December 8: Withering Comfort

Isaiah 40:1-11

How is it that the thought of all of us withering like the flowers of the field is supposed to “comfort my people?” I wonder about that juxtaposition in today’s reading.

Is it because we are better served by trusting in the eternal than in trying to somehow graft ourselves into eternity?

When we commemorate the life of a loved one who has moved on, we often find ourselves celebrating their accomplishments and admiring what is sure to be a lasting legacy. When we consider how we ourselves want to be remembered, we might hope that we leave a legacy like some of the great people we have known, or even mores, perhaps some of the great people we haven’t known.

But then I recall, they are just as dead as dead can be after they are gone, and so will I be, as far as this world is concerned. And as much as I love you all, perhaps I will take comfort and joy in the fact that the One who fashioned the universe draws me to eternity in the presence and service of the Savior… and if you all forget me, that’s okay, as long as God remembers me.

And God does… indeed… remember me…

Lord may our hearts reach for you, not for something we can fashion or cause to be, no matter how good it might be. You are the only one who is truly lasting. Let us be found in you.

By Peter Hamm, pastor (and sometimes worship leader) at Grace United Methodist Church in Norwood, OH.

December 7: Hope is a Promise

Isaiah 33:1-24

Hope. This is what the prophets promise us. Every time. Despite their dire warnings that choosing to live apart from God’s covenant of love and loyalty will undoubtedly result in destruction, the prophets never leave us without some hope. And that’s definitely the case in Isaiah 33.

The only reason we need hope is because sometimes things are really bad. Destruction, tumult, fear, broken promises: Isaiah says even the land itself mourns for what has happened, for what God’s people have brought upon themselves. And yet … God is not finished. God has promised restoration, and that is where we ground our hope. Like our spiritual ancestors, we don’t just wish or assume that things will get better on their own. We stake our lives on the promises of the One we know. We remember that God has been faithful in the past and so we trust that God will be faithful in the future as well.

This is not an easy task. Hope is radical, especially when we are honest about what is happening around us. To trust that what we see now is not all that can ever be, to choose to see God’s good future breaking out in the midst of our present is a powerful act of resistance. When we choose to see God’s future instead of our present (see verses 17-22), we will find that God has given us the strength and courage to begin living in that future right now. And that is how we demonstrate our hope.

Read Isaiah 33 again and look for all the good things that the prophet says will happen (key word: “will”). Then ask God to give you hope for what will happen in the situations, both personal and cultural, where you are tempted to feel hopeless.

By Rev. Beth Gedert, pastor of Zion United Church of Christ, an Open and Affirming church seeking to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God in Delaware, Ohio.

December 6: Shades of Life

Isaiah 9:1-7

Light is often acquainted with good and dark with bad. Today’s reading offers us such a view. We are more “comfortable” with these stark contrasts: right or wrong; up or down; backwards or forwards. We think that we will know where we stand, what are the clear answers to life, the universe and everything.

God created this world to be multifaceted, filled with a multitude of colors and shades.  We need both light and darkness, all the shades and colors in between.  God’s creativity gives definition to our world, our lives and our relationships.  The varying contrasts afford us different perspectives and outlooks. We need the darkness as well as the light – not as things that are good or bad, but to give us a fuller rather than flat view of life.

In our passage today, the darkness is not obliterated, but offers us the ability to see in a different way. The light does not blind us, but reveals a glimpse of the life that God has given us in all its fullness.

Action: Notice the relationship between light and shadows today.  See how they enrich each other.  Give thanks to God for these varying shades of life.

Prayer:  Creator of all, you fill our world with beauty and wonder.  Help us to recognize your handiwork in all its shades and colors as we relate to one another as well as to the world around us.  We pray this in the name of the God of wonder.  Amen.

By Jennifer Boyd, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Brewster, New York and lives in Danbury, Connecticut with her 3 cats.

December 5: Keep out!

Baruch 2:11-3:8

“Go to your room and think about what you’ve done!” I swore I would never say these words to my own children. I was wrong. I know that there are times when that is exactly what is needed. A little time. A little space. A little bit of reflection on what has happened. To the writer of Baruch, this is the role of the exile. It is a chance for the people to find themselves again and to no longer take their relationship with God for granted.

Purported to be written by Jeremiah’s scribe during the Babyolonian exile, the book of Baruch is an Apocryphal book that is seldom read or referred to in churches today. This does not, however, strip it of its value to the modern Christian. It is a book of confession. It takes seriously the role that Judah had in its own demise.

This prayer of confession is laden with a heavy dose of self-awareness. There is no blaming of God. There is no stomping off in a temper-tantrum, slamming the door and refusing to come out. Exile is not the end of the relationship. It is God’s last ditch effort to save the relationship. Even God knows “But in the land of their exile they will come to themselves and know that I am the Lord their God. I will give them a heart that obeys and ears that hear. “If only we could use all of our own self-inflicted exiles for such a time of reflection and healing.

This is a prayer of Confession based on Baruch 1:15-20, “The Lord our God is in the right, but there is open shame on us today because we have sinned before the Lord. We have disobeyed God, and have not heeded the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in the statutes of the Lord that he set before us. From the time when the Lord brought our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until today, we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, and we have been negligent, in not heeding his voice.”

By Robb McCoy, pastor of Two Rivers United Methodist Church in Rock Island, Illinois; co-producer of the Pulpit Fiction Podcasts and Pulpit Fiction Narrative Cast: two lectionary Bible studies for preachers, seekers, and Bible geeks.

December 4: Worthy As i Am

Baruch 1:15-2:10

The language in this reading is full of the language of shame. Shame because of the sins of their past, because they didn’t listen to God’s prophets, because they served other gods. While confessing our wrong doings, our sins, is helpful, being ashamed and stuck in shame is not.

Dr. Brené Brown, a shame researcher, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”

Shame hides in the shadows, telling us we are not worthy of anyone’s love let alone God’s love. But God is in the light and open, reminding us we are worthy of love and belonging.

It can be hard to believe that right now, just as you are, that you are worthy of God’s love? Or in the back of your mind are you thinking to yourself, “Yes, I am worthy of belonging to God… after I get better at praying”, or “once I’ve done this entire Advent devotional.”

Most of us are not sure if we truly are worthy of God’s love or believe we’re deserving of love and belonging from the world. Because if we were we wouldn’t struggle with sharing our gifts openly and freely, we wouldn’t judge those around us, we wouldn’t question God and others.

This Advent let us remember that in love for the whole world, God sent Jesus for all. Just as we are. In this time of preparation, remember that even if you cannot be everything to everyone, you are worthy of God’s unconditional love, today and always.

God of Unending Love and Boundless Forgiveness, this Advent help me prepare by loving myself as much as you love me. Help me to know that I am worthy even when I make mistakes, and help me to see others in the same love and openness that you do every day. Amen

By Rev. Andrea Allan, (she/her) serves in a United Church congregation that is part of a multi-faith centre called The Cedars in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. She lives with her family in Stratford Ontario.

December 3: Home

Jeremiah 57:27-30

“I’ll be home for Christmas, you can plan on me, please have snow and mistletoe, and presents on the tree.”  I admit it, I have been listening to Christmas music since a week before Thanksgiving.  “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” extols the virtues of being home, especially during the holidays.  It ends on a melancholy note that is often overlooked.  “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  This note is reminiscing of the Babylonian exile, recounted in today’s reading, when the Jewish people could only dream of home.

The prophet, Jeremiah, recounts the exile of Judah.  He recounts how over twenty-three years, Babylon systematically removed over four thousand people from their homes and imprisoned them in a foreign land.  Most of them would never see their homes again.  The few who did, wouldn’t recognize what it had become.

Yet, God does not leave them in captivity.  God promised the one who eventually came and set them free from captivity.  God promised the one who would allow them to flee exile and return home.

God makes the same promise to us.  God promises the Messiah who came and who will come again.  When Christ comes again, we will be freed from captivity.  We will no longer be held captive to the bonds of sin, the bonds of racism, the bonds of pain and suffering, the bonds of oppression.  Then we will be in the home that the God who created all that we see and all that we can’t see made for us.

Holy God, we wait patiently for the return of your Son.  As we wait, help us to be the body of Christ and do the work of Christ.  Help us to work with one another to further your Kingdom here on Earth until the day when Christ comes again.  Amen.

By Rev. Chris Deacon, pastor of the United Parish of Bowie, a joint UCC/PC(USA) congregation in Bowie, MD.  He is also the author or “Louder than Words.”

December 2: Faithful Traditions

Jeremiah 35:1-19

With Thanksgiving behind us and Advent begun, we’ve plunged head-first into “the holidays,” a season full of traditions, both beloved and bothersome. In this Jeremiah passage, the Rechabites are praised for holding to the commandment to abstain from wine that’s been handed down through generation; God’s own people, on the other hand, are judged sternly for their failure to follow the laws God gave them.

We sometimes hold onto holiday traditions as if they were handed down from the Lord – we act like Baby Jesus won’t be born if we don’t make Great-Aunt Martha’s cookies just right, or place the poinsettias just so, or sing all the verses of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” in the order that we learned them. And yet, most of our traditions don’t matter much to God. God cares, instead, how we treat our neighbors, our enemies, this earth. God wants us to follow God’s laws because when we do that then all our relationships will be in right order. And God sent Jesus to be born among us because even when we’ve fallen away from the teachings and traditions that would give us life, God still will not abandon us to the darkness.

If some of the traditions aren’t shaping up just right for this year, breathe deep and remember that their absence won’t keep Christ from coming. And in the traditions you keep, may you know that each one is an invitation to remember the Love that held our ancestors, and holds us still today.

Reflection: Think of a holiday tradition of yours and of the people who taught you that tradition. Give thanks for what was handed on to you and pray that this year, Christ is born anew in that tradition.

By Rev. Hope E. A. Molozaiy, pastor of The Community Church of Richmond, United Church of Christ, in Richmond, IL, and always a mom.

December 1: Let the waiting Begin

Jeremiah 33:14-18

By the time we get to December 1, the world has already been consumed by Christmas. Lights began going up before Halloween was over, the Christmas music plays non-stop by November 1, and the stores have been selling Christmas gear since school began three months ago. Christmas has become a beast that cannot be fed. Everything is covered in Christmas – and then we get to church, expecting to hear the beloved story of Mary and Joseph, shepherds and angels, holy nights and little towns, and run squarely into Jeremiah?! Jeremiah, the prophet of lament, of sorrow, of exile – we’re going to read this in December? Up against the chaos and madness of the Christmas beast? Here in church we are nowhere close to Christmas yet. This is the one place we can escape from the madness and reflect on the child to come. We reflect on the story that led up to the Messiah, the story of his birth, and the story of how he will come again in glory. So yes, we begin with Jeremiah, the one who reminds us that when our world is falling apart, when everything is against us, and the pillars of our faith are crumbling, that God still has a future for us. God’s promises will bring about the days of justice and righteousness – the days we only get the smallest foretaste of now. One day, Christ will come again and there will be a future in God’s time and on God’s terms. Jeremiah reminds us of the importance of waiting, anticipating and trusting – all in God’s time. Let Advent, and the waiting, begin.

Dear God, help me to wait, anticipate, and trust in the future you have planned for me. Help me to stop and listen for you amid all the chaos and busyness of my life. Remind me that your promises will be fulfilled not just for me, but for all your children. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

By Kristin Pike, interim pastor of Community United Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Iowa, and the Stated Clerk for the Presbyteries of Des Moines and North Central Iowa.