Archive for December, 2009

Friday, December 25th

December 25, 2009

(I pray a most holy and blessed Christmas to each and every one of you reading today’s devotion. May each of us, in our own way, in the places where God has planted us, do what we can to be and bring God’s blessings into our troubled world. The devotions will resume on Monday, January 4th. Kerry)

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.

While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:1-20


Thursday, December 24th

December 24, 2009

I Knew You Would Come…

Herman and I locked our general store and dragged ourselves home. It was 11:00 P.M., Christmas Eve of 1949. We were dog tired. We had sold almost all of our toys; and all the layaways, except one package, had been picked up.

Usually we kept the store open until everything had been claimed. We wouldn’t have woken up happy on Christmas knowing that some child’s gift was still on the layaway shelf. But the person who had put a dollar down on that package never returned. Early Christmas morning we and our twelve-year-old son, Tom, opened gifts. But I’ll tell you, there was something humdrum about this Christmas. Tom was growing up; I missed his childish exuberance of past years.

As soon as breakfast was over Tom left to visit his friend next door. Herman mumbled, ” I’m going back to sleep. There’s nothing left to stay up for.” So there I was alone, feeling let down. And then it began, A strange, persistent urge. It seemed to be telling me to go to the store. I looked at the sleet and icy side walk outside. That’s crazy, I said to myself. I tried dismissing the urge, but it wouldn’t leave me alone. In fact, it was getting stronger. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I got dressed.

Outside, the wind cut right through me and the sleet stung my cheeks. I groped my way to the store, slipping and sliding. In front stood two boys, one about nine, and the other six. What in the world?? “See, I told you she would come!” the older boy said jubilantly. The younger one’s face was wet with tears, but when he saw me, his sobbing stopped.

“What are you two doing out here?” I scolded, hurrying them into the store. “You should be home on a day like this!” They were poorly dressed. They had no hats or gloves, and their shoes barely held together. I rubbed their icy hands, and got them up close to the heater.

“We’ve been waiting for you,” replied the older boy. “My little brother Jimmy didn’t get any Christmas.” He touched Jimmy’s shoulder. “We want to buy some skates. That’s what he wants. We have these three dollars,” he said, pulling the bills from is pocket.

I looked at the money. I looked at the expectant faces. And then I looked around the store. “I’m sorry,” I said, “but we have no—” Then my eye caught sight of the layaway shelf with its lone package. “Wait a minute,” I told the boys. I walked over, picked up the package, unwrapped it and, miracle of miracles, there was a pair of skates! Jimmy reached for them. Lord let them be his size. And miracle added upon miracle, they were his size.

The older boy presented the dollars to me. “No,” I told him, “I want you to have these skates, and I want you to use your money to get some gloves.” The boys just blinked at first. Then their eyes became like saucers, and their grins stretched wide when they understood I was giving them the skates. What I saw in Jimmy’s eyes was a blessing. It was pure joy, and It was beautiful. My spirits rose. We walked out together, and as I locked the door, I turned to the older brother and said, “How did you know I would come?”

I wasn’t prepared for his reply. His gaze was steady, and he answered me softly. “I ask Jesus to send you.” The tingles in my spine weren’t from the cold. God had planned this. As we waved good-by, I turned home to a brighter Christmas.

When it comes right down to it – all that we celebrate on Christmas is the gift of God’s love, freely given, for us – who will always be beggars at the throne of God’s grace.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, tonight we join those who have so long walked in deep darkness, waiting for the promise of Light. We join those who marvel at the birth of Jesus. We gather in the darkness, knowing of the darkness of life, but trusting in the power of love to come to us, to work through us, for the sake of all. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 23rd

December 23, 2009

In 1994, two Americans answered an invitation from the Russian Department of Education to teach morals and ethics (based on biblical principles) in the public schools. They were invited to teach at prisons, businesses, the fire and police departments and a large orphanage. About 100 boys and girls who had been abandoned, abused, and left in the care of a government-run program were in the orphanage.

They relate the following story in their own words:

It was nearing the holiday season, 1994, time for our orphans to hear, for the first time, the traditional story of Christmas. We told them about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem. Finding no room in the inn, the couple went to a stable, where the baby Jesus was born and placed in a manger. Throughout the story, the children and orphanage staff sat in amazement as they listened. Some sat on the edges of their stools, trying to grasp every word.

Completing the story, we gave the children three small pieces of cardboard to make a crude manger. Each child was given a small paper square, cut from yellow napkins I had brought with me. No colored paper was available in the city. Following instructions, the children tore the paper and carefully laid strips in the manger for straw. Small squares of cloth were used for the baby’s blanket. A doll-like baby was cut from tan felt we had brought from the United States.

The orphans were busy assembling their manger as I walked among them to see if they needed any help. All went well until I got to one table where little Misha sat. He looked to be about 6 years old and had finished his project. As I looked at the little boy’s manger, I was startled to see not one, but two babies in the manger. Quickly, I called for the translator to ask the lad why there were two babies in the manger.

Crossing his arms in front of him and looking at this completed manger scene, the child began to repeat the story very seriously. For such a young boy, who had only heard the Christmas story once, he related the happenings accurately – until he came to the part where Mary put the baby Jesus in the manger. Then Misha started to ad-lib.

He made up his own ending to the story as he said, “And when Maria laid the baby in the manger, Jesus looked at me and asked me if I had a place to stay. I told him I have no mamma and I have no papa, so I don’t have any place to stay. Then Jesus told me I could stay with him. But I told him I couldn’t, because I didn’t have a gift to give him like everybody else did. But I wanted to stay with Jesus so much, so I thought about what I had that maybe I could use for a gift. I thought maybe if I kept him warm, that would be a good gift.”

So I asked Jesus, “If I keep you warm, will that be a good enough gift?” And Jesus told me, “If you keep me warm, that will be the best gift anybody ever gave me.” “So I got into the manger, and then Jesus looked at me and he told me I could stay with him — for always.”

As little Misha finished his story, his eyes brimmed full of tears that splashed down his little cheeks. Putting his hand over his face, his head dropped to the table and his shoulders shook as he sobbed and sobbed. The little orphan had found someone who would never abandon nor abuse him, someone who would stay with him – FOR ALWAYS.

I’ve learned that it’s not what you have in your life, but WHO you have in your life that counts.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we pray today for those who will be cold tonight, for your grace to inspire others who can bring warmth. As so many focus on Christmas presents, may we see past the paper or the presents that just aren’t there this year, to see the true Presence that will never leave us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 22nd

December 22, 2009

The Roses

It’s nice to remember the true meaning of Christmas. If we truly have a desire to serve others, God will put those people in our path. Keep your eyes open and your ears open to the spirit guiding us to those who need us most.

Bobby was getting cold sitting out in his back yard in the snow. Bobby didn’t wear boots; he didn’t like them and anyway he didn’t own any. The thin sneakers he wore had a few holes in them and they did a poor job of keeping out the cold. Bobby had been in his backyard for about an hour already. And, try as he might, he could not come up with an idea for his mother’s Christmas gift. He shook his head as he thought, “This is useless, even if I do come up with an idea, I don’t have any money to spend.”

Ever since his father had passed away three years ago, the family of five had struggled. It wasn’t because his mother didn’t care, or try, there just never seemed to be enough. She worked nights at the hospital, but the small wage that she was earning could only be stretched so far. What the family lacked in money and material things, they more than made up for in love and family unity.

Bobby had two older and one younger sister, who ran the household in their mother’s absence. All three of his sisters had already made beautiful gifts for their mother. Somehow it just wasn’t fair. Here it was Christmas Eve already, and he had nothing. Wiping a tear from his eye, Bobby kicked the snow and started to walk down to the street where the shops and stores were. It wasn’t easy being six without a father, especially when he needed a man to talk to.

Bobby walked from shop to shop, looking into each decorated window. Everything seemed so beautiful and so out of reach. It was starting to get dark and Bobby reluctantly turned to walk home when suddenly his eyes caught the glimmer of the setting sun’s rays reflecting off of something along the curb. He reached down and discovered a shiny dime.

Never before has anyone felt so wealthy as Bobby felt at that moment. As he held his new found treasure, a warmth spread throughout his entire body and he walked into the first store he saw. His excitement quickly turned cold when salesperson after salesperson told him that he could not buy anything with only a dime. He saw a flower shop and went inside to wait in line. When the shop owner asked if he could help him, Bobby presented the dime and asked if he could buy one flower for his mother’s Christmas gift.

The shop owner looked at Bobby and his ten cent offering. Then he put his hand on Bobby’s shoulder and said to him, “You just wait here and I’ll see what I can do for you.” As Bobby waited, he looked at the beautiful flowers and even though he was a boy, he could see why mothers and girls liked flowers. The sound of the door closing as the last customer left, jolted Bobby back to reality. All alone in the shop, Bobby began to feel alone and afraid.

Suddenly the shop owner came out and moved to the counter. There, before Bobby’s eyes, lay twelve long stem, red roses, with leaves of green and tiny white flowers all tied together with a big silver bow. Bobby’s heart sank as the owner picked them up and placed them gently into a long white box. “That will be ten cents young man.” the shop owner said reaching out his hand for the dime. Slowly, Bobby moved his hand to give the man his dime. Could this be true? No one else would give him a thing for his dime! Sensing the boy’s reluctance, the shop owner added, “I just happened to have some roses on sale for ten cents a dozen. Would you like them?”

This time Bobby did not hesitate, and when the man placed the long box into his hands, he knew it was true. Walking out the door that the owner was holding for Bobby, he heard the shop keeper say, “Merry Christmas, son.” As he returned inside, the shop keepers wife walked out. “Who were you talking to back there and where are the roses you were fixing?”

Staring out the window, and blinking the tears from his own eyes, he replied, “A strange thing happened to me this morning. While I was setting up things to open the shop, I thought I heard a voice telling me to set aside a dozen of my best roses for a special gift. I wasn’t sure at the time whether I had lost my mind or what, but I set them aside anyway. Then just a few minutes ago, a little boy came into the shop and wanted to buy a flower for his mother with one small dime.”

When I looked at him, I saw myself, many years ago. I too was a poor boy with nothing to buy my mother a Christmas gift. A bearded man, whom I never knew, stopped me on the street and told me that he wanted to give me ten dollars. When I saw that little boy tonight, I knew who that voice was, and I put together a dozen of my very best roses.” The shop owner and his wife hugged each other tightly, and as they stepped out into the bitter cold air, they somehow didn’t feel cold at all.

(From Bruce Green, via Ecunet Sermonshop)

Monday, December 21st

December 21, 2009

As we move toward Christmas, I want to share with you some of the stories that come my way via email. No doubt many of you have already seen them – some of you were the ones who sent them to me! And no doubt many of you will find them sappy and sentimental. They are – but if they work for me (and they do) they will work for anybody.

The Envelope

It’s just a small white envelope stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so.

It all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas- oh, not the true meaning of Christmas, but the commercial aspects of it – overspending, the frantic running around at the last minute to buy a tie for Uncle Harry and the dusting powder for Grandma – the gifts given in desperation because you couldn’t think of anything else.

Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties and so forth. I reached for something special just for Mike. The inspiration came in an unusual way. Our son Kevin, who was 12 that year, was wrestling at the junior level at the school he attended; and shortly before Christmas, there was a non-league match against a team sponsored by an inner-city church, mostly black. These youngsters, dressed in sneakers so ragged that shoestrings seemed to be the only thing holding them together, presented a sharp contrast to our boys in their spiffy blue and gold uniforms and sparkling new wrestling shoes.

As the match began, I was alarmed to see that the other team was wrestling without headgear, a kind of light helmet designed to protect a wrestler’s ears. It was a luxury the ragtag team obviously could not afford. Well, we ended up walloping them. We took every weight class. And as each of their boys got up from the mat, he swaggered around in his tatters with false bravado, a kind of street pride that couldn’t acknowledge defeat. Mike, seated beside me, shook his head sadly, “I wish just one of them could have won,” he said. “They have a lot of potential, but losing like this could take the heart right out of them.”

Mike loved kids – all kids – and he knew them, having coached little league football, baseball and lacrosse. That’s when the idea for his present came. That afternoon, I went to a local sporting goods store and bought an assortment of wrestling headgear and shoes and sent them anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I placed the envelope on the tree, the note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me.

His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year and in succeeding years. For each Christmas, I followed the tradition – one year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game, another year a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground the week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas. It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning and our children, ignoring their new toys would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their dad lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.

As the children grew, the toys gave way to more practical presents, but the envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there. You see, we lost Mike last year due to dreaded cancer. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped up in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree, and, in the morning, it was joined by three more. Each of our children, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their dad. The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers take down the envelope.

Mike’s spirit, like the Christmas spirit, will always be with us. May we all remember Christ, who is the reason for the season, and the true Christmas spirit this year and always.

Friday, December 18th Luke 1:67-80

December 18, 2009

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel. Luke 1:67-80

Whether we realize it or not, who we are influences how we read the Bible. Earlier this week, I suggested that poor people might hear an entirely different message in Mary’s song than those of us who are rich. Where they would hear good news in the idea of God turning the rich away empty, we hear a threat.

So it is that I can’t help but hear the Christmas story as a father. I read about Mary and Elizabeth celebrating together and I think about what Joseph and Zechariah were up to. I well remember the often helpless feeling of being a father-to-be. Watching my wife struggle with back pains and weight gain and morning sickness and worry. Knowing there wasn’t much I could but eager to do what I could. I wonder if Zechariah and Joseph had those same thoughts.

Now Christmas is suddenly just around the corner. Pregnancy is like that for fathers to be. Nine months fly by and then BAM it’s time. This particular Christmas season I have two pastor friends who are close to my heart, both of their wives are pregnant, and I wonder how this is affecting their walk through the Christmas season.

What I’m saying today is that this whole story, this whole season, is simply very human. And that’s the point. Jesus comes to “dwell among us” but not just that, Jesus comes to take on human flesh and become one OF us as well as one WITH us so that he could live his entire life as one FOR us. It’s an amazing story.

The story doesn’t change. But as we go through life, we change, and as we change, we see the story changing with us.

Zechariah was an old man when his long awaited son, John, was born. So he sings this wonderful song as he celebrates the birth. He sings ancient poetry of promise for he recognizes a time of fulfillment dawning upon humanity, but he looks as well to a different kind of hopeful future.

And so it is that I look at my son, now a strapping young man. Last night he and I looked at old baby pictures, toddler pictures, Michael the little kid. I see him still through Zechariah’s eyes, beholding a gift from God. And I find myself hoping that my son will live in the promises of his baptism, that he join all who prepare the way for Jesus to enter the lives of those he meets along the way.

This is our story. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, give us your grace that we never lose the eyes to see the wonder and the promise of your birth and life among us. Be born among us still, bringing hope to the hopeless and peace to wounded lives. May your light so shine within us that we prepare the way for you in the life of the world. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16th Micah 5:2-5a

December 16, 2009

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. Micah 5:2-5a

Remember the old television commercial featuring Andy Griffith and Ritz crackers? “Do you ever get that ‘what am I hungry for?’ feeling? How about something on a good Ritz cracker. Uuummmmm. Good cracker.”

One of those hungers is for peace.

Peace. Simple peace. Resolving differences with words, not wars. Living with our neighbors without stealing our neighbor’s stuff or they stealing ours. People dying of natural causes. Children unafraid to play outside of the house. How long have people hungered for peace?

Certainly Micah and his readers longed for peace. Micah told of One who would come, from the little town of Bethlehem, who would reign over peace in Israel, a peace that would extend to the ends of the earth.

The gospel writers remembered those words. They saw Jesus, born in Bethlehem, as the one who would bring peace on earth and good will to all.

I visited Bethlehem. I saw the Church of the Holy Nativity. Two features will stand out for me forever in that visit. The first is the door into the church off of Nativity Square. The door was bricked in so that it is only about 1/3 the height of a normal door. You have to bend low to enter it. But not out of respect for the space. It was bricked in to prevent mounted soldiers from riding in on horseback to attack those inside. Illusive peace.

Second, the Church of the Holy Nativity is controlled by three separate Christian groups – the Armenian Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Church. It isn’t much of a working relationship, more of a demilitarized zone with strict lines of demarcation. Just two years ago a fight broke out among priests of two of the groups when one person allegedly placed a ladder just across a dividing line while everyone was cleaning up after the Christmas celebration. The fight lasted an hour and was broken up by Palestinian policemen, two of whom were injured. Still hungry for peace.

Where is this peace?

Who among us is waging peace?

Or will we always think that “I’m hungry for something” feeling will be filled with anything other than surrendering to the Prince of Peace and laying down our arms?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, the world longs for peace, still longs for that peace promised long ago in Micah, expected in Jesus, but experienced by so few. Another Christmas is coming and the world is still at war. Soldiers are dying far from their families. People live in suffering upon suffering. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with us. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, December 15th Luke 1:46-56

December 15, 2009

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home. Luke 1:46-56

Perspective is an amazing and mysterious thing. It leaves you wondering what changed. When I was a kid, every doorway in our house had fingerprints on it from me jumping up, first trying to touch it and then proving that I could touch it. I can’t remember the last time I tried to jump as high as I could. Then it was the challenge, today I’m more interested in keeping the doorways clean. My perspective has changed.

We look at things differently as we move through life. The ‘60’s radical is now a conservative newly retired person. The executive has forgotten how he used to think that executives were so out of touch with the real world on the manufacturing floor.

Christmas was the high point of a child’s life. As an adult worrying about credit card bills and keeping their job…not so much.

So it is that Mary’s song challenges our perspective about the Christian faith. Left untouched, it is easy for us to look at the rich, the powerful, the well fed, the successful…and see in their lives the blessing of God.

Then we move through life that way. We leave hotel rooms with hardly a thought about the chambermaid stuck cleaning up our mess. We look down on the homeless man standing at the intersection, silently asking where in his life did he go wrong that he ended up here, deciding not to hand a dollar out the window. We think ourselves blessed but are jealous of those who seem to be even more highly blessed – as we continue to measure what we think it means to be ble$$ed.

Mary’s song turns it all around for she sings from the perspective of her place in life. She is poor, young, not quite married, pregnant girl. She sings of the proud being scattered, the powerful brought low and the lowly lifted up, the hungry fed and the rich sent away hungry. She sings of a God who turns everything around – and would turn us around as well.

From Luther’s explanation of the Magnificat in 1521: One should honor Mary as she herself wished and as she expressed it in the Magnificat. She praised God for his deeds. How then can we praise her? The true honor of Mary is the honor of God, the praise of God’s grace . . . Mary is nothing for the sake of herself, but for the sake of Christ . . . Mary does not wish that we come to her, but through her to God.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we think we have life figured out but are so often wrong in so many ways. Help us see life through your eyes. Help us see what is real rather than what we want to be real or what we think is real. Thank you for the witness of Mary, for her selflessness and her willingness to be used to your glory and the welfare of your people. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Monday, December 14th Luke 1:39-45

December 14, 2009

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Luke 1:39-45

It is such a common story to hold such a miracle.

What could be so common as Mary traveling to spend some time with Elizabeth? That’s what women do. Pregnancy is a communal event. As overwhelming as it is, no one can keep it to themselves. Everybody gets excited. Everybody has an opinion and everybody has a story. Showers and decorating and advice are as much about being pregnant as cells dividing and clothing that no longer fits.

Maybe there is a bit of shame in Mary’s visit as well. We read too quickly if we bypass the questionable nature of this pregnancy. It wasn’t planned. The timing wasn’t right. When he first heard of it, Joseph’s knee-jerk reaction was to call the whole thing off. There was a day when such pregnancies included a young woman having to “go away for awhile” for the sake of her family’s honor.

But there was nothing shameful in the greeting that met Mary – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Blessed are you, in the best sense of that word. For Mary had indeed been blessed, and through her, the world would be blessed as well.

For centuries now, Christians praying the Rosary have remembered this specific moment in the faith, this meeting of two women, both chosen, both blessed, both literally carrying the promises of God, one carrying Jesus.

To remember this moment in awe and wonder, not just this moment but the simple women who shared it, is to see not only them but also God with an insight we ought never lose. The Creator of the Universe bends low to meet us where we are.

In his Christmas sermon in 1531, Martin Luther said of Mary: “[She is the] highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ…She is nobility, wisdom, and holiness personified. We can never honor her enough. Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.”

Such a common event which contains such a miracle. So it is.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, as we continue to walk ever closer to the memory of your birth among us, we give you thanks for doing such uncommon things through such common women. May the joy of Elizabeth and the humility of Mary create room in our lives so that this Christmas season might come to us as if for the very first time. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, December 11th Isaiah 40:26-31

December 11, 2009

Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”? Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. Isaiah 40:26-31

Driving home in Houston traffic is quite the experience. I love to drive and I’ve driven all over the country. So I know that there are only a few places that rival the sheer mass of car payments that clutter the roads of Houston during “rush three hours.”

As a former pastor of a suburban parish, I often thought about what a mark it left on the lives of the people I served knowing that many spent at least 45 minutes every morning, and 45 minutes every evening, crawling through bumper to bumper traffic. Snarling, cursing, accelerating, braking, swerving, stopping again and again. Every work day began and ended with a vehicular wrestling match.

The anxiety of knowing you had to get to work to PRODUCE could only have been compounded by that drive. The guilt at having been away from the family all day sat next to you in the car at home right next to a “to do at home” list that you knew full well couldn’t be “ta done” before crashing exhausted into bed only to do it all over again the next day.

Not to mention how much worse it gets when it rains, or gets icy, or you look ahead to see the ominous signs of blinking yellow lights and the curse of road construction.

So it is that the faint, the powerless, and the exhausted wonder why they feel so spiritually empty so much of the time. Human beings are limited. We only have so much energy, so much time, so much perspective, and it all has limits. We grow faint and weary and sometimes we forget on the way what the drive is all about.

Have you not known? Have you not heard? There IS one who does not faint or grow weary. He created the stars but is not merely found out among them. He knows the way to the ends of the earth but even that can not separate him from knowing us intimately, personally, and loving us just the same.

The invitation here is to wait with patience. The invitation is to extend the invitation to the One who reminds us who we are and whose we are and the real journey we travel each day. Wait for this One, wait with this One, for the promise is sure.

He shall renew our strength, that we might do what needs to be done and leave the rest to itself. We shall run and not be weary. We shall walk and not faint. We will make the best of the time we have for it is the only time we have.

We’ll turn off the radio and sing. We’ll let others merge into our lane. We’ll share the journey with others and rejoice.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, it is so easy to get discouraged and feel undone by the burdens of all that challenge us as we make our way through life. Give us the grace to turn to you, not only when we are at the end of the line but even at the beginning of each day of the journey. That we might draw strength from your power and live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.