Advent Devotionals 2020
Meditations written by members of our own parish
We have now survived many months of life in quarantine, and may feel frustrated, silenced, sad, or fearful about what the new year will bring. Advent is a time that reaches into our ancient past to remind us that in the midst of darkness, a child was born—Immanuel, God with us. In Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, we prepare for the birth of Jesus by immersing ourselves in the writings of Isaiah, Luke, Paul and others to find the hope, prophecy, peace, and love of God that grounds and sustains us whatever our circumstances.
You’re invited by the St. John’s community to walk with us through the journey of Advent. The meditations were written by parishioners who used the process of “deep reading” (lectio divina) to reflect on the daily Scriptures telling the Advent story (Sundays are excluded). May these meditations be as much a blessing to you who read them as they were to those who wrote them.
-The Rev. Jane Rohrer (retired)
StJ Advent Week 4
Wednesday, December 23rd
Luke 1: 29: “Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. “
This is the beginning of the annunciation story. Elizabeth’s pregnancy is mentioned briefly. Mary is introduced and has been promised to Joseph and is minding her own business when out of nowhere an angel shows up and announces that she, a virgin, will conceive a holy child. Mary agrees that this will happen.
For as long as I can remember I have loved Fra Angelico’s painting of the annunciation with its brilliant colors, especially the striking pink and gold. Mary is very solemn in this piece. The Mary I think of is a teen-age girl alone in her room when there is suddenly someone else there. Astonished and fearful would have been my reaction! And then to have something unbelievable told to me, I probably would have thought I was losing my mind or dreaming or something. Maybe the mention of her aging cousin Elizabeth’s pregnancy reassured her. I certainly wouldn’t have agreed to what the angel was suggesting. I think the paintings by Dante Gabrielle Rossetti or John William Waterhouse where Mary is visibly shaken and definitely young, or the painting by John Collier where Mary is surprised on the doorstep of her suburban home really shows what my reaction would have been. (If you are not familiar with these works, I urge you to look them up. They are beautiful, each in their own way.) Despite the social ramifications of being unmarried and pregnant, which could have gotten her killed, Mary said yes. The strength and faith of this young woman! It astounds me.
So what would you have done? Would you have taken this extraordinary event in stride? Would you have believed the angel?
Bay Le Sage
Ps. 72 Is. 28:9-22 Rev. 21:9-21 Luke 1:26-38
Tuesday, December 22nd
Rev. 20:11-12: “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it…And I saw the dead, small and great,
stand before God…and another book was opened…which is the book of life:
and the dead were judged out of those things…according to their works.”
Having spent most of my seventy-three years on the periphery of organized religion, you might think I could not expect to find my name in the book of life; that I’ve been indoctrinated enough about the process to think I know how it works, but NOT enough to know what I don’t know!
When I asked my dad why we did not attend church, he said to read the Bible and talk to God myself; that we do not need a ‘middleman’ between ourselves and God. It wasn’t until after my mother died and he married an adamant church goer, that he found himself warming a pew EVERY Sunday with his new wife on one side and me on the other—since by then I had become their driver and soon, all three of us were baptized in the pool at the front of the auditorium. Shortly thereafter, that minister was defrocked for illegal misconduct unbecoming a man of the cloth!
Sometime later, during an idyllic stay on the river I loved that bears my name, I was honored to be baptized again, on a sunny summer afternoon, in that river. It was glorious moment—akin to watching Father Lance baptize two young sisters in the beautiful water of Lake Washington.
My mother, a nurse, assisted with the first brain surgery at Kaiser-Permanente in wartime Oakland, California, occasionally driving an ambulance, like Hemingway. I dedicated my professional life to caring for hospice patients who wished to die at home, always feeling that my mother and I were doing God’s work; that He guided our hands and cradled our hearts when we were sure they were about to break.
A scholarly discussion of the Bible is impossible for me, easily stymied by quandaries like the placement of a comma in translated text (“Verily I say to you, today”…Or is it, “Verily I say to you today,” I go to prepare a place for you…The timeline implied is crucial.) But my heart whispers, none of this matters: not the defrocked minister, the particulars of biblical teachings, or those parishioners whose weekday behavior sometimes differs from their Sunday persona.
What matters is that God’s commandments are kept and we treat each other with the love and respect due a child of God because we are ALL God’s children. I want to take Occam’s razor and cut away all the sinister darkness, the brutal protesting and looting, all racism and evils too numerous to name here…I want to wake to each precious, blessed new day with gratitude for each breath, each creature comfort, the beauty in Nature. I strive to live simply, with humility, reverence, and eternal gratitude. I strive to be worthy of the redemption Jesus paid so dearly to give me and for the privilege of one day finding my name with yours and all those of ‘like precious faith’ in our Lord’s book of life. May peace be with us all.
Ps. 66, 67 Is. 11:10-16 Rev. 20:11-21:8 Luke 1:5-25
Monday, December 21st
Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Growing up in Bellevue I often got glimpses of the Cascades, the Olympics, Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier on my way to Sacred Heart School and later, Holy Names Academy in Seattle. Back then the mountains were covered in snow all year round, and as Perry Como sang, the sky was the bluest blue you’d ever seen and the hills the greenest green. Inspired by those mountains, my experience of God as Creator slowly morphed from the image of an old judgmental man with a beard seated on a throne with clouds all around to the Creative Presence. Jesus went from being a white, blue-eyed judge with an unfriendly look in his eye to being my Friend, my Advocate. The Spirit is now more than a dove. It is God’s Breath of Life which has descended upon all so that in God we live and move and have our being.
Our mountains remind me of the Power of God, the Presence of God, and the God-given Purpose of our lives: to realize we are beloved of God and we are to love like God. We are gifted by God’s grace to be a light to enlighten the world. The God of my understanding is the One-in-Three who created those magnificent and mighty mountains for our use and enjoyment and appointed us to be their caretakers. Each time you gaze upon those wondrous mountains to the north, south, east, and west remember that the power of the One-in-Three: our Creator, our Redeemer and our Life-Giver, is available to be your helper.
As our journey through Advent draws to a close, I encourage you to look back on this year of pandemic and ponder how God has been a helper and a source of strength. Although I endured 3 major surgeries, although my husband Steve was unemployed for 8 months, and although I am bereft of being in the presence of my family, God has been there for me. I could not have endured this year without the love, patience and forbearance of Christ as revealed to me through Steve. I could not have endured this year without the loving community of St. John’s Kirkland.
Who better to turn to? Where better to get help? Dear Brothers and Sisters-in Christ: our help comes from the Lord—the maker of heaven and earth!
Deacon Missy Couch
Ps. 23, 121 Job 42:1-6 1 Pet. 1:3-9 Jn. 14: 1-7
StJ Advent Week 3
Saturday, December 19th
Luke 3: 4-6 “As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: ‘A voice of one calling in the wilderness, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God ‘s salvation”.
Reading this made me think of the many ways that we can make roads straight and rough ways smooth. I recently read an account of my cousin finding a letter written to him by his father back in 1945. The captain, my uncle, had landed on Utah beach on June 8, fought in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. Near the end of the war he wrote a letter to his four-month-old son, not mailing it, but knowing it would be sent to him, should he perish. The letter remained in his possessions until it was discovered in 2019.
“… as a son grows up, his father’s advice to him usually is to be a good boy, but an analysis of that statement would result in identifying desirable character traits that are as fundamental as life itself: obedience, truthfulness, kindness, sincerity, tolerance, fruitfulness, and respect for other people’s rights. The golden rule must never be forgotten, Jeffrey. As soon as you can, acquire a true sense of values so that you can recognize the things that are really important in life…. Last and more important, learn to know God and learn to love and appreciate him for what he is and what he can do for you. Never let a day go by that you do not read a bit from the Bible and develop a faith that will carry you through anything. Never forget, you certainly need God“.
As a parent, this reinforces my belief that I can make the road straight to access a loving God, not only for me but for my children as well.
Ps. 55 Is. 10:20-27 Jude 17-25 Luke 3:1-9
Friday, December 18th
Matthew 11:6: “Blessed is he, whoever shall not be offended in me.”
In this passage John the Baptist, who has proclaimed the Messiahship of Jesus, is struggling to believe in the Kingship of Jesus. If this is the Savior, why wasn’t he using his omnipotent powers to release John from this prison cell? John knew the prophecies about Jesus’s mission, “Blessed be the Lord God who has raised up a horn of salvation that we should be saved from our enemies. (Luke 1: 68,71). Yet here was John, bound in a cold, damp prison cell by his enemies, wondering if Jesus truly was the One who was coming to right all wrongs or “should they look for another?” (Matthew 11:3.) The Lord answered John the same way He answered Job, reminding them of the mighty acts He had done. However, He didn’t answer why Job or why John were suffering. He just asked them to trust him. “Blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended by me.”
Looking back over the prayer journal I have kept for the past years, I have marked joyfully the many answers to prayer. However in the case of the death of a young family member and the divorce of people in the family which seriously impacted teenage children, God did not answer prayer in the manner I had fervently prayed, despite Bible promises about prayer, such as “All things, whatsoever you shall ask in prayer, believing, you shall receive.” (Matthew 21:22)
I found myself wondering, “does prayer work?”
However, God asks us just to trust Him. I feel that He is saying to Job, to John and to me, “I have all power. It is not through lack of willingness or power that I don't answer some prayers. Trust me, even if I don’t answer prayers the way you were hoping. There are divine reasons that you don’t know about yet.
One of my favorite phrases to live by is attributed to C.S. Lewis, “All that I know about God makes me trust Him for all I don’t know about God.” Faith is trusting God even when we don’t understand His plan.
Ps. 40, 54 Is. 10:5-19 2 Pet. 2:17-22 Mt. 11:2-15
Thursday, December 17th
Matthew 3: 3: “This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”(Is. 40:3)
Although the birth of Christ is described in only two Gospels, all four Gospels contain references to John the Baptist and his relationship to Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all link John to words from the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” Isaiah’s prophecy was made about 600 years before as a hopeful promise that the Lord would create a road through the desert to bring the exiled people of Judah back to their homeland. For the Gospel writers in the time of Christ, this ancient prophecy identified the mission of John the Baptist: to call the people to prepare for the Lord’s coming, through confession, repentance, and baptism. John singles out the Pharisees and the Sadducees particularly for assuming that they could be baptized simply because they are children of Abraham, without demonstrating a change of heart and “bearing fruit worthy of repentance.”
In Antiquities, the historian Josephus acknowledges the respect and reputation of John, not only as the forerunner of Christ, but as a prophet in his own right, comparing him to the prophet Elijah. Josephus remarks that John was killed because of his unwavering boldness in speaking the truth, not caring how politically correct he was. The English word “prophet” comes from the Greek word prophetes, which means “one who speaks forth” or “advocate.”
I have had the sometimes painful privilege of friends and family who speak with a prophetic voice, saying things that I may not like to hear, but that are in my best interest to know. At a low stakes level, this is the kind of friend who, speaking the truth in love, points out the food stuck between your teeth, or doesn’t pull any punches when you ask, “How do I look?” before a special occasion. At a high stakes level, speaking the truth in love, they confront their friends when they see signs of harmful excess: that they’re drinking (eating, gambling, etc.) too much; not doing some things that they should be doing (exercising, taking their medication, wearing a mask, keeping social distance); or they’re making important decisions based on values that don’t fit with the person they are or want to be.
In my daughter Lisa’s final letter to her family, she advised them to “live loudly.” She herself was outspoken, speaking out boldly to advocate for children whose special needs influenced their ability to learn within a typical classroom setting. She lived and loved life fiercely, her intensity forcing others to examine their own lives and beliefs. She made us take another look at the straightness and destination of our paths.
What brings out your prophetic voice?
The Rev. Jane Rohrer (retired)
Ps. 50 Is. 9:18-10:4 2 Pet. 2:10b-16 Mt. 3:1-12
Wednesday, December 16th
Mark 1:7: [John] proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me;
I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.”
Sometimes I think God must be playing tricks on me. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been assigned the readings that I got for today. Have you read all four of them?
It’s been a hard year for just about everybody. I’m really longing for Mary’s Magnificat, or Elizabeth’s miraculous post-menopausal pregnancy, or maybe Joseph’s amazing revelatory dreams. But no. Psalm 119 is going on about “cords of the wicked” and “fat and gross hearts.” Into the mix, Peter adds licentiousness (had to look that one up), depraved lust, and angels cast into hell. And Isaiah – sounds like a whole lot of smiting is planned with an alphabet soup of nations. I missed the Prince of Peace text by one day. Rats. The world looks like a mess. Even the angels in heaven aren’t stacking up.
The readings are really challenging, but at least we have our Gospel reading. It’s not very long, and Mark is skimpy on details, but he dives right in and says he has good news. He gives us a quick introduction of John the baptizer with his itchy clothes and weird diet. No birth story; just cuts straight to the chase. John is drawing crowds from all over. Jews are coming to hear him. We know from Luke that Romans are also in the audience. It’s a simple message, but it’s resonating. John says: Repent, be baptized, get ready. If you think I’m worth hearing, wait until you see what’s coming next.
I’m trying to make out what the baptizer is telling me, and what he’s not telling me. He’s not waving his arms and making my problems go away. The world is still a mess. People still have fat hearts, there’s still lust around, nations are trying to smite each other, and angels are still falling, for all I know. But what I can do is get my own house in order. Repentance – I guess that’s not just for the licentious people; there are things in my own life to turn around. Baptized? I did that, but a review of the baptismal vows might be in order. I’m ready for some good news. I want to be ready for Jesus to show up.
Ps. 119: 49-72 Is. 9:8-17 2Pet. 2:1-10a Mk. 1:1-8
Tuesday, December 15th
Isaiah 9:2: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned."
The history behind this passage is that the house of Judah is under military threat from Assyria and the people live in fear. King Ahaz has rejected God's counsel and the prophecy is that there will be an era of war with devastation, destruction, and despair. The people who have not put their trust in God will be walking in darkness.
Enter the prophet Isaiah with his focus on justice, bringing good news in the prophecy that there will come a just king who will end the oppression and reestablish prosperity. It's a reminder to the people that in the midst of the darkness of their defeat by Assyria, there is the promise of hope and light, even to those who have rejected God. This particular verse becomes the prelude for the lovely poetry of the promise that God will fulfill God's covenant to David, which we hear sung annually in Handel's Messiah.
The promise of emerging from darkness to light is at the heart of our faith. Similar to the people of Judah, we daily walk in lives of emotional and spiritual darkness, yearning for an end to our despair, emptiness and suffering, while anxiously wondering if there will be relief and justice for ourselves and our neighbor. The darkness shadows death and can be miserably oppressive. In it we are lost, blinded, not even knowing what it is we're not seeing. We have our ways of wandering away and maintaining distance from God that keep us in the darkness. But Isaiah's words are for us, too, that "a light has dawned" and shines with hope for healing, reconciliation, and peace, even in our own rejecting hearts.
During Advent we become especially mindful of waiting anew for the arrival of our hope and light in Jesus. But the image of this being only about the Christmas Jesus restricts the full, bust-into-the-darkness salvation and resurrection impact of the verse. When I think of walking in darkness, my mind goes readily to Holy Week, which culminates in the light proclaiming victory over darkness and death. I hear the words of Isaiah and see and await the Jesus of Christmas and Easter and the Final Coming of Christ the King, who will come in loving, just and merciful glory.
Every day we are walking in the darkness of our own beings and the world around us, but every moment the light has come, is coming, and will come again. Are we letting it in?
Ps. 45 Is. 9:1-7 2 Pet. 2:12-21 Luke 22:54-69
Monday, December 14th
Luke 22:42: “Father if you are willing, take this cup from me, yet not my will, but yours be done.”
How many times have we, too, said this prayer? For myself, multiple times. Sometimes because it was the right thing to do, or I was in a situation of desperation—sometimes with wrong motive of heart, and at best of times in sincere clarity of heart.
Surrender is a word loaded with emotional reaction for most of us. It’s an unfathomable mystery in my spiritual journey to grasp: that Jesus loves us that deeply to have given his will, which meant surrender to death on the cross.
I have, like you I assume, been called to let go of something, someone or situation, etc. that felt so heart wrenching I thought a part of me was dying. And wow! How I’ve failed at times to do so and needed more pain to get to that depth of willingness to let go and let God’s will be done. Yet always, always, God has guided and given me His mercy and grace to do so—generally only after some soul and spiritual searching. Finally, I choose surrender, a willful acceptance and letting go.
Remember past times when you surrendered to God’s will? I’m forever grateful that the God of my understanding gives me the choice of His will, not mine be done. So, just for today, what choices are you being called to surrender?
Donna Rae Cotton
Ps. 41,52 Is. 8:16-9:1 2 Pet. 1:1-11 Luke 22:39-53
StJ Advent Week 2
Saturday, December 12th
Isaiah 8: 13a: “The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy …”
God called Isaiah to be a prophet when Isaiah was young. At the time these words were written, he was again called to serve as a prophet because the Israelites had lost their way. Nations around Israel were building alliances to invade and divvy up the country. Even leaders among the Jews were jockeying for position, figuring out how they could emerge in power when enemy armies invaded. The descendants of Jacob had forgotten the special role they had in God’s plan. Worse, they had forgotten that their covenant relationship with God was based on their faithfulness to him.
The situation that Isaiah describes has much in common with what is going on in the present time with churches closed, travel restricted, and rumors flying. Everywhere we turn, someone has advice to give or a plan to follow or a conspiracy to warn you about.
In verse 17, Isaiah writes: “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, I will put my trust in him.” In verse 18, he writes: “Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” Those of you following in your Bibles need only look a few verses ahead to find the familiar words of Advent telling of the birth of a savior (Isaiah 9: 1-2). We are called to stop trying to understand a secular world based on tweets, texts and TV ads but to look to the future for God’s plan for us. Take heart: the good news is found in God’s Word, not the evening news.
John D. Putnam
Ps. 30,3 2 Is. 8:1-15 2 Thes. 3:6-18 Luke 22:3-38
Friday, December 11th
Isaiah 7:14-15: “The Lord himself will give you a sign.
Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Immanuel.
He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.”
I love to read Isaiah’s prophecies during Advent. As I de-clutter my closet (yes, my real one) and as I try to de-clutter my heart and mind of fear and worry, Isaiah’s words help me. I repeat to myself “It’s gonna be OK.” I believe the prophet’s words. I await the arrival of a son named Immanuel. I am anticipating our Christmas Eve service at St. John’s this year. It will be joyful: a modern Bethlehem. We will celebrate the story of Jesus’s birth. Maybe with snowflakes!
Along with such good news, Isaiah exhorts me to refuse evil and choose the good. So many troubles have befallen us in 2020. Last year, as I was writing my Advent meditation, I could not have imagined so much tumult, not in my wildest dreams. It’s easy to place blame, to call out in anger those we disagree with. The situations of the pandemic, political division and social injustice are becoming clearer to me. I must choose the good path towards healing and forgiveness.
Isaiah talks about the land of curds and honey. A land of abundance. He speaks of the fly and the bee who seed and pollinate the land. I am reminded that there will be enough. Enough milk and honey. But more importantly, enough goodness to feed our faith in God, in a son named Immanuel, in Jesus.
Ps. 31 Is. 7:10-25 2 Thes. 2:13-3:5 Luke 22:14-30
Thursday, December 10th
Luke 22:2-3: “The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death,
for they were afraid of the people. The Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve.”
Chapter 22 begins ominously: “The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.” Even those in authority feared the power of Jesus’ influence on the people.
The crisis rises: “Satan entered into Judas” and empowered him to deal with the chief priests and temple police. Judas begins to scheme: he finds accomplices and waits for an opportunity to betray Jesus when he is vulnerable. When the time comes to prepare to observe Passover, Jesus sends Peter and James ahead to meet a stranger who will direct them to a room reserved for them.
Our awareness gradually grows, our sense of danger deepens. The stage is set for Jesus’ mysterious announcement in the following passage that He is to suffer. And there the Gospel reading drops us off.
I can’t get beyond the menace in these short passages. What a dark time, much like waiting in dread for more news of Covid!
However, there is the gift of comfort and reassurance in Psalm 37 in this set of readings. The psalmist bids us trust in the Lord and advises us not to “fret . . . over those who carry out evil . . . for the wicked shall be cut off “and . . .the Lord upholds the righteous."
Ps. 37:1-18 Is. 7:1-9 2 Thes. 2:1-12 Luke 22:1-13
Wednesday, December 9th
John 8:7: “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’”
The gospel reading for today is the story of the woman taken in adultery. The scribes and Pharisees brought her to Jesus, quoted the law, and asked him what should be done. They assumed he would want to show her mercy, since he had a reputation of associating with tax collectors and sinners, and they did this to entrap him in order to accuse him of breaking the law. Jesus said nothing, but wrote in the sand, and when they persisted in questioning him, he said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” They all left and Jesus asked the woman if anyone had condemned her; she said no and he said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”
I remember reading, 45 years ago, about an experience that an Orthodox Jew had reading this account. The man was reading the gospels and trying to understand Jesus, the way he thought and ministered to people. When he came to this story, he stopped reading before Jesus answered the Pharisees, so he could think about how Jesus might answer and come up with an answer himself. He couldn’t come up with an answer, and he concluded that Jesus couldn’t possibly answer that question without either condemning the woman, which would be a violation of his character, or breaking Jewish law, which would have given the scribes and Pharisees a legal charge against him. When he read Jesus’ answer, he was astounded and believed it could have only come from God. When I think about this, I have to agree; that was clearly God’s answer.
During this time of extreme division, I find that I want to point the finger and be angry and judgmental about attitudes and actions that I believe are wrong and destructive. It is very healthy for me to be reminded that I fall short as well; who am I to point the finger and condemn others. Jesus neither condemned the woman nor condoned her sin; rather he told her to stop that behavior. I think that when we are provoked into judging others, we should use that desire as motivation to look at our own shortcomings and change our own behavior.
Ps. 38 Is. 6:1-13 2 Thes. 1:1-12 Jn. 7:53-8:11
Tuesday, December 8th
1 Thessalonians 5: 16 -18 “Rejoice always, pray continually,
give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."
Paul had a lot to say in his short letter to the congregation of Christians in Thessalonica, composed by him about 2000 years ago. He'd heard from his friend Timothy that there was some grumbling going on in that church, so Paul was trying to straighten things out. He reminded them that Christ could return at any time "like a thief in the night," so they better be on their best behavior always. This includes being kind, supporting each other and, as expressed in the verses above, practicing gratitude.
Paul may not have known about the scientific support for the transformative power of gratitude, but he had no doubt that God wants us to practice it by rejoicing, praying and giving thanks all the time, continuously and every day. Paul was onto something. We know now from scientific studies in psychology and neuroscience that expressing gratitude can change the mind to help us become happier people. And a happy person is better able to love God and neighbor in all situations.
We know now that gratitude is one of the strongest human emotions, akin to the power of love. And we know now that the ability to feel and express gratitude comes naturally to some, but for some of us it must be learned, just as we learn to identify and express love. This can be done, as Paul suggests, by rejoicing in small things, by giving prayers of thanks, and by simply remembering to say, "thank you". One helpful way to become filled with gratitude is to recite three things each day that you are thankful for. You will find, as Paul suggests and science supports, that your mind will be transformed and your love for God and others will expand.
What are you thankful for today?
Ps. 26,28 Is. 5:13-17, 24-25 1 Thes. 5:12-28 Luke 21:29-38
Monday, December 7th
Psalm 25:4-5: "LORD, show me your ways.
Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth.
Teach me, because you are the God that saves me.
I hope in you all the day long."
In this psalm/song, David offers a plea to God for protection and guidance. David is perhaps alone and afraid and is asking the Lord to lead him and teach him His way and His truth. Another way to say these words "Lord, show me your ways," is “Our Father .... thy will be done." These are familiar words and it is a wonderful prayer --- to trust in God and accept His will. It’s hard to mess up when we are asking God for His help.
There are many times in daily life that I may feel confused about what to do next or frightened of my enemies. (An enemy may be invisible, such as temptation to do wrong, or fear of the deadly pestilence , like Covid 19.) I am encouraged by this scripture, knowing that if I can memorize these words, I will have a powerful tool to help me through the valleys of darkness, and it will be a great comfort to me and guide my paths. Psalms were designed to be sung and I might just sing this to a classical tune or popular melody.
It is interesting to note that this prayer of David is written in the form of an “acrostic,” using the Hebrew alphabet as a pattern. In this acrostic psalm, verse 1 begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Verse 2 begins with the second letter and so on. This method obviously takes more effort, so it is an offering of Love to our Lord. One theory is that this method was used to assist the memory, and the Holy Spirit may have used it to show us that the grace of poetry is pleasing to our Lord.
Another interesting observation in Psalm 25 is the use of parallelism. Parallelism is the expression of one idea in two or more different ways. For example, “Show me your ways,” is parallel to “Teach me your paths.”
I hope you will be encouraged to memorize this verse and see if it changes your life, in bad times and in good. Once the verse is firmly set in your memory, you will experience a gift that keeps on giving.
Ps. 25 Is. 5:8-12, 18-23 1 Thes. 5:1-11 Luke 21:20-28
StJ Advent Week 1
Saturday, December 5th
Luke 21:4: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth;
but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13-14: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.”
This year, 2,020 years after the birth of our Lord, has been very challenging. When we did our reflections earlier in the year, we were in the beginning of a major pandemic that would impact our lives in ways many of us could never have imagined. Many of us also thought, mistakenly as it turned out, that it would all be over and we would once again be able to gather with family and friends and things would go back to “normal”. Now we know that there needs to be a new normal and that our world is forever changed, much like how the world changed with the coming of Jesus and his teachings; it will not be an easy transition any more than it was back then.
Many of us have experienced loss this year in one way or another or known someone who has—some from COVID-19, some from cancer or accidents or suicide, some from violence. We have seen the numbers rise from those who have tested positive for the virus and those who have died from the Coronavirus. We have felt the anger and frustration of those who have lost loved ones to violence, especially against people of color by law enforcement. We stand, march, support and mourn with them as they desperately strive for acknowledgement of the inequality they face, and their demands for justice.
The one thing we all have in the midst of all this chaos is hope, the same hope that Jesus’ disciples had when their world was changing. We also have the benefit of their experience and a guide in the word of God. We also are not uninformed- we know that those we love, who “sleep in death,” are with Christ and when he returns, they will be with him and we will be reunited. Our loss is temporary but our future is secure in knowing that we will live forever in Jesus. Life goes on and we humans have a way of adapting to change; but we also need to remember those who are no longer with us, as we remember through the “Say Their Names” Memorial. We are called to take a stand for those who no longer have a voice, to take a stand for justice and peace. Jesus didn’t come with a sword but with love, acceptance, patience and kindness—those are our weapons to effect change and we must continue to use them at every opportunity.
We are not uninformed, we have hope, we have the grace and mercy of our Lord and Savior forever. Let us go into the world, remembering those who sleep and stand for those without a voice with justice, mercy and peace.
Ps. 20, 21:1-7 Is. 4:2-6 1 Thes.4:13-18 Luke 21:5-19
Friday, December 4th
Luke 21:4: “All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth;
but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
The story of the poor widow’s offering is at the end of several confrontations between Jesus and the chief priests as Jesus teaches in the Temple courts. While the people are still listening to him, he warns them to beware of those who flaunt their power and authority by seeking the best seats in the synagogue and the places of honor at banquet halls. He watches the rich put their gifts in the Temple treasury out of their abundance. When the poor widow puts in her two copper coins, Jesus praises her because she has given all she has to live on.
Have you ever wondered if what you give is enough? I sometimes think that something I have offered is insignificant and really doesn’t make a difference. Today, I think about the small insignificant act of wearing a face mask out in public. Such a small act has such big consequences for our well-being. Little choices matter. Every day we can make choices for healing our divisions, lightening someone else’s load, and promoting peace and justice. Every day we can give just a little bit more than we did the day before.
This widow gave all she had to live on. I sat with this thought. I know there are times when I give a lot, but I have never given everything I have. There are also times when I withdraw or hold back out of fear. So today, in this time of uncertainty, division, abundance and poverty, I open my coin filled hands to God and ask that I may grow in generosity, in kindness, in seeking the common good, not my selfish desires. I wait in hope for the coming of Jesus, the one who gave everything he had so that we may have life.
Ps. 16, 17 Is. 3:8-15 1 Thes. 4:1-12 Luke 20:41-21:4
Thursday, December 3rd
Psalm 18:6: “In my distress, I call to the Lord. I cried to my God for help.
From his temple, he heard my voice and my cry came before him, into his ears.”
This psalm is a song of gratitude. David sang this to the Lord when the Lord delivered him “from his enemies and from the hands of Saul.” The Lord answered his cry. We feel David’s awed relief through the dramatic images that he uses to convey God’s response, rivaling any modern Marvel super-hero film: smoke and fire from his mouth and nostrils, thunder, lightning, quaking earth, hailstones, coals of fire, bowing the heavens to come down, riding a cherub, drawing David out of the mighty waters into a broad place.
Because I hold God to be omnipresent in my life, the part of this passage that resonates with me is David’s cry for help and his relief at knowing God was listening for his voice. As a teacher conducting online classes with ten year olds, I often wonder if I am being heard and if I am hearing them. Because students are not required to turn on their cameras and at ten are beginning to feel self-conscious about their looks, they often have their videos off to avoid seeing their images on-screen. With the delay in microphones and no visual cues, there are many questions I end up answering myself in the deafening silence, sounding like the teacher in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, saying, “Anyone? Anyone?”
The infinite comfort for me in this verse is that God is listening for me, too. And while my cry might not cause 4th graders to turn on their video, eliminate hardships that inevitably come from being alive or prevent those whom we love from dying, just knowing I can unburden myself by railing against what I don’t like and asking for help allows me to take a breath and breathe.
Perhaps one call from this verse, in this double-pandemic of COVID and racism that we are living in, is to acknowledge there are many voices who haven’t been heard in our culture. While we might be slower on the uptake than God was when responding to David, I wonder if this verse can help us to listen and take action. We need to hear not only the voices that tell us what is happening and what needs to be done, but the plaintive voices that are quieter and might get missed because we don’t give them the attention and respect they are due. As I recognize I am still learning to listen to others, there is great relief and comfort to me that God is listening to all whom I can’t and hears all that I share.
Ps. 18:1-20 Is. 2:12-22 1 Thes. 3:1-13 Luke 20:27-40
Wednesday, December 2nd
Psalm 119:1: “How blessed and favored by God are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the Law.”
Readings for this date are from Psalms, Isaiah, 1 Thessalonians and Luke. After reading each one, I chose the Psalm. It occurred to me that it’s been a long time since I’ve studied a Psalm. I know that the Psalms can teach us how to pray, deal with grief, rejoice, and worship God for his multiple blessings. I wanted strongly to explore how God worked with his people, David and the Israelites. I found in the Amplified Study Bible that within Psalm 119, “eight words were used to describe God’s Law. They occur over and over: law, testimonies, promise, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments and Word. These words elaborate the application of the Law of God to daily life and to Israel’s destiny . . . They are God’s “instructions” or “directions.” The Law was never designed as a means of salvation. No one could be saved by keeping it. Instead, the law was the means for the Israelites to learn how to live as God’s holy people. The psalmists consistently described the law of God as a “great blessing,” for it was His gracious revelation to His people for their own good. In the law, God mercifully pointed out the right paths to follow. Psalm 119 is a prayer for all who find delight in God’s commands.
I smiled and teared as I read Psalm 119, because it reminded me of how I was abundantly “blessed and favored by God” when I gave Jesus my need for getting millions of dollars for funding and God’s guidance for a program called “Reconnecting Youth.” This is a prevention program for youth at-risk for drug involvement and poor school life; many also are seriously depressed and/or have suicidal behavior. God has been in charge of the program since 1990; it started in Seattle and now has been used by thousands of teachers of youth throughout the world. God blessed and favored the team and put us on God’s blameless way. Reading this psalm made me praise God again for how he helped me.
Psalms teach us how to pray, grieve, rejoice, and worship. Christians who make building a relationship with God a priority, in his or her life, will find great spiritual nourishment in the Psalms. It is the prayer book for all who believe in the God of the universe. Jesus used it as such, and so should we. I invite you to spend some time with God through the Psalms!
Ps. 119:1-24 Is. 2:1-11 1 Thes. 2:13-20 Luke 20:29-26
Tuesday, December 1st
Psalm 6:3-4: “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?
Turn, Lord, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.”
The psalmist, King David, wrote this song of lamentation during a time of great personal grief and suffering. The circumstances which produced his lament are uncertain, but he seems to have endured a great loss as well as physical and spiritual sickness. David admits his helplessness and feelings of unworthiness, but feels confident in God’s healing and redemptive love. He has less faith in his own patience, and calls on God to return and heal him.
These verses connect me to David’s despair as I experience my own fear and isolation. The specter of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the lives and livelihood of those I love. There is no way to hold and comfort one another, as we are separated by masks and social distancing. Both the pandemic and the fracturing of our political system threaten our well-being as a nation. Every day I think, “How long, Lord, how long?” How long can I retain my optimism, how long can I speak cheerfully to those around me? How long can I go without spending time with my friends and my children, being refreshed and renewed by these loving relationships? Zoom and FaceTime just aren’t adequate solace for my longing. But every day I turn to God and pray for strength, and I feel God’s love renewing my energy for the long slog I know is ahead of us.
Sometimes, in the midst of crisis, we lose hope, and cannot see God through our tears. The season of Advent is a time of renewed hope and expectant waiting. It gives us time to reflect on God’s abundant blessings, and to anticipate the celebration of our salvation in the birth of Jesus Christ. I believe that our call this Advent is to find the special blessings that our current situation has brought and can bring to us. For me, one blessing has been the opportunity to engage with other parishioners in daily Morning and Evening Prayers. When our isolation is finally over, we will have the blessing of appreciating the little connections we can make with others. Hope is the light of God shining in the darkness, leading us out of despair into redemption and eternal life. Christ tells us that he is with us always, so we must have faith that God is present even in the midst of our sadness. God will also be present in our joy.
Ps. 5,6 Is. 1:21-31 1 Thes. 1:1-12 Luke 20:9-18
Monday, November 30th
Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed.”
It is the second day of Advent and the beginning of this meditation guide and, as we prepare for Christ’s birth in a manger, the Advent readings also focus on Christ’s life, his teachings and his death and resurrection. While anxiously awaiting the celebration of Jesus’ birth, we are reminded that we also need to be vigilant in preparing for His second coming. It is this dichotomy between Christ’s birth and His return that makes Advent such a special season.
One of the lessons for today is from Isaiah. Yahweh speaks to Jerusalem’s leaders as if they were rulers of Sodom or the people of Gomorrah – two cities that God had destroyed because of their wickedness. Jerusalem, spared its demise because of the grace of Yahweh, is just as wicked. Rather than turning from its wicked ways, Jerusalem tried to placate God through burnt offerings, incense, New Moon feasts and festivals. God forcefully rejected these efforts because of Jerusalem’s total lack of contrition: “The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” (Verse 11); “Stop bringing me meaningless offerings!” (13); “Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being.” (14); ‘Even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood!” (15) The Lord tells them to stop doing wrong: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” (17) If they were to do so, if they were to repent and change their ways, they would receive cleansing and forgiveness.
So how does this lesson impact each of us during this unique and challenging Advent season—at a time when it is imperative to try and stay healthy and keep others healthy? Thanksgiving just was not the same for us, and was even more different for many others; Christmas will very likely not be the same either. While we “await” the coming of Christ’s birth and prepare for Christ’s second coming, we are reminded that we must turn to God from our own ‘idols.’ We need to focus on the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection. We need to look for ways to stop doing those things that separate us from Christ and rather take steps to draw closer to Him. And as we do so, we are called upon to “learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” We can do that through gifts and charitable work, through helping those who lack the basic necessities of life. But we can also do it with a kind word, a telephone call, a card written, a personal visit, a shared meal, and many other ways. Advent is a good time to begin or to continue these practices.
Ps. 1,2,3 Is. 1:10-20 1 Thes.1:1-10 Luke 20:1-8