By: Jennifer Arnold
Reflection—v. 78, ‘By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high
will break upon us’
My first year as a teacher was harder than I ever imagined. Nothing I did felt like enough. I didn’t feel like enough. I became depressed. The thing that buoyed me in those difficult times was the sunrise. Every morning I would drive east through the countryside and watch the sun rise over the fields. There I could breathe. If only for a few minutes, I could let go of my anxieties and just be enveloped by God’s tender mercy. At some point, the sunrises began to take on personalities, and I would name them out loud: patient, loving, tender, strong, forgiving, joyful. I imagined God filling me with these attributes, just enough to survive until the next sunrise. This was my grace. In this season of Advent, as the days get colder and the nights get longer, it is easy to feel weary, inferior, and hopeless. But the wonderful thing about God’s empowering and merciful morning light is that it comes to us new every morning—whether we ask for it or not. God does not wait to send the morning light until we believe we are worthy of God’s love. God does not wait until we let go of our deepest fears and anxieties. God does not even need us to have our plans for tomorrow figured out. Is there a better gift than that?
Prayer: God of life, thank you for sharing your love every morning, no matter how we feel.
By: Matthew Hyatt
Reflection—v. 1, ‘the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.’
I read this text and had an image of God walking into the temple and not being anything like what we expect. But God does not show up in the temple only, and ‘preparing the way’ is not just about getting a church building ready. That is like trying to put God in a box and only looking in that box, instead of all those other places where God shows up, too. We say that we want to have God in our lives, but we also like to confine God to the church. When I think about the ways I hear people talk about those seeking asylum, I cannot help but to think about what Jesus said about how when we clothe, feed, visit, and welcome the stranger: we welcome him and the one who sent him. To welcome the stranger is to prepare the way for God. This passage opens with the prophecy, ‘I am sending my messenger to prepare the way.’ But the author of Malachi does not name a specific messenger. Quite frankly, we can all be messengers preparing the way for God to show up, both in and outside of the church. That God ‘suddenly comes’ to the temple tells that the temple cannot be the only place to find God. We cannot control or force God to show up anywhere. But what we can do is prepare the way wherever we go by the way we treat others so that when God comes, the way is prepared.
Prayer: God, we are seeking you. May we be open to meeting you in unexpected ways and places, and seeing you in every stranger’s face.
By: Holly Reimer
Reflection—v. 5, ‘sharing in the gospel’
When I looked up the word ‘share’ in the dictionary, one of the definitions said, ‘to participate in, receive, and enjoy jointly.’ This definition describes how I feel about our community at Mercy. This past week in Sunday worship we sang the words, ‘Jesus is a sanctuary, everybody’s welcome, everybody’s free.’ Later in our Bible study—a group discussion of the scripture we have in place of a traditional sermon—one of our members continued the theme of mutuality and sharing by contributing, ‘We can learn a lot from each other.’ I believe this is part of what Paul was talking about when he expressed his joys and hopes for a community that shares in the gospel. This kind of sharing is something for us to look forward to as we look ahead in Advent and to the coming of Christ. There are no exclusions in Christ. In the sharing of the gospel, there is mutuality and community at it’s finest, an acknowledging of the value of every human being.
Prayer: God, we thank you for the opportunities to be in mutual communities where we can share in the gospel and the message it offers to our lives. Thank you for sending us your Son as an example of love, peace, joy, hope, and mutuality. May we always participate, receive, and enjoy the gospel jointly!
By: Holly Reimer
Luke 1: 68-79
Reflection—v.79, ‘to give light to those who sit in darkness’
I remember as a child how much the darkness intimidated me. I always wanted a night light on in my bedroom. When I would move between the dark rooms, I would turn lights o
n in each room to illuminate my way. Darkness was something I feared. As an adult I have come to find peace in the darkness—a sense of calm, free from distractions. Now, in the safety of my warm, locked house when I go to sleep, I prefer it to be pitch-dark. For some of us, however, darkness brings trouble and death, injury and despair. When the sun goes down, so does the warmth and the security of being seen. As we wait for the coming Messiah, we anticipate one who can give light to those who sit in darkness—who offers safety and security and warmth, provision and resources. There will be times when we want nothing more than to sit in the darkness. The good news is that we have a light source when we are ready to turn to it, and we have hope and a way out of the dark.
Prayer: Thank you, God, for being our light source for the darkness, a resource for the
moments when we find ourselves in the pit of despair, when it feels like death creeps in.
Bring us peace and patience as we wait for your light—the light of your Son, Jesus Christ.
Equip us to sit in the darkness with others as we find ways to show compassion to one
By: Sarah Morrell
Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:3-11
Reflection—v. 79, ‘into the way of peace’
I spent a lovely October weekend on a silent retreat where I read, wrote, prayed, and listened to pounding rain on a tin roof across the street. It astounded me that the sound of birds, rustling leaves, and critters all around had been blocked by city noises, screen distractions, and my inability to make space for peace and solitude. I was reminded of times at Mercy during recovery Bible study, when Pastor Maggie would list our addictions to alcohol, drugs, war, unhealthy relationships, and even isolation. In the midst of grief and loss, I have been sitting in my isolation and darkness and have often felt alone. I have been numbing myself with screen time and resisting vulnerability. I realized on the retreat, however, that God had been with me all along through the beauty of sabbath, of slowing down, of ‘feeling the feels,’ and being in community. I had fortified my walls to block others from opening up about my pain, including God. God reminded me how we are never on this journey of life alone, and that we are called to walk with our family in Christ and guide each other ‘into the way of peace.’ May we shine the shared grace of God on one another and sit in solidarity with those, like me, who need reminders that we are not alone and are beloved children of our Creator.
Prayer: Loving Comforter, please open our hearts and minds to experience your great love, grace, and healing in suffocating isolation.
By: Bethany Apelquist
Reflection—v. 79, ‘To guide our feet in the way of peace’
At Mercy, we often sing the old spiritual, ‘Guide my Feet,’ a song that asks God to guide us
while we run the race—a race for justice and peace. In the song, one of the verses says,
‘Hold my hand,’ and another says, ‘I’m your child.’ Both verses paint an intimate relationship between God and those running the race. I wonder if there is something to be said ab
out being close to God and being a peacemaker. Over the last year, I have been confronted with the reality of violence in our world. While working at a hospital this summer, I saw the ways in which violence can destroy lives, families, and communities. My response to seeing this violence has been a frantic, desperate search for how I can be a peacemaker. I don’t think my impulse is wrong, but rather, incomplete. Zechariah ends his prophecy imploring God to guide the feet of his community in the way of peace, an image that involves both God and community in the work. The season of Advent is one in which we wait with anticipation for God to move. I wonder what it would look like if instead of frantically running in circles trying to single-handedly fix problems, we looked to Jesus as our guide and co-worker in bringing peace. My prayer this Advent is that we walk hand in hand with Jesus toward a more peaceful way of being in the world.
Prayer: God of Peace, accompany us on our journey this Advent, showing us the ways of
peace, and bring us closer to each other along the way.
By: Bethany Apelquist
Reflection—v. 78, ‘Dawn from on high will break upon us’
I love the image from Zechariah’s prophecy of dawn breaking through, giving light to those who sit in the darkness. I imagine God coming into this world like a sunrise. At first, it is still a little hard to see clearly, as the darkness of the night lingers, but you keep your eye on that horizon knowing that something special is about to happen. And slowly, as the sun rises, the sky fills with vibrant colors: colors of grace, peace, joy, and love. There is something so hopeful about this image. But the thing about a sunrise is that it is preceded
by the cold darkness, and it can often feel like that darkness is going to last forever. On the nights when Mercy opens our winter freeze shelter with our friends at St. John’s Lutheran, we also open up at Mercy early in the morning on the following day, knowing that the hour before sunrise is the single coldest hour of the day. When I look around and see how broken and dark the world feels, there is something about a group of people who gather in the darkest, coldest hour of the night and sharing warm coffee, eating grits, and being community together that gives me hope. Knowing that we are not alone in that darkest, coldest hour, we can hold on to hope that dawn will in fact break upon us, that God is in our midst, and that we will see the colors of sunrise once again.
Prayer: God, be with us in the coldness of night, and remind us of the hope of the morning that is to come.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Reflection—v. 12, ‘Abound in love for one another and for all’
Paul tells the early Christians in Thessaly to ‘abound in love for another’—oh, yes, and
abound in love for everyone else, as well. We cannot just love one another: those of our
same political parties or upbringing, those with our same skin color or religious background, those who happened to be born within the same borders as us. Yes, love those people, but also abound in love for everyone else. This is no small feat. Let us not forget that the early Christians were outsiders. They were marginalized and sometimes unwanted. Yet though they were the ones persecuted, Paul reminds them that to be Christian is to abound in love for ‘all’ anyway. We can be so good at loving our own. We gather together and talk and preach about loving everyone, but what we practice is a comfortable, complacent love for those closest to us. But part of what makes being a Christian so absurdly revolutionary is that we are also called upon to love all, even those most difficult to love. We are called to love those not born on American soil. We are called to love our political opponent. We are called to love the most vulnerable among us, the most unsettling, the most disturbing. We are called to love them with a deep and abiding love that cares for their needs even as it asks of us to share our own resources, to push our own patience, to open our own doors, and to be open to our own vulnerability.
Prayer: Open our hearts, O Lord, that we may abound in love for all those among us.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
I Thessalonians 3:9-13
Reflection—v. 10, ‘restore whatever is lacking in your faith’
I used to think having faith was something you could be good at. ‘She was a woman of
strong faith,’ they would say of my mother after she passed away. My uncertain teenage self would think, ‘How was she so good at possessing faith?’ I think we can miss some important aspects of faithfulness when we think of it as something at which any one of us can excel. Faithfulness is relational. Even when it feels like our faith is lacking, God remains faithful to us. It never only depends on our efforts or ability. Faith is also communal. We are a community of faith. There will be days when I cannot see the myriad of ways God is revealing Godself to us, but maybe my neighbor can. In this letter to the Christians in Thessaly, Paul writes that his prayer is to restore whatever is lacking for his neighbor. Some days my faith is lacking. I listen to the concerns of my community, and I feel overwhelmed by our lack: the lack of shelter and resources, healthcare, and safe spaces. Yet I trust that God is loyal to us. It is God and my community that restore what is lacking in my faith. Are the people of the Mercy community strong of faith? Yes. And I believe it is in part because we care for one another, carry one another when one is not strong, and have patience for one another’s bad days. There will always be lack, but by God’s grace, we can bring restoration for one another.
Prayer: By your grace, O Lord, help us to restore what is lacking for one another.
By: Brittany Fiscus-van Rossum
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Reflection—v. 16, ‘Jerusalem will live in safety’
With God’s righteousness and justice, comes the promise of safety for Jerusalem. Safety
is important. We want our children to be safe when we send them off to school. We want
to feel safe in the places where we worship and live. Humans need to feel safe in order to
thrive. Yet sometimes when conversations about safety arise, I feel a sense of dread because people are often talking about feeling unsafe around our community at Mercy. There is an endless debate about where those living outside can sleep or sit or just be. You cannot look a certain way and be too close to a daycare or linger in a parking lot too long. Because let us be honest, people are afraid of those of us who happen to be living on the streets. Forgetting our humanity, we classify our brothers and sisters living on the streets as the ‘dangerous’ type and require protection from them. But who in our city is worrying about the safety of the Mercy community? When security pushes us out of every dry place in this neighborhood, and even churches don’t want to shelter us, where can we go to get a safe night’s sleep? When the Super Bowl comes to Atlanta, and we get rounded up and sent to jail for just existing, who will stand up and keep us safe? When winter comes and the cops can no longer drop us off at the warm, open doors of Peachtree and Pine, where can we go for safety from the frigid cold? Come, O Lord. Come, O Branch of David, that we may live in safety, too.