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  • Advent Devotion – Friday December 21

    December 21, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Friday, December 21, 2018

    The Rev. Douglas Avilesbernal, Executive Minister of the Evergreen Baptist Association, ABCUSA, member of Board of Trustees, American Baptist Seminary of the West, Berkeley, CA

     

    But I am supposed to be happy now!

    Scripture

    Psalm 80:1-7

    Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
    you who lead Joseph like a flock!
    You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth

    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
    Stir up your might,
    and come to save us!

    Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.

    O Lord God of hosts,
    how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

    You have fed them with the bread of tears,
    and given them tears to drink in full measure.

    You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
    our enemies laugh among themselves.

    Restore us, O God of hosts;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved.  (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)

    Devotional

    The Advent and Christmas seasons are very difficult for many of us. It is difficult to gauge how many of us hurt during this season since nearly all of us put up a brave face and become happy, like everyone else. In our desire to not bum anyone out many of us suffer in private and too often add the guilt of feeling down when we’re supposed to be happy. So, if we are the ones feeling the pain of suffering and then putting up a happy front, it can be nearly unbearable. If we are full of the joy it can be too easy for us to miss the signs that would tell us some in our community are suffering.

    It is in this quandary that I find the beauty and relevance of the 80th Psalm coming to us less than a week before we celebrate Christmas. It comes to us just in time to make sure we tend to that side of who we are and/or make sure we care for those hurting.

    Restore us, O God;
    let your face shine, that we may be saved. (v. 3)

    May we be reminded that this is also a time when God comes into our midst. A time when we can Finally! Pour out our hearts to Jesus as he arrives and plead for restoration. We might not all be happy during this time, but we can all find comfort in Christ just the same.

    Prayer

    Thank you, God, for coming into the midst of our messy world. Forgive us for our contributions to the mess. Heal us of the pain and sorrow that seeks to embed itself in our lives. Help us to know your joy that we might live in your peace. Amen.

  • Advent Devotion – Thursday December 20

    December 20, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Thursday, December 20, 2018

    Rev. Dr. Robert Stephen Reid is Emeritus Director of Master of Communication program in Organizational Communication and Leadership, University of Dubuque, IA

     

    “In That Day” is Our Day 

    Scripture

    Jeremiah 31:31–34

    31 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. (New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
    Also see: Hebrews 10:10–18, Psalm 80:1–7

    Devotional

    We who engage in table fellowship with Christ know Jesus’ Cup of Blessing words: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). We eat of the bread remembering Christ’s passion for us. But should drink the cup remembering the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, who promised the house of Israel and the house of Judah that a new covenant would be established where no sin offering would ever be needed again. Why? Because in that day God would place a hunger in the hearts of people to know the Lord and pursue the ways of faith.

    The writer of the New Testament letter to the Hebrews returns to this image several times to make it clear that with Christ’s death an end came to any idea that God needs to be appeased by a sin offering. Jesus’ death on the cross vanquished the powers of darkness that ruin the world with sin. But for all who believe now, history was cleaved by that cross of Christ. The forgiveness it makes possible leans forward because God promised through it to “remember their sin no more.”

    Perhaps your Advent celebration will culminate in a time of sharing a communion meal with Christ and fellow Christians. Gratefully confess your failings to God, knowing that because all of history now leans forward in Christ, you are already forgiven. Then take the cup, rejoicing that the promised made by the prophet and fulfilled in Christ, includes you. That is the essence of the Advent blessing.

    Prayer

    O God, may we who come to your table this Advent season know how privileged we are to live what a prophet could only once dream—as people forgiven because you desire our confession of sin more than our obeisance because of it. Free us to live into that privilege unencumbered by the fear of our failings, trusting that you long to accomplish redemptive work in our lives as people willing to lean into this vision of your reign and realm in our lives. Amen.

  • Advent Devotion – Wednesday December 19

    December 19, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Wednesday, December 19, 2018

    The Rev. Dr. Valerie Miles-Tribble, Associate Professor, Ministerial Leadership & Practical Theology, American Baptist Seminary of the West

     

    Sweet Little Jesus Boy (We Didn’t Know Who You Were)

    Scripture

    Luke 7:31–35

    31 “To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32 They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another,
    ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;  we wailed, and you did not weep.’
    33 For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; 34 the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ 35 Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.”  (New Revised Standard Version  – NRSV)

    Devotional

    Jesus looked upon the humanity of the crowd that stood or sat before him, some eager to learn and others still doubting that what some proclaimed – Emmanuel (“God who will come”) – was the one who dwelled among them, teaching and healing. When Jesus looked upon them with love yet knowing that the world did not know who He truly was, perhaps his words recorded in Luke remind us to seek for the truth and take stock of the goodness in one another rather than place so much emphasis on rituals and rules.

    In 2018, in a world of societal divisions, the religious fervor of Christmas must also amplify the prophetic teaching of Jesus to love the Lord God before all else and to love each other as neighbors. What is it I hope that Jesus could see? People that realize the words of John the Baptist proclaiming the coming of the LORD still ring true.

    I hope we realize the urban poor, the hopeful immigrants, the black and brown bodies, all targeted by “otherness,” are nevertheless found worthy of love in the sight of God. Such is the promise proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah of one who would come to judge the poor with righteousness and with equity for the meek of the earth. (Is 11:1-9, NRSV). Such is the promise of the Gospels proclaiming that God is with us. This Advent, may we live into that promise with love toward one another.

    Prayer

    May you open our eyes that we might see you, O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

  • Advent Devotion – Tuesday December 18

    December 18, 2018 ~ Carolyn Matthews

    Tuesday, December 18, 2018

    Rev. Dr. Robert Stephen Reid is an Emeritus Director of Master of Communication program in Organizational Communication and Leadership, University of Dubuque, IA

     

    The End of Paul’s Story and Ours

    Scripture

    Acts 28: 23-31

    23 After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the Prophets. 24 Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. 25 So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,

    26 ‘Go to this people and say,
    You will indeed listen, but never understand,
    and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
    27 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and their ears are hard of hearing,
    and they have shut their eyes;
    so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
    and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.’

    28 Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” 30 He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.  (New Revised Standard Version – NRSV)
    Also see: Isaiah 11:1–9, Numbers 16:20–35

    Devotional

    Just mention changing voter ID laws and blood pressures will go on the rise. Trying to restrict and marginalize voters to favor one group over another gets our ire up. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome, awaiting trial for preaching a message that believer ID laws should make faith in God available to all rather than a select few. That was the message he gave his life to advance. We hear him speaking to the local Jewish leaders of the synagogue in Rome, urging them to grasp that both Moses and the Prophets saw that a day would come when the believer ID laws of the Kingdom of God would be forever changed. He shared with them that Jesus was the promised one, the “candidate” who forever changed the rules for who could be counted among the elect people of God. With the cross, the rule and reign of God was redistricted for the good of all humankind. Jewish leaders should no longer teach that God belongs to only one race. The salvation of God belongs to all who will listen and believe.

    Luke leaves the story there, but it doesn’t end there. Just as a biographer of John F. Kennedy ended his book with the presidential couple joining Governor Connally and his wife for the motorcade through Dallas, Luke’s readers knew what happened to Paul. Luke ends his story with the message that does not end: Paul’s Gospel of reconciliation with God—that all people, all classes, all races, all genders, all ages are welcome as God’s citizens. Thanks be to God.

    Prayer

    O God, may the story of our life be told, like that of Paul’s story, in how we made a difference in people’s lives. Help us this, Advent, to reflect not just our own end, but the end to which our lives are recreated each day as we commit the day to you in service that welcomes all whom we meet as people worthy to be citizens of your loving care.