Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Have you ever received a unique gift, a one of a kind present, something never seen or heard of before? Something completely different – new, beyond your wildest dreams??? Have you ever really searched for such a gift for someone else?
“For unto 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.” Isaiah 9:6
WOW !!!!! – The baby Jesus is that one of a kind, unique, completely different gift – that you have received this day. JESUS is our gift from God – to save each of us from our sinful ways, and to give us eternal life.
Jesus – fully human and fully divine – man and God – truly unique – the perfect gift.
Jesus is our perfect example in all ways, filled with awe-inspiring love and grace and understanding.
So how will you share this perfectly unique gift that God has given to you once again this Christmas Day? Will you share Jesus with others during the coming days and years? Will you be open to God’s grace and guidance, so that everyone you encounter may experience your unique, one of a kind present – Jesus?
BLESSINGS AND JOY TO EACH OF YOU ON THIS CHRISTMAS DAY
Rev. Suzanne Ellis
PS -- Merry Christmas to all of you from all of us who are part of the Johnson Memorial United Methodist Church Devotional Ministry. We pray your Christmas season is warm and bright with the love of God. Kim
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Luke 22:50-51: Then one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, ‘No more of this!’ And he touched his ear and healed him.
On Christmas Eve, we close our eyes, and we can imagine what it would have been like to have been standing in a stable, in a dark corner, watching as Mary held her newborn son. Perhaps Joseph kneels near them, held speechless in the amazement that parents feel when a child arrives. We can imagine the love shared between the three of them, and it surrounds us, filling us with joy. As we watch, we are humbled by the realization that God has come into the world because of that love. What have we done to earn this love? It is no wonder that grace is described as amazing.
Then we read the words of Luke 22:50-51. Even in the moment of betrayal, the love expressed in a stable is made evident. In the slice of the sword, can we hear the echo of the weapons used to kill the young infant sons in the time of Jesus’ birth? In Jesus’ gentle touch to restore the slave, can we feel the brush of a father’s hand against his son’s newborn cheek? In the power of healing, can we remember Jesus love made manifest in his incarnation? Jesus not only loves us, but he also models for us what love is, and how love acts.
Our world is not a quiet stable. It is more like the world of the garden, when betrayal and fear threatened to overcome love. What is our response in a world such as this? Will we respond to hatred with hatred? Violence with violence? Or will we offer what has been offered to us? Will we offer what Jesus offered to the slave of the high priest? When we respond with healing – the love of Christ – all of us are made whole. Consider today who in your life needs the healing touch of Christ through you.
Prayer: Creating God, we thank you that you give us grace enough to love each other. Amen.
Monday, December 23, 2013
“Light in the Darkness”
Lectionary Readings: Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:1-14; Luke 2: 1-14.
“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....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.” Isaiah 9: 2 and 6
“It was a dark and stormy night.” (No, I’m not writing the beginning of a novel). But, I was awakened by the blowing wind outside and the lack of light and power inside. It was the middle of the night, so I set the battery operated clock and went back to sleep only to find that there was still no power on Friday morning when I needed to begin my day. I had to shower and get to work – patients were depending on me. So I lit some candles and headed into the shower. Whoever said that showering by candlelight is romantic???? Oh, well. However, I know what a difference a little light makes. Showering, dressing and preparing for public display is much, much better in a lighted area. I am definitely not a rugged primitive sort.
When Jesus proclaimed in John 8:12 that he was the “Light of the World,” he wasn’t speaking of actual light, but we certainly can understand this language. Even in a world with powerful electricity, there are dark areas that we avoid because we fear for our safety. Many of us walk in the darkness of our own soul, weighed down by burdens and obstacles. Jesus said that anyone who followed him would not stumble in the darkness – that he would provide plenty of light. When we follow Jesus we become part of that light – safe and protected and encouraged to share the light with others. Accepting Jesus into our hearts connects us to the light. We are no longer “walking in darkness.” We’ve all sung the children’s song: “This Little Light of Mine” using out finger as the light and waving it as we sang. We are a blessed people who have been given this great gift of light. The Light of the World is Jesus!
The Light came first as a baby and recalling the joy of a baby’s birth helps us to reconnect to the light. When I get to sing the Messiah which contains a chorus using the words of Isaiah: “For Unto Us A Child is Born”, the power and majesty of Isaiah’s prophecy is revealed to me. The story of Jesus is mysterious, unbelievable, glorious, overwhelming and real. We are hesitant to give up all our busy ways to let him in, though. We have this time before Christmas every year to prepare once again to accept the baby in the manger. Time is running out on the Advent Calendar, but there is always time for the Father to accept one of his own and welcome them into the circle of light that is the Son.
It’s not an Advent or Christmas Carol, but the words call us to accept the light and live as a changed person:
Come! Live in the light!
Shine with the joy and the love of the Lord!
We are called to be light for the kingdom,
to live in the freedom of the city of God!
Come! Open your heart!
Show your mercy to all those in fear!
We are called to be hope for the hopeless
so all hatred and blindness will be no more!
Sing! Sing a new song!
Sing of that great day when all will be one!
God will reign, and we’ll walk with each other
as sisters and brothers, united in love!
Refrain: We are called to act with justice;
We are called to love tenderly;
We are called to serve one another;
to walk humbly with God!
Dear God of Glorious Light: We ask once again for you to have patience with us. We have been ignoring your messages this season. We’ve tried, but we have allowed the busyness and worldly distractions to draw us away from the light. Help us to sweep away the darkness in our hearts that keep them from becoming ready for you to enter in. Fill our hearts once again with the fresh new light of today that gives us guidance and direction. Continue to call us to live in the light! AMEN
Sunday, December 22, 2013
As part of my prayer and devotional life as a Benedictine Oblate, I was re-introduced to a beautiful reminder of the meaning of Advent & Christmas – “The O Antiphons.” An “antiphon” is a responsive reading or chant prior to a Psalm or Hymn or other reading. It derives from the words – “opposite voice.” Used by the monks and others, it is what we would know as “responsive reading or singing.” The antiphon is most often a Scripture text.
The “O Antiphons” are used at Vespers (evening prayer) in the last seven days of Advent in Western Christian traditions (December 17 – 23). The “O Antiphon” precedes the praying or singing of the Magnificat (The Song of Mary, Luke 1:46-55), the traditional evening prayer. They are referred to as the “O Antiphons” because the title of each one begins with the exclamation “O”. Each antiphon is a name of Christ, one of his attributes mentioned in Scripture. They are:
December 17: O Sapientia (Wisdom) (Proverbs 8:12, I Corinthians 1:24)
December 18: O Adonai (Lord) (Exodus 19:16)
December 19: O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse) (Isaiah 11:1)
December 20: O Clavis David (Key of David) (Revelation 3:7)
December 21: O Oriens (Dayspring) (Malachi 4:2, Luke 1:78-79)
December 22: O Rex Gentium (King of the nations)
December 23: O Emmanuel (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23)
We sing a traditional Advent hymn (UM Hymnal #211) – “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” derived from these antiphons. The text for the hymn comes from antiphon texts dating back to the 8th century – “The O Antiphons.” A metrical version of five of the verses appeared in the 13th century, which was translated into English by J.M. Neale in 1851.
Writer and teacher, Bosco Peters, says of the antiphons, “The O Antiphons come at the end of Advent to tie together the prophetic hopes of a people who have waited not for just three or four weeks for the coming of the Lord, but for whole centuries. There is no knowing now why these particular ancient hints about Bethlehem were chosen instead of any number of others. . . They tell us to be patient just a little while longer, and describe the wonders in store on the other side of Christmas Eve. At the same time, they implore Jesus-to-be-born to tarry not, come quickly, come soon.”
The “O Antiphons” themselves contain a riddled petition of prayer. Written out together across a page in Latin, the first letter of the antiphons (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) form a reverse acrostic spelling “Ero cras” translated from Latin - “I will be there tomorrow”.
May we be blessed again by remembering the coming of God into human life in the babe of Bethlehem – Jesus Christ. “O come, O come, Emmanuel” – God with us!
Dr. William H. Wilson (Bill)
Saturday, December 21, 2013
Psalm 80:19 – Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved!
As I began to write this devotional, trying to find the hope and promise of the advent season has been difficult. There have been some changes in my life that have made searching for hope difficult to say the least. Then, as with most times of doubt and despair, God’s face shines and the hope of a new day can be seen through His grace.
In this time of hope and new beginning, I have been struggling to find the joy of the season. I have felt that my prayers were falling on deaf ears, and I felt alone. Then without notice or warning, God shows us that we are not alone, and our prayers do not fall on deaf ears. He provides us with signs that he is here, and cares for our every tear. His face shines upon us through many different ways.
In the last few weeks, I have been surprised by conversations that I am sure have been when God’s face has been shining on me. In one conversation, I was reminded that when we are in need, the Holy Spirit will take our load. I was also reminded by another conversation of the comfort that can be felt knowing that others are offering prayers for those in a time of need can be very powerful. Can you imagine the fear and doubt that Joseph and Mary must have felt? There must have been many times where they felt scared, alone, and the search for Joy and Love must have been very difficult. Joseph was prepared to dismiss Mary, until an angel appeared in a dream. The conversation he had in that dream convinced him that God had truly chosen him to be with Mary during this amazing time.
In this time of Hope, Love and Joy, remember that God’s face does shine upon us. When we have trouble finding peace, we need only to ask the Holy Spirit to carry the load. Holy Spirit, in this season of advent, many people continually struggle to find the comfort of God’s grace. Let His face shine upon you and give you peace. Amen
Friday, December 20, 2013
Have you ever stopped to imagine just what are these wonders of His mighty love? We could try listing them---but that would take eternity, especially since there’s little likelihood we’d ever find the words that could adequately describe His Love. Or we could point to biblical examples of our incredible world to the mercy shown to a motley crew of fishermen.
Then there are the wonders we’ve seen in our own world: a weeping father brought to the throne of grace, finally set free from the bondage of alcohol; a sexually abused friend finding peace and healing in the tender embrace of the Lord; a tiny European nun bringing hope to the diseased and homeless and unloved in India.
We have many opportunities each day to see the wonders of His mighty love. But there is one Wonder that surpasses all others. One evidence of His mighty love that stands so far apart from all else that it is the very definitions of love itself: Jesus Christ, nailed to a cross, dying so we might live.
“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Make no mistake about it, the apostle John tells us in his first letter (4:10)---this is love. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, would be one to know.
Love is the Father placing the burden of sin on the shoulders of His Son so we would no longer have to bear it ourselves.
That, the apostle Paul wrote in the letter we call Romans, is exactly how God chose to demonstrate His love for us. He allowed His Son to die for us while we were still sinners (5:8). We didn’t have to get our act together before we came to the cross. He didn’t require us to take a drug test or go twenty-four hours without lying or apologize to anyone for anything. No, all we had to do was come.
There, at the foot of the cross, His mighty Love would meet us. And there we would find the power and the strength to begin life all over again, this time knowing that we’re loved. We were always loved, of course, but we didn’t know it. We couldn’t know it because we didn’t know God. And knowing God, we now know love –because God is love.
That’s a lot to take in. No wonder the wisdom of God appears to be foolishness to those outside His family of believers. If we hadn’t experienced all this for ourselves – if we hadn’t danced for joy after first crawling to the cross – well, we’d no doubt find all this pretty hard to believe.
When you come right down to it, it’s all a wonder.
Taken from Shout to the Lord foreword by Darlene Zschech
Chapter 4 The Wonder of Your Mighty Love.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. Matthew 1:19
I was the church lay leader in 2004 when Rev. Joseph Shreve was appointed senior pastor of Johnson Memorial. He and Vicky moved into the parsonage a day earlier than we expected. I went over to welcome them and to see if they needed anything that evening; the moving van would not arrive until the next day. During our brief conversation, I asked Rev. Shreve what he wanted the congregation to call him: Rev. Shreve? Dr. Shreve? Pastor Joe?
“Just Joe,” was the reply. So of course, when I introduced Rev. Shreve during the time of announcements the following Sunday, I called him “Just Joe.” The name stuck for a while among some of the church comedians. Namely, me.
Our scripture lesson today is about another “Just Joe.” We know very little from the gospels about Joseph, but in Matthew’s introduction, we learn that he is “just.” What does “just” mean? As an adverb, it can mean “simply” as in “Just call me Joe;” it can mean “barely” as in “I turned my devotion in just in time;” or it can mean “precisely,” as in “the trombone sounded just right.” As an adjective, however, “just” is more closely related to the Latin original justus, which meant “lawful” or “right.” This, of course, is what Matthew means when he refers to Joseph as “just.” In fact, other translations call Joseph a “righteous man.”
It is this quality of being just or righteous that moves Joseph to act compassionately toward Mary. We know the birth stories so well that we sometimes forget the shock and hurt Joseph must have experienced upon learning that she was pregnant. The law permitted, perhaps even required that Mary should be put to death. Joseph, because he was just, resolved to handle it quietly and preserve her life.
I regret that we do not know more about Joseph. I like to imagine that as a boy, Jesus was formed, informed, and influenced by Joseph. I think of my relationship with my own father and wonder if Jesus had a similar relationship with Joseph that might have provided the image for God as father. Maybe Jesus spent time in Joseph’s shop and learned the trade of carpentry, among other things. Jesus might have found in Joseph an example of compassion and in looking out for others. Perhaps Joseph taught Jesus how to treat others with caring and compassion.
Of course, when an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream to explain the circumstances of the pregnancy, and the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah that “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel,” we discover more evidence of Joseph’s justness. “When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him…” Matthew 1:24. This lesson in obedience to God’s will might have proven to be the most important, and challenging example that Jesus would recall near the end of his own life.