December 19-25, 2016
Monday, December 19, 2016
“In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus” (Luke 2:1).
It was a week before Christmas, one year ago, when Kai was called into his boss’s office and informed that he was being let go. The bottom dropped out of Kai’s world. His shock was quickly replaced by rage and Kai had to literally bite his tongue to keep from saying things he knew he would regret. During the year that followed, Kai’s life dramatically changed. He moved to a new community in order to start work at his dream job. Kai made some great new friends and volunteered to use his talents in a couple ministries of the congregation that he joined. For the first time in a long time, Kai felt that he was right where God wanted him to be and was being used by the Holy Spirit to make a difference.
God accomplishes God’s will in many different ways. Usually God uses followers of Jesus, but God doesn’t stop there. God also uses non-believers and even enemies. Emperor Augustus would have been shocked if he had known that though he was a powerful king in God’s hands he was a mere pawn.
In our messy lives we celebrate triumphs and grieve tragedies. God moves all the time by using circumstances and the people involved in those circumstances to accomplish God’s will. We may question the how or the why, yet we trust that God is active in our lives and our world.
Lord, you are full of surprises. Whether they are pleasant or frightening, open our eyes that we may see you in them—and rest in you. Amen.
Tuesday, December 20, 2016
“Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem” (Luke 2:4).
After a long, hard week at work, Antonio was looking forward to reading a good book and watching a couple of football games. Antonio’s son and daughter had different plans. Early on Saturday morning they rushed into their parent’s bedroom and pleaded with Antonio to take them to the park. It wasn’t a convenient time as Antonio did have his plans, but Antonio acquiesced to their request. Once at the park, the trio had a great time—one of those special times between parents and children.
It was not convenient for Joseph to travel to Bethlehem with Mary. Mary was due to give birth any day and it was not an easy journey. Joseph and Mary made the trip, though, and wonderful things happened—a savior was born.
Grace surprises us. It usually happens at inconvenient and unexpected times.
Gracious God, we rejoice that you surprise us again and again with your grace. Thank you. Amen.
Wednesday, December 21, 2016
“Laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7a).
People look for God in all of the wrong places. We climb high mountains or stand on the shores of quiet, still lakes. We visit grand cathedrals and gaze upon gold and jewel encrusted implements. We seek God in success, affluence and influence. We seek, but we do not find.
When God came to dwell among us, God chose young Mary a small town unknown. Though the mother of God, Mary would be known as an adulteress and her son, the Son of God, a bastard. His birth took place in a stable surrounded by smelling, dirty animals. Jesus was placed in a manger, the lowest of all beds. Jesus’ birth was announced to shepherds—society’s outcasts who were looked down upon by almost everyone.
All of these factors proclaimed one great truth, God is with us in the very depths of life. God is not in the cream, but rather in the dregs. God is not necessarily found in comfort. More often God is found in struggle. We will more often find God in the hospital beds of the sick, the cells of the prisoners and humble abodes of the poor and hungry, than we will in the mansions of the rich and powerful. We will find God wherever we live, serve and breathe and wherever the paths of our lives take us.
God of love, draw us close to you and help us find you in those whose burdens we can lighten, whose needs we can meet and with whom we can share your good news. Amen.
Thursday, December 22, 2016
“Because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7b).
Fran Williams was at her wits end. She was traveling cross country—a single mom with three rambunctious kids all under the age of ten. Fran was traveling to a new job and she hoped a new beginning, but it wasn’t an easy journey. After ten hours on the road, she had planned to stop at a small city on her way and get a hotel room. She didn’t know that a convention was in town and all the hotels were booked. She encountered “No Vacancy” signs over and over again, until she discovered a small bed and breakfast. The elderly couple who ran the B&B loved children and welcomed Fran and her brood. Once settled in for the night, Fran marveled at God’s provision for her and her children. God certainly didn’t make it easy for her, though.
It must have been a frustrating night for Joseph and Mary to have reached their destination and then discover that there was no room at the relatives nor at the inn. They encountered closed doors until they found the stable. The “No Vacancy” signs foreshadowed how the world would receive their child, Jesus, during his ministry (ref. John 1:10-11, Matthew 8:20). The nativity story never hints that things are out of control or contrary to God’s desires.
God’s hand was upon the young couple just as God’s hand is upon us. The Holy Spirit continues to work through non-believers and lead by closed doors.
Precious Lord, walk with us through the days of our lives and even in the difficult and confusing times. Enable us to rest in your steadfast love. Amen.
Friday, December 23, 2016
“Then an angel of the Lord stood before them [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them” (Luke 2:8).
It was two weeks before ten year-old Lisa Ann was to celebrate her birthday. She and her mother had been planning the event together and as part of the planning Lisa Ann made a list of the kids she wanted to invite. Two of the children on the list caused her parents concern. One was from a tough part of town. Lisa Ann’s parents had met the second child and, to put it kindly, he was an obnoxious brat. They hoped they would be able to convince Lisa Ann that she needed to modify her guest list.
We all have a mental list of people we would not like to entertain in our home or to have as guests at our children’s birthday parties. This is not what God does. At the birth of God’s son, God invited lowly shepherds who lived on the fringes of society. Aliens and outsiders from the East received an invitation via a star. Beasts of burden and a variety of farm animals were at the right place at the right time. Jesus was born because God loved the world—everyone—and God invites everyone (not a select few) to come and celebrate the birth of the Christ child.
Forgiving God, do not count it against us when we exclude rather than include. Rather move within us so that our love might match yours. Amen.
Saturday, December 24, 2016
“I’m bringing you good news of great joy to all people” (Luke 2:10).
What is the good news of Christmas? Is it that people should wish each other a “Merry Christmas!” rather than a “Happy Holidays?” Perhaps it is the fact that many stores are now open for twenty-four hours to help those who wait for the last minute to purchase their Christmas gifts. Is the good news that people are welcomed to worship with us as long as they meet our expectations and are acceptable? Some people regrettably think so.
This is not the good news that the angel proclaimed on that first Christmas morning. Because of God’s steadfast love, God sent a savior as the angel announced. The child would live (and die) to rescue us from lives that are self-centered and separated from God, others, creation and even ourselves. The child would free us from lives that were empty, meaningless and purposeless. This child, who was wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, would save us so that we could live new lives that were filled with love, abundance and freedom. This night God has given the world a savior who is Christ the Lord.
Thank you Lord for your gift of a savior who leads us into a relationship with you and gives us opportunities to serve and to love. Amen.
Sunday, December 25, 2016
“There was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God” (Luke 2:13).
In cities and town across the globe, Handel’s “Messiah” is sung during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It has become customary, when the “Hallelujah Chorus” begins, for the audience to stand. No one is sure when the custom started. The most popular story is that King George II attended the March, 1743 London premiere of “The Messiah.” When the notes and words of the “Hallelujah Chorus” started to fill the auditorium the king stood up stating that, “Even a king stands for the King of kings.”
The angel proclaimed to the shepherds, and to all of the people of the world, “Unto you is born, in the city of David, a savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” The child who was born so long ago is the Messiah who ushered in the Kingdom of God. He is the one who Handel’s oratorio announces, “… shall reign forever and ever and ever.” Today we can join the angel, the heavenly host and all the singers who have ever sung Handel’s Messiah in praising God and singing, “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah!” God has given God’s son to the world. God is moving powerfully in our lives and in the world. God’s kingdom has come and is coming!
Praise you Lord for the birth of your Son who brings your love, grace and mercy into our lives. Amen.