1st Day of Christmas: A New Pledge of Allegiance – Isaiah 9:2-7

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased their joy; they rejoice before you as with the joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder.

For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his Kingdom.

After more than a month of rushing around like crazy people, buying gifts for our loved ones, our colleagues, our pets–after our marathon run to shopping centers, continuously investing ourselves in the world’s version of Christmas, sometimes we get to the end and wonder how we lost ourselves once again.

After the frenzy of the shopping season and the hustle and bustle of all the ways we celebrate Christmas, after opening our gifts on Christmas Day, we sometimes sit in silence and wonder why we worked ourselves up into a frenzy for something that ends so quickly.

At some point each year we realize all of the ways we got tricked once again by letting our culture tell us how to celebrate our Holy Days.

These words from Isaiah stun us into silence and make us feel a bit foolish.

This is no “Jesus is the reason for the season” message I’m bringing to you. I think that phrase is just as tired as the over-consumerism of Christmas. And dare I say, just as empty. These words from Isaiah teach us something different about our faith than any bullshit rhyming bumper sticker phrase out there.

His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore.

These words from the prophet Isaiah tell us about a new order among the people. They are a desperate shout through the ages, and they tell us about the real meaning of Christmas, that light will one day chase out darkness—that meaning will one day replace meaninglessness.

Christmas according to Isaiah is about the ever-present hope for a Messiah to come and invade the world with new purpose and direction—to come and occupy this world with the divine peace and justice it so desperately needs.

Isaiah hoped for a new order for our world, and his hope is one that echoes through the ages and still has the power to cut through the gift wrapping paper-thin veneer of an over-commercialized Christmas.

These words from the prophet Isaiah urge us to shift our perspective and to open our eyes. They are words that tell of a coming light—a light that chases out the dark, that show us the way out of our meaninglessness, that reveals to us the One who has come to teach us allegiance to a new order for our lives.

This Christmas, the coming of our King means that we are invited to turn away from the noisy promises and promise-makers that have invaded both our Christmas celebrations and the world in which we live, and instead pledge our allegiance to the One who offers us our greatest promise.

Merry Christmas to all!

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.

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16th Day of Advent: Advent According to Anna – Luke 2:36-38 and Isaiah 12:2-6

And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on God’s name; make known God’s deeds among the nations; proclaim that God’s name is exalted. — Isaiah 12:4

Anna spent every day of her life in the Temple. She knew who came and who went, and her eyes were peeled. Along with Simeon, she was looking for the fulfillment of God’s promises. Anna spent her days speaking, sometimes shouting at the top of her lungs, that God had not abandoned the people. But as Anna looked around, she mourned the direction that things were moving in.

The Caesars and the Herods ruled Jerusalem with an iron fist. Rome occupied the Holy city of Jerusalem. Even the King of the Jews, Herod, did everything Caesar wanted him to do. There were no princes, or kings, or rulers who had any concern for the well-being of the common people, and as long these cruel leaders were in control, there was no consolation for Israel and no redemption for Jerusalem.

Anna saw what was happening in the Temple, too. The signs of power and greed that were overtaking the region had begun to overtake the Temple itself. Money changers overcrowded the corridors of the Temple, each of them profiting off of every transaction. Exploiting poor peasants like Mary and Joseph was an everyday practice for the Temple money changers. Merchants were selling animals for sacrifice at unfair prices.

Anna spoke against this type of sin. This was God’s Temple and God was never interested in these kinds of riches. Anna was concerned that wealth was becoming the peoples’ new salvation and greed their new God.  But Anna knew that real salvation never involved collecting more and more. Salvation was about how God’s love frees us to give more and more of ourselves to one another.

Anna hoped for a new type of power, one that changed people’s hearts—one that brought princes to their knees and made the rulers of the earth into nothing. The only kind of power mighty enough to bring down princes, kings, and the occupying Roman authorities would have to come from God. What Anna hoped for was a Messiah.

The Messiah would be someone who would come from among the people and speak for the people, who would give them a voice, and a new way to see how God works among God’s people. The Messiah, Anna hoped, would usher in a new kingdom.  One stronger and more meaningful than any that had ever existed before.  Not one that exploited the people, but one that raised them up and freed them.

Anna waited in the temple for the one who would come to redeem us all.

Anna listened closely, she looked around. The promises of God were about to unfold before her.

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.

6th Day of Advent: Re-tune My Heart

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There are a lot of moments when I am acutely aware of my own inadequacy. I feel the people I minister with have over-estimated me. Don’t they know I am under-qualified to convey these monumental and intensely intimate ideas to my self, my congregation and my culture? How could I ever fully explain that our God loves us and moves into our broken hearts, neighborhoods and nations? I am at a loss.

I want so desperately to do justice to this good news, I mire my soul in well-meaning
action, but it never seems to be enough. I don’t need recognition or glory. Hell, I’ll even
do without sleep. Just one more article, one more sermon, one more visit, one more
call, one more meeting, one more event, one more prayer, one more project, one
more rehearsal, one more hour, one more day…

The trouble is, in so doing, I may instead express a taskmaster God who drives me
to distracted exhaustion. And I spend so much time communicating, conveying,
counseling, and corralling people that I am shocked and embarrassed to find myself
on empty. At the end of the day, I find myself alone and wondering if this good news
is only for other people. When will it be for me?

Maybe after I finish the next thing.

I suspect God is not interested in making me busier but better: to once again infuse
and transform my life, if I’d slow down long enough to let it happen. Advent reminds
me that God can lovingly re-tune even my easily distracted heart to the kingdom of
God, and fill even my mediocre offering with joy, peace, hope, and love.

In rough-edged wind,
edge of town,
end of day,
light all used up,
a shed waits, still,
dust settling,
shadows
bedding down for the night,
doors resting on their hinges.
You want to say it’s empty,
but it’s full—
full of silence, of longing,
of waiting,
full of God’s hopes,
full of space for a birthing.

The passion that makes worlds
is still dreaming.
This stable is made of that,
the manger carved, through eons,
of your deepest ache,
this empty space,
this womb,
created by your soul, unerring,
leaning toward that realm.

Enlarge its longing in you.
Breathe in.
Let the cupped hands of the manger
hold your heart open
with God’s deepest desires.
The angel song that sounds like sorrow
but feels like joy,
the harmony of longing and confidence,
swells in the waiting silence,
wondering.

Warm wind
blows in through the window.

—Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “Unfolding Light” (unfoldinglight.net)

May you stand still enough to feel God’s wind (tee hee).

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.

5th Day of Advent: A Prayer of Unity and Deliverance from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

My Creator, I want to pray from my heart for my colleagues in distant places. I have never seen all of them face to face but I know them by their marks around this strange brain we call ‘the Internet’.

Though we can deliver our words instantly, God we need your divine guidance as we work toward common goals. Our work draws us deep into our callings, even through difficult stages. Often, the scent of distraction is too much for us and we become lost not only to each other but to ourselves.

This Advent season, give us a collective beginning. Make us a community. Shape each piece of that community to interface with each other, on the one hand, and to fit with our working communities, on the other, so that we can become true bridges. Take that special part of ourselves, that oft forgotten soul element, and shape it to know you better.

As we continue through this Advent journey, bless each step we take to get closer to our Messiah – an unexpectedly compassionate figure in our shared culture who, nevertheless, grew to be a source of courage and inspiration for all of society. We thank you for raising Jesus, and none other, to begin the ministry that we continue today.

We ask you to help us not to be short-sighted as we look to the future, because we are not simply fire-keepers–we are all blessed with your fiery Spirit of Pentecost which was the definitive victory over despair. We became one that day because Jesus was able to become one with his Creator.

Please send your spirit into us. Make us thankful and contagiously joyful. Bless us through each other with a love that comes directly from you. In your sweet name,

Amen.

A prayer by John Daniel Gore

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JD is a Methodist missionary living in Bethlehem and serving in Palestine. JD tweets from @Xavier_Phoenix and blogs from xavierphoenix.wordpress.com

4th Day of Advent: Hope

Watch for this: The time is coming’—GOD’s Decree—‘when I will keep the promise I made to the families of Israel and Judah. When that time comes, I will make a fresh and true shoot sprout from the David-Tree. He will run this country honestly and fairly. He will set things right. That’s when Judah will be secure and Jerusalem live in safety. The motto for the city will be, “GOD Has Set Things Right for Us.” –Jeremiah 33:14-16, The Message

Anyone who knows me knows that the season of Advent is my favorite time of year. I put up my tree early in November, and it doesn’t come down until February. I listen to Christmas music before it’s even on in the stores. I buy eggnog the second I see it in the grocery store. I keep my eyes out for that perfect gift way before the last minute. The Sundays in Advent are probably the best worship services of the whole year.

There is so much I love about this season. I’m one of the few that love the dwindling daylight. I love the darkness coming at 5pm on my commute home. For some, this season speaks of hurriedness and running from one event to another. To me, it speaks of something more.

Quietness.

Silence.

Peace.

The closing of one year.

The hope and anticipation of the coming year.

Advent is about waiting. Waiting for Christmas. Waiting for the coming Messiah. Waiting for the coming hope. It is in the slow, unhurried darkness where we have time to contemplate. Time to wait. To hope. Waiting for hope and the coming of a new day was illustrated to me most clearly this year through experiencing my first hurricane this past October. As Sandy arrived in NJ, the strongest point of the storm came through during the
evening. I sat in my little apartment as winds blew hard against the walls that protect and guard me from the outside elements. I hoped the walls would hold up this time too.

As trees creaked and fell, and as the power went out all around me and darkness surrounded me, I prayed for a new day and the rising of the sun more than I ever had before. As I write this, I am looking at a mailing for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy and other disasters. And their catch phrase is “Out of Chaos, Hope.”

More than anything else, many of us need hope. Hope through the storms of life. Disaster. Divorce. Disease. Disruption. Death. In the midst of this darkness, we can push it away with hurriedness, distraction, one more event. Or we can sit in it and wait expectantly, with attentiveness, for hope to break through.

Christ broke into our world.

Light in the midst of darkness.

The hope of all nations.

God has set things right for us.

A reflection by Angie Rines.

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Angie is the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministry at Presbyterian Church in Morristown. Angie tweets from @AngelaRines and blogs at http://angierines.wordpress.com

2nd Day of Advent: A Reflection on 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

Have you ever had that feeling of excitement when a good friend was coming to visit? You know, that excitement that may cause you to clean a little, cook a little, and sleep too little?

An excitement that, at the same time, means you don’t have to have the perfect looking house or dinner on the table because you know that just seeing each other is going to be all that really matters?

Well, that same excitement is present in our celebration of Advent is–it so often becomes the focus of our celebrations, but it’s really only part of the journey.

This scripture points to another kind of excitement, an excitement of a relationship that doesn’t end because of time and distance. A relationship that wishes the best for another even if that wish isn’t something you can provide for them–a deeper relationship that’s full of excitement, full of hope. A hope that some time, things will be like they used to be. That the closeness that comes when we think of one another will be fully realized when we’re together again. And even as we are apart, we are not separate.

No, we are part of one another, connected by a power we cannot easily escape. The desires for one for another are so strong that the distance between us is a minor hurdle that we know will be overcome. This excitement, the excitement of knowing that something will be even though we know it is not (and may not be) soon is essential to our story as Christians.

It is a hope that when God comes, everything will be as it should be. It may not happen today, but we know it will happen. So, even as we wait for that day to come, we share in relationship fully, apart yet moving together. Hoping together, planning together, sharing life together.

And that, just that, is wonderful.

A reflection by Adj Williams. 

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