Saturday, December 21

Luke 2:36-38

When someone I love dies, I always write a tribute to that person. I keep these remembrances to remind myself of the way that their lives have added grace to mine. These words become prayers of thanksgiving that I offer God for the blessing the person has been. I usually write about how their faith inspires me to live more fully. 

I never met the prophet Anna face-to-face, but she also inspires me to live fully. Maybe Luke had a practice of writing tributes, too. In these verses of his Gospel, he immortalizes her by name and acknowledges her long, faithful devotion to God. Three short verses speak volumes about this devout woman. She has loved and lost, living as a widow to age 84, which makes her vulnerable in her culture. Yet she lives out her days in the temple. She fills her hours by focusing on God through worship and service.

Anna’s devotion to the practice of fasting and constant prayer shows us what hoping for something with your whole being looks like. She longs for redemption and restoration and she sacrifices herself to pray for it. This prophet teaches us that when we become wholeheartedly committed to God’s promises, we are able to recognize them when they come to pass. 

What a gift Anna provides as she shows us what it means to place our hope in God. All that we need may be found in God’s promises. 

Consider

What are you hoping for? How do you cling to that hope faithfully and prayerfully?

Pray

God of hope, help us hear your words of promise. Let them guide us as we live in faithful prayer and service to you. Amen.

Friday, December 20

Luke 2:33-35

Mary and Joseph watch Simeon hold their not yet 2-month-old son in the temple, amazed at what was being said about him (v. 33). Life with a newborn is still a blur after forty days, and life with this newborn adds a unique dimension to parenting. These short verses give us a glimpse into how vulnerable the young couple must feel. What is it like for them to care for infant Jesus, knowing that all of history depends on his development? 

Simeon declares to Mary that Jesus will be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too (vv. 34-35). This is not a normal baby blessing. Don’t all parents want everyone to think the best of their children? Parenting Jesus will be both an astonishing joy and a painful responsibility.

Just as congregations blend joyful realities and sorrowful
experiences into the life of one community, Mary is learning that this blending will happen in her one heart as well. She has much to ponder. On the days when mothering is most difficult, does she replay this scene in the temple and remember the light in Simeon’s eyes when he saw Jesus for the first time? When she witnesses the crucifixion, does she recall Simeon’s voice from years past telling her that a sword would pierce her own soul too?

Embracing the gospel takes every part of our lives, and we learn as we go. We meet unexpected challenges and accept the forgiveness God offers when we fail. Like new parents, we lean into the gift of God’s amazing grace and we lean on God’s church, knowing that we don’t fully grow into God’s calling for our lives all by ourselves. 

Consider

What can we learn from Mary’s commitment to Jesus? 

Pray

Loving God, help us hear your invitation to join God’s work in our broken world. Help us say yes to you without fear, knowing that you are with us in the joy and sorrow of bringing your kingdom about on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

Thursday, December 19

Luke 2:25-32

Does God still surprise you? 

Every so often I sit back and say to myself, “This is my life, and I’m so thankful for that.” These moments spent reflecting on my journey usually leave me surprised by the events through which God has worked: preaching regularly in a church I dearly love, meeting and marrying my husband, finishing an online Master’s degree in dementia and aging. 

The awe I feel is never planned; it happens on quiet mornings over a cup of coffee or during my lunch break. 

These renewing times remind me of God’s persistent presence, which always invites us to step into new ways of receiving, offering, and becoming blessings. 

What about you? What delightful surprises do you find hidden in your daily living? 

How do you make time to notice God’s ever-present gifts? 

In our fast-paced busyness, I am drawn to Simeon, whose practice of slowly waiting to see God’s promises unfold lasts a lifetime. Here in the temple, a delightful surprise awaits him. Years of shaping his life to look for God culminates in this amazing meeting with Jesus. 

God’s love, that reveals itself through the infant Messiah to this elderly servant, invites us to follow Simeon’s example and make room in our days to notice when God’s surprising grace shows up.

Consider

In what spaces of your day do moments of holy wonder show up? How could you help others notice the unexpected blessings that wait for them?

Pray

God of wonder, teach me to slow down. Open my day to receive your surprising grace. Thank you for blessings that bring new assurance of your provision and care. Make me attentive to your transforming work in my life. Amen.

Wednesday, December 18

Ezra 3:10-13

I was 10 when I first learned that joy and sorrow could coexist within a faith community. The Sunday after a new baptistery had been completed in our church building, we witnessed three baptisms. Abundant joy flooded our worship space. We celebrated with Brazilian cheese bread and strong coffee. 

Later that week, my parents received a phone call from a family whose infant son had died. Our joy over the new things God was doing among us moved over to make room for the great sorrow. The family discussed funeral preparations and everyone offered comfort through food and other expressions of love. My sister and I wrote sympathy cards with crayons, attempting to assuage a grief we couldn’t understand. Sorrow and joy ebbed and flowed that week between pastoral visits to the grieving family and conversations with our newly baptized brothers and sisters. 

Ezra describes the mixture of emotions that the Jerusalem community experiences when the temple’s foundation is laid. Celebratory music plays as priests in colorful vestments praise God with the trumpet and others praise God with cymbals. Worshipers wholeheartedly sing of God’s steadfast love. Then, on the outskirts, those who remember the temple as it was feel the pain of that loss, pain so great that the rejoicing worshipers don’t fully understand it. Shouts of joy mingle with cries of anguish, and no one can distinguish the two. One thing is certain: everyone is lifting prayers to God. God is being worshiped. Whether we praise God with joyful song or summon God in quiet desperation, God draws near to all who worship. 

Consider

Whenever we worship as a community, participants bring their grief and their celebrations with them. Why is it important for all of us to remember this?

Pray

God, you are always with us. Help us to worship and to know and trust in your presence, no matter what season we’re in. Amen.

Tuesday, December 17

Ezra 3:1-9

“Here I raise my Ebenezer, 
Hither by Thy help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.”

“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” has always been a favorite of mine. When I learned that “Ebenezer” means “stone of help,” the song became even more important to me. When we sing it in worship, I remember the metaphorical stones of help where I have met with God. One of them is a kneeling bench from my ordination service, where a community who loves without bounds blessed me. 

Surely this altar that Ezra describes, which God’s newly freed people built, is a stone of help they remember for years to come. No longer strangers in a foreign land, God’s people gather in Jerusalem to raise this altar to the Lord. They set this Ebenezer on a foundation and begin the faithful practice of praying and burning offerings to God. I find it striking that they build the altar before they lay the foundation for the temple. This progression of events, from being released to rebuilding the temple to raising the altar, creates a beautiful drama. As they rebuild the temple, they also rebuild their lives. Hands that once rubbed their weary eyes after exhausting labor now light candles, dip bread into oil, and participate in worship.

Each day their resolve grows stronger. Their rich heritage of faith is fed through familiar rituals of worship. They are free from captivity, and liberated to worship. They live out their prayer before God’s altar, offering themselves to the Lord who redeems them. 

Consider

What stone of help has led you to worship God? 

Pray

Holy God, help me to worship in spirit and truth each day. With gratitude for what has been and strength for what’s to come, let me become a living prayer of hope and praise for you. Amen.

Monday, December 16

Ezra 1:5-11

I have a rosary that symbolizes a spiritual experience in my life. The Mixtec tribe of Vicente Guerrero, Baja California, Mexico made this rosary. Cut squares of abalone shell and round glass beads descend to a simple, silver crucifix. My rosary reminds me of the summers I spent traveling as a Spanish-language interpreter, serving with mission teams in beautiful Baja. It speaks to me of a continual calling on my life to seek justice and encourage the oppressed. 

In today’s passage, King Cyrus responds to his calling to let the oppressed go free. Not only does he release the captives to rebuild their temple, he releases to them the items taken from the temple during Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. These items represent their rich faith tradition and history. They reflect the ancestry of a chosen people who lived out their faith, and they remind the people of God’s continued calling on their lives. 

What must it have meant for them to see these objects that were once part of their ancestors’ worship? Did they offer thanks and tears of joy when they saw these reminders of their spiritual legacy, these holy emblems of the years of worship that had been lifted to God? 

With trembling hands, the recovering exiles restore these gold and silver vessels to their rightful purpose. They will speak to God’s people once again, reminding them of their continued calling. 

What tangible object has become a symbol for you of God’s purpose for your life? 

Consider

In this giving season, what could you offer someone you love to remind them of a spiritually enriching time in their life? 

Pray

Redeeming God, thank you for joyful reminders that you are my strength each day. Amen.

Sunday, December 15

Ezra 1:1-4

One day my father surprised me with a trip to see the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. The two ticket stubs I kept from that lovely experience remind me of the music’s power to stir our souls that day. 

God uses a variety of ways to stir our spirits and compel us to be part of the music that God is writing for the world. When I read that the LORD stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus and hear what happens next (v. 1), these first four verses in Ezra sound like a symphony to me. 

Rich with movement and meaning, this passage invites us into a soul-stirring story of hope. In the first movement, we listen to a calling and a commission. In his inaugural year as ruler of Persia, the Lord calls and commissions King Cyrus to build a house for God. 

Next, the king sends God’s people to rebuild the temple and offers a blessing: may their God be with them! (v. 3). Then he invites and instructs them to gather material gifts and offer them in worship. Ezra’s symphony swells with a hope and a promise that gives God’s people a new purpose.

This is a beautiful image of how God orchestrates kingdom work. A faithful leader heeds God’s direction, relieves the oppressed of heavy burdens, blesses them with a purpose, and leads them to worship. 

The spirit of the Lord that stirs King Cyrus to act also lives and moves within us. God calls us to be faithful leaders who heed God’s words, bring freedom and peace to the world around us, and act with love. 

When has God stirred up the spirit in you—and what happens when God does? 

Consider

What is your part in the symphony God is writing for the world?

Pray

Gracious God, use me in your symphony of hope. Stir my soul to play my part with love. Amen.

Saturday, December 14

Mark 1:1-4

My calendar has columns in which to list what I need to accomplish each day. In my case, a typical day might read as follows: write sermon, make sermon plans, visit the hospitalized, lead Bible study, consult with a staff minister, write pastor’s column. That’s all well and good. Making and checking off such lists helps organize my day.

The trick, though, is not confusing a to-do list with the purpose of each day. It’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring success by counting how many items I check off daily. Surely there’s a greater, overarching purpose to my life as a Christian.

Mark’s lead sentence helps me remember my purpose: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (v. 1). The first time I read Mark, I expected him to plunge directly into stories or commentary about Jesus. Instead, he references Isaiah’s promise of a messenger sent from God who will prepare the way for Jesus. The messenger is John.

Sometimes I imagine John making a to-do list: eat locusts and wild honey for breakfast, wear the camel-hair suit (don’t forget the leather belt), call sinners to repent, baptize those who respond. By the end of a typical day, John would have worked through all the items on his list.

But I think John knew the difference between the list he checked off and his all-encompassing purpose. Perhaps he defined the point of his life this way: “My purpose is to be the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ for those I encounter.” Everything else he did in a day, he undertook in support of that central reason for his existence. 

More and more I find myself hoping that I might be the beginning of the good news of Jesus for someone each day. That’s life purpose enough for me.

Consider

Do I approach each day with a sense of overriding purpose? What is my life purpose? Would I consider one similar to John the Baptist’s?

Pray

Lord, help me structure this day, and those that follow, with the purpose of being the beginning of someone’s experience of Christ’s good news. Amen.

Friday, December 13

Isaiah 40:27-31

Waiting on anyone, including God, does not come naturally to me.

When someone keeps me waiting, I start to fidget. I jiggle my right foot, tap out tunes with my fingers, squirm in my chair, or pace the room. I wear myself out. Sometimes I grow so weary while waiting that I have little energy left to expend when they show up.

I remember times in my life when I thought I saw clearly where I needed to go to serve God. I waited for God to show up, take me in tow, and deliver me to my desired location. I wore myself out spiritually, emotionally, and sometimes physically. I was a bit miffed when God failed to appear. Didn’t God know I was just the right person for the job? Had God lost sight of my path through life?

Of course, I was tempted to stop waiting on God and take matters into my own hands? But when I did so, nothing worked out. Frankly, I became discouraged and tired. I took a hard look at myself and decided I needed to back off and learn to wait on God.

Eventually, God opened a way into a ministry I never envisioned. In fact, I would never have sought out that ministry if left to my own devices. Much to my surprise, though, God filled me with a desire to take on the task, providing energy to do the work.

I learned, albeit slowly, that Isaiah was right when he wrote those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength (v. 31).

Consider

Can you name a time when you pushed hard toward a future you envisioned for yourself? Have you ever waited, instead, for God to lead you? Compare your experiences.

Pray

Lord, help me to embrace the discipline and promise of waiting on you. Amen.

Thursday, December 12

Isaiah 40:25-26

Do you ever feel as if God might have overlooked or even forgotten you? I know something about how that feels.

I remember lying in bed at night during my childhood, listening as my drunken father rampaged through our little house. The next day, sobered up, he seldom remembered anything about the previous night. I learned to tiptoe around the house, to avoid drawing attention to myself, and to take shelter in my bedroom behind a closed door. 

Sometimes I chose to believe God knew our situation and cared, but many times I felt forgotten by God. Later in life, I discovered that many people experience similar feelings. Though our circumstances and life histories vary, all of us testify to feeling forgotten by God. Decades later, we still bear scars from our experiences.

When I was in my mid-twenties, a woman visited the church I pastored. I paid a pastoral visit to her. After we sat down, she looked me in the eye and said, “You’re the child of an alcoholic, aren’t you?” This proved to be the beginning of my life-long healing process.

In addition to the psychological and behavioral elements, my healing brought a profound spiritual insight: God had never forgotten me. I looked back into my childhood and realized that adults outside my family had noticed me, deduced my situation, and tried to be there for me. The longer I pondered this, the more I concluded that God had sent them to me. God had not forgotten me.

Isaiah’s description of the God who creates, numbers, and recalls the names of each of the stars rings true for me. God always knew my name and found a way to reach into the darkness surrounding me, guiding me out and giving me a chance to become who God created me to be.

Consider

Do you feel forgotten by God? Why? Are you willing to try to look for the ways in which God might be reaching out to you?

Prayer

God, you never forgot or lost sight of your ancient people. Help me sense the ways in which you see and provide for me. Amen.