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advent

And YOU Shall Name Him Jesus

4th Sunday of Advent Year A, Matthew 1:18-25.

Many of us are pretty familiar with the story of the Holy Family by now. The story of angelic pronouncements, decisions to be made, and a new family formed. One character in this familial tale that sometimes gets glossed over is that of Joseph.

We know about how righteous Joseph was, that he married Mary anyway, and that he was a carpenter. But the most important part of the story is this.

1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus

Joseph names the infant Messiah Jesus. This might seem strange to us, but under the law, Joseph naming Jesus meant he claimed him. He was legally his child. Joseph was claiming Jesus as his own. This is huge.

He didn’t have to do this. He could have gone on with his plan to let Mary go quietly, and his reputation would have stayed in tact. But people would talk, and I’m sure they talked plenty. They would guess that this child wasn’t really his, but he claimed him anyway.

What a message of grace and love from such an overlooked character! To take a child and claim him as his own. Sounds a lot like what happens to us in baptism. God names us and claims us as God’s own. We can learn a lot from Joseph, the father of Christ.

Shalom.

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Not What We Expected

Third Sunday of Advent year C Matthew 11:2-11

When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Matthew 11:2-3

Have you ever been really excited for something, and then when it happened, it didn’t really live up to the hype? I’m sure we all have, at least I know I’ve seen at least one movie that should have been great and I’m pretty sure was a total dud.

But at least I wasn’t the one in the wilderness shouting “Prepare ye the way of this highly anticipated movie”. But that’s what John the Baptist had been doing. He had been preparing everyone for the coming of the Messiah. The person who could come and topple the corrupt government and would usher in the Kingdom of God.

And yet John sits in jail. Jesus didn’t come out of that baptismal water and immediately jump on a white horse and bring the Romans to their knees. In fact, he wasn’t at all what they expected.

And isn’t that the way of it?

We are prepared for happiness, and sometimes we are called to some unhappy places.

We are prepared for love, and sometimes the ones we love were not the ones we were meant to be with forever.

We are prepared for success, and sometimes we help others succeed instead.

We are prepared for royalty and all of its fanfare, and yet this is the season where we meet our savior in the most humble of places.

And even though we know the story, and we know why this baby in a manger is so important, we are still sometimes like John, wondering if this Jesus is really what we were expecting. Does Jesus really ask us to love our neighbor? And is our neighbor really everyone? Does Jesus really challenge those in power and raise up those who are weak?

And we know the answer is yes. We know that Jesus is all that and so much more. So, in this season of Advent, let us shake loose our expectations, so that the unexpected Jesus can surprise us once again.

Justice for the Poor

2nd Sunday in Advent Psalm 72:1-7 18,19

72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

Our culture has taught us to get really caught up on certain aspects of faith. I’m not even going to name them, because you know what they are. They are the political hot points. The things that make the news. The things that get people so fired up they are willing to unfriend church folk over it.

But you know what scripture talks about hundreds of times, almost as if God and Jesus were really serious about it? The poor. We are to care for the poor and the needy. We are to see to the needs of the widow, orphan, and prisoner.

Sometimes it feels like we’ve lost that fire to do something about poverty in our world. We’ve been fed a lie about why people are poor, and that they need to stay that way. I don’t believe that’s true. I echo the cry of the psalmist in our scripture for this week, that our leaders might champion the cause of the poor, and seek justice for the oppressed.

In September of 2019 I attended the Assembly of the Deaconess Community of the ELCA a community that I am blessed to walk with on my journey of becoming both a Deaconess Sister and Deacon within the ELCA. In that assembly, through the leadership of another candidate, the Deaconess Community voted to endorse the Poor People’s Campaign .

I am very excited about this endorsement, and I’m excited to see what I can do to support the campaign in my local area, especially through voter registration and mobilization.

So how will you champion the cause of the poor among us? I hope its through checking out what your local Poor People’s Campaign is doing and serving the cause. But if not, do something. Advent is about waiting, but the poor can’t wait forever.

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To Unlearn War

1st Sunday in Advent Year A. First Reading. Isaiah 2:1-5

” He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. ” Isaiah 2:4

War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing

Edwin Starr

We are in that time of preparation that starts our church year again. That time when we wait. I know I’m not very good at waiting, its hard to unlearn the cultural push to exhaustion. But here we are, beginning again with the time of waiting. The time when we say, slow down, the Lord is coming. Wait a while with us.

And our text brings us back to Isaiah, the great prophetic texts so often used to say whatever we want it to say, especially proving messianic prophecies. And while that is an important part of the prophet’s text. I am drawn to verse 4 every time. Especially this line:

Neither shall they learn war anymore.

Isaiah 2:4

We learn war. Its not instinctual in us. We aren’t created to live this way. The Hebrew word here is לָמַד lamad, which means to teach, instruct, diligently expert, or become skilled.

I often wonder what a world like that would look like? What would it look like if we didn’t learn war anymore. If we didn’t learn how to fight each other. If we didn’t teach our children glorious war stories, but rather the tragedy of death and trauma and lifelong sorrow produced by it.

In this season of Advent, I’m choosing to unlearn war. If we can learn it there must be a way to unlearn it (or at least I’m hoping there is). I’ll choose to meditate on the ways I can teach peace, and to help restore a world broken by centuries of a learned culture of war. I pray others can join with me and we can figure it out together.

Shalom siblings, peace be with you.

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Sisterhood

4th Sunday in Advent Year C

Luke 1:39-45

Mary and Elizabeth. Two women who played major roles in history no one could have prepared them for. One would bear a prophet who would herald the coming of the Messiah, and the other would be the mother of that Messiah.

Talk about your big ask. Both of these women would not only become mothers to sons (a very important job in their time), but their sons would hold occupations that did not necessarily bring honor to their families, and both would die pretty horrible deaths. Now, we don’t know if Elizabeth outlived John, but we know Mary was present at Jesus’ crucifixion.

Both women, tasked with huge roles, didn’t ask for them. Elizabeth desperately wanted a child, but I imagine she might have chosen a different life for him. Weather Mary was ready or not, she was to be a mother in a way she didn’t plan either. So where does she go? With haste, she heads to Elizabeth’s house.

Sometimes we need the sisterhood of believers. Women have often existed in the shadows of religious life, and even as more and more serve in leadership roles, we often are not intentional about seeking out those female relationships. Even when we do, (as can be the case in some larger churches) we pigeonhole ourselves into age specific groups of females.

We need Elizabeths. We need women who have gone before us, with struggles, and joys and sorrows to share. We need stories of how they’ve seen God so we can better see God ourselves.

And Elizabeths need Marys too. They need to rejoice in new life, and protect those who come after them. They need to be reminded of who they have been and how much they are needed now.

So enter into the sisterhood of believers and may your soul magnify the Lord!

Rejoicing Always

3rd Sunday in Advent

Philippians 4:4-7

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice”

What does it look like to Rejoice in the Lord always? Does it mean being happy all the time? Does it mean ignoring the bad things in the world, turning a blind eye to suffering and misery, and pretend its not there? Sometimes it feels like that would be nice. To just live in the happy times, and to rejoice in all that God has given us.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the theme of Rejoicing in the Lord runs throughout the lines. One can assume that the circumstances in Philippi were less than desirable. Paul warns about behavior during times of conflict, both internal and external. He is trying to get the early followers to understand that their joy is in God not in their circumstances. 

God’s desire to return the world to a place of wholeness, or Shalom, is the reason God calls us to a broken world. We live in the middle of the brokenness, but we serve a God who is not broken. In fact, we serve a risen Lord who conquered death and rose again. We know we are called to restore the brokenness around us, and we get to rejoice in the promises of the resurrection.

Restoring the broken, living in the promise. That’s something to rejoice about. 

Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord

2nd Sunday in Advent, Year C

Luke 3:1-6

If you want a great ear worm listen to Prepare ye the Way of the Lord from Godspell. Go ahead, google it. I’ll wait. Done? Ok. Its a great song, even if it just repeats the same words over and over again for 2 minutes. Any time this story of John the Baptist is told, I can’t help but sing this song.

What are we preparing for? Its the season of Advent, a season of waiting and preparation. The secular side of Advent pulls us in a million directions preparing for Christmas. There is china to pull out to reflect the season, decorations, lights to hang, and a million parties to go to.

The church side of our lives has its own pull. There might be extra services, concerts, cleaning, decorating, and its own parties to add to our advent preparation. Sometimes the preparation gets a little out of hand, doesn’t it.

We didn’t decorate this year. The tree is staying in the attic, along with the lights, ornaments, and other signs that my house would be “ready” for Christmas. We didn’t skip the decorating because I’m a grinch or anything, we just have a toddler and a new dog and I really don’t want to add “clean up the mess” to my list of things to do this month.

Not decorating has slowed things down a little bit. But It doesn’t stop the busyness of a season like this. Perhaps its time for all of us to take a moment to slow down and figure out how God is calling us to prepare the way for Jesus, in our homes, in our Churches, and in our hearts. 

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