GOD MOVED INTO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. - JOHN 1:14
The Incarnation is, in my mind, one of the most beautiful doctrines of our Christian faith. It is also one of the most difficult to truly understand. I mean, God deciding to put on human flesh is one thing, but deciding to do so in the form of a helpless infant born in an animal-filled stable with the trough from which they ate their food for a bed, well, that is something altogether different. In fact, when you consider that generation after generation of God’s people had been waiting for 400 years to hear from God and had heard nothing until that silence was broken by the cry of a newborn baby, the idea of the Incarnation and how God chose to make himself known to us becomes downright incredible.
One of my favorite descriptions of the Incarnation comes from this verse from John’s Gospel, as paraphrased by Eugene Peterson. I believe it to be one of the best images for helping us understand what the Incarnation really means. God, in the person of Jesus Christ, became flesh and dwelt among us. God Himself moved into our neighborhood.
God, in the person of Jesus Christ, came to show us the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus shared life together with us. And, fortunately for us, this was not a limited-time engagement. Jesus is still with us, beside us for every step of our lives, sharing His resurrection life with us.
John Wesley said it best at the end of his life, “The best of all is, God is with us.” Yesterday, today, and forever. Glory to God!
PRAYER: Jesus, Son of God, thank you for moving into the neighborhood and showing your people the way, the truth, and the life. In the new year, help us to become more fully the people you created us to be and reflect your face in all that we do. AMEN.
Rev. Aaron Rousseau
FROM WONDER TO WONDERFUL
The angel said, Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide. - LUKE 2:10
The story began in wonder…
Who was it who delivered the message
To an unsuspecting young woman?
Yes, you recall, it was a being of wonder –
The words were a mixture
Prompting a wonder of surprise
And a wonder akin to
How can this be?
And to me?
The other wonder is the acceptance
Of the life changing message
By the unlikely but perfectly suited one,
So humble, so willing
To be blessed.
It simply never happened before
In all of history
And yet, the wonder is
It changed all things –
Born in wonder
Growing in amazing ways
To reveal how a life
Could have such a connection
Not only their story
Once again, we being different
And the same
Say, how can this be?
The wonder of it all
Is our life made different
By One Who also listened
Showing the way
Each person can be given
The long ago message,
Each allowed to live
PRAYER: Dear Messenger, help me to listen and live in wonder. AMEN.
COMMON ENGLISH BIBLE (CEB)
1 In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. 2 This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. 3 Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. 4 Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. 5 He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. 6 While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. 7 She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Announcement to shepherds
8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you - wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among
those whom he favors.”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them.
19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.
FROM ORDINARY TO WONDER
...there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Then an angel... - LUKE 2:8-9A
One of my favorite cartoons in Christmas past shows the shepherds watching over their flocks at night 2000+ years ago. One of the shepherds turns to another and says with a sigh, “Nothing ever happens out here!” And then, well, you know the rest of the story... the surprise visit by an angel, the Announcement, the event of a birth not to a royal family in a palace, but to a teenage peasant girl conceived out of wedlock, delivering and laying the child in a manger in the stall of an inn in the rural town of Bethlehem.
Over 2,000 Advent seasons have come and gone... so is there “anything new under the sun” this year you haven’t heard? Will God’s Presence in this season create anything different within you? When was the last “wonderment” during a Christmas season that you remember? When was the last wave of spiritual energy (rather than busy fatigue) that rippled through you during Advent like wind through a wheat field?
Ordinary to WONDER! Can it happen this season in your life? Samuel Shoemaker once remarked, “Coincidences happen more often when we pray.” Encounters with God seem to occur more often to those who pray regularly. Prayer can change the ordinary into wonder engaging the heart and mind deep into your soul. Prayer can take us from a “dry and weary land” and lead us to the fountain of Living Water.
PRAYER: I pray we will all be seized with WONDER this Advent season leading us to the Gift of Grace we know in Jesus. Love came down at Christmas making it possible to go from an ordinary night to the shepherds’ final declaration... “glorifying and praising God at all they had heard and seen.” (v. 20). THANKS BE TO GOD!
EXPERIENCING THE WONDER
Thou art the God that doest wonders: thou hast declared thy strength among the people. PSALM 77:14
When I sit at the beach and watch the sun sink into the ocean at the end of the day, I “experience the wonder” of God. I am awestruck at this world He created so many years ago. The sunset is an event that has been experienced by the ages. It is part of the normal rhythm of a world that has stood the test of time. I see the same sunrises and sunsets that were observed by the shepherds on that hillside outside Bethlehem and the same stars that guided the magi on their journey of faith and worship.
The fact that each day has a constant beginning and ending is a gift from God which I have been “allowed” to experience. Witnessing the sun setting every evening and coming up every morning, attests to the wonder and awesomeness of our God. It does not require action on my part. It is a gift that God has put in place for me. It gives my daily world parameters. It gives rhythm to my life and serves as a constant reminder that there is a God who is in charge. So, when the days get a little stressful and I do not know which way to turn, I look around and am reminded of God’s presence and know that He is still in charge. What a comfort and joy to know that this God is my personal savior, redeemer, and friend. It makes the daily journey of living manageable. Praise be to God!
PRAYER: Thank you God for this world and allowing me to experience the wonder of it every day. AMEN.
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
On the beach on St. George Island, I watched the waves. I looked to where the water touched the sky. I realized that the water I saw was only a small part of all there is. Viewing our church and town, I realize that this is only a little corner of all God created. I’ve often wondered when there is no hope, how can love stay alive through all problems and grow stronger? No matter how much I know or the wonders I see, there will always be more than I can fathom. I’m filled with wonder as I hear George Beverly Shea’s song, “The Wonder Of It All”.
There’s the wonder of springtime and harvest
The sky, the stars, the sun
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
Is the wonder that’s only begun.
There’s the wonder of God’s revelation
The Word Who dwelt amongst men
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
Is that Jesus is coming again.
Oh the wonder of it all, the wonder of it all
Just to think that God loves me!
PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, As I sing that song, I pray that I might be filled anew by the wonder that the Creator of the universe loves me. Let it strengthen me and uplift my soul. AMEN.
THIS IS MY FATHER’S WORLD
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” - JOHN 1:14A
John’s version of the nativity is “The Word became flesh...” John is more concerned about who Jesus is than about the details of a nativity. “The Word” is God’s creative agency from (Genesis 1): “And God said, ‘Let there be...” God speaks it happens! John says God “spoke” Jesus into existence? John is clearly saying Jesus is the very Creator who made us all, for “all things were made through him.” The Creator becomes a part of the creation, a human being like us!
What does this have to do with the Christmas narrative? One morning I felt led to walk the “Nolan Trail” through the woods behind Trinity’s buildings. Walking amongst the trees, hearing the birds singing, admiring the beauty of nature, my mind began echoing this song:
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings…his hand the wonders wrought... O let me ne’er forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is what Christmas is all about! No matter how far we wander from God’s way or how many Herod's there are, God is still ruler. God speaks Jesus into existence to bring the Kingdom of Heaven upon the earth until “every knee bows... and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord!”
PRAYER: Loving Creator, speak your love into me that I may be your Presence in the world. AMEN.
WONDERS WITHOUT END
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever. - PSALM 23:6
“To experience the wonder” as a devotional topic has become a time of intentionally noticing the abundant wonders in my little space in the world. Soft morning sunrise with sweet birdsong...brilliant sunsets...moon and stars lighting the night sky...gentle breezes...warmth of the sun...chilly mornings...children.
I have been blessed with the wonder of grandchildren who offer new lessons of wonder every waking minute. Little people who seem to notice everything... who can be captured in the midst of a race by a particular leaf... or ant... or frog... who can fall to the floor in gales of laughter over delights never seen by me. Sweet souls who can love with their whole hearts and trust without hesitation. Tiny hearts who absolutely know that Jesus loves them.
Perhaps it is no wonder that God chose to send us a child to show us the way. A holy child, born without sin, who grew to be a man without sin. It is, however, the greatest of wonders that God does love us so much that He sent His precious Son to create a way to Him by shouldering our sins and in return asking only that we place our trust and belief in him... that we repent and follow.
For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father's will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day" (John 6:38-40).
It is a wonder beyond my limited human capacity to understand this love that would sacrifice so greatly for me, for you, for every single, individual one of us. A wonder that began with the sweet gift of a baby.
PRAYER: Dearest Lord God, yours is a love we do nothing to deserve and that is awesome in its steadfastness. I pray that I might be faithful in my love for you and ever in awe that you sent the gift of your Son with His promise of a future in the light of your love. Lord I pray that I can be your humble servant, sharing His message and your love. AMEN.
The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told! LUKE 2:20
Shepherds, or sheepherders, as the Message labels them, led uneventful lives, boring lives, mostly predictable lives. Occasionally a sheep would wander away or be prey for some lurking predator. Sheep are not smart animals and someone had to watch out for their welfare. Those who had the nightwatch enjoyed the vast tapestry of stars and moon as their entertainment. It was a quiet, pastoral life. Nothing could have prepared them for the appearance of an angel who brought God’s blazing glory and an unbelievable message. Why would an angel be telling them that a Savior has just been born who is Messiah and Master? Even more weird, they were to search for a baby in a manger. Perhaps they thought this to be a dream, a happening so far removed from their humdrum existence. To top it off the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises. When the choir returned to heaven the excited shepherds talked it over, then hurried to Bethlehem to see if this could possibly be true. When they found Mary, Joseph, and the baby in the manager, just as the angel had predicted, they were amazed and spread the word to anyone who would listen. The shepherds returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen. They must have wondered if it was real or a figment of their imaginations.
How interesting, that God would choose a humble birth in a lowly place, with a humble “audience” to witness this world changing event. These shepherds would never be the same again. One wonders if they heard rumors of Jesus as he grew into manhood and his ministry. Maybe not, since Nazareth seemed far, to them, from Bethlehem. They must have asked the question,” Why us?,” over and over again.
It took people who were ”wonderstruck”, dazzled by a radiant angel and angel choir, who believed what they heard and eagerly spread the word. The simplicity of their lives contributed to their innocent belief that this might indeed be true. Would they have heard, years later, the Savior of the world calling himself the good shepherd, willing to lay down his life for the sheep? John 10:11 Would they have ever guessed that they had earned a place in posterity simply because they were the ones, nearest this miracle of God, who responded?
Are you wonderstruck, struck by the wonder of the Prince of Peace entering our strife-filled world? There has never been such good news. There is hope, there is joy, God is with us!
PRAYER: May we see the birth of Jesus through the eyes of the Shepherds. May we be full of wonder at His entrance into our world. AMEN.
LUKE 2:1-20 THE MESSAGE (MSG)
The Birth of Jesus
1-5 About that time Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken throughout the Empire. This was the first census when Quirinius was governor of Syria. Everyone had to travel to his own ancestral hometown to be accounted for. So Joseph went from the Galilean town of Nazareth up to Bethlehem in Judah, David’s town, for the census. As a descendant of David, he had to go there. He went with Mary, his fiancée, who was pregnant.
6-7 While they were there, the time came for her to give birth. She gave birth to a son, her firstborn. She wrapped him in a blanket and laid him in a manger, because there was no room in the hostel.
An Event for Everyone
8-12 There were sheepherders camping in the neighborhood. They had set night watches over their sheep. Suddenly, God’s angel stood among them and God’s glory blazed around them. They were terrified. The angel said, “Don’t be afraid. I’m here to announce a great and joyful event that is meant for everybody, worldwide: A Savior has just been born in David’s town, a Savior who is Messiah and Master. This is what you’re to look for: a baby wrapped in a blanket and lying in a manger.”
13-14 At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises:
Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him.
15-18 As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
19-20 Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE
LUKE 1:5-7, 12-13, 36-37
Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Ralph and his wife Phyllis tried to have children on their own, but couldn’t. Their only attempt, a baby girl, died not long after birth. They learned Ralph’s wartime injuries would make such hope of parenthood extremely difficult.
Ralph and Phyllis, like Zechariah and Elizabeth, were Godly people. The couple prayed for “divine intervention” on a visit to a religious shrine in Quebec, Canada.
Ralph and Phyllis came home, and a neighbor (a nurse) told them a baby girl was available for adoption. Phyllis, like Elizabeth, was thankful to God (v. 25) when the baby came home.
Elizabeth experienced the wonder when her son John arrived. Six months before, a greater wonder occurred when her relative Mary visited:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry… As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy" (Luke 1:41-42, 44).
As for Ralph and Phyllis, the baby that came on that April day long ago was me; named for the Roman Catholic patron saint of mothers who, according to tradition, was Mary’s mother.
PRAYER: Almighty God, May we be overwhelmed by your Holy Spirit and jump for joy at the presence of your Son. AMEN.
Anne Marie Zecca
What a glorious Lord! He who daily bears our burdens also gives us our salvation. - PSALMS 68:19
While recently shopping I happened upon a piece of wall art that caught my attention. It read, “Such a big Miracle in such a little child.” Of course, I knew that it was referring to the birth of the Christ child but I couldn’t help but think of my four grandchildren and how their births - as ALL births - are miracles that are given to us as gifts from God.
From the Apostle’s Creed we know that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary - miracles from the start and that was just the beginning! The Gospels recorded 37 miracles performed by Jesus in the New Testament although some scholars say that he performed many more.
I’ve heard it said that miracles are not always visible to the naked eye but that if we live by faith, we can see them clearly. If we live by faith and trust that our Savior knows what is best for us and we follow his lead, he will give us the strength to cope with all of life’s circumstances and bless us with his Love and Peace. For me knowing that the gift of Jesus’ birth was given to mankind so that we could have the everlasting gift of eternal life is the biggest miracle of all.
PRAYER: Dear Father in Heaven, We thank you for the ultimate gift of your son, Jesus Christ. Help us to recognize and appreciate all miracles that touch our lives. AMEN.
CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCES OF WONDER
I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including, signs, wonders and miracles. - 2 CORINTHIANS 12:12
CRASH - I woke up in the hospital unable to move!! I was in a panic and called out “help”! A nurse came running and soothingly pulled the blankets down to show me I had casts on both arms and both legs and she murmured it was only 30 or 40 pounds worth! As I really started into hysteria a sweet, warm calmness came over me and a feeling of wonder that led me to understand I was to “be still, my child, be still”.
I knew the power of prayer as a Christian but questioned the term used today “gone viral”. I know longer do. As word of my accident went out from my daughter, my church, my family and friends I soon was overwhelmed with prayers from Africa to Canada, from New York to California to Florida and all states in between. I felt “blanketed with the warmth and wonder of prayer” from everyone I knew and some I didn’t.
Even after a year of therapy and aids such as canes and crutches, when I was told I need two more operations on my left legs before I walk normal, I can turn to my Lord and say “Not my time, Lord but your time”. I can still serve others and He is still my Great Healer. He still shows me wonders ever day as he leads me. He still shows me wonders through his wonders.
To those I may have helped,
I wish I did more
To those I neglected to help
I ask for understanding
To those who helped me
I sincerely thank you so much
TO OCCUPY THE EMPTY CHAIR
In a devotional writing for the UPPER ROOM (new November-December issue) our former associate pastor and dear friend Troy Holloway tells of Christmas in his home when growing up - how they always placed an empty chair at the Christmas dinner for Jesus Christ. How moving that must have been to have the reminder that Jesus is at the table sharing the blessings of the Christmas dinner with the family.
Reading about that prompted me to wonder - why not invite a needy person from the community to occupy the empty chair? (These days that may be a bit testy" and rightly so) If such is the case how about a member of your congregation whom you know to be lonely with no relatives nearby - someone at your workplace that you are aware they will be going through Christmas alone - or how about the single neighbor on your street whom you know will be spending Christmas as just another lonely holiday?
Still difficult to fit into your plans? Plan to take food, dinner, treats, etc. a few days before Christmas? OR.....invite one of these just after Christmas to help with those delicious leftovers - Chicken a la king gets boring if you try to use it all yourself. As the saying goes - "in doing so you may be serving angels unawares".
Or - it could be a case of - "when you fed the least of these my loved ones - you fed me".
PRAYER: Precious God, whose Son we celebrate this season, keep us mindful of the blessings you have given us, and help us to share your bounty with all our love to all those who are in need and especially those who may not know you. May our empty chair be occupied with those in need and therefore occupied by the living Christ. AMEN
THE WONDER OF IT ALL
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. - LUKE 2:15
While on a trip to Ireland several years ago, I walked along one of the majestic cliffs in that country and had a view of the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the lush farmland on the other. At some point along the walk I stopped and looked out over the vastness and remarkable beauty of the Atlantic. In that moment, I was filled with a sense of wonder much as the shepherds must have been after the angels appeared to them and told them of the birth of Jesus.
In moments like that, words simply cannot describe what one is feeling and the multitude of emotions stirring inside us. (Luke 2:17) tells how people responded when the shepherds told them the news. It says they were amazed.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus each year, let us never lose the wonder and amazement over what God can do in our lives through Jesus.
PRAYER: God in heaven, thank you for the wonder of it all as we ponder the birth of Jesus. May we share that good news with a world longing for a savior. AMEN.
MARTHA & MARY
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her.” - LUKE 10:41-42
Sometimes I'm Mary, but more often I'm Martha. In the story in Luke, Jesus and the disciples have been invited into a home, and Martha's hustling to be make sure the guests are being cared for. Mary meanwhile isn't being helpful to Martha; Luke writes that Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus, and Martha is getting frustrated. She is working hard and wants everything to go well and Mary, from Martha's perspective, isn't doing her part. But when Martha complains to Jesus, she's surprised at his response.
Most every day (but not the Sabbath Aaron!) I have a hit list of things I want to get done. Work, community service, family, home... some important, some mundane, but all on the list and all directing my attention... like Martha that day. She was doing things that needed to be done so all would be welcomed, fed, and cared for in her home.
Certainly nothing wrong with that. So why did Jesus say what he did?
I wonder if it was because Jesus knew that day and that moment were no different than any other for Martha, even with the Lord in the house? Martha was busy and efficient, and she was also stressed, critical, and self-righteous. She's living from the outside in, and Mary seems to be living from the inside out. Mary had a spiritual awareness that Martha didn't have, and Mary's whole being flows out from this awareness, whether she's getting stuff done or whether she's at the feet of Jesus.
For me, the key lesson in this story is not about balance in my life. It is not about making sure I'm spending time in prayer, worship, and studying scripture. Instead, the takeaway for me is about learning to live each day with an awareness of the divine, being present in each moment, and, even while getting those things done that need to be done, letting who I am flow out of that image of God imprinted inside. I have miles to go, and I'm sure thankful for the grace along the way.
SCRIPTURE: LUKE 2:1-20 NEW REVISED STANDARD VERSION (NRSV)
The Birth of Jesus
1 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was
governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem,
because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they
were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there
was no place for them in the inn.
The Shepherds and the Angels
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord
shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is
born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the
Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had
been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her
heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
CHRISTMAS SEASON 1973
The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything,…let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. - PHILIPPIANS 4:4B –7
My mother and my sister were due to arrive in Washington DC by bus from Pittsburgh, PA three days before Christmas to spend holiday time with my husband and our three children in Falls Church, Virginia.
We were familiar with the Greyhound station in downtown Washington, so Virgil dropped me off to go in and check out the arrival gate, while he found a place to park.
As I stepped inside, I was met by a crowd, NO a mob, of people, coming and going. It was obvious that many were not passengers, but were part of the usual day-to-day folks who inhabited the station because it was a place of action, a way to get a hand-out, a place to stay warm, or a place to use the bathroom as they wandered the streets as in any big city.
I pulled my purse closer to me as I looked for the dispatcher for information. When I inquired about busses from Pittsburgh, he shook his head, “There are so many busses coming in that there is no space here for them to unload. There are at least 15 lined up on Massachusetts Avenue, waiting for a space.”
By this time, Virgil had found me and we decided we would walk up Massachusetts Avenue to see if we could find the bus our folks were on. But first, I headed for the Ladies’ Room. As I walked through the door, I saw a rather chaotic scene: a mother holding a crying baby, a street-walker fixing her hair, people waiting in line, and a noisy babble of unfamiliar voices. It was confusing, unsettling. Although I was not fearful, I held my breath for a second. Then as I surveyed the scene, it was like a voice talking to me “these people are all children of God.” An unbelievable sense of peace, calm and love for these people came over me.
We eventually united with my relatives and headed for home and a great reunion time.
I remember my experience of that day each year as we approach Christmas Day. I am thankful to God for giving me His Christmas message in the midst of a chaotic place, much like might have existed in busy Bethlehem the night of Jesus' birth, before the Holy Family found peace and calm in the quiet manger.
PRAYER: Dear God, I give thanks for your messages given to us in unlikely places, by unlikely people. Help me to always be aware and to look to you for peace, calm and love no matter where I am or who else is present. Surround all peoples with your love so they can recognize you as creator and spiritual guide. In Christ’s holy name. AMEN.
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” - LUKE 23:42
My mother is now in a nursing home in Starke. She’s losing her memory. It’s so hard to watch her fade away. She loved me when everybody else thought I couldn’t make it in life. When I was taken from my family in Savannah, institutionalized, and then placed in a group home with an evil man, she rescued me. She believed in me. But now she’s losing her memory and might forget who I used to be and how far I’ve come. In some ways, that’s okay. That little boy is gone, and in his place is the independent man who led my mother to God a long time ago. She won’t forget God. And God won’t forget me.
My mother’s situation has been stressful. It comes at the same time that there are some hard transitions at work. I have a new supervisor, my hours have been cut, I have different responsibilities, and some of my coworkers have quit. I’ve been really scared. I’ve done a lot of crying and praying, reaching out to God. He comes to me and takes it all away.
Through all this change, I’ve learned to rely on things that are the same. I still go to work and church, run my food drive, and raise money for March of Dimes and the American Heart Association. I rely on my friends, my support team, my counselor, Rebecca Jackson, and my doctors. This year the walls of my house are covered with new certificates that remind me that I still have important work to do for God. That hasn’t changed.
A week before Thanksgiving, Rebecca and I are taking dinner with pumpkin pie to my mother. And I’ve already been Christmas shopping for her. I used a gift certificate that I got from the March of Dimes and bought her two beautiful sweaters that my counselor Kathy will help me wrap.
Even though I can’t go home to my mother for Christmas anymore, I’ll decorate a tree in my apartment here in Gainesville. The angel on top will remind me that Christmas isn’t a time to be sad about loss and change; it’s a time to be grateful for miracles and wonders, and things that will never be forgotten.
PRAYER: Dear God, thank you for bringing us through rough times and giving us friends and family for help and guidance as we make memories together and keep them safe for each other. AMEN.
For as you have done it unto the least of these you have done it unto me. - MATTHEW 25:40
Who among us doesn’t love the wonder of Santa Claus? Who doesn’t love to “play” Santa Claus! Whether it’s an office “secret Santa” week of surprising a colleague, finding the ultimate gag gift for your Sunday school class exchange or a special way to remember a special teacher there is joy in the “thrill of the hunt” amid the chaos of commercialism.
This joy is most challenging and perhaps most memorable when one is answering a letter to Santa, whether it be from your own child, grandchild or even a guardian ad litem or migrant farmworker’s child. The pressure is on because you are answering someone who believes that a magical being will read that request, or have it whispered in their ear, and answer it. Most of us would do anything to keep from shaking that belief and would be more than happy to keep that wonder alive, if only for one more Christmas.
On a recent mission trip to Haiti we were reminded that we who have the resources are given the opportunity to reaffirm a belief and sense of wonder, not in Santa, but in the Good Lord (“Bondye” in Creole). God calls us to be the answer to the prayers of the poor. In place such as Haiti the “list” is not for toys, or small luxuries, but for the barest necessities of life: food, access to clean water, or in our case, a simple new roof to keep the rain out so children wouldn’t get sick from the unhealthy conditions of a leaky roof or a tattered tent covered with tattered tarps.
Hearing, at each completion of a shelter, this testimony, that we had answered a prayer and reaffirmed faith and even wonder for a family, was tremendously moving.
Knowing one has answered a fervent prayer and strengthened the faith of the poorest of the poor is about as good as it gets when it comes to marveling at how God moves, and being part of it. And everyone at Trinity is a part of that wonder. Many of you could share similar stories of being told you were an answer to prayer. I can only say to every Santa wannabe, in the words of a Haitian recipient of a new dwelling: “Mazi (Creole for “thank you”) Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi! Mazi!”
PRAYER: Gracious Bondye, thank you for giving us the resources to be your hands and feet in the world, restoring hope and wonder to the hopeless in this season of hope and wonder. Our reward is that we may serve. AMEN.
HAITI MISSION TRIP OCT. 26-NOV. 2, 2013