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Wednesday, December 24, 2008
A DO-IT-YOURSELF CHRISTMAS EVE EMERGENCY KIT Dear friends in Christ, My dad spent several weeks in a foxhole in the Ardennes with artillery shells exploding overhead snapping off the tops of pine trees, and sniper fire limiting mobility to a slither and crawl. So what’s a little snow and ice in the suburbs of Portland? Still … it feels like defeat to have to announce the cancellation of our Christmas Eve service tonight (and this after my boasting about how neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow nor hail could ever stop a pastor with chains). But the latest word, even with today’s melting, is that our church parking area and walkway are still inaccessible with seven inches of snow on a layer of ice. Although some are willing to brave it, many can’t and shouldn’t even think about trying, so I say stay warm and cozy and I promise we will worship together again soon … Easter? As a consolation I read that The Chronicles of Narnia is on TV tonight. Or you could try a church closer to home (just this once). Or if you’re desperate for a Christmas Eve sermon … call me up and I’ll lay one on you …or better yet come on over !!! Best of all -- create your own service: Sing ~ Shout ~ Laugh ~ Dance ~ Light Candles ~ Break Bread ~ Lift Your Glass in Gratitude and Wonder Here are a few of my favorite poems to get you going … INTO THIS SILENT NIGHT by Ann Weems Into this silent night as we make our weary way we know not where. just as night becomes its darkest and we cannot see our path, just then is when the angels rush in their hands full of stars. A SWADDLING GOD by Zach Kincaid In the old days, the sky roamed much closer. Legend speaks of people peeling it off and eating it for food. Its abundance created a peace in all corners of the earth because no one wanted for anything. But time eroded the gift into assumption, and assumption into ungrateful expectations. People began to plan and plot for ways to store it up and keep it only for themselves So the sky retreated into a far off place above the earth. As the sun dipped low the people saw the holes spread out, dotting the sky with light from somewhere beyond. Then they realized how large a canvass once covered them. Loneliness and uncertainty became commonplace. No one knew the intentions of heaven and few understood why she kept her distance. They didn’t suspect that the sky must parachute open in order for true sustenance to fall inside it. Years produced lines in the sand. But the earth finally bloomed. Wild orchards and lilies marked the fields with an array of color, hinting back to the sky’s magic still dripping down. And then it happened all over again. The mountains knelt into the valleys. The parachute descended. An unassuming daughter swaddled God underneath a sky ripped open to show a love unwavered from generations of guessing. Eternity reordered time, radiance put on skin, heaven walked the earth, and the kingdom of God … is now. Glory to God in the highest. His arms are long enough to embrace us still today. AMAZING PEACE by Maya Angelou Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters, Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air. The world is encouraged to come away from rancor, Come the way of friendship. It is the Glad Season. Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner. Flood waters recede into memory. Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us As we make our way to higher ground. Hope is born again in the faces of children It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets. Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things, Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors. In our joy, we think we hear a whisper. At first it is too soft. Then only half heard. We listen carefully as it gathers strength. We hear a sweetness. The word is Peace. It is loud now. It is louder. Louder than the explosions of bombs. We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence. It is what we have hungered for. Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace. A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies. Security for our beloveds and their beloveds. We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas. We beckon this good season to wait a while with us. We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come. Peace -- come and fill us and our world with your majesty. We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian, Implore you, to stay a while with us. So we may learn by your shimmering light How to look beyond complexion and see community It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time. And finally this. A young girl was so afraid to sleep every night she kept calling for her mother to come and finally her mother said, “Just let go and try to sleep because you know that God will be with you all through the night until the morning comes.” The girl replied, “Yes I know, but I need someone with skin on.” For me, Jesus is God with skin on. In Jesus we see divine love in a human face with eyes of compassion and sorrow and joy and welcome. Emmanuel ~ God With Us Merry Christmas
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Scripture bears witness to God’s activity among humankind. To Mary, to David, to Paul, assurance of God’s presence is clear. As we ground ourselves in the story of God’s faithfulness, we join them in awe and wonder, rejoicing that God continues to give birth to grace, hope, new possibilities, and salvation for everyone. In Luke 1:26–38, it is clear that God’s purpose is unfolding in ways that people in Luke’s time, and in ours, might not expect. The young woman, Mary, receives news that she is to play an important role in God’s purpose for the world. Luke is one of four gospels, a particular kind of story that contains history, yet focuses more on the meaning of God’s word and God’s reign than on historical facts. Luke uses historical information to set Jesus’ birth in political time – Jesus was born when Herod the Great was King of Judea and Augustus was Emperor. The birth also is set in relative time. Six months after Elizabeth and Zechariah have been told that they will be parents, the angel who brought this good news to them appears to Mary. After establishing the timing within the political context as well as the timing relative to God’s people, Luke explores the significance of Jesus’ life. No historical records of the type to which we’re accustomed today exist to give details of time, place, and circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. Perhaps, for Luke, such details were secondary to the fact that Jesus was born to a young Galilean woman named Mary – living in a country occupied by the army of the Roman Empire – as part of God’s plan of salvation for God’s people. In Luke 1:47–55 we hear Mary’s song of rejoicing as she responds to her part in the ongoing work of God’s purpose. The Magnificat, as Mary’s song is called, may take the place of a reading from Psalms for today. With the psalmist who sings of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness for all generations in Psalm 89:1–4, 19–26, Mary praises God’s promise of saving love and care for all time. Gabriel’s announcement to Mary confirms the greatness of the “house of David.” In 2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16, King David, having united the people of Israel, celebrates by bringing the Ark of the Covenant (an ornate box said to contain the stone tablets with God’s law and other religious items) into Jerusalem. The prophet Nathan brings word to King David that God does not want a structural house for the Ark, and that God will make David’s “house” – descendants – part of God’s promise and faithfulness. Reflecting on God’s purpose revealed in Jesus, the concluding verses in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, Romans 16:25–27, praise God’s purpose in Christ. Many scholars believe that a later writer added these verses – perhaps they are an endorsement of Paul’s message by a later generation of Christians. Whatever the source, these verses are a fitting summary of the gospel message: in the Christ, God’s promise for all is birthed. Our rejoicing this Advent season expresses confidence that God continues to make things happen – a confidence in God’s promise to reshape and restore in unexpected ways. We respond with faith and praise, as did Mary, David, and Paul. How will you respond to God’s promise that continues to be born among us this Advent season?
Tuesday, December 09, 2008
God promises restoration and healing. God has done great things for God’s people in the past and is doing great things in our own lives today. With the community of God’s people, we proclaim that God is faithful. We rejoice in God’s promises and continue to work and pray for the fulfillment of this vision. We shout for joy. Psalm 126 Imagine a crowd of pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem and the temple. They have come from far and near to celebrate a festival. At last their destination is in sight. From the crowd come songs of praise and thanksgiving. God has brought them to the center of Israel’s worship – to the place where God’s presence comes very near to them. Zion is an ancient Hebrew name for the area around Jerusalem and for the hill on which Solomon’s temple stood. Psalm 126 is a “psalm of ascents,” one of a group of 15 psalms (120–134) to be sung by those on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It is a song of thanksgiving for all God has done for the community of Israel. This is a psalm about exile and return, about the restoration of God’s people. When those who were exiled in Babylon return to Zion, they can hardly believe it. They are filled with joy. Though Solomon’s temple has been destroyed, it will be rebuilt. The people will once again come to give thanks for God’s great gifts. God has restored their lives just as God sends rain to water the Negeb desert, an arid area in the south of ancient Palestine. God, the psalmist says, can send rain to make the desert blossom. The psalm ends with a metaphor of planting and harvest. We sow seeds into the arid soil and water them with our tears. Perhaps these are all the seeds that are left to us. We might have ground them into flour from which to make a meal. Yet we plant them with hope that something more will come. And God gives a rich harvest. We return with joy, bringing home not just a few plants but sheaves of grain. God gives abundantly. This news of God’s abundant grace is known “among the nations.” The psalmist tells that the nations see what God has done and acknowledge God. The message of hope is clear. God has done great things in the past and will continue to do them today. With the psalmist, we continue to work and pray for the fulfillment of this vision. In Isaiah 61:1–4, 8–11, the prophet also speaks of return from exile. Those who mourn will rejoice; they will rebuild the ruined cities and restore the community. God’s prophet is called to bring good news to the oppressed and comfort to those who mourn. God’s everlasting reign – marked by righteousness and peace – will be seen by all nations. Luke 1:47–55, offered as an alternative to the psalm, is known as the Magnificat or Song of Mary. It is a song of great rejoicing as Mary remembers all that God has done and will do. Through the child she will bear, there will be a new raising up of God’s people and new hope for those who are poor and oppressed. All nations will see it and rejoice. John 1:6–8, 19–28 introduces John the Baptizer, sent by God as a witness to the Light of God that was coming into the world. John is not the Messiah, but one who prepares the way for God’s coming among us. Looking to the future, the gospel recalls God’s past activity in sustaining the people of Israel. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16–24, Paul gives a brief list of instructions for new Christians. God is faithful and we rejoice. This Sunday, observed by some as “Rejoice Sunday,” is a time to give thanks for God’s restoring and healing power as we have seen it in our own lives and in the life of our community. Where do you see seeds of love and care – planted in hope – beginning to flourish and come to harvest? What signs of God’s faithfulness cause you to rejoice?
Tuesday, December 02, 2008
When God’s people are in distress, messengers of hope come to remind of God’s steadfast love. Isaiah speaks a message of comfort to God’s people in exile: God will bring them back to the land of promise. The other scripture passages remind us of the good news of God’s faithfulness. We, too, are called to be messengers of hope. Isaiah 40:1–11 The book of Isaiah contains at least three sections, each speaking in and out of a particular era in Israel’s history. The first 39 chapters, dating from the 8th century BCE, are a series of warnings of coming disaster for the people of Judah. Chapter 40 begins the section of God’s word to the Judahites after their kingdom fell in 586 BCE. At that time many people were carried into exile in Babylon, perhaps even the prophet who delivers this message. After years in Babylon, many Hebrew exiles had built homes and established comfortable lives there. But empires rise and fall, and Cyrus of Persia came to threaten Babylon. Cyrus was thought to be more tolerant of the Hebrew exiles. There was hope for a new beginning. In Isaiah 40:1–11, the prophet speaks to persuade the exiles to go back to Jerusalem. Cyrus will be God’s instrument in fostering their return. Indeed, Cyrus eventually did provide for rebuilding Jerusalem and the temple. In this passage, God sits in the midst of the divine council and speaks a message of comfort to the people of Judah and to Jerusalem. Their suffering is coming to an end; they have paid double the penalty for their sins – their defiant acts against God’s ways. The exiles hope there will be a way for them to return to the land of promise. The prophet calls on the leaders of the people to prepare this “way of the Lord,” to make possible the return of God’s people. God is creating a new geography, raising valleys and lowering mountains, smoothing the path that leads the exiles back to Jerusalem – back to the heart and center of their religion. God’s people can confidently proclaim that God is faithful. Even though humankind is transitory, like grass in a field, God endures. The word of God stands forever. Verses 9-11 answer last week’s question: Where is God? God is here, Isaiah reminds the people. God the shepherd is coming with strength and with tenderness. God’s glory will once more be seen among the people. And, after this time of exile, God’s glory and presence will not be revealed to only Israel and Judah. “All people shall see it together” (verse 5). The psalmist echoes Isaiah’s proclamation that God’s salvation is near at hand. Psalm 85:1–2, 8–13 recalls that God has acted in the past to forgive and restore. And God’s “glory”– the light of God’s presence – will be seen again. The marks of God’s salvation are steadfast love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace; these define the path for those living into God’s reign. In 2 Peter 3:8–15a, Peter writes to counter the claims of those who say that the present age will continue forever. Peter calls readers to prepare immediately for life in God’s reign by repenting and leading lives of holiness and godliness. Mark 1:1–8 begins the story of Jesus by introducing John the Baptizer. Like Isaiah’s “voice crying in the wilderness,” John is a messenger preparing the way for God’s coming. And, as in the other readings, the desired response of those who hear the message is repentance – turning from disobedience and turning toward God’s way. When we are despairing, when we feel far from our true center, we need the message of hope contained in the lessons for this Sunday. God is faithful. God will restore and guide. Isaiah, Cyrus, and John all were God’s messengers of this hopeful word. When have you encountered such messengers of hope? What message about God’s love and care do you want to tell others?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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