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Daily Devotion – December 30, 2016
12.30.16

Crying with Permission

Marchaé Grair

 

“Jesus wept.” – John 11:35

 

I’ve cried a lot lately.

I’ve experienced the loss of my grandmother, a lifelong friend and mentor. I’ve made difficult decisions that took me to my knees in the process of making them. I’ve grieved the mistakes I made when I didn’t love myself enough to protect by body or my spirit.

I’ve cried until I literally couldn’t cry anymore.

Even when I’m crying alone, I feel embarrassed I can’t keep it together. I fall victim to a society that indicts emotion and criminalizes imperfection.

And then I remember my friend Jesus.

The Christ who came to save the world. The one who set the captives free. The personification of so many things I hope to be.

I remember my friend Jesus crying at the loss of his friend Lazarus and the troubled sister who mourned Lazarus’s death.

I remember that even the all powerful Christ-with the ability to bring Lazarus back to life-was still moved to tears by the loss and emotions surrounding him.

I remember these tears, and I weep.

Jesus knew we’d need permission to cry sometimes.

 

Prayer

My God, we know joy comes in the morning. Let us not flee from pain to find it. Amen.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Marchaé Grair is the editor of the United Church of Christ blog, New Sacred, and the UCC social media associate.



Daily Devotion – December 29, 2016
12.29.16

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

 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 1:12-14

Reflection by Matthew Alexander

I have had to help a lot of people find hope during this holiday season.  As a hospice chaplain, I walked with many families as they watched their loved ones slip away from them.  When families lose somebody during the holidays their grief is intensified.  I believe this is because what once, at least one month during the year, they can feel the rush of happiness, it is taken away by death.  What was once a time to celebrate, will forever be different.  My work, as I have come to understand it, during this time of the year is help people find a different kind of hope.  My work is to remind them of the light of Christ.

When our hope, our happiness is grounded in the stuff of this earth, then it will always be temporary.  When we are born of God and we allow God’s spirit to dwell in us, then we understand that happiness is not in the gifts we buy for one another but in the time spent sharing our love with one another.  When we are able to forgive, then we find hope.  When we are able to reconcile differences, hope grows deep roots in our lives.  When we are brave enough to enter into the lives of those who are suffering in the darkness, then light will come with us.  For true happiness and true hope will only come to us when we find the light within us given to us by God and shown to us by Christ.

It’s true the pain and suffering of life will always nag at that happiness and attempt to crush our hope but we must remember the light of Christ during those times.  We must allow the light to at least burn bright enough to remember that we have been here before and we have survived.  We must remember we are not alone and that Christ showed us that as well.  He reminded us that we have one another by showing us just how much he needed others when he was struggling.

 

 



Daily Devotion – December 28, 2016
12.28.16

God is Still Speaking–In Everyone’s Life
Kim Sorrells

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.” – Jeremiah 1: 7-9a

When I was serving as a hospital chaplain during seminary I often had people tell me “you look too young to be a chaplain!”  Most of the time it was meant to be a compliment or said with a bit of loving playfulness.  However, I did once have a patient ask me “well what could you at your age possibly know about the world?”

I get it–we learn many things along the way in life.  God shows up and sustains us through trials heartaches.  We grow and learn to grasp just how faithful God truly is.  However, I fully believe that God’s faithfulness is so great, so wonderful, that it is there for everyone- in every time and space; in every age and race; in every class or identity.  In this text Jeremiah bemoans his age and yet God promises that God will speak through him, placing God’s own words in his mouth.

Perhaps what we might find hope in is seeing how God’s faithfulness shows up in so many different ways.  As a transgender, queer person for example- I’ve experienced God getting me through some hard times that a cisgender person will never experience, regardless of how many years of life experience they have.  When I worked at a homeless shelter, I had clients who told me stories of God’s faithfulness in their lives.  What a beautiful testimony to hear, and yet I know I can’t fully understand what they have experienced.   Still other friends of mine have shared about what life is like as a black person in America and how their faith has carried them.  What a beautiful testimony, and yet as a person with white privilege I will never understand that experience of God’s faithfulness.

Great is God’s faithfulness indeed.  Let us not miss out on glimpsing the full picture of the many ways that God shows up.  We do serve a God who is full of surprises, who chooses unexpected people, and shows up in unexpected ways.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer

God, we are so thankful that you are the one in whom we live and move and have our being.  Draw our attention to your presence in our lives and in our world, that we might grow deeper in our devotion to you. Amen.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim Sorrells is an ordained minister in the UCC and a member of Central Congregational UCC in Atlanta, GA.  They currently serve as the Georgia Field Organizer for Reconciling Ministries Network.

 

 



Sermon: Christmas Day (2016)
12.27.16

6 There 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.

Sometimes light is overrated.

Each year, our neighbor across the street hangs a very large, brightly lit star on a tree in his yard.  He keeps it on all night, every night through Christmas.  It shines directly into our bedroom.  All night.  Every night.  Through Christmas.

Sometimes light is annoying.  Really annoying.

Like the author of today’s Gospel lesson, we often associate light with good and darkness with bad.  That’s how our pagan ancestors saw things.  I know.  I’m not supposed to be talking about pagan stuff on Christmas, but we ended up with Christmas on December 25th because our ancestors in faith Christianized a pagan holiday…so maybe it’s okay.

As it turns out, December 25th has been a popular day of celebration from earliest times by people of many religions and cultures.  Why?  One theory is that, coming four days after the winter solstice –which is the longest night of the year, the largest presence of darkness in the world–by the 25th, it was clear that the days were growing longer again, that each day was beginning to harbor more light and less darkness.  For cultures that saw dark as bad and light as good, the darkest night of the year was forbidding.  The promise of light–which they had by four days after the longest night–was the optimal time to celebrate.

So, it makes sense to quote John’s line on December 25th that “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”

But still.  Sometimes light is overrated.  And annoying. Because sometimes light reveals things you’d rather stayed in the dark….like your bedroom at night during the busiest season of a pastor’s year….

…or the numbers on the scale after holiday binging…or the overdraft notices arriving in your inbox…or the discarded liquor bottles accumulating in the recycle bin…or the widening gap between rich and poor in our country and around the globe…or the increasing violence against Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities…or the acute irony of melting polar ice caps alongside sharp declines in potable water… or the realization that 62 million school age girls around the globe still are not able to receive education…

See what I mean?  The light coming into the world might not be the most comfortable thing ever to happen.  If these are the things the light reveals…maybe we’d do better if the light of the world hid himself under a bushel.

But…If the light of the world shines on all the broken places, mightn’t it also shine on all the sources of healing for those broken places?  Mightn’t it shine on places where people treat each other with kindness and generosity and good will?  Mightn’t it shine on places where justice is sought, where the earth is well-tended, where systems of poverty are transformed?  Mightn’t it shine on people who wake up to their privilege and use it to empower others, and on the marginalized who wake up to their worth and begin living it, and on the artists and writers who help us see our lives as they are and wake up to our own creative power to make the world a better place?

And might not the light of the world shine on us?  Might the light of the world be waking us up to our own creative power to transform the world?

It’s so easy for Christmas to stay sweet.  Christmas carols, Santa Claus, the baby Jesus, presents, hot cocoa….but the true story of Christmas, the true promise of Christmas comes from believing, truly believing in the power of God through the Christ– and through us– to transform a broken world into a place of peace and wholeness.

These words of L. R. Knost express it well:

“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.  All things break.  And all things can be mended.  Not with time, but with intention.  So go.  Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.  The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.”

It’s Christmas!  9The true light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world.  Thanks be to God!

In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.  Amen.

Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2016



Daily Devotion – December 27, 2016

John 1:6-8

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

Devotion by Julia Shiver

2016 has been a long, difficult year for me, and for many of you around me.  I was looking this morning at a year-end review in photos.  So much pain.  So much loss.  So much anger.

Maybe that is why, this Christmas, I have been less focused on the baby, and find myself longing for Christ the man.  God with us.  I see past the noise and glitz of Christmas, to Easter, to the Resurrection, for comfort and peace.

Let us give praise for Christ the baby, who becomes Christ the man, who becomes Christ our savior.

Dear God, Thank you for your light that is always there, even, maybe especially, when we can’t see it.  Amen.



Daily Devotion – December 26, 2016
12.26.16

In the Beginning
Lillian Daniel

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” – John 1:1

Christmas day has passed, and now we are left with the wrapping paper, the empty boxes and perhaps a few empty hearts. For some people, yesterday may have been a delightful feast of love and giving. Others may look back on the day we are all supposed to look forward to with a little relief that it’s over. Are we allowed to say that? Can we be honest and admit that sometimes the big day is not as joyful in real life as we want it to be?

This first verse from the gospel of John reminds us that our big days and calendars are really of little importance to the God who created us. God existed before time itself. So while we human beings may lift up one day over another, God is consistently present in every day. God was even there before we were here to count our days.

Prayer

Dear God, help me to understand that no single day gets to have the last word. At the end of a good day, or at the end of a bad day, you are with me, as you always have been and always will be. Amen.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Lillian Daniel’s new book Tired of Apologizing for a Church I Don’t Belong To: Spirituality without Stereotypes, Religion without Ranting is now available for purchase, but you can hear it all for free at 1st Congregational Church of Dubuque, Iowa.

 



Sermon: Christmas Eve (2016)

Italy takes its nativity scenes seriously…and has since St. Francis cobbled together the first one in 1223.  An article titled “On the Trail with Italy’s Manger Hoppers,” describes a few of the elaborate nativities Italians flock to see each year.

One dates from 1291 and includes the oldest known carvings of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus.  Another places the holy family on a cobblestone street under a flimsy overhang.

Another elaborate nativity dates from the 1700s.  In figurines of wood, terra-cotta and porcelain, it depicts not just the holy family, but a whole city alive and active.  In that one, the tableau predominates.  You have to look hard at the busy scene even to find the holy family.

Usually on Christmas Eve, we focus on the baby.  And that’s appropriate.  He was God, after all.  But all those Italian “manger-hoppers” don’t hop around just to look at a single baby, do they?  They go see the tableau—the context—in which the baby is placed…

…which reminds us that the Christmas story isn’t just about a baby being born and God showing up.  No, it’s about a baby being born and God showing up in a particular context.

Into what context was the baby Jesus born?  He was born to a young woman, pregnant before it was socially acceptable to be, to parents who had traveled far to be registered by a foreign government that often acted arbitrarily.  This arbitrary registration resulted in an influx of people the small town of Bethlehem wasn’t big enough to handle, which meant that even a nine-months pregnant woman couldn’t find lodging.  Two years later, the family would be forced to flee the government’s reign of terror.

A lot has happened in the last year.  The ongoing tragedy in Syria.  Terrorist attacks in Berlin, Brussels, Paris, Orlando.  A new level of divisiveness in our own country.

Reporting from the site of the Christmas market massacre in Berlin, a correspondent said, “It feels like Christmas has been killed.”  I’m sure for people closely associated with that horrific event that’s exactly how it feels.  Why go to a Christmas market if not to buy Christmas presents?  Those killed and injured must have been feeling the joy of the season.  But no more.

So.  Has Christmas been killed?  Is this all simply a rote ritual we dress up for each year to sing familiar songs, hear familiar stories, then stop by Waffle House on the way home?  Do we come to this service to escape from all the terrible things happening in the world?  Or is what we do here on Christmas Eve directly related to what’s happening in the world out there?

The story itself calls us to make the connection between the birth of Jesus and difficult events in the world….a pregnant teenager, being registered, seeking refuge…this is not a pretty story, or an easy one.  And yet, it is the one God chose to inhabit.  It is the story through which God chose to make God’s presence known in the world.  God is God, right?  God could have chosen to come to a world ruler in a grand city with an elegant palace…

But that’s not how God chose to come.  It’s as if God says:  The humble circumstances in which my son was born—these are my concern.  An unwed teenage mom?  She is my concern.  People whose lives are blown about by every whim of the arbitrary power of others?  These precious people are my concern.

If we only focus on the baby in the Christmas story, we’ve missed most of the story.  God didn’t just come to be with us in the form of a baby; God came to be with us in the messiness of life—in an unexpected pregnancy, in overcrowded cities, in oppressive political regimes.

God came to be with us in our sadness and grief and anxiety…God came to be with us in Aleppo, Orlando and Brussels…God came to be with us in the darkest places of our lives… because those are the places we most need to experience God’s presence, love, and light.

There is no place, no situation, no circumstance so dark, so crude, so hopeless that cannot be transformed by God’s love.  All that’s required—all that’s required—is for those present in the situation to open themselves to God’s presence.  When we open ourselves to God’s presence, even the most hopeless of situations can become the very places in which love is born.

Is it easy?  Absolutely not.  I’d love to know Mary’s first thought when Joseph guided her into that cave with the livestock.  (None of the things I can imagine her saying would be appropriate for a Christmas Eve service. J)  Yet, because Joseph and Mary were open to it, God transformed that crude stall into a place of hope and love and joy.

What might happen if we open ourselves to God’s presence, joy and love in the crude places of our world?  Might God-with-us transform those places as well?

If you’re ever manger-hopping in Rome, you’ll want to stop by the nativity being created in an abandoned garage.  In 1972, a street cleaner named Giuseppe Ianni began building the scene.  Since then, it’s grown to 275 figures and has been seen by thousands.  A street sweeper creating a work of art in an old garage is beautiful.  But here’s the really cool thing.  “Instead of the customary donation, Mr. Ianni asks visitors to give him a stone from their home countries to plaster to a wall in the scene.  They’re also “asked to pray for peace,” he said.”

Imagine that!  If we contributed a small piece of Stone Mountain to the scene, we would have a stake in it.  We would be a part of the context in which God-with-us comes.  Our contribution would help transform the context into a place where love could be born.

Here’s the good news for tonight—we don’t have to take a trip to Rome to begin transforming the context into which God-with-us is born.  Every time we serve the least of these, love is born.  Every time we de-escalate growing tensions, love is born.  Every time we seek the good even in the most dire of circumstances, love is born.  Every time we open ourselves to God with us, no matter the circumstances, no matter the circumstances, love will be born.  Thanks be to God!

Kimberleigh Buchanan  ©2016



Daily Devotion – December 25, 2016
12.25.16

Isaiah 52:7

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’”

 

Luke 2:10-11

And an 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; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

 

Devotion by David Burns

 

I don’t know whether or not I am a Process Theologian, but I definitely see a progression of thought taking place throughout the storytelling of Scripture.

 

In both Isaiah and in Luke, people are awaiting the salvation of the Lord.  In Isaiah, people are waiting in the city for news from the battle that God has given their king victory over the enemy, restoring the fortunes of Israel.  The announcement of peace walks hand in hand with the announcement of victory in battle.

 

In Luke, people are waiting again for God’s salvation, but in a more general, comprehensive way.  So Luke tells about, not the arrival of a king from battle, but a baby in a manger.

 

It seems we always teeter on the edge in our longing.  Tip one way and we find ourselves hoping for some kind of show of strength that will, at least, temporarily, secure a privileged place in the world for us and our children.  Tip the other way and we are longing for something new enough and large enough to fundamentally change the game for all people on the earth.  The biblical story keeps inviting us to move from “me” to “us”, from the particular to the universal, from strength to vulnerability, from the conventional to the transformational.

 

Kim observed in her homily last week that it is the baby brigade that “gets it.”  It is those who can see in every baby’s eyes and countenance a message of Good News, fresh from heaven.  Our seeing is never crystal clear, but we know we are looking at something that makes the angels sing.  Use your powers of imagination and look again today at the baby lying in the manger and wonder over the announcement that there, in that little one, flesh and spirit intertwined, is the salvation of the world!

 

 

Joy to the World!

 

God, we ask that you take us deeper into the mystery that what we long for is best discovered in the fresh arrival of a child from you.  Amen.

 

 



Daily Devotion – December 22, 2016
12.22.16

Isaiah 9:2 Christmas Eve

 

  1. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

 

Reflection by Darlene Wagner

 

In Earth’s Northern Hemisphere, the longest night of the year falls between

December 21 and December 23. Before modern infrastructure made lighting

available, the short day length and cold weather brought great hardships. Winter

was a time of famine and loss. The appearance of Light during dark times is a

recurring theme in the prophet Isaiah. The Light overcoming the Darkness is also a

common theme in the Gospels. Even though Bible scholars believe Christ was born

during springtime, the Nativity observance near Winter Solstice carries great spiritual

significance. During the peak of Israel’s spiritual darkness, personified by King

Herod, a Divine Light takes human form (Matthew 2:1). Those of us in the land of

the shadow of death can thus pray and meditate upon Light, even when we lack the

“Christmas Spirit”.

 

Meditation:

 

Such healing warmth flows forth from you, Dear Child!

My hope returns at sight of your kind face.

On coldest nights, your angel-light

heals sorrow-worn, work-weary hearts.

If Earth’s coal-fires or Sky’s grand lights should cease,

Your All-Enduring Joy my guide shall be.



Sermon: “A Child Shall Lead Them” (Advent 4) [Matthew 1:18-25]
12.21.16

A couple of Sundays ago–the day of the Hanging of the Green–there were six babies in the house.  Six!  Michael at 8:30, and Devon, Maddie, and 3 first-time guests at 10:00.

Did you sense a different kind of energy that day?  I sure did.  Something is different when babies are present, isn’t there?  The world looks different when you’re holding a baby.  Church looks different when you’re holding a baby.

I know you think I don’t know about this, but some of you come to church JUST to see–and hold–the babies.  Mm hmm.  I’ve got a little notebook where I’m keeping a list.

Why keep a list of the Baby Brigade?  Because you baby-mongers get it.  You get what Advent and Christmas are all about.  You get what God was doing when dreaming up this outlandish story of bringing salvation to the world through a helpless, mewling little baby.

If God wanted to change the world, it’s the adults who were going to need to change.  What better way to change the adults, to challenge them to work hard to change the world into a more hopeful and just place, than to give them a child?  Does anything motivate us more or make us more hopeful than trying to make the world a better place for children?

The baby Jesus story from Mary’s perspective is certainly engaging.  We heard a little about that last week–Mary’s visit from Gabriel then her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, who also was pregnant.

Hearing the baby Jesus story from Joseph’s perspective…there’s something kind of earthy about it, the annoyance factor is more pronounced.  He’s the one who will bear the brunt of the social stigma.  Once she’s pregnant, Mary doesn’t really have a whole lot of choice in the matter.  Joseph does.  It would be so easy for him to fade out of the picture.  Instead, he chooses to stay in the narrative…

Our choice on this fourth Sunday of Advent is similar to Joseph’s.  We can admit to the lunacy of this story…it just doesn’t make sense.  It’s counter-cultural to believe in this narrative… and yet, what might happen if we choose to stay in the story, even if we don’t understand it all?

Today as we listen to the music selected by the choir, I invite you reflect on Joseph’s role in the Christmas narrative…and your own.