By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v.42, ‘Blessed are you…’
It happens in our little community that from time to time someone might call someone else ‘everything—but a child of God.’ It’s also true that every day we gather, both explicitly in our words and implicitly in our hospitality, we remind one another of the truth: we are beloved children of God. We use the power of our own voices, especially as marginalized persons—those who have been named and shamed by the powers-that-be—to tell our own story. We have the power to call one another ‘blessed’ instead of ‘cursed.’ Both Mary and Elizabeth engage in just this kind of empowering and subversive work. Elizabeth had been regarded with suspicion and labeled as barren because she had no child, a stigma of humiliation. This same woman announces with a ‘loud voice’ that Mary, her poor relative, is ‘blessed.’ Luke attributes that loud proclamation to the work of the Holy Spirit within Elizabeth. She is functioning as a prophet. Hers is not a quiet or tentative voice. Hers is the voice of a woman who knows who she is and is unashamed. Elizabeth speaks for all of us who have been name-called or shamed, who have been pinned with a label or who have experienced the humiliation of being profiled. She speaks for all of us who hear those same harassing voices deep inside our own selves, for all of us who have questioned whether we were enough. Elizabeth speaks loudly and boldly, and she reminds Mary—and us—that we are blessed.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, fill us like Elizabeth so that we may boldly bless one another.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—vv. 39-40, ‘Mary set out … and greeted Elizabeth’
Some unkind words were exchanged, a scuffle no doubt in the making. Then one of us stood up, and with a voice full of warmth and friendliness, he spoke gentle wisdom: ‘Hey,
we’ve all got to live together.’ This is wisdom for us all, but in a particular way, it is also a
call to the church. Luke draws a picture for us of basic Christian community, as Elizabeth and Mary come together and support one another, reveling in the impossible, liberating work God is doing in and through them for the whole world. It’s hard to paint a better picture of what the church ought to be than that. It’s significant that this first image of Christian community highlights its location at the margins. In ancient times—and far too often in our own times, wherever misogyny shouts in the streets or sits in the shadows— women were treated as objects, property, denied full personhood, used and forgotten. It is to such women that God reveals the liberating work of the gospel. Here, with them, at the margins is where God starts to work—and still does. Notice how Luke is careful to tell us how the lives of these women intersect, and in their coming together, we see the first flowering of Christian community. There is a word here for us. As our wise community member reminds us, we’ve all got to live together. Let us listen to the prophets God raises up for us, then and now, so that we may become prophetic, liberating communities, too.
Prayer: God of prophets, help us to live together.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v.4, ‘in him was life, and the life was the light of all people’
It’s Christmas, and we stand in awe that God takes up our own frail flesh to dwell with us. But let us not forget the inherent dignity of that same radiant life residing in every human person. A few weeks ago, a member of our community lay shivering in the cold rain. He had made his bed of cardboard on the slick, soaked concrete, huddled close to our gate. A thin blanket, saturated from the unrelenting deluge, clung to his body. A friend found a dry blanket (all our blankets had been given away, including the now useless one that draped our chilled-to-the-bone brother), and in that time, he found his way to the back door of the church. There was an awning, beneath which he could find some small sliver of shelter. We cobbled together a few umbrellas and made a coffee run. We left him there at the door of the church, a broken body that—stepped over or stooped beside—could not be ignored. We must confess our sins, crying out to God for mercy, for what we have done and for what we have failed to do. That day, we did what we felt we could, but let us never believe, that so little is enough. The Christ pitched his tent on our doorstep that night and shivered in the cold. In the morning, we welcomed him for a cup of hot coffee, and with a smile, he thanked us.
Prayer: Christ of our doorstep, lead us to liberation.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v.19, ‘treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’
The strange thing about authentic hope is that it begins to take root in our hearts out of circumstances that we might dismiss as hopeless. What keeps me going when I want to give up is our little community. For me, Mercy has become a tiny reflection of the light that all our churches could be in beleaguered times like these. No, no I’m not saying it’s because we’ve somehow got it all together—far from it. We’re messy and broken and sinful. But though we are beset by a lack of shelter and the poverty of the most basic resources, and our best attempts to care for one another are never enough—and on the coldest, wettest nights they are not even close to enough—still it is in our community that I find hope. I find it in the tenderness we express for one another, in our listening ears and hearts. I find it in our hearty laughter and silly dancing, the easy smiles that come from knowing one another and having been through joys and sorrows together. I even find it in our deepest wounds and most hurtful conflicts, as we confess our sins to one another. In all of this, I see and feel and know love—a love divine and eternal. And it’s because of that love, even in our poverty and brokenness, that I find hope. I imagine it wasn’t so different in a Bethlehem barn all those years ago.
Prayer: God of little communities and great love, you give us hope in hopelessness.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v.54, ‘in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise’
Some words mean so much that if we are not careful they can come to mean nothing at all. Hope is that kind of word. Advent plus hope is easy math for a preacher to pull out when crafting a few devotional lines or a Christmas homily. While the math may be correct, it runs the risk of coming across a little too on-the-nose, a feel-good thought with no real-life meaning. Yet if Advent is truly a time for hope, then this Christmas couldn’t be more on time for me. These days, the temptation to succumb to hopelessness is real. Maybe it’s just one more unwanted byproduct of getting older. Or maybe I am still haunted by the shadow of death and lingering grief so close to home. Maybe it’s from accompanying loved ones through sickness or being with others in their financial struggles. Or maybe it is the madness that has overtaken our politics and the hasty retreat we seem to be making from the hard work of democracy into angry tribalism. Perhaps it is the current state of one of the things I love most, the church of God—which, if you haven’t been paying attention, isn’t exactly hope-inspiring at the moment. But Mary sings a song of hope. She reminds us that God regards us in our lowliness. She reminds us that God’s mercy is drawn to us there, precisely in that place of desolation. God enters into our troubles in order to save us according to God’s sure promises.
Prayer: God of mercy and sure promise, save us from despair.
Co-written by: The Mercy Community
Reflection—v.9, ‘cut down and thrown into the fire’
When we read this text as a community, people questioned what John could possibly mean with his frightening metaphor about throwing non-fruit bearing trees into the fire. ‘Is he talking about people?’ we pondered. Surely not. What we know about God is that God finds value in all people. Nobody, that’s right, nobody gets thrown away by God. Society may cut you down and throw you out like human garbage, but never God. So what is John saying here? We pooled our collective wisdom and decided there are some things that don’t bear fruit in this world. If John is talking about bearing fruits of repentance, of really changing our hearts and lives, there are some things that need to be cut down and thrown out, because some things aren’t working toward the kingdom of God. Racism. Cut it down and throw it in the fire. Genderism. Cut it down and throw it in the fire. Classism. Cut it down and throw it in the fire. As we already affirmed, God doesn’t throw anybody away. It doesn’t matter what side of the border you happen to be on, what side of town you happen to live in. God cares about you. As Christians, we are called to care about one another. God is coming to clear out the things that inhibit us from loving one another, to cut down that which doesn’t bear the fruits of love and dignity and enough resources for all. The ax is already at the root of the trees.
Prayer: O God, nourish our hearts that we may bear the fruits of love and dignity.
By: Neal Kimes
Reflection—v. 10, ‘what shall we do?’
We have all heard the saying, ‘out with the old, in with the new.’ All around us, we can see the prevalent negative results of people doing the same old thing. In Jesus’s day, John preached a preamble to Jesus’ mission and work: the building up of a new kind of community. God’s kingdom is not business-as-usual, but a new creation—a new society which displays to the world God’s redeemed physical, spiritual, mental, and economic relationship with us in Christ Jesus. John passionately urged the people to do something different—to change their hearts and lives in tangible ways. He tells the tax collectors not to take more than they need, and the soldiers not to exploit their position. This is real, practical advice about how to bring about a better community: do not take more than you need and do not exploit. God is still urging us today. May we all take up the people’s cry and say, ‘What shall we do?’ And then do it! Remember we are not blessed just for ourselves, we are blessed so that God, through us, can bless others.
Prayer: Lord, what shall we do? You have shown us: let us not take more than we need nor exploit our neighbor. Let us instead look to bless, so that we may become a new kind of community.
By: Bill Smith
Reflection—v.7, ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding’
We long for a peace which could surpass all understanding. Whether it be peace of mind
or the absence of violence and war, I believe we are living in a time where peace is hard to find. Our culture can be so antagonistic to anything that lifts people up. It seems like we spend a lot of time tearing one another down. So how do we find peace that surpasses
all understanding? Paul tells the Christians of Philippi, ‘Don’t worry about anything.’ How many of us can do that? Not many. But the answer Paul gives us is a little deeper than just stopping our worrying; he tells us to give everything to prayer and supplication. I think he is talking about being in an attitude of prayer—an attitude of thankfulness, an attitude of gratitude. It’s a way of reframing the way we see the world around us. When we have this attitude of gratitude, we can think about and see things that we didn’t see before. What sort of things are we going to think about? Well, as Paul suggests, we’ll think about whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, and commendable. Paul tells us to keep our mind on these things. Keep on doing these things that we have learned are good and life-giving. Do the things that build up, instead of tear down. Keep on practicing at faith—because it’s a work in progress—and it’s that work that shapes our communities and our world toward peace. Keep on keeping on, and that peace will be with us.
Prayer: O God, may our prayers and supplication turn our hearts to your peace.
Co-written by: The Mercy Community
Reflection—v. 7, ‘the crowds that came out’
At Mercy we believe that everyone is a theologian. To believe something about God is to practice theology, and we should all have opportunities to contribute. We also believe it is important where you practice theology. John the Baptist proclaims his message from the wilderness—the margins. He is out on the fringes of acceptable society, urging people to listen to a radical message of change. Sometimes the streets feel a bit like a wilderness. Many of us live in food deserts, we walk and rest upon broken sidewalks others would rather avoid. But here in Atlanta’s wilderness, God reveals Godself to us, and we have things to say about the God who walks these streets alongside us. We are crying out, asking to be heard, acknowledged, and respected for the beloved human beings that we are. The Gospel says a crowd came out to listen to John. There were tax collectors, soldiers, and other prominent figures, and they came out to the wilderness because they believed John had something compelling to share. If the only voices you listen to are of those in positions of power and privilege, we invite you—no, we challenge you—to seek out other voices, too. If the only time you hear theology is in a classroom or stained-glass sanctuary, we invite you to listen to theology proclaimed in the wilderness. Sometimes we all must seek a perspective different from our own to truly repent and change our hearts and lives.
Prayer: Guide us, O Lord, to those wilderness places where you are being proclaimed.
By: Ivan Cooley
Isaiah 12: 1-6
Reflection—v.5, ‘sing praises to the Lord’
One of the ways that I have tried to change my life is that I have made a habit of singing praises to the Lord to show gratitude for everything that the Lord has done for me. There were times in my life—in the not so distant past—when I was mainly lamenting, crying, and complaining to the Lord. One of the reasons is because I isolated myself and tried to live on my own little island. But the Lord sent people here to help us. When God came to save us, God came to save us as individuals, but God also came to save us as nations, communities, and groups. We were not created to be alone. There are times when we don’t measure up, as we all know. But God does not leave us, and we do not have to be alone. Fortunately, I found a group that I can sing praises along with. Their love, compassion, and help has led me to recognize that I am not here alone and that no matter what I may face, the Lord will be there for me. It seems to me that everything God does is to the good. That’s why I throw my lot in with God. I go with God because of the way I want the world to be, and the way I know God wants the world to be. It isn’t always going to be easy. But it’s like anything else—the more you practice it, the easier it gets. So I practice thanking the Lord for everything he’s given me.
Prayer: Lord, I sing praises to you because you save me along with all my sisters and
brothers—because you never leave us alone. That’s why I throw my lot in with you.