Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

December 11, 2018 – Turn toward God

Today’s Bible reading

Read Matthew 3:5-6

Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

More thoughts for meditation

Repentance does not just mean a change of mind, or even a change or heart; it’s a change of posture all together. The New Testament calls it a turning toward God., or you might say a returning to God. A returning to home. A return from the strange place we’re in now, to the comparatively strange place that is our actual home. A return to our maker.

John’s repentance is not singular; it is once-and-for-all. It’s a transformative. The returning to God is not just an augmentation of one’s life; it is a fundamental change to one’s life. It is a sort of awakening. John is moving the whole world to repent, to turn, as they make a way for the Lord!

The baptism of John, a ceremonially that Gentiles underwent when they converted to Judaism, is now someone all believers, all people, are undergoing. Craig Keener tells us that, “it is highly unlikely that Jewish people would admit Gentiles into the covenant without a ritual cleansing from their former state of impurity,” and as such, he is calling all people to consider how they’ve strayed from their maker and how to return. No one is without blemish.

Suggestions for action

We publicly declare our faith in baptism. It is a symbol of something that is happening inside of us and we express it to the world. That expression is transformative though. There is something powerful about publicizing our faith; that is, making it public, and making it known. Consider how you can publicly declare your faith today. Imagine what it might do to “turn” you toward God. If you feel apprehensive or limited, consider why that might be. Pray that God stills your heart and gives you peace this Advent.

December 10, 2018 – A stranger from a strange place

Today’s Bible reading

Read Matthew 3:1-4

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.’”

Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.

More thoughts for meditation

Biographies in first century Roman world did not mention people’s appearances or their diets unless they were noteworthy. Right at the outset, the Gospel writer tells us something about what John dresses like and where he is from. John the Baptist is apparently a strange man. He is a man that contrasts. A man that looks like he comes from another world, and apparently does come from another one.

His very garb and location tell us that he’s a revolutionary of sorts. He’s ready to change the world. He comes from a strange place, eats strange food, and dresses in strange ways. He relates then to a strange God, or at least strange by the world’s standards. The very oddness of his appearance moves us to wonder what is exactly right-side up in this world. What is upside down?

John resides in the wilderness, a typical location for a prophet, but also typical for someone who is escaping a hostile world. John’s message was safer in the wilderness and it was safer for groups to gather to listen to him too. Moreover, his garb and his diet are reminiscent of prophets of old and also the poor of the day as well.

Suggestions for action

John is a radical follower of God. What makes him radical is his commitment and agreement to serve God, not what he wears, where he lives, or what he eats. Those things are symptoms of the transformation that has occurred in him. In just these few verses, we see John’s radical discipleship as evidence that he’s staked everything to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. What are your radical edges of your life that demonstrate your commitment to Jesus? They don’t have to be as obvious as John’s. It might just be how you spend your money, or even how slowly you walk. Circle of Hope is a chance to live alternatively, like John did, too. Also, think of people that you know that have some of John’s gifts. How are they inaugurating the Kingdom now? How can we help?

Today is Thomas Merton Day! Enjoy his witness at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

December 9, 2018 – A leap of faith

Today’s Bible reading

Read Luke 1:39-45

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

More thoughts for meditation

Jesus and John, cousins and friends, have their births announced in a very similar way. John will eventually make a way for Jesus.  Jesus will inaugurate a whole new era for the entire world. John will acknowledge that the coming one is greater than he is. But they start at similar places with some noteworthy differences.

In both cases, Gabriel prophesies that a son will be born in unusual circumstances, in unexpected ways. The prospective parents (Zechariah and Mary, in this case) are worried but receive some peace. God has a plan for both of these boys, they are initiating something new into the world. They come from strange places; they might even be estranged, yet they are welcoming the world into a new opportunity and a new life.

Jesus’ mother, Mary is young, and John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, are old. Mary comes from a lower stature than Zechariah and Elizabeth, and Zechariah is directly involved in the conception of John. John’s a prophet inspired by the Spirit, and Jesus will be birthed by the Spirit. The reversal in statuses is a theme in the Gospel too: the son of the priest ushers in the King who will reign over Israel, the child of a virgin.

Both parents ask the angel Gabriel questions. Zechariah asks how he will know, for he doubts because of his age. Mary believes, but wonders about the cause, she asks, “How can this be?” The angel sees Zechariah’s question as lacking in trust, but reveals more to the trusting Mary.  Mary trusts. Zechariah doesn’t. The priest is therefore silenced, and Mary who is quick to obey, is blessed.

Suggestions for action

It can be hard to believe in miracles. We might ask the same questions that Zechariah and Mary did every day. We might even read the Bible and wonder how any of it might be true or relevant to us. Later on in this story, John the Baptist, inside Elizabeth, will leap for joy when he feels Jesus next to him. Mary took her own leap of faith in receiving this commission to birth Jesus. John and Jesus will take a similar leap of faith. This week, we’ll see how radical of a leap John took as he altered his whole life in service to God. It starts with a step of faith. Take one today. Forestall your judgment. Curb your cynicism. Doubt your doubt. Be quicker to believe this Advent season. See where God takes you.

December 8 , 2018 — Servant and King

Today’s Bible reading

Read Isaiah 42:1-9

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.” 

More thoughts for meditation

The baby Jesus, King of Kings, is a wonderfully strange paradox to consider. “Born Thy people to deliver,/ Born a child and yet a King” as Charles Wesley put it in his poem made song (Come Thou Long Expected Jesus). Isaiah’s imagination captures this paradox long before the Word became flesh. How does someone bring justice without crying out in the streets? What does the gentleness in Isaiah 42 have to do with establishing anything in this messy world?

The Servant who is also King is a grand reversal, a challenge to all our political strategies. Some might take this passage as a call towards quietism. Jesus saying, “My kingdom is not of this world” could be received as a prohibition against political involvement of any kind, and some of our faith cousins, even some within Circle of Hope, believe this to be the right interpretation. But if you are called to speak up for justice—to take up the mantle of the prophets as a compassionate response to the unjust world we live in –to love your neighbor as yourself–what do you do? The Servant and King, Jesus, gives us a clue.

Otherizing the opposition is a sure fire way to galvanize a movement. The easiest way to organize a group of people is to unite them against a common enemy. Other people who do evil in our eyes are the natural enemies for a movement, but Jesus’ enemy-loving message transcends all notions of other, stranger and enemy. He manages to convict the wrong-doer by imagining a future for them. He tends the smoldering wick in case it might be kindled back to flame. He compassionately sees people in their tenderness and strengthens their will for transformation. He see the wounds we all have and offers us healing.

The Baby King babies us without infantilizing us. He calls us to who we are meant to be while giving us the strength and courage to actually change who we are. We who follow in his way bring that gentleness to our creative action to care for the poor and the oppressed. Elected officials ought to covet our moral message and the love with which we doggedly profess it. Our best advocacy is our alternative community. It is the ground from which we prophecy to those who might be convicted by the truth, even those empowered enough to do great harm to the people we love. If our imagination for their transformation is part of our vision for the future, we are on the right track.

Suggestions for action

Mennonite Central Committee is our most expansive expression of compassion. We share money with MCC through our thrifts stores and through a portion of our common fund. Our pastors serve on boards of the organization as well. Joining with MCC is one way we lift our voice together in a creative, transformational ways. Go to mcc.org and sign up for action alerts from the Washington Office or learn something about what they’re doing on the Washington Memo Blog. Pray for the problems you encounter, for alleviation of suffering and for creative responses from ourselves and all who follow our Servant King.

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