By Mark Hart
Don’t people appreciate how busy I am? Good grief, I have these committee meetings to go to and chair, I have to get these reports in by the end of the month, we’re learning a new computer system at work that’s just eating our lunch. That’s just at work. Don’t get me started about what’s going on in my family… All of this family drama, sides being drawn down political and religious lines. I am so ready for this election cycle to be DONE. Sometimes I want to check out so that I can just catch my breath and …. oh, what’s this, wait a minute … a birth announcement? I didn’t even know she was pregnant … Wow, what a nice piece of news… This is kind of refreshing. Actually this is good news. A reminder for me that the world, my work life, even my family doesn’t necessarily revolve around me. Oh, yeah, there is something else going on that is completely other than me of which I am somehow connected. What a nice jolt to my self-absorbed perspective. This new life that has come into a world with such chaos, this world of such real violence and dislocation couldn’t come at a better time. I was just minding my own business and I’ve been surprised by such joy. Who will this child grow up to become? How will this child fulfill his/her own life that is so beyond my wildest imagination? I need this good news. Thank you, Birth Announcement!
One of my favorite quotes is from Andrew Greeley:
It seems to me that in the last analysis there are only two choices: Macbeth’s contention that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing and Pierre Teilhard’s “something is afoot in the universe, something that looks like gestation and birth.” Either there is plan and purpose—and that plan and purpose can best be expressed by the words “life” and “love”—or we live in a cruel, arbitrary, and deceptive cosmos in which our lives are a brief transition between two oblivions. The data are inconclusive as to these two choices, at least if we look at the data from a rational, scientific standpoint… I opt for hope, not as an irrational choice in the face of facts, but as a leap of faith in the goodness I have experienced in my life.”
Come, Lord Jesus!
By Lance Mayes
The first two verses in Psalm 105 encourage us to give thanks and sing praises to God and let the whole world know the wonderful things God does.
Thanks, praise and Good News. We can do that!
It is easy for us to give thanks and praise to God when things are going well: the birth of a healthy baby, a good doctor’s report, getting a driver’s license, winning a game against your biggest rival. It is much more difficult when things are not going so well: a miscarriage, the cancer is back, failing the driver’s test, losing the big game.
It is good to stop and reflect when things are great and when things are bad. Make a list, write it down and thank God. In The 5 Minute Journal gratitude is defined as “the feeling that embodies the word ‘Thank you’. It is the unexpected reward of a kind deed that is magically produced by your brain. It is the cute, tingly feeling in your body that makes you smile at strangers.” Thank God for the day God has created for you. Thank God for every beat of your heart and breath you take. Thank God for the good and the bad (James 1:2-4).
Most of the time when we think about singing praises to God, we think of Sunday morning worship. It is good to be with other Christians and raise our voices in praise as one. It is good to listen to and enjoy a concert of praise and be spurred to join in their worship of God. It is also good to have private times of praise. You see a beautiful sunrise and speak a word of praise to God. You hear the story of your neighbor that their grandchild is getting the mental health help they need and you whisper a song of praise in your heart to God.
Sharing the Good News. Telling others about the wonderful things God is doing in your life and in the lives of others. What story is in your heart that is just waiting to get out? Please share! Tell your family and your friends. Tell your neighbors and coworkers. Tell your church community and your acquaintances. Write your story and post on a blog or on Facebook. Record your story on video for Youtube.* We all have so much we can tell about the wonderful things God does.
*We encourage you to record your story and we want to help. We can help you by posting on the Woodland Blog and/or in our print publications like our missions newsletter “Harvest Tree.” We can also record your story on video.
By Garrett Vickrey
It’s here. Christmas. Joy to the world! The Lord is Come!
What will we see now? We have been keeping watch for so long. Have our eyes grown red at the moment it is time to enjoy the fruits of their labor? Christ is come.
Watch. And see.
Franciscans and Eastern Orthodox Christians have always placed a greater emphasis on Christmas and the Incarnation of Christ than others. We have focused on Easter and the cross. But, these other Christian traditions remind us that the Incarnation was already the Redemption, because in Jesus’s birth God was already saying that it was good to be human, and God was on our side.
That is good news. That is gospel.
In the birth of Jesus we can know the truth of John 3:16. That God loves the world. So much that God has given us the greatest gift ― God’s life with us, for us, surrounding us. That’s a gift too good not to be shared. At Christmas we celebrate the unity of humanity with divinity. The earliest theologians stressed the incarnation not be seen as the descent of God to humanity, but the lifting up of humanity into the divine life. Be lifted today.
This gift lifts and invigorates every aspect of our life if we see through the incarnated lens of Christmas. The gift we celebrate this day uplifts every aspect of life, even the most humble or ordinary.
It’s a gift that makes us want to hold open doors for people a little longer. It makes us want to be a little kinder to strangers. That’s a gift that makes us want to be a little more truthful with our loved ones. It makes us want to be a little more generous with our time and money. All these gestures unfold the gift of this day and reflect its mercy. As Kathleen Norris says, “All that exists has the potential to reveal God’s truth and love.”
Keep watching. Keep waiting. In hope. In peace. In joy. Love. The gift is here. It is in us. It is around us. Do we see it? It is God. And it is good.
By Diana Bridges
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
In Isaiah 7:14, God gives embattled King Ahaz a sign of hope, whether he wants one or not. As followers of Jesus, we see in these words the foreshadowing of the Incarnation. These aren’t really words of hope to us because we live on this side of the good news that is the life of Jesus. That particular hope has been fulfilled. Our Advent hope is focused instead on the coming of God to us, our families, or our church in new, transforming ways, and also on the Second Advent.
When we’re experiencing a time of uncertainty or crisis, as the Israelites were in Isaiah’s day, we might have an acute need for words of hope. We might be constantly scanning Scripture or other resources, listening to sermons, or grasping for meaning in the events and conversations of our days for assurance that all will be well.
Our hope doesn’t rest in words, however, but in the one who utters them. Thomas Merton said, “We can either love God because we hope for something from Him, or we can hope in Him knowing that He loves us.” Our hope isn’t finally dependent on prayers being answered in a particular way or in circumstances that make life easier. Our Advent hope is deeply rooted in the God who loves us — always, completely, unconditionally — and has vowed never to leave us, even after the final promise has been fulfilled.
This Advent, may our hope be renewed in the One who loves us.
By Paul Goodman
In the darkness, an angel of God appeared to shepherds. They were terrified, but the angel told them not to be afraid and that a Savior had been born, a baby. A choir joined the angel. They sang praise to God and Peace to all who please God.
I like to think that I can put myself in the sandals of the shepherds that night, but I’m not sure that sleeping on an air mattress in a state park is equivalent being alone in the wilderness with wild animals 2000 years ago. I am certain, however, that I would be as scared as the shepherds if an angel suddenly appeared in the night.
What is it that scares you? What is it that diminishes the peace you have? For many people it is a family crisis. For others it is a financial or health crisis. For some, ironically, it’s the holidays. There are a thousand things that can rob us of our peace, if we let them. And that’s the second question: How do you respond to your fears? I love how the shepherds responded. They listened to the good news and they ran to see the baby Jesus.
God wants peace for us. In all you do this season, focus on pleasing God. You are not in the darkness. You are not alone. You have been given a Savior. Set your wants aside. Set your fears aside. Focus on today’s good news and don’t worry about tomorrow. God will be pleased. God grant you Peace.