John 1:6-8, 19-28

John 1:6-8, 19-28
 
Those of us who live in community--particularly those of us who lead Christian communities--can all too easily fall into the trap of thinking it is up to us to be the heroic individual who rescues a community from whatever has befallen it. Today's reading reminds us vividly that just as John was not the Messiah, so too we are not. We can be, however, a voice crying out in the wilderness. We can be a voice for those who are suffering, a voice who cries out that there is a way to deep compassion and a voice who testifies to the illuminating path of radical love.
 
Spirit of God, rest upon us with the power that draws us through our arrogance and self-deception into the light of your love and the deep compassion of your mercy. Empower us to live into the questions that draw us ever more closely into your community, rather than seeking the answers that drive us apart. Amen.
 
 
John 1:6-8, 19-28 (NRSV)
 
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.
8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light...
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, "Who are you?"
20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, "I am not the Messiah."
21 And they asked him, "What then? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the prophet?" He answered, "No."
22 Then they said to him, "Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?"
23 He said, "I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, "Make straight the way of the Lord,' " as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.
25 They asked him, "Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?"
26 John answered them, "I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know,
27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal."
28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
Today's reading urges us to pray without ceasing and to always give thanks. Some days it is very hard to remember that we are called to "suffer with," to live in compassion. What can it mean to pray without ceasing in the midst of so much pain, despair and injustice? Those who labor to give birth know something of how much physical pain is involved in bringing a new child into the world. Perhaps our prayer for compassion, for "suffering with" in the midst of all the pain around us, can be a prayer for being opened to allow God's love to flow more freely into the world. In this time of Advent, as we remember again the waiting, the anticipation of the birth of our Messiah, we are invited to listen closely to prophetic speech.
 
Laboring God, help us to hear your voice in the prophetic speech around us. Draw us ever more closely into the peace to which you invite us, and help us to breathe through our own anguish as we seek to embody compassion in the world. Amen.
 
 
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NRSV)
 
16 Rejoice always,
17 pray without ceasing,
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
19 Do not quench the Spirit.
20 Do not despise the words of prophets,
21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good;
22 abstain from every form of evil.
23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.

Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55

Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55
 
Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a holiday celebrated throughout the world, and particularly in communities with active memories of and connections to indigenous communities. Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego in the 1500s on a mountain in what is now Mexico, bearing the clothing and symbols of indigenous people living in poverty. The miracles associated with her visitation have offered emancipatory hope and resilience to countless communities suffering deep injustice.
Here in Luke we have Mary's song as she greets Elizabeth, a song which echoes the song of Hannah in 1 Samuel. Both songs are clear reminders that God stands with those who suffer, and that suffering cannot endure in the face of God's deep love and mercy. They also remind us that God's infinite compassion extended to vulnerable and anguished women, drawing them into giving birth to infinite hope.
 
God, draw us out of our weeping and bring us into your joy; draw us out of our hunger for domination and into your radical love. Come to us in the darkness of our despair and doubt, and empower us to bear hope and love to all those who suffer. Amen.
 
 
Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55 (NRSV)
 
Psalm 126
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, "The Lord has done great things for them."
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
 
Luke 1:46b-55
46b..."My soul magnifies the Lord,
47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever."

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
This week we are drawn deeply into biblical texts that call us to radical compassion. A radical "com" "passio" which means, "suffering with." We are called to suffer with the world.
Some days it can feel like there is more suffering to go around than we can comprehend, let alone enter into. But God promises us that God's love is always there. God's love is an infinite source in which to root ourselves like oak trees, and through which to transform our anguish into a robe of justice. We can learn to be present to suffering; our own, other peoples' and all that is engulfing our worlds. In doing so, always remember in community that we are indeed bound into each other; we are not alone.
 
Spirit of God, draw us so deeply into your love that we lose our fear of each other. Nourish the seeds of your justice in our midst, and ignite our compassion for all of your creation. Amen.
 
 
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 (NRSV)
 
1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations...
8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

“Joy to the World,”

"Joy to the World," ELW 267
 
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let ev'ry heart prepare him room
and heav'n and nature sing,
and heav'n and nature sing,
and heav'n, and heav'n and nature sing.
 
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.
 
No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.
 
He rules the world with truth and grace
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.
 
What makes Christianity unique is the character of its ruler. Our ruler does not seek power over us or others. Our ruler does not hoard, cheat, spin the truth or conquer. Our ruler saves. It is a jarring image to sing that the "Savior reigns" at Christmas time. Our imaginations get pulled out from cooing over the baby and stretched to focus on the Ruler of the universe. We don't ever expect Rulers to save--or Saviors to rule. But with the birth of Jesus Christ, the world gets turned upside down. The Savior rules because grace will win the day in the end. Love does win. Love does trump hate. Because God is the act of pure love, God can save and rule. We are saved by love, by our ruler and in turn, Christian love can save those around us.
 
Lord, help us avoid the temptation of making you into an idol king. Your rule will save the world, but we often think our rule will do that too. Turn us back to you always. Amen.

“Joy to the World,”

"Joy to the World," ELW 267

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let ev'ry heart prepare him room
and heav'n and nature sing,
and heav'n and nature sing,
and heav'n, and heav'n and nature sing.

Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sin and sorrow grow
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.

"Joy to the World" is one of the few Christmas hymns that makes big assumptions. One of those assumptions is that Jesus Christ's birth is not just for humanity. Amid this world of violence and deep need, it is easy to narrow our focus on the good news of Jesus Christ as being for us--and only for us. But "Joy to the World" reminds us that nature is much, much older and often much wiser than we will ever be as a species. Nature knows the Savior. Nature knows the Savior in ways that we never can. Nature shares in God's glory in ways that we are often too busy to see. Yet this hymn invites us to "repeat the sounding joy" of the fields, floods, rocks, hills and plains. Christ's birth invites us to follow the lead of nature in praising his holy name.

Lord, you are pure joy. You rejoice in the natural world around us and without us. Please help us to stop taking for granted this beautiful place we call earth, our home. Amen.

I’m Dying to Know…

I'm Dying to Know...
by Joni
"Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."
Galatians 5:24
We use words in strange ways. Take the word dying. Your daughter in tenth grade says she's dying to know the football captain of the neighboring high school. Your son in Little League might be dying to meet the national baseball commissioner. Or perhaps you are dying to know what the loud quarrels next door are all about.
It's an exaggeration, to say the least. You're not really willing to kick the bucket in order to find out about your neighbor's problems, but there is one use of the expression that is no exaggeration at all. Are you dying to know the Lord?
The apostle Paul spoke of this when he said, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection...becoming like him in His death." Paul realized that in order to know Christ fully, it meant crucifying the old man. Mortifying his sinful nature with all its passions. Nailing worldly affections to the cross. Reckoning himself dead to sin and alive to God.
We say we want to know the Lord's love, to feel His favor, to experience His joy and peace. We want to know His presence and His smile. But could we say we are dying to know Him? If so, Jesus asks you to meet Him at the cross.
What does it take to know Jesus in an intimate and personal way? The Bible calls it being crucified with Christ, but you could call it "saying no to sin." Ask the Lord to give you His resurrection power and help you squelch anger, stifle gossip, and put a lid on those mind games.
The power of Your resurrection, Lord, is what I need when I say "no" to sin. Let me become like You in your death, crucifying every passion that displeases You. I want to know You. I am dying to know You.
 
Blessings,

Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8
 
John the Baptist will be forever marked by his diet and wardrobe: locusts, honey and a
camel-hair shirt. In the starkness of his lifestyle, we could easily forget that he says one of the most important things in the New Testament. Speaking of Jesus, he proclaims, "He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Even before Jesus begins his ministry, John the Baptist knows that Jesus' work will extend far beyond his brief life here on earth. John knows that Jesus' works involve the whole Trinitarian being of God. People like John the Baptist sometimes live on the margins. They sometimes don't quite manage to learn all the right social cues. They just sort of appear in our neighborhoods. Would you have let yourself be baptized by him? Yet, people on the margins are often the ones who understand Jesus' power the best. They often see the Spirit in ways the rest of us cannot.
 
God, who are the baptizers in my neighborhood? Help us to see those who continually prepare the way for Christ to come into our lives and our hearts. Amen.
 
 
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
 
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' "
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 He 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.
8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

Bold Love

Bold Love
by Joni
 
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.' So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly."
Luke 19:1-6
Why is it that Jesus singled out the little man in the sycamore tree, no one knows. But what is clear is this: The Lord stepped boldly into Zacchaeus's life. Out of the entire crowd, Jesus called him by name. He told Zacchaeus to scurry down from his perch. And the Lord not only invited Himself to his home, He hardly gave the little man time to think twice about it.
Some would say that Jesus was a bit bold to presume upon Zacchaeus. Telling a host he must open his home to you? Bold, yes. But it was the boldness of love. Jesus ensured that His command would be well received, for He inclined the heart of Zacchaeus to welcome Him.
The love of God is daring and courageous. But wait. When you consider that it's the Lord of the universe who steps up to the door of your heart and knocks for entrance, only a fool would refuse Him entry. Like Zacchaeus, Jesus invites Himself into your life, bringing His own joy and welcome. And just as He did with Zacchaeus, He tells you not to hesitate.
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).
I can learn something from Zacchaeus, Lord. I can throw open the door of my heart to You and say, "Welcome!"
 
Blessings,

Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8
 
The Gospel of Mark is considered the earliest gospel book. Mark's narrative is sparser than that of Matthew, Luke or John. It contains puzzling and awkward stories about Jesus and his disciples. The author of Mark anchored the account of the life of Jesus in the words of the prophet Isaiah so that its Jewish hearers could understand his noble heritage and his connection to Judaism. Mark even starts the story with the fact that fellow Judeans were flocking to John the Baptist to confess their sins and to get baptized. The author seems to be telling the audience, see, this is your people! This is a story for you! In this story we Christians today are bound to the Jews. Just as the words of Isaiah connected the Judean people to their ancient ancestors, so Mark's words connect us to our ancient Jewish forebears.
 
God, please help us prevent history from getting in the way of our family ties with the Jewish people and their struggles. You have chosen them and grafted us on. Thank you for the great gift of the Jews in our Christian tradition. Amen.
 
 
Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
 
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' "
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.
7 He 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.
8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."