Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Day Devotion

The Work of Christmas
by Howard Thurman

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

Advent Devotion for December 24

Christmas Eve
by Christina Rossetti

Christmas has a darkness,
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas has a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas has a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas brings us Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven has answering music
For all angels soon to sing:
Earth put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas brings us Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 23

The Disarming Child
by Charlie Lowell

Helpless and human
Diety in the dirt,
Spirit married with flesh
We couldn’t make it to you,
But you come to us.

You always come to us.
In our stubbornness and desire,
Entitlement and shame
Remind us that we need you,
Merge your untamed Spirit with our flesh.

We try to forget those
Years of wandering.
Shackles and masters,
An eternity of doubting
And still, you come to us.

A divine intrusion
Through our scheming and chaos-
Coats of armor, angels and armies.
Do some wrecking here,
And gently come to us.

Disturb us this day
Through sorrow and through dancing,
The bliss of joy and sting of death
Past hands that would threaten and tear,
You come to us extravagantly.

From your manger lowly,
Mighty and mysterious
You come to us, Seed of Heaven
Spirit wed with flesh,
These broken hearts to mend.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 22

First Coming
by Madeleine L’Engle

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 21

The Winter Is Cold, Is Cold
by Madeleine L’Engle

The winter is cold, is cold.
All’s spent in keeping warm.
Has joy been frozen, too?
I blow upon my hands
Stiff from the biting wind.
My heart beats slow, beats slow.
What has become of joy?

If joy’s gone from my heart
Then it is closed to You
Who made it, gave it life.
If I protect myself
I’m hiding, Lord, from you.
How we defend ourselves
In ancient suits of mail!

Protected from the sword,
Shrinking from the wound,
We look for happiness,
Small, safety-seeking, dulled,
Selfish, exclusive, in-turned.
Elusive, evasive, peace comes
Only when it’s not sought.

Help me forget the cold
That grips the grasping world.
Let me stretch out my hands
To purifying fire,
Clutching fingers uncurled.
Look! Here is the melting joy.
My heart beats once again.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 20

A Prayer from the Iona Community

Eternal God, in the long ago days when the earth was above the clouds, and disease was caused by demons, your son was born to lighten all our darknesses.
We now, after the enlightenment, are in bondage to different limitations. We doubt what we cannot prove; we ignore what we cannot see, and finding little room for faith, we must confess, we suspect angels and disbelieve good news.
We admit ourselves to be both infected and affected by the spirit of our times. Behind talk of world peace, we hear the machinery of war; beneath talk of global equity we detect the posturing of the powerful; beside talk of your church being renewed, we recognize the bondage to failed patterns of the past. Rather than embrace the light, we become fascinated by darkness, and must confess, we suspect angels and disbelieve good news.
Ah, God, who will save us? Our cynicism is the fruit of our experience, not the key to the future. Our suspiciousness helps us to smell the rat, never to recognize the dove. Our perfect analysis may describe the mountain, but is helpless to move it. It is with little pride we must confess, we suspect angels and disbelieve good news.
As Christmas approaches, give us a share of that divine naiveté enjoyed by Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and unnamed country folk, who encountered angels and believed the Good News and recognized Christ among them. Amen

Monday, December 19, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 19

The Risk of Birth (Christmas, 1973)
by Madeleine L’Engle

This is no time for a child to be born,
With the earth betrayed by war & hate
And a comet slashing the sky to warn
That time runs out & the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born,
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honor & truth were trampled by scorn-
Yet here did the Savior make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by a comet the sky is torn-
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 18

by Thomas John Carlisle

If Mary had sung her song of songs
with our accustomed
and dearth of urgency
all the commitment
all the charm
and all the challenge
and anticipation
would have been completely dissipated.
O sing anew
the simple song
which magnifies
dares to vision
the fall of kings
the exaltation of the small
unviolent, trusting and faith-full
of the spectacularly
creative God.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 17

Today's devotion is an audio file found at the Clayfire Curator blog.  It is a reading of a powerful poem by Ted Lyddon Hatten entitled  "Knowing on a Silent Night".  Click here to listen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 16

Mary's Song
by Luci Shaw

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves' voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 15

(For a wonderful interpretation of Simone Martini's "Annunciation" - the larger 14th century painting from which the illustration above was taken - go to to this link.)

 And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
   and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
   Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
   and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
   from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
   in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
   to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
(Luke 1:46-55)

Divine Surprise
by Wallace E. Chappell

When the smooth talking
stranger (Read angel)
greeted her, too flowery
“Hail, O favored one,
the Lord is with you!”
Mary knew enough
to be suspicious.
The Bible says she wondered,
“What sort of greeting
this might be.”
I’ll bet she wondered.
Who wants such
unexpected and disturbing surprises?
Even God’s?
There’s fear, anxiety, and
something apprehensively alarming
in such an awesome unknown gift.
Do I want
new life in me?
By God’s design?
Wary we would also be.
But that fine lass
burst forth in song
of liberation:
My soul magnifies the Lord…
putting down the mighty
from their thrones.
and exalting those
of low degree;
The Lord has filled the hungry
with good things,
and the rich
are sent empty away!
That’s what this
Little Surprise (Read baby Jesus)
will bring.
Some gift.  Yes. Yes!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 14

God of the Watching Ones

(a prayer from the Iona Community)
God of the watching ones, 
the waiting ones, 
the slow and suffering ones, 
the angels in heaven, 
the child in the womb,
give us your benediction, 
your good word for our souls 
that we might rest and rise 
in the kindness of your company.  Amen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 13

To Christ before His Coming
by J. Stephen Lang

I heard that on some dark Judean plain
You’d be a helpless child, an innocent
With no more power and might than day-old kittens.
It seems most inappropriate, Lord of Days,
Crying and gurgling—ah, unless, perhaps,
Even from birth you aim to show your strength.
Yes, yes, like heroes in the Greeks’ old tales,
You’ll strangle serpents from the cradle’s edge
And rock the very earth on which you step.
No?  Why then, forgive my false assumption.
Do as you will.  Be born in circumstances
Obscure and crude.  It is, I guess, a wise
Decision –you will take them by surprise
In this first coming, as your second will.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 12

Advent Blessing
by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Mary understands what it’s like for you,
with God inside you, swelling with life.

Mountains bow to your courage;
valleys stand up in honor of your humility.

Your longest nights
will enfold miracles.

The darkness will reveal the star
the light has hidden.

Angel choirs in their swirling robes
will sing glory to your world. Yes, yours.

Heaven is gift-wrapped
in the most ordinary paper.

Your waiting is faith;
your longing is holy.

Someone on the edge will prepare a way
into your life for your Redeemer.

Your Savior longs with longing deeper than yours
to be with you, even in this ragged winter.

May you listen and hear Gabriel,
look into the rough manger of this world and see God.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 11

Mary, Nazareth Girl
By Ann Weems
Nazareth girl:
What did you know of ethereal beings
with messages from God?
What did you know of men
when you found yourself with child?
What did you know of babies,
you, barely out of childhood yourself?
God-chosen girl:
What did you know of God
that brought you to this stable
blessed among women?
Could it be that you had been ready
for the footsteps of an angel?
Could it be there are message for us
if we have faith to listen?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 10

How I fear God’s interruptions!
Like Herod, I feel the pull of Spirit,
not to higher earthly rewards,
but to interrupt my striving for success,
to suspend for a moment my leadership,
to wait for the Word of God to be interpreted.
An invitation is extended:
Come to the birthday party,
put off your crown,
your courtly manners,
the pomp and circumstance of power
and the trappings of leadership.
Come, enjoy the gift of God.
Ah, Herod, if you could pause for just a moment,
put down your superstitious fear of God
and God’s demands and plans,
you, too, might be dazzled by the light.
And how many times have I passed by,
Too busy to look up and see a star
And certainly too important
To leave my job to travel a year
And see what it’s all about.
-- Sandra Herrmann

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 9

Turnaround God
by Robin E. Van Cleef

God has a way of turning things around,
calling green shoot from dead stump,
investing the common with a sense of royalty
sending the spirit,
fists crammed with love and justice,
wisdom and might,
to transform lives.
Come, turnaround God,
touch my divided self,
drawing together the polarities:
leopard and lamb
lion and calf
subject to the implicit child within.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 8

Holy One,
prepare your way in me.

Give me faith, like the stable,
to know your presence within me.

Give me courage, like Mary,
to let your life overwhelm mine.

Give me strength, like Joseph,
to protect what is holy, tender and growing.

Give me patience, like the shepherds,
to be still and listen.

Give me humility, like the magi,
to kneel before your presence.

Give me trust, like the child,
to let myself be borne into a new world.

Give me joy, like the angels,
to bring good news to the poor.

Give me love, like the manger
to hold Christ within.

Holy One,
prepare your way in me.

By Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 7

Coming Home for Christmas
G. K. Chesterton

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come.
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star.
To the things that cannot be and that are.
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 6

The Irrational Season
Madeline L'Engle  

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There’d have been no room for the child.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 5

The Coming of God
by Ann Weems

Our God is the One who comes to us
in a burning bush,
in an angel's song,
in a newborn child.
Our God is the One who cannot be found
locked in the church,
not even in the sanctuary.
Our God will be where God will be
with no constraints,
no predictability.
Our God lives where our God lives,
and destruction has no power
and even death cannot stop
the living.
Our God will be born where God will be born,
but there is no place to look for the One who comes to us.
When God is ready
God will come
even to a godforsaken place
like a stable in Bethlehem.
for you know not when
God comes.
Watch, that you might be found
God comes.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 4

by Kathy Clark-Dickens,

All my life I have waited:
waited for the project to be completed,
waited for supper to be ready,
waited for the doctor to see me.
I have waited at the traffic light,
waited for the right relationship,
waited to grow up.
I have waited alone or waited with friends.
I have waited anxiously.
I have waited expectantly.
Some waits have brought joy.
Other waits have brought bad news.
Some waits have been “worth waiting for.”
Now it is Advent, and I am waiting again.
This time I am waiting in the darkness of my soul—
ravaged by sorrow, anger, and fear.
But I do not despair in the waiting,
for I remember the way light looks and feels.
The memories of silent nights with starlit skies are with me,
and I am bathed in the warmth of love’s light.
And so I hope—for Messiah to come.
Voices sing, “Prepare him room.”
I know now waiting cannot be passive.
There is something to do, but where?
I have no inn or stable, but in my heart,
I can make room.
Move over despair.
Make room for Truth, for Life, for Love.
Make room for the Prince of Peace.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 3

Advent Longing
by Larry J. Peacock
In the darkness of the season, 
     in the silence of Mary’s womb, 
     new life waits and grows. 
     Hope is shaped in hidden places, 
     on the edges, in the depths 
     far from the blinding lights 
     and deafening sounds of consumer frenzy.
In the darkness and silence of my own life, 
     I wait, 
     Iistening for the whisper of angel wings, 
     longing for a genuine experience of mystery, 
     hoping for a rekindling of joy 
     and the establishment of peace.
I lean into the darkness 
     and silence. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 2

Into The Darkest Hour
by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a time like this,
War & tumult of war,
a horror in the air.
Hungry yawned the abyss-
and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this
of fear & lust for power,
license & greed and blight-
and yet the Prince of bliss
came into the darkest hour
in quiet & silent light.

And in a time like this
how celebrate his birth
when all things fall apart?
Ah! Wonderful it is
with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Devotion for December 1

In Search of Our Kneeling Places  
by Ann Weems

In each heart lies a Bethlehem,
an inn where we must ultimately answer
whether there is room or not.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we experience our own advent in his.
When we are Bethlehem-bound
we can no longer look the other way
    conveniently not seeing stars,
not hearing angel voices.
We can no longer excuse ourselves by busily
tending our sheep or our kingdoms.
This Advent let's go to Bethlehem
and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.
In the midst of shopping sprees
let's ponder in our hearts the Gift of Gifts.
Through the tinsel
let's look for the gold of the Christmas Star.
In the excitement and confusion, in the merry chaos
let's listen for the brush of angels' wings.
This Advent, let's go to Bethlehem
and find our kneeling places.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Advent Devotion for November 30

God of December darkness and Christmas light, … Deepen my longing, heighten my expectation, and make pregnant my hope. I know that within my heart is a Bethlehem: a place where light shines with tender memories. A place where angelic voices sing loud and clear. A place of wonder and awe, delight and calm. … God of December darkness and Christmas light, journey with me during these days so that I may know and prize my Bethlehem moments. Amen.
(Larry James Peacock, Openings)


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Devotion for November 29

We give out love in boxes
Wrapped, tied, tagged.
But the first Christmas gift
was a love that needed no adornment
or disguise;
a love
that wrapped itself
around out tired hearts forever.
(Kari Hill, Alive Now! Nov/Dec 1984

Monday, November 28, 2011

Advent Devotion for November 28

Waiting in Hope
Wait in hope, hope in God, believing that we already possess what we hope for.  In this season of sacred quiet amidst profane noise; of sacred, patient calmness amidst profane frantic rushing; of sacred contemplation amidst profane activity; of sacred fasting amidst profane feasting— we who have been baptized into new life experience ourselves as strangers in a strange land.  We find ourselves drawn away from the tinsel and and carols of our profane world into the sanctuary of sacred time and space, where we might learn what it means to wait for the coming of what has already come.   (John Westerhoff III, A Pilgrim People)

Advent Devotion for November 27

Today is the first day of Advent.  It is a season of expectant waiting for the coming of Christ - of preparing our hearts to once again receive the gift of Jesus.  Between now and Christmas we will be replacing our usual Facebook "Moment for Reflection" feature with a daily Advent devotion.  We hope that these prayers, poems, and short meditations will help focus your spiritual preparations for Christmas and serve as a quiet oasis in the busyness of this season.

We Wait in Advent
"Waiting is the most trying of godly endeavors because it brings a halt to our own individual nature.  Ours is to lunge forth with predetermined notions and solutions.  Faith in waiting sits still and expects the fulfillment of God’s promises.  One promise is that if we sit still, we shall know."  (Donell Crosby, Alive Now! Nov/Dec 1986)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Preparing for Sunday: Christ the King

This Sunday marks the close of the Christian liturgical year and is traditionally observed as "Christ the King" or "Reign of Christ" Sunday.  The Revised Common Lectionary assigns these readings for the day: 
Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15–23
Matthew 25:31–46

This Sunday we'll be using the readings from Ezekiel and Ephesians.  We'll be taking a look at the proclamation that is considered the first creed of the Church: "Jesus is Lord".  The question you're invited to ponder in preparation for worship this week is, "What does it mean to you to proclaim that Jesus is Lord?"

See you on Sunday.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I Thought You Were Jesus

One night a man was walking down the street when he was suddenly attacked by a group of thugs.  He was beaten, dragged into an alley and left for dead.  As he was lying bleeding on the ground, he looked up into the dim amber light in the alley and saw the face of another looking at him.  He felt the touch of someone's hands lifting his shoulder.  At that moment, he lost consciousness. 

In the hospital, when he regained consciousness, he remembered the face in the alley and asked, "Is the one who helped me here?  I want to speak to him."  "Yes," the nurse answered, "He is here and has been waiting to see you."  When the man walked into the room, the one who was injured said, "I want to thank you for helping me in the alley this evening and I want to tell you something.  When I looked up into that dim light and saw your face, I thought you were Jesus."  The man smiled and said, "When I heard your voice calling for help, I thought you were Jesus."

Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”  (Matthew 25:45)

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Honoring the Saints on the Balcony

Today is All Saints' Day - a day for remembering and celebrating "all the saints who from their labors rest".  Presbyterian preacher John Buchanan uses a metaphor for the communion of saints that he says “ought to be told at least once a year.”  The image originated with renowned preacher, author, and seminary professor Carlyle Marney (1917-1978).  Buchanan writes:  
Marney used to say that your personhood, your personality, persona, is like a house, and it’s a fairly elaborate and complex structure.  Some are fancy.  Some are sophisticated.  Some are simple and functional.  Some are ostentatious.  Some are modest.  Each has a number of rooms:  a formal parlor for greeting guests, a family room, bedroom, kitchen.  Marney said each of us has in the structure of our persona a basement where the plumbing is [located] and the trash is stored.  NO need to spend your life down there, Marney used to say.  Everybody has a basement.  Come on up into the sunshine.  Sometimes we act as if the plumbing and trash bin are all there is to us, Marney observed.

And if you come upstairs and step outside onto the lawn and look up, you will see that the house that is you has a spacious, gracious balcony.  There are people up there on your balcony.

Marney was a Southerner, so his balcony was white wrought iron with wicker rocking chairs.  There are people in the rocking chairs on your balcony sipping iced tea or bourbon, depending on whether you are a Baptist or Presbyterian, Marney used to say.  The people on your balcony are the strong, positive influences in your life.  Your heroes and heroines.  Your models and mentors.  Your parents are probably up there ... your grandparents.  There are some folk up there you never met but they influenced and helped shape you and there are some really big names up there:  people whose lives inspired you from afar and called deeper faith out of you and courage and stamina and love and discipline.
The people on your balcony are your saints.  The way to observe All Saints’ Day is to walk out onto your lawn, look up and greet them.  Call the roll.  Name them.  Wave to them.  Your saints – your dear ones – the great ones and small ones:  your mother and father maybe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, your old coach, your piano teacher.*
The folks on our life’s “balcony” are our mentors, models, prophets, teachers, witnesses – our saints. They're the faithful who went before us, and in whose footsteps we tread.  On this All Saint’s Day may we remember them all with gratitude.  And may the example of their lives inspire us to be mentors, models, prophets, teachers, witnesses – to be saints – for those who follow us.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Putting God to the Test

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.  (Malachi 3:10)

This may be one of the Bible's most misused texts. If you've ever watched televangelists preaching the "prosperity gospel" you know what I mean.  Hopefully we can all agree that this is not a promise that God will make us rich if we give 10% of our income to the church.  Yet, could there be an important message in these ancient words for 21st century Christians?  Join us on Sunday as we explore that question - and the challenge to "test God".  

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

MT25 Wrap-Up

This Sunday is the final week of PSUMC's MT25 Project and our youth will be planning and leading worship.  We have an amazing group of young people who have a passion for serving others.  They'll be sharing their experiences with UM Army last June, where they worked with other youth to touch the lives of folks in Pennsylvania.  Come and hear their stories about encountering the presence of Christ in "the least of these" as they worked on service projects in the community.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wrestling with the Text

This month we're studying the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) as part of our MT25 program.  It's a very challenging passage that most people would rather not deal with (including folks who count themselves among the "sheep").  Small groups of people have been gathering on Wednesday evening or Sunday morning to reflect on the parable and discuss what it means and what it might have to say to our 21st century lives.  The conversations have been candid and people have shared their struggle to be faithful to the expectations of the parable.  It can be encouraging to hear that others share your struggle and it builds a sense of camaraderie.  As C.S. Lewis said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one."  

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Looking toward Sunday

This Sunday we continue our exploration of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats as part of our MT25 program.  Ponder this: The "sheep" and the "goats" both respond with surprise that Jesus was present in the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, and imprisoned.  They both repeat the very same question ("Lord, when was it that we saw you...").  The difference between the righteous sheep and the unrighteous goats is in their motivation for helping (or not helping).  The goats would have served "the least of these" also, had known they would earn points for it.  The sheep simply did the right thing out of compassion, with no expectation of reward.