Thursday, December 29, 2011

e-vo for week of December 28

Dearest e-votees-

In the church year there are particular days set aside to commemorate saints and martyrs. The color of the day is red which evokes memories of blood spilled and of faithful testimony empowered by the Holy Spirit.

December 28 is the day of “The Holy Innocents, Martyrs” who are the children who were slaughtered as Herod in a fury tried to kill the newborn king by having all of the children in the vicinity of Bethlehem who were two years old or younger killed.

For this week’s devotion we will linger around this ghastly story leaning hard on the promises of Romans 8:28 that God can work all things for good for those who love him and are called according to God’s purpose.



15 Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more. 16 Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; 17 there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.

Jeremiah 31:15-17, NRSV

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, "Out of Egypt I have called my son." 16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: 18 "A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more."

Matthew 2:13-18, NRSV

It is hard to read this account of the destruction of life in the wake of political and social struggles. Clearly these children posed no threat to Herod. The one who would eventually completely upend the political, social, spiritual and many other structures of this world, Jesus, was easily delivered from this brutal and ill-conceived attempt on his life. In his rage and vain imaginations Herod was the cause of the suffering of great many innocents and their families.

It is hard to read this account of the destruction of children and not have our minds drawn back to the Passover. At the end of a long period of political and social struggles there was a leader, Pharaoh, who was not able to yield and let the people go. Because of this circumstance the firstborn males of all of the households of Egypt, and the animals, were slain. The spilled blood of the Passover lamb serving as a sign of deliverance on the doorposts of the Jewish people has been connected with Jesus’ blood spilled on the cross.

Jesus didn’t escape dying at the hands of a broken and corrupt political machinery. He just delayed it for 33 or so years until the time was right. He could have been delivered by legions of angels if he so desired in the garden of Gethsemane but he persisted. In our rage and our vain imaginations we, people then and people now, were the ones who led Jesus to the cross and shouted “Crucify Him!!!”

The world still struggles with realms of power and corruption and politics. As people vie for recognition and power and influence many lives are wounded and destroyed. Corruption and influence peddling cost incredible amounts and are paid by the tragic currency of preventable diseases running rampant, malnourished bodies finally yielding to death and people living in abject poverty. As the vain imaginations of rulers and would be up-and-comers and hyper-consumers go to work the vulnerable and the young and the relatively innocent pay severely.

Jesus comes into this world to break this cycle. Jesus reminds us that how we treat the “least of these” is how we treat him (see Matthew 25:40). Jesus has come to dismantle realms and structures that slaughter or permit the demise of the young and the vulnerable. Jesus came to set us free. Jesus has work for us to do that involved caring for those still ensnared in how we do politics. Will the weeping of Rachel stir us to action?

God, teach us to see in Jesus—this baby of Bethlehem who grew into the deliverer of all who would come—a call to take up our own crosses. Stir us to be moved with Rachel and to let your Holy Spirit stir us to action that pleases you and alleviates suffering and untimely death in this political and broken world. Amen.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

e-vo for week of December 21

Dearest e-votees-

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I hope and pray that you are able to savor the gift of the manger surrounded by family and friends.

God has come into the world to bring all who are far back into restored relationship with God. This is indeed Good News.



1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”? 6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.” 7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”

8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom. 9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands; 11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing; 12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

Hebrews 1:1-12, NRSV

God has been speaking to our ancestors, people who have preceded us in the family of faith, for a long time. In many and various ways God has sought to communicate to them and to us—many people, many forms of oration, demonstration and inscription, through demonstrations of power, miraculous interventions and faithful deliverance and provision. In spite of these efforts by God the message was often missed by our ancestors and by us. So God came to us as Jesus. When we look at Jesus we see God. Jesus bears “the exact imprint of God’s very being” and makes himself known to this world that is so often so sinful and so broken.

Jesus comes and makes his place among the shepherds and the sheep. Jesus comes and makes his place among the tax collectors and lepers and sinners and outcasts. Jesus comes and makes his place between the doubter and the denier and the betrayer. Jesus comes and makes a place for us too. And, when we decided Jesus was making things in a way that was offensive to us, we dispatched him. And Jesus made his place between two thieves on Calvary. Jesus made his place in hell—literal and figurative—for our sake. And we made a place for him in a rough hewn tomb in a garden.

Then Jesus rose and took his place again. Jesus rose and said “Not even death can keep me down”. Jesus rose and said “Take your place beside me—nothing, not even death, can separate us”. Jesus makes a place for us. “The exact imprint of God’s very being” is pressing us into that form as well. Jesus sustains all things—including us—by his powerful Word. He is the Word come into the world. He has come for us. He has made a place for us. He has called us to follow after him. This is, truly, “Joy to the World!!!”

God, thank you for all the ways you bless us. Most particularly we give you thanks for Jesus and how you have blessed us and the world through him. Help us be people who join all God’s angels in worship and praise of God made flesh—the Gift of the manger and the Savior of the world. Amen.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

e-vo for week of December 14

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and pray this devotion finds you well as you continue to wait and linger and prepare for Christmas this year as well as when Jesus comes again in glory.

May your time with friends and family, traveling and sharing, exchanging gifts, singing songs, participating in worship all be good and blessed.



1 I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations. 2 I declare that your steadfast love is established forever; your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens. 3 You said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to my servant David: 4 ‘I will establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.’ ” Selah

19 Then you spoke in a vision to your faithful one, and said: “I have set the crown on one who is mighty, I have exalted one chosen from the people. 20 I have found my servant David; with my holy oil I have anointed him; 21 my hand shall always remain with him; my arm also shall strengthen him. 22 The enemy shall not outwit him, the wicked shall not humble him. 23 I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him. 24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him; and in my name his horn shall be exalted. 25 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. 26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father, my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’ 27 I will make him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth. 28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him, and my covenant with him will stand firm. 29 I will establish his line forever, and his throne as long as the heavens endure."

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26, NRSV

Do you ever wonder what difference your life makes? Once you have died what will be remembered? What lasting impact will your name carry 10 years after you are gone? 50 years after you are gone? 200 years after you are gone? Who decides how important someone is and how lasting their legacy should be? Does it matter to you if you and your name are remembered or not?

David is still powerfully remembered. He is not as much remembered for what he did as for who God called him to be and who God brought out of his lineage. One of ways we might let people know who we are and how important we are is through our connections with other people. We’ve all met namedroppers. We all know people who are wealthy and famous and paid attention to because of their parents or other well-known ancestors. Paris Hilton is a classic example of someone who received what she had and has been much the center of attention because of it. Promises and gifts and responsibilities are given to family members. Promises made to family members can bring great blessings and great responsibility.

We are joined to Jesus and through him to this lineage of David. We receive great blessings and responsibility solely based on the fact that God has made us God’s own—much like David. We will be remembered by God because our names are written in the book of life. We may not be remembered so very vividly by the world because of our actions and our accomplishments. That’s okay. That is not to say what we do doesn’t matter. We matter to God and we have vocations to tend. We have families to love. We have good news to share. We are part of God’s family and that brings great blessings and great responsibility. It all matters.

God has made a steadfast covenant with David and with us. We can rest (Selah) in that great truth. God’s love and forgiveness and grace and covenant stands firm. Thanks be to God.

Dear God, you always deliver on your promises. They are brought to pass in Jesus who is the yes and amen to all your promises. Help us wait for him again in the manger and as he readies to come in clouds. Help us spread the word of our savior, our brother, our friend and our Lord Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

e-vo for week of December 7

Dearest e-votees-

I hope and that your time of preparing and lingering and steeping and waiting in Advent is fruitful.

For our devotional focus today we will look at the appointed lesson for this Sunday from Isaiah.



1 The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.

For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, NRSV

It is this Isaiah passage that Jesus finds in Luke 4:16-21 when he unrolls the scroll, reads the text and says “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The HarperCollins study Bible estimates that this text was written between 545 and 539 years before Jesus was on the earth. If we take Jesus to be 30 when he was beginning his public ministry then this prophecy recorded in Isaiah took ~570 years to be fulfilled. What do you think the people in the intervening almost 6 centuries thought as they looked at this passage and as they watched the passage of time?

There is a promise in the second part of the passage that God’s people, with whom God has covenanted, will be known among the nations as blessed. The words that follow in verses 9-11 strongly resonate with Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56). Jesus coming into Mary’s life helped bring these promises to bear. She couldn’t help but respond with praise.

But for many there are still issues of being oppressed, brokenhearted, captivity, mourning and sagging spirits. Even the wait of 570 or so years didn’t sweep that all away. The intervening centuries between Isaiah to Jesus and then again to us have proven to be quite harsh to God’s chosen people. Many would be hard-pressed to declare them unequivocally blessed.

God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen” in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 1:20). But sometimes they take half a millennia or so to come to pass. Sometimes they still haven’t completely come to bear even after a couple millennia. But God’s time is so not like our time. And God’s faithfulness is so not like our distracted allegiances. We wait, as patiently as we can, for the baby to come again to the manger in Bethlehem—with Mary. We wait, as patiently as we can, for Jesus to come at the end of all time and usher in with finality the joy and the healing and the comfort that will have no end. And when the impatience starts to set in we can gather together for encouragement and worship. That’s what we do as an Advent people.

God, give us patience and grace as we wait for your promises come fully to bear on us and on this world. Help us be a source of grace and community for all those who also wait. Give us words and songs of praise and glory to join in singing with Mary’s Magnificat. Amen.