3rd Day of Christmas: Reflection on Titus 2:11-14

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

One of the many debates I had with professors in seminary was focused on this passage. The question was built around how we understood God’s redemptive acts: is salvation FOR all people or did God appear TO all people. The question has continued with me as I never found peace with any conclusion. Yet peace is what is found when we’re willing to live with that ambiguity, and this scripture gets right to the point of why that is.

“While we wait.”

“While we wait” is a term that we’ve all heard in some form: “While we wait for permission to take off, please listen to your flight attendants as they review the safety instructions of this aircraft,” or maybe when we were young, “While we wait for dinner why don’t you go wash your hands.”

Waiting is a hard thing for us in this culture. We want to get to the point, get to a conclusion, get to a destination. A couple of days ago we GOT there as Christians! Christ is Born! Christmas happened! WOOOO! Okay, but now again, we wait. We wait, and we’re told to do things we know we should do, but don’t always (I know I don’t listen to safety instructions nor did I often wash my hands) while we wait. We wait for “Thy Kingdom Come.” A Kingdom that Jesus always referred to in the present tense. Well if we’re here, and it’s here, then what are we waiting for?

We’re waiting on us. Waiting for us to do the beautiful things that need to be done. That’s what good deeds are, they are the beautiful things that need to be done. Beautiful things like justice, mercy, and humbleness. Beautiful things like love. Beautiful things like peace. Beautiful things like joy. Beautiful things like hope. Beautiful things that make us all live into that image in which we are created.

Beautiful things were done on Christmas, beautiful things need to be done today.

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

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18th Day of Advent: Joy – A Reflection on Philippians 4:4-7

Farewell, Greetings, Rejoice, Be Glad, Delight! One Greek word so many meanings, yet they are all connected–especially on this Advent journey we’re taking.

So often we take the idea of rejoicing as a happy term. Yet it has a salutation or a valediction that brings with it more depth–the depth of distance. Joy is not just a momentary emotion, but one built around a journey and a larger, longer connection between the parties involved. We are not called to simply celebrate God being God, but to remember the journeys we have been on and the life we share with God.

That greeting–that connection of joy–is not because we’re promised all we could ever desire or because God makes us happy and gives us reason to celebrate, but because of all the emotions we’ve experienced in our past in our relationship with God. It is that depth of emotion that causes us to say so many of those terms mentioned at the start of this reflection.

We express meaningful greetings and farewells with those who know us deeply and who we know deeply. We ask those closest to us to help us when we’re in need and worried. It is with this same sense of deep, longing joy that we speak to God.

It’s like a letter full of jokes, stories, and memories sent with a deep-seated need to tell someone about what is most important to you at this very moment. This is prayer, and it is the joy of our relationship with God. We don’t just ask, but we share. And the response is not a check in the mail or having everything fixed as we would like it. Like those letters sent to the ones who know us best and care for us most, what is most important is the peace that we receive.

The peace of closeness and connection, the peace of knowing that we are known fully and cared for beyond anything we can understand. And at the end of the day, that is Joy.

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

15th Day of Advent: Joy

The trading of joy comes naturally because it is of the nature of joy to proclaim and share itself. Joy cannot contain itself, as we say. It overflows.

And so it should properly be with pain as well. We are never more alive to life than when it hurts–never more aware both of our own powerlessness to save ourselves and of at least the possibility of a power beyond ourselves to save us and heal us if we can only open ourselves to it. We are never more aware of our need for each other, never more in reach of each other if we can only bring ourselves to reach out and let ourselves be reached….

We are never more in touch with life than when life is painful, never more in touch with hope than we are then, if only the hope of another human presence to be with us and for us.

Being a good steward of your pain involves all those things, I think. It involves being alive to your life. It involves taking the risk of being open, of reaching out, of keeping in touch with the pain as well as the joy of what happens because at no time more than at a painful time do we live out of the depths of who we are instead of out of the shallows.

— Frederick Buechner

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