Reflection on Advent and Christmas

A Feast Of Welcome And Inclusion

This past Wednesday, deeply troubling events in our nation called our attention away from the Feast of Epiphany. And yet, Epiphany it was. Epiphany is a feast that celebrates the light of God that shines in the deep shadows of our brokenness and our jagged ways of treating one another, illuminating a way forward. The Gospel for the day throws into sharp relief the story of a tyrannical and violent king who would hold onto power at all costs—and a poor family on the run from his political terror, a family who guarded the safety of a different, liberating kind of servant leader. It is a feast of welcome and inclusion, offering a vision of human community that comes together around the child who shall lead us—rather than pulling apart and destroying itself. In our worship service this past Wednesday, we read the psalm appointed for the day, which describes the true measure of a leader—one who ‘saves the lives of those who are in need’ and ‘redeems their lives from oppression and violence’ (Psalm 72.13,14).

“the true measure of a leader—one who ‘saves the lives of those who are in need’ and ‘redeems their lives from oppression and violence’ “

Psalm 72.13,14

Let Us Be The Ones Who Join The Work To Redeem Our World From Oppression And Violence

As we close our Advent and Christmas season, a time that we have studied and prayed together, let us not put aside the truth of Christmas like so many decorations to be un-hung or ornaments to be packed away until next year. Let us not only remember God’s call to change our hearts and our lives, as John proclaims at the beginning of Advent, but let us find the strength together to live in such a way each day. Let us not lose the eyes that have come to see that Christ comes to us not once, not twice, but every day—in the guise of the most vulnerable and marginalized among us. Let us ‘save the lives of those in need.’ Let us be the ones who join the work to redeem our world from oppression and violence. And let us never forget that this light of love and liberation still shines in a darkness that can neither overwhelm nor overcome it. 

Christmas Day – December 25

Author: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum

Isaiah 52: 7-10

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!

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!

Thursday, December 17

Author: Holly Reimer

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Reflection: v. 26, ‘Someone greater stands among you, whom you don’t recognize’

Greatness often gets mistaken for power and privilege. This has not changed. The Pharisees and Sadducees are particularly thrown by John’s words because they are concerned with their own power and privilege, and concerned for what Jesus might do to upset one or both. We are living in a world and a culture that tells us we are great when we reach that promotion, buy that new house, have a certain amount in our bank accounts, and can name a litany of things we possess. Those who would later have Jesus killed, missed the true greatness that was among them. They were blind from a fear of what-ifs, insecurities, and egoism. As a community, we believe that God is present among us. Christ was present with the poor and the marginalized. This is not simply why we believe God is present among us, but rather it reflects the faithfulness by which we engage one another as beloved children, as reflections of the one who created us. And yet, there are those who cannot see the beauty in our gathering, in the beauty of my brothers and sisters. Even now we are currently experiencing resistance to our gathering as a community. God is present, and yet there are those who can’t see it and who refuse to see God present with us. The concern and what-ifs can rob us of the chance to see something rich and beautiful. We can become afraid that a small, faithful, ecumenical community will rise up against us and rob us, both literally and figuratively, of all the power and privilege we believe makes us great. Greatness is not present in power that oppresses but in a power that liberates the oppressed. This is the greatness John spoke of as he witnessed to Jesus. Beloved brothers and sisters, we can find ourselves on a dangerous precipice that will cause us to miss the greatness of God. May we humble ourselves, allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and present to something we could never fathom.

Prayer Humble us, Lord, to see you in the most unexpected places and spaces. Amen.

Wednesday, December 16

Author: Holly Reimer

John 1:6-8, 19-28

Reflection: v. 7, ‘He came as a witness to testify concerning the light’

A love that truly comes from God is one that sees the value, goodness, and beauty in each individual, for no other reason than they are the image of God. Loving in this way means we want others to be included in the goodness of God. I think about the zeal and enthusiasm of children and the ways they are eager to share good and exciting news with those around them. In their youthful joy and childlike fervor, they are not exclusive or selective with who receives this information—it is shared with EVERYONE. John has some really good news about God’s presence among the people. There are those who don’t believe, can’t fathom, and are resistant to such news. John shares it anyway, because good news is meant to be shared. The light and love of God is meant to be shared with EVERYONE. In this particular season, and with this particular text, I am reminded of the Christmas song lyrics, ‘Do you know what I know?’ It is about knowing something really wonderful and the desire to share it—not because it makes the knower more important or powerful, but because we couldn’t think of keeping it to ourselves. It’s saying, ‘I want you to feel and experience the same joy that I do, because I trust and believe that you are just as important as I am.’ Brothers and sisters in Christ, I know something, and I want you to know it too. In a world of great darkness, there is an even greater light. This Light shows us who is beloved, and it isn’t just the rich and the powerful, but it is especially the poor and meek. It isn’t those who ‘claim’ to have it all together, but those who have messed up and made some not-so-great choices. This Light offers grace. Be a humble witness. Be an inclusive witness. The Light is too important for those of us who bear its witness to be anything other than humble and inclusive. What if we shared good news, not because it affects us alone, but because it affects someone else?

Prayer Lord, thank you for the light you have given to us in Christ Jesus. May we not do anything to attempt to diminish such a great light. Amen.