Advent – Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Luke 3:7-18

Reflection: v.18, ‘he proclaimed the good news to the people’

We have already established that John the Baptist isn’t pulling any punches with his preaching. He is using some pretty startling imagery to call the people of God to account. He calls them vipers and tells them they need to change their ways and stop being so complacent. John’s preaching is not a pleasant or easy word, and yet scripture tells us that what he proclaims is ‘good news.’ How could it be that what challenges us, sometimes upsets us, and calls us to account could also be ‘good news?’ Good news for the poor will not feel so good for those who exploit for wealth. Good news for those without housing will not feel so good for those trying to make a quick buck in the current market. Good news for the downtrodden will not feel so good for those who find their identity in putting others down. Good news for the oppressed will not feel so good for the oppressor. So if we feel unsettled by John’s harsh words–good. Let us sit with that this Advent season as we prepare our hearts for Jesus. Let us remember that the good news that John proclaimed and Jesus embodied was good news for the poor, the outcast, and the oppressed. Let us repent of our ways that we may hear it, embrace it, and live it.

Prayer Open our hearts to accept your good news that we may embody it as you did, Jesus.

Advent – Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Luke 3:7-18

Reflection: v. 10, ‘And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?”

You have to admire the crowds listening to John. He literally calls them a bunch of snakes and (at least some of them) stick around to ask him how they can change their ways. At least some of the people gathered there accept John’s critique and want to do better. I find this desire for a change of heart impressive. My personal experience with good church-people is that we can be as defensive as they come when asked to change. We are happy to read our pre-written liturgically appropriate prayers for forgiveness. We’re comfortable with taking a quiet moment each Sunday to silently (and metaphorically) self-flagellate for some personal sins before we remind ourselves that Jesus forgives us and then blessedly move on. But what about when we are tasked with taking a cold hard look at the ways we neglect the poor, judge our neighbors, and cling to our racist and classist pasts? What about when we are asked to admit the tangible ways we could change or do better on personal and communal levels? In my experience we Christians tend to throw up our best defenses and hide behind our very best ideals that seldom lead to practical justice-making. We refuse to do anything that would actually change or transform us. When faced with critique we refuse to ask the question, ‘what then should we do?’ because we’re afraid of the answers. So kudos to the crowd that stayed and listened to John rant and did not decide that he could not be talking about them. Kudos to those bold and vulnerable enough to ask John what do to and receive the answers. Kudos to the ones who followed through. Beloved church-people, fellow followers of Jesus, maybe we too should be asking this question. Instead of defending ourselves, maybe we should be asking how we too can be transformed by the gospel in tangible ways that bring justice and equality.

Prayer Transform us, O God of justice, show us what we should do.

Advent – Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Luke 3:7-18

Reflection: v. 7, ‘you brood of vipers!’

You can really tell that John the Baptist isn’t one of those preachers overly concerned with offending people–he literally calls the crowd that has gathered to be baptized a bunch of snakes (to their faces, no less!), and then tells them how they have become too complacent in the ways they practice their religion. They need to change their ways, and they need to change them now! John isn’t pulling any punches and I admire his blatant sass. I also admire that John grounds his critique in issues of justice. He isn’t disagreeing with an ideology or a tradition, he isn’t hyper-focused on the correctness of a theological concept– his concern is with the lived practices of these God-followers. His concern is about matters of justice, equality, and how people are taking advantage of and overlooking the poor. John doesn’t just say ‘we need to do better!’ (though if you don’t hear that message for yourself in his words, perhaps you need to take another read), he also offers tangible examples of how to live more righteously. What is particularly great about John’s suggestions? They’re quite simple, really. If you have two of something (coats or extra food): share. This is a lesson I literally teach my four year old, so it can’t be that hard, right? What else does John suggest? Do not take more than you are supposed to–do not take more than what you need. Again, simple. Do not extort, do not take advantage of others. Be happy with your wages if they are fair–be satisfied with having enough of what you need so that others can have enough, too. John’s urgings are simple and doable. These are not suggestions for us to over-spiritualize and pretend that they do not apply to us. We need to share. We need to take less so that others can have enough. We need to not take advantage of others. We need to care about the welfare of those with less. We need to take John’s urgings for justice seriously or else we’re just a bunch of snakes pretending we know something about Jesus.

Prayer God of justice, help me to take justice seriously.

Advent – Monday, December 13

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Reflection: v. 20, ‘I will bring you home’

Something that we remind ourselves of often in our community is that God wants for us the things that human bodies need to live and thrive. God wants for us to have access to good nutritious food. God wants for us to have access to the care we need to stay healthy and well. God wants for us to have outlets for creativity, joy, and fellowship. God wants for us to be and feel safe. God wants for us to have housing. Yes. Simply put, God wants for us to have a home–God wants us to have stable housing. Our basic human needs are not privileges only allotted for some. We do not earn the right to having our basic needs met. God wants God’s people to have access to the things they need to be healthy and well. After all, God created us and loves us dearly! Of course God wants us to have our needs met. In this passage the prophet Zephaniah imagines God restoring the well-being of God’s people: gathering the outcasts, healing the hurting, and welcoming God’s people home. With my own prophetic imagination, I envision a day when the people I love will have access to housing, when it will not be so difficult, and the hoops not so numerous. When it will not just be about numbers and grants, but about community and the well-being of complex and unique humans. I long for the day when people will be welcomed home to places where they can flourish and thrive. I dream of the day when the many apartment buildings popping up around our city will not only house the rich and privileged, but the people I love. God wants housing for God’s people. God wants to welcome each of us home. As God’s people, how can we make home for one another?

Prayer Bring us home, O Lord, that we may flourish and thrive as you intend.

Advent – Sunday, December 12

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Reflection: v. 19, ‘I will change their shame into praise’

One of the things I love most about our community is the way we affirm one another. We spend a lot of time in our community unpacking the baggage we all carry that makes us feel ‘not good enough,’ that makes us feel shame. Sometimes we all need help remembering that we are valuable and that we matter–that we are worth more than what we can do, how much we can labor, what we’ve accomplished, or what we own. We all need help sometimes remembering our inherent value. There are enough people in this world who will try to make you feel shame–including ourselves! We could all benefit from communities of love and support that are there to affirm us. Mercy is such a community for me, and for many others as well. Frankly, I believe that any church can be this kind of community of affirmation if it is invested in valuing and honoring the image of God in people. The prophet Zephaniah proclaims that God wants to turn the people’s shame into praise. As God’s followers we can do that for one another, too. We can create safe spaces where people feel welcome, not just because it says so on a sign outside, but because we affirm and love one another, because we have created embodied hospitality for another, and because we make one another feel like we belong there without shame.

Prayer God who creates us in your image, change our shame into praise!

Advent – Saturday, December 11

Author: Martin Carver

Luke 3:1-6

Reflection: v. 4, ‘prepare the way of the Lord’

‘Prepare the way of the Lord!’ That’s what Advent is about, right? We take a little time to slow down and get ready to welcome the coming Christ. More than slowing down and merely waiting for the arrival of Christ in the world, however, we are told to ‘prepare.’ How do we prepare though? Are we even equipped to do the preparation?

I find the beginning of this passage interesting. We open with a list of emperors, governors, rulers, and high priests. These were the powers that were. The top dogs. The head honchos. That is what makes it all the more interesting when the word of God comes to John in the wilderness. John isn’t one of the elite. He isn’t in a position of power. Even so, the word of God comes to him. I think we often can convince ourselves that we are insignificant. That because we do not occupy positions of authority we cannot make a difference. This scripture shows us, however, that God is at work in the wilderness. God is hard at work in the margins and in every day people. God is equipping and preparing us so that we might prepare the way of the Lord.

You do not have to be an emperor to make a difference. You do not have to be a governor or ruler to make change. You do not have to be a high priest to proclaim the love of God to a broken and hurting world. You simply have to listen for the voice of God in the wilderness. You have to keep your eyes open for God at work in the margins and in the hum drum of daily life. During this Advent season, let us keep our eyes peeled and our ears open. Let us slow down and wait and listen. And let us prepare.

Prayer Help us to prepare the way, O Lord. Remind us that you have equipped us and prepared us.

Advent – Friday, December 10

Author: Kathyrn Powell

Malachi 3:1-4

Reflection: v. 2 ‘But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap’

I’m imagining God doing laundry. I’m not talking about modern throw-clothes-in-a-machine-and-wait laundry. As I read Malachi, I’m thinking about ancient laundry practices. Soaking clothes for hours, scraping away dirt with rocks, twisting and rinsing each piece. I’m thinking about the toll on the body of this work, the attention to the grit and the process, the strength required to carry and wring out wet clothes, the patience in waiting for them to dry. This is not a distant God, but one who is actively engaged in a gritty, everyday reality.

Just before today’s passage in Malachi, we hear the Israelites question ‘Where is the God of Justice?’ Malachi says the God we are seeking will come, and God will come as close to us as soap to laundry in the wash.

This is the God of justice. A God who washes away every barrier between us and God’s self. A God who patiently and thoroughly restores each piece of God’s creation. Who can stand in God’s presence and remain unchanged? This the nature of encounter with God: transformation. A returning to who we really, truly are, without the soiled stories the world tells about us. A cleansing of old stories stuck to us, that we cannot get rid of ourselves, that are not part of the original, intricate, stitching and weaving of who we are as beloved children of God.

In Advent we anticipate the birth of Christ—Love incarnate—who transformed our world through his witness. Christ, who also likely washed his own clothes. Who used metaphors of breadmaking, farming, and fishing to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ, fully God and fully human, as near to our everyday as we are and declaring it holy.

Where is the God of justice? The God of justice is with us in the grit of life. And if there’s one thing we can trust, it’s that all will be transformed by God’s presence. The God we are seeking is, was, and will be, God with us—Immanuel. This is our hope and the covenant that we delight in this Advent as we anticipate the presence of Christ.

Prayer: God of Justice, be with me and transform me.

Advent – Thursday, December 9

Author: Maurice Lattimore

Philippians 1:3-11

Reflection: v. 6, ‘I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ’

Thinking back on my past and my life, that at times felt like it was going nowhere fast, I can’t help but to give praise and glory today to our Lord God Almighty for the mercy and grace that he has bestowed upon me. For the good works he has done through me. Glory and praise be to our Lord God almighty, Amen! In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy, love, and peace, because of your partnership in the gospel, from the first day I met you all until now. I never saw my life in the direction that it is going now, nor did I ever want it to be this way, but friends, sometimes God’s plans are different than ours! But there is always a reason for it. I often think of a passage from Isaiah 55:8-9 that reminds us to put our complete trust in God because God’s ways and plans are always better than our own, and to trust that everything included in God’s plan is for good. Sometimes those plans are seen through the eyes of others, too. That is the power of community. Today I know it is okay for me to feel this way because I know we can be confident of this, that the God who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Amen!

Prayer I praise and thank God for his mercy and his grace not only for changing lives but for doing so with a compassionate love and a willingness to do so. Thank God for the only unconditional love we know of that has no boundaries. All are welcome in this pool of love, glory and praise. Praise be to God almighty. Amen!!

Advent -Monday, December 6, 2021

Author: Holly Reimer

Philippians 1:3-11

Reflection: v. 9, ‘your love might become even more and more rich with knowledge’

Love is something that gets left behind. Here’s what I mean: it’s something that we feel long after we are no longer in the physical presence of someone we love. Love is how we make people feel—heard, seen, special, worthy, etc. All of these happen as a result of taking time to be in a relationship with one another, sitting down with a stranger and listening to them, sharing our own stories, calling each other by name, looking one another in the eyes, slowing down. Love is creating space for one another, whether it is a physical space or an emotional space where we can share the parts of ourselves where we find delight, and/or the parts where we struggle. It is in this love, an investment in ourselves and the ones around us, where we find the wealth of knowledge. It is here where we can find the blessing that Paul is talking about, where abundance and life is found. Love reveals, it creates space for learning and growth, and it gives life in such a way where we can all feel heard, special, and worthy.

Prayer Lord, may the love that you have given to us, and the love we share with one another build upon itself in such a way that breeds more love. Amen.

Advent – Sunday, December 5

Author: Holly Reimer

Philippians 1:3-11

Reflection: v.10, ‘decide what really matters’

What really matters is about where we find our footing, what grounds us. Are we grounded in our Creator, the one who speaks of love, justice, and mercy? Or are we going to ground ourselves in the world, where we listen to messages grounded in a need for power and privilege? This is our choice and our responsibility, our decision regarding what really matters. If we are going to ground ourselves in our Creator—the one who created EVERYONE—then we are saying that people, relationships, and love matter. When we decide that people do in fact matter, then we are to live it out in such a way that the people around us feel and know that they matter. We live the kind of love that is enriching and life-giving, one that speaks to creating actual space for our neighbors at the table, creating shelter in an empty church for folks to sleep safely and find warmth. It means that we stop thinking about what someone can do to us or for us, but instead how we can be present with someone. If however, we choose to find our footing in the world and a culture where productivity, power, and privilege matter, then we have forgotten about love. We ignore, ridicule, and abuse one another. We have a choice to make, and it is ours to commit to and invest in. God has already shown us what that way looks like and what is expected of us. It is time for us to say that people matter (which is an act of love), and for us to live it out.

Prayer Lord, we pray that with courage and faithfulness we can live in such a way that speaks to love, justice, and mercy. May our hearts and minds be open to what matters to you. Amen.