I lead a little weekly Bible Study on Zoom and yesterday we had the story of the birth of Jesus from Luke Chapter 2. The Christmas story is a good one in which to ponder how we read Scripture since it is so familiar to us. After nearly a half century of studying Scripture for preaching I am still finding discoveries in texts that I thought were “settled.” The Christmas story is one such text.
Christmas gift giving should be a simple matter, but often isn’t. What gift to give? What gift will bring the person joy? How much should I spend? Continue reading
O God of wondrous grace and holy love, we give you thanks and praise that you entered into our world to share our messy humanity. In this holy season we are quick to speak and sing of your majesty, mystery, glory and might. Yet this season reminds us that you are not a distant God, but come close to us in Jesus Christ, your Word made flesh. He is Emmanuel, God with us, and in and through him you are with us in all the comings and goings, the beings and doings, of our days. Continue reading
The Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who many (among them me) consider the greatest Christian theologian of the Twentieth Century, never stopped being a pastor among the people. In his years as Professor in Basel, he frequently preached to the prisoners at the local prison. Those sermons and prayers are available in a fine little collection called “Deliverance to the Captives.”
Here is a prayer from Christmas, 1958, which to me, has a sad but profound resonance with our own time:
We remember before thee all darkness and suffering of our time; the manifold errors and misunderstandings whereby we human beings afflict one another; the harsh reality which so many must face without the benefit of comfort; the great dangers that hang over the world which does not know how to counter them. We remember the sick and the mentally ill, the needy, the refugees, the oppressed and the exploited, the children who have no good parents or no parents at all. We remember all those who are called on to help as much as men can help, the officials of our country and of all other countries, the judges and civil servants, the teachers and educators, the writers of books and newspapers, the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, the preachers of thy word in the various churches and congregations nearby and afar. We remember them all when we implore thee to let the light of Christmas shine brightly . . . so that they and we ourselves may be helped. We ask all this in the name of the Savior in whom thou hast already hearkened to our supplications and wilt do so again and again. Amen. (p. 143)
(Photo: R.L.Floyd, 2016)
Why “Wolves and Lambs”? Here’s a snippet by Quinn G. Caldwell from the Introduction:
We’re calling this year’s Advent Devotional “Wolves and Lambs” because we think that the image of a wolf and a lamb lying down together should be comforting, yes, even sweet.
But it should also be deeply unnerving.
As the first Christmas was. As this one will be, if Isaiah and God—and we—have anything to say about it.
The Miracle of Christmas
He came to earth that winter night
to share our human frame.
A choir of angels took to flight
to glorify his name.
Some shepherds in a field nearby
were summoned to his birth,
And heard the angels raise the cry
of peace upon the earth.
They went to where the babe did lay,
and found a manger bare.
Some sheep and oxen in the hay,
and Mary, Joseph, there.
O mysteries no eye has seen,
no human ear has heard,
That God should come to such a scene,
and we should call him Lord.
The world’s vast empires rise and fall,
great Caesar lost his claim,
But Mary’s babe is all in all,
and Jesus is his name.
© 2001 Richard L. Floyd
Suggested tune: “Winchester Old”
(Photo: “Adoration of the Shepherds” by Gerard van Honthorst)
My friend and former Pittsfield colleague Karen Gygax Rodriguez is the Pastor of the Federated Church of Green Lake, Wisconsin. On the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, the baby Jesus figurine was stolen from the church’s nativity scene.
The police investigated, but had no leads. They speculated that the thief was from outside Green Lake, since “everybody knows everybody here, and it would have been returned by now.” Continue reading
“Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’”—Genesis 28: 16
In Jacob’s dream he sees a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending it. He named the place Bethel, “the place of God.” The ancient Celts called such spots “thin places,” where the distance between heaven and earth collapses.
Thin places can be famous holy spots such as the Isle of Iona or the Cathedral de Notre Dame, but more often than not they are ordinary places, such as Bethel, or a dusty road on the way to Damascus.
You can search for thin places, but, as with Jacob, it is more likely that they will find you.
Such unexpected encounters with the Holy seem to happen in times of crisis: Jacob running away from home, Saul on his way to persecute the church.
Is it the place itself that allows for these glimpses of the advent of God? Or is it some special state of mind and heart? Either way there are times and places when the ordinarily reliable distinction between heaven and earth gets erased.
Even if we see no burning bush or ladder to heaven, nor hear the voice of Jesus, we are no less certain that we have come upon a thin place, and can say, as Jacob did, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”
Prayer: Keep us alive and alert, O God, in all places and times, that we may not miss the moments of your visitation.
(This is my daily devotional for today from “Wonder,” the United Church of Christ’s 2015 Advent Devotional booklet. Photo meme by Pilgrim Press)
On this Fourth Sunday of Advent my pastor picked this prayer from Karl Barth as part of the prayers of the people for this morning. Barth wrote it in the middle of the last century, but it struck me as eerily contemporary. It helped me sort out some of what I need to do to prepare for Christmas, and so in that spirit, I share it with you:
Lord, our God and Father, give to many, to all, and to us as well, that we may celebrate Christmas like this: that in complete thankfulness, utter humility and then complete joy and confidence we may come to the One whom you have sent, and in whom you yourself have come to us. Clean out the many things in us that now that the hour has come have become impossible for us, can no longer belong to us, may, must, and will fall away from us, by virtue of your Son, our Lord and Savior, entering into our midst and creating order.
Have mercy on all of those who either do not yet or do not fully know you and your kingdom, who perhaps once knew everything and have either forgotten, misunderstood or even denied it! Have mercy on all of humankind, who today are once again especially plagued, threatened and haunted by so much foolishness. Enlighten the thoughts of those in both the East and the West, the South and the North who are in power and who, as appears to be the case, are today in complete confusion and despair. Give the rulers and representatives of the people, the judges, teachers, and bureaucrats, give even the media in our homeland the insight and sobriety that are necessary for their responsible work. Place the right, necessary and helpful words on the lips of those who have to preach during this Christmas Season, and open then also the ears and hearts of those who hear them. Comfort and encourage those who are sick, both in body and spirit, in hospitals, as well as prisoners, and those who are distressed, abandoned or despairing. Help them with what alone can truly help them and all of us: the clarity of your Word and the quiet work of your Holy Spirit.
We thank you that we are permitted to know that we do not pray and will never pray to you in vain. We thank you that you have let your light rise, that it shines in the darkness, and that the darkness will not overcome it. We thank you that you are our God and that we may be called your people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
(Photo: R. L. Floyd, 2015)