Advent commences the Church New Year. We have reached a point on the liturgical calendar when we begin, again, with a wealth of scripture, imageries, music, prayers, and customs intended to prepare us for the long-expected Jesus. This new year also includes the offering of St. Peter’s Advent 2016 Devotional Booklet, composed of personal, daily meditations by adult and youth parishioners and members of the parish staff. Thanks to Dr. Chris Lakin, who initiated this booklet, and all who have made it possible for our common use. May we receive blessings from what we read and be wide awake for Christmas: The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
– The Reverend Ollie V. Rencher, Rector
Let us pray.
Come, thou long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free; from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee. Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art: dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart. Born thy people to deliver, born a child, and yet a king, born to reign in us for ever, now thy gracious kingdom bring. By thine own eternal Spirit rule in all our hearts alone; by thine all-sufficient merit raise us to thy glorious throne. Amen. (Come, thou long-expected Jesus; words by Charles Wesley)
Note: A scripture citation from the Daily Office accompanies each reflection. You can click on the citation to view the readings on the Forward Day by Day website.
First Sunday of Advent
How do we as believers, as hosts of the Spirit, prepare for the coming of our Lord if He is already with us through the Spirit?
Our preparations of mind, body, and spirit remind us that we are not merely preparing for a spiritual arrival, but a physical incarnation of God made real and eternal through the mystery of the Trinity. Our Lord Jesus Christ did not leave us with the Spirit alone. He called upon us to remember and to participate in the resurrection of His physical body and blood through the breaking of bread and the sharing of wine; He instructed us to love the Father with all our heart, soul, and mind, and He left us with the Lord’s prayer that we might give praise and thanks and even call upon the Father’s mercy communally.
So, as the Gospel of Matthew reminds us, the true Advent is best seen as more than a season. The true Advent is a way of life. The true Advent is an eternal and daily preparation for the physical, mental, and spiritual coming of our God through the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Let us prepare ourselves for His arrival.
First Monday of Advent
Each morning of this Advent season as we gather in the chapel at St. Peter’s, we will be called to Morning Prayer by one of three sentences from page 75 of the Book of Common Prayer. The first says “Watch”; the second, “prepare”; the third “see.” In the first lesson Isaiah calls us to “hear” and “listen”; in the second, Paul speaks of giving thanks and remembering.
As I begin this very special season, what are my “words,” I wonder. Could they be “decorate” or “shop” or, maybe, “order”! I confess that while working on this meditation, at this very point, I thought “cookies!” and stopped to order those thin, thin ginger crisps that help make the season. And what else is really important for me? With all those things in mind, in what order do I arrange my “words” of Advent?
Yesterday in worship, led by the Priest, I asked for grace to “put on the armor of light, now. . .” O loving God, as I live the hours of this first Monday in this first week of Advent, help me begin to do just exactly that. Amen.
First Tuesday of Advent
“So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share not only the gospel of God but our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.” Thus writes Paul in the second chapter of his first letter to the Thessalonians. Forced to leave Thessalonica after starting a new church, Paul is commending the people there for holding fast to their faith in the face of persecution and reminding them of the nurturing relationship between the apostles and the people that allowed the ministry there to grow and flourish.
While most of us are fortunate enough to practice our faith without fear of persecution or physical violence, we do experience our own struggles in a world that often seems determined to thwart our best efforts to proclaim and live out a life in Christ. Our instinctive response may be to circle the wagons, to retreat to our own congregations, to give only so much, to turn inward and protect our time, our energy, our sanity, our being.
But it may be the very boldness of sharing “our own selves” as we try to live out the Gospel that will bear more fruit and bring greater comfort. Paul, Silas, and Timothy waded into the daily life of the people to whom they were ministering, earning their own keep as they engaged the people in conversation around God’s saving grace. The result was not only many new Christian converts, but a relationship of mutual love and respect that sustained both the apostles and the Thessalonians through challenging times. “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?”
As we enter the Advent season of anticipation and preparation, celebrating once again the birth of Him who would ultimately give His own self for our salvation, how can we be more giving of ourselves and share more closely with others in the waiting?
First Wednesday of Advent
“He said to them, ‘Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.”
– – John 1:39
The very meaning of the word Advent is “the coming,” and we celebrate Christ’s first coming (“O come, O come, Emmanuel…”) and His future coming (“Lo! He comes with clouds descending!”). But the readings for today’s Feast of St. Andrew flip that theme on its head, and instead we are invited to come and see Jesus.
But Jesus was speaking not only to Andrew and friends. He is speaking to us too, inviting us to come and see for ourselves. Note that Andrew and friends didn’t pay a weekly courtesy call and move on. They remained with him that day. They spent time with Him. They lingered in His presence.
What they discovered started a staggering chain of events in motion, events that would turn the known world upside down. For Andrew told his brother Peter, and you know the rest of that story.
Jesus invites us in this season of programmed cheerfulness and busy-ness to remain with him, to spend time, to linger in His presence, in times of personal devotion or corporate worship.
May what we discover also set a staggering chain of events in motion, to allow us to live into our calling as bold followers of Christ and a beacon of hope to not only center city Charlotte but to a world in need of healing and reconciliation.
First Thursday of Advent
“…They cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection.”
Advent – the coming of a birth. Awaiting and anticipating with a quiet thrill something which we cannot yet know. What is this that draws us, that asks us not only to peer into the dark, but to tread through it, somehow unafraid? Surely, the night calls forth more about the dead than the living, more about despair than about joy, more about the tomb than the cradle. Yet, we move more into the void, as if we had sight, or knew journey’s end. This seems to place death before birth – as if the natural order of things were reversed. But will the birth come? We walk on in a mystery of faith to see – with an unspoken hope, as much as a newfound surety. Then at a pause for respite, in a stable we think dim and only for slumber, we are taken by radiance. Rather than startled, we welcome it with a rising joy, knowing without thinking that this is not the end, but the beginning – our beginning, clearing all that has gone before. I gaze on the swaddled form and I recognize self – and not only self but all the travelers of this worldly place – and I smile. I am a child, perhaps an angel. I have come from the dark. I am resurrected from self into Him – into the Light.
First Friday of Advent
I often feel like a Psalmist. Some mornings when I go out to feed my sheep, Psalm 23 sings to me of green pastures. In recent months I have more often felt like the psalmists who have trouble sleeping. In the earliest hours of morning, I lie awake and feel close to the edge of the pit of despair. I cry and find no rest.
The comforting verses in Psalm 22 are no help. The image of being a child safe with my mother does not work, because my mother is dying. She is skeletal and weak beyond telling. My mother is receiving the best, most loving care possible, and yet I cry every time I see her or even think about her.
Eight years ago, when my father lay close to death, every time I closed my eyes to try to sleep, I saw him suffering, struggling for breath. Even after he reached the comfort of a hospice house, I could not peel the image from the inside of my eyelids. I prayed to God to take away this image and send me a new one. God answered my prayer. I closed my eyes and saw Jesus, the Good Shepherd, waiting for my father at the border of the heavenly country. Close to Jesus stood my father’s parents and siblings, healed and glowing, waiting. Near the Good Shepherd lay sheep, and a fair number of border collies ran in a green pasture.
My vision of heaven is a green pasture so large that I can see no far boundary. I love border collies, sheep, and my family. God spoke to me through what I love.
During Advent, and always, when despair threatens to overtake you, I bid you to ask God for an image to sustain you, to give you hope. God will speak to you through the people and creatures you love. Tiptoe over from Psalm 22 to Psalm 23 and trust that God will restore your soul. Find rest in God’s goodness and mercy.
First Saturday of Advent
Remember the Future
Richard Gaillardetz, Joseph professor of theology at Boston College, reminds us that during Advent we “remember” our future. It is a Liturgical time empowered by memory.
So Advent is not just memories of past events leading to the birth of the Messiah, it is a time to remember the new heaven and earth to come. If this present Advent is not the time of His return, then we still joyfully receive Him as the Babe of Bethlehem….and wait.
During Advent we learn to wait as our ancestors did in Isaiah’s day: watching for the glory and the shalom of God. In Isaiah 4 Jerusalem waits for an age of healing and renewal. In Luke 21 the Messiah tells us to wait for His coming even in hardship or persecution. In First Thessalonians 4, thought to be St. Paul’s earliest letter, he reminds the little faith communities scattered throughout the Empire how blessed our Advent waiting is, ” since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died… we will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever” (4:14,17).
That is something worth waiting for.
“Lord, our past is our knowledge, but your Advent is our future.” Amen.
-The Reverend David Brinkley, Pastor Emeritus Trinity Church
Second Sunday of Advent
During Advent we simplify our lives to prepare for the joys, celebrations and reality of Jesus coming into the world. Liturgically we sing plainsong versus Anglican chant, the a cappella Trisagion and David Hurd’s Sanctus from “New Plainsong.” These changes to our rich and exuberant celebrations of the Eucharist are intended to help us quiet ourselves, focus our attention and make room for something new.
Today, on Advent II, we come together with a service of lessons and carols, something which may appear at first to be more complex than usual. Offering the scripture of prophecy, promise and the events leading to Christmas, it is simple in its directness. All of Advent is presented at once.
This year the service is structured around the “O” antiphons dating back to the ninth century and attributed to St. Gregory the Great. While the origins of these antiphons are not known, it is known that they were used at vesper services leading up to Christmas. Each antiphon presents a name given to Christ in the Old Testament and a petition for the fulfillment of the scripture prophesying His coming. They were the inspiration for the hymn “O come, O come Emmanuel.”
The carols or hymns and anthems that we will sing are collected from many periods of our musical history and are reflections on the scripture with which they are presented. This year, I have been especially moved by Craig Phillips’ anthem “The Risen Sun.” The music is pensive with great surges of warmth and light. The text, however, has intrigued me the most. I offer it for meditation as the central theme of this year’s Lessons and Carols.
Second Monday of Advent
4But you, beloved,* are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.
Paul wrote first Thessalonians as a letter of encouragement to the new believers in Thessalonica. After spending about three months there, he felt the need to check back and ensure that their faith was still unwavering, so he sent Timothy back to the region. Expecting a poor report upon Timothy’s return, Paul was pleased to receive word that the church there was keeping the faith. How illuminating that must have been.
I write this reflection today while reflecting upon the anniversary of my baptism into the Episcopal Church. Like many of us, we are more a transient people, and I am a far distance from the church I was baptized in. Several years ago I had the opportunity to revisit St. Georges Episcopal in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. There was no fanfare, and no special service to honor my return; it was just a regular day in the week and I was on island visiting family, and as usual, felt the need to visit the church my parents grew up in. My father was accompanying me, and proudly showed me the church record listing December 5, 1965, as my baptism. And I thought to myself, for just that moment in time during my baptism, the heavens paused and shone a light acknowledging a newly baptized. But was that light for me, or for all those witnesses that had the opportunity that day to reaffirm their faith?
We are all children of the light, a comforting thought as we continue to go about doing God’s work in our daily life. May we always continue to seek ways to reaffirm our faith and shine our lights brightly wherever we go.
Second Tuesday of Advent
In my work as a catechist with the children of St. Peter’s, I have been listening to selected prophecies with children for over twenty years. We begin with the youngest child, introducing the prophet as someone who listened to God and then then told others what was heard. Then as now, these prophecies help people in their time of waiting. The very youngest children respond to the prophetic images of “great light” and “the star” listening to clues that stimulate wonder and joy as they contemplate the question: Who are you Lord? As the children age, we begin to discover the multiple meanings of the prophecies, telling of Christ who has come, Christ who comes to us today and Christ who will come again, the responses of the children continue to expand.
Today’s prophecy speaks to the messianic and the moral preaching of the prophet Isaiah. I invite you to read the prophecy aloud. Ask yourself: What do I hear in this prophecy?… not just the words but the sounds described; the quaking mountain, stubble devoured by fire. Read again, this time, ask yourself: What did I see?… what visions come to mind? … the lambs grazing, the outstretched hand?
I invite you to read once more, and as a final question, let’s ask ourselves: What is my response to this prophecy, what am I to do?
In this time of joyful waiting, may we be reminded of how we are to prepare our hearts, with all of our senses, for the Christ who has come, is coming to us in the Eucharist, and who will come again at the Parousia.
Second Wednesday of Advent
The reading from Isaiah relates a vision Isaiah has of the Lord sitting on a throne with Seraphs attending Him. Isaiah realizes he is not worthy to be standing in the presence of the Lord. One of the Seraphs “cleanses” Isaiah and clears him of his sins by touching a hot coal to his lips. The Lord then says: “Whom shall I send..?” and Isaiah says: “Here am I, send me!” I wonder how many times we have wanted to say that ourselves? There is so much going on in the world that we want to DO something about, but don’t know what exactly. We want to help, to comfort, to listen. Isaiah spent his life trying to make the people listen to him and repent of their ways.
We are called to do the same during Advent. This is the time we are called to listen, to prepare, to repent. Jesus told his disciples to go out and do as He did. Will we hear him today? It a call we must heed to be true followers of Christ. Hearing the call and serving others, as Isaiah did, is at the very core of who we are as Christians.
Second Thursday of Advent
Read Matthew 11:28-30.
Now read it again. Out loud this time, and stop for a moment where Matthew has Jesus say, “Learn from me.” Take a deep breath, and read on. Here is what we can learn from Jesus: his “yoke”, an antique rural image that most city folk have only seen in museums or on those horses and mules pulling the tourist carriages on a Saturday night uptown or any day in Charleston. Yoke-free sounds much better, but that doesn’t seem to be a choice we’re given. Maybe there actually are some who have no burdens. The invitation from Jesus in Matthew, however, is to those who are weary and carry heavy burdens. If that’s not you, just skip the rest of this reflection and get on with enjoying your burden-free day. The rest of us can learn from Jesus, whose lesson for those of us tired of carrying around heavy burdens (some of the heaviest self-imposed?) is to be “gentle and humble in heart”. “Gentle and humble in heart” is not an instruction a lot of us ever learned, or certainly tried, choosing instead to keep our burdens or try out other yokes. Why not try this one? Just for today? All Jesus promises here is “rest.”
Read Matthew 11:28-30 one more time, then sit quietly for a minute, and rest.
Second Friday of Advent
This Advent I am thinking of Jesus’ reminder that he walked among us “as one who serves.” Today, trying to follow his words, we often ask how? How in our contemporary world do we find a meaningful way to serve?
If we look in scripture, we find examples of service, many of them modeled by Jesus. Washing feet is one that does not translate well to our modern world. Yet the posture of kneeling reflects the spirit of service. Kneeling suggests humble service, not puffing oneself up because of one’s greatness. The 12 apostles disputed “which of them was to be regarded as greatest.” They didn’t imagine the posture required just as we cannot imagine sometimes how we should serve, how the “greatest. . . becomes as the youngest, and the leader, as one who serves.”
Though new at St. Peter’s, I have found many openings for service for people of many talents: working in the garden, singing in the choir, serving as a receptionist, reading or ushering in services, making casseroles, providing Holy Chow or coffee, building a Habitat house, teaching a formation class, and ministering to the sick. For me the search for meaningful service culminated in my discovery of The Augustine Literacy Project. Using a research-based method for teaching reading–so important to everyone’s success in life–this project serves low-income students in 20 Charlotte-area schools, one child at a time. The Augustine Project claims: “Tutor one child, change two lives.” Service gives back!
John Milton, the 17th century poet of Paradise Lost, became blind while still a powerful poet. In his sonnet “When I Consider How My Light is Spent,” he writes of the dilemma of his blindness. How can he serve? “Doth God exact day-labor, light denied?” he asks. The last line of the sonnet resolves the dilemma, answers the question: “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Whether we stand, or sit, or kneel, we wait. Advent is waiting, but it is a pregnant waiting—expecting and acting for a juster world.
Second Saturday of Advent
Advent seems such a peaceful liturgical season. It is a time of preparation, of quiet expectation as the kingdom of God prepares to break into our world. Into such a time, the prophet Isaiah intrudes with talk of a different advent, delivered in harsh, urgent tones. There’s a child, yes, but Maher-shalal-hash-baz, whose name speaks of plunder and spoils, is not the child we were hoping for. Not for the king of Assyria and his despoiling warriors were we preparing ourselves, nor yet for their modern day peers, be they warring nations, predatory lenders, or invisible hackers.
Yet if we are honest with ourselves, even in Advent we’re sometimes more likely to notice signs of the kingdom of God retreating from us rather than drawing near. God, speaking through Isaiah, warns us that He is a rock – but one on which His people are prone to stumble. How is it that we stumble when we are trying so hard, squinting past the disturbing advent of ever-present trouble to glimpse the true Advent of Christ?
Perhaps we stumble because deep down, we’re looking for the kind of urgency we see in Isaiah. We want chaos to descend, if it brings peace behind it. We want the great flood waters to sweep evil away and usher in God’s holy reign. But our God is more complicated than that. When Isaiah says, “the Lord is with us” and then calls the Lord “a trap and a snare” for the people of Jerusalem, we see the kind of ironic twist that brought us a helpless infant as King. Our journey as Christians cannot be straightforward, any more than Christ’s life and ministry were. In this season of Advent, let us rejoice in quiet when we seek dramatic urgency, or in turmoil where we sought peace. Give us grace, Lord, to take what comes and revel in the snare that catches us, so long as that snare is you.
Third Sunday of Advent
In worship years ago, a small girl of perhaps two came forward with other children to hear a story. When the story was finished, the others returned to sit with their parents, but the little girl remained in the front, standing alone in the chancel area facing the stained glass window, oblivious to other people and activity. She simply stood in silence, having glimpsed something the rest of us hadn’t…Was it the stained glass? The candles? Or something else entirely? After a long time, she quietly turned and went back to be with her parents.
Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…HEB 12.28a) The good news breaks into a world where the news has been bad for so long that most don’t hear or see it. The little girl had not yet been conditioned to miss the holy. She is every one of us childlike, holy fools who stop, look, and listen to awe-inspiring Presence of God…who are open to miracles in the moment because they know it’ll take one to fill the empty place inside where hope and peace belong. …let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe…(HEB 12.28bc)
-The Reverend Dr. Paul Hanneman
Third Monday of Advent
Scripture: Luke 22:39-46
If you read the passage, you may have thought, “Are we in Advent or Lent?” It is odd and a little bit disturbing to read an account of Holy Week in the middle of Advent. However, as I reflect on all the passages for today, this was the passage I found the clearest message for this season.
I’m known in my family as the person who hates Christmas — pretty ironic considering I’m the one who became a minister. However, it’s not that I hate Christmas, as much as I hate the trials of Christmas. I hate the stress of making sure everyone has the right number of gifts, making it to all the parties so no one is offended, having gorgeous decorations, getting the perfect seating chart for family dinners to avoid World War III, etc. I wonder if at times that we journey through advent sleeping, with our eyes wide open.
So, often the business of the season keeps us from being truly present in Holiness of waiting and preparing for Christ. Today I invite you to wake-up from the trails of the season and be present with the Holiness it holds.
-The Reverend Eleanor Norman
Third Tuesday of Advent
In times like these, the waiting posture of Advent can seem burdensome and hollow. How are we to wait when there is so much on the line? But these words from Isaiah remind us that this season of waiting is not one of idleness. Rather, it is a season that is rooted in the revolutionary claim that the terms set by the God of Israel made known to us in Jesus Christ are far different from those given to us by the wider world. The world would have us act under the assumption that everything is on the brink of destruction, so we must fight to gather as much, do as much, and secure as much as possible while there is still time—no matter the cost to ourselves or others. The season of Advent and Isaiah invite us to live together in a different story. That common life is one that is animated by an ongoing trust that the faithful Father will one day bring all of creation into the new life of the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is grounded in the hope that one day the Prince of Peace will have the final word, instead of all those who would set us against each other. This Advent season, may God fill you with hope and empower you to join with God and others in the coming of a world where justice, peace, and abundance reign.
– Josiah Daniels
Third Wednesday of Advent
Approximately 40 years ago, the off-Broadway musical and movie, “Godspell” became a big hit. During the opening scenes of the movie, John the Baptist stands atop of the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park hand-in-hand with the Angel Statute singing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” John looks more like a refugee from Woodstock than a Biblical prophet. Instead of “all the people of Jerusalem”, only a dozen or so New Yorkers respond to the Shofar, heeding the call of John and his off-screen backup band. The subsequent dance in the fountain resembles more the mosh pit of a late 20th-century rock concert, than a first-century Jewish purification ritual known as the Tevilah.
While I applaud all efforts to introduce the Gospel to the “unchurched” — the movie critic/Christian in me questions what is being lost in translation. Yes, Jesus Christ is indeed Good News worth celebrating. But in today’s gospel reading, John has humbled himself and retreated into the wilderness for prayer, fasting and divine inspiration. He then called on the Jews to repent of their sins and, in doing so, prepare for the Messiah. Perhaps that is why “the whole Judean countryside” responded to his lone voice in the wilderness 2,000 years ago. Today it seems difficult to hear that call and find that time above the noise and distractions of this busy world, especially in the days preceding Christmas. Peace. Grace. Solitude. Humility. Prayer. Bible study. Confession. Fasting. Quiet. These are the things that I crave during Advent.
Third Thursday of Advent
Today’s readings focus upon the coming of John the Baptist, who called the Jewish people to change their lives and to resist the forces that keep them from welcoming the arrival of God’s kingdom into their midst.
There are many forces today that hold us captive from welcoming Christ more deeply: patterns of destructive behavior, grudges at past hurts, false assumptions about the other, limitations that keep us from seeing someone’s goodness, or simply fear of change.
For us, John the Baptist is an historical figure but also one on our own path into Christ. His call to the Jewish people to confront the forces that were imprisoning them is also one that he, as a companion in the Body of Christ, utters to us. In that regard, his help sustains us on what is traditionally known as the “purgative way,” the aspect of our spiritual life that is purifying us of whatever keeps us from a deeper union with Christ. Let us ask John today to help us grow further beyond our weaknesses and to welcome Christ more deeply into our lives.
Third Friday of Advent
When I was a baby, my mother hung two wooden plaques on the wall of my bedroom. One sign read, “For this child I prayed and the Lord has given me what I asked of Him.” (1 Sam. 1:27). The other sign said, “Forever Christmas Eve.” These signs remind me — among other things — of the importance of Prayer, Scripture and Signs from God.
Today’s gospel reading is about John the Baptist. His parents surely prayed for him a long time too, because John was the only child born of a very old couple. John spent his entire adult life trying to do what he thought God had asked of him. Yet, even John had bad days and many doubts. While sitting in prison, John sends a message to Jesus, “Are you the Messiah? Or are we to wait for another?” How human! Have you not at least once wondered if you missed a spiritual signpost or made a wrong turn off the path of righteousness? Did you not then cry out to God to show you the way or to give you a special sign?
Jesus directs John to the Signs that Jesus is in fact the Messiah: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are healed, the deaf hear, the dead live and the hungry are fed. God promises that our prayers will be answered too — provided that we are obedient , read Scripture and look for Signs. Even in our darkest moments, when we are lost in the wilderness, sitting in prison or facing death, we know from Scripture and Signs (like that huge star in the east over the stable where Jesus was born) that God’s Love and all Hope for the World endure. Forever Christmas Eve.
-Beau Newman, age 13
Third Saturday of Advent
A Reflection on Luke 3:1-9
[Editor’s Note: Preparing for Christ’s Second Coming is a traditional theme of Advent. The New Testament suggests that Christ will bring both judgement and mercy when he comes again. This reflection focuses on the judgement aspect of Christ’s return and asks us some challenging questions.]
The chapter of Luke, or any chapter from the Holy Bible for that matter, provides morals that may be interpreted in different ways, depending on the student. To some believers, the scripture is interpreted as a literal teaching. To others, the scripture is metaphoric, containing symbolism and greater knowledge beyond what is written. Do understand that, regardless of the believer’s interpretation, the Inspired Word of the Father is our teacher, our path to understanding ourselves through the Honorable Creator. I consider Luke 3:1-9 to be deep insight into what shall become of the false fruit, the abomination in the eyes of the Lord.
Who is to say that we ourselves are not bad fruit? Indeed, the questions are raised: How do our actions reflect upon our religious aspirations? In this world, are we quick to shun and harass those whose views differ from our own? In the sanctuary, how do we represent our faith when we quiver at the sight of a homeless person who wishes to join us on Sunday morning? Have we not robbed this fellow man, and deprived him of justice, the very rights to worship in peace?
In these unfortunate instances, how do we turn to the Lord, when we are immobilized by our own desires and beliefs? Again, I turn my attention to the church. The mouth, yet foul with sin and corruption, is considered worthy to partake of the royal Body and Blood of Him, the King of Kings, who died for all. Who in the congregations of the churches can rise and proudly proclaim the title of righteousness, the nourishing fruit of the Lord Almighty? Surely and truly, we must be like the trees that provide nourishment. It is time now to ponder on such thoughts. In the garden of life, shall we become like the sweet fruit – the blessed handiwork of our Father in Heaven, or shall we become like the spoiled abomination that is tossed into the hellfire? I pray that we think of such things.
– Kyle Cathey
Fourth Sunday of Advent
Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel which means “God is with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
As I write this just before Thanksgiving, I reflect on the baby growing inside me who will come into the world in the midst of this Advent season. I wonder if we are prepared to be parents or if we have everything that we “need.” I consider what role our child might play in making a difference in the continued violence and injustice that continues to plague our world, our nation, and our very hometown.
Traditionally, we spend the Advent season celebrating God coming into the world through the person of Jesus. Yet, might we also ponder the meaning of Emmanuel: God is with us. Yes, God continues to come to us in new ways, but God has also been there before. As we cherish light coming into darkness, we must also celebrate that God is with us in the darkness. God created and is there with the child growing inside me, and sits with me in my uncertainty. God is with all of those who suffer, those who help, and even those who inflict injustice toward others. We must allow Emmanuel to call us into a different way of being – one in which we live out of the knowledge that God is with us in both the light and the darkness.
One of my favorite writers, Jan Richardson, says it this way: “Christ came not to dispel the darkness but to teach us to dwell with integrity, compassion, and love in the midst of ambiguity.”
May it be so. Amen.
-Patricia Massey Hoke
Fourth Monday of Advent
Reflection for Psalm 112, 115:
This passage speaks to me because it reminds me what it means to be a Christian outside of being devout to God Himself. I love coming to St. Peter’s not just to worship God, but because it is such a strong community. I know it well because my whole family has ties to the church, and has had these ties for a long time. Because I have grown up here (I was baptized here and still attend Pilgrim classes), I have learned what it takes to be a part of this community, like giving back to it with my time or donations, or simply enjoying class with my friends. I like this passage in particular because it reflects the joy I feel in being a member of this church community, and I can assuredly say, “Hallelujah! Happy are they who fear the Lord and have great delight in his commandments!” Thank you, St. Peter’s!
Fourth Tuesday of Advent
Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had always wanted a child, praying many times for one. They began to lose hope that their prayer would be answered as they grew old and were still without child. In this scripture, Zechariah’s prayers are answered. Zechariah had gone into the temple to burn incense, the angel Gabriel appears and tells him his wife shall bear a child and he will be named John. Being a mortal with doubts, Zechariah voiced his concerns instead of rejoicing in his good fortune and is struck dumb as punishment, a fitting penalty for his transgression. This scripture teaches us to admire the patience in God’s dealings with us and to be resolute in our faith and prayers to God. We should be devoted to God and his mysterious ways, knowing all prayers are heard. If we are faithful to Him, we may be blessed enough to see our prayers answered just as Zechariah and Elizabeth’s were.
Fourth Wednesday of Advent
“‘See, the home of god is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.’”
Dwelling among the people as he takes them into a tight embrace creates a sense of personal connection to God. This symbol of Christianity which we all claim to worship through our very souls may be beyond the idea that so many of us have of this “God” who guides us, teaches us, loves us, and lives through us. Christ is much more than the words we believe in or the songs we sing, the service we lead with open hearts or the prayers we give to Him. He is the being inside of us all. He breathes every second of every day, and that is why we call ourselves Christians. We do not worship God because we are forced to, but we love him because we choose to. He walks with every man, woman and child. He sits down at the dinner table with every person. He holds out his hand and encourages us to leap forward, knowing that we will one day know him as he knows us. He dwells with us as we speak, and he will never cease to do so. God will forever be connecting each and every one of us, leading us as we all look forward for a reassuring glance from him that we are sure to receive in whichever direction we choose. He chooses to become a part of us, chooses to live among us. He chooses to love us as he does, despite our imperfections. We must choose to live in him, and he believes so strongly in us. So love with open hearts, and believe in the God that has an infinite amount of love for us all.
Fourth Thursday of Advent
Reflection on Luke 1:39-56
The Magnificat is a very unique piece of literature which fascinates me. The passage talks of the great works of God, including his ability to help those oppressed in our society, like the poor. But what really unsettles me about this passage is that it also talks of the downfall of the privileged who lived in sinfulness and selfishness. Most of us may find this disturbing because we all, to some extent, enjoy a large degree of privilege today. While I would not label myself as a selfish person, hearing such words come from the mouth of God’s servant herself still scares me. It makes wonder how pure my soul is in the eyes of God, and if I have really done enough as a good Christian.
It is very fitting we read this passage in the advent season right before Christmas. In an era where the Christmas season seems like a time for satiating our craving for materialistic goods, we are reminded that such selfish interests are not in the spirit of Christmas. Christmas is a time for us to remember that God so selflessly sacrificed his only son so that we may be saved. Mary’s words remind us to be like God by tending to the vast needs of others before ourselves.
Fourth Friday of Advent
A great story conveys the truth in a way that goes beyond the mere recitation of facts. In the Gospel reading for today (Luke 1:57-66), we have the story of the naming of Elizabeth and Zacharias’s son whom we today know as John the Baptist.
Who would expect this birth? His mother was a mature married woman, who had no children; her husband, a temple official, with an on-the-job experience that left him speechless for months until he wrote, at the birth of his son, “His name is John.”
But this John would grow to herald the One whose birth we remember and anticipate in this Advent season. The One whose birth had been expected and foretold from before the beginning. Our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ who is called Emmanuel, God with us.
John, the mighty prophet, the voice in the wilderness, calls us to repent and expect the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. As we await the birth of the babe, the King of Heaven, we can share the plea of the psalmist (96:11-12) that the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad, with even the fields joyful and the wood rejoicing! Let our silence, like the speechlessness of Zacharias, be broken with praise and song.
-Mary Paige Carpenter
When the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to announce he is to be a father, how quickly Zechariah shifts from awe to doubt. I can imagine myself in his shoes: “That sounds pretty good, but how can I be sure?” It was only when Zechariah acknowledges, “His name is John,” that he regains his speech and is filled with the Holy Spirit.
We hear about both John and Jesus in Zechariah’s words: “And you, child, shall be a prophet of the Host High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
What if God’s plans for us are equally assured?
At Christmas, my mind is filled with so many wonders – divine messages delivered with such clarity, God coming in the form of a baby, the whole of creation singing with joy. I can’t help but think that Jesus’ birth is an invitation to reflect on our own incarnation as God’s beloved sons and daughters. Imagine the courage we could take from that, trusting God to work in and through us.
Be still, my soul, and rest upon the Lord in quiet certainty. For He has come to rescue you from doubt.
And now you stand in blazing glory of a risen sun that cannot set. It will forever be exactly as it is.
You stand with Him within a radiance prepared for you before time was and far beyond its reach.
Be still and know. And knowing, be you sure your Lord has come to you.
There is no doubt that stands before His countenance, nor can conceal from you what He would have you see.
The sun has risen. He has come at last. Where stands His presence there can be no past.