By: Jill Oglesby-Evans
Reflection—v. 9 ‘It was no messenger or angel but God’s presence that saved them’
In The Infinite Game, Simon Sinek explores the concept of finite and infinite games. In a finite game there is a clear beginning, middle and end, the players are known, and all the rules agreed upon ahead of time. An infinite game has no clear beginning or end, engages both known and unknown players, and proceeds with ever-changing rules! At Mercy, worship is a joyfully played infinite game with few time constraints, unexpected players, and rules with which the Holy Spirit plays any way She pleases! Preaching at Mercy, for example, is a community event, ala lectio divina. After Scripture is read everyone is invited to call out a word or phrase that grabs us. When a word or phrase someone else brings up jumps out at us, too, we call out, ‘check!’ At Mercy you can trust that the presence of God will be made known not just through the voices of a few enlightened messengers, or simon-pure angels, or over-educated preachers, but through the voices and insights and struggles of the whole community. At Mercy, worship is a decidedly infinite game during which, through ALL our questions, doubts, fears, and wonderment, the lively love of God saves us, redeems us, lifts us up, and carries us through the coming week.
Prayer: Loving God, keep us ever humble, open and ready to play with the infinite ways you come to us through your creation and one another. Amen.
By: Matthew Hyatt
Reflection—v. 14 ‘he himself likewise shared the same things’
When I read this passage, the words empathy and understanding popped into my head. Often, when we are upset or hurt, others will do their best to comfort us. It doesn’t always work, but a frequent method of comforting is letting the person who is hurt know that they are not alone. We tell them that ‘I’m here,’ and ‘You are not alone.’ We also tell them that ‘we understand.’ Sometimes that isn’t entirely true, because we can’t fully understand what the person is going through unless we are that person. We can’t, but God can. Paul explains that God sent Jesus to walk with us, to suffer as we suffer, to go the extra mile and even die for us. God walks with us every moment of every day of our lives. God knows our struggles, our sorrows, our pain, our confusion. God knows because, not only is God there with us, but God stays with us. God was Jesus dying on the cross to show us that he will go the distance with us. God desires to go the distance because God empathizes with us. God understands what we are enduring more than any other person can. The writer also offers us some encouragement in that Jesus did not come to ‘help angels’ but rather the ‘descendants of Abraham,’ us. God knows we are not perfect so God sent God’s Son to spread the word about the forgiveness he freely and abundantly offers for our sins. This passage is a testament to God’s unending love and compassion for us, God’s children.
Prayer: Lord, thank you for walking with me; help me to empathize and walk with others.
By: Jennifer Arnold
Reflection—v. 15 ‘free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death’
Recently, my aunt came very close to death. She ended up on a ventilator for several days. After this, my mom told me that she never wants to be put on life support because she is not afraid of death. Although I am saddened by the thought of my mother’s eventual death, this conversation was also very freeing for me. Her freedom from fear, frees me to also be free from the fear of losing her or not doing everything in my power to prolong her life. In the same way, I believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection can free us from our fear of own fear of dying. Jesus’ death reminds us that when there is big enough love, death is not the final word. Resurrection reminds us that love will always win. When we rest in the truth of everlasting love that cannot die we are finally free.
Prayer: God of life, your love is big enough to free us all from the fear of death so that we may joyfully live every moment in your everlasting embrace.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v.11 ‘For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all’
I was recently privy to a conversation between two dear pastor friends, Rev. Cassandra Henderson and Terrence Smith, both of whom are much wiser than I am. They were talking about how easy it is to dismiss prosperity theology–the belief that God will graciously provide material wealth to the faithful. This theology is often times looked down upon in mainline, white churches and is often preached in poorer contexts. It feels cheap and icky. However, they went on to muse about ways in which more affluent contexts cheapen the love of God–through a theology of grace, undeserved forgiveness. Really, it’s all about what one needs. Poor people depend on God to provide for their welfare, because the state and their communities won’t–in fact those entities often place barriers in their way to achieving well-being. Conversely, more affluent people need spiritual grace. Their material welfare is provided for, but they know that they fall short of offering the love of God to others. They blindly hurt others through personal gain and judgements. But y’all, the good news is that the ‘grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all!’ I can’t help but think, if we notice our biases, we might be able to participate in God’s work of grace-giving, with no type of grace more special or ‘right’ than the other. This Christmas, let us give gifts of grace to one another! All of God’s beautiful children can get their needs met.
Prayer: God of abundant grace, help us to be grace-givers too.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v.11 ‘Your savior is born today’
Okay, so I know that it’s Christmas and we’re supposed to be really excited and happy, glorifying and praising God and everything…. But do you know what seems like it would be a real test of patience for me? To know that the SAVIOR IS BORN! …and we to have to wait for her to grow up so that we can be saved. It’s like that psych experiment where a kid is given a marshmallow and asked to wait 10 minutes to eat it, but a million times worse. I mean, I suppose it could be comforting to know that salvation will occur in my lifetime, but continuing to watch things unravel for years to come before salvation day would drive me bonkers. Kudos to the shepherds who were able to be excited right away! But maybe that’s why we celebrate Christmas every year instead of every 33 years. It’s not just about the end. It’s about the beginning. It’s about what’s possible. Each year is a reminder and encouragement to celebrate the gift of life, given to us by God. We can’t change the past, and I daresay we should not merely wait on the future. The calling is to join in Christ’s life now. As we join with God-with-us to make sure each person feels worthy of giving and receiving love, together we will change the end.
Prayer: O blessed Savior, come down to be with us that we may walk with you.
By: Sarah Morrell
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Reflection—v. 3, ‘Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved’
The psalmist’s cry for the shepherd to mend God’s people is a reminder that the desire for wholeness and deliverance does not come easily. As we experience growth and transition in the process of recovery, we face various challenges and circumstances and cry out to be shepherded through brutally honest places in our walk. Yet, despite where we may position ourselves within our fears, doubts, and anxieties, God grants us signs of hope and possibility. Just as Joseph experiences anxiety over how to divorce Mary and yet still uphold her honor, God sends an angel within Joseph’s dream. The dream is a vulnerable yet mysterious sign that spurs faithful Joseph to willingly respond to the promise of caring for his wife and for Emmanuel, ‘God is with us,’ our Savior and Guide. As we continue in our walks of recovery, may we become more receptive and name the happenstances—the ‘accidents,’ or more appropriately ‘God-moments’—as we faithfully navigate this shared journey.
Prayer: Spirit, guide us, shine, and reveal to us your presence in the everyday—the extraordinary, yes—but especially the ordinary
By: Holly Reimer
John 1: 1-14
Reflection—v.9 ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world’
It’s amazing how often light is taken for granted. It happens when we are stumbling around in the dark, in the middle of the night and our pinky-toe finds a piece of furniture that we’ve forgotten was there. It happens when we find a mark on our bodies that we didn’t realize was there until the light hits it ‘just so.’ In both the darkness and in the light, these things are there, just the same. But it is the light that illuminates the truth. It opens our eyes to see something we haven’t seen before. One of my favorite things about each day is looking out into the sky and finding the cacophony of colors God creates. I see it in the morning sky with the new appearance of light. I see it in the diminishing of light at the end of the day. True light enlightens everyone because, as one of our earlier Advent texts reminds us, there will be others who come proclaiming to be light. These lights are flashy, misleading, misguiding. But the true light opens our eyes to see a reflection of how we have been acting and how we are missing God. From the beginning and in Christ’s birth, there is a radical life that comes from God. In God’s light, our lives shall never be dimmed, and in God’s love, we should never become discouraged.
Prayer: Dear God, let me see all that you would truly have me see.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Reflection—v.6 ‘the time came for her to deliver her child’
It was 4am when my daughter Emi was born. When we arrived at Emory hospital it was in the late hours of a Sunday evening. The end of labor was quick, so by the time Emi made her grand appearance, it was a skeleton crew that welcomed her: one nurse practitioner doing all the work, my frazzled husband holding up one of my tired heavy legs, and a doctor right at the end to catch her and some of the credit. Giving birth is weary work. And as soon as it is over your new life begins. There is little time to rest because everything is different now, and in such a way that no one could have prepared you for no matter how many tried. It is almost earth-shattering–this apocalyptic-like turning of one’s life (through new life). The revelation of your relationship to this new little life and the drain and the pain and the space they inhabit in your once neat and tidy existence—everything is different now. And not just for you, but for everyone they’ll grow to know and love, the community they’ll forge. It can change everything, yet it isn’t so unique. People are born all the time (all of us were at some point or another). And that’s how God comes to be with us–delivered by a poor weary woman. It happens all the time. Yet it reveals the depth of God’s love for human beings, that relational, earth-shattering, paradigm-shifting, messy, every-day love, and that, changes everything.
Prayer: Jesus, break into our lives, revealing God’s deep love for us!
By: Trey Colson
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Reflection—v.7 ‘restore us, O God’
In the words of Psalm 80 I hear the people crying out to God for restoration and mercy. I hear them calling upon God to restore them to their former glory. I hear people standing before God knowing that they’ve made a mistake. When you’re in a situation where you were up in a big old castle, but now you’re in a shack, and somebody else is in the castle now and you’re working for them–you pretty much feel like you’re the scorn of the earth. You feel like you’re beneath. When you used to be the big guy on campus, the big guy on the playground, and then all the sudden you’re not just the little guy, but the little guy is even knocking you around–you feel scorned and laughed at. I’m pretty sure that’s the position God’s people were in. Its a two way street. Not only do you not like your new situation, but you have to learn to deal with it. But then maybe next time you get in a big-boy position, you’ll understand–play fair. Let everybody get something. Don’t use people or laugh at them because they have nothing and you have everything–help them, and we can help each other to all have something. Maybe that was the lesson that God wants the people to see. God says, ‘you are the apple of my eye, but you’re not the only apple of my eye.’ Look out for your neighbors. Take care of your people. Love your community.
Prayer: Forgiving God, restore us that all your people may have what they need.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v.13 ‘Isn’t it enough for you to be tiresome for people that you are also tiresome before my God?’
This line cracks me up. I had no idea that Isaiah was so sassy! In this story, Jerusalem is being attacked and God sends Isaiah to offer comfort and divine signs to King Ahaz. However, King Ahaz refuses the offer, saying that he won’t test God. This is when Isaiah responds, ‘Isn’t it enough for you to be tiresome for people that you are also tiresome before my God?’ Bahahaha! Burn. Isaiah knew that Ahaz was only giving him lip service, trying to appear pious. Words without action are tiresome. But it’s right about now, when Jerusalem was on the brink of disaster that God speaks, offering a sign and promise to be with us. I feel that sense of impending disaster these days—maybe most strongly in relation to climate change. We have a lot of words and not enough action. I cannot help but wonder if we have other Isaiah’s in our midst. Perhaps in Autum Peltier, Isra Hirsi, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, or Greta Thunberg—all young women speaking out and offering new ways forward. May we not be tiresome, offering them lip service. May we be willing to receive the signs that God offers us, even under the threat of destruction. It is during this time of Advent that we prepare to receive God to the world. I pray that we nurture a world worthy of such a reception.
Prayer: God, open our hearts that we may hear the voices of your prophets!