December 30-31


“But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Luke 2:10 (NRSV)

Change is scary.  For many, the New Year brings a great deal of fear of the unknown. Fortunately, we are not the first to be afraid.  The phrase “do not be afraid” occurs 59 times in the Bible.  This includes three different instances in the Christmas story alone as angels appeared to Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, all bringing great news to the hearer.  Even with joyful news, the people of God were afraid.  More often than not this phrase was followed by the reassurance that God was with them – Emmanuel.

I don’t know about you, but just remembering that God is with me, even when things are scary, is a great comfort.  When I remember that I am not alone and that there is someone there beside me to help when times get tough, I am left with a sense of calm and strength that helps me through tough times. 

God is always with us and never leaves us, especially when times are the toughest.  As we enter into a new year and start to make our “New Year’s Resolutions,” let us keep in mind that no matter how scary things seem at times, or how many changes come, God tells us “Do not be afraid” because our Emmanuel has everything under control.  That is good news indeed.

Wonderful Counselor, Guide us through the scary times in our lives.  Show yourself to us and remind us that there is no need to be afraid because you are with us always.  Thank you for never leaving us alone.  In Jesus’ name, AMEN.


December 29

I love the anticipation of Christmas, all the Christmas music and decorations, the joy that seems more prevalent in the community, and the increased generosity evidence in December.  But, I also feel so let down by the way Christmas ends a day or so after -- the radio plays popular songs again, the stores put everything Christmas in the back and on sale, and people take down their decorations.  Our culture celebrates Christmas as an ending -- we get our gifts, eat the big meal, hug our families, and go back to life as usual.  

Christmas is actually all about beginnings.  A baby, the most important baby ever, was born and only starting his life on earth.  The chapter of the salvation story which culminates at Easter begins at Christmas.  I need to remember that, as I go back to my regular schedule and life as usual.  Christmas joy and peace and love are renewed every Dec. 25th, continue throughout the twelve days of Christmas season, and never end.

O God, help me to remember that you are the source of joy and peace and love, not the lights or tinsel of the season.  Help me to continue to spread the “Christmas” spirit, your Spirit, throughout the whole year.  Amen.


December 27

"Your harvests will be so plentiful that they will last for a year, and even then you will have to throw away what is left of the old harvest to make room for the new.” Leviticus 26:10 (Good News Translation)

Dear God,
As a new year approaches provide the insight to examine the harvest of the past year. Thank you for the experiences, opportunities, mishaps, surprises, understandings, and joys. Guide my thoughts to discern how you were involved and provided guidance and nurturing during each of these times.

As I enter the new year, help me ‘make room’ for what you want me to keep, ‘let go’ of what is no longer needed, and ‘find space’ in my heart and mind for the blessings I need to harvest always.


December 25

Luke 2:1-20
Common English Bible (CEB)

Jesus’ birth

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.

Announcement to shepherds

Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.

Prayer:  And Mary remembered and pondered all these things in her heart.  Lord, allow me to remember and ponder your abundant miracles in my heart. 


December 23

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.  Colossians 3:17

In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a very independent person who does not need much of anything from anyone.  I am a much better giver than receiver, and that’s a source of pride for me. But an unexpected encounter at the grocery store the other day made me pause in my task-oriented, efficiency-driven, pre-Christmas whirl of a life, and wonder:  What if God wants me to be a better receiver so that others may give?

The grocery store encounter went like this.  I was gathering up some of the overflowing bags in my cart and heading to my car when I noticed that a man had stopped at my cart.  He was decades older than me, weathered, stooped, and bundled up against the cold and wind.  As he gathered up my remaining groceries from the cart into his worn hands, he said, “Let me help you.”  Usually, my reaction would be to rebuff such an offer with, “Thanks, but I can do it.”  I might even wonder if I should be the one helping him.  But, for some reason, I found myself allowing him to help me.  “Thank you,” I said.  “I could use a hand.”

As we walked to my car, he said softly, “My wife has a limp.  She uses a cane.” That was all he offered in explanation for his assistance, but no other words were needed.  “Merry Christmas,” he said as he put the bags in my car and turned to go.  He was smiling broadly at me.  “You've made my day,” I said.  And I meant it.

I will think of this gentleman often and pray that God heals his wife of her limp.  And I will ask God to open my heart this Christmas to receive and to celebrate the gifts others have to give.  I wonder what might be waiting for me.

Dear Father,

You are the greatest giver of all.  Open my heart and my hands to receive all that you have to give me.  Teach me to be a grateful recipient both of your gifts and of the gifts you have given others to give. We thank you for the most wonderful gift of your son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.


December 21

Busy, busy, busy.

Write the three thank you notes for my birthday presents…
Or fill the bird feeder before the storm hits…
Or empty the dishwasher and put in the breakfast dishes…
Or wrap the Christmas presents while the kids are still at school…
Or read the paper to find out about that accident on the beltway last night…
Or make some soup and take it to the lady next door who broke her ankle…
Or put the old clothes in the car and drive them up to the donation truck…


It is like 7 LARGE football players all trying to get through a doorway as fast as they can, all at the same time, but the doorway is only big enough for one at a time. When they all scrunch in at once, there is a pile-up, and NONE of them get through.

But they keep trying harder and harder and put enormous pressure on the doorway and squeeze each other from the force of their pushing to be first and now I am worried about them breaking the doorway frame or hurting themselves and I cannot get through the door and the worries take over and I cannot even think about doing anything and it gets louder and louder and harder and harder and I put my hands over my eyes because it hurts too much and I want to go to bed!!

I spend so much time worrying about not getting any done, that there is no time left to do any of them.

I find that I do best if I concentrate on one thing at a time. I need to take a break, and figure out some priorities here. How can I get those football players to get in a single file line? Which one has a time limit? Which one will improve a person’s health? Which one would be nice to do, but can be done tomorrow? Which one is going to be the most fun to do? Pick the most important thing and do it first. When it is finished, I go on to the next. Miraculously, all the tasks will be accomplished!

These examples are pretty easy tasks to do, and putting them in order is not too taxing. But the same block-the-door phenomenon can happen with more important tasks that gang up on you, and keep you from doing what you need to do. To sort out these tasks, you need some help. Instead of worrying about not getting any of them done, back away and take a time out. You are never alone. God is always there, and you can ask God for help. Some people say they turn over all their problems to God as the best way to deal with them. My preference is to keep the problems as my responsibility, but talk to God, and then listen, to get some insight on the best way to proceed. Pretty soon those problems will be lined up and ready to march right through that door with ease.

(Pictured above:  "Football Pile Up Pix,” Saturday Evening Post cover, October 23, 1948.)


December 19

Dear Lord,

As we rush around in the last few days before Christmas looking for that final "perfect" present, help us to remember to take time in the busyness of it all to thank you for what you have already given us -- the greatest present of all.  

"For God so loved the world the He gave His only Son, that who believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life."  John 3:16 (RSV)


December 17

When Christmas is just around the corner, one thinks of opportunities to gather with family and friends.  It is also a time to appreciate those who are no longer with us.

When I was a child, Christmas Day was celebrated at my Great Aunt’s house.  My great grandmother, the matriarch of the family, oversaw the preparations.  She sat at the kitchen table snapping beans and all the women of the family would sit around and share stories that often resulted peals of laughter.

Grandma was a woman of unbending faith who set an example for all whether by word or deed.  Sometimes we would question her, but mostly we listened and tried to follow her example.  To everyone’s amazement, she lived well into her nineties.
            One of her many poems……
Oh, dear Lord, I do implore,
Love me, Savior, more and more;
Help me do as thou would’st do,
Ever loving, always true.

Savior, hear me as I pray;
Bend Thy loving ear this way,
As before Thee I do bow,
Jesus Savior, love me now.

Round me throw Thy loving arm,
Keep me free from every harm,
Fill me full of loving grace,
Let me see Thy smiling Face.

Precious Lord, upon me smile,
Though within I am beguiled
Forgive me, Lord, of all my sins,
Make me pure and clean within. Amen

Dearest Lord, thank you for the opportunity to remember loved ones who were bold in their faith.  Help me reflect the love that you have shown in my life and be an example to those around me.


December 15

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord, Romans 12:11 (NSRV)

I have recently finished the book Zealot by the religious scholar Reza Aslan.  Aslan and his book rose to prominence beyond the theological scholarly community following an interview earlier in the year on the Fox News network (you can Google Aslan and “Fox interview” if you want to see what I am talking about).  As an inquisitive and discerning Christian I wanted to know what the book was all about, what the fuss was. Unlike it was for the interviewer on Fox, the fact that Aslan is a Muslim does not present any particular challenges for me, far more important is what new insight he brings to this 2,000 year old discussion.  That said I did not find Aslan’s work to be filled with a lot of new ideas.  To be fair Aslan has chosen a well–plowed field of scholarship and much of what he discusses has already been covered in Thomas Cahill’s far more readable work: Desire of the Everlasting Hills while many of the details of Paul’s life and influence that Aslan considers are more fully addressed in John Dominic Crossan’s In Search of Paul.

Where I did find Aslan’s work particularly engaging and challenging was at those points in his work where he, in support of his overall thesis, places Jesus squarely into the Zealot tradition (a position at odds with the aforementioned Cahill). There are mixed views in the academic world as to whether or not Jesus was truly a Zealot within the meaning of the word, at least as it was understood at the time but author Reza Aslan is at his best when explaining why Jesus’ life and experience still fits the overall model.

Paul in his letter to the Romans urges his readers to be zealous for the Lord.  I feel in my heart that Jesus wants me, wants all of us, to be strong advocates for our Faith, to work for good. In spite of this I fail at  being a Zealot far more than I succeed.  In fact, not only am I not personally a Zealot I tend to be suspicious of fellow Christians who seem to me to be overly zealous – I am no Zealot but I hope to be…

Dear Lord, grant me the courage and the wisdom to be zealous for you. Help me to overcome my own fears and discomfort and to be strong and deliberate in sharing the promise of redemption that can only come through acceptance of your son and his love for us.   


December 13

Luke 1: 38 “Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord: let it be with me according to your word.”

Luke 2: 19-20 "Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself.  The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen.  It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!"

The season of Advent and Christmas holds many memories for each of us.  What does Christmas look like, feel like, taste like, smell like, or sound like to you?  What do you think about when you think of Christmas?  You may have memories that bring tears to your eyes because they are so special, and then you may have memories that you wish to keep hidden because they are too painful to relive.

Mary must have had some of those same feelings as she thought about her Christmas memories.  She must have thought many times of those memories of that first Christmas when Jesus was born in that stable in Bethlehem. 

As you head on that journey to Bethlehem and Christmas Day may you think of your memories and rejoice in those happy times, and share memories of despair or sadness with a friend or with God in prayer.  Know that you are not alone, for Jesus was born this day for you.

(pictured above:  "Adoration of the Shepherds" by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622.)


December 11

The Light

Psalm 18:28 You, oh Lord, keep my lamp burning.  May God turn my darkness into Light.

John 8:12 Jesus said, "I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

Matthew 5:16 Let your light shine before all men.

In this season of Advent, we are reminded that the Light of Christ shines for all who accept that Light.

Prayer:  Most gracious Lord, we thank you for all the light you have provided.  Because of you, we need not fear the darkness.  Through the gift of Christ, we have perpetual light, light that shows us the pathway you would have us take.  Help us to follow in that lighted pathway and to share Your light with others in our world, daily.  Amen.


December 7

Making Space for Prayer

“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.”                                                                                                                  Matthew 6:6

I recently picked up a brochure in the spiritual center of a local hospital that referenced a “prayer space.”  It was referring to the hospital chapel as a special space, indeed a sacred space.  Other descriptors included “religious refuge” and a “haven for prayer.”

It brought to mind the reference in the New Testament to a prayer closet (or inner room).  Even when we don’t have a physical place that is private and quiet, we can create a space mentally and spiritually that allows us to commune with God at any time.  Making space for prayer can also refer to setting aside time out of our busy days to pause and pray.  It is possible to do this anywhere and at any time - if we make the conscious decision to do it.  Waiting in line at the bank or grocery store, stuck in traffic on the commute to work or back, in between chores around the house; all of these are opportunities for prayer.

Lord, remind us daily that we have the power to make space for prayer and that You delight in those moments when we turn our thoughts toward You, putting aside whatever distractions and concerns are competing for our time and attention.  All of that can fall away when we create space for You.  By making space on a regular basis, we open ourselves to a deeper and richer relationship with You, through your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.


December 5

Life isn't always pleasant.  It seems that’s when Jesus shines upon me the most, or is it at those times I seek His light and warmth.

It was this time of year 11 years ago.  My life was turning upside down and inside out.  When I was in public, I thought I was acting so stoic that no one would notice the pain I stored inside me.  One day, I was having my hair washed and cut.  My hairdresser always kept her conversations light, never too personal.  But this one particular day, she was cutting on my right, then turned to my left, and, out of context, she said, “Take all your problems and put them in a box and give them to God.”  What?  Where did that come from?  Sounded like a Sunday School line.  But that was it, she said nothing else.  I wondered if she knew what she just said.

Okay, put my problems in a box.  I knew it wasn't a real box about which she spoke.  I imagined putting my problems in a box, but they never really left me, and I was still hurting and frustrated.  Finally, one night, after crying into my pillow, again, I was about to give up.   It suddenly occurred to me what all this meant.  In my mind, I pictured a huge box, it was gold in color.  There was a ladder next to the box, the lid was open.  I shed everything I had and everything I wore, and I climbed up the ladder and got into the box.  And I gave the box, with just me in it, to God.  I cried big tears, this time not from frustration, but with joy, because I was relieved.  I knew then that God was with me and I was no longer alone.  I felt his warmth wrapped around me, comforting me, and it gave me strength.  I was rejuvenated and able to face my turmoil with confidence.

Dear God, thank you for sending angels into our lives to carry your message of hope and salvation.


December 3

Turn on the Light at Advent

 Our loving heavenly Father, 

Open our eyes as we turn on the light of hope in this Advent season.  Dispel the darkness within and around us.  As we wait, help us to prepare for the coming of the Christ child through thoughtful prayer, expressions of love, kind words, hymns of praise, and acts of kindness in support of friends and strangers in need.

We pray that we will know Jesus when he comes this season.  We give thanks for the holy harmony he brings into each of our lives.  We also pray that we may wait and receive Him with a wonder-full childlike innocence, excitement, and expectation.  May the world know whose we are by our light ... that outward expression and visible state radiating from the connection with the Holy Spirit within us.

We pray this in the name of the One whose light we seek and whose coming we await, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.


December 1

When my brother and sisters and I were playing outside as children, my mother would call us in for dinner by whistling two particular notes.  They were our notes and when we heard them, we knew it was Mom calling. When we heard her whistle, we answered that we were coming.   

     The season of Advent is a whistling call - it is an announcement for us to listen and to come home to God in prayer. 

     We can picture Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an example of the stages of prayer.   When the angel came to her, she responded that she was open and listening. She heard the whistle of God through the angel and she was ready to listen.  She was awake, attentive, open to God's presence and action in her life.  May we be open and ready to let go of ourselves into the waiting arms of our loving God. 

     After listening for some time, Mary declared, "Let it be with me according to your word."  Her comment tells us that she was intentionally ready for God to be present with her and to move in and act in her life as God wills.  May we offer prayers that indicate our willingness and commitment for God to work in and through us.  

     As a result of her listening and willingness to accept God's action in her life, God moved in her in such a way that the word of God became flesh as Christ was born in her.  Jesus, the living Word of God became flesh and became known through her.  May we be channels for the word of God to act in us, and so become real and present in our lives. 

     Loving Christ, as Mary showed us how to pray and as we grow in our relationship with you this Advent season, we pray that we will allow you to become ever more present through us.  Amen.