By: Bethany Apelquist
Reflection—v. 5, ‘The abundance of the sea will be brought to you’
Something that I remember from elementary school was a research project about the giant squid. I thought the giant squid was awesome because technically no one has ever seen this creature alive as it lives so deep in the ocean. I realized that the ocean I saw at the beach was just a small portion of the vastly deep sea that sustains life that we can’t even see. When Isaiah says the abundance of the seas will be brought to the people of Israel, I can’t help but be impressed, and even moved. Too often, I find myself operating from a mindset of lack—I don’t give generously because I lack resources, I am stingy with my time because I lack free time, I don’t act with boldness because I lack courage. It’s in the DNA of our culture to think in terms of lack. But when I think about the God who created the heavens and earth coming to dwell with us, I am moved toward the freedom of abundance. When we operate out of abundance, we can give freely, we can work for justice with full hearts, we can love unconditionally. I see this so clearly at Mercy. For some, it means giving their extra pair of socks to someone with no socks. For others, it means sharing their musical and artistic talents. We share the resources that we have knowing that God sustains us. God’s love is as vast and as deep as the sea that houses that giant squid, and in that, there is freedom to love others, not just at Christmas now past but through the entire year.
Prayer: God, do not let our fear of lack hinder our ability to do the work of love and justice.
By: Harrison Davis
Colossians 3. 12-17
Reflection—v.13, ‘Bear with one another’
There is something beautiful in the honesty of this statement. At Mercy, we talk a lot about choosing life with God by living in community with one another. The road to a full and complete life begins with treating each other with patience, mercy, and love. But no matter how many times we say it, we often forget just how truly difficult it is to live with one another. We forget that each morning, we all wake up in a world of our own. We may be hungry, tired, or cold. We may be dealing with tragedy or loss, pain or emotional suffering, guilt or feelings of personal failure. We may want to just give up for that one day, that one morning, or even that single moment. Each one of us comes to Mercy’s table with heavy hearts, minds and lives. It can be hard to find love and kindness for others when to love and be kind to oneself is such an arduous journey. ‘Bear with me’—it starts here. When I mess up, or lose myself to anger, frustration, or impatience, the reason is often my own inability to bear with myself. In those moments, all I could ever hope for is patience from others. So many times, I have been given the grace to be broken, incomplete. I am given the trust that I am actively fighting to find wholeness. The least I can do is to return that grace, to try to clothe myself with love and forgiveness, even if it means beginning by just bearing.
Prayer: Giver of all good things, may we remember who we all truly are: your beloved
By: Jill Oglesby-Evans
Isaiah 60: 1-6
Reflection—v.1, ‘arise, shine’
“Wakey, wakey, rise and shine!” sang my morning-person Mom in order to dynamite me and my sisters out of bed. How I loathed to hear those words, never mind the buoyant tone with which they were delivered. Slow to transition from the soft, cozy realm of oblivion to the cold, hard light of day, suffice it to say that I am decidedly not a morning person. Isaiah, on the other hand, clearly is. ‘Arise, shine; for your light has come!’ he exclaims, ‘and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!’ ‘Yeah, yeah,’ I mumble in response; ‘Just give me a minute.’ First thing in the morning, not even the coming of the Lord causes me to ‘thrill and rejoice.’ But what if I were given more time? What if I were given ‘til noon, say, or until five, or until whatever time necessary to wake up to the Light of Christ? Well, for sure, I would have a better chance; wouldn’t we all? Good thing God is more patient than my mother.
Prayer: Good-natured God, thank you for your patience and persistence with turning my
yawning heart from the comfort of oblivion to the Light of your Life.
By: Jill Oglesby-Evans
I Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Reflection—v.20, ‘by this woman’
Hannah, whose husband was Elkanah and whose son was Samuel, put up with a lot. For one thing, at a time when a woman’s worth was measured by her male children, Hannah was barren. And although her husband did not blame her for this, her very fruitful ‘co-wife’ gave her endless grief about it. To add insult to injury, when Hannah goes to the temple to pray for relief, the priest imagines she’s drunk and tells her so! So much for non-judgmental pastoral care. But when God finally opens Hannah’s womb, none of this matters anymore. Instead, like Mary after her, Hannah’s heart leaps with gratitude. When God opens the wombs of our hearts to bear Jesus to the world, everything else—our longing, our fear, our angst, our forgetfulness—pales in comparison. What makes your own heart leap with gratitude?
Prayer: Heart-opening God, in the midst of the complexities of our lives, help us remember to be grateful.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 44, ‘Assuming that he was in the group of travelers’
In Jesus’ time, it was considered dangerous to travel. In fact, this has been true for most
of human history. To be away from one’s people, resources, and stable sources of food and water left the individual vulnerable on a number of accounts. Often times pilgrims,
merchants, and travelers would band together for protection, forming a caravan. These individuals wanted no ill will for others, rather they found safety and companionship in the company of a group. I had a similar experience as I walked across Spain, banding together with other seekers, supporting and helping one another along the way. The same is true of migrants from Central America who make a dangerous passage to seek safer living conditions, as well as those of us who experience homelessness and make camps together. There is a strength and security in numbers. Walking 500 miles is hard. It is done because one has no other choice. Jesus and his parents traveled as a part of a caravan, finding safety among its members as they journeyed to Jerusalem the only way they could. I received a lot of hospitality and help along my way—though I suppose those of us who come from privilege often do. I hope that one day we will all be able to see, value, and foster the livelihood of all who band together in hopes of experiencing a better life, one filled with security, peace, and love.
Prayer: Traveling God, protect us on our journey. May we bind ourselves together in you.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 48, ‘I have been searching for you in great anxiety’
At Mercy we talk about the healthy gift of fear, that it can help us to be wise and to be
protected. Many of us feel fear in our bellies—our guts don’t lie. When we feel that fear
creeping in, we know to get out. It is important to trust ourselves. However, there are times when our fear and anxiety don’t serve us, that they are the antithesis to joy. For me, I can feel the difference between my protective agent and my crazy agent because this second kind of fear lives in my head, not my gut. This type of fear is where we play out our worst fears in our heads, the kind of situation where everything is going well, yet we start to anticipate it all disappearing. Dr. Brene Brown, who researches fear, says that in these moments we stop allowing ourselves to feel joy. To fully feel joy requires vulnerability. We can turn ourselves back to joy. Dr. Brown says that research shows gratitude to be the antidote to this fear. Fear tells us what we are scared of losing, which also reveals what we value. We can practice turning from fear to gratitude and joy. When we fear that a relationship will fail, we can be grateful for how meaningful it is now. If we fear that our child will be hurt, we can be grateful for their boldness and spirit. Love is born in the world! Free of fear, may we turn toward vulnerability and joy by practicing gratitude.
Prayer: Joyful God, help us become more vulnerable and calm our fears.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 13 ‘forgive each other… as the Lord has forgiven you’
During this season of Christmas, we welcome Jesus into the world. Try as we might, I suspect that after all these days of preparing for Jesus’ birth, we have not found ourselves to be perfectly ready to welcome love into the world. We may have spent more time shopping, cooking, and hanging lights than reflecting in the dark and making more space in our hearts. That’s okay. The process of living more fully in love doesn’t stop at Advent. It continues into Christmas! There’s this catchy song on the radio by lovelytheband that I cannot get out of my head. The lyrics say, ‘I like that you’re broken, broken like me; maybe that makes me a fool.’ I love this line. I love the idea that our brokenness and our rough spots might make us more lovable, more relatable. Of course, there is hurt in our brokenness—we have been hurt by others and we have hurt others. And yet we are still lovable! That’s part of the grace of this season. I don’t have it all right all the time, and neither do you. But we still have the gift of Christ in our lives. We still have time to grow and change. Our lovability and brokenness can help us to understand and love others. We can still be forgiven. And we can still forgive. God lives with us and shows us the way.
Prayer: Holy God, help us to continue to reflect and grow in this new year—always forgiving, always loving.
By: Sid Imes-Burkett
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Reflection—v.26, ‘Samuel continued to grow’
The Bible has a lot to say about how worship should work. Worship is serious business. Samuel doesn’t quite fit these rules. Numbers says that priests can start work at age twenty-five, but here, Samuel is so young that his mom sews him special, child-size temple clothes. This is especially unusual because people in the ancient Near East didn’t think of children like we do today. Kids were basically property and weren’t taken seriously. This was true in Jesus’ time, as well, which makes it super weird that Jesus came to earth as a baby. Jesus spent years and years before his formal ministry as an ‘unvalued’ child. Nonetheless, this was when Jesus’ community taught him how to be in the world and do his ministry. Even Jesus needed to learn from his community. Just as Samuel and Jesus learned and grew, we get to continue learning and growing. We don’t have to wait until we feel like priests or have all the right clothes—we do this by studying scripture and worshipping in our communities here and now. Samuel’s work began long before he heard a voice in the night, just as Jesus began ministering a long time before baptism. No matter where we might be, we are valued and called here and now. And we don’t do it alone. Samuel got help from his family, from his priest, and the Bible says that he grew in favor ‘with the people.’ Learning and worshipping
are serious business, and they’re for all of us.
Prayer: Lord, we thank you for coming to us as a child and teaching us that we all deserve support and the opportunity to participate in worship.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v.2, ‘come to save us’
The image of holding is one I keep coming back to when I talk about life, leadership, ministry, or Mercy. There is something about the language of holding—it’s personal, intimate, close, engaged, hands-on—even though what I am talking about is often intangible and hard to grasp, like ‘pain’ or ‘space.’ What this image captures for me is similar to the idea and language of presence—it’s about being there, wherever there is, and refusing to leave or run away or abandon others or yourself or even God. It’s remaining engaged and attentive, even when you are unsure how to reconcile, heal or lead—to love or make peace or be faithful. It’s the opposite of the arrogance that believes one’s own superior skill set or know-how or charisma or wisdom can ‘fix’ something or someone. There’s a respectfulness when we merely try to hold what is given to us in a moment. In that sense, in that response to what is given or offered, holding something is an implicit response to grace, grace that perhaps we can’t even see as grace in the moment. There is a sense of acceptance in the image of holding something that is given, even if we are not sure that something is what we want, but we hold it anyway. Mary’s pondering heart models holding. So does the community she held together with Elizabeth. So does God, who looks on us, sees us, comes to us—and keeps the promise to save us.
Prayer: God of Mercy, we hold the pain, in ourselves and around us, and we hold to hope.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v.52, ‘He has… lifted up the lowly’
I pray the rosary for many reasons, I suppose. I believe in the communion of saints—in calling on the hosts of heaven in times of need. But more than anything, I pray the rosary because I am inspired by Mary and the radical discipleship she shows us as she follows the one who was himself the fruit of her womb. Nowhere is that radical way of following Jesus clearer than in the Magnificat. She names herself as ‘lowly,’ as one who is poor, forgotten, at the margins. But she knows that God is one who sees her and regards her with favor. She knows God as one whose attentiveness to us causes God to act decisively for deliverance. Mary is a theologian who is unafraid to name the truth that God works boldly in human history on behalf of those who are poor and discarded by systems of power. This action of God leads to a new order and a new naming: she will be called no longer lowly but ‘blessed,’ just as Spirit-filled Elizabeth proclaimed. But Mary also understands that what God is doing isn’t just for her alone—God’s liberation is for all people. It topples systems of power that oppress and exploit, and it confounds arrogant leaders and their self-serving schemes. The God who made all human beings in God’s own likeness does not want any of us as slaves and none of us as pharaohs. Mary understands that. Mary sings a hopeful hymn of liberation for us all.
Prayer: Hail Mary, full of grace, sing your song with us!