Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Emmanuel “God With Us” - by Rev. Debra Quilling Smith

“Be still and know that I am God.”          -  Psalm 46:10
“Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel  which means God with us.”           -  Matthew  1:23

     While in seminary, I discovered, was challenged and inspired by the writings and life of a monk known simply as Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.  Brother Lawrence lived in the 1600s and impressed upon all followers of Christ to “practice the presence of God”.  I have spent my years of life since seeking to follow his example of a living faith.

     As we celebrate Christmas, the birthday of our Messiah, the Son of God, who now lives forever with us, I want to remind us all to “practice the presence of God”.  In all our days, may we let our thoughts drift often to remembering God is with us – speak from your heart and with your lips acknowledging  God’s awesome presence and God’s abiding love.  Seek to give thanks with every breath and punctuate your prayers with repentance, God hears and knows and cares.

     Our God is present! That is the promise of Christmas, dear friends.  Jesus is our Emmanuel and in the words of one of our much loved affirmations of faith:
“God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God!”

        With joy in the birth and the resurrection of our Lord,
Pastor Debra

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Sowing of Peace by Sherry Glenn (reprinted from Advent Devotions - 1996)

Zechariah 8:12

“The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. 13 Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing.] Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”

14 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Just as I had determined to bring disaster on you and showed no pity when your ancestors angered me,” says the Lord Almighty, 15 “so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid. 16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; 17 do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord.

The Bible is filled with metaphors about growing things.  I wonder if the Bible was an inspiration for the unique initiative that John Wallach describes in Developmental Journal 1996.1.
He writes about the summer camp called Seeds of Peace which brings together Israeli and Arab children in an attempt to build friendship and communication for those who since birth have been taught to hate and mistrust one another.  These 13- to 15-year old teenagers from opposing sides of the Middle Eastern conflict get to know each other in a relaxed and supportive environment.  The intended harvest is to use the new friendships to foster communication, negotiation, and interchange so that they can better understand each other’s perspectives on the important issues that divide them.

Mr. Wallach believes Seeds of Peace takes up where governments leave off, attempting to fulfill the hope of peace treaties that are signed but that remain essentially pieces of paper.  Team building, communal living, and computer software which encourages them to keep in touch are part of the atmosphere of acceptance and understanding that ultimately permit the children to bond and become “seeds of peace” in their homelands. The bountiful harvest occurs when the emotional and moral power of children is harnessed to point the way for adults.

Lord, help me to take advantage of the opportunities you provide each day. Make me a sower of peace in my surroundings.  In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.

Jerusalem, the Faithful by Ida Newsom (reprinted from Advent Devotions - 1996)

Zechariah 7:8-8:8
 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.
13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate. 
8The word of the Lord Almighty came to me. This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”
This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty.
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”

This passage of scripture from the prophet Zechariah seems almost contradictory. First, Zechariah tells us how God had abandoned the children of Israel because they would not listen, driving them to other lands.  Immediately following these verses in chapter 7, the prophet then tells us in chapter 8 how God came back to dwell in Jerusalem and with love gathered his children unto him.

How often, as parents, have we felt the way God must have felt in the first part of today’s scripture.  When our children have tried our very souls, we oftentimes wonder why we continue to love them. But then we remember that they are ours, to hug, to love, to nurture, and as we draw them back to us, we put all of the bad times behind us. So it is with God’s love for us! Regardless of what we do or how far we might stray, God always welcomes us back as His children and invites us to live anew in His love.

Dear God, help us to remember that you always love us and that you are always there to welcome us home. Amen.

Glory to the Lord by Diane Duncan (reprinted from Advent Devotions - 1996)

Isaiah 60:1-7

Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.

During a recent weekend visit with my five-year-old nephew, Stephen, I recall the bedtime routine.  After prayers were said and he was being tucked into bed by his grandmother, he asked her if she would leave the angel nightlight on.  Even though this was standard procedure, she assured him the angel light would be left on throughout the night.  Stephen then quickly snuggled under the covers and went to sleep.

Stephen’s uneasiness about being in the dark at night reminded me of the darkness we live in throughout our lives.  Maybe I should say the darkness we could live in. 

God has given us a wonderful gift of light.  This light is through Jesus Christ.  If we choose to let Christ enter into our lives, our “dark times” may not seem so long and hard.  Christ’s light can shine upon us and in us and we will be able to endure times of darkness, just as Stephen endured his night of darkness with the angel night light.

Heavenly Father, help us to discover the light of Christ and invite him into our lives. Amen.