Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Advent Reflections: December 14


“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Luke 2:9-12


Fear of the unknown is a very common emotion these days. As our world continues to change, unknown factors of life increase as well. Our lives are filled with many uncertainties, all of which contain a litany of various unfamiliar aspects and results. When faced with the unfamiliar, many of us find ourselves reacting with every emotion from uneasiness to shear panic. Basically, most us just don’t like to face the unknown.

But with every unknown situation, there is the opportunity for joy to transcend our fears. Unfortunately, fear is one of the greatest factors that hold many of us back from accomplishing extraordinary things. Think about this for a moment. Is it not usually true that when we take a critical step of faith, trusting God even while consumed with fear, that the overwhelming joy we experience overshadows previous fears? Is it not usually worth the risk?  

As the Angel of the Lord appeared to the Shepherds, and the manifestation of the glory of God surrounded them, they were afraid. Who wouldn't be? In the presence of the unknown, fear overshadowed the joy that God was about to proclaim. By the angel’s words, “Do not be afraid”, the Good News of Jesus Christ was proclaimed, and the unknown became known. Fear became joy. Truth transcended uncertainty.          

God, we face many uncertainties in this world and confess that the unknown causes great fear. But in your declaration of truth, through your son, all fears are transcended to joy. Allow the essential truth that was declared to the shepherds to be the same joy that finds us today. 


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Advent Reflections: December 13


“This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:18-21


There are times in life when occasions that usually should bring joy do anything but. Two people are married for the wrong reasons. A promotion is accepted, but requires too much time away from home. A new home is purchased, but the debt is overwhelming. A child is born when the pregnancy was unplanned and unexpected. 

Most of us do our best to make good choices in life, but we all make mistakes, don't we? When those mistakes become realities, we hope and pray with all of our heart that God will transform our circumstances and forgive us in our failures. And sometimes we see that our circumstances, although not anticipated or planned for, turn out to be unexpected blessings from a loving God.

Joseph certainly did not anticipate Mary becoming pregnant before they were married. The Bible tells us that he was a righteous man, most likely making good decisions for most of his young life. But yet here he was, facing the possible ending of his relationship with Mary and the ramifications that would affect both of them for the rest of their lives. 

But being a man of God and knowing and knowing that something unusual was going on, Joseph made the best decision that his human mind could comprehend: he would divorce Mary with as much dignity possible. After all, from his perspective, she had been unfaithful.

It was only then that God stepped in to reveal to Joseph that this blessed occasion would not be a burden after all, but an event that would change the world. Joseph made the wrong decision based on his limited knowledge. God revealed that this was not his choice to make, and regardless of the unexpected circumstances, joy would rise from the birth of this unexpected child.


God, in the midst of our mistakes, bad decisions, our failures and unexpected situations in life, help us to see the joy in all that you do through us. Help us to see that while our circumstances may be unexpected, joy can always come through our trust in you.


Saturday, December 10, 2016

Advent Reflections - December 10


“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
1 John 4:10

There is no greater emotion than love. Love can envelop an eclectic collection of emotions that often contradict each other and leave us either elated or completely confused. Love can conjure up a range of feelings from happiness, laughter and contentment, to thoughts of anger, hatred and jealousy. Love can lift us up, and love can bring us crashing to the ground. Love unites cultures and love can also divide communities. Love can conquer all obstacles of life and love can leave us utterly defeated. Love can find us included among close friends and family or leave us feeling abandoned and lonely. Love can be all, or it can be nothing.

Love also generates peace, a peace and joyful contentment that transforms the very essence of who we are. It can catapult us from the often mundane pace of life to an exciting journey that leaves us confident of accomplishing anything that we face. Love can consume us with peace, and most often that peace comes from being loved, rather than loving. Being loved by others is a confirming indication that we matter. That we are worthy of love. That the make-up of who we are, has caused another human being to be moved to this radical and all encompassing emotion: Love.

As we read these words today’s passage, we discover a very simple and yet complex and perplexing truth: God loves us. He loves me. He loves you. And all that God has done through Christ, has nothing to do with how much, or how little we love God, but how much he loves us. His love for each one of us is an overwhelming and transforming mystery; the same mystery that revolves around the incarnation. A love so massive and without limit, and yet it was contained and confined in the limited vessel of a small child. A love that compelled the God of all that is, all that has been and all that will be, to descend into the darkness of this chaotic world and live among us. This is love: Emmanuel, God with us!

God, your love for us is without limit, without understanding and without end. In our feeble attempts to love you, God, let us receive your love through the blessings of this Advent Season. Let us rest, feel your peace and be loved by you.


Friday, December 9, 2016

Advent Reflections - December 9


“All this took place to fulfill
what the Lord had said
through the prophet: “The
virgin will conceive and give
birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.”

Matthew 1:22-24


Peace is somewhat of a priceless commodity these days.  Let’s face it. We live in chaotic and uncertain times with most of the circumstances that surround us inducing anything but peace. From continuing threats of terrorism and war to blatant injustice, singing “peace on earth” can seem to be empty words. Especially during the Christmas Season, peace is something that can easily elude us. Images of joyful family Christmas dinners, warm fireplaces and happy children around a Christmas tree can seem to resemble more of a Norman Rockwell painting rather than reality.

One of the greatest misconceptions in today’s culture is the misinterpretation peace. Most often, we confuse “peace” with the haphazard emotion of “happiness”. Happiness is an emotion that stems from the circumstances around us; peace is an emotion that rises above them. Peace transcends the circumstances of life and determines how we react. In fact, one could say that peace is more of a state of mind rather than a feeling or sentiment. Peace comes when we relinquish control of that which cannot be controlled. 

In the words of Matthew 1:22-24, we read of a situation that may have seemed overwhelming, confusing and filled with fear and uncertainty. Joseph could have awoken from his dream in sheer panic, argued with God and run from the circumstances that were thrust upon him. He could have legally divorced Mary and would have been completely justified by culture and faith. After all, from all earthly perspectives, she had cheated on him and was pregnant with another man’s child. Who would blame him for bailing out? 

This reveals much about how Joseph reacted to his circumstances. From our point of view, Joseph didn’t argue, question or choose to panic over the news God gave him. He didn’t run, get angry or blame anyone for what was going on. Instead he chose not to react to his circumstances, but submitted to that which could not be controlled. He accepted how his life was about to radically change, and as far as we can tell, he had peace.

 Let it be our prayer today that we react in the same manner to the sometimes uncontrollable circumstances of life.


God, we confess that sometimes we react to our circumstances with fear, anger or panic. It is in these times that we lose hold of the peace that you want for each and every one of us. May we take hold of your peace and let it overwhelm us, rather than the troubles of life.


Thursday, December 8, 2016

Advent Reflections - December 8


“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.”

 Hebrews 1:1-2


Why is it that we so often feel compelled to live our lives in the past? Why do we so frequently attempt to build our current days based on the "perfection" of yesterday? You’ve heard the expressions: “Those were the good ‘ol days!”  “Remember when…?”  “Things are just not like they used to be.” "I wish I could go back..." 

I am especially reminded of this during the Christmas season because we tend to focus so much on tradition. As soon as the decorations come out, the music starts playing and our favorite TV shows come on, we are transported to another place and time. Many of us think back to Christmases that we experienced when were younger, and long for those nostalgic feelings that captured us then. In an effort to recreate memories of yesterday, we strive to re-create a Christmas that mimics those of our past. But we usually end up disappointed and a little frustrated. Why can’t things just be like they used to be?

The problem with nostalgia is that it manipulates our focus to rest on something that no longer exists. The past remains only in our memories, leaving us unable to relive the days that have passed. The only thing in which we have control of is our present, and when you think about it, we really have no control over that either. In reality, all we have is the moment. This moment that we share today, celebrating Advent together. The past is no longer. Tomorrow will be. Today is what it is.

As we make our way through Advent, as the anticipation builds, and as we celebrate the coming of Christ, let us remember to rest in the present. God once spoke to the people of Israel through the prophets of old, and revealed his soon coming. For a time God was silent, and God's people longed with nostalgia the days when the Lord spoke. But as time passed, God spoke again. Christ came into the world. No more longing. No more looking back. Emmanuel, God with us!        


Lord, in the quiet of this moment, help us to keep ourselves in the all encompassing peace of your presence. Help us to live our lives day to day in great anticipation of the blessings that you provide moment to moment. Let us look on the past with joyful memories, look to the future with hope and live today in your love, grace and peace. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Advent Reflections: December 7


“When Israel was a child, I loved him,
   and out of Egypt I called my son.”
Hosea 11:1


For just a moment, imagine a time in life when you faced a particularly difficult situation. Think about that situation and all of the details that surrounded it. Maybe you felt fear. Maybe you felt anger. You may have felt frustrated and helplessness to change your situation. And maybe you found your faith difficult to cling to.

Now imagine the moment that you realized that things were finally going to change and that your circumstances were turning a corner for the good. Can you remember the overwhelming peace that you felt in the realization everything was going to be OK? Can you remember the relief? Can you remember the burden that seemed to be lifted from your shoulders? Do you remember the peace?

Mary and Joseph faced a difficult situation. With their new baby boy and the anxieties of being new parents, they also faced fear and uncertainty for his life. Feeling that his reign would be threatened, King Herod forced this new family to become refugees. In fear and confusion, they were forced to flee their home in the dark of night and moving to a foreign and unfamiliar land. They probably felt abandon and frustrated, knowing that if Jesus was really God’s Son, why would he not change their circumstances? As God had delivered his children from Egypt through the hand of Moses, why would he not deliver them from the same place of captivity?
But can you imagine the peace that overwhelmed them when they finally heard the words, “It’s time to go home.” In his perfect time and within his divine circumstances, God illumined a path in the darkness that led them out of captivity. They would finally bring their baby home in safety, and eventually see salvation burst forth for the entire world.

God’s plans, timing and circumstances do not always line up in the way we think they should. We often find ourselves waiting in our own places of captivity. Our own Egypt. We feel fear, frustration and anger, many times even questioning our very faith in God. But when we begin to see our circumstances change, and the details of God’s plans coming to perfect fruition, the burden is lifted. The fear dissipates. The anger subsides. And peace overwhelms us once again. 

God, as you brought your Son out of Egypt and revealed the perfection of your divine plan, let us remember that you are always faithful, you are loving and you can always be trusted. Even when we don't realize it, help us to know that you are our source of peace.