also repent. Forgiveness requires repentance. You must show repentance by changing the sinful way you live. Apparently some had been “washed” but returned to their former lives. When those in the group asked, “What do you want us to do to show repentance?” John replied, “If you have two coats give one to the poor. Extra food? Give some to the hungry. You tax collectors, quit cheating, be honest. Soldiers, stop extorting money with threats.” John had an answer for each who asked. John used these warnings as he also announced the good news that Jesus was coming and soon.
The fact that we know little or nothing of the life of Jesus from His twelfth to His thirtieth year makes this time in Luke’s account of John’s activity more significant. People were expecting the Mesiah to be coming soon and were eager to know whether or not if John was he. To that John replied, “I am not worthy of being His slave.”
A continuing but historic Advent was approaching for Jesus, now a man.
The anticipated and long awaited time for the Son of God to begin the journey of His public ministry had arrived.
Mighty God, we thank you for sending Jesus to lead us out of darkness and into light as we celebrate His first coming and await His second. Amen
Friday, Second Week of Advent
December 10, 2010
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish….But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Reflection by Pastor Phillip Huber
As I grew up, Advent was a special time in our family. As I look back, I realize that a large part of our Advent preparation revolved around my Mom’s Christmas baking. My mom was a great cook and excelled at desserts and confectionaries. During Advent, in preparation for Christmas, she would begin baking—cookies (her almond balls with a candied cherry in the middle was my favorite), fruit cake, fudge—and nut bread. This was the only time of the year she baked most of these items—especially in the quantities that she did.
Of all of them, over time, nut bread became the most special. That’s because the nut bread was something that was never eaten until Christmas morning. You could snatch a cookie to eat, grab a taste of the fruit cake and sneak a piece of fudge. But you never got a taste of the nut bread until Christmas morning. The combination of nut bread, good creamy butter and a glass of milk created a taste that alone was associated with the birth of our Lord. Only when Christmas arrived—when the Advent waiting and preparation was over, when it was finally time to celebrate the birth of our Lord--that the first loaf of nut bread was cut, buttered and eaten. It signaled a special time had arrived—it was finally time to celebrate the love of God for us in the birth of a baby at Bethlehem.
To this day the smell of my mom’s receipt for nut bread baking in the oven and its taste on Christmas morning is a sensory cue that the waiting is over, our Lord has been born, humankind has a future, and with that cue there is growth in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.
(Just in case you would like to join me in this sensory experience of Christmas—click here for the recipe.)
Thursday, Second Week of Advent
December 9, 2010
The LORD watches over the foreigner
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
The LORD reigns forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the LORD. (vv. 9-10)
Reflection by Barbara Eiden-Molinaro
I am comforted by the words of the Psalmist, words that hold great promise and reassurance in troubling times. The Psalmist reminds of God’s majesty, faithfulness and justice this Advent season. During this time of preparedness the days are short, the nights long. It is easy to read the news and despair. We know that God’s people are not exempt from oppression, hunger, imprisonment, loss of parents and partners.
We are promised that He lifts us, but for what purpose? We know He loves us, but to what end? He heals, loves and sustains us, but how are we to respond? Our efforts to do justice feel insufficient; our reach is limited; we see little improvement in the condition of God’s people, including ourselves.
Yet, in the depths of these dark days we are reminded that we are indeed blessed, and that our hope is not based on what we accomplish but in the Lord. We may be unfaithful to our God, but he is steadfast in His faithfulness to us. We are freed by the knowledge we are ultimately dependent on the Lord’s blessings. We can wait for the coming of the Lord, assured that God has already come, lived, died and was resurrected for us. We do not need to be confined by the darkness, because we have indeed seen a great light. We live in that light, in that great love. We focus on the light and we no longer notice the darkness.
O Dayspring, splendor of light everlasting: Come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. (Antiphon for the Third-to-Last Day of Advent)
Wednesday, Second Week of Advent
December 8, 2010
God brought Abram outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness. (vv. 5-6)
Reflection by Kjersten Priddy
Advent is about preparing for the birth of a baby who is more than he appears. In this reading from Genesis we have the promise of another baby who represents more than just a baby. Abraham is promised a son whose arrival is the promise of posterity. The birth of a son isn't the promise that everything will always go well. But it is the promise that there will always be hope of a brighter future.
It is a crazy world we live in. The apocalyptic texts of Advent with their murmurs of earthquakes, floods, and "wars and rumors of war" may ring all too familiar in our Threat Level Orange world. But this season is not about now, it is about hope. Hope that comes, unexpectedly, in the birth of a baby, so tender and mild, who is the King of Kings. So let us lean forward with Abraham into the promise of God's vision for the world.
Almighty God, in this crazy world we yearn for the assurance of Abraham. Help us to lean forward into the promise of your Son; a promise of peace and hope for all the world. Amen
Tuesday, Second Week of Advent; St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan
December 7, 2010
It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ is not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation. Rather, as it is written: "Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand." (vv. 20-21)
Reflection by Brad Rundquist
Evangelism has been hijacked. For me, and I suspect for many Christians and non-Christians alike, the word evangelism conjures images of bad TV evangelists saying outrageous things. I mention this because evangelism is not always a comfortable topic. Yet, in Romans 15: 14-21, Paul is writing about evangelizing the Gentiles. "...because of the grace God gave to me to be a minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles with priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God..."
Reconciling the bad TV version of evangelism against the Apostle Paul's version of evangelism is difficult to imagine, and hardly worth the effort, most of us are probably between the two. However, evangelism is obtainable for even the most ordinary Christian, and for those of us who cringe at the idea of shouting the gospel on the street corner to passersby there is relief in knowing that actions speak louder than words.
There are more subtle options for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ: treating our neighbors as ourselves, being positive and optimistic because we already know the good news, being civil with those we disagree with, welcoming strangers, giving of ourselves openly with those around us, and when asked we can be open and honest about our faith. We can also support worthy organizations like Lifeline Partnership and 501 Church who preach the gospel where Christ is not necessarily known.
So, whether you are a street corner shouter or a quiet supporter, and even if the word evangelism conjures the same images for you as for me, evangelize anyway.
During this Advent season, let us remember Jesus Christ and be proud to spread the good news he brings.
Gracious God, give us the knowledge, strength, and wisdom to announce your advent to others in our world and community by using the gifts you have given us through appropriate evangelism. May our witness be as bold as your coming. Amen
Reflection by Jessie Roderick
In the first part of Psalm 21, the victorious king praises God and thanks him for his help in battle and for the splendid majesty bestowed upon him.
I chose this scripture from the three suggested because it resonates with an amazing experience I recently had via an e-mail message which included photos of the Hubble Space Telescope’s sightings of parts of the vast universe we inhabit. My mind was dazzled! To say that I could not comprehend what I saw is an understatement. But what the pictures did do was provoke me to revisit my concept of God—specifically the largeness and the closeness of Him.
The Hubble pictures burst open my mind-box I had created for God. This God who cares for me day and night is the same God who rules and loves the universe—the universe I can’t begin to comprehend.
And it is this loving God who sends His son to His creation both near and far. We joyfully await this Gift--yet another miracle--in this Advent season.
God of our known and unknown, we thank you for your constant presence as we await your son Jesus’ arrival.
Image from the Hubble telescope, NASA (click on the image to go to the website, Astronomy Picture of the Day)
Second Sunday of Advent
December 5, 2010
Reflection by Richard Drechsler
All of the Bible references for today are very familiar. They all refer to Christ’s coming to earth as the Son of God. The Old Testament writings (Psalm 72 and Isaiah 11) predict the coming of a just and righteous Son who will judge righteously, defend the poor and needy, punish the wicked, and bring peace. In the gospel of Matthew, John proclaims Jesus as the coming of the kingdom of Heaven, but emphasizes the need for repentance for again the coming Son will be a judge. While the Jews waited for their Messiah, Paul’s letter to the Romans points out that God sent his Son so that Gentiles also might glorify God and be filled with joy, peace, and hope. In these troubled times, it is not easy to be joyful. Peace on earth seems almost unimaginable. Therefore, hope becomes our mainstay, hope for a better tomorrow here on earth, and hope that as true believers we will find joy and peace in the presence of God in Heaven. Advent offers us the opportunity to be better prepared to accept the gift of God’s Son.
Dear Lord Jesus, keep our eyes fixed on you and what you would have us do in this world. May your Holy Spirit be with us during this blessed season as we prepare for your coming. May we be doers of your word and show compassion to others. In Jesus name we pray, Amen
Saturday, First Week of Advent
December 4, 2010
Reflection by Bonnie Priebe
These words are deeply imbedded in my memory. I remember them from my childhood and these words bring comfort and warmth. Picture #1-- I see a messenger and workers getting a road ready for a royal visitor; smoothing the path, making sure that there are no stones in the way to trip anyone in a coming royal procession. Picture #2--Next, my memory slides over to Psalm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding a donkey. Picture #3-- is of John the Baptizer preparing the way for Jesus, telling of Jesus’ coming and his righteous reign. Through my whole slideshow, I hear strains of Handel’s Messiah , so the whole reading is blessed and sacred in my memory. The message is that God is in control and his rule is from everlasting to everlasting. He is gentle and carries the weak in his arms. Even in hard times, our God is with us and for us.
(I chose the King James Version because that’s what Handel used.)
O God, full of compassion, we commit and commend ourselves to you, in whom we live and move and have our being. Be the goal of our pilgrimage, and our rest by the way. Give us refuge from the turmoil of worldly distractions beneath the shadow of your wings. Let our hearts, so often a sea of restless waves, find peace in you, O God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. A prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship
Friday, First Week of Advent
December 3, 2010
Reflection by Judson James
This is one of most familiar of the parables taught by Jesus and its lessons for us are numerous and valuable. I want to consider one of the simplest.
Consider the physical directions named in the parable. All the participants were traveling along a road. The priest and the Levite “passed by on the other side”, but the Samaritan “came near him,” “went to him,” and “put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn.” After caring for him and providing funds for future care by the innkeeper, he said, “when I come back, I will repay you.” The Samaritan moved in a straight line through the entire parable and continued on his journey after caring for the injured man and would return on the same road.
I tend to visualize the Good Samaritan as a rather matter-of-fact person, one who didn’t consider what he did as especially remarkable. He made a practical and compassionate response to the situation with which he was faced. Unlike the priest and the Levite, he dealt with what was in front of him.
Our mission as Christians is not necessarily coming to the assistance of others, defined as people in different locations in space and status. Often we are needed to respond to those right in front of us. I know for myself that it is easier to write a check for a worthy cause than to spend time directly serving needs. I am more shy about speaking up about personal situations than discussing broader policy issues. Abstracting our Christian mission can weaken it.
Almighty and most merciful God, we call to mind before you all whom it is easy to forget: those who are homeless, destitute, sick, isolated, and all who have no one to care for them. May we bring help and healing to those who are broken in body or spirit, that they may have comfort in sorrow, company in loneliness, and a place of safety and warmth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. A prayer from Evangelical Lutheran Worship
Artwork by He Qi
Thursday, First Week of Advent
December 2, 2010
Reflection by Kent Forde
The writer of this Psalm is enthusiastically praising God and descriptively writing that God is life, truth, and justice. God's peace is sensed in the majesty of a mountain and felt in the drops of life-giving rain. The Psalmist's words flow as if they were powerfully moving on a river. Can we catch a ride? Can we comprehend and fathom what God can do? Verse 18, '...Who only does wondrous things!'
Well, our God is a living and loving God. The Lord's ways are above our ways and we can not see all that the Lord has planned. Sometimes the only explanation is to know that all things happen for a reason, God's reason, and accept that grace with faith.
One of the most powerful and meaningful parts of the entire Bible are when individuals who happen to be less fortunate are noticed and recognized. From verse 4, 'He will bring justice to the poor of the people.' Is that not what we all want, to have justice and to be treated fairly? I safely think that is the case among the vast majority of humanity. Does this not remind us to not only reflect on the Golden Rule, but live out our lives to treat others as we would like to be treated? Therefore, as a faithful body of God, let our hands and feet do wondrous things, powered by God and the Holy Spirit.
O Lord, You are TRuth. O Lord, You are jUST. O Lord, You are TRUST. Encourage us today to see You...see You in the earth, see You in each other, and see You in life itself. Faithfully we know that all things happen for a reason, Your Glory! We humbly bow before You and TRUST that our eyes will be forever opened to see Your daily presence in our lives. Amen.
Wednesday, First Week of Advent
December 1, 2010
Reflection by Glorious Broughton
This passage brings us to a topic that has been discussed time and time again – false prophets. Throughout history there have been those who have told all who would listen that they can predict the future and the end of time. It is sad to hear of people who follow these false prophets. Sometimes this is done to their detriment, such as mass suicides. It would have been better if they had read with understanding the gospel passage for today. This passage holds the answers.
Currently there is talk about the end of time because the Mayan calendar ends in 2012. I heard one person respond to this by saying that perhaps the Mayans felt that they had done their part and someone else would complete the calendar. Although this response has no biblical basis, I like it because it gives the listener another possibility other than “doom and gloom.” The best response again is to read today’s gospel lesson.
Dear God, guide us as we read your word and keep us focused as to where the only true answers to all our questions can be found – the Bible. Amen.
Tuesday, First Week of Advent; Feast of St. Andrew, Apostle
November 30, 2010
God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.'
Reflection by Kimberly Orr
The story of Noah and the Rainbow is a fitting story for Advent. With Advent, we begin anew, waiting for the birth of our Savior: the rainbow reminds us that God has promised to be with us as the world renews. This is a time of renewal for me, as I'm watching a new puppy grow and learn. Seeing him interact with the world around him with an open heart gives me faith, hope, and love.
Dear God, help me to be aware of those around me, supporting them in their times of need, leaning on them in mine, and sharing always in your love.
Monday, First Week of Advent
November 29, 2010
"For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his."
Reflection by Pastor Phil Huber
Advent is a time the church prepares for the coming of Christ. It may surprise many that it isn't until the 4th Sunday in Advent that our attention focuses on the coming of Christ in the manger at Bethlehem and the celebration of Christmas. For the first three weeks in Advent, the church's focus is on the final coming of Christ at the end of time.
This past week, the fullness of Advent preparation for the coming of Christ at the end of time became a powerful reality for me. On Tuesday my mother-in-law, Peggy, made the decision to withdraw all medical support and was moved to hospice care. While difficult, it was a decision that we all supported. Since that time Karen, her father, her brothers, her sister-in-law and I have maintained a vigil at her side, each taking our turn, so she would not be alone in these last days.
Wednesday I arrived about Noon to spend the afternoon with Peggy. Speaking was difficult but she had things she wanted to say to each of us. She made it a point to tell me she always considered me a part of the family--"just not the baptist kind!" When I asked her if I could do anything for her she said, "Pray for me." I told her I would and asked if she would like me to read scripture to her. She said yes and then said, "the 23rd Psalm." I recited the 23rd Psalm in the King James English for her. Then I read her one of my favorites-- Psalm 121. She said afterward, "That's one of my favorites too." Then we read from 1 Corinthians 15, from today's meditation scripture Romans 6:1-11, and I prayed for her.
As we read Romans 6, the tense of the verbs stood out powerfully for me-- "If we have been (present perfect) united with him in a death like his... then we will certainly be united (future) with him in a resurrection like his." The present perfect action of God for us in baptism gives us a promise and hope that we will be embodied, after death, in a resurrection like Christ's. It was Advent preparation in its finest. After reading this, I looked up through my tears to see a tear sliding down Peg's check as well-- tears reflecting the pain of a coming death--and tears of joy for the gift and promise of resurrected life that lies ahead.
The Advent of our God--the coming of Christ at the end of Peg's time, is near. On Wednesday afternoon it was simple things-- words to each other, the hearing of God's word, and prayer, that were the tools of preparation-- for the Advent of our God!
-- Pastor Huber
Stir up your power O Lord, and come into the midst of the approaching death and darkness of our world, so that we may see your light, and know that death is but a gate through which we pass to be united with you in a resurrection like yours.
First Sunday of Advent
November 28, 2010
"Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming."
Reflection by Ken Wilson
Here Jesus describes his Second Coming as a sudden, unexpected event that will probably shock the world. WATCH AND WAIT, we are told !!
Jesus' appearance 2000 years ago was the beginning of God's reign on earth. Ever since the First Coming, we Christians have been admonished by Christ to not get so caught up in our worldly concerns that we forget that his return is certain, not a probability. After so many years of waiting, however, many Christians seem not to be "watching and waiting" but are distracted by the present political and economic scenarios which weigh heavily upon us as we ponder the future of the nation and, indeed, our own personal destinies.
Of course, we have no idea when this momentous event will take place. Christ warned that no one knows the day of his return --not even the Son of Man himself. But we might devise a Christian "lifestyle" that would invite us to do several things that can keep us mindful of what we must be about while we "wait." First we can strive everyday to be faithful, practicing Christians, remembering to be obedient to the word of God. Another component of this "lifestyle" should be striving to eschew sin and remembering to repent and seek forgiveness when we err. Still another component would be to heed Christ's commands to spread his gospel throughout the earth and to love one another (there are numerous ways to do this) just as he first loved us.
This "lifestyle" will help us to remain faithful and anticipatory until the great Second Coming. Christ says in this reading, "keep watch because you do not know on what day your Lord will come." But if we pursue the suggested Christian "lifestyle," it will help us avoid being preoccupied with worldly digressions.
Father, help us to develop and pursue a Christian "lifestyle" that recognizes the inevitability of human error but reminds us of the certainty of the Second Coming of our Lord.