Isaiah 40:1-11

Isaiah 40:1-11
God's first words to the newly-freed nation of Israel are those of comfort. "I will take care of you in your freedom," God says. Even today, as free as we are in America, we rarely heed God's call. We try to build up so much in our search for eternity: our fortunes, our houses, our legacies. And yet God reminds us that all people are grass. All people are flowers. Our kingdoms will wither and fade. And yet God, the One who sees us, the One who saw all those who came before us and the One who will see all those who come after us, stoops down to inspect us like a gentle gardener inspecting tender plants, grasses and tiny blossoms. The gardener wants to comfort us, for we are not too tiny or ephemeral for God.
 
Lord, thank you for your holy comfort. Your word stands forever. Help us grow peacefully in your beautiful garden. Amen.
 
 
Isaiah 40:1-11 (NRSV)
 
1 Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord's hand double for all her sins.
3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."
6 A voice says, "Cry out!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.
9 Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings, lift it up, do not fear; say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
10 See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.
11 He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

“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.

When I was in grade school, my brother and I couldn't wait to sing "Joy to the World." Every time we came to the refrain, we used to stomp our feet to the rhythm:
"And heaven and nature sing" (stomp, stomp), "and heaven and nature sing" (stomp, stomp). Our parents would glare, our baby sister would laugh. It was great. Stomp, stomp, a kid's foot signaling the joy of Jesus' birth. We signaled the fun and laughter of the season, the excitement it cooked up in us. We loved the presents! The lights! Our family! The candles! The cookies! Why not? God fills this earth--the heavens and the earth-- with so much pleasure and beauty that it's hard not to burst out laughing. The heavens and earth burst with laughter and with glee at the birth of our Lord. So do we.

Your birth, dear Lord Jesus Christ, is our new birth. Thank you for this special place called earth where we can be filled and celebrate your life. Amen.

Amy

“All Thing” As Defined by Paul

"All Thing" As Defined by Paul
by Joni
 
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."
Romans 8:28
Have you ever wondered what are the "all things" the apostle Paul is talking about? In 2 Corinthians chapter 11, he lists a few of the "all things" which God uses to work together for his good.
Things like severe floggings. Being exposed to death. Five times lashed with a whip, three times beaten with rods. Another three times stoned. Shipwrecked, constantly on the move, and in danger from rivers, bandits, and false believers, Paul labored while tired, hungry, and thirsty. "I have been cold and naked," he says, closing out the list.
These are just a few problems that Paul must have been thinking of when he penned that powerful truth about God using everything for our good and His glory. Our problems seem to pale in light of Paul's list. For us, "all things" might include a bad medical report, an overdrawn bank account, a flat tire on the motorway, or a splitting headache that lasts all morning. Even my wheelchair seems small compared to the constant brushes with death that Paul faced.
Sovereign God, I praise You that You work all things for the good of those who love You. Each problem, each trial I face today fits into Your marvelous plan for my life. Forgive me when I complain about my struggles. I'm sorry that I often fail to remember that You are in control, that You hold in Your powerful hand all things in my life.
I want to cooperate with You today and trust You that the inconveniences and problems that I will encounter are by no means mistakes. Thank You for the assurance that you will work today's events into a life plan for my good and Your glory.
 
Blessings,

“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,”

"Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus," ELW 254

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us;
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel's strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art,
dear desire of ev'ry nation,
joy of ev'ry longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child, and yet a king;
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all-sufficient merit
raise us to thy glorious throne.

The opening words of the first reading for the First Sunday of Advent are a prayer asking God to "tear open the heavens and come down." So it is fitting that we complete this week's study and preparation with this prayer, "Come, thou long-expected Jesus." It is a prayer of faith, asking that Christ would come with everything needed for life: freedom and release from fears and sins, rest, strength, consolation, hope and joy. We have attempted to find these things on our own, in our wealth, our relationships and our professional success. But they come only from outside of us, from God's love shown to us in Christ.
Pastor and theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, arrested by the Nazis in 1943 and hanged at the Buchenwald concentration camp in April of 1945 wrote, "A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent." In Christ, God opens that door and we are saved.

Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly. Come into our hearts and lives, forming us into signs of your love for this hurting, precious world. Amen.

Christ in You

Christ in You
by Joni

"There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, 'I will go over and see this strange sight-why the bush does not burn up.' When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, 'Moses, Moses!' and Moses said, 'Here I am.'"
Exodus 3:2-4

A blazing bush that glows in a halo of fire...and yet doesn't burn up? Now that was a strange sight. As Moses drew closer, perhaps he thought it was a remarkable new kind of foliage unlike the rest of the desert scrub brush. Then, what a shock to hear the voice of God Almighty speak from the bush.

Weeks later, long after the prophet moved on, I wonder what happened to that bush. I don't think Moses broke off the branches to enshrine them in a little box on an altar. He didn't uproot the bush to memorialize it. No. As Major Ian Thomas has said, "Any old bush would have done. A scruffy, scraggly looking thing or a beautiful looking bush so shapely and fine. The bush is not important--only that God was in the bush!"*

The burning bush is an Old Testament example of a New Testament truth: Christ in you, the hope of glory. God can set any life ablaze with Spirit-inspired power. A lowly outcast, or an honored aristocrat. An unskilled individual with lackluster gifts, or a talented person who is beautiful and bright. The "you" doesn't matter. What does matter is Christ in you.

"To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27).

Let me burn for You, Lord. Let me shine.

Blessings,

Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13:24-37
 
Thirty-two years ago I was a walking visual aid for the season of Advent as I entered the 9th month of pregnancy with our first child. The situation brought home the focus of the traditional gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent--that is, our inability to predict Christ's return at the end of time and our need to be ready. In Mark, Jesus says, "Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come." Along with the congregation I was serving, my husband and I did not know when the time would come for the birth of our child, but we were ready. The nursery had been wallpapered, the crib set up, a dresser filled with everything a baby would need.
Because we do not know when Christ will come, it is best to live prepared and ready: fearlessly, with kindness, forgiveness, compassion and generosity. Such lives will rejoice to receive our Lord as he comes to us now, as well as at the end of time.
 
As we rest in you, O God, keep us ready and prepared to meet you each day--as well as at the end. Our times are in your hands. Amen.
 
Rachel
 
Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)
 
24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.
27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Too Much of a Good Thing?
by Joni
 
"Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord."
2 Peter 1:2
My friend Judy makes the tastiest little chocolate eclairs of anyone I know. Once she threw a tea party in my home, laying out her nicest linens, china, and silver. My friends and I daintily picked up each little eclair, savoring every bite.
The first eclair was scrumptious. The second was just as good. By the time I got to the third, I just popped it in my mouth. Did I eat a fourth? I can't even remember. All I know is that several days later when I looked in the mirror and saw pimples on my chin, I sighed, "Yes, you can enjoy too much of a good thing."
Well, there is one good thing we can never get enough of. Grace and peace are ours in abundance in the Lord Jesus. You can never enjoy too much of the Lord. Some people may call you a fanatic and say that you are overdoing it, warning that "enough is enough." But don't listen. You can never pray too much, or read God's Word too often.
For instance, three years ago, I decided to shift into overdrive and read the Bible more in order to know Christ better. That meant doing double-duty during prayer time. It meant making an effort to change old habits, including TV at night. And you know what? I can't get enough of the Lord now. The closer I draw to Him, the more overstuffed I am on the abundance of His grace and peace. Yes, I've learned that contrary to popular opinion about chocolate eclairs... there are some things you simply can't get enough of.
I want to know you better, Lord, for I can never enjoy too much of the abundance of Your grace and peace.
 
Blessings,

Mark 13:24-37

Mark 13:24-37
 
The first ten years of my ministry were spent in small town and open-country congregations. Having grown up in an Iowa town of only 250 people, rural ministry was not the foreign experience for me that it sometimes is for pastors with urban or suburban upbringings. One of the best times of the year in the country, is when the first shoots of corn and soybeans become visible in the fields. On my way to work on cool May mornings I would search for spring-green rows poking through the soil, rows best glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. As with Jesus' example of the fig tree, "as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near," so when I could "row" the fields a week or two after planting, my heart lifted with the promise of new life.
 
When we are paying attention, every day reveals a glimpse of God's presence here with us. May we catch it, if only out of the corner of the eye.
 
So many things clamor for our attention, Gracious God. Teach us to look for you in the situations and people we encounter today. Amen.
 
Rachel
 
Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)
 
24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26 Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.
27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.
29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.
35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,
36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."

Scaling the High Bar

Scaling the High Bar
by Joni
 
"A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross."
Mark 15:21
I once read that criminals to be crucified often had to carry to the place of crucifixion their own cross beam, a piece of wood weighing up to fifty pounds. Jesus started out by shouldering His cross, but He had been so weakened from floggings that a passerby named Simon was pressed into service.
It's interesting to note that Simon was only passing by and that he was forced to carry the cross of Christ. I like to imagine, however, the relief Jesus must have felt -- after having helped so many others in so many ways, here was a man to help Him!
Often you'll hear hurting and overburdened people say, "This is the cross I must bear." These dear people need burden bearers. They need help and, in a way, their unspoken plea may be, "Where is my Simon?"
But who will help? Like Simon, you may see yourself as an innocent passerby being forced into service -- helping an aunt recover from a stroke -- assisting a neighbor who just got out of the hospital -- lending a hand to a co-worker who recently was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
And like Simon, the task may take you unaware, your plans may be interrupted, and you may feel put-upon. But as you carry the burden of a hurting friend or family member, you may discover that your attitude will change -- especially when you see that smile of relief and gratitude. You'll discover the privilege of being someone's Simon.
What a privilege it was for Simon to carry Your cross, Lord. In a way, I have the same privilege as I bear the burdens and carry the hurts of Your body, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Let me be a Simon to someone today.
Blessings,

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1 Corinthians 1:3-9
 
Once Thanksgiving Day activities are over, the pressure is on to have the most perfect and prosperous Christmas ever. Merchants use every available avenue of communication to convince us that our Christmas celebrations will be lacking unless we have this product or that gadget. Images of everything from perfect skin to perfect dचcor are displayed to show us our lack, and many individuals go deep into debt to achieve that unachievable perfection.
However, the opening verses of Paul's first letter to the church in Corinth remind us that we lack nothing. As God's imperfect, yet beloved children, we have already received the grace and peace of God. We have been enriched by the presence of Christ and strengthened in Christ until the end of time. And we know and can live in confidence that God is faithful. It is clear, Paul writes, that "you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ." Called to remember the depth of God's mercy for us, we breathe a prayer of thanks.
 
Loving God, we live and move and have our being in you. So fill our hearts with an awareness of your love so that we live each day with grateful hearts. Amen.
 
 
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 (NRSV)
 
3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,
5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind--
6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you--
7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.