[#pictureAdvent] December 20: BLESSED

18 Dec 20 Blessed-01.jpg

By Andrew Jordan
Belmont United Methodist Church
Nashville, TN

First, read Luke 1:46-48

When was the last time you did something with ALL your heart? Have you ever felt something in the depths of who you are? Something that made you stop in awe and wonder at all that is happening around you … something that made you feel blessed? 

When I try to answer these questions, I can only come up with a handful of moments in my life where I felt things in the “depths of who I am.” My daughter is young enough where I can still say I’m a new dad. There have certainly been moments with her where I’ve been overwhelmed by the seemingly simple things like watching her try new things and learn new words. I’ve even felt it a couple of times while rocking her back to sleep at 2:00 in the morning.

But there’s one moment that stands out to me and it has nothing to do with her. It was about a year ago. We have a few rose bushes in our front yard. As I was leaving for work one crisp Fall morning, I stopped and looked at the flowers. There was one rose in particular that drew my attention, a freshly opened bud that sparkled with hundreds of tiny dew drops. It was such a simple thing, but in that moment I was blown away with the vibrancy and beauty of the world around us. In that moment with the roses, I rejoiced. 

During my rejoicing with the roses, and similar moments with our daughter, there was a thought of “who am I that I should get to experience this?” I’m just an average person; who am I that something so wonderful is here for me? But it was happening, whether I felt deserving of the experience or not. 

I imagine Mary may have felt similarly. “What? Me? I’m just a humble servant of God.” But while we may not always believe we’re worthy, God believes we are. God seems to make a habit of looking favorably upon those we’d least expect. God’s grace and love is given to all of creation. Each of us is blessed. God looks favorably upon YOU. What a reason to rejoice! 

Prayer: Loving God, give us the confidence to know that you look favorably upon us. May we feel your love in the depths of who we are, and rejoice with all our hearts. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

1. Describe a time that you felt something in the depths of who you are? 
2. In your opinion, what does it mean to be blessed? How does being blessed help us be better Christians to our neighbors?
3. How can we help instill the confidence in those around us, especially those in need, to understand that they are blessed and favored by God?

[#pictureAdvent] December 19: LOVE

15 Dec 17 Baptism-01.jpg

By Rev. Bethany Douty
Senior Pastor of Chaires United Methodist Church
Writer’s city and state: Tallahassee, FL

First, read Psalm 89:1-4

Six days left until Christmas — the day we celebrate God’s love coming to us in human form as Jesus! Depending on what is going on in your life, that might also mean six very stressful days are ahead of you. The holidays can be stressful for different generations for different reasons:

  • Children, being out of school, have their usual routine changed. And everyone offers them sugary snacks, but still expects them to behave like perfect angels.
  • Parents with young children may find that the people who gave their kids sugary snacks are the same people who offer unsolicited advice on how to properly parent the sugar-high children.
  • Young people without children often feel pressure to have children during this time of year… whether they want to or not… whether they are able to or not. Family gatherings can be as painful as they are joyful.
  • People with aging parents may find that their schedules, medicines, and particular needs can add to the chaos. 
  • Parties and family dinners can be difficult to navigate for everyone. Our society seems intent on communicating through “zingers” intended to cripple those with whom we disagree. Zingers make for great sitcoms, but horrible relationships.

Even with all those stressors, I’m sure that I’ve left many out. This is a busy time of year.

Our psalm today reminds us of God’s love and faithfulness throughout time. God promised David descendants who would sit on the throne, and God kept that promise. Christ was the culmination of that promise, a son of David who would sit on the throne in heaven. 

Regardless of what stresses might be coming your way in the next six days, remember to take some time to simply sit and enjoy the moment. Anticipate the coming of Christ. Remember the promises that God made over the millennia, and how those promises were answered in the most unexpected way: a small and vulnerable child.

Take a moment today and allow God to speak to you in unexpected ways. Address the tasks you need to still accomplish, but try to let the stress fall away. Remember God’s faithfulness today.

Prayer: Almighty God, thank you for your love and faithfulness. Throughout time you have followed humanity through our ups and downs, and you have loved us always. Help me to share about your faithfulness to the generations around me. Help me to see your faithfulness even in the midst of stressful times. And help me to recognize you when you show up in ways I don’t expect. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions:

1. Who will you be around during the next few days and what will their stresses be?
2. What kinds of stress will you be experiencing?
3. What can you do to honor God’s love and faithfulness each day in your own life and the lives of those you will encounter?

[#pictureAdvent] December 18: HOME

15 Dec 17 Baptism-01.jpg

By Ellen Pollock
New Covenant UMC – Congregational Care
The Villages, FL

First, read 2 Samuel 7:8-11

We know the old saying of “home is where the heart is.” “Home” can bring to many of us a wonderful connotation associated with that word. We have memories and traditions that remind us of our growing up years, and of things that shaped us into the people we have become. 

For me, “home” reminds me of growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. I have vivid memories of the smell of barbeque, of honeysuckle in the springtime, and of the rain, on warm summer nights. I also think about going fishing with my daddy from the time I could stand up or helping my mother pick fresh produce from our backyard garden. I think of the holidays as special family times that were full of laughter and kindheartedness, and food! Lots and lots of food! 

Some people don’t have the warmth of pleasant memories of “home.” Some may have not had a home life they want to dwell on. Home may bring up unhappy emotions or feelings of despair. 

In this passage from II Samuel, we might have a hard time understanding what “home” meant to God and to King David. David stated in the beginning of chapter 7 that he was living in a new palace, but God resided in a tent. I think we have to give David a bit of credit that he did actually want something much better for God’s presence. I am betting that David did not truly get the concept of what “home” meant here. God’s presence was with them, because they were children of God. God was designing a new thing! God was making David into a “home” by creating a living legacy. 

This legacy would be the lineage of Christ who was coming to be the one true King!! John 1:14 says “So the Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.” (NLT) Jesus made his home here, and it wasn’t in a palace or a tent; the joy of having Jesus Christ brings us all new and wonderful experiences. Jesus Christ living in us is “home;” then home truly is where the heart is.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

  1. What does home mean to you?
  2. How was David envisioning a “home” for God?
  3. What can we do to make Jesus Christ at “home” in us?

[#pictureAdvent] December 17: BAPTISM

15 Dec 17 Baptism-01.jpg

By Rev. Chris Sanders and Rev. Charissa Jaeger-Sanders
Chris is the Pastor at John Wesley UMC, and Charissa serves as Director of Grace Works Studio
Tallahassee, FL

First, read John 1:23-28

As pastors, it is an amazing experience and privilege to participate in the sacrament of baptism. The two of us have both had the privilege of holding an infant in our arms, scooping water in our hands, and placing that water on the child’s head, noticing the look of amazement in his or her eyes.

This sacramental initiation into Christ’s holy church, Christ’s called out community, is a special moment. For adults, it embodies a personal confession of their faith. For infants, it represents the recognition of the beginning of the faith journey, whereby prevenient grace is and has already been at work in their lives; it is a sign of what is to come: a personal profession of faith where they choose to surrender their lives to Christ by loving God and loving neighbor. They have received this inexplicable and unconditional love of God in Christ, and they want to share it.

As John the Baptist stood on the banks of the Jordan River, he was a messenger for the coming Messiah, a messenger for the coming embodiment of God’s love among the people. He offered people the opportunity to confess their sins and to cleanse their hearts. In this way, their lives were being prepared for the coming Messiah. Like infant baptism, this baptism was not the end of the journey but the beginning.

This preparatory baptism done through John reminds us that Advent embodies an entire journey and season of preparation, of which we are nearly three quarters of the way through. While we wait and hope, we also prepare. 

These four weeks are spent preparing our hearts for the coming Messiah. We prepare our hearts through prayer, study, spiritual disciplines, the confession of our sins, and cleansing of our hearts, so that when the birth of the Christ Child arrives, our hearts are open and ready to receive him.

The word baptism connotes a ritual cleansing, a fresh start. John was immersing people in the waters of the Jordan as a sign of preparation and a willingness to receive what God had in store for them. Each of our journeys provides opportunities for fresh starts. Baptism can also have the connotation of being overwhelmed. 

This Advent season, how can we immerse ourselves in the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit? How can we allow the presence of God to fully overwhelm us and awaken us, in the best possible way? How can we make more space and prepare more room for this Immanuel, God who abides with us?

One of the hymns we sing at Christmas is “Joy to the World.” The lyrics of the first stanza say:

    Joy to the world, the Lord is come
    Let earth receive her King
    Let every heart
    Prepare Him room
    And heaven and nature sing
    And heaven and nature sing
    And heaven and heaven and nature sing
The words, “let every heart prepare him room,” are an invitation to be intentional in the season of preparation, so that your heart may be ready to receive and experience the ever-abiding presence of our Lord, Immanuel.

Prayer: Gracious and loving God, cleanse our hearts, as we confess where our lives have stepped out of balance, out of the dance of life that you have wanted for us. Prepare us for the coming of the Messiah that we may graciously receive him. Renew us and bind us together. Send us out into the world sharing Your love, that the Christ child embodies, to all that we meet. Amen.

Discussion/Reflection Questions

1. Part of this season and in every season of life involves asking ourselves questions that help us to recenter. Consider what you truly hope to get out of the rest of this season. Are you hoping to connect more deeply with God? Maybe hoping to spend more quality time with your family and close friends? Perhaps even making space for yourself to continue to become and evolve into who God is shaping you to be. What things do you need to let go of in order for these things to be a priority? How can you intentionally make space?

2. Now look not only at the next week or so, but also beyond the season of Advent. What about your life needs to be re-centered? Where does your current rhythm not embody your goals or priorities? What needs to change?

3. What are the spiritual disciplines that you practice that help you to experience the presence of God washing over you? How can you cultivate these spiritual disciplines more?

[#pictureAdvent] December 16: NAME

14 Dec 16 Name-01.jpg

By Molly McEntire
Florida United Methodist Conference Center
Lakeland, Florida

First, read John 1:6-8

“Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” This is an important question. Who are you? Every day I ask myself, “who am I”?

It can be dangerous for us to claim to be something we are not. It is tempting to claim to be more than we are. We take on “names” of things that we are not. Every now and then we read of someone who has claimed to be a pastor, doctor or teacher, when the truth is very different. Those claims have even caused harm to others.

John was one of those remarkable, transparent people that we meet in scripture from time to time. When John was asked, “who are you?,” he had the chance to make himself out to be something greater than he was, to be dishonest about his identity. He had the opportunity to give himself a powerful name.

But, John was not willing to claim the name of someone else. He got the attention of others, but he was just John. He knew there was just one God and he knew he was not God. John had the chance to claim to be The Messiah or one of the prophets. John, however, did not want to get in the way of others and cloud their ability to see Jesus. John knew the Great One was coming. So, he did not claim to be more than he was.

We need to make sure we do not claim more about ourselves than we should. We should not confuse ourselves with God. Our name is important, but the name of God is far greater. Our name might be servant, disciple, or missionary. Who are you? Have you taken on a name that claims to be more than you are? Or have you lived as John did and not claimed to be more than you are?

Prayer: Jesus, we thank you for another day. We thank you for who you are. We thank you that we can take on the name of disciple who serves in your name. May we live a life of peace, grace and love. Amen

Discussion/Reflection Questions:
1)    Who do you claim to be?
2)    Have others given you a name?
3)    What is your “name”?