By: Brittany Fiscus
Reflection—v. 18, ‘…from the Holy Spirit’
It’s much easier for us to attribute good things to the power of the Holy Spirit. When a worship service is deeply moving and without any major flaws—it’s the work of the Holy Spirit. When volunteers orchestrate a big meal—there’s the Holy Spirit at it again! These things are true, as the Holy Spirit is often up to such good and beautiful things. But what about when the Holy Spirit is inconvenient? What about when the Holy Spirit is persistently and relentlessly obnoxious? In this passage the Holy Spirit is at work in the form of an unplanned pregnancy, the fear of public ridicule, and an unwed mother. It’s not exactly the same ‘warm and fuzzy’ experience as that of a candle-lit prayer service. But sometimes it is the gritty less-than-ideal and inconvenient work that the Holy Spirit stirs us to do and we need to be attuned to it. Advent is a season of expectant paying attention. Is the Holy Spirit stirring us to spend less time in front of the TV and more time in relationship? In this and all seasons, may the Holy Spirit stir you to the sometimes less-than-glamorous but always worthy work of God.
Prayer Holy Spirit, stir our hearts and inspire us to your inconvenient work.
By: Brittany Fiscus
Reflection—v. 19, ‘Joseph… a righteous man’
When Joseph learns of Mary’s pregnancy, the passage says he acted as a ‘righteous man.’ Even before divine intervention, Joseph is a good enough bloke not to subject his soon-to-be wife to public ridicule. Still, this story would be disappointing without the angel’s intervention. Because even though Joseph did the ‘righteous thing,’ he still almost left Mary high and dry. Instead, God interceded to say that God’s expectations were bigger even than those of a ‘righteous’ person. Joseph was called to be a part of God’s breaking into our world, and the messiness of doing God’s work in a human world: a world where unwed mothers are ridiculed in public, the homeless are turned away at the inn, and those in positions of political power lash out in fear and paranoia. God calls upon Joseph, and us all, to not just be ‘righteous’ but to be radically, absurdly, impractically active in the work God is doing. Fortunately, just as Joseph was by the angel, we too are assured that in this messy and relational work we need not be afraid, for it is the work of the Holy Spirit and God is with us.
Prayer Inbreaking God, empower us to be radically righteous this and every day.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 9, ‘prepare your way for you‘
Preparation always seems to take longer than the main event. In the kitchen, chopping vegetables takes more time and energy than cooking. The set up and breakdown of our church services take longer than the service itself. The planning of a big party can take months, resulting in a few hours of fun. John had his work cut out for him, preparing the way for Jesus. If I’m honest with myself, there is a lot of work I could do in order to make my heart and life a more hospitable place for Jesus. Knowing that God is love and that God is beyond my comprehension, there is always room for me to grow in love. Preparing for God, I can practice forgiveness, cultivate patience, open my heart to humility, let go of expectations, try to understand others, attend to the lonely, and seek justice in the form of mercy. I’m glad that there is always something to do, I can never be bored, and grateful that I don’t have to have it all accomplished today. What’s more, I am confident that I don’t do this work alone—God helps me to do what God calls me to do. Thanks be to God.
Prayer Giver of life, help me to help create space for you in this world.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 5-6 ‘the blind receive their sight, the lame walk… and blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.’
We live in a transactional society, many interactions between people can be measured. We take metrics on everything, especially the things we give away. I find that in Bible studies, we’re always a bit indignant about the stinginess of the tax collectors and Pharisees who judge Jesus’ actions, though in reality I’m not sure we’re much more generous. We grumble about those who get handouts and debate whether or not they really need them. Health care, cell phones, food, and transportation are viewed as things that ought to be luxury items. But honestly, when Sesame Street is only available on HBO, how can we really begrudge a poor woman with children for prioritizing cable tv? With pay phones being virtually nonexistent, why do we question the validity of the Obamaphones? When money is tight, how else is one supposed to make a doctor’s appointment, or get in touch with family, call back a potential employer, or notify a babysitter that the bus is running late? Mercy is frequently offensive precisely because it wasn’t earned. But then again, if it were earned, it wouldn’t be mercy.
Prayer Forgiver of sins, help us not to be offended when grace is granted.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection— v. 16, ‘When Herod knew the magi had fooled him’
I don’t think that King Herod was fooled. The magi did not set out to deceive the
king. In fact, if anything, Herod tried to deceive them when he claimed that he intended to honor the new king of the Jews. Often we project our own thoughts and intentions upon others. Herod intended to fool the magi. When it did not work, he believed that he had been fooled by them. He may have felt foolish in the end, but that was never their intention. Without being malicious but with more time and information, the magi were entitled to change their minds and plans. We know that Herod’s deception was based in fear, for verse three tells us that he was troubled by
the news of this newborn king. That fear, coupled with his newfound anger sent him into a rage—lashing out and devising the murder of thousands of innocent babies. Most of us do not plan mass murders, but many of us do lash out in destructive ways when our own plans go amiss, we feel that we’ve been made a fool, or our power is challenged. May we be less reactive than Herod, realizing that life’s circumstances are more complex than others trying to offend us. May we act slowly and with love.
Prayer God of comfort, calm our hearts that we not be angry, embittered, or reactive.
By: Maggie Leonard
Reflection—v. 4, ‘Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?’
Even from prison, John is a clear communicator. He does not make assumptions, but rather asks genuine questions and waits with patience for the answer. Our minds frequently concoct stories in our heads that are much more dramatic than reality. If I’ve recently been offended by someone and have a long car ride or hike ahead of me, I can play out our impending confrontation for hours and feel that it’s still incomplete. In reality, the conversation takes ten minutes. Recently I’ve started to worry that we are losing that ability to ask one another questions without anticipating the answers—our ability to really hear and honor one another. Somehow our own experiences best that of another person, when in reality they were never in competition. My prayer is that we can become a people who ask questions and who deeply listen to the responses.
Prayer Oh Holy One, you know our sighs when we have not words to pray. You hear our questions, and you always respond. Help us to hear more clearly and lovingly the responses.
By: Chad Hyatt
Reflection—v. 2, ‘…at hand’
What does it mean that the ‘kingdom of heaven is at hand’? John means exactly what he says—that God’s rule is breaking into our world right now. It also means that the kingdom is ‘at hand’ in Jesus of Nazareth. His coming–—his advent—is the coming of the kingdom. Because that was true in John’s day, it also true now. The kingdom of heaven can also be ‘at hand’ in how we respond to it; it is very literally in our hands. The kingdom John preached and Jesus embodied is ‘at hand’ as we pass the bread of communion in worship or a bowl of hot soup on the streets. It is ‘at hand’ as we clean and dress the wounds of spider bites on those who have been ‘sleeping rough’ or bandage a knife wound by an angry lover. The kingdom is ‘at hand’ as we wash dirty clothes and then share a laundered coat with a sister who shivers from the cold. The kingdom is ‘at hand’ when we grow vegetables in our own gardens to share with our neighbors and then chop them and stir them into a savory soup pot. The kingdom of heaven is at hand in every work of mercy that we do for one another in this wilderness of the streets.
Prayer O Lord, may your kingdom come as your people work hand-in-hand.