Sunday, December 15th

By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Matthew 11:2-11
Reflection—v. 7 ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to look at?’

Jesus is talking about John the Baptist, that rough-around-the-edges, tells-it-like-it-is, dirty, baptizing, eat-what-you-find, back-roads prophet, as he asks the crowd ‘what did you go out into the wilderness to look at?’ If you were looking for someone in soft robes–you should have checked the palace, he says, you won’t find someone like that out here. If you are expecting guidance to come from a three-piece suit, try downtown or the courthouse. Would you prefer your prophetic word to be packaged a little fancier? Try Ponce City Market or Midtown. No, really, Jesus implores, ‘What then did you go out to see?’ Did you desire to hear something prophetic, or would you prefer soft robes that keep the status quo? John the Baptist was a radical. He spoke the truth, positioned himself on the margins, and ultimately, caused enough good trouble to get himself killed. He called tax collectors and sinners to the wilderness (there at the edges of acceptable society) to change their hearts and lives and prepared the way for the one who would call us all. What are we looking for and where do we seek it? Would we prefer to maintain the status quo and grasp for whatever inkling of power benefits us at the sake of others or do we want to change our hearts and lives? Check yourself and where you seek your guidance. Prophets are often speaking to us from those places we would rather avoid.

Prayer: Radical God, the way is prepared; call us out into wilderness places to hear you.

Saturday, December 14th

By: David Swank
Psalm 72:1-19
Reflection—v.12 ‘For he will deliver the needy who cry out’

Hello everyone! I would like to start by considering how sometimes it seems like life as it is on earth is more like ‘Hell on earth’ than as God must have intended it to be. I can personally imagine the grief and frustration, along with the sadness, God must truly feel, because when God created all life on earth God created it good. God’s creation was his main attention–he gave it attention and care and desired a sinless world. However, ever since those first days on earth when Cain murdered his brother Abel, that set the tone for countless future sins such as greed, power, hate, and racism. I believe these are some of the reasons we war–we are prejudice toward one another over race and nationality. These types of wars seem like a never ending thing. People are fighting over the money and power that they want to gain for themselves, spending billions on utter foolishness, when there are thousands of poor and needy people in dire need of important necessities such as food, clothing, and hygiene products. But, I trust that God wants better for us–that God wants us to care for one another, and I truly believe God will prevail.

Prayer: God our good creator, save us from our foolish ways and help us to be good to one another as you so deeply desire.

Friday, December 13th

By: Bill Smith
Romans 15:2-13
Reflection—v.6 ‘with one mind and one voice’

My Daddy was one of those people who hated a braggart. He hated when people would say ‘I’m doing this-and-so better than someone else.’ I could name my accomplishments, say for example, ‘I did this thing,’ but if I were to say ‘I’m better than someone else’…not in his household! His point was that someone else might be better at something than you–so none of us are really better than any others. Earlier in Chapter 15 it says ‘Let every one of us please our neighbors for their good edification…’ I understand this to mean that we’re supposed to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That is what Christ taught, and that is what Paul is reminding us here. I think sometimes the church particularly views those who are on the margins as less than, when actually, it’s been my experience that those on the margins have more than enough to offer. Take for example a random Bible Study here at Mercy—people here have a lot of wisdom and insight. Sometimes this comes from hard living on the margins. That’s where some of the most fruitful study comes from. This passage goes on to say that we must have but one mind and one mouth to glorify God. We must treat each other as God does. God says we’re beloved. God says we’re of value and when we think of ourselves as better than others, we’re not treating that person as valuable–we’re lowering them. That’s not how we should treat each other in God’s household.

Prayer: Beloved Creator, help us to see our neighbors and value them as you do.

Thursday, December 12th

By: Sid Imes-Burkett
Isaiah 11:1-10
Reflection—v.9 ‘they will neither harm nor destroy’

Isaiah 11:1-10 is a beautiful passage—beautiful enough to bring one to despair in the year of our Lord 2019, when the gulf between our world and that of the prophet’s vision seems hopelessly wide. Closing our eyes and thinking of happy-clappy animals feels tone-deaf at best. 2,000 years ago, though, if I’d been focused solely on Roman colonialism and Herod’s genocide, I’d have missed something pretty important. God’s thing has never been hauling the faithful off to a sky-castle. The miracle of the incarnation is that Jesus joins us right in the middle of the worst we do to one another. The powers that be bring death, but Jesus is always on the move on the margins. I never know what I’m going to find on a given day at Mercy. We don’t have lions or snakes, but we do get some dogs, and we get an amazing cross-section of human beings. And we’re a hot mess. And God is incredibly faithful to us. By showing up, I get to see the beloved community that God is creating and the abundance God wills for all of us. Hope, for me, is the work God does in opening my heart to the goodness of those around me and the new thing God is doing in and through and around our brokenness. Thanks be to God!

Prayer: God, come and do a new thing, even and especially, in the midst of our brokenness.

Wednesday, December 11th

By: Holly Reimer
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Reflection—v. 2 ‘judge your people with righteousness and your poor ones with justice’

The psalmist is asking God to empower the king to rule with the same kind of justice that we find God ruling with. When I first read it I totally missed this part, fixating on the fact that the psalmist was not asking for God’s good judgment, but that the leaders and rulers might instead be given a better way. How profound is it to consider what it might look like to have rulers who are not empowered by powers and principalities of the world, but by a God who cares more about those whom are not invited to the table, a God who asks ‘which of you is without sin?’ We are reminded that God has a different way of judgment and justice. So much so, that God sends a child into the world as the one sent to seek and save. When the people are expecting a warrior on a horse, they receive a man on a donkey. In our world, a sense of justice offers no sense of transformation or redemption, and certainly offers no deliverance for the needy. Our world encourages us to put people in jails when they suffer from mental health issues and we have no place else to ‘take them,’ or our leaders encourage us to build walls to ‘protect us’ from caring for others, mindless of the notion that we/they have been in need of protection and care as well. The psalmist knows that God’s way is better, and asks God to equip the leaders with a way that expresses true love and care for the ones who are the most vulnerable.

Prayer: God, give your leaders a judgment and justice that comes from you.

Tuesday, December 10th

By: Holly Reimer
Isaiah 11:1-10
Reflection—v. 4 ‘judge the needy with righteousness and decide with equity’

I’ve been witness to a number of conversations where individuals ask if ‘black lives matter’ means that all lives don’t matter, or that by caring for the poor means the rich aren’t beloved by God. What we see here in this text, and what we are saying when we say, ‘care for the poor’ and ‘black lives matter’ is that oppressed and marginalized folks are neglected and it is time to focus on the people that live at the margins, because that is where we find God – we find God with the outcast and the ones who are ignored. In deciding with equity God reminds us that God cares ‘for the least of these’ and so should we. God does not play by the rules of the world, because in the rules of the world we devalue others. This text reminds us to ask ourselves the question, ‘does everyone have what they need?’ This is not about wants, but needs. Does everyone have an opportunity to be warm and dry in winter, not having to worry if they will literally freeze to death? Does everyone have access to health care? This is the equity that God wants. I have often been guilty of the fear that if I give up an inch I will lose a mile. I lose sight of the other person, who they are and what they need. This is the equity God is leading us towards, where we can see the humanity in all.

Prayer: Thank you God for caring for all of us, leading us to a place where all are cared for and have enough.

Sunday, December 8th

By: Holly Reimer
Matthew 3:1-12
Reflection—v.2 ‘Change your hearts and lives! Here comes the kingdom of heaven.’

There have been times in my life where I was more motivated by death rather than life. For instance, I worry more about what is coming next (what will happen to my body when I die, how will my family react and mourn, where will my Spirit go, will I notice I am no longer living?), that I can no longer live in the present. My life should not be about what comes next, or what may or may not happen because of the (trans)actions I have right now, but should be about what is right before me. The kingdom of heaven is coming! I read this text and think of all the beautiful things Jesus spoke about, demonstrated, and demanded. The kingdom of God is in the ways I express love, it’s not enough for me to just say I care for someone, but change requires an action. It requires doing something that I have not been doing before. It requires me stepping back from the sink in the kitchen, walking around the counter and seeing a dejected look on one of my brother’s faces, and asking him what is going on. It is caring enough about each person in the present moment rather than focusing on the ‘doings’ of the day.

Prayer: Change our hearts and lives, O God, so that we may see as you do.

Saturday, December 7th

By: Ivan Cooley
Isaiah 2:1-5
Reflection—v. 3 ‘Come, let’s go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the house of Jacob’s God so that God may teach us God’s ways and we may walk in God’s paths.’

Our Bible studies are rich, vibrant, and taught by very educated, ordained people who are members of the clergy. To declare that I have received instruction from them is an understatement. Through them I have learned the ways of the LORD. Those ways are peace, forgiveness, charity, generosity, kindness, sharing, faith, listening, humility, justice, and most of all, combining all these traits into one ball of wax: love. There are so many ways to show love that we must choose a form that is appropriate. Otherwise the relationship will suffer from dysfunction. A dysfunctional relationship will erode love. This also includes treating others as you would like to be treated, no matter their nationality, race, or gender, or even what their beliefs are. It’s respecting people and their boundaries, because love is the main guiding force—love and God.

Prayer: God of love, instruct us in your ways that we may love one another as you do.

Thursday, December 5th

By: Ivan Cooley
Isaiah 2:1-5
Reflection—v. 2 ‘the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established’

I was homeless for more years than I care to say. My life was that of addiction, false starts, incompletion, and most of all, an inconsistency that would not allow me to join the mainstream of society. The one event that was consistent in my life was that I would get up and walk to church in the mornings. On that walk, I would think about my life and pray. This, for me, would be a time of meditation. My head and heart would clear. I would observe my surroundings and seek the physical beauty of God’s creation. Yes, it is true that I was simply walking to church, but it could be stated that the streets are my mountains, and the church I attend is established and raised above the hills. When I’m there, I really feel as though I’m in God’s house. At church, we greet each other and have breakfast. This is a time of fellowship where we share food, stories, and a little gossip. Most of all, though, we show each other love. You can tell the love is genuine, if for no other reason than that we are so happy to see each other.

Prayer: God, walk with us on the paths of life and guide us to places of love.

Wednesday, December 4th

By: Chad Hyatt
Isaiah 2:1-5
Reflection—v. 4 ‘they shall beat their swords into plowshares’

We sing a song at Mercy about going down by the riverside, laying down burdens and swords and shields, and all the while walking with the Prince of Peace. I imagine the nations flocking toward the house of God in Isaiah’s vision singing along with us: ‘We ain’t gonna study war no more.’ That sounds like a dream King would dream. But the vision is more than singing, more than shouting and praying and even prophesying. The dream dawns a new day when the salty sweat on our brows and the hard metal of our anvils turn weapons of war into tools of peace. Advent calls us once again to conversion, and Isaiah gives us a practical vision of healthy penance. We live amid a culture that so idolizes violence as to propose that the best way to stop violence is to arm ourselves with even more weapons. We live amid weaponized violence in our schools and streets and homes. We suffer the dehumanizing violence of racism and genderism, the other-ing and scapegoating of entire groups of people. We are inundated by the violence of our angry words and gross intolerance toward those who disagree with us. We endure the violence embedded in systems that crush the poor. And we must confront the violence of our own hearts as we lift ourselves up by putting others down. It’s time to take the hammer to our violent ways, refashioning how we hold one another in relationship so that the sacredness of all life is honored.

Prayer: God of plowshares, help us to transform patterns of violence into ways of life.