Monthly Archives: December 2014

Light Into Darkness

bellsChristmas Eve: Light Into Darkness

December 24, 2014

Luke 2:1-20

The angel said,

“Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…
And suddenly there was not just one angel,

there was a whole multitude of angels praising God and singing,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’

When people come to church on Christmas Eve,

by and large I hear them say that their favorite part of the service

is alas, not the sermon…it is the music.

The angels sang this first Christmas carol

and we’ve been singing carols at Christmas ever since.

Glory to God in the highest

and on earth peace (and if you have a King James Bible, it may be familiar to add

“goodwill to men.”)

I don’t know how you feel,

but to me the world feels a little darker this year:

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Advent Devotional from Good Shepherd (Psalm 2:7-8; Ephesians 2:14-20)

(from Mary Bernau)

Flying-Dove-TattooPsalm 2:7-8  Ephesians 2:14-20
Ephesians 2:14  “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier…”

Paul is referring to the two religious groups(believing Jews and believing Gentiles), but I immediately though of my beloved Iowa church and our new church, Good Shepherd Lutheran here in Alexandria. This will be our first Christmas here in Virginia. Last year we went “home” to Iowa for the holidays. I miss our church friends and family in Iowa sooooo much. When we moved here over a year ago, I did not have a job, any friends, and no garden.  I did have a loving and employed husband. (Thank you God!) But, if it wasn’t for Good Shepherd, I don’t know if I could have coped. You were all strangers to me, but coming here for church, or to quilt, or knit, or clean closets, or “whatever” brought me peace and comfort(and some wonderful new friends). This was a place I could come and feel safe, let my guard down, share my woes and just be my weird, confused and then lonely self.

Ephesians 2:17-18 “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”

With Jesus Christ as our cornerstone you have become my extended family of God’s People.  He preached peace to all of us, near and far, and you became my peace.  I still miss Iowa, but I will continue to enjoy this new peace in our new “home” at Good Shepherd Lutheran. Thank you for this!  I hope I can share peace with you.  In Advent, or anytime we can share peace with so many of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ! We can be a Growing Safe Place! May PEACE be with you and your family today and always, Merry Christmas!

Dear God,
Thank you for Peace. Thank you for preaching Peace, thank you for making Peace and thank you for giving Peace.  Help us all to share your Peace with everyone, everywhere! Peace be with YOU!  Amen

Born In Us Today

mary josephJourney to Bethlehem: Born In Us Today

Luke 2:1-7

December 21, 2014

Last night I drove through a live nativity.

I’ve never done something like that before,

and it was really quite fun!

I drove up and got a cup of hot chocolate

along with CD with the narration to play in the car.

At the first stop I was told I was entering Bethlehem

and there was a census and I needed to pay a tax

for everyone I had with me  – including the dog!

At the second stop,

Mary and Joseph were sitting along the roadside

as their donkey ate some hay.

Joseph came up to my window and asked if I knew

of an inn nearby where they might stay…

Then we got to the wise men

who were just beginning their journey.

They had an alpaca

(I guess it’s hard to find a camel in northern Virginia!)

Proudly the wise men announced that they were bringing gifts for the baby:

gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

They seemed good humored,

and I jokingly asked what they thought the baby would do with the gifts…

without missing a beat, the wise man with the myrrh said,

“I don’t know – my wife told me to take it!”

Well we moved along past Herod,

we passed the angel and the shepherds,

and finally we reached the last scene.

There was a large stable,

with more live sheep and shepherds.

Mary and Joseph were sitting in front of the stable,

and baby Jesus was lying in the manger.

It was a wonderful way to experience the Christmas story…

and the people from Virginia Hills Baptist Church tried to be sure they had everything right:

real animals, real people, and a real stable…!

And it did feel right.

But was it right?

Was it truly authentic?

Most of us probably know that many of the details

in the story we have come to know and love are questionable…

For one, “Was Jesus born in a stable?”

As we look around, most of these beautiful nativity sets here

have something that looks like a stable around it.

Over the years, we have presumed Jesus was born in a stable because Luke says

that he was wrapped in bands of cloth and placed in a manger –

a feeding trough for the animals.

But Luke never actually says the manger was in a stable.

In fact, at the time of Jesus’ birth,

most people didn’t live in houses with barns out back for the animals,

but in caves built into the rock;

and the animals wandered in and around them.

If the good people at Virginia Hills Baptist Church really want to be authentic,

maybe baby Jesus should be in a manger…. deep in a cave!

…But you know what,

I don’t think it really matters….

because it’s less important this Christmas to think of

where Jesus was born 2000 years ago,

than to consider where Jesus would be born today.

 

Where would – where does God choose to come into the world today?

2000 years ago God chose an unmarried teenager,

from a town no one even had on a map.

Today God still chooses to come to the places

where people are poor, hurting, lonely, or forgotten.

Where is God coming into the world today?

To the places where our hearts are most broken.

So today, maybe it’s in a school in Pakistan…

Or on a street in New York City…

Or on the sidewalk down the road next to the metro station …

2000 years ago Jesus was born in a stable…or in a cave…

Today Jesus is born in the midst of a hurting world.

On Thursday?

I think on Christmas Day our greatest hopes and dreams

(aside from a Princess Elsa doll)

…our greatest hopes and dreams are that Jesus would be born in each of us as well.

“Be born in us today”

Do you recognize that phrase?

It’s from the carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

O holy child of Bethlehem,

descend to us, we pray;

cast out our sin, and enter in,

be born in us today.

It’s why we make all those cookies

and do all that shopping

and sit in all that traffic

after all isn’t it?

Despite what cynics think,

I think most of us are searching for something more on Christmas;

we’re longing at the close of the day to feel something like…

well something like Jesus being born in us.

Ebenezer Scrooge experienced Christ’s birth in him…

We too want God to transform us, warm us, challenge us,

we want to be filled with God’s love.

When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning,

he asks a boy outside ‘what day is it?”

The boy exclaims,

“Why it’s Christmas Day!”

And Scrooge responds,

“Christmas Day!

I haven’t missed it!”

Let’s not miss it this year.

Jesus was born 2000 years ago.

Jesus is born throughout the world.

May Jesus also be born in us today!

Let’s sing the 4th verse of “O Little Town of Bethlehem” – ELW #279.

Be born in us today!

Amen.

Christmas Prayer

manger squareChristmas Prayer

Child of Bethlehem – house of bread;
Man of Jerusalem – city of peace;
you have loved us
without limit or condition;
in our greatness and in our misery,
in our folly and in our virtue;
may your hand be always upon us
and may your heart be within us,
so that we too may become
bread and peace for one another.

(Text from The Benedictine Foundation of the State of Vermont,Inc.)

A blessed and joyous Christmas to you!

Pastor Jen

Advent Devotions from Good Shepherd (Isaiah 11:1-3)

sunflower(Devotion from Corinne Baker)

ISAIAH 11 There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

2 And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear, *

Some broad themes:
Patience is required.
God can make the unexpected happen.
God’s way can be surprising.
God works through people.

These thoughts led me to consider the two ends the spectrum, from ‘let go and let God’ to hyper-control, and the intersections in between.

What can happen if we’re patient but persistent in seeking the spirit of God? If we keep our eyes open and stretch our minds but seek God’s wisdom? If we approach potential confrontation with honestly but leave judgement to God? If we commit to keep trying or to try something new but open ourselves to God’s direction? If we focus our God-given power – our talents, knowledge, stamina and aspirations – for collective benefit, thereby reaping the blessings God intends for each of his children? If we see God in the sunrise or the sunflower, in the tide or the drip from a stalactite, in the dam of a beaver or the pattern of a spider web – and factor that into our use of creation?

Advent is waiting and anticipating – what can happen?

Advent Devotions from Good Shepherd (Exodus 3:2)

burning bushExodus 3:2

 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.

 

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire…  (Lynn Landers)

 

For some reason, I recalled this passage as the Lord God appearing before Moses in the burning bush.  But no, this was an angel; unlike when God spoke the commandments.  How do we distinguish between God speaking to us and God’s angel speaking to us?  Does it matter?  There are many angels in my life; sometimes I recognize them immediately, other times not until long afterward.  The listening ear at a time of despair, an interruption that results in avoiding a catastrophe, the whispering reminder that we are not alone – angels.  But God speaking to us – what does that sound like?  Is it the commandments, the laws, the challenge to do better, or the encouraging nudge, or open door, or is it all of this.

How did Moses know that what was happening was momentous – the bush that  didn’t burn?  Where are these signs in our life?  Are we aware, do we know when God sends his angels, do we recognize God’s intervention?

 

Dear Lord, open our minds, our hearts and our souls, that we may recognize your soft touch.

Advent Devotions from Good Shepherd (Mark 1:1-8)

St__John_the_Baptist__1John the Baptist – Preparing the Heart (Josh Wullenweber)

Mark 1:1-8:

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight” ’,
4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

John the Baptist is a prophet who is mentioned in every religious book in the Abrahamic lineage. In the Qur’an he is mentioned as having “wisdom even as a youth, and pity for all creatures as from Us, and purity: he was devout” (Qur’an Surah 19:12-15).   The Jewish Book of Antiquities refers to John as “a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing with water would be acceptable to Him” (book 18, ch.5).

We learn of John’s birth through the Book of Luke and the divine events that took place with his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth.  An angel of the Lord appeared to Zechariah stating, “your wife Elizabeth (who was barren) will bear you a son and you will name him John” (Luke 1:13).  The Angel goes on to proclaim, “He will turn many the people of Israel to the Lord their God” (Luke 1:16).

Throughout the synoptic gospels we read of this great prophet one who baptizes and turns many from sin, one that sounds much like the savior that the people of Israel have been waiting for.  John is certain though to not confuse any of his followers, in Matthew we read “I baptize you with water for repentance but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3:11).

Just as John prepared the people of Israel for the coming of the Messiah let us also prepare our hearts and minds for the celebration of Christ’s birth in this Advent season.  Let us take time each day to set aside the distractions of the Christmas season; the shopping, gift wrapping and food preparation can wait.  Let us focus and reflect on the true reason for this joyous time of year, the birth of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ.