Tuesday – December 22, 2020
Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices and thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer.
A Word of Hope
[Preparation: Take a deep breath and exhale slowly….do it again. Place yourself in the presence of your God]
If we were to list the many gifts given to us by God, it would overflow the largest library! We are in touch with the gifts of life and love, of sea and sky, of invention and intuition, of passion and exultation, of speech, and music and silence with a loved one.
While we are generally aware of the all-loving and forgiving God, we may be fearful that God is also keeping a “record” of our misdeeds. If we were raised in a toxic theology, we are sure that God is like a huge calculator in the sky with a record of our actions in life – both negative and positive and that when we die, God hits the total button and sees which side of the ledger is larger than the other.
A total of plusses welcomes us into heaven and a total of minuses sends us in a different direction for all eternity. Whoops! What do we do now? The joy of the Good News is that God not only has redeemed – us but that God has a terrible memory. It is so terrible that it is non-existent. We hold grudges – God does not! We replay hurts of many years ago – God does not!
We are God’s children who are seen as loveable for all eternity. Imagine that? What a gift – Merry Christmas!
O Holy One, we remain in your presence as we reflect on this message of Hope. Let us never forget it. Let us have just a bit of your loss of memory when it comes to those who have disappointed us, who have really hurt us through the years. Let us take those hurts and disappointments and use them as an occasion of forgiveness and forgetfulness. Let us embrace life as you did with open arms, never meeting a stranger and with a phenomenal sense of humor. Visualize the Lord as laughing hysterically!
We pray these words through your many names, O God!
[Take a deep breath and exhale slowly….do it again.]
Cathedral of Hope / United Church of Christ
Monday – December 21, 2020
In the Bleak Midwinter
By Christina Rossetti
In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.
A Word of Hope
Today marks the winter solstice, also known as midwinter, in the northern hemisphere, the day when one of the earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the sun, the day that brings with it the longest period of darkness.
Do you remember as a child when we had no real concept of how long a day or how long a night was? Parents sometimes explain the concept of time to children in “numbers of sleeps.” “Your birthday is in three sleeps, “ for example. To a child, that makes perfect sense. Going to bed at night and waking up in the morning is one sleep. That one sleep whether it be the long night of the winter solstice or the shortest night of the summer solstice is the same in a child’s mind. Life was much simpler when time was measured this way!
2020 has challenged us all to redefine our adult concepts of both “longest” and darkness. The “sleeps” between what we knew as normal and today seem far too numerous to count. And despite the decorative holiday lights that surround us, the darkness feels deeper and longer than anything that we may ever have previously experienced.
This year, as our sanctuary remains dark during this Advent and Christmas season, we are being tasked with finding new ways to bring the light of Christ into the darkness. As the physical days of our Advent season lead toward darkness, so too do our hearts desire quiet darkness during this time of reflection and preparation for the coming of Christ’s light into the world. Our hope is that just as Mary was able to find peace and joy in giving birth in less-than-ideal circumstances, we also will find that same peace and joy in our celebration of the birth of Christ in this far from ideal year of 2020.
I have always loved the words of Christina Rossetti’s poem In the Bleak Midwinter. This year they seem to be speaking more loudly and more profoundly than in years past. The poem begins with what the world may have felt like in the days before Christ was born. These words may also describe where we find ourselves today – frozen in place as a result of the pandemic and perhaps with a hardened heart as we try to protect ourselves from the feelings that might come from focusing on what is missing from this year’s holiday time.
In the middle three stanzas, Rossetti describes the coming of Christ both as a human infant birthed from his mother’s womb and laid at her breast and as the Redeemer who brings his resurrected light to the entire world.
The final stanza has always spoken to me, but this year the words feel more urgent. As our sanctuary remains dark and we are unable to celebrate Christ’s birth together in worship, as we long for the sharing of holiday hugs and the joyful shouting of “Merry Christmas” to one another, as we feel like even with the passing of the winter solstice and the coming of Christmas that the darkness continues to grow, we must always remember that, despite all the darkness and difficulties that surround us right now, unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given and he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Light of the World…and all we have to do is give Him our hearts.
I pray that, like Mary, I may find peace, comfort, and joy in my preparation for celebrating Christ’s birth and that the Christ child will bring light to all the places of darkness in this world. Amen
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Friday – December 18, 2020
“I pray that out of God’s glorious riches you may be may strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”
Word of Hope
It is the Christmas Season and the above scripture expresses exactly, my wishes for you this season. Celebrating the birth of Jesus is at the heart of sharing gifts and expressions of love with family, friends and even people we have not met but love anyway. I confess that I love all things Christmas: songs of joy and peace, exchanging gifts and greeting cards, and all the trimmings. I want to share a story about my Christmas tree that just won’t stop blessing our family.
About twenty-five years ago my fiancé and I struck out to find a tree for our new home. It was our first joint purchase. We looked at a lot of trees and finally settled on one. It seemed a bit pricey but we split the cost and counted it a good deal. It was beautiful, eight feet tall, with long luscious needles. Its branches invited as many ornaments as I could wish.
After several years, some hinges broke lose from the center pole. We took it to a welder who worked miracles and restored it to its former glory. Our grandchildren grew up with that tree, and sure enough, more and more branches broke lose. I have tried for a number of years to replace that tree but, cannot find one that we like as well. Each year we unpack the tree and see its sad, broken branches. We use fishing line to tie them into place. Somehow, the tree takes on its wonderful shape. We put on the lights and ornaments and stare in wonder at its beauty.
This year as we worked on the tree, I was almost certain it could not be salvaged this time. As I watched it respond to our touch and loving care, I felt a kinship to that old tree.
There are days that I feel sad and weary, all used up. Then someone comes along and offers some kindness. I smile again at a note included in a Christmas card or see the lights that my neighbors put up early to bring cheer in our time of troubles. All it takes to restore my soul is a little tender loving care and perhaps a prayer on my behalf. We can give that to each other.
Tonight, I learned that Cathedral of Home is canceling our plans for gathering in person for Christmas worship. I was not disappointed, though I love Christmas Eve services. I am profoundly grateful for a church community and our leaders for caring so deeply for me, for us. Nobody loves church services more than our ministers, yet they choose wisdom in caring for the flock. I will enjoy this Christmas season even more for their care. I see a great celebration in our future when we can gather safely. Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy our lovely tree and I will take great pleasure in putting CoH on my Christmas list this year.
Tender loving God who sees our struggles and who delights in our joy, be with us today. Help us to see your goodness and feel your love and grace. Help us to make room in our hearts for all the love and generosity that you want to give us. Make us mindful of those who need the love that we can pass on to them in your name. May this season be filled with a joy and a renewed sense of wonder for your presence in our lives. Amen
Carole Anne Sarah
Thursday – December 17, 2020
There’s a grief that can’t be spoken
There’s a pain goes on and on
Empty chairs at empty tables
Now my friends are dead and gone.
Phantom faces at the windows
Phantom shadows on the floor
Empty chairs at empty tables
Where my friends will meet no more.
(Herbert Kretzner and Alain Boublil)
A Word of Hope
Many of us will be facing empty chairs this Christmas. Whether the absences are from death, hospitalization, the inability to travel, or the need to follow heightened safety precautions, grief will be our guest. But because of the expectations of the season with Hallmark homecomings and blissful families, we succumb to the pressure—generated internally or externally– not to bring our full selves to the holidays. As John Pavlovitz asserts, “We often feel like we need to apologize for (or at least conceal) our lowest points, our deepest anguish, our most human moments—as if such abrasive things are inappropriate or unwelcome, as if they need to wait outside while we pretend that all is merry and bright within and around us.”
Grief experts advise us to be gentle with ourselves, to give ourselves permission to mourn and find ways to remember those who have died. In one family each person lights a candle and names a loss they have experienced this year (including pets). Another places a picture of the loved one at the table. Finding ways to contribute to causes valued by the person can provide a collective uplifting and be important for non- profits who are struggling.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has robbed us of some activities that help us deal kindly with our losses. Cancelled or greatly reduced are serving in homeless ministry, attending church services, musical programs, and even extending the welcome of a Christmas meal to those who are alone or grieving.
But we can all do something. We underestimate the importance of “holding the space for” someone to talk through their feelings of loss. A man in our small group recently shared a moving story about a long listening he offered his son for whom the last election outcome was devastating. In spite of having opposing political views, he heard the deep sadness under his son’s initial anger and defensiveness. A holy listening indeed.
Reaching out to make contact—making a call or sending a card or an inspiring scripture, poem, or musical link can be a lifeline for aching loneliness. Or being a “secret Santa” to an older person who lives alone on your street. Organizing a drop off for blessing bags for teachers or health care workers and giving gifts and donations to charitable organizations and for justice work are sorely needed.
Like Mary, we can “carry and deliver” the love of God to those in dire need. (Pavlovitz).
Holy God, May kindness and compassion take shape within us this season and find ways of being released into our hurting world. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon
Wednesday – December 16, 2020
But as for me, I will watch expectantly for the Lord;
I will wait for the God of my salvation.
My God will hear me.
A Word of Hope
Waiting with a friend far exceeds waiting alone. As much as a burden is easily lifted with many hands, how much easier is it to give a burden to God, than carry it alone? God is the friend we need when we find ourselves waiting. For when we draw near to God, anxiety is replaced with optimism, because all of God’s plans are more excellent than our own. Alone one forgets who to wait on, and instead, we wait for. Be encouraged by a friend, and rather than search all day for a treasure, grab ahold of the gift that has already been given you. You have a relationship with the Divine.
Everything good comes in the proper time according to the will of God. We may know what we want, but God knows what is needed. So much time is wasted on what cannot be controlled. Staring at a clock won’t make time pass by any faster, but you’d be amazed at how quickly time passes by when you are enjoying yourself. Relax and enjoy yourself in the presence of God. Seek that which feeds your soul. If you allow God to direct your life, then you will be satisfied in the end.
Time is a precious gift of the Lord that should not be wasted by worrying about the future. God has prepared the future. Therefore, enjoy the day! Make good use of the day when you are able to do so, because you do not know what tomorrow brings. If we focus on tomorrow’s gifts, then we lose what is here now. Today, may offer us something far more desirable than what we were looking for.
Because there is much we do not know, it is better to seek guidance from the One who knows exactly what to give us and when. Money, for example, can be a great gift, but if it were given to us too early, we would not know what to do with it. Why would a parent give their child a million dollars? Likewise, why would God give us something that we were not ready for?
Blessed Creator, we thank You for what You have already given us. Help us to enjoy the day and trust You for tomorrow. Teach us patience and how to celebrate early, because You never disappoint. Bless You always, now and forevermore. Amen.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75235
Toll Free: 800-501-HOPE (4673)