Advent Reflections — Week Two — December 10-17

Before we begin . . .

Perhaps at no time during the liturgical year are the focus of the Church and the emphasis of the world more at odds with one another. The Church sets aside a time before Christmas for self-examination, personal reflection, restraint, meditation, and spiritual preparation. The world shouts rush, do this, do that, buy this, make that, go here, go there. Our holidays often crescendo into exhaustion. No wonder some of us declare even before Christmas comes that we’ll be “glad when it’s all over.”

So these reflections offer you some help in slipping away from the distractions of this pre-Christmas season and into the period of time known in the Church as Advent. The words from Scripture and its thoughts encourage us to reflect on the ways we are living God’s gift of life and to examine the part we are playing in God’s plans for the life of the world.

Each day offers a Bible reading taken from the daily lectionary of the Episcopal Church. I encourage you to read both passages for each day. I have provided a sort of focus verse to assist you in your reflections, but you may find your own thoughts settling into other words you see on these pages. However you do it, reflection is an important part of participating in these stories and in the Advent season.

The coming of the Christ is indeed a glorious event, a celebration of God’s greatest act of love. May these thoughts encourage and prepare you for the coming of the Christ Child.

Alleluia, he is coming!

The Rev. Lera Tyler

 

 

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The Second Sunday of Advent
December 10th

Amos 6:1-14
Luke 1:57-68

In today’s reading from Luke, we enter the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, located in Judea, near Jerusalem. Elizabeth, already past childbearing years, is expecting a child. When Mary receives the news that Elizabeth too is “with child,” she seeks refuge from the critical tongues in Nazareth. Both women, with joy and in perplexity, celebrate what God has done for them even as they ask, “How can this be?”

Mary returns to Galilee encouraged by Elizabeth’s trust in God’s promises. Meanwhile, Zechariah and Elizabeth’s neighbors speculate and gossip, “They are too old to have a child!” Yet he was born, a son named John who would be “a prophet of the Most High.” According to Luke, he would be the one who would “show God’s people salvation and mercy and be a light for those who sit in darkness.”

We all have had our “How could this be?” moments. Perhaps most immediately we think of the bad “It can’t be!” moments: when we didn’t get the position we’d worked so hard for; or when we suddenly lost our best friend; or when we were told we shouldn’t be driving anymore. Yet, God regularly provides us with moments of unexpected joy.   These delights may come when a friend, a family member–or even a stranger–brings us out of the sorrow and loneliness of “How can this be?” into the joy of “Blessed be the Lord God!”

Thoughts: What have been some of your recent joyful “How could this be?” moments? How were you changed by them? 

Second Monday in Advent
December 11th

Amos 7:1-9
Matthew 22:23-33

God gave Amos words of warning and visions of what might happen to those who ignored God’s warnings: locusts would invade the land and fires would consume what remained of the desolation. These visions made clear that Israel was in grave danger of being destroyed.

Prophets, writers, and those particularly aware of the needs and fears of the world still warn us that suffering and destruction may be ahead. What, then, do we twenty-first century people–living in relative peace and comfort–think about such visions? Are they frightening? Foolish? Are they mostly made up by active, or manipulative, imaginations? Or do these messages describe what will surely come?

Signs are real. They point to what may be – to possibilities for evil and hardship – but also to possibilities for good and flourishing.

God’s prophets–both before and after Amos–had the gift of vision, the ability to understand what might happen. They had the wisdom to know that choices between good and evil were being set before God’s people, and that in choosing to disregard the warnings, they would deny what might have been.

Thoughts: Have you thought recently of something that might have been or might be? Do you feel fear or comfort in your response to that question? What part does prayer play in the choices just ahead of you?


The Second Tuesday of Advent
December 12th

Amos 7:10-17
Matthew 22:34-46

I remember memorizing the Ten Commandments in Sunday School as a child. My teachers made clear these laws’ singular importance as a guide in how to behave.   As I grew into adolescence, however, I began to ask questions. One thing especially bothered me: My best friend wasn’t allowed to go parties or movies on Sundays, but her father had a terrible temper and made her family’s life very hard. On the other hand, my father worked on Sunday mornings for many years. He couldn’t attend church, but he was always sober, patient, and gentle. No wonder then that I had a question: Were the Ten Commandments a good guide for love and faithfulness? How could my father possibly be a greater sinner than my friend’s father?

Even though I realize my understanding then was rather childish, I still try to figure out how God desires me to act. I ask, what’s right or wrong, good or bad? I interpret and explicate. I sometimes forget Jesus simplified the law for us. It comes down to two commandments, words that most of us know by heart and by which we can test all our thoughts and actions. Love God and love one another.   This is perhaps our best assurance, that we do as God desires to do as we try to extend God’s unconditional love to those around us.
Thoughts: Perhaps think about those things you plan to do today. How might these plans become acts of love for others?

Second Wednesday in Advent
December 13th

Amos 8:1-14
Matthew 23:1-12

Amos does not give up on God’s people despite their waywardness. As we see in this passage, he continues to warn the people of Israel of the visions he has received. Day-by-day, week-by-week, he sees the merchants focusing on one thing: making as much money as possible. He sees that they are eager for the holy days to pass so they can get back to deceptive business practices and take advantage of anyone who might be vulnerable or gullible.

So it is true, today we read words from a God who is not gentle with the people–words of, yes, an angry God.   We don’t like to think about an angry God; we want a gentle, loving God. But Amos must speak out. The list of offenses is long, and the number of advocates for the poor is small. He must announce God’s anger at those who have sought to destroy the vulnerable and to ignore the neglected. He must proclaim God’s great concern for those who do not receive the benefits of the prosperity around them.

Thoughts: How do you feel about Amos’ description of an angry God? How do you reconcile that vision of God with the words of David’s psalm, The Lord is my shepherd?

 


The Second Thursday of Advent
December 14th

Amos 9:1-10
Matthew 23:13-26

This reading from Matthew is sometimes called “The Seven Woes.” Jesus makes an indictment against the religious hypocrites centered in Jerusalem. His passionate words remind us that he is the incarnation of Yahweh who, despite his love and mercy, may say in anger “Enough is enough.” to those leaders who mislead, who say one thing and act in another way. Consequently, their sour words do more harm for the community than the “sins” condemned by these religious leaders.

Did the religious establishment in Jerusalem have any sense that Jesus spoke truth? Did they remain hardened to his words in order to protect their positions? Were they in such a state of denial that they truly believed Jesus was an enemy of God? Were they so arrogant that they were unwilling to listen to a poor, provincial preacher? Whatever the reasons, their attitudes were clearly contradictory to Jesus’s message to walk in love and mercy.

Hypocrisy slips into our lives in very subtle ways. If my children realize that I added Mary Brown’s name to my Christmas list only because she gives me especially nice gifts, rather than because I wish to express gratitude, they too will learn to act hypocritically. And so it is, we too often mislead, too often try to protect ourselves with an attitude of authority without thinking of its consequences–and the abuses that result.

Thoughts: Who are the people who look up to me? In what ways can I be a more Christ-like example for them? 


Second Friday in Advent
December 15th

Matthew 23:27-39
Haggai 1:1-15

Large crowds had followed Jesus into Jerusalem. His entrance, like that of numerous prophets before him, was something of a spectacle. According to Matthew, he went immediately to the temple and drove out the moneychangers. In the following days, he continued to draw crowds as word spreads throughout the city that he had not only upset business in the temple, he was also condemning the religious leaders!

According to Matthew, Jesus’ last public statement before his arrest were these words: “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”   I wonder, did he say it in a stern or an assuring manner? Will the coming of the Lord be a time of trepidation or of joy?

Most Christians believe that we will encounter Jesus either in this life or the life to come in a way that surpasses our earthly experiences. With this belief, we ask, “What will it be like for me? What will he say? What will I say?”

Today’s lesson offers a clue. Knowing that dark days are ahead for Jerusalem and that its magnificent temple will be in rubble in a little more than a generation, Jesus laments the fate of those who will be there then. He cries in frustrated compassion, “I’ve wanted to gather you all up and protect you from the desolation that is ahead of you, but you weren’t willing.”

I wonder: How often has Jesus tried to say the same thing to me? Jesus understands that hard hearts can change–including those of his enemies in Jerusalem and of those who turn against him today. And here’s the promise: when we see him with new hearts, when we come to him setting aside our doubts and fear, we see him anew and we will be blessed.

Thoughts: If you saw Jesus coming today, what might your first words be? 


Second Saturday in Advent
December 16th

Haggai 1:1-15
Matthew 24:1-14

We return this day to the Hebrew Scriptures, to the book of the prophet Haggai, one of the lesser known of the Hebrew prophets. At the time of Haggai’s call to speak God’s message, only a remnant of God’s people had returned to Judea from exile in Babylon. They and their prophets have had visions: they will rebuild their lives and King Solomon’s grand temple.

When they arrive, however, they see only ruins. Those few survivors who had seen the temple in its days of glory are in despair. It is then that the prophet Haggai proclaims, “Take courage. Take courage. The LORD is with us. Do not fear. The Lord will fill this house with splendor. It shall be greater than before. It will prosper!” His job was to inspire and encourage the Jewish leadership to move forward, to reconstruct the Temple, and to lead the people in rightful worship.

It was a vision of an ideal age that was to come.

Words of encouragement–sometimes that’s what we so need: the assurance that someone is with us, and this person is with us to help us rebuild lives: rebuild hope, rebuild courage, vision, faith.

Thoughts: Who have been the “Haggai people” in your life, the ones with the courage and vision to rebuild their lives and in doing so bring new life to their communities? What have you learned from them?


The Third Sunday in Advent

December 17th

 

Amos 9:11-15

John 5:30-27

These final verses from the Book of Amos offer encouraging words. The time has come–Amos tells the people of Judah–for you to begin to rebuild, for you and your gardens and your vineyards to produce good fruit. His oracle is grounded in the hope of what God will do, and the people had reason to hope and to believe that better days would be ahead.

 

Hope is built on faith and encouragement, belief and community. In doubt about our futures, we may wonder if better days could possibly be ahead for us. We fear change and loss. As the readings and thoughts of the past two weeks have shown, we are invited to counter our fears and to accept the Advent call to prepare ourselves–and live in hope of things to come.

 

Emily Dickinson reminds us that hope is “what perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words.” Hope urges a fresh stirring in our hearts, presses on our longings for grace and peace, and brings us to sing with longing and confidence, “O Come, O come, Emmanuel,” “Come, thou long expected Jesus”,   Longing to see signs of God-among-us is deep within all God’s people, so we weep and we celebrate, we wait and then we begin to know.

 

Thoughts: What hopes are foremost in your mind in these days just preceding Christmas? Do you have good reason and faith to believe that better days are ahead?

 

The Third Monday in Advent

December 18th

 

Zechariah 1:7-17

Matthew 24:15-31

 

We conclude our Advent meditations this week with readings from Zechariah. Zechariah prophesied two centuries after Amos, in the time when the exiles were returning to Judea after decades of captivity in Babylon. They have been sent “home” to rebuild their futures and the once-grand temple of King Solomon, which stood in ruins on Mount Zion. The dream was that in nearby Bethlehem–the city of David–a messiah like David would soon come and bring about the transformation of God’s people.

 

Zechariah had had visions of these things. The first vision was of horsemen from heaven who patrolled the earth and reported to God’s angel–the whole earth remains in peace. This angel also announced to the prophet that God would be returning to Jerusalem and there God’s people would find compassion and prosperity.

 

For those coming “home” (most of them to a place they had ever seen), there was reason for comfort and rejoicing and weeping. After decades in exile, they would be among their own people, in the land of their ancestors. The years ahead would a time of restoration, a time to rebuild the temple that had been sitting silent in ruins and return Jerusalem to its glory.

 

As we wait for the coming of Christ in this last week of Advent, perhaps we too sense a renewed vigor and hope for the world, perhaps we pray for prosperity and comfort as did those exiles centuries ago. We pray for these in the hope that we, too, may repair our lives, renew our relationships, and rest in the knowledge that God-with-us is not far away.

 

Thoughts: As Christmas quickly draws near, what uncompleted tasks and longings would I like to make time for? Will I first make time to rest in the peace that God is with me?

 

The Third Tuesday in Advent

December 19th

 

Zechariah 2:1-13

Matthew 24:15-21

 

After the Jews had spent seventy years as captives in Babylon, Zechariah delivered a joyous message. The Lord has said, “You can go back now. I have set you free to return to your homeland, and I will be there with you.” God would deliver the Jews out of Babylonia as God had delivered their ancestors out of Egypt. Jerusalem, the desolate city on the hill, would be re-inhabited.

 

It was the already age-old promise that is still offered: God will save us and remain with us.

 

Our Advent reading describes a long history–long before the birth of Jesus–of God’s entering into the lives of his people. The Incarnation–God, flesh and blood, truth and grace, among us–puts flesh and blood on that old, old promise.   The Savior, the Messiah, has come and will come to show the Lord’s graciousness: to show that God so loved the world.

 

The world continues, as much as ever, to need to hear the message: Jesus is with us; Christ is within us. His words and actions live on in people like you and me who persist in embodying that message. Through us, God’s mercy continues to be revealed, sometimes on a large scale, like breaking the bonds of apartheid, and sometimes in the details of individual lives, like taking nourishing soup and conversation to a lonely neighbor.

 

In these actions, we quietly announce the mystery: God is with us, dwells in our midst, redeems and nourishes us. This is indeed Good News, the supreme occasion to raise our songs and expand our deeds, and sing in earnest expectation, “Come, thou long expected Jesus.”

 

Thoughts: How can I, in my daily life, best proclaim the message that God is with us?

 

The Third Wednesday in Advent

December 20th

 

Zechariah 3:1-10

Matthew 24:45-51

 

Today’s reading from Zechariah places us at a turning in the prophet’s ministry. He had been sent to warn the people of Judea of their history of self-interest, but now, more importantly, to bring them visions of a new and encouraging future. Joshua, the high priest in Jerusalem, was forgiven for his negligence and fears and given an understanding that would bring hope and courage to the people.

 

With these turnings, something momentous was to happen. All was in waiting.

“I am going to bring my servant the Branch,” God tells Zechariah, “and he will bring peace. He will remove the people’s fears and loss of purpose. He will bring honor again to this city. Once more, the people will have access to God’s mercy.”

 

Zechariah was sent to proclaim God’s news–the messianic promise–God will come to be among us. Zechariah had been given the vision of a people filled with mercy and living in prosperity, people knowing that they have access to God, who desires nothing more than to be among us, working for us.

 

This is God’s desire for all people. However, as we know, it is never an easy accomplishment. There are forces at work that distract us; yet together, we encourage and serve and rejoice, remembering our own promises to love and care for others as Christ has loved and cared for us.

 

Thoughts: What plans for peace and mercy for others might God be putting into your heart?

 

The Third Thursday in Advent

December 21st

 

Zechariah 4:1-14

Matthew 25:1-13

 

Zechariah received a number of visions as the angel told him how to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. The Jews, coming back to the home of their parents and grandparents, believed the city would again be glorious and their religion reformed. They worked obediently to accomplish these things and prayed for a new king, someone even greater than David. However, it would be five hundred years before the Messiah, the Christ, would be born.

 

Sometimes we wait and wait and wait for our longings to be fulfilled. In these times, we too need encouragement. Advent has given us an opportunity to do that, to reflect on how loving God and our neighbors can reform our lives, to see the places where Jesus may dwell. We take inventory, examine our hearts and minds, and prepare a place for Jesus Christ.

 

Visions are not limited to prophets of old or “visionaries” in the corporate world or a few people with particular spiritual gifts. Visions may come through prayer and meditation, or through conversations with those who wish to serve God in our homes or in community projects. Visions may point us to the needs of God’s people for homeless shelters or a place for artistic creation, programs for illiterate adults or a children’s choir. The great gift that we receive in return is that they lead us into being co-creators with God, marvelous creators with endless possibilities in our ordinary lives.

 

Thoughts: What visions have I had for God’s kingdom on earth? What am I prepared to do to assist in God’s ongoing creation of the world?

 

 

 

 

 

The Third Friday in Advent

December 22nd

 

Zechariah 7:8-8:8

Matthew 25:14-30

 

My first response to God’s words to Zechariah could be, Yes, Lord, we have heard this before! You’ve said it more than once. We know the commandments, things like do not oppress, do not be stubborn. We know what’s right and wrong.

 

So why, why are we called over and over to reflect on these words or ones very similar to them?

 

Perhaps self-preoccupation pushes the message aside, and we forget. Sometimes we feel that we can’t follow through with the real commitment that these words demand. Sometimes we think about God’s call and say with sincerity, “I’ll do what I can, but…” Or, “At least I’m not at fault for causing these situations.” Or, “I don’t have the ability to do it.” Or, “Nice dream, but we have to be realistic.” Or, “But the law says…“

 

Excuses seem so valid. But Jesus did not accept excuses. He was not satisfied with partial commitments. Like the rich man who wanted to follow Jesus, we are asked to move beyond our comfortable existence. If we are to act as Christ in the world, then we are to do more than be satisfied with what we are doing or not doing. We are to act against oppression and domination; to invite the poor and sick to be part of our lives; to stop corruption and unjust laws and practices. Jesus spoke up, “You hypocrites!” He stepped in, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He brought the rejected to his table and forgave his enemies.

 

That message needs repeating.

 

Thoughts: What actions can I take that will respond to God’s call for mercy and justice?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Third Saturday in Advent

December 23rd

Zechariah 8:9-17

Matthew 25:31-46

 

The anticipation grows. The joy of Christmas is hardly more than a day ahead, but first we have this difficult parable about separating sheep and goats to consider. In this parable, does Jesus mean that we are to give money, food, and clothing to every beggar on the streets? Does he expect us to stop at every hospital we pass and visit the sick?

 

These questions cause me to remember something that happened several years ago. I received a rather worn envelope, forwarded to me through three post offices, with a return address of Kampala, Uganda. Inside were a completed admissions form from St. Catherine’s College in Kampala and a letter from a sixteen-year-old girl, sent to me from a Red Cross worker in Uganda. The young woman, whose parents had died of AIDS, needed assistance in attending a two-month training course in tailoring so that she could support her younger siblings.

 

The young woman’s connection remains something of a mystery, but that wasn’t the only mystery. I calculated the cost for the woman’s tuition, fees, and accommodations in US dollars, and the total was almost exactly the amount that I had received the week before from the sale of a rather valuable book.

 

We can be skeptical about such “co-incidences,” but I put skepticism aside and sent the tuition. I still don’t have answers to the questions raised by Jesus’ parable, but the young woman in Uganda did give me new insight. Isn’t it true? Jesus surprises us with calls to do the unexpected. And it seems, the more attentive we are to his voice, the more often we’ll get it right.

 

Thoughts: What do I feel with near certainty that God is asking me to do?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

December 24th

 

Baruch 4:36-5:9

Matthew 1:18-25

 

And so the beloved story is almost ready to be retold! We love to hear about a baby in swaddling clothes, joyous angels and poor shepherds, foreign wise men and costly gifts. But let’s pause just one more time before we enter Bethlehem and consider Mary’s journey and our own journeys.

 

Joseph, wanting to do the “right thing,” almost dismissed Mary. No wonder. The villagers of Nazareth, keeping their eyes on things, must have wagged their fingers at the scandal of Mary, pregnant and unmarried. Mary, bewildered, must have repeated many times the angel’s words, “Fear not! Fear not!”

 

Our own life journeys are filled with times of doubt, hard decisions, sacrifice, misunderstandings, suffering, even scandal, as well as with promise, wonder, and love. We may have followed the voices of angels or spiritual advisors or our own instincts. The promise of Christmas, the promise that we celebrate on this evening, is that we need not fear because Christ is among us. In the journeys ahead of us, we will never be alone.

 

Thoughts: What dangerous, yet wonder-filled, journeys have you taken? When have you found peace in the words, fear not? In the presence of Christ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE COLLECTS OF ADVENT
Book of Common Prayer, page 211-212

 

First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Second Sunday of Advent

Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and

the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Third Sunday of Advent

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.
Fourth Sunday of Advent

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one

God, now and for ever.
Amen.

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The First Sunday of Advent
December 3rd

Amos 1:1-5, 13-2:8
Luke 21:5-19

The sharp-tongued prophet Amos will be our outspoken guide from the Hebrew Scriptures through most of the season of Advent. Along the way, we will also hear the words of an almost equally severe Matthew of the First Gospel.

God sent Amos, a prophet who lived in the small southern kingdom of Judah in the eighth century BC, to warn the people of the northern kingdom of Israel. Trouble was ahead for them. Prosperity was limited to only elite portions of the people. Amos had much to say about the situation, as you will discover in the readings ahead of us.

In today’s passage, Amos lists the “transgressions” of Israel and Judah and the consequences of their behavior. He announces God’s anger at the rich who neglect the poor. He calls out to those blinded by privilege: “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. during the March on Washington in August 1963). This might give you a sense of the situation.

Likewise, as you read through the words of the Gospel of Matthew, don’t expect any long passages of consolation, at least not until we enter the final days of Advent. Jesus, too, has much to say about arrogance and neglect. So you see, before we draw close to Bethlehem, the Church calls us to reflect and listen. May you find the time and, yes, the patience to remain with these readings as we begin our journey to the Christ.

Thoughts: What are your expectations in this Advent season? What might you do to set aside time for reflection in the days ahead?

 

The First Monday of Advent
December 4th

Amos 2:6-16
Matthew 21:1-11

A Palm Sunday reading at the beginning of Advent? Why? For the followers of Jesus, that day was a beginning. They were entering into a time of preparation and of anticipation, of seeking and of hope. Jesus would be king!

Imagine the situation: thousands and thousands of Jews crowded into Jerusalem for Passover, and word of this strange parade spreads. With hosannas and shouts of excitement, Jesus’s followers announce the coming of the King of the Jews. Of course, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were accustomed to Roman dignitaries parading into the city, often accompanied by a large procession of soldiers, officials, and household members, all displaying the intimidating power of the Roman Empire. But then, this Jewish peasant-prophet rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and his followers call him a king! The procession was joyful and strange and dangerous. How many people in that crowded city laughed at this absurdity? Was Jesus mocking the authorities? Was he being subversive? Was he really the savior-king . . . the Messiah?

God’s messengers–the prophets–have often acted in eccentric ways designed to get the attention of those who are too confident in their own security. (Ezekiel, for example, lay for 390 days on his left side bearing the punishment of Israel and then for 40 days on his right side for the punishment of Judah.) Many Jews in Jerusalem that day knew God enters the world in unpredictable ways. They knew the actions of God’s messengers are often bewildering and unpopular. But were they remembering and paying attention? Who, even among Jesus’s closest friends, understood what he was doing? Who among his followers was ready for the week ahead?

Reflection: How would you–or do you–react to Jesus entering into your world? Are you prepared to accept God-with-us in bewildering or unexpected ways?

The First Tuesday in Advent
December 5th

Amos 3:1-11
Matthew 21:12-22 

Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive. Is that really true? How many times do we ask God for something with what we think is good faith, and then feel God just doesn’t respond? When Jesus says that we are to ask “in prayer with faith,” what does he mean? Paul defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” He often uses the words “in Christ” because in Christ and in faith are synonymous for him. Perhaps we can understand this better if we realize that faith doesn’t mean we have absolutely no doubt. Rather faith helps us remain steadfast even as we doubt. The disciples doubted Jesus many times, but eventually, they came to understand that, because Jesus was leading them, they could put their fears aside and faithfully follow him.

Faith defies proof and boundaries. Think about it. We can’t prove that a friend is really “faithful” or that God is working to make good out of our mistakes. Can anyone “prove” that God heals? Or that God was responsible for a better job or a long-awaited child? In fact, most of the really important things in our lives–the things we believe in—can’t be proven. We can only have faith that God will know our needs and that God responds to our prayers, sometimes in ways that elude us. So we must be careful not to stuff God into a magic lamp or limit God’s grace to our personal desires. Praying with faith means praying like and with Christ, moving forward even in doubt and anguish, knowing God is with us and for us.

Thoughts: How might your prayers become expressions of faith in God’s limitless potential to do good?

The First Wednesday of Advent
December 6th

Amos 3:12-4:5
Matthew 21:23-32

Amos was such a bothersome prophet with proclamations like, “I will tear down the winter house as well as the summer house; and the houses of ivory shall perish, and the great houses shall come to an end.”

He appeared in the northern kingdom of Israel around 780-760 BC, at a time when it was flourishing militarily and economically. The king had extended its borders, and his supporters had benefited greatly from Israel’s increased wealth. In this passage, God tells Amos to give the leaders of Israel a message: you have been taking from the downtrodden for your own benefit, and your pride and greed will cause their downfall.

These leaders had fallen into the we-are-the-most-powerful trap, and Amos arrives to tell them that they had feasted on conspicuous consumption long enough. The king, his priests, and his counselors didn’t listen to Amos. Less than fifty years after Amos’ warnings, the northern kingdom was destroyed and its influential people were deported.

There is a lesson for us here: when things are going well for us, do we disregard the warning signs of loss and ruin ahead? As we see store shelves filled with endless things to buy and shopping carts piled high, we might reflect on these ancient messages. Might we be more careful that our own affluence does not separate us from God’s call for justice and peace?

Thoughts: What are the excesses of our lives that may cause those in need to have even less? How might we show personal restraint and broader sharing?

The First Thursday of Advent
December 7th

Amos 4:6-13
Matthew 21:33-46

We are challenged by the words of Amos–“prepare to meet your God”–that announce God’s judgment. We believe in a loving God who wants only the best for us, yet Amos’s proclamation in today’s reading seems to contradict that image. So, are God’s words–spoken by Amos–a threat or a warning? Add to that Matthew’s parable of the landowner’s tenants, who kill his messengers and finally his son, and we have before us dark narratives: first of the affluent people of sixth-century Israel neglecting the poor, and then, centuries later, of the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem trying to subvert early Christians.

However, there is light in these dark warnings. Meeting God–“meeting our Maker”–is perhaps not so much a threat as it is a glimpse at the tension we see and feel in a world of greed and self-importance. Perhaps it is in meeting God – whether in prayer, in singing, in serving others, or in showing patience and compassion – that we see with true hearts and souls, beyond the threats and warnings, into the kingdom that is around us. We see God-with-us and then we need not fear.

Thoughts: When have you met God? What fears has God freed you from? What was your response?

The First Friday of Advent
December 8th

Amos 5:1-17
Matthew 22:1-14

Amos cries out again and again: “If only you would seek the LORD. If only you had hated evil and loved good.” How many times have we in hindsight lamented if only? If only I’d chosen another job, another partner; if only I’d been with her during her troubles . . .

I wonder why, in Jesus’s parable of the wedding feast, those who were invited to this party for the king’s son didn’t show up. The king had planned and prepared for this grand celebration. He’d sent invitations to friends and family–did they have other things they preferred to do?

I wonder if any of them ever lamented, “If only I’d gone to the feast!” Did they use those words if only? Do we ever hear them ourselves . . . if only I’d shown up . . . if only I’d taken care of myself . . .if only I’d taken better care of her . . . if only I’d been more gracious.

These “if only” moments may extend to weeks, even years. The season of Advent is an appropriate time to reflect upon choices before us. What would I have done? Would I–do I–turn away from the feast, God’s gracious invitation to celebrate with and to share with anyone who shows up?

Thoughts: What are your regrets? What celebrations of God’s goodness have been neglected? In this season of contemplation and waiting, what might you do to prepare for the new life God offers?

The First Saturday of Advent
December 9th

Amos 5:18-57
Matthew 22:15-22

Taxation was an enormous concern for the people around Jesus. They paid taxes to the emperor, to the local authorities, to the Temple, and even to the tax collectors themselves. While some common good came of Rome’s heavy taxation (like highways, aqueducts, and police protection), vast amounts were spent on luxurious playgrounds and palaces for the very elite. No one was tax-exempt, and the poor were especially burdened. Those malicious Herodians and Pharisees interrogating Jesus posed a very tricky question here. If Jesus opposed the tax, he’d be in trouble with the Romans. If he supported the tax, his followers would become disillusioned.

“You’re learned Pharisees,” Jesus implies when they question him, “and you know that God is displeased when God’s gifts are misused. You know that all good comes from God. You know that hard-earned coin in a poor man’s hand is a gift from God. So, what do you say?”

They had no response because they knew that the Jewish faith taught that all good things come from God–including the wages earned by fishermen in Galilee, shop workers in Jerusalem, and field hands in the countryside, so the “experts” departed without comment.

Thoughts: With whom do you share the gifts that God has given? Do your talents and money sometimes support actions that are displeasing to God?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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