Matthew 2:2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, 2 asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”
My King and my God, the celebration of the wise men’s visit at Epiphany is still a month away, but images and songs of the Magi are already everywhere. This Saturday I pray for the Bear River East Baptist Church. May they indeed be wise men and women of the east. With their pastor, Fred, may they be truly guided in the good work to which You have called them in these days. You have prospered their ministry: continue to show them favour.
Amid the festive events and preparations of early December give me pause to seek You and honour You, Lord Jesus. You are the Way for me to follow: I thank You. You are the Truth for me to know: I open my mind and heart to You. You are the Life for me to live now and forever: bless Your holy name! Amen.
Luke 14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.
Loving God, Holy Spirit of Hospitality: You have welcomed me, in this life. Thank You so much! Today, on this United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons, guide me to review my own hospitality. Do I welcome people of all abilities into my life? Those who have suffered all sorts of harm, hurt, or limitations? Those who ‘look disabled,’ and those whose disability is hidden? Do I love and respect myself in the face of my own physical or mental limits?
Holy One, I seem to live in an age of criticism and of fear. Far from perfect am I; give me the grace to look charitably upon all others I meet or hear about. In my community, grow the sense of inclusion, care, and justice for all who are limited in one way or another. For, Master, that list includes everyone… and me. Amen.
Philemon 1:15 Perhaps this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.
Jesus, Desire of Nations, come and reign. On this United Nations International Day for the Abolition of Slavery I pray because there is still much slavery upon earth. Yet these people who are crushed and held down are brothers and sisters. Help be remember and be aware, that I may at least pray better for those who are not free.
In my own area, Master, there are many people who feel enslaved to their circumstances: trapped in a job, in an addiction, in poverty, in drug use, in a disease or illness, in bad relationships, or other trouble. Christ, what is the freedom You want, what freedom do You offer? And what can I do, somewhere, for someone, to help set them free? Alongside all this, dear Jesus, reveal by the Spirit by own enslavement, and the key to my freedom today. Amen.
Psalm 103 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— 3 who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases…
Timeless God, pause me in this moment, take me to a deeper awareness even for just a couple minutes. Show me that I don’t just have a soul, I am a soul. The waters run deep here, and here You meet with me; here in the foundation of myself I find I am not alone.
My soul rests, and rejoices, and blesses You; I remember, I remember so much of Your touch. There has been forgiveness, there has been healing, there has been lovingkindness for me.
A new month begins, and not only is it Advent – awaiting Jesus again – this is World AIDS Day. For all the healing tools that have helped: Hallelujah! For all the understanding and grace now shown to those who face this disease: Praise! For all the hopes for healthy life: deep thanks. But the plague rages on, in the world; let the disease be healed in every way. Amen.
1 Timothy 5:23 No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.
Ever Present God, we speak of you coming into our lives, dwelling within, and shining forth from inside us to others. Glory and praise to You for the indescribable ways You live around and within me! Today, I pray for my body and the body of others. Every organ can be touched by the Great Physician. This is Stomach Cancer Awareness Day, so for the health of all may I be more informed about this problem and its prevention.
Master, in these days my heart goes out to friends and acquaintances living with any kind of cancer. Jesus, be with Jonathan, Joe, Dwight, Jack, Peter, and many others. Especially I ask for blessings – and miracles! – for these who are undergoing times of testing, treatment, or even surgery. I want the very best for them! I want to support them. I want them to get every bit of the best care possible. I want them not just to ‘struggle’ against a disease, but to live, and live abundantly as possible. Let there be help, let there be healing, let there be happiness for each one. Hear my prayer. Amen.
Exodus 32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’”
God of the Promise, the season of promises has begun. I turn to You, the Giver of the perfect Gift. I praise Your for the blessings that come my way, and the blessings I hear about for others. Praise You for friends who mark special moments like 365 days sober, or so many years without smoking. These are such good milestones, Lord! Praise You for the people who celebrate a 99th birthday, or 65th anniversary, or other such amazing times. Praise You for folks who ring a bell or throw a party to say, ‘I’ve finished my cancer treatments! I’m going to be OK.”
God of history, as so many turn their eyes to scenes from Bethlehem, two millenia ago, I pray for the peoples of that part of the Middle East. Bless the Palestinians today. It is the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People: in the midst of conflict that goes on forever, may the world remember the people of Palestine, and their struggle for homeland and for justice. In the name of the Prince of peace, Jesus. Amen.
WELCOME to this post with a bit of content from our morning worship service for this First Sunday of Advent. Full service details are in the Bulletin, here on the website. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Amen.
(Jeremiah 29:1, 4-14) J G White
Strangers in a Strange Land: It’s October of 2010. I find myself in the high Andes of South America. Walking the market streets of El Alto, Bolivia, I pass the vendors selling hats, a whole street selling hats. Then another few blocks of fruits and vegetables, outdoors. Then all the meat sellers in a row, with what are to me mystery meats, out in the cool sunshine of a spring day down there. Some must be cow’s stomach, or something like that. Then, the witches market, with the ever popular dried Llama fetuses for sale. And on it goes in the city.
I don’t want to buy much. Just as well, I think to myself. I don’t know a word of Spanish, not even the numbers to haggle over a price. I’m a stranger in a strange land. Yet, I was there on tour with pastors, visiting Baptist Churches and ministries and experiencing Christian work.
Some of you have been far more a ‘stranger in a strange land’ than this. And you got some cultural intelligence for your experience.
Then again, right at home, we have times when things change for us, and we feel strange, or the world around us grows strange. Sound familiar? Two years ago now, in 2019, were any of you guessing how our habits would have changed since then? We are in a bit of a strange land now, right here at home, in this pandemic season.
The scripture stories of Jesus’ nativity are filled with strangers in a strange land. Magi from the far East. Angelic messengers from who knows what heavenly realm. Even Joseph and Mary have to go to a different town at the time of the birth, not to mention when they had to flee south into Egypt to save their child from execution.
Plus, we see Jesus as a stranger among us – since He is God the Creator joining creation.
But we are not into those stories yet. We start back among the prophets. Today, five hundred and some years before Jesus, Jeremiah is writing letters. Letters for his people who had been conquered by the Babylonian empire, and hauled off into Babylon. Jeremiah earlier had been obedient to remain celebate and not marry or have children, as a warning about the conquest that was about to happen. But now, now his godly message is to settle down in the foreign land where they are really prisoners. Marry, have children, farm the land, take care of things. This is your ‘new normal,’ he tells the Hebrews, on behalf of God.
These tales of the exile of the Jews get me thinking of how we enter strange times in our lives, when we don’t feel quite at home anymore. And we are not sure what to do with ourselves. It happens. Maybe we have all been getting a bit of that strange feeling over the past couple years.
Let me draw out six things for us in this twenty-first month of a pandemic, this strange land we live in now. First, let’s live here, in ‘Covidland.’ We are learning to do this already, of course. It is no longer just a matter of waiting it out. We have to live it now. I dislike the phrase, but we live in our ‘new normal.’ As Jeremiah preached it, so we do today: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; …multiply there, and do not decrease.
At first, like, back in August of 2020, we were hiding and waiting. Waiting for the pandemic to end. We put a lot of life on hold – we had to. Remember the first lockdown? We missed out on Good Friday and Easter, among other things. We only had recordings or something to read at home for Sunday mornings. Some of you said things like: ‘Oh, when we do finally all get back together, we are really going to celebrate. We will do Palm Sunday and Easter and Anniversary all at once!’ Was not that simple. It’s been a soft start, never yet getting back to BC – before COVID. We are in this for the long haul, like Jeremiah’s people in Babylon of old. Settle in – this is your new normal.
Second thing: bless the new situation, the place where we live. What was in Jeremiah’s letter of God to the Jews in exile? 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. I think it is true that our well-being is not in trying to get to life as it was in 2019. We will be well when we bless the new ways we need to follow. We make beautiful masks, bothersome as they are. We greet people with joy without touching them. We even meet people online and over the phone instead of in person.
And we disciples of Jesus are here to bless our community, oppressed by COVID-19 as it is. Some congregations have recently felt the need to stop all midweek things that require proof of vaccination. So that no one feels left out, we suppose? But, as my wise step-daughter asked, ‘do they just quit ministering to everyone because they can’t include some people?’ She implies an answer: no!
We must do all we can to bless as many people as possible, even with the limits of these days, and even when the rules and how to follow them don’t make sense to us. Seek the welfare of Covidland.
Another thing: don’t be led astray by lying voices. What happened back in Jeremiah’s day, when so many Hebrews got taken to a foreign land? Many religious prophets said they would soon be free. Such as Hananiah, who prophesied: “Thus says the Lord: …I will break the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon from the neck of all the nations within two years.” No. Jeremiah’s word was the exile would be long. Like, seventy years! 8 …Do not let the prophets and the diviners who are among you deceive you, Jeremiah preached, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream…
This is a very divisive time. So many voices – about COVID-19 issues, among all the other things. So many disagreements. So much hostility. Everyone with ‘their truth,’ correcting someone else. Not always easy, eh? How not to be led astray: there’s the challenge. I think some gentleness is in order – in how we disagree with others, in how we share something we think is very important, in how we decide to believe and follow one path or another, in how we let someone else be different and go their way.
And there is a lot to be said for learning, better and better, to know the voice of our Master. What are we told? ‘The sheep know His voice.’ There is so much to learn about our Master’s voice. Picture the scene, down south, about sixty years ago. It’s Sunday dinner in a family home, after the service in their local Southern Baptist Church. Adults around the table talk of the message the Pastor gave, including grand plans direct from the Lord for their church. Then the matriarch, wise grandmother, speaks. She is a real icon of faith and tradition in the family and the Church. But she quietly says, “I don’t know why God never speaks to me like that.” Decades later, her grandson, Dallas Willard, wrote his book, ‘Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship With God.’
Keep up that conversation, and don’t be led astray.
Speaking of the voice of Christ, God spoke through Jeremiah in the sixth century BCE a now beloved verse: 29:11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Now, for us, there is a divine plan, a good plan.
How many of you have seen this verse on a mug, or a wall plaque, or a cross-stitched pillow? Just remember that, in this bit of Hebrew scripture, the ‘you’ is plural. Like the southerners say, ‘Y’all.’ God knows the plans God has for ya’ll. Even ‘all y’all,’ as they sometimes say. Not me and you: plans for us.
I believe God has a wonderful plan for our lives, together. Even on this cusp of 2022. And plans for a future with hope sounds very good when we are all in this pandemic boat together.
Yet, keep things in perspective: this pandemic is not that bad for us. Here’s my fifth point: we are not in exile. We may feel we are strangers in a strange land, but we have it pretty easy, we in these pews, compared with most people on the planet. We are certainly not as displaced as Jeremiah’s people.
Yes, we have a pandemic lightly touching us. It is a healthcare crisis. At least we have health care. A friend just got diagnosed with non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. It took just a few weeks of testing. In two days he gets his first chemotherapy needle. He’s lucky. We talked about this the other day. What if he lived in Sudan – after a political coup last month and a drought emergency now? Or in Ethiopia – having a civil war today? Or Afghanistan, where fourteen million people face hunger daily. What do you suppose their healthcare is like?
We have it easy here: even in a global pandemic, even with the price of everything going up, even with… well, whatever our other serious complaints are.
We are not in exile. Even as Christians in Canada now, we’re not in exile, not in some modern day pagan Babylon. Sometimes believers think we have lost so much, and are so oppressed now. We do not have it that bad! It is more likely that we are Babylon, we are the rich oppressors of others on the planet, we Canadians who are Christian.
Now, my sixth and final point: for believers, seeking and finding God is the greatest goal and prize. From Jeremiah’s letter, speaking for the LORD: 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart…
Here’s another decorative quotation I’ve seen on people’s walls: ‘Wise Men still seek Him.’ There is always seeking to be done. All the practices and habits of religion seem to say this. We don’t ‘arrive.’ We don’t ‘make it’ and then rest on our spiritual laurels. I think of the apostle Paul who spoke of running the race of faith so as to win it (1 Cor 9:24), and in another place: “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)
What the will of God for us is now is new, eh, in this pandemic time. Not to mention other things about our circumstances. We have never been here before. True. I have never even been fifty-one years old before – neither have you been your age. Our guide, the Spirit, can lead us on. All is known to the Holy One we trust.
So here we start the story of Jesus all over again, with Advent: four Sundays before Christmas. Once again looking for inspiration to seek and find the Saviour. To grow in our fellowship, our obedience, our sacrifice, our joy with Jesus. I know I have further to go. Do you?
Just yesterday I got a phone message from an acquaintance from out of town. A fellow I knew in my youth, just a few years older than me. I called him back. He asked about baptism, as he has had such a renewal of his faith! He asked if, maybe… perhaps, it could even happen in December. Of course it can! We have plans for a baptism here already on December 12th. At any age and stage of life, progress with Jesus happens, and should be celebrated.
Dear stranger, in this strange land: remember, in Christ, you are also a citizen of the heavens, the Kindom. So you are at home already, even in these unusual times. As we long for Jesus, let us rest in Him. We heed the call to go to Bethlehem again. And we ask afresh for God to come to us abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel. Amen.
The Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Neibuhr
God, give me grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.
Malachi 3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.
Practical God, You appear in down-to-earth ways, as You stood among us in Christ two thousand years ago. I thank You for those moments when I do know You, right in front of me, suddenly appearing in a temple, so to speak. Sometimes the temple is a Church, gathered to praise and pray. Sometimes the temple is under the trees in the forest. Sometimes the temple is in the pages of a book. Sometimes the temple is in the eves of a neighbour. Praise You! You are Reality with a personality.
This weekend, make Yourself so real to my brothers and sisters of the Bear River East Baptist Church. Bless Pastor Fred and that Church family with all the hopes of Advent. Strengthen their sense of ministry in the area. Help them fulfill all their good plans. In Your power: Father, Christ, and Spirit. Amen.
Psalm 150:5 Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! 6 Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!
Breath of God, Spirit Divine, I pause in my day to be grounded, to be aware of You, to rest in Christ. Aid me now to stop what I’ve been doing.
Let me get into a comfortable position, at rest.
I breathe slowly now, and deeply, letting go of all the thoughts that flood my mind.
Come, Holy Spirit, breathe in me.
Holiness, I quietly rejoice in You. Thank You for moments to quiet the body and the soul, and to detect Your touch in my life. Thank You for guidance, for healing, for hope and purpose. I become aware of my feelings and admit them to You, and myself. And so I pray for others in their needs. May those who face stress all day long be given relief. May those who are hurting in body have their pain soothed. I pray today because this is Pulmonary Hypertension Awareness Month, and ask that all with lung circulation problems may find as much healing and ways to manage the problem as possible. Amen.
Romans 12:20 “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Mighty God of Goodness, into Your purity I look, despite my failings. Into Your holy word I look, in spite of my doubts and questions. Into Your creation I look, in contrast with my self-absorption. I praise You! Your presence and purposes are there, hidden in plain sight. Thank You, dear Master.
This day, I pray for relief and help in British Columbia, in eastern Nova Scotia, and western Newfoundland and Labrador, in the wake of stormy flooding. The damage, the isolation, and the needs to rebuild are so great. Saviour, bless the people, the land, and the teams working to care for everything that is in a mess! Also today, this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, my prayer is for non-violence. May it begin with me. O Son of God, cleanse me even of violent words and body language, and of my violent attitudes that underlie them. Then I may contribute to the effort to eliminate all harm. In Your name, Prince of Peace. Amen.