Sunday- The Love Layer

20161216_085943

The Fourth Week of Advent: LOVE

As our final touch to the Advent wreath we will add our symbols of love: photos, hearts, Valentines, or any meaningful small items. We all have the love of God, and we share the love of God with others- family, friends, and even strangers. This week of love is a precious one. As we draw ever closer to the birth of Jesus, we hope to draw nearer in love to God and to one another.

Love Shared With Dear Ones

Light the Peace, Hope and Joy candles.

Read Genesis 29:14b-20

What a love story! Jacob had been working for his uncle, Laban, and had fallen in love with Laban’s daughter, Rachel. During a discussion of wages, Jacob asked Laban if he would be allowed to marry Rachel in return for seven years of work. That was a big commitment, but in verse 20 we read, “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” If we were to read on, we would learn that he agreed to serve seven more years for Rachel!

In our loving service to those dearest to us, we generally consider the time and effort shared as gifts, not burdens. We delight in doing for others, blessing them out of love for them. Recall some of these times when you have served well- and perhaps for a long time. Despite the energy spent and frustrations along the way, did you find delight in loving and blessing others? Would you have changed any time spent with loved ones?

 Is there an opportunity to love and serve a dear one, currently or in the near future? An aging parent, an ailing friend, a lonely family member? What steps will you take to keep your heart refreshed, your energy strengthened, and your soul connected with God?

Wednesday- Candle Lighting Devotional: The Joy in the Journey

The ribbons and other items in our wreath remind us of the joy promised and given to us for our journey through life. It has been said that joy is different from happiness. Happiness seems to come from outside influences, such as times of success, good fortune, or ideal situations. Joy can come even during the most trying times; a gift from God bubbling up from within our souls. You might like to add something unexpected to the joy layer in your wreath- a surprising color or item- to remind you of the unexpected joy in which God astounds us.

As the Israelites were instructed to find joy in the Word of God, we too, can find joy in following God’s commands- but also in the humility and forgiveness we mercifully receive when we fail to follow them. God’s Word is a guide for our life’s path and we find joy when we travel well. But God’s Word also brings us joy when we stray from the path and are lovingly guided back to continue our journey.

We recall Isaiah’s image of the desert becoming lush, and all of creation rejoicing. Throughout life we will have times of emptiness and times of fullness. We have experienced the ups and downs, the deaths and resurrections of this earthly journey. Through each of them, we grow to trust God’s promise of abundant life, and we learn to rejoice, no matter what our situation may be. Our joy comes from within and bursts forth when we remove any obstructing attitudes or expectations.

Psalm 100 is a beautiful “thank you note” to God for all of God’s blessings. Our hearts and souls become “thank you notes” of joy when we gratefully recognize and appreciate our many God-given blessings.

The wreath is becoming lush, full and joyful, isn’t it? We are coming ever closer to revealing-receiving God’s greatest gift, Jesus Christ. This is the best reason for joy in our hearts! We will always have joy in the journey, for we have the constant love, companionship, guidance and salvation given through Jesus.

 The third candle surrounded by colorful, unexpected items then becomes our symbol of joy.

Light the third candle.

Mary’s Story

Read Luke 1:46-56

“My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:47 NRSV)

Here is Mary’s beautiful Magnificat, an outpouring of her praise and joy to God! Her life had changed completely, but she found joy within, a gift from God: “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior!” Many of her words are similar to Hannah’s heartfelt prayer of thanks and praise as she dedicated her son, Samuel, to God. We know that Mary will also surrender her son, Jesus, to live as God’s precious son.

Traditionally we hold Mary in high esteem; as the mother of Jesus, we believe she had to be nearly perfect. But Mary was human. In Mary’s words of praise, she acknowledged her humble lowliness. Perhaps the only perfect quality God needed in Mary was that she be totally open to and accepting of God’s plan for her life. This is a good lesson for us. Perhaps the only perfect quality God hopes for each of us is that we will be open to and accepting of the abundant life God created us to live.

We are all given opportunities to birth new life, aren’t we? We can birth new life by offering help and hope to others; we can birth new ideas of love and acceptance; we can birth new life in ourselves by listening for God’s invitations and directions. May all of our “births” be a result of our obedience and humility before God. Like Mary and Hannah, may we dedicate our lives and any new God-given “births” entirely to God. The joy of the Lord- our joy IN the Lord- will come bubbling forth in all of life’s experiences.

This week of Advent, may we be aware of our shortcomings and sinfulness. But may we rediscover joy in knowing that our loving God is sending us a guiding savior for the trials and victories of each day. Like Mary, may we be mindful of our many blessings and joyfully thank God for all of the ups and downs of this abundant life. May our one perfect quality be a total readiness to live God’s plan for us, watching for even unexpected opportunities to birth new life in ourselves or others.

Focus for the rest of this week:

 As you creatively bake, wrap, decorate or celebrate, consider what God may creatively be planning for YOU. Pray for readiness and acceptance of any new God-given birth opportunity; for in doing so, we find our joy.

 

For the next layer, gather any symbols of love for you: photos of loved ones, cards received, hearts, red items, Valentines, etc.

Tuesday- Third Week of Advent

3. Joy Arising Through Gratitude

 Light the candles.

Read Psalm 100

“The Lord is good and his love endures forever.” We have many reasons to celebrate because of God’s unfailing, merciful, gracious love. When we consider ALL of the blessings we have from God, our hearts DO rejoice and praise God- and we feel abundant joy in doing so! I imagine God delights in our praise and joy , because God knows we are appreciating and accepting God’s gifts, so freely and generously given.

Begin naming the blessings you have received from our generous God of love. Write a note of thankfulness and joy to God in response for all you have been given.

 

 

Monday- Third Week of Advent

2. Joy Springing From the Desert

 Light the candles.

Read Isaiah 35

A reminder of our first week’s desert focus, Isaiah describes how the desert, parched land and wilderness will be glad, rejoice and even blossom! The sand will indeed become lush and full of life. The redeemed will sing, and gladness and joy will overtake them. What a wonderful promise: joy found springing forth out of the desert wilderness.

Have the cares and responsibilities of daily living left you parched and dry? Are there concerns that seem to be robbing joy from your life? How do Isaiah’s words bless you this week? 

Just as life is hidden deep in the desert, joy is deep within our souls. What obstructions or attitudes might you remove in order to let the joy bubble up?

 

Sunday- The Celebration Layer

joy-photo-advent-wreath

The Third Week of Advent: JOY

You’re welcome to layer any items that symbolize joy for the third layer of the wreath. Add festive ribbons, little ornaments, angels, bells- any items that remind you of joy and celebration. Deep, abiding, God-given joy is offered to us for all times of our lives- sometimes surprising us even during our difficult or sad moments. Place the candles on this layer. The Christ candle remains in the center, as usual.

Joy Resulting From Our Brokenness

Light the peace and hope candles.

Read Nehemiah 8:1-2, 5-6. 9-12

As the Word of God was being read, surely the Israelites were made painfully aware of their sinfulness. Hearing the law and commands of God, their tears flowed out of remorse and regret; their obvious sorrow for not living as God had intended them to live. And yet, Nehemiah, Ezra and the Levites instructed the Israelites NOT to grieve, but to celebrate! They were assured, “This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (vs. 10)

We receive many blessings from the Law of God. Certainly, when we follow God’s laws, we gain wisdom for our thoughts, words and actions- and much less regret or guilt. But we are also blessed even when we fail to follow God’s law. Our tendency to be self-centered or self-reliant may lead us to forget or ignore God’s commands. Then eventually- and painfully, regretfully- we realize our inadequacies and sinfulness. It is when we recognize our shortcomings, our mistakes, and our sinfulness, that we recognize our desperation for a God who loves and forgives us, always. And at that moment we receive the gift of joy- in knowing that we have such a God, through Jesus Christ, God’s son. Those times when we humbly know just how sinful we are then become opportunities when God can truly work in us; times that become “sacred days to our Lord.”

Have you been reminded of or shown your particular mistakes or shortcomings recently? How do these reminders make you feel? Are you able to find a gift in the awareness of your flaws?

Can you recall a time when you were so grateful to be forgiven, either by a person or by God? Did you feel relief? Did you feel humility? Did you feel joy?

 Today remember that “the joy of the Lord is your strength,” especially during our humbling imperfect moments.

Wednesday- Candle Lighting Devotional: The Hope of New Life

Hope candle lit

The greenery, berries and other items remind us of new life all around us, even in our harsh, cold winter seasons or times of life.
We know that underneath the snow and ice, new life is waiting to spring forth when warmer weather returns. What appears to be desolation is really an incubator preparing the seeds for sprouting when the time is right. The life layer is a reminder that our own desolate moments will prepare us for new life at the proper time. We recall the story of Joseph. New life was brought out of his personal hardship.

Like Elijah, we find our sustenance in God’s abundant gifts. The life found in the greenery and berries symbolizes how God provides for us through all seasons of life. The evergreen, the red berries, and other plants remain vibrant throughout the winter season. They are unchanging, even in harsh winds and icy temperatures. God is our constant, never-changing source of life. We can bear the changes and fluctuations of life as we worship our constant source of life, God.

The life layer also reminds us that in our baptism, we are called to die to ourselves, and in doing so, we find new life. As we were told in the words of Isaiah, we receive life and healing when we offer life and healing in service to others. The second layer is a symbol of the new way of life found in our baptism and the Spirit’s call to become servants of God.

Place the rest of the candles on this new layer of greenery and life. The candles are now up a bit higher, beginning to shine over the edge of the pan. Like the candles, our spirits are lifted as we become closer to “receiving”- revealing the newborn Christ in our hearts again.

When all outward appearances may speak of winter and death, we know that new life and resurrection are always promised, not only for the spring, but for each and every day. We know that God is able to provide and to bring new life out of all difficult winters we endure.

The second candle among the greens then becomes our symbol of hope.

Light the second candle.

Mary’s Story

Read Luke 1:39-45

“And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord. (Luke 1:45, NRSV)

The expectant Mary went to see Elizabeth, who also was pregnant. Perhaps she was hoping to have a mentor, a female companion who would share the same experiences. Perhaps she was excited to share her news with a beloved relative. Perhaps she needed a word of encouragement in those early months of pregnancy. Mary had “died to herself” by accepting God’s loving plan for her life, but she was still waiting for new life to birth.

When Mary and Elizabeth greeted each other, Elizabeth’s baby “leaped in her womb” and the Holy Spirit came upon her. Elizabeth affirmed Mary’s blessedness and the blessedness of the child she carried. Elizabeth strengthened Mary’s hope. Elizabeth realized that Mary was blessed by her trust in God’s word being fulfilled. Mary would bear this waiting time with hope given by God and by loving companions.

During this Advent holiday season, we may have many opportunities to gather and celebrate. As we meet with family and friends, we find life and warmth to share in the love of God. We need one another as mentors and encouraging companions for all the times of our lives. When we visit these dear ones over the holidays, let’s hold a special thankfulness in our hearts for the life and hope they bring to us.

Let’s also spend time with God. We can trust God’s promises of new life to us and for all seasons of life. God’s word was fulfilled in the gift of God’s son, Jesus, and God’s word is fulfilled in our daily lives as well. We need to be patient. Like Mary and the tiny new life developing within her, we need to bring our buried dreams to God for growth and development. As Mary sought out Elizabeth, let’s seek out friends for mentoring and encouragement, while trusting God’s promises of new life. Here we will find our hope- as we patiently wait out any difficult winter season.

Focus for the rest of this week:

Pray for the hope found in God’s promise of new life and resurrection. Thank God for the hope given us in the birth of Jesus and the resurrection after his death.  Be thankful that God’s word is always true, God’s love is constant. Spend time with a dear one who encourages you; offer encouragement to someone who needs hope.

You will need any items that symbolize joy for the next layer: ribbons, bells, small ornaments, etc. Anything that makes you smile! Perhaps something whimsical!

Tuesday- Second Week of Advent

 

3. Sharing the Warmth of Love in the Midst of Winter

Read Isaiah 58:6-14

In this passage, Isaiah speaks for the joy, delight and healing we receive when we reach out with joy, delight and healing to those in need. Our light will break forth like the dawn; we will be like unfailing springs of water; we will ride upon the heights of the earth. Our busyness and full schedules often make us hesitate to take time for others. Yet, all around us people are desperately in need of justice, healing, nourishment and warmth.

Is there someone you may have been overlooking who needs a listening ear or a helping hand? Isaiah notes that sharing our food and home with those in need is the truest worship. Whom might you serve this week?

 

Monday- Second Week of Advent

2. Fueling Ourselves in the Midst of Winter

Read 1 Kings 19:1-13

Elijah ran to the wilderness, weary and fearful. He had given up, and he had even asked the Lord to let him die. But when he had fallen asleep, an angel of the Lord came to him. The angel first encouraged Elijah to eat and drink, in order to regain his strength.

Are you feeling overwhelmed or tired these days? What healing and body-tending do you need to strengthen yourself? What activities rejuvenate you and bring you life?

Each day this week take time to care for yourself- eat well, go for a walk, read, nap, pray or reflect… try any activity that will nourish and strengthen your body for service.

Sunday- The Life Layer

The Second Week of Advent: HOPE

Image may contain: indoor and food

The second layer of our wreath is made of evergreens and berries to remind us of life and resurrection. In deepest winter snows, we are still able to see signs of life all around us, such as evergreen trees or holly. This layer is about the times we are able to see new life, even in the cold, harsh, difficult times of our lives. This layer of your wreath may be filled with any items that remind you of life and resurrection. Place only the candle of peace on the greens at this time. The Christ candle also remains.

Finding New Life in the Midst of Winter

Light the peace candle.
Read Genesis 37:3-4, 26-28; 45:4-15

As the favorite son of Jacob, Joseph faced difficult trials and imprisonment when his brothers became jealous and sold him to become a slave in Egypt. In the end, there was a tearful reunion filled with forgiveness- and enough food stored to save them all from famine. Joseph endured the harsh, empty times and ended up bringing new life to many people. God also worked to bring new life and a joyful reunion for Joseph’s family.

What “winters” are you facing right now?

~Do you struggle with the season itself- the discouragement that might come during long, gray days of cold and snow?

~Are you facing a particularly harsh winter season of life- trials, concerns- at this time?

~Or, as a seed lies buried under a layer of snow, do you have a dream or goal that currently is hidden or waiting to bloom under better conditions?

Even as Joseph struggled, God was at work to make good come from Joseph’s situation and to use his abilities for greater good. God’s promise of new life is for us, here and now. God will make good of everything we may currently be enduring or delaying or hiding away.

What reminders help you trust that God always brings new life and resurrection? Can you recall previous times of healing, or when new life was restored to you or others? How wondrously this was shown to us through the resurrection of Jesus!

God already knows our buried dreams, hopes and goals. But we can entrust them to God by uncovering them, bringing them into the open (while still imperfect and undeveloped), and asking God to foster our own growth- along with our dreams and goals- and also asking that all we do will be for God’s glory.

Making a Difference for Good

im-with-you-bracelets

We have our bracelets! Most of you have seen this, but I just wanted to share the link again. This is from my son, who says it better than I can. The bracelets and website have been created by dear friends of ours. Thank you for sharing!

If you’re like me, and you’re feeling unsafe.

If you’re not like me, and you want to be an ally.

If you’re just ready to be an agent of love in a dark hour.

My friend just started a project to help get us all through this crazy time, and show support for our vulnerable neighbors.

The project is called I’m With You. And it’s a nonprofit effort to be visible, as an ally, and a loving person, available to talk and take a stand if needed, by wearing a bracelet that reads “I’m With You.”

God bless the safety pin folks, but we (especially our LGBT+ friends) know that visibility is PARAMOUNT. Where safety pins are a bit quiet, this project is about loudly SHOWING you’re a safe, loving person to those who might need it. (And can be worn in addition to a safety pin. 😀)

These Buddy Bracelets are a gender-neutral, glow-in-the dark green, and are only 50 cents ($3 shipping). All money left over is being donated to the Southern Poverty Law Center (whose mission is phenomenal).

So please order one, share this post, share this page, and show your support for everyone who needs it so desperately.

https://imwithyoubraceletbuddies.wordpress.com/

We CAN make a difference for good, one person at a time!