Advent – December 15th

JOY

 

advent 15

Introduction

“Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fulness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).  The long wait is over.  The Messiah is coming.  He is found in the womb of the virgin Mary on the way to Bethlehem.  Soon the heavens will erupt in singing, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, and the lame will leap for joy!  Joy is an expression of thanks and relief that bubbles up from deep within the soul.  True joy cannot be contained—smiling, laughing, clapping, singing and dancing are part of the celebration.

Isaiah 35

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God.  Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped.  Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs. In the haunts where jackals once lay, grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.  And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

Reflection

The decorations have gone up,  Christmas concerts have begun, shopping intensifies, and the countdown continues.  Children can barely contain their excitement.  Everywhere people are sharing Christmas greetings. The long dark nights are illuminated with lights that sparkle in the crystal snow.  The joy of anticipation is sweet.  Our imaginations tap into the best memories of the past, and like faithful sports fans, we hope this will be the best season ever.  The sweetest time of the year is when the pressure is over and the festivities begin.  But the day after Christmas, something happens to the joy.  The family flies off in different directions, the toys and gifts lose their freshness, comparisons with years past begin, and the dreaded “return to work/school” looms.  Slowly the lights in the neighborhood go off, and we return to darkness.

Real joy persists in spite of circumstances because it is dependent on the joy-giver, and not on our circumstances.  God has come to be with us.  He will never leave us.  The light will continue to shine no matter how long the dark night.  Our attitude is formed by our perspective.  Remembering the true gift and resting in His love can ignite joy even when the season is over.  Joy to the world the Lord has come.  Dance and sing.

 Prayer

” Lord, there is sweetness in anticipating Christmas.  At times we can’t contain the joy as we anticipate getting together with friends and family to feast and celebrate.  May the light that illuminates the darkness during this season dwell in our hearts.  May this continue into the new year as we embrace the joy that Christ can bring.  We are redeemed.  We are loved.  We are forgiven.  Hallelujah.” Amen

 

Advent – December 14th

Peace – A Fruit of the Spirit

advent 14

Introduction

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal.5:22-23)  When Jesus returned to the Father at the end of his ministry, he appeared to his disciples and breathed on them the Holy Spirit.  This gave them the power to carry on his kingdom work.  The fruits of the spirit are admirable virtues that require divine inspiration.  On our own, we struggle with the opposite tendencies: hatred, depression, restlessness, impatience, mean-spiritedness, infidelity, rudeness, or impulsivity.  To invite Jesus into our lives is to allow him to plant the seeds that will grow into a life of peace.

John 20:19-23 

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.  The Lord be with all of you.

Reflection

One of the first science experiments children perform in school is to plant a seed in a cup of soil and watch it grow.  If the conditions are right, the seed sprouts and they observe it transform into a healthy plant.  One of the first stories I read in school told of a child planting an apple seed and waiting for it to produce apples.  Unfortunately, growing a tree from seed can take decades; the child is an adult before the fruit is ready.  So it is with the fruits of the spirit.  Christ is planted in our heart and, given the right conditions, his spirit begins to produce his likeness in our lives.  Abiding in the word of God, learning in fellowship with other Christians, exercising faith in prayer, and persisting through adversity, begins to do its work.  Just as fruit contains new seeds for the next generation of plant, so our lives become the seed of faith to our children, and so the cycle continues.

A child knows instinctively that only living seeds produce a plant.  They don’t dig a hole for a bone and expect a person to sprout.  Living plants require living seeds.  Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control must come from the living presence of God; those virtues will not grow from dead faith, no matter how great the effort.  What we produce in ourselves is a shadow of what God wants to bring to life in us.

This week we have focused on peace—shalom.  It is part of the mosaic of an abundant life that includes hope, peace, joy and love.  The absence of peace creates fear and uncertainty, causing us to find our peace in our own distractions.  To be able to say, “All is well”, is a gift that we seek this advent season.

Prayer

” Lord, we open our hearts to your spirit this Christmas season and pray that you will make the fruit visible in our lives.  You are the living God who wants to produce the virtues of the kingdom of God in our world through us.  Peace transforms our world.  It is the message of the angels given that first Christmas.   Welcome.” Amen

Advent – December 13th

Peace on Earth

Introduction

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ “ (Isa. 52:7) Only those who have lived in a war zone can truly appreciated the gift of peace.  It allows families to rebuild, children to return to school, businesses to be reestablished, crops to be planted and harvested, celebrations to resume, and worship and praise to flow.  The peacemakers are those who look for ways to end the struggle.  Jesus preached a different way than “an eye for an eye”; he modeled loving the enemy and going the second mile.  It does not demonstrate weakness, but strength.

Psalms

In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety. (4:8)The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace. (29:11)But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. (37:11)

Ezekiel 37:26

I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.  I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever.

Romans

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (12:18)Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. (14:19)

Reflection

Late on Christmas Eve in 1914, Allied forces heard German troops singing Christmas carols in the trenches.  As the soldiers joined their voices with their enemies a remarkable ceasefire occurred.  Men left their foxholes and meet on common ground under the banner of Jesus’s birth.  Various accounts report exchanging of gifts and playing a friendly game of soccer.  Whether these stories are accurate is difficult to confirm one hundred years later.  What is true is that Christmas was the occasion for a moment of peace.

“Diplomacy is the art of conversation.  It requires both listening and speaking.  Eight hundred years ago, in 1219 St. Francis and Brother Illuminato accompanied the armies of western Europe to Damietta, Egypt, during the Fifth Crusade. His desire was to speak peacefully with Muslim people about Christianity, even if it meant dying as a martyr. He tried to stop the Crusaders from attacking the Muslims at the Battle of Damietta, but failed. After the defeat of the western armies, he crossed the battle line with Brother Illuminato, was arrested and beaten by Arab soldiers, and eventually was taken to the sultan, Malek al-Kamil.

After an initial attempt by Francis and the sultan to convert the other, both quickly realized that the other already knew and loved God. Francis and Illuminato remained with al-Kamil and his Sufi teacher Fakhr ad-din al-Farisi for as many as twenty days, discussing prayer and the mystical life. When Francis left, al-Kamil gave him an ivory trumpet, which is still preserved in the crypt of the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi.”
https://www.trinitystores.com/artwork/st-francis-and-sultan)

Christ turns our enemy into our brother.  He is our peace.

Prayer

“Lord, we long for world peace, but it is elusive as long as we demonize our enemy.  You taught us to pray for our enemy, to turn the other cheek, and to trust you to be the judge.  Help us to surrender our right to get even and be victorious over others.  Rather, let us reach across the battlefield and find commonality.  You have modelled peace for us.”  Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Advent – December 12th

Peace Overcomes

advent 12

Introduction

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Eph. 6:12).  Life may seem like a daily struggle that begins with our own inner turmoil.  We are in a great cosmic battle between the Almighty God and the forces of evil.  It troubles our spirits, even when we can’t define it.  There is a consciousness that we live in a broken world that is slightly off the mark.  The book of Revelation gives us a glimpse into the final epilogue, when Christ, who has been victorious over sin and death, proclaims the victory won at Calvary.  This is our ultimate peace.

Revelation to the Seven Churches (Rev. 3, 4)

To Church at EphesusWhoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

To the Church at Smyrna –The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.

To the Church at Pergamum – To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

To the Church at Thyatira26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations— 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’[b]—just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star.

To the Church at Sardis –  You have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

To the Church at Philadelphia11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

To the Church at Laodecia – Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne.

I John 4:4

“You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

 Reflection

As a college student I had the habit of volunteering to help in the church with Sunday School or girl’s clubs or choir, and then dropping out when exams and homework overwhelmed me.  I even dropped out of my first student teaching placement when the demands of life caught up with me.  It took years for me to get over the dread of not following through on my commitments, even when it was inconvenient or required a second effort.  I had proven myself to be unreliable and that was a label I worked hard to shake.

In our walk with the Lord, we can easily become discouraged and give up.  Jesus spoke of that tendency in the parable of the sower when he compared the faith of some to “seeds planted in shallow soil.”  The harvest goes to those who overcome.  The seven churches in the first century were criticized for falling short of the goal.  The Ephesians had “forsaken their first love”; the Smyrnians were facing persecution; Pergamum embraced false heresies and immoral practices from their culture; Thyatira tolerated sexual immortality; In Sardis their faith was dying; Philadelphia was facing coming trials, and Laodicea was lukewarm about the faith.  John encourages them to persevere to the end: “Whoever has ears, let them hear”. . . the reward is peace with God both now and in the age to come.  To those who overcome, there is peace.

Prayer

“Lord, we are so easily discouraged.  The enemy attacks us at our weakest point and we abandon our first love, embrace the norms of our culture, and walk away from our commitments to serve you to the end.  We are weak, and without your power and love, we will not make it across the finish line.  Give us a love for our neighbor so that we pray for them and encourage them to persist in the faith.  May others be there to do the same for us.”  Amen

Advent – December 11th

Peace Breaks Down Walls

advent 11

Introduction

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).  We identify with those who are similar to us.  That begins to break down as we leave the confines of our home and enter into the world of school and community.  Expanding beyond our “comfort zone” requires empathy and the ability to listen to alternate viewpoints.  There is no motivation to do this unless we have a common interest with the “other”.  Christ, the universal Prince of Peace is that reason.  In him, all our differences are irrelevant.  We are all children of God.

Ephesians 2:14-15 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations.  His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of two, thus making peace. . . He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.

Isaiah 60:1-3

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you.  For behold, darkness covers the earth, and thick darkness is over the peoples; but the LORD will rise upon you, and His glory will appear over you.  Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

John 17:20-26 

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.  “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.  “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[a] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Reflection

In 1989 the world was stunned to witness East Germans crawling over the dividing wall in Berlin.  It was the symbol of the Cold War; hundreds had died trying to escape into freedom and now, suddenly, they were sharing a pint atop of the wall while the guards looked on.  The impossible had become a reality on the authority of a government official who misread a memo.  It was truly an act of God.

Today, we live in a fractured world.  Wexit, Brexit, Quebec sovereignty, Republicans versus Democrats, East versus West, Jews versus Palestinians, men versus women, . . the list is endless.  That is why the gospel is so incredibly counter-intuitive.  Instead of making access to God more exclusive, Christ tore down the walls.  He did this not by denying differences, but rather by loving us all.  No matter what side of a division we may stand on, when we look up to Christ, the Prince of Peace, we are all equal.  President George W. Bush was asked, “What is the greatest quality necessary to be President?”  He replied, “Humility.”  When we acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers to the big questions in life, and even accept that we might be wrong occasionally, we are open to seeing and hearing from others.  From the perspective that we are all created by God, the differences become smaller.  Add to that that Christ died for the whole world, whether they believe it or not, the value of each human being becomes priceless.  If God so loved the world, how can we devalue our neighbor to the point where we no longer want to acknowledge them?

Admittedly it takes a new perspective to be able to tear down our prejudices and stereotypes.  That new perspective is grace.  It cost God everything to give his only son to the world, knowing how he would suffer and die.  Yet, he gave himself out of love.  He wanted us to be one.  It was Jesus’s final prayer before he went to the Cross.  When love replaces hatred, there is peace.

Prayer

“Lord, you love us all.  It is often forgotten when we feel attacked for our differences.  Open our eyes and ears to see those who are on opposite sides as our neighbor, worthy of your grace.  This is an act of God; in ourselves we do not have that much love.  Bring peace to this world by reminding us that you tear down walls.”  Amen

Advent – December 10th

Peace With God

advent 10

Introduction

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1).  A holy God cannot accept sin.  It results in our death and separation from him.  “In the atoning death of Christ was exhibited not only the holy wrath of God against sin, but quite as much the love of God toward sinful men.  The gracious divine purpose realized in the atonement was entwined with the creation of human beings.  Redemption was in the thought and plan of the Creator so that humanity falling fell into the arms of divine mercy. (Unger’s Bible Dictionary, p. 107).

Colossians 1:19-23 (NIV)

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.   But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—  if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

Romans 5:6-ff
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God demonstrates his own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! . . For just as through the disobedience of the one man, Adam, the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man, Jesus, the many will be made righteous.

Reflection

We carefully evade anyone we have wronged because we know that it will be uncomfortable to face them.  We practice excuses, look for someone else to blame, or avoid going to places where you know they may be encountered.  Taken to the extreme, we may become physically ill or take drastic steps such as quitting attending the same church or school or moving away to another community.  The longer we put it off, the more difficult it becomes to be reconciled, and after a while, we try to forget about it entirely and fool ourselves into believing that “it’s over.”  But like a cancer that spreads until it’s dealt with, our sins invade our souls and separate us, not only from our neighbor, but also from God.

As parents, friends, or authority figures, we may try to engineer reconciliation for the good of the family or organization; healing is at the core of the work.  Yet, even a truth and reconciliation exercise cannot make it right.  It may even amplify the injustice, furthering the hurt to the victim and the guilt to the perpetrator.  It’s a cycle that has repeated itself since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden.

Imagine the relief to know that you are truly forgiven.  Your enemy becomes your friend, and the debt is paid.  This is the good news of the gospel.  “He who knew no sin became sin for us in order that the just requirements of the law might be met.” (Col 1:19).  The judge pronounced the sentence of death; then he stepped down and accepted the punishment.  He became our peace.

Prayer

“Lord, we are sinners deserving of wrath and death.  There was no way out for us, but from the beginning, you had a plan to bring us home.  By becoming a man, you accepted our sin and inevitable death.  But because you were sinless, death had no power over you, and we witnessed your resurrection.  Through Christ, we have died to sin and been born again to eternal life.  No more at war with God, we embrace your peace.”  Amen

Advent – December 9th

Peace – Fear Not

advent 9

Introduction

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”  The Apostle Paul often opened his letters with this greeting.  It was a continuation of the Hebrew “Shalom.”  Peace on earth was proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds at Christ’s birth.  It is more than a general sense of well-being; it is freedom from fear.  To be human is to be conscious of potential threats and to seek ways to avoid them.  Knowing that God has entered our world provides us with a confidence that we are not fighting these fears on our own.  He identifies with all that it means to be human.

John 14:27
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Philippians 4:4-7
Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Revelations 1:17-18;2:7

“Do not be afraid; I am the First and the Last.  am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death. . .  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.”

Reflection

I have a heightened fear of doctors developed over a lifetime of close encounters with death, whether real or imagined.  The irony of the situation is that my father is a doctor.  He has spent many hours assuring me that I can trust the medical profession to take care of me, despite my misgivings.  It is not his role to treat my illness, but rather to be there as I go through the crisis and offer prayer and support to dissuade my fears.  “Fear not” comes, not as I ignore the threat, but as I trust that I have an advocate who will be with me as I go through it.

The angels offered a threat to the shepherds on that first Christmas night.  They were sinners in the hands of a mighty God and there was a real possibility that they could be destroyed.  Instead they were given the good news that God was “with us”—He is our advocate; He’s on our side.  In Philippians we are given a bold charge, “To rejoice in the Lord always”.  We can do this because we know that He is there to support us, not to condemn us.  “Do not be anxious about anything. . . . the Lord is near.”  By trusting in him, we leave the situation in His hands and trust that His love will take care of us in spite of the circumstances.  The resulting peace is from above, not from within.  It is a supernatural peace that “passes understanding.”

Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  Fear not.  I have overcome the world.”

 Prayer

“Lord, we are so easily overcome by fears from within and without.  We cannot negotiate life’s journey without a guide to lead the way.  You entered our world and provided your Spirit to dwell with us and give us the peace that passes understanding.  Give us the faith to trust you more.”  Amen

Advent – December 8th

Peace be With You

advent 8

 Introduction

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward those he favors.” (Lk.2:14) The second week of advent celebrates peace.  The dove has long been the symbol for peace, as it represents the link between the Holy Spirit, baptism, salvation, and rescue from the flood.  It is also linked to the Hebrew word, “Shalom”.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  Through him we are made right with God and our neighbor.

Isaiah 9:6,7

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

John 20:21

“Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you!  As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”  And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’”

Reflection

“Chill out” was a common refrain in the 60’s and 70’s.  It was a response to the feeling that the leaders of the world were too “uptight”, causing war, political unrest and civil disobedience.  Those who took imminent threats of nuclear holocaust or global warfare too seriously were told to “tune out” rather than “freak out” under the pressures of life.  While the words and issues may have changed, there is a tendency to absorb all that is wrong with the world into our thinking.  It’s not easy to avoid a sense of disquiet from the media that reports an endless cycle of “Breaking News” with a focus on disaster and conflict.  What do we do when it becomes overwhelming?  How do we escape?

The Hebrew word, “Shalom” refers to God’s salvation and blessing on us.  It includes a fertile and productive earth, physical and mental wholeness, harmony with all people, communion with God.  We might say, “May all be well with your world.”  This peace is what the angels proclaimed at the birth of Jesus.  He was the ultimate good news in a world not unlike our own.  From the state of world affairs to dysfunction in a family, we long for peace.  In many churches, a moment is taken to share the peace with our neighbors.  It is more than a handshake, it is speaking the salvation and blessing of God on their lives.  It is that hope for rest, cessation from struggle, release from fear, hope for the future.  It is a divine gift that starts with being made right with God.  Harmony with our creator gives us new eyes so we can perceive what is “right with the world” and give thanks for all our blessings.

Irving Berlin, a popular song writer in the 1950’s, was consumed by stress and insomnia.  When he approached his doctor about a solution, he was told to “count your blessings”.  It worked.  This resulted in these lyrics:

“When I’m worried and I can’t sleep,

I count my blessings instead of sheep,

and I fall asleep counting my blessings. 

When my bankroll is getting small,

I think of when I had none at all,

and I fall asleep counting my blessings.”  

This is “shalom”—peace, well-being, seeing what is right with the world.  The ultimate “breaking news” story is that God has come to bring us “peace on earth”.

Prayer

Dear Lord, we focus on all the endless possibilities for disaster our world.  It clouds our vision and prevents us from enjoying life.  You have brought us peace—shalom—in Jesus.  You want to restore us to harmony and provide us with an attitude of thanks for all our blessings.  Grant us the peace so that we may say, “All is well.”  Amen

 

Advent – December 7th

Hope is Ongoing

sagrada familia

Introduction

“Being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:7)  Hope, by its very nature, is incomplete.  Our hope began 2,000 years ago at Jesus’s birth, and continues to this day.  We are part of the stream of pilgrims who have carried on the message from one generation to the next because we know that “He who began the good work is faithful to complete it” (Phil. 1:6)

Hebrews 10:23

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; 24 and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, 25 not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Reflection

“He who promised is faithful.”  During this first week of advent we have looked at hope from the viewpoint that it all rests on Jesus.  We wait expectantly for him to complete the work he began 2,000 years ago, both personally in our lives, and ultimately when he returns to claim his bride, the church of Christ.

I visited the Sagrada Familia Basilica in Barcelona, Spain this fall.  It was begun in 1883 by Antoni Gaudi, the chief architect.  Before he completed his design, he spent time immersing himself in scripture so that he could understand the purpose of the work.  He removed the images that crowded many Gothic cathedrals and placed them on the exterior, as a witness to those outside of the church. On one side he placed scenes of the nativity; on the other, the passion.  But once pilgrims entered through the doors, they were treated to a cathedral like none other—it was like entering the throne room of the King of Kings.  Gaudi died before the work was completed, but others have taken up the challenge, and by 2026, it is hoped that the project will be completed.  I imagined myself being in that space as Jesus returns at the final trumpet.  He began the good work 2,000 years ago; he has left us with the vision to carry on the work until he returns.

SAGRADA FAMILIA – THE LIVING HOPE

By Elaine Knudtson

Vain-glorious tourists stage selfies affront the floral doors.

The niches of hope, love and faith respond in stony silence as voyeurs pass under the 21st century nativity.

Entering the stream, we flow into the basilica, anticipating archetypes stamped in our Gothic and Medieval consciousness.

But they are not there.

Flying buttresses explode into a canopy of leaves and branches, extended in praise to God.

Stained glass shatters into a kaleidoscope of liturgical hues,

capturing each season in shadows on the floor and ceiling.

An organ infuses the space,

inviting worshipers to enter an island in the center of the sanctuary.

Most pass by,

but we are drawn by the transcendent Christ,

floating beneath the canopy above the altar,

eyes lifted to the Father in a sacrifice of praise.

This is a masterpiece of faith

begun a century ago by artisans

offering their vision to our generation.

An elevator ascends the tower,

reminding us that we are in a virginal space,

not yet complete.

It is a throne room fit for the marriage of the King.

What glory to be here on the last day.

I pass through the exit to the Passion facade on the other side.

Looking back I witness a solitary man wiping his eyes in the front pew.

The unseen presence has transformed this tourist into a pilgrim.

Prayer

“Jesus, make us faithful pilgrims in this life as we carry on the work that you began at Christmas over 2,000 years ago.  In the hope of your coming, we labour, “not in vain”.  Even though we lose heart as we witness the brokenness of this world, we know that ultimately your work will be completed and we will all worship the King of King and Lord of Lords.  Give us the hope to endure.”  Amen

 

Advent – December 6th

Hope is Personal

advent 6

Introduction

“For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”  (Jer.29:11) God knows us personally and understands our needs and longings.  Our individual hopes can be met as we surrender to his providence and believe in his love for us

Psalm 42:5

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.

Romans 5:5

Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Colossians 1:27

God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Titus 1:2; 2:13

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ to further the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness— in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior.” . . . [We are] looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,

Reflection

Often in a job interview there is an opportunity to ask the potential employer a question.  As a new teacher, I was concerned about the philosophy of the school district I had applied to, so I boldly asked, “What is your position on child-centered education?”  The superintendent was taken aback as I clarified my meaning.  “I want to work for a school board who shares my values, and I believe strongly in starting with the needs of the child,”  I said.  I got the job.  Later, after I had worked for the Board for several years, the superintendent confessed that it had been one of the most unusual interviews he had ever conducted.  I was embarrassed that I had been so bold, but I had more confidence than common sense at the time, so we were able to laugh at my hubris.  Once I was hired, I got to know the person behind the questions.  A fuller understanding emerged once I stepped out of the interview space into the staff room and the offices behind the front desk.

When we get to know Jesus personally, we begin to understand the meaning behind all the promises and expectations.  We can dialogue, through prayer, and honestly share our disappointments and joys without fear of being excluded.  It becomes personal.  He knows my name.  The better I get to know God, the richer the conversation becomes.  When I read scripture, I hear his voice speaking to me.  As I learn to trust in his love for me, I let myself release control of my hidden desires and begin to hope that He who created me is faithful and will bring about the best for me.  I put my name in the words, “I know the plans I have for you, Elaine.  Plans for good and not for evil.  To give you a future and a hope.”  Believing that God wants to be involved in my life story, I look for evidence of his presence and it becomes evident that he has been leading all along.  My hope for the future is based on a personal relationship with the living hope.

Prayer

“God, I trust that you want to know me personally.  At times I don’t even understand myself, but I want to be included in your promises of hope for my life.  Help me to see all the times you have been personally involved in the pattern of my life.  Be patient with me as I learn to submit to your love.  My hope is in you.” Amen