Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

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.

December 7, 2018 — Captivity and Freedom

Flight into Egypt by He Qi

Today’s Bible reading

Read Jeremiah 31:31-37

It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

More thoughts for meditation

The first covenant that God made with Israel came to them as strangers in a strange land. They were exhorted by God, “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” For the people called Israel, God begins as a liberator.

Jeremiah is God’s representative when the land promised to Israel is being lost (In 586 BC, the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed). Jeremiah cites many instances of Israel’s failure to keep their side of the covenant. The current arrangement was broken. But even though they broke the covenant God was changing everything in order for God to be able to keep God’s side. Jeremiah sees a future in which God relates differently to the chosen people.

We are living in “those days” when the law is within us, written on our hearts, Jesus is the new covenant. Love is fully revealed as the language of God in Him. He came to us as a stranger, and even reenacted the captivity in Egypt of his ancestors as a refugee in Egypt. He came back to the Promise Land that Jeremiah’s contemporaries lost and returned to. Then, at the hands of a self- proclaimed and thus fraudulent messianic Roman Empire, he was broken too. However, as the new covenant himself, Jesus triumphed over death.

In the time of Jeremiah the people of Israel were resurrected when they returned from Babylonian captivity. Their messiah was Cyrus the Great of Persia. Again they were liberated and again they were given a reason to welcome the stranger. There is a shift in how they relate to God, in this return. It became increasingly clear that the indwelling presence of God could transcend their political arrangement. Many messiahs came and went, leading uprisings against a serial of foreign occupiers of the Promise Land. Jesus’ resurrection life makes the forgiveness of our iniquity, the forgetting of our sin, eternal. Jesus died once for all as the full expression of the freedom God desires. The “within-ness”, and “on the heart” nature of his salvation transcends all the boundaries and results in the unstrangering of the whole world, an expansion of the promise land, and a welcome that is radically available to all of humanity.

Suggestions for action

What does your welcome look like if you join God in this ALL encompassing inclusion of humanity? Who might you consider beyond the boundaries of your life? Our lives so easily circumscribe themselves, don’t they? Demanding connection with a stranger from yourself today might be too much, but at least start with imagining those beyond. Make a list or imagine faces in your mind. Who are you barely connected to? What group of people might be included with you next – you, the one with Jesus written on your heart. The one who knows the freedom he brings, how might you use it? Who might enjoy it with you? Pray for them and for your opportunity to love them today.

December 6, 2018 — Rich and Poor

Today’s Bible reading

Read Isaiah 53

He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
For he was cut off from the land of the living;
for the transgression of my people he was punished.
He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.

More thoughts for meditation

Isaiah 53 has long been associated with Jesus. The experience of the Suffering Servant Isaiah describes expands our understanding of Jesus in poetic form. “THIS is what Isaiah was talking about!” The Gospel writers must have said when they heard about Jesus standing before Pilate saying nothing, “Yet he did not open his mouth.”

But more than just an uncanny description of future events, Isaiah’s recurring character, the Suffering Servant, resonated with the people of his time (likely in exile in Babylon). The best poetry has the capacity to say something many people feel like they have always known but couldn’t say. In the case of Isaiah it seems his words wrapped not around a something but a Who. And we who receive his poetry centuries later can feel that Who still. Isaiah’s description of the Suffering Servant precisely chisels out a shape fit perfectly for our hearts’ longing.

Deep down we all know this world is a raw deal, and it seems that it always has been. Maybe this Advent we will refuse to be resigned to what we all know. From Isaiah’s vantage point hundreds of years before Christ, to now, the rich have trampled on the poor.

Isaiah 58:9b-10

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

Jesus and Isaiah’s Suffering Servant found themselves oppressed by the wicked and buried by the oppressors. Most of us can identify with this. The rich have assigned most of our life, even our desires. Jesus identifies with us in this too, but Jesus rose from the dead! He died for our transgressions at the hands of those who transgress and oppress us still, but he did not stay dead. There is a way through whatever it is that oppresses you today.

Suggestions for action

Identify something that oppresses you. It doesn’t have to be only economic, though that would not be hard to find. You could be oppressed by your ill health, your bad relationship, your own anger, your bureaucratic job, all the concrete that surrounds you… Find something specific and pray this prayer with Isaiah 64:

Oh, that you would burst from the heavens and come down!
How the mountains would quake in your presence!
As fire causes wood to burn
and water to boil,
your coming would make the nations tremble.
Then your enemies would learn the reason for your fame!
When you came down long ago,
you did awesome deeds beyond our highest expectations.
And oh, how the mountains quaked!
For since the world began,
no ear has heard
and no eye has seen a God like you,
who works for those who wait for him!

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