And Mary Pondered…

“…and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2: 18-9 NRSV)

“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19 NKJV)

“And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” (Luke 1:28 DRA)

“And the angel went in to her, and said, ‘Hail, you who are freely beloved. The Lord is with you. You are blessed among women.’” (Luke 1:28 RGT)

“Upon entering, Gabriel greeted her: Good morning!You’re beautiful with God’s beauty, Beautiful inside and out!” (Luke 1:26-28 MSG)

December 19th is a significant day for me. There’s nothing that happened by outside standards that makes it significant. It’s not a holiday, or a birthday; I didn’t receive an award or any other sort of accolade. December 19th is the day before the day I gave birth to my first born. I wasn’t even in labor that day — it is profoundly just the day before I gave birth.

I remember, sitting on the floor of my childhood room, nesting, quietly sorting through baby shower gifts, dreaming & pondering. And moving from there to the  living room sitting on my favorite couch scrolling through Facebook, the tv playing in the background, dreaming & pondering. And moving from there to my room sitting on my bed, streaming some preacher’s sermon about Mary, dreaming & pondering.
That sermon came from Luke 2:

“…but Mary…pondered these things in her heart…”

I couldn’t help but feel a deep connection to the story of Mary & the birth story of Jesus — I was young, and with child, and the time was near for me to give birth to my first born: a son.

And just like Mary, people had a lot to say. They didn’t like my timeline. They didn’t think I was ready. They were angry. They said that any thoughts I had about my life & who I would become were gone. They judged my intellectual work through the prism their thoughts about my womb. They measured my character by the circumference of my pregnant belly. They changed up on me. They didn’t know how to engage with me. They were uncomfortable.

They…they…they…

You could get lost in the sea of they when they think that what they think is the axis around which your world ought to pivot and spin.
“…but Mary…pondered these things in her heart…”

Luke tells the story of a Mary steeped in wonder & critical reflection. The shepherds came after the birth of Jesus, telling of what the angels told them about her son. I can imagine Joseph and all his family milling about — some listening & engaged, some going about the cares of the moment, or some, perhaps, asleep…

“…and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart…”
Maybe love requires sacred space…your own inner symposium, and artist studio, and inner sanctuary, where you go to hear and to sit with what Howard Thurman calls the sound of the genuine. Mary knew how to do that.

“…but Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart…”
Even more that that, maybe love requires that over and against all that they do, over and against all that they say, over and against all that they set as their expectations — maybe love requires that over and against all their stuff, that you learn how to hold on to you. That’s what Mary did.

Mary had to love herself so deeply, so widely, so surely, that it was worth the effort to make room & create the place within herself where she could place words she treasured & carry ideas and experiences to be pondered.
Mary intuited that there was something about herself — something that she felt, saw, and sensed in herself. Something that wasn’t tied to traditions & accomplishments, but to who she was.

So she held sacred space for herself, within herself, to hear herself, and experience herself.

Perhaps that’s what made her full of grace, freely beloved, and beautiful with God’s beauty — not what they thought or said, but who she had the courage to be.

Prayer: Creator God — You who paints the heavens and then turns around and paints us too — grant us the courage, and the vision, and the creativity to be. To genuinely be. To fully be. Give us the courage to construe our worlds from the loved sacred center of ourselves. And give us the courage, and the sensing, and the vision to love ourselves, always.

—by Denise Hill

O Come All Ye Faithful

Wednesday, December 23

Jesus’ birth—Luke 2:1-5 (Common English Bible)

2 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.

Mary and Joseph went to Bethlehem in Judea because of the census.  Mary was pregnant and close to delivery. They traveled for a long distance in order to be there for what the Emperor ordered. Everyone had to go to their place of origin to get registered. It was the reason they were traveling. That was also why Mary delivered in Bethlehem. And that is the reason the angels appeared to the shepherds and said to them to “go to Bethlehem” to faithfully adore the child.

This year the travel isn’t it an exception. The pandemic has been reshaping our lives, our budgets, but also our sense of community – I am convinced – for a good. This time at home has been the trip from the sanctuary to our homes. Took time for us to understand it but we got it. And last Monday I got the certainty that we did understand it. Seeing the people at the Holiday Festival was such a remarkable sign of understanding of what this time requires from us: Being in family. Being close to each other in ways that we can be in care of us and in care of our loved ones.

That was the reason I made a long trip to Puerto Rico; not to be another tourist but to go to my country of origin because of my sense of care. Care for my parents who are old and facing some difficulties in this pandemic time. We protect our own, as Mary and Joseph protected their baby who was close to being born. Today the story of our lives gets close to the story of Mary and Joseph. We have been traveling – migrated from our one common space to the core of our lives, to the core of our beliefs, to the core of our very own people in care and support. We can’t be in the manger where Mary and Joseph got rest (and delivered) but we can make room in our homes to let the joy of the baby Jesus surround us, in total anticipation of the day we all can celebrate in the same space again. For now, let’s all come and be faithful. Let’s proclaim that a day of peace will come. Prepare the way for the lord to come. Let’s get ready to make the birth of the Baby Jesus a simple event in our hearts, and be faithful in caring for our own with faithfulness for all.

Prayer: Oh merciful God. We have being traveling so long from the space of the sanctuary in Hyde Park to the intimate spaces of our homes because of the pandemic, as our response to the love and care we hold for our very own. Let this time nurture our souls and our hearts and allow us to fill out those gaps of uncertainty with love, care, and joy, for the sake of that baby who was born and who is the reason for our reflection. AND LET US SING WITH JOY: O come, let us adore him, all ye faithful.

—by Sergio Centeno

Me Turns into We: Staying Unstuck in our Heart Centers

Tuesday, December 22 — by Lois Snavely

Proverbs 4:23 (The Message)
“Keep vigilant watch over your heart; that’s where life starts.”

The anahata, or heart chakra, is the fourth chakra according to the Hindu and Yogic traditions. In Sanskrit it literally translates to “unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten.” It’s also the allegorical center of community in the Yogic body, the place where quite literally “me turns into we.” Compassion and connection arise from this place. I don’t know about you, but there have been many, many moments throughout 2020 where I’ve felt hurt, struck or beaten down with the cares that accompanied this year. And just as many times where it felt like me against the world, where divisions ran deep and I didn’t feel “at one” with my larger human family. There was no “we.” There was only “me.”

But here God is reminding us to keep watch over that special beating heart, that center of community, that place that helps us remain unhurt, unbroken, unbeaten, unstruck, and unstuck. While there are a myriad of ways for us to practice emotional self care and a myriad of ways to balance that chakra, I’ve been finding it most helpful in the back half of 2020 to go hunting for the places where “me turns into we.” Where do the deep jagged lines of division seem a little less daunting? Where can I find places of nuance, understanding, compassion and listening? And where are the echo chambers to avoid that tell me I’m the justified and right one and they’re the problem? If our heart is ever to get unstuck now or in 2021, it can’t be when we get everyone on our side and it certainly can’t be when we make sure the “me” is taken care of before the “we.”

In a recent end of year letter to alumni, Loyola University president Jo Ann Rooney said: “For Christians, God becoming one of us in the form of a homeless newborn whose family quickly became refugees fleeing personal violence can help us reframe our own reality and perspective.” It can help turn our hearts to those who look most like Jesus this Holiday season, and maybe it can help us turn our hearts as well to those who look a little bit more like the Roman soldiers than the baby Jesus.

Take care of that anahata. Don’t let anyone step on it or victimize it, but don’t let anyone encase it in bitterness either. If the “me” is truly to transform into the “we,” it’s going to mean a transformation of the entire human family.

Prayer
O God, you are the ultimate balancer of our heart center. Help us remember when to draw healthy and helpful boundaries, and when to let others into the soft places of our lives. Help us through the steps of that delicate dance where “me turns into we,” where compassion and connection arise from the center of our beings, and where we see ourselves and our neighbors in both the Baby Jesus and the Roman Soldier. And help us to love both.

Comfort Ye One Another

Monday, December 21— by Antonia Coleman

Here is a link to the Spotify playlist that is peppered throughout this devotional. Please play it and add to it. It is a long night, so I pray that you are blessed with the interactive activity.

Comfort Ye One Another
After a full day of ministry, I settle in for the night. An evening of loving and caring on the screens, in rooms, in services, in webinars, in wonder chats, festivals and I am weary. I wonder if he is awake being an hour ahead. I need a little pick me up…

The Conversation
Antonia: Beloved, are you busy?
Marben: Good evening beloved on this longest night of the year. 
Antonia: I don’t know if I had an opportunity to tell you Happy Winter Solstice!
Marben: Thanks. Is it really a happy day when it is so short?
Antonia: LOL I guess not. It’s good in some ways to have a long night to think and reflect. Don’t you think?
Marben: Yes, reflection is good. Especially at the end of this very difficult year.
Antonia: This whole year has felt like a “short night” on so many levels.
Marben: Please tell me more for it seems like a very long night to me. 
Antonia: Let me pour myself a good cup of UChurch-styled wassail first. It’s been a short night because I’ve lost sleep on numerous occasions. It’s been a short night because I’ve always held onto hope. My father would say, “the sun is going to rise in the morning. That is one thing to count on.” I was always moving, even while being in the house. Constant movement. Tonight, is my first time being still. And I now feel the weight of the length of this year.
Marben: However God is with us regardless of the length of night.
Antonia: Really, because I’m feeling quite lonely and alone right about now.
Marben: I understand. God is with you.  God will comfort you in this tender time. 
Antonia: If God was a mug of wassail, I would give you a huge amen. For now, it’s a tender amen. How are you?
Marben: I am good. I long for human touch but filled with Godly touch.
Antonia: Please, say more.
Marben: During this pandemic I have been mostly alone. Spending my time on screens like this without human touch. 
Antonia: I so very much understand. Gosh, do I understand.
Marben: Do you miss human touch?
Antonia: I am touched by humanity through these screens daily. At the same time, there is nothing more affirming to me than some form of skin to skin contact. I miss hugs. I miss holding babies. I miss having a chest to lay on while listening to a heartbeat that will lull me to sleep.
Marben: So, on this shortest night how do you cope?
Antonia: (wassail…yaassss) Seriously, I listen to some Gregory Porter, Sarah Vaughn, Alexis Ffrench and think. I dream. I text you.
Marben: Music is a wonderful tonic. I value your text. They are a form of touch. I dream and like Joseph I find God in my dreams.
Antonia: What do you dream?
Marben: I dream about touch. I dream about travel. I dream about worshiping with people. I dream about hearing call and response.
Antonia: Those are beautiful dreams. I closed my eyes and imagined each one.
Marben: Dreaming on this long night is a good thing to do.  For my dreams are prayers.  
Antonia: Would you do something for me?
Marben: What would you like?
Antonia: Share a dream/prayer with me?
Marben: It would be my pleasure. Dear Father, we thank you for giving us the ability to dream like Joseph. To dream of the future you have given us.  A future free of a pandemic, a future filled with touch possibly and equality. The equality that we can only get from you.  An equality that does not care about our gender, that doesn’t care about our sexual orientation, doesn’t care about our race and all the other things that we humans make matters.  So I thank you for these lovely dreams with hope for more. In your son Jesus’ name I pray Amen.
Antonia: I felt all of that.
Marben: That is what God’s touch is all about.
Antonia: It is what is required. For all of us to touch and know what love is.
Marben: I believe so.
Antonia: Thank you for helping me to face this long night unafraid.
Marben: It’s been my pleasure and honor. Now it is time to dream.
Antonia: And feel touched.
Marben: Yes, the penetration of the touch. 
Antonia: It is what love requires and comforts my lonely soul.
Marben: By all means.
Antonia: Good night Beloved.
Marben: Good night Beloved. 

Reflection
I am grateful for friends who will go the distance with me. Because I know you my friends at University Church, I do have Marben’s permission to share our conversation. In this time of being alone, I want to remember to reach for the light. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined.” This promise is refreshing after 2020 and bracing for 2021. So much grief. Not just the grief of the loss of human life that has happened, but the loss of living freely, embracing, and basic consented touching are moments that will not ever be the same. I understand being so enthralled with the change of human life that the deaths of Botswana’s elephants en masse, snakes in sea foam, the harvesting of earth’s crystals for the pleasure of humans, and the endangered arctic bombas polaris takes a back seat.  It has been indeed a long year. I will not speak to if there is going to be an end in sight or predict when the night will break forth into day. I am confident that the “troubling will not last always.” (In my Grandma Ruth’s voice.) There is a unique calling in redefining what it means to have touchable moments and for me that is looking ahead into the light. In this longest night and year, I bask in the light that only this season can bring. The light of hope, joy, love and peace that binds us heart to heart will not leave us lonely.

Prayer
(Pause and reflect with each link)

To the Eternal One who creates all things, sustains the world and the universes, who is full of abundance and completeness and is transcendently imminent. I honor you. I recognize your existence, your superiority. I invite the warmth of my ancestors into my heart and I welcome the guidance, grace, love and positive resources their thoughts bring. To the God of Hagar, the God of Elizabeth, and to the God of my Grandmothers…thank you. I offer this prayer.

Let my light be the beacon in his night.
For the sometimes that’s craved, the sometimes after a long day
An even longer, stressful, year of ministry
Both near and far
The loud silence of pain
The mischief of grief
Collective losses
Have made me weak
Tears of disdain, tears of sorrow
Do not leave me without
An anxious waiting expecting not needing to borrow
To do that which love requires
Needs Time
For the time that is mine, the sun will surely rise
Rises to hope
Hope that quells the loneliness
I pray for a future free of that which gives me pause
I pray for the silence that resounds of peace
A perfected peace
An “It is Well” peace
Love requires joy in the waiting
A joy that is blissful
A joy that is as refreshing as streams from a mountain made with red clay.
Love requires touch
In a world where I can’t
This longest night
Love requires
Masked up
With washed hands
So much distance
For now, I dream hoping
God will meet me there
This longest night
Pillow held tight
Dreaming.
In the name of Jesus…amen and asé.

The Sacred Memory of Waiting

Friday, December 18 — by Antonia Coleman

Love requires that a newly wedded couple leave out from their home to a new place for possibilities and a new life.

Love requires that the newly wedded couple bring forth a newborn during the advent season.

Love requires their stories of their we story, the first one away from home.

These are my parents who you helped me pray for during my time with you. Their “we” story, though shared differently, interlocks and ushers us in prayer. Let us pray…

Creating and sustaining eternal wonder we are grateful for another advent season. We have moved through hope, peace, joy and are approaching love. We, the people, strive for what is required through love. Love is the foundation and requires determination through any storm.

  • Love requires reconciliation.
  • Love requires reparations.
  • Love requires family.
  • Love requires snow to cuddle.
  • Love requires patience and self-awareness to forgive oneself.
  • Love requires a selflessness that is compassionate with boundaries, self-control and acceptance.
  • Love requires peace.
  • Love requires us to seek justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.
  • Love requires us to be in divine relationship with all of our hearts, our minds, our bodies and our souls.
  • Love requires us to love each other, love our neighbor, love the outsider, love the other like we should love ourselves…regardless.

As we continue in this season, may we as a beloved community that is forward focus towards discernment, through love’s requirement, we are certain that we will be the beacon, the hands, and the feet of the wonder we honor, the light of the world, soon to come, again.

Amen and Asé.

Cohen’s “Hallelujah”

Thursday, December 17 —by Bethany Kacich

“The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham…..”
-Matthew 1:1-17

You won’t find Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah in any hymn book, and I doubt that most people consider it a Christmas song. But the pop a capella group Pentatonix included not one but two versions on their album “A Pentatonix Christmas Deluxe,” both haunting in their beauty. I have been listening to the song in its myriad incarnations on repeat during this unusual, pandemic-inflected Advent season. This Hallelujah rather than Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” seems a fitting score to the end of a year that I will forever associate with the profound darkness that forms the womb of hope.

Cohen’s Hallelujah sings not of triumphant divine love that conquers all, but rather of the seasoned, quiet, human love that remains when all else has been vanquished.

Baby, I’ve been here before
I know this room, I’ve walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

Hearing these lyrics juxtaposed on an album with nonsensical falalalalala’s has pushed me to consider how, exactly, Cohen’s dark and powerful lyrics relate to our Christmas festivities.

The Advent story I grew up with recounted a triumphant Mary accepting unconditionally the angel Gabriel’s news that she would bear a child who would reign over the house of Jacob forever. It emphasized her total obedience and her Magnificat—the canticle in which she glorifies God. This version of the story tended to gloss over her initial reaction: she was greatly troubled (Luke 1:29).

2020 was a year in which many of us were greatly troubled. And perhaps for this reason, it has been easy for me to imagine Mary in this light—or, more accurately, in this darkness. Persecuted, she is fleeing everything she knows, seeking safety. Being pregnant, she cannot move as quickly as she used to; her vulnerability is omnipresent. She doesn’t know if her betrothed will divorce her and what she will do if that happens. She is cold. She is scared. Still, she consents: May it be done to me according to Your will. Within this prayer, I hear Cohen’s cold and broken hallelujah.

What would Leonard Cohen, who died in 2016, make of his Hallelujah being featured on pop Christmas albums? Personally, I like to think he would have enjoyed knowing that his lyrics inspired Marian musings. About his childhood, he once commented, “It was very Messianic. I was told I was a descendant of Aaron, the high priest.”

Cohen was an artist who knew something about the importance of the stories we tell about where we come from.

As Christians, half of our holy book is the Hebrew Bible, full of such lineage stories. Yet we have generally become estranged from this aspect of our tradition. Today’s gospel reading is a complete genealogy of Jesus, tracing his lineage from Abraham to Isaac to King David, to Johosaphat, to Manassah, to Zerubbabel, down through to Joseph and Mary. What are we to do with a fourteen-generation genealogy?

These genealogies help us make sense of troubling circumstances we find ourselves in. We trace them, repeat them, hold on to them, reread them and we pass them down because we seek to understand the conditions that have shaped us. We cannot understand ourselves without understanding our genealogies, our histories.

Therapy is often caricatured as a place where we complain about our mothers. While I’ve done plenty of that variety of grousing, it’s truer to say that it’s a place where I talk about where I come from—who my ancestors are. How the heck I got here.

As a Master of Social Work student, I speak at length with my therapist about the modalities that he uses with me and with other clients, which range from Psychoanalysis to Cultural Relational to Cognitive Behavioral. He has explained that he strives to embody Carl Roger’s ideal of unconditional positive regard, which means placing no conditions on his complete acceptance of me and his other clients as people, whether we express “good” behaviors and emotions or “bad” ones.

My therapist is gifted at what he does, but truly unconditional positive regard is a tall order for any human. It’s surely easier to maintain that accepting stance when you’re only interacting with someone for fifty-five minutes per week—and then only at arm’s length—but even under those optimal conditions, the occasional raised eyebrow or sigh of disappointment will inevitably creep into any ongoing relationship, therapeutic or otherwise.

People like me used to rely on the institution of confession to divulge their deepest darkest secrets and nevertheless be met with absolution, with God’s unconditional love. And although my therapist comes from a Hindu rather than a Christian background, I find that I cannot help but consider him a conduit to the I am that I am.

His unconditional positive regard is imperfect, because he is human. But it is good enough to function as the light of grace—the light that coaxes out recognition of my flaws, my doubts, my trauma, my fourteen-generation genealogy—and teaches me how to accept it all, just as I am.

As a closing prayer, I encourage you to explore the many artists who have offered their own versions of Cohen’s Hallelujah, who range from Rufus Wainwright to Willie Nelson; from Ed Sheeran to Justin Timberlake; from Jeff Buckley to Jennifer Hudson… Every rendition is personal, is beautiful. Pick your favorite and pray in song with me, knowing that, despite our hardships and failures, God loves us without conditions, in 2020 and always:

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah.

Don’t Let “Them” Tell You How to Feel

Wednesday, December 16th —by Linda Eastwood

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18   Rejoice always. Pray continually. Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Don’t suppress the Spirit. Don’t brush off Spirit-inspired messages, but examine everything carefully and hang on to what is good.   (Common English Bible)

When my mother died back in 2010, I remember just how I felt when one of my fellow seminarians told me to rejoice, because my Mum was now with God and was watching from heaven. Those were words that I did not find in any way helpful at the time. I was in deep mourning, and I would have given anything to have my Mum back, just as the families of 300,000 people in the US, and over 1.6 million around the world, would probably give anything to have not lost their loved ones to Covid.

And yet there are some people who use the Thessalonians text, above, to (intentionally or not) instill guilt – as “bad Christians” – in those who can’t always find it in themselves to visibly rejoice and give thanks to God “in every situation.” Don’t they remember that even Jesus, on the cross, went through a feeling of total abandonment by God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul was writing to gentile-Christians suffering from persecution by the community and empire around them, and trying to figure out how to live in what they thought were the last days before Jesus’ second coming and the end of the world.  Not exactly the situation we’re living in now, but I suspect we can feel the parallels!  And when Paul talks of “Spirit-inspired messages” (most Bible translations talk of prophecies, or prophets), in this context he means words from church-members who feel inspired by God to share. Think, for example, about the comments many of us are sharing during Facebook-live worship right now; I’m glad that I’ve been seeing plenty of affirming and positive messages. But while Paul tells us to listen, he’s also telling us to “examine carefully” and “hang on to what is good.” You don’t have to internalize negative and hurtful messages – even well-meant ones!

If life feels really hard for you in the situation we’re in right now, then don’t let anyone else use “Rejoice and give thanks” to make you feel guilty about sadness and hurt. Yes, do look for whatever you may still feel thankful for, and try to seek out the deep inner joy that Pastor Julian talked about on Sunday, but know that you don’t have to hide sadness and hurt – even anger – from God. Let it all out in prayer, knowing that God, in Jesus, has been there too, and is right alongside you.

PRAYER: God, our creator and protector, help us bring our hurts and griefs – even our anger – to you in prayer, knowing that you understand them, and that you walk alongside us in every situation. But then help us to seek out those things for which we really can be thankful, and to reach for the deep internal joy that only your peace can bring, so that we can find the strength to move forward, trying to “hang on to what is good” and to do your will.  Amen.

Together Beyond Time and Space

Tuesday, December 15 —by Lois Snavely

Matthew 18:18-20 (The Message)
“Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”

Casper Ter Kuile in his book The Power of Rituals: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices uses the metaphor of communion to talk about the big magic of doing things together. “By sitting down together, we signal that we need one another…Theologians tend to focus on what happens to the food: Does it become Jesus’s body? Or does it merely symbolize it? But Orthodox Christian theologian Alexander Schmemann doesn’t ask those questions. Instead, he writes in his book For the Life of the World that ‘we must understand that what “happens” to bread and wine happens because something has, first of all, happened to us.’ It is because we have gathered together – in Schmemann’s understanding, as a church community – that the bread and wine have changed. In this sacred time together, he writes, ‘we…are standing beyond time and space.’”

If we are standing beyond time and space, if Sabbath and the Eucharist and the Church body is something beyond time and beyond physical space, then it is not HOW we gather in this time of distance and virtuality, it is THAT we gather that brings the Divine into our midst. It can feel in this Advent season of our lives that the liminality and ambiguity of the waiting has stolen something precious from us. But as good as it will be someday when we arrive at the Christmas Morning of “normalcy” and we are able to gather in person, to hug and laugh and sing together, we should not discount the holy that has happened when we’ve virtually gathered together, beyond time and beyond space.

We should also not discount the lessons we learned as a global community who banded together even beyond physical space. We all united together in God’s name – the name of Love, the name of Justice and Equity, the name of Health and Sacrifice. Let us not forget that when we called on the names of God, God showed up in the midst of us, and it wasn’t because we were all standing together maskless in one room. May that same God show up during our global Christmas morn.

Prayer
God, we call on Your name as we gather together across time and space. Let us never forget the lessons we learned in this, the Advent season of our lives. As we see light at the end of the tunnel with talk of vaccines and normalcy, let us remember the “we” that showed up, that came together. Let us remember the thing that happened to us in the time of waiting, and help us to bring it forward into the dawn of Christmas morning. 

@John_the_B

Monday, December 14 —by Sarah Jones

This is John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him, “Who are you?” John confessed (he didn’t deny but confessed), “I’m not the Christ.” They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” John said, “I’m not.” “Are you the prophet?” John answered, “No.” They asked, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”John replied,

“I am a voice crying out in the wilderness,
Make the Lord’s path straight,
just as the prophet Isaiah said.”  (John 1:19 – 23)

God is God and I am not. (Beyoncé)

I have a special place in my heart for John the Baptist, as I suspect most leftists do; he’s living the dream. John refuses to bow to the imperialist system that Rome has imposed on his people and lives “off the grid” and out of reach of the governors and legionnaires. John refuses to conform to societal constructs, this being best conveyed through his very intentional performance in appearance. You wear a camel’s-hair robe and a leather girdle and people know exactly what you’re about. John is so uncompromising in his ideals that he subsists on locusts and wild honey; he doesn’t participate in any economy that monetizes the basic right that human beings have to food. John is woke.

But what really makes John the Baptist a leftist, radical, antifascist icon is that people listen to him. He’s figured out a way to get his fellow Jews to recognize their sin and to repent of it. He’s got followers who spread his teachings, and ordinary folks are coming to him in droves to have their own eyes opened. The Pharisees and Sadducees — the upholders and beneficiaries of unjust hierarchies — are afraid of him and his message.  John has dedicated his life to building a movement that threatens to overthrow the Empire — and he’s been pretty successful.

I’m someone who gets emotional fuel from righteous anger, and this year has been great for that particular type of energy. In 2020, there is no shortage of things for political radicals to rant about and get in online fights over. The performance of activism is made easier by our new reliance on social media for any kind of interaction; our timelines are flooded with woke-ness. Internet personalities became social-media-famous for creating shareable memes, hashtags, and viral tweets that we latch onto as little nuggets of truth-telling and power-bashing. It feels really good to post diatribes against the individuals and institutions that get likes and affirmations, or to see folks jump on the political bandwagon of someone you’ve been a fan of “before they were famous.” New friends, new followers, reshares and retweets, all become affirmations of our righteousness.

I imagine that it wasn’t easy for John the Baptist to proclaim his own limitations. By any metric of a prophet, he was doing a great job. I imagine that his followers really wanted him to be The One who they could hitch their wagon to — The One who would tell them what to do, what to say, what to think in order to be in God’s good graces. And I am sure that the success of his message was a boost to John’s ego as well. And so I wonder what went through John’s mind when God showed up in the form of his cousin the carpenter. Maybe he thought, “This guy?!? But he’s never been outside of Nazareth!” Or maybe, “Thank God it’s him and not me; thank God he’s finally here.” In any case, John never hesitated to remind folks of who he wasn’t and could never be.

I love John the Baptist not only because his uncompromising idealism is kind of my life goal, but because he also reminds me to be humble. “Woke,” on its own, is not a political identity that’s easy (or even helpful) to claim. No matter which side of history we end up being on, our political passions will always put us in danger of idolatry — blind obedience to an idea or person that, however good, is still limited and fallible. For a cis-het-White woman who is working (fumbling) towards abolition, dismantling White Supremacy, and the overthrow of capitalism, John’s example of humility is necessary. I don’t have all the answers. I never will. And I don’t have to.

PRAYER: God, remind me that you are my guidestar.  Forgive me for attaching myself to ideals and ideas that leave no room for your divine disturbance. Help me to reorient myself towards your love and mercy and to listen for your voice in the cacophony of human opinions.  

Rejoice!

Saturday, December 12 —by Sergio Centeno

Philippians 4:4-5 (New International Version): Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Psalm 126:5 – May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.

We are approaching the Third Sunday of Advent, and we want to invite you to join us tomorrow for online worship and celebrate with Joy in our hearts the active waiting for birth of baby Jesus. As we continue in active listening and expectation, we invite you to pray this prayer:

PRAYER: Let your spirit enter our holy anticipation and let us slow down the speed of our lives enough to listen carefully to what this time of discernment is telling us as a people and a church. And as we get ready to light the pink candle of Joy tomorrow, we are holding Joy in our hearts now. Even in the middle of the solitude, the diagnosis, the distance, the anxiety or desperation. It is a challenge. May the everlasting mist of the Peace of Christ fall upon us and lead us to feel your fresh breath giving us peace. Let us tune ourselves and center our hearts for carefully and joyfully listening what does the Spirit is saying to us. In the precious name of that Child for whom we are waiting. Amen.