Advent -Thursday, Dec. 2

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Luke 21:25-36

Reflection: v. 31, ‘you know that the Kingdom of God is near.’

Jesus describes some wild times in this passage–the earth in distress, nations confused, signs in the sky, and the roaring sea. ‘Pay attention,’ he tells his followers, for these things will happen, yes, in your own lifetime, and they mean that the Kingdom of God is near. Now, I am not a doomsday ‘the end is nigh’ kind of preacher, but it is hard not to hear Jesus’ words and compare them to our own generation’s struggles. It is hard not to read this passage and think of the very times we too are living in. Nations confused? Check. Roaring, rising seas? Check. Fear ruling over us? Check. The earth in distress? Need I go on? You get where I am going with this. While I do not espouse a rapture-style apocalypse, it’s hard to look at our groaning planet, it’s hard to look at God’s hurting people, and not say, ‘Yeah, I see the signs in our generation, too.’ So what are we to do? Are we to succumb to fear and hopelessness as we stare into the void of climate change, war, global poverty, and violence? No. Jesus tells us we must pay attention. We must see and acknowledge what is right before us, and we must make sure we haven’t numbed ourselves to it all. We must make sure that we are alert and ready to respond however we can–which is likely with love, compassion, and action. The Kingdom of God is near. That part shouldn’t scare us though. In fact it should assure and encourage us. Look around. Pay attention. There is much to see and much to do. And when we are paying attention, we may also notice all the ways that the Kingdom of God is pouring out and surrounding us–it is within our reach and oh so very near. How can we help bring it in?

Prayer Help us to pay attention, O Lord, that we may do what we can for your planet and your people. Help us to care about your Kingdom.

Tuesday, November 30

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Psalm 25:1-10

Reflection: v. 2 ‘do not let me be put to shame’

‘Do not let me be put to shame’ the ancient writer of this psalm asks of God. I find it reassuring and at times amusing how some things never change. Some things seem inherent to human nature–always relatable. I reflect on this phenomena often when reading the psalms, so full of the wide spectrum of relatable human emotions. How could someone living in such a different context and culture so long ago convey with these old ancient words the same feelings and emotions I experience, too? It must be that some things never change for human beings. As I read this psalm today, it is the prayer for acceptance and freedom from shame that strikes me as relevant. Still today, like all those many years ago, so many of us struggle to find acceptance and belonging. So many of us plead not to be put to shame. And yet many of us are shamed for things beyond our full control–our poverty, our mental health, our gender, our bodies, our upbringing, or our addictions. We are shamed for things for which there should not be shame attached, and in turn we too often shame one another, wielding our own hurts and disappointments like a jagged heavy sword. But like shame and fear and the plethora of other human emotions that inhabit us at different times, dignity is also something that is inherent to human beings. We must remember that we are lovingly and intentionally created in the image of God–perfectly suited just as we are. And in that image there is great dignity. We must internalize the voice of our loving creator and ignore all others that would shame us. And when that doesn’t work? When the voices around us would judge us and ridicule us for being who we were created to be? We, like the psalmist, can ask God to step in and remind us of who we are. We can ask God to remind us of our inherent dignity. And in our own honest self-respect, may we too participate in the godly work of not putting others to shame.

Prayer God, do not let me be put to shame, and do not let me shame my neighbor.

Sunday, December 27 – 1st Week of Christmas

Author: Steve Smith

Psalm 148

Reflection: v. 1, ‘Praise the Lord!’

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!

Saturday, December 26

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

John 1:1-18

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.

Christmas Eve – December 24

Author: Chad Hyatt

Luke 2:1-20

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.

Prayer Jesus, thank you for traditions of prayer that draw us closer to you.

Tuesday, December 22

Author: Isaiah Lewis

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

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.

Prayer Make a home with us, O God.

Monday, December 21

Author: Maurice Lattimore

Romans 16:25-27

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!

Sunday, December 20 – 4th Sunday of Advent

Author: Maurice Lattimore

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

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!!!

Saturday, December 19

Author: Chad Hyatt

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Reflection: v. 1, ‘The Lord God’s Spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me… to bring good news to the poor.’

Given the choice to write just one reflection for this week of Advent, it would be impossible for me to let Isaiah pass by—not with these liberating words ringing out, like the joyful breaking of chains, across the centuries: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me for the Lord has anointed me… to bring good news to the poor.’ We know, of course, that Jesus couldn’t let these words pass him by either. When he took the pulpit in his own hometown, he told all who would listen that this prophecy was being fulfilled in him.

From the Hebrew prophets to Jesus, from John Lewis to the millions who have marched this summer, these words take on flesh and blood, body and soul. And wherever they resound, from an exiled prophet to a tiny synagogue in Nazareth, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the street corner where George Floyd was murdered, truth is being boldly told and good news is powerfully proclaimed.

Maybe I run the risk of being a little too Pentecostal, but make no mistake, it’s an anointing. It’s oil running down our heads, poured out by the Lord alone, coming like the rushing of God’s mighty Spirit upon us. It’s a messianic commission—for Jesus, of course—but also for all of God’s people. It is our vocation together. It was for exiled Israel, and it is for us in our own homelessness, existential and literal. It’s the power of God that confronts every other power there is, every system that exploits and destroys God’s good creation, every idol that crushes human beings and robs us of our inherent dignity.

It’s not even remotely apolitical. It is the authentic, revolutionary politics of the kingdom of God that demands power, resources, and relationships be reorganized according to our love for our neighbors, especially the poorest among us. The good news we celebrate this Advent—and indeed all year long—is that the God who loves us all boldly takes the side of the poor—so that every one of us can be set free. And that’s the gospel truth.

Prayer Spirit of the Lord, anoint us to proclaim the good news of your liberation to the poor—and to live like we believe it.

Friday, December 18

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Reflection: v. 2, ‘good news to the oppressed’

I love the brash and revolutionary tone of the prophet Isaiah’s words. As I imagine the prophet making his bold declaration to a people in need of justice, I cannot help but to think of my fellow pastor and friend, Rev. Maurice Lattimore, and the many faithful others who have been marching for racial justice in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. I think of how Rev. Lattimore has patiently and compassionately instructed and pastored people to see the hurtful truths of systemic racism. I think of his many colorful shirts and masks hand-crafted by his daughter, proclaiming words of justice and honoring the names of those killed at the hands of the police. I think of how Rev. Lattimore would not only march the streets but also show up to Mercy the next day to foster relationships and care for our community members living on the streets—prioritizing both works of justice as essential and never ever forgetting to care for the living, breathing humans standing before him. I think of Rev. Lattimore and some of the push-back and roadblocks he has faced in his steady, faithful advocacy for God’s people, and I cannot help but to think of the prophet Isaiah’s words. Good news for the oppressed will always be hard to accept for those in positions of power and privilege. Prophets proclaiming freedom will always be rejected by oppressors. But this is God’s word. God proclaims good news to the oppressed. When I read these ancient words, I want to hear the potent challenge within them and know that they must matter to me, too. I want to hear the prophet’s urgent cry in the voices of those crying out for justice today. I want to desire the justice that God longs for. As I read this passage today, I am thankful for the faithful and embodied witness and ministry of my colleague, Rev. Lattimore, who proclaims the words of God’s prophets anew.

Prayer Liberating God, help us to listen to the voices of your prophets speaking anew!