Daily Advent Reflections

Daily Advent Reflection: December 25

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Christmas Day

Psalms 2, 85 · 110:1-5(6-7), 132
Zech. 2:10-13 
1 John 4:7-16 
John 3:31-36

Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7

Long ago – more years than I care to count – I was working my way through a graduate degree in Nursing School. One of my teachers was a bright woman named Libby Dayani. One time we were talking, and she recounted a difficult time in her marriage. Not just a “rough patch.” She and her husband had separated, she was determined to divorce.

As usually happens, they met with lawyers. She was ready to hear his list of demands. Only… he didn’t have any. Why not? - she blurted out. Because I love you. And he wouldn’t budge. In fact he wanted for her to have everything. The house, the car, the money. Everything. No matter how hard she pressed him, he made no demands, only told her that God had shown him a way to love and he was dedicated to that way.

Now, Libby was a Christian, but was not so generous as her husband. He was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. He came to the US for college, where a friend had given him a copy of the New Testament. He read through it until he got to the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. He read through that chapter once, then twice. Then again and again, and as so often happens, the Holy Spirit struck and he vowed to follow this Jesus… He was converted by love. Pure, vulnerable love.

Libby’s husband’s vulnerability chipped away at her anger and softened the hardness of heart that hurt had caused. She gave up. His vulnerability, his love, and restored their relationship.

What does it mean to be vulnerable to another person? It is to relinquish any power you have over that person, giving it to them so that they have the power to love or to hate you, to treat you horribly or well. Please let me be clear – this is not an argument that people should remain in abusive relationships! It is, however, a call to forgiveness, to the healing of one’s own heart.

It is exactly this vulnerable love that we celebrate today as we remember the birth of a tiny baby, long, long ago. Jesus, so weak, vulnerable, and new, laid in a manger on a bed of hay, teaches us what it means to love. That vulnerability will continue to be his constant companion throughout life, even until he is mocked by those who would send him to his death, death on a cross.

We are called to imitate God’s vulnerability. When we are vulnerable, we know a love that is palpable, that nourishes us, that slakes our thirst, that shows us, in turn, how to love one another. It mocks all pride. It tenderly lifts up those whom we look down upon while assuring us that we are not made any less by bowing down, by loving generously. You will have known about this sort of vulnerability any time you have been thrust into a situation of conflict. Whether it be your family, church, work, friendships. Perhaps you can think of a place where vulnerability would be a healing balm? The greatest of gifts.

Remember these words as we move together from Christ’s birth onward: Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. - 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a

The Rev. Martha Branson Berger
Retired Clergy, Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee

Daily Advent Reflection: December 24

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Christmas Eve

Dec 24 Morning: Psalms 45 & 46, Isa. 35:1-10 Rev. 22:12-17, 21 Luke 1:67-80
Dec. 24 Eve: Psalms 89:1-29, Isa. 59:15b-21, Phil. 2:5-11

To express our deepest pain and longing, we often leave behind measured sentences of prose and turn to the verses of poetry and song. In the midst of the political, economic and global-health chaos of this last year, many have been quoting the famous poem by W.B. Yeats, “The Second Coming:”

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold."

Yeats wrote his poem shortly after the end of World War I, when so many were grieving their dead, grieving the loss of order and the notion of humanity’s steady upward progress. If war had laid bare humanity’s darkest impulses, what could be coming next?

"And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

Two thousand years before Yeats, the gospel writer Luke sets out to tell the story of the One born in Bethlehem. The vast majority of the time he tells this story in prose, but in the very first chapter, the main characters break into poetic song, unspooling verses which have formed the church for centuries. Told that she carries the Messiah, Mary offers the poetry of the Magnificat. And just after her song, Luke records the song of Zechariah. Zechariah had been told that he would be a father late in life and that his child would one day help turn the hearts of people back to the Lord. Disbelieving this was possible, the Lord struck Zechariah dumb. And when his tongue is finally loosened poetry spills from his mouth.

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.

Zechariah is familiar with ache and longing. He knew the excruciating pain of not being able to father a child, month after month, year after year. He knew political and economic pain and longing. Israel had been ransacked by one Middle Eastrn power after another, and Zechariah came of age with the boot of the Rome Empire pressed on the neck of the people. But God would remember. God would not give up on them. God would come to save.

We have come to a Christmas Eve, where normally there might be great celebration. This evening we should be watching sheep and costumed shepherds shuffle towards Bethlehem. We should be singing carols in candlelight and drinking from the heaviest chalice. We should be basking in the light and warmth of human fellowship. Many of us will do our best to have small celebrations, but this day will no doubt be full of longing. Our church building will spend much of this Christmas Eve in darkness.

The Song of Zechariah is written not only for those of us who wonder when we will return to church, but those who have known all kinds of darkness. Those who felt the center of our souls would not hold, forces of anxiety or addiction pulling us apart. Those who have recently buried loved ones with just the barest of liturgies. Those who now look for work. The darkness and uncertainty of deepening political division.

But Bethlehem is close. Into our longing, we have the promise that the center will hold, that God will not forsake us.

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

I love the poetic contrast of God’s tender compassion breaking upon us, a wave of loving kindness crashing over us. I love the image of the Lord sending One who will guide our feet in the way of peace.

When so much feels so out of control, each of us can choose the song we sing. Will we add to the cries of fear and anxiety that the center will not hold? Or will we with our lips and with our lives sing into the darkness a song of God’s tender compassion breaking in around us? What will you sing this day?

The Rev. Seth Dietrich
Christ Episcopal Church, Whitefish Bay

Daily Advent Reflection: December 23

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Fourth Wednesday of Advent

Psalms 72 · 111, 113
Isa. 28:9-22 
Rev. 21:9-21 
Luke 1:26-38

It is that time of year once again when we are reminded of Mary’s great faith when the angel Gabriel revealed God’s plan for her. I always read this passage with a hesitant yet fond familiarity. I know the story. And I know I need work in the faith department. Yet as I progressed through the verses, I found myself troubled just as Mary was troubled. For I realized that her concern came before she learned about her pending pregnancy.

I guess I always jumped to the conclusion that the thought of being with child before her marriage to Joseph was formalized, was the reason for her concern. Knowing what the community would think of her, knowing what Joseph would think and have every right to do in that culture, and knowing that she could possibly even be stoned to death would give anyone a good reason to be troubled.

But as I looked again at verses 28 and 29, I found that she was troubled before she heard any details of her call. She was troubled because of Gabriel’s salutation, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” It even says that she wondered what kind of a greeting that was. I then began to think about how I would react to those words without knowing the rest of the story.

I’m sorry to say that the cynical and sarcastic tendencies of my character would probably emerge front and center. Highly favored? Really? Ya, right! And yes, God is with me. But I just wish He would make His presence a bit more obvious.

Looking once again at what her pregnancy would mean for her, I realized just how much she needed that greeting. She truly had to take it seriously in order to stand strong through all that she would face. She had to believe that she was favored and that God was with her before she could choose to accept the impossible into her life. She had to believe it with all her heart.

How many times are we faced with the same situation when God tells us we are His and He is with us? Only when we can accept that truth, can we then go on to accept the impossible promises in His Word. We are forgiven (Psalm 103:3). There is now no condemnation (Romans 8:1). God causes all things to work together for good (Romans 8:28). He will give us rest (Matthew 11:28). He will never leave us (Hebrews 13:5). Greater is He that is in us than he who is in this world (1 John 4:4). Ask and we shall receive (John 16:24)! These are just a few of His promises and all seem rather impossible most of the time. But when even one of those promises becomes real in our lives, our lives become more and more a beacon of light in a dark world.

So it is still about Mary’s great faith. Only after she put her faith in God could she respond, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Just when I felt I knew this story, God took me back to the beginning. As Isaiah said, the Word IS precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little there a little. That’s how our faith grows… by small determined baby steps while standing on top of a solid foundation.

Jesus is the Word. And every one of us is called to accept the Word that the Spirit of God places in our hearts, so that we can give His truth birth into this world.

Terrie Knox
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Fort Atkinson