Reflection: v. 3, ‘praise him, all you shining stars’
My name is Johnny Morgan. I’m 65 years old, and I pray to the Lord. I pray every night. This passage reminds us to praise God. In my prayers, I like to thank the Lord. When I pray, I look at the stars at night, and I thank God. I have something to be thankful for—I might not be rich, I might not be where I want to be in life, but I know that God is with me. I thank God for the people that surround me, and I thank God for the love they show me. I thank God for the life he has given me. My Momma always said, ‘Hold onto God; keep praying and hold on.’ God meets my needs. Mercy Church has given me food and a place to stay, and I pray every night for these people. I praise God. I have had to learn a lot. God had to lead me away from certain people, places, and things, and get my life going. And I can see that, and I can show love now to everyone. I know the Holy Spirit is beginning to work through me, and I pray that I can feel good about it.
Prayer Holy Spirit, help us to feel good about the ways you are leading us!
Reflection: v.11, ‘the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise’
Reading this passage reminds me that I can turn the corner. I used to think that I really didn’t deserve good things, because of all the stuff I’ve done in the past. I beat myself up a lot. And sometimes I will fall short. But I’m grateful today that I can turn the corner. I’ve seen so many of my friends pass away from addiction or other things. When I went to the hospital, it gave me a reality check. When they had me hooked up to all that stuff, it was a reminder that my life is important. My family was calling me, and I had people surrounding me that really cared, even when I hadn’t cared for myself. Sometimes it takes other people around you who value you to make you realize that you have value. Like my community at Mercy. I come here every day to get spiritually fed, and because it is important to have people around you who care about you.
Prayer Lord, help me to remember I am surrounded by your love.
This psalm reminds me that we are called to praise the Lord with all our heart, mind, and soul—our everything. It is God’s kingdom that reigns forevermore. We’re reminded not to ever forsake God, because God will never forsake you. God is the all, the everything. And God cares about all people—all people. This makes me want to live my life and give all the praise and glory to God.
Prayer Give all praise and glory to our God Almighty. Amen!
Reflection: v. 5, ‘a light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’
Though liturgically Christmas has its twelve-day season, for many of us, today just feels like ‘the day after Christmas.’ For some of us the holiday season has always been difficult—it can remind us of strained family relationships, missing loved ones, or better years long past. For others of us this year in particular probably hasn’t lived up to our expectations and the holidays have likely felt the same. What small glimmer of nostalgia or tradition we were able to capture from a family Zoom dinner or the promise of ‘next year will be better’ quickly fades today as we sit with the obvious pangs of disappointment. Maybe your existential dread, like mine, strikes deeper to the core this year. My own small sadnesses seem trivial when I think of the thousands of people who have lost someone beloved to Covid-19 this year, when I think of the loved ones of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many others, mourning their unjust and unnecessary deaths, or when I think of the families torn apart at our borders without power or promise of reuniting. Without the numbing distractions of holiday social events and ready excuses to make Target trips for unnecessary last-minute gifts, I am left only with the stark reality that the warm-fuzzies of Christmas mornings past did not save us from ourselves. I am left with the dread of the world I help to create and yet feel powerless to change—what chance does my small and flickering Christian hope have of combating the deep gloomy night of this season? My flame remains small, but I will not relinquish it just yet, even now as the dawn stretches far away. For what hope was a small baby boy born to a poor and homeless refugee family all those many years ago? I have to keep hoping that as this Scripture promises us, in all eternity, God chooses to be with us and cares about our well-being. And whatever evil looms—love and mercy and justice and hope will not be overcome.
Prayer Strengthen our flickering hope, O Lord, that we may see your love and justice in the world.
Reflection: v. 7, ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation’
When my daughter Emi was born, a flurry of texts went out to family and friends—the fast-footed digital messengers announcing the joyous good news of her anticipated arrival. The after-experience of birth was quite different for poor displaced Mary and Joseph, but I can still imagine the delight they must have felt to cradle their new baby as angelic messengers announced the coming of our salvation to shepherds. Today we celebrate that Christ has come, and we are invited to embrace that good news and share in the joy of it. And no, Christmas tidings do not mean that everything will suddenly be easy or okay now. Even as God’s own messengers proclaimed peace and salvation on the day of Christ’s birth, the powers that be were already plotting our sweet Savior’s demise. For love incarnate will always challenge the ways of the powerful and privileged and the work of bringing peace never ends. As we near the close of this uniquely challenging year, we too are faced with the task of holding in tandem our Christian hopefulness and the unavoidable reality of the difficulties and work still yet to come. Yet the truth of God’s good news is no less actual for we who have waited for it. Though it is not always as we expect it, God still comes and love still prevails. The messenger has arrived, proclaiming peace and good news! It may not always feel like it, but our salvation has indeed come, so let us celebrate—and then get to work.
Prayer Today, O Lord, help us to find joy in your anticipated arrival. Tomorrow, help us to get to your work!
Reflection: v. 19, ‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’
John Lennon famously said, ‘Whatever gets you through the night is alright.’ While I might put some limits on precisely ‘whatever’ might be, I can say this without hesitation: praying the rosary gets me through the night—and pretty much every time in between. It’s simple, really. Just the act of holding a rosary—fingering its worn beads, tracing its looping pattern as I pray—connects me to that deeper place in my heart where I know God makes a home with me. Rosary in hand, Hail Mary upon my lips, my distracted and worried mind slows down its harried gait just a little. It’s like the knotted cords of my rosary bind my heart to a deeper truth, the most profound truth of all—the grace of God’s love for me and for all the world.
The rosary is a truly contemplative prayer. Sure, it’s repetitious. But its repetitions aren’t vain. The words themselves are a beautiful gift of our Christian tradition. These well-worn prayers have been offered by the faithful across countless centuries and cultures. But the words become a mere after-thought as the prayerful heart moves closer to God’s heart. Praying the rosary stills my fears. It illumines my hope. It leads me to sit quietly in the presence of the living God.
Throughout the disruption of this pandemic, I’ve spent a lot of time with Our Lady of My Backyard. Sitting in a rocking chair I once recovered from the dumpster at our church, I situate myself near a little image of the Virgin Mary I purchased at the monastery. Praying the rosary is praying in the company of Mary. We contemplate her Son together. I let the long day start to roll off my shoulders, as gently I rock back and forth. I gaze up at the starry sky and sense the gentle rustle of the trees. I hear the cicada song, like a symphonic hymn of praise. Prayer should be as incarnational as the faith we confess. We are embodied, after all. We can only love God embodied. And that’s the way we love our neighbors, too. Let us rejoice this Christmas that God comes to us in Jesus, the Son of Mary—embodied, just like you and me.
PrayerJesus, thank you for traditions of prayer that draw us closer to you.
Reflection : v.25, ‘God who is able to strengthen you’
Life is a series of choices, and some choices are easier to make than others. One of the most recent decisions I had to make was deciding to go back to school for a Master’s degree in Divinity. As a wife and mother of three, the youngest a seven-year-old, and already having a full-time career, this was not an easy decision. On the surface, the timing was not right. I could not see how I would accommodate the challenge of school and the demands of my everyday life, but I could not ignore God’s leading. I chose to pursue my degree, and somewhere amidst the uncertainty, God settled my heart. I believe that God has a way of working beneath the surface in our lives—deep within the depths of our hearts, leading and guiding us. Our current circumstances can seem chaotic. Our hearts and minds can be restless, unsure of the future, but nothing is chaotic to ‘he who is able to establish you.’ God can settle an uncertain heart and give peace to a restless mind. I have been in my program for almost three months now, and I am grateful that God led me to Emory and to Mercy Community Church. My life has been enriched by all the beautiful souls I have the privilege of sharing community with. God has not only equipped me with grace to excel in my program, but God has also gifted me with greater hope for the future. The message here is to pursue your hopes, dreams, and goals despite the voices of fear and doubt, to reach beyond your capabilities because you have a purpose. Place your trust in God to whom you belong. God will establish you.
Prayer God, give us the courage to go where you have called us!
Reflection: v.11, ‘the Lord will make you a house’
I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to find out what God wants from me. I’ve read a lot of books and heard a lot of sermons about it. I even went to school to figure it out. It feels important for two big reasons: 1) because finding out what God cares about tells me something about who God is, and 2) because it seems like doing what God wants me to do will get me closer to being who God wants me to be. But ironically, even if I have good intentions, I end up constraining my ability to be in genuine relationship with God by turning it into a puzzle to solve.
I feel for David when he looks around at his palace and decides that maybe God would like it if he built one for God, too. He’s thinking about what seems good to him in life and then offering it to God. (We can argue that there are probably some ulterior motives involved, but since that’s usually true of us, too, we can put it aside.) David talks it over with his pastor, Nathan, who tells David to take a second look at what God has said and done so far in their relationship. God hasn’t sat still in some temple, orchestrating plans at a distance. God has traveled with God’s people wherever they’ve gone, even before they knew God existed, to love and protect them. Instead of us making a special place where God lives, God has been continually making a home with us. I can trust that I have a relationship with God not because I’ve cracked some theological code or tried to be a good person but because God has come to live with me and with all of God’s people.
Reflection: v. 25, ‘Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ‘
The powerful proclamation of Jesus Christ in the gospel has helped me and brought about revelations of what I now know to be true. There are many things in the Bible that I truly had never known, but I came to know. I think about the conversation between the Samaritan woman and Jesus when they met at the well. That story lets me know that I can come to Christ just as I am because he knows all my secrets anyway. There is nothing I have to be ashamed of. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he can continue to reveal things and lead me down a better road to obedience and the manifestation of my faith through Jesus Christ. Amen.
Prayer Continue to reveal your heart to us, O God who strengthens us!
Reflection: v. 1, ‘I will sing of your steadfast love”
When I read this passage of Scripture, I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of joy. I think of where God has brought me from and how today, through an act of repentance and my willingness to seek and build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I have been given a chance at living a better life under a new covenant. It has put a new song in my heart that I will shout to all people. I want everyone to know that my Lord and savior Jesus Christ has taken me across my past! Amen!!
Prayer I will forever praise and give glory to God for saving my life. Peace and love always. Peace, glory, hallelujah, peace!!!
Chad is pastor and founder of Mercy Community Church, a grassroots community of worship and action—a group of people who believe Jesus wants the hungry fed, strangers welcomed, and every child of God housed.
Originally from North Carolina, in the fall of 1986, he made the move to Atlanta to attend Emory University. Following graduation, Chad enrolled in Candler School of Theology, graduating with a Masters of Divinity in 1993. That same year, Chad was ordained and began to serve as an associate pastor at the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit in Atlanta.
Chad and his wife Camille began Mercy Community Church in August, 2005. A small circle of friends gathered for simple worship, sensing a call to begin an intentional community in a congregational form with an unmistakable preferential option for the poor at the heart of its worship and life. Today Mercy makes it home on the campus of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church, serving meals, sharing clothes, talking about the Bible, welcoming strangers, and trying to build a diverse and faithful community with over a hundred people a day, five days a week.
Chad is an Associate of the Missionaries of the Poor, a Catholic religious order that embodies a daily commitment to the spirituality of Matthew 25. He and Camille and their two sons, Matthew and Levi, live in Scottdale, Georgia
Brittany grew up in Jacksonville, Arkansas. She first learned about God and what it means to be a church community that loves and cares for one another from First Presbyterian Church, Jacksonville, AR. Brittany graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky. After teaching abroad and working for a travel company, Brittany began her studies at Columbia Theological Seminary, taking steps to answer a call to ministry that she had felt since her childhood. Upon moving to Atlanta, Brittany’s passion for being present with those on the margins led her to volunteer at Peachtree and Pine’s Taskforce for the Homeless and to become a pastoral intern with Mercy Church. After completing her MDiv at Columbia, Brittany began a PhD program at Emory University, but left to answer God’s call on her life to full-time ministry as a pastor to our community. Brittany was jointly ordained by the PC(USA) and Mercy Community Church in 2018. Outside of Mercy, what gives Brittany life and joy is spending time with her husband Cooper and daughter Emi, traveling via plane, train, and foot, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and nerding out over Karl Barth.
Holly grew up in Ocala, Florida where she was nurtured by her faith community and encouraged to find ways to be a leader in the community. Holly graduated from the University of North Florida with a degree in Psychology. After a period of discernment, she was called to a church community in Lady Lake, Florida where she served as the Youth Director for over six years. She began her seminary career in 2014 at Columbia Theological Seminary where she earned her Masters of Divinity and Master of Arts in Practical Theological (Pastoral Care). During her time in seminary, Holly began attending Mercy Community Church where she fell in love with the community. Upon graduation, Holly served for two years as a Chaplain Resident at Grady Memorial Hospital and specialized in pastoral care through the lens of behavioral health.
In her free time, Holly loves to exercise, travel, spend time with her family, read, and organize.
Maggie was raised and nurtured in Presbyterian churches in Plattsburgh, NY and Wilmington, NC. She attended undergrad at UNC-Chapel Hill. Following graduation, Maggie volunteered in Guatemala as a PC(USA) Young Adult Volunteer. When she returned, Maggie attended Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur,Georgia. Bringing together her interests in community outreach and pastoral care, Maggie was been ordained by PC(USA) to work as a pastor for Mercy Community Church starting in 2010.
She enjoys traveling, cooking for friends, social justice, hiking with her pooch, yard games, laffy taffy jokes, and practicing and teaching yoga. One of her joys is teaching for Centering Youth, a nonprofit that offers free yoga classes to those who might not otherwise have access to it. For them, Maggie teaches yoga on the streets, to pregnant incarcerated women, youth caught in the court system, and women trying to get out of the sex-trafficking industry.