Magnificat

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Today’s readings:
Psalms 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Isaiah 31:1-9, Revelation 21:22-22:5, Luke 1:39-48a (48b-56)


Shortly after she became pregnant, Mary hurried to the home of her older cousin Elizabeth in the Judean countryside. Elizabeth – who had recently and unexpectedly conceived a son who would be John the Baptist – was both thrilled and humbled that the mother of the Messiah would come to her. Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah was present, but silent; when he had expressed doubt to the angel who told him his wife would conceive, the Lord struck him speechless until after the child’s birth. In contrast, Mary – who had embraced her role in God’s plan – broke into a lengthy and beautiful prayer which we today call the Magnificat, or the Canticle of Mary.

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for three months. Imagine a home with this pair of first-time mothers, sharing their dreams for their children. Did they worry together whether their husbands could accept and support them through what was to come? Could either of them have imagined the wonder, and horror, and glory that awaited their sons? John would be born first, have a successful ministry first … and die first. Just as our celebration of Mary eclipses our celebration of Elizabeth, the life of Jesus would eclipse that of John the Baptist. Yet all were essential to God’s plan. Based on the words of the Magnificat, it seems even in these most unusual circumstances hope filled that home:

[The Lord] 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 forever.

Does your story need a little hope right now? Like Mary and Elizabeth, do you find yourself in circumstances you couldn’t have imagined? God is at work. Maybe like Zechariah you can’t believe that, and so you can’t find the words even to pray. Or maybe like Mary you can’t help calling on a God who has promised good things. God is at work. If we can surrender to what is, and trust God for what will be – even if it’s not what we plan – we can find a way to live in hope. God is at work.

Comfort: God is at work..

Challenge: Read the entire Magnificat out loud tonight and each night through Christmas Eve.

Prayer: I love you, O LORD, my strength. Amen.

Discussion: If you had three months to visit a trusted friend or relative and discuss the future, where would you go and what would you talk about?

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Unthinkable Donkeys

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Christ Entering Jerusalem by Ernst Deger

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab):
Psalms 84; 150, Zechariah 9:9-12, 1 Timothy 6:12-16, Zechariah 12:9-11, 13:1, 7-9


The Sunday before Easter is Palm (or Passion) Sunday, when we remember Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem. At the height of his ministry and controversy, Christ entered the city riding a donkey, and the huge crowd gathered for Passover greeted him by throwing palm fronds on the path before him. This gesture was a sign of respect for victorious warrior kings … but that donkey told another story.

The prophet Zechariah wrote about the coming messiah as someone who would “command peace to the nations.” Traditionally a warrior king rode into conquered territory on an armored warhorse to signal his victory and dominance. A donkey, though, sent a message of humility. To a people hoping for a military savior to conquer their oppressors, this idea would have chafed. Yet Zechariah was not the only prophet telling the people of Israel to expect the unexpected. Christ’s reign was accomplished not only through peace, but through subservience, including submission to death on a cross. It was unthinkable. It certainly wasn’t what people wanted to hear, but prophetic voices told them anyway.

Like the Israelites, do we hope to assert our future through force? Every year churchgoers read the passion story and join our voices to those who shouted: “Crucify him!” By Easter we’re back to celebrating the resurrection, and little has changed. Rather than humbly live as we believe, we try to pass laws imposing our beliefs on the nation. We fail to speak truth to power – because in this time and place we are the power. All our talk of peace crumbles when we feel threatened; surely Jesus didn’t expect us to suffer for our faith when we could defend ourselves by going on the offensive?

Jesus enters the world through the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Through our enemies. When we treat them with love we aren’t doing it on behalf of Jesus – we are doing it for Jesus. Christ reaches us not through merely unexpected avenues, but through unthinkable ones. Following Christ means choosing the donkey instead of the warhorse, even when that palm-strewn road leads to the cross.

Comfort: There are voices telling us how to follow Christ. We just need to learn to listen for them.

Challenge: Be careful not to confuse civic and secular authority with salvation and grace.

Prayer: God of Love, teach me the humble way of Jesus. Grant me ears to hear the truth, even when I don’t like it. Set words of peace and justice on my lips. Amen.

Discussion: What leaders appeal to your sense of anger, force, or division? When they speak, are you able to separate what you want to hear from the truth?

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The Joy of Being Wrong

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Readings: Psalms 33; 146, 2 Samuel 7:18-29, Galatians 3:1-14, Luke 1:57-66


Zechariah was a learned priest who kept God’s commandments. When an angel told him his elderly wife Elizabeth would have a baby, Zechariah was too smart to believe him. Displeased, the angel struck him mute. When the baby was born, Elizabeth named him John. This was a break from tradition, as there were no Johns in the family. The household looked to Zechariah to make the call. The “right” thing to do would have been to pick a family name, but Zechariah was no fool. He wrote down “John” and was once more able to speak. He had learned the pitfalls of having to be right.

Generally speaking, we are not rewarded for being wrong. To the contrary, we usually suffer some penalty, even if it’s just loss of face. Employers, children, friends, and church exert an enormous amount of pressure to be right. Of course “wrong” is never our goal, but being afraid to be wrong prevents us from taking chances – pretty much the opposite of faith.

In science, negative results provide good information, yet there is a bias against publishing them. Valuable lines of communication are cut off when we hide our mistakes. How much richer the world is when, instead of having to be right, we are open to learning! The need to be right – politically, morally, spiritually – closes us off from the insights of others, and those others are children of God with equally valid perspectives. We don’t always have to agree with them; abandoning the need to be right is not the same as always being wrong.

Perhaps the greatest downfall of having to be right is how it limits our vision to only the things we can conceive. Zechariah’s rejection of the unknown relegated him to the sidelines of the most important story in history. His decision to risk being wrong in the eyes of others put him back in the game. How many angels have we rejected? How many traditions have robbed us of faith? Sometimes being wrong is not an occasion for shame, but for joy!

Comfort: Only God is always right; the rest of us are allowed to be human.

Challenge: The next time someone offers an opinion you disagree with, listen to understand, rather than to argue.

Prayer: Loving God, I will seek to lean on your wisdom more than my own understanding.

Discussion: Have you ever been pleased to discover you were wrong about something?

Peace as Perspective

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Readings: Psalms 90; 149, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Titus 1:1-16, Luke 1:1-25


Pondering the universe generally elicits two responses: awe at its grandeur, and a sense of insignificance. In Madeleine L’Engle’s novel A Wind in the Door, when human characters learn to let go of limited concepts of time and space they can converse with stars. In the scale of the infinite universe – and an infinite God – size and distance are irrelevant so humans and stars are equally important. If that’s not mind-bending enough, they meet within a mitochondrion, thousands of which can exist inside a single human cell, to formulate a plan to save the world. The novel teaches that none of us are insignificant, but none of us are solely responsible for history.

When an angel told Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, that his elderly wife would conceive a child who would herald the messiah, Zechariah did not believe. As a result, he became mute until after John’s birth. Zechariah teaches us that insisting on our own limited view of things makes us powerless in the face of the future. Fortunately John believed in God’s long term plan, and trusted in something greater than himself until his death.

God plays a very long game. Martin Luther King Jr. may have said it best: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” Our efforts may seem to make little difference, but from an infinite perspective, a small kindness and a great accomplishment are not very different. It is the accumulation and interaction of these kindnesses and accomplishments that matters. To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, we add our own light to the sum of all light. On a small scale light moves quickly, but across the galaxy it travels for many thousands of years and the star that generated it may have burned out before we ever see it. So it is with our contributions to the world: they may not be fully understood until long after we have burned out, but our light goes on.

Today’s struggles do not define us. Like mitochondria each of us is a tiny part adding life to the eternal body of Christ. Such perspective adds to the sum of our peace.

Comfort: To an eternal God, stars and humans and grains of sand are equally significant.

Challenge: Read Psalm 90, noting the eternal perspective of the psalmist.

Prayer: Let Your work appear to Your servants
And Your majesty to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us;
And confirm for us the work of our hands;
Yes, confirm the work of our hands. (Psalm 90:16-17)

Discussion: Have you ever been involved in a long-term project, perhaps one that continues long after you stopped (or will stop) being part of it? What did that feel like?

Join the discussion! If you enjoyed this post, feel free to join an extended discussion as part of the C+C Facebook group. You’ll be notified of new posts through FB, and have the opportunity to share your thoughts with some lovely people. Or feel free to comment here on WordPress, or even re-blog – the more the merrier!

Peace as Renovation

Today’s readings: Psalms 122; 145, Zechariah 1:7-17, Revelation 3:7-13, Matthew 24:15-31

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We’ve all heard the phrase “forgive and forget.” We can achieve the first part but is the second part possible? What we usually mean by “forget” is “don’t bring it up again.” Our past is always with us, and while we don’t have to be defined by it, we can’t pretend it never occurred.

Our lives are like old houses we can neither sell nor tear down. We may choose to preserve them, but that can lead to being saddled with old features that no longer serve us. Who wants an outhouse when the world offers indoor plumbing? Another option is restoration, but then we are faced with picking which period of our past was the best one to stick with, and sometimes there are no good options. That leaves us with renovation. We get to choose what to keep and what to rebuild, but sometimes we need to live with some load bearing elements which can’t be torn out without the whole thing falling down.

Participants in recovery programs like Alcoholics Anonymous learn to renovate their lives: to honestly acknowledge and deal with hurts done to them, and to make amends for wrongs they’ve done to others. It’s an ongoing process necessary to maintaining sobriety, and new acknowledgments and amendments may arise throughout their lives. They stop trying to forget the past and make peace with it.

The prophet Zechariah taught the Israelites to make peace with their past. They’d once fallen out of favor with God, but that period was over and it was time to rebuild. They couldn’t recreate the same society which had displeased God, but time in exile had taught them what was essential and what needed remodeling. They had been forgiven, but they were wise not to forget.

When creating peace in our own lives, we can’t start from the ground up, and ignoring bad foundations leads to disaster. A good renovation involves an honest assessment of the materials available, thoughtful planning, and hard work. In the end, a life rebuilt for peace is a shelter of love and security for ourselves and others.

Comfort: Our past does not define us but we can re-define our pasts.

Challenge: What about your past is rotting your foundation? Work to renovate it, calling in experts if necessary.