11th Day of Christmas: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 and Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

Things don’t just happen in a vacuum. The Magi don’t come to Jesus without causing a stir, and Samuel doesn’t become, well, Samuel without a mother.

Of course Samuel’s mother is keeping her promise at all costs. A son she sees growing up but once a year, not the joy of many mothers I know, but she made a promise, and she will keep it.

Of course the Magi also agreed (implicitly if not explicitly) to tell Herod about where they found the baby. And they justifiably didn’t.

For everything there is a season, even a time to do the “wrong” thing. Samuel grows up well because of the care of others. Jesus grows up because of the watchful protection like that given by the Magi. It is not WHAT people do in either of these stories, but why they do it. They do what they discern is right regardless of the expectations of others.

The idea that there is one way to live this life is one of the biggest fictions in our lives. The faithful life we are called to is one of constant discernment–one where we cannot know what is coming or how what has come truly affects us or the world.

When the writer of Ecclesiastes says to enjoy and take pleasure in all of our living, there is the underlying theme of not trying to be perfect, not trying to not do things exactly according to the rules, but rather to do things as faithfully as possible, realizing that sometimes the hard decisions don’t have right answers and sometimes things just aren’t going to make sense.

But when we follow the star, when we follow our deepest desires and seek that which God has placed within us, we will do what we can to find the Kingdom on earth. And that is something always in season.

A reflection by Adj Williams.

Adj Williams

Adj is the Director of Educational Ministries at Harbor View Presbyterian Church. Adj tweets at @keepsetting and blogs at http://keepsetting.blogspot.com

10th Day of Christmas: God With Us

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. -Revelation 21:1-6a

Dwell with us

you downcast and down trodden

be made new.

you who wait. [im]patiently.

be made new.

you tired out and tried out
you suffering and dying
you mourning and crying

be made new.

you confused and rejected
despised and affected
abused and neglected

be made new.

you lovers and loveless
you fighters and distressed
you need-to-be-made-whole ones
you broken and poor ones
you bargainers and self-assured
you swindlers and upright

be made new.

for the home of G-d is among mortals.
dwelling with us.

in the ordinary
the messy
the sticky
the beautiful

for the home of G-d is among mortals.

for us.
in us.
through us.

be. made. new.

A reflection by Sophia Agtarap

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Sophia Agtarap serves as Minister of Online Engagement for Rethink Church with United Methodist Communications, and is a candidate for deacon in the United Methodist Church through the Pacific Northwest Conference. She spends lots of time musing and crafting stories of and for the church over a good cup of coffee. Sophia tweets @SophiaKris. She also blogs at wanderingnotlost.com

9th Day of Christmas: Unfolding – Luke 2:21-33

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Simeon opened his eyes and all he saw was darkness. He woke up every morning at the same time for as long as he could remember. He unfolded his blanket away from his frail body and slowly made his way out of bed. Every morning, it took him longer to get to his feet than the one before. He wondered how many more mornings he had in left him. Simeon was now an old man who long ago made peace with God and with death. He had lived a long and full life, and now he was ready for it to come to an end.

Simeon was a patient man; faithful too. God’s Spirit had come to him and told him that he would not see death until he had seen the Messiah. God had told Simeon that the one who would come to redeem Israel was on the way. God would send a savior to the world who would deliver the people from their hardship and comfort their restlessness.

But God had told him this a while ago. Simeon had been waiting years.

Simeon wondered, just like he did every day, whether today would be the day. God’s window of opportunity was, frankly, getting smaller. Simeon was somewhere in his eighties, and his body never let him forget that. He slipped on his robes and stepped outside.  It was morning in Jerusalem, but the sun’s rays had not yet stretched over the hills.

Simeon breathed in deeply. Mornings were his favorite part of the day. He wrapped the scarf around his head just a little tighter, and he began his daily journey to the Temple. There was a chill in the air that Simeon loved. The cool air invigorated him and helped him forget his own weariness—this day-after-day vigilance. God had blessed Simeon with a great promise, one he was humbled to receive, but, to be honest, waiting this long for God to deliver on this promise was stressful for him. Plus, he wondered how he would know what to look for. Simeon had no idea what a messiah looked like. He had a hard time trusting that one day he would just stumble upon a messiah unwittingly. How would this unfold? What if he missed it? What if he already had?

Simeon had decided that God uses us in ways that surpass even our own understanding, but still God needs us to pay attention. “Simeon” was an old name that means “he who hears”. He was a vigilant man. His eyes and ears were wide open, so that he was better able to see and hear what God was doing right in front of him.

Simeon listened closely, he looked around.

A reflection by Pat Ryan.

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Pat is a candidate for ministry in the PC(USA) and is ready for a call. He tweets at @writingpat. You can see where Pat blogs at his about.me page.

8th Day of Christmas: Happy New Year!

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In my tradition, we actually celebrate Hogmanay. It’s a word of nebulous origins from a Scottish culture that is the mixing pot of many differing traditions. Scots celebrate the last day of the year instead of the first (although the party usually lasts well into New Year’s Day). It’s an unusual celebration: you spend the whole day cleaning house, clearing debts, and putting your life in order. Then, when everything is perfect, you indulge in some of the more popular vices until the sun comes up. It’s good luck if the first visitor of the new year is a man with dark hair (because watch out for those bloody blonde Vikings), and it’s better if he brings shortbread (but life is always better with shortbread). Then in Scotland, January 1 and 2 are both holidays, to help you recover from the bender you’ve just been on.

I just like that image – get everything ready so we can mess it up all over again!

I feel like every day could be Hogmanay. Every day I try to put my life in order, and every day I inevitably mess something up. It’s not because I’m less competent or considerate than other people; I’m just human. I can make all the resolutions I want, and I may even keep some of them. And even if I can see improvement over time, even if I am becoming a more gracious and loving person, even if I manage my life with aplomb and my family with care, even if I excel at my job and receive the praise of wise people and the love of fools, I will probably fail again.

Today I give thanks for a God who plucks me out of the dirt when I fall down, helps me dust myself off, and then keeps letting me do my thing… even if it is inevitable I will fall down again. I learn things down there in that dust, things that the clearer air at eye level clouds up. I learn about my humanity, about compassion, about forgiveness. I learn about injustice. I learn about consequences and restoration. I learn about mercy and grace. I learn what is important to take seriously and what is less important to take seriously. These dusty life lessons have served me well.

So Happy New Year, and Happy Hogmanay.

Here is a blessing. I was looking for a way to say this… and then Steve Garnaas-Holmes said it better. If you are looking for a devotional blog to continue reading after this time in #getanupperroom has passed, I can’t recommend his Unfolding Light blog highly enough.

New Year Blessing

In the new year I do not wish for you
that God will bless you,
since God already intends
only the deepest blessings for you.
I don’t wish that good things will happen to you,
since I don’t know
what will most beautifully shape your soul—
in what losses you will receive grace,
in what challenges you will gain wisdom,
in what struggles you will become more truly yourself.

Instead I hope for you this blessing:
that your heart be at peace,
that your mind be open
and you will be lovingly present;
that you live each day this year with love, courage and beauty,
with gentleness, trust and gratitude.
That you speak and be the truth,
that you find joy and wonder in your life,
that you be deeply mindful
of God’s indwelling presence–
God’s deep delight in accompanying you
in every breath.

May your work be fruitful,
your hope vibrant,
your voice clear,
and your friends faithful.

Whether you feel it or not,
deep blessing will be yours this year.
May you know it, and rejoice,
and live in harmony with God’s grace.

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes, 2011
Unfolding Light
http://www.unfoldinglight.net

A reflection by Kris Marshall

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Kris is the Associate Pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Santa Rosa, California. Kris tweets at @revkris. You can also subscribe to her weekly sermon podcast.