Monthly Archives: December 2016

1st Sunday After Christmas, January 1, 2017

First Sunday After Christmas (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 61:10-62-3, Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7, John 1:1-18, Psalm 147

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Being dressed in such garments showed the wearer to be an invited guest, with a right to join the celebration. Paul uses the image of salvation’s clothing in Romans 13:14 and Ephesians. 4:22–24. Christ used it in several parables, as in where the guests were dressed in special garments provided by the host (Matt. 22:11–14).

Only if we are clothed with God’s salvation will we enjoy life in the future kingdom of the Lord.

Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7

Sonship has made a radical change in the situation of the believer. Under Old Testament Law Israel was held prisoner, “locked up” to keep them out of trouble until Jesus came (3:23). Now sons, God has given believers His Spirit. The cry “Abba, Father,” implies a clear distinction between slave and family member. Only a child has the privilege of such warm and direct address. Only a child has such immediate access to a parent. Paul’s point is that “sons” have no need to be locked up and no need of a guardian. As sons we have direct access to God and also a matchless resource that enables us to be holy—the Holy Spirit Himself.

John 1:1-18christ-898330_640

John reveals Jesus as God’s gift to us. He stresses that Jesus is both identical with the God of the Old Testament, yet uniquely distinct from Him. This concept, though mysterious, has become common to us. However, in the first-century, this revelation was shocking. The Jews emphasized the uniqueness and unity of the Old Testament’s “one God.” The pagans imagined a class of beings they called ‘”gods.” But John affirms that God is one, yet exists in distinct, separate personalities.

He reveals Christ as God’s gift to be received. Believing in Jesus involves seeing Him presented as God’s Son, accepting that description as real, and simply stretching our your hand to accept God’s gift of eternal life. You then become what you were not: a child of God.

Start at the Very Beginning

In the beginning. What powerful words! Before the worlds were created, He was there. Before Neil Armstrong took one small step for man, Christ was there as the moon was spoken into existence. Christ was there before Abraham and the establishment of God’s people. Before the Plague and penicillin. Before Einstein and E=mc2. Before you and me.

God is the author of beginnings. And in Jesus Christ, He authors our new beginnings. Through Christ, we are no longer slaves but children. We are freed from sin and death, invited to begin a new life in Jesus Christ that leads to eternal and unending life. And when we fail, when we fall, Christ is waiting for us, extending His hand and offering to help us begin again. In the beginning – in our beginning – was the Word… and we have seen His glory. Thanks be to God!

Prayer for First Sunday After Christmas – “Gracious God, through the Gift of Your Son, You give me new and unending life. Pour out this life in and through me. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

Christmas Day, December 25, 2016

Christmas Day (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12), John 1:1-14, Psalm 78

Isaiah 52:7-10

For decades, Israel’s remnant had suffered in a foreign country without an altar or priesthood. Isaiah foresees the day when the people will return to Jerusalem, rebuild their temple, and restore their God-given ministry.

Good news is worth sharing. Isaiah sees the messenger announcing peace and salvation… a message of joy and comfort.

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

Old Testament prophets spoke their message out of their own life experience and Israel’s. Their message was applicable to their age, and often characterized by one idea. Amos’ focused upon the need for social justice. Isaiah grasped the holiness of God. Hosea’s own bitter experience revealed the forgiving love of God. Each of these messages, though important parts of the revelation of the Messiah, are fragmented portions.

With Jesus it is different. He was not a fragment of the truth; he was the whole truth. In Christ, God displays not some fragmented part of himself, but all of himself.

John 1:1-14

John allows us to see that even before Creation, Jesus was God the Son. He existed before His birth, is coequal with God the Father, and the source of light and of life itself (1:1–5). John emphasizes that Jesus is the preexistent Word (vv.6-9). To the Jew a word was far more than a mere sound; it was something which had an independent existence and which actually did things.

The awesome revelation is this: In Jesus, God Himself became flesh and lives among us (v.14).

What’s the Word?dp207823

Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King! The mere words of this carol shine hope into the darkened portions of our souls. They point out the power our words have to inspire… encourage… transform. This is the message of today’s readings.

Isaiah’s words envisioned a world reflecting the comfort and salvation of the Lord. To a people weary with oppression, those words inspired them to remain faithful. To the second generation of Christians receiving the letter of Hebrews, the words reminded them that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the prophets’ words – encouragement during a time of persecution and martyrdom. John’s gospel presents the ultimate Word, Jesus Christ. In Him, we have more than hope and encouragement – we have the very presence of God made flesh, dwelling among and within us.

Joy to the world, indeed!

Prayer for Christmas Day – “Almighty God, as I celebrate the Gift of Your Son, Jesus Christ, help me both receive and proclaim Your Word with the confidence of His redemption and salvation. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

4th Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016

Fourth Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 7:10-16, Romans 1:1-7, Matthew 1:18-25, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18

Isaiah 7:10-16

Ahaz was commanded to ask for a sign: some clear supernatural event that would confirm Isaiah’s promise. His disobedience was a demonstration of unbelief, not piety. So, the Lord turned from Ahaz and gave a sign to the entire house of David (vs. 13). This sign was fulfilled ultimately in the birth of Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:23).

The name “Immanuel” means “God with us” and reinforces the emphatic position of the words to show that “With Us is God!” “Immanuel” captures the awe and wonder of the incarnation – the unimaginable fact that the God of the universe entered the stream of time to become one with us.

Romans 1:1-7

Paul defines his ministry as that of the Gospel, which he calls “the Gospel of God” (vs. 1), “the Gospel of His Son” (vs. 9), and “the Gospel of Christ” (vs. 16). This “Good News” is not something that Paul invented, but is what the Old Testament promised concerning Jesus’ coming, death, and resurrection.

Paul reminds his readers that they (we) are also “called by Christ to be ‘saints’” (living believers in Jesus Christ), and that only God can make saints out of sinners. And, he reminds them (and us) that they (we) are “beloved of God,” just as Christ is loved by the Father.

Matthew 1:18-25

Both the reality and the supernatural nature of Jesus’ conception are highlighted in Matthew’s account. The incarnation is the real “enfleshment” of the Son of God. Jesus took our human nature and entered into our world through the door of the virginal conception. The ministry of the Holy Spirit, which will be an important motif in Matthew’s Gospel, is highlighted first in relation to the incarnation of Jesus.

“Immanuel” means “God with us,” and finds its echo in Jesus’ promise at the very end of the Gospel: “I am with you always” (28:20). Matthew also tells us that Joseph and Mary had no sexual relations until after the birth of Jesus.

Love Came Down

During times of darkness and suffering, there’s something comforting about the presence of a loved one. A gentle touch, a quiet word makes all the difference in letting us know we are not alone. This is what God has done for us.

In the ultimate act of love, He entered our darkness and suffering, stretching out His hands to – and for – us. Emmanuel, God with us. Let every heart prepare Him room. Let earth receive her King.

4th-week-of-adventPrayer when lighting the fourth candle of the Advent wreath – “God of love, by Your Holy Spirit, prepare my heart as Your dwelling place. Be born anew in me, and through me, let Your love be known. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

3rd Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016

Third Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 35:1-10, James 5:7-10, Matthew 11:2-11, Psalm 146:4-9

Isaiah 35:1-10

In poetic form, Isaiah portrays the time when conflict (of the pagan peoples; chapter 34) results in the restoration of Israel, when hopes break the darkness of despair. New life, color, joy, and singing will transform the wilderness into a place where God’s glory will be revealed. The “recompense of God” (that is, his reward for those who remain steadfast in his love) is the hope that offers strength and courage to the weak and fearful.

James 5:7-10

James exhorts followers of Christ to be patient in the midst of suffering. The sense of patience includes waiting and endurance until the Lord takes action on their behalf. James’ counsel is not to encourage revolution by taking justice into one’s own hand. Rather, it is a call to relinquish their rights to God who will judge oppression in his time.

Matthew 11:2-11

John is in prison. His high view of Jesus is confronted with questions. Possibly John is wondering why there were no signs of the imminent judgment of the wicked that he had predicted (Matthew 3:10). Jesus’ reply to John encourages him to observe the works that Jesus was doing. Jesus specifically itemizes them (vs. 4-5), in beatitude form. Jesus encourages John, and everyone else with similar doubts to remain faithful to him no matter what may come (vs. 6).

Look Who’s Here!

advent-wreath-3“Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God.” In the midst of oppression and suffering – in the face of doubt and fear – feel the power and joy of those words. That which is longed for has come. That which is hidden is fully revealed.

In our own lives and the lives of those around us, we face seasons of doubt, suffering, and confusion. It is in these moments that faith echoes the voice of John the Baptist preparing the way of the Lord, revealing Jesus who already stands among us.

Who is around you? Is there one in need of healing? Does someone wait for forgiveness? Is there one who longs for acceptance and comfort? Does someone need food or shelter? Open your hands and heart to share. In serving others, Christ comes and we proclaim with joy to others, and ourselves, “Here is your God!”

Prayer when lighting the third candle of the Advent wreath – “God of joy, deliver me from sin, strengthening me with your grace and mercy. Through Your Holy Spirit, empower me to proclaim joy to the world through Your coming. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A

2nd Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016

Second Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Scripture Readings*: Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans 15:4-13, Matthew 3:1-12, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah envisions a king who will be scrupulously fair in the administration of justice, putting right the injustices of his predecessors. He sees a king that will be faithful, full of wisdom and understanding… one who righteously honors God. He sees the time when perfect peace will flood the earth. And Isaiah depicts that this King will be like a shoot from the stump of Jesse.

Romans 15:4-13

Paul emphasizes the obligations of those within the Christian fellowship. How are we to live with one another? How are we to treat those who are weak? He stresses: 1) “Consideration” must always be foremost in our thoughts and actions. 2) To study Scripture and draw encouragement from it. 3) To be people of fortitude (able to stand against pressures) and encouragement so that we may live in harmony with one another. 4) To welcome one another, because Christ has welcomed us.

Paul quotes Isaiah reminding us that “the root of Jesse shall come” and He will reign – not only over Israel – but He will be the ruler of the Gentiles.

Matthew 3:1-12

Despite the verbal respect shown for the Law, John recognizes that God’s people had departed from total covenant commitment and needed a radical change of both attitude and behavior. He announces that God’s kingdom is near, and echoes Isaiah’s words admonishing us to “prepare the way of the Lord.”

John stresses that while he baptizes in water, Christ will immerse believers in the Holy Spirit and unbelievers with fire.

Better Than Santa’s List

We often tease children that they better be good since Santa knows who’s been naughty or nice. For children, the knowledge of their actions resulting in good gifts is enough to cause a change in behavior.

In a sense, Advent offers us this same opportunity – a chance to examine our hearts and attitudes in preparation for Christ’s coming. The desire is not about making “the good list,” but about seeing the Holy Spirit produce in us good fruit that reflects the glory and grace of God.

When we examine our hearts and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us, we experience heavenly peace, making our hearts and homes calm and bright with the presence and peace of Christ.

second-week-of-advent-peace-candlePrayer when lighting the second candle of the Advent wreath – “God of peace, Your word calls me to prepare the way of the Lord, forsaking sin and greeting with joy the coming of Christ. Through Your Son, give me the peace of reconciliation with You and make me an instrument of peace in my home and the world. Blessed be God now and forever. Amen.”

*Readings are from the NRSV and the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A