Saturday, December 28th

By: Maggie Leonard
Titus 2:11-14
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.

Friday, December 27th

By: Maggie Leonard
Luke 2:1-20
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.

Thursday, December 26th

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

Wednesday, Christmas Day

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.

Tuesday, Christmas Eve

By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Luke 2:1-20
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!

Sunday, December 22nd

By: Maggie Leonard
Isaiah 7:10-16
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!

Saturday, December 21st

By: Jerome Johnson
James 5:7-10
Reflection—v.9 ‘so that you may not be judged’

In verse 9, it says that we shouldn’t judge each other. I think that the writer is saying not to judge another person for what they believe in. I think I judge people sometimes—and I ask God to forgive me for that. Because who am I to judge? I don’t have a Hell to put them in and I don’t have a Heaven to send them to. Like it used to be that when I saw people doing something that I thought was wrong, I used to judge them for it. I used to think that was a sin. And God showed me, ‘Don’t do that Jerome—I’m the only judge.’ And I said, ‘God forgive me for that.’ I have a friend out in Bankhead, he was killed in the back of a van. He used to drink all the time, and I would just judge him, and I thought about that, and said ‘I was wrong for doing that.’ He would work, but he would always drink, and I would judge him. And I asked God to forgive me for that, because I try not to judge people anymore. I’m working on myself. I have a long way to go, but I’m still working on myself. I think being community for one another is that we should love one another. We should love all people and welcome them with open arms, because God made us all.

Prayer: Just God, help us to judge one another less and love one another more.

Friday, December 20th

By: Kevin Harris
Isaiah 35:1-10
Reflection—v.1 ‘the wilderness will rejoice and blossom’

We travel through life’s wildernesses and some of us don’t even know it. We get caught up in the day-to-day busyness of our lives and assume we are on the right track and that we are the authors of our own destinies. When things don’t go our way and we feel weak, the world says ‘be strong’ and sometimes we think it is within our power to do that. But when the world tells you to ‘be strong,’ God says ‘just be.’ When we’re going through something, when we cry, we often seek comfort and solutions from people. But, those solutions can be temporary. We live in a confused state when we exclude God from being a part of our troubles. ‘Just being’ and listening to the sound of peace, allows us to hear our creator. We get restored when we give ourselves to the teacher of life. God’s plans become our plans when we smile (even sometimes through pain), knowing that the promise is that soon and very soon we are going to see the king. God’s promise is that one day there will be no more pain. All of our families will be one. There will be no more self-judging, just us loving one another. Seek the light above, for it shall brighten us all. Come as the little children of God.

Prayer: God of peace, in our most trying ‘wilderness places,’ help us to ‘just be’ that we might hear your voice calling out to us and leading the way

Wednesday, December 18th

By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Psalm 146:5-10
Reflection—v. 7 ‘who gives food to the hungry’

I have always considered myself to be a terrible cook, and they don’t teach you soup-making in seminary. Now, writing a thoughtful sermon, speaking in public, or burying my head in enough books to write a compelling paper, I had the skills for. So for a while I thought I was doing just fine. But I didn’t realize how hungry I was. Before I was a pastor, I interned at Mercy Church to learn those hands-on essential skills for ministry. I remember quite plainly the words of Pastor Chad as I stood in Mercy’s cramped little kitchen watching him de-bone some chicken for soup. With apron dirty and greasy hands, he said, ‘If you want to do this work, it’s important to know how to feed people.’ That stuck with me. Because, you see, we follow a God who feeds the hungry and asks us to do the same—a God who when born into this world spent most of his ministry sitting down at table and sharing food. If you have ever spent time with our community (or taken the time to read our devotionals thus far), you must realize that Mercy is far from a soup kitchen. We’re a church congregation full of dynamic theologians and writers and creators and valued human beings, some of whom happen to be living with food insecurity. So we eat together and cook for one another, and it is essential. Do you ever find yourself hungering for the thing that satisfies? Come share a bowl of soup in community, and give praise to the God who feeds the hungry.

Prayer: Happy are we, for our hope is in you, O God, who feeds us!

Tuesday, December 17th

By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Isaiah 35:1-10
Reflection—v. 8 ‘a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way’

It was in seminary that I first learned about that fabled intentional community, the Open Door. The first time I walked past it, it looked as if life were literally exploding out of its ramshackle doors. There were human beings scattered everywhere throughout its yard, making themselves at home. I cannot help but to conjure up this image every time I walk past the place where the Open Door once stood. That bustling, teeming, organic little home was gutted and razed, and now there stands a bleached-bone white rectangle of apartment-living that I, for certain, could never afford to ‘make home.’ I know this is just the way of things. I know things must die and end and even money can be used for good. Yet every time I walk past that dead and lifeless eyesore, I see the symptom of a malignant sickness pressing down on us with death’s heavy hand and infecting what we hold most valuable. Because what I see is another sign in our neighborhood that says, ‘the poor aren’t welcome here anymore.’ ‘We don’t value you unless you can pay.’ Now, certainly these messages are well-hidden behind graven images of what we actually put our trust in—progress and safety, well-intentioned ideas and systems. But where are we to lay our heads tonight? Like Isaiah, I dream of a day when our sidewalks and parking lots and the streets of our city shall be called a ‘Holy Way,’ a safe space for God’s redeemed to walk and be welcomed with the dignity and love they deserve.

Prayer: Beloved, create safe spaces where we are welcome. Create for us home.