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Spirituality

December 19 Wise Travelers: The Edges of the Story by Kris Light

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After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. Matthew 2:1 CEB

“Man down! Man down,” my son exclaims entering the living room. “Wiseman again,” I ask? “Of course, Mom. Those guys are too close to the edge.”

He refers to the nativity scene on the fireplace mantle. Our family favorite among the collection of crèches we bring out each Advent is a modern Scandinavian rendition of the Nativity. Like Flat Stanleys jigsawed from smoothly planed pine, each character is lightly engraved, then stained in shades of tan, blue and creamy tangerine. The beauty of their simple lines compels me to give them center stage each year, fully aware that the half inch edge on which they stand guarantees they will topple.

Mary and Joseph, the manger with Jesus’ arms outstretched, even the shepherds holding lambs are cut more squat; bent and bowed they gather in close to the miracle. The wisemen, though, stand tall and erect, arms outstretched with gold and gifties. They are still searching, still traveling toward the mystery, seemingly following the packages which protrude from their center of gravity. It is a precarious place to be, carrying all that stuff in this territory on the edges of the story. They fall. A lot.

I could keep them in the box, of course, or crowd them into the scene of Christmas morning. But that is not who they are. That is not who we are. I am glad to be reminded that the wisest travelers seeking the Christ sometimes fall. No. They fall a lot.

—Oh Lord of all, When we fall: Help us learn, help us up, help us grow, and help us keep moving. Amen.

December 18 Herod: Move Beyond Safety by Jessica Nettles

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When Herod knew the magi had fooled him, he grew very angry. He sent soldiers to kill all the children in Bethlehem and in all the surrounding territory who were two years old and younger, according to the time that he had learned from the magi. Matthew 2:16

If there is any character in the birth story of Jesus that is totally unredeemable, it’s Herod. King Herod (also known as Herod the Great or Herod the Wicked) makes a decision that seems over the top by today’s view of politics. He hears a rumor about a child who will become “King of the Jews,” gets scared about a coup, and then decides it’s in his best interest to commit mass infantacide to deal with the perceived problem. Historically, Herod is well-known for his paranoia and vengeful, bloody reign over what was left of the people of Israel at the time of Jesus’s birth. Crowned by the Roman Senate as the “King of the Jews” in 40 BC, Herod’s position was tenuous at best. He was a king without a kingdom, mostly because even though he ruled the Jewish people, they were all still subjects of the Roman Empire.

Traditionally, Herod is a huge part of the story of Jesus’s birth and subsequent move from Bethlehem. He never comes to see Jesus, like the shepherds or the magi. Although he takes a deceptive and, ultimately, violent stand against this baby who was supposed to become the King of the Jews, it is clear that this approach is not from a position of strength, but rather, a position of fear. Why would he fear a tiny child who only might possibly take the title he enjoys? His fear is rooted in insecurity, not just political insecurity but personal insecurity. He needs his position in the Roman government to validate himself. He needs to be validated in order to find self-worth. His fear is ill-founded but he has no idea because he’s afraid of anything or anyone who poses a threat. As much as none of us wants to be aligned with a man who is more than willing to kill small children to protect his political power, we need to be willing to admit that often our own choices and own protective measures come from a similar point of fear. We miss the chance to be a part of something amazing or world changing because we would rather sit in our palace and plan a way to make sure we are safe. We damage the very things that could help us in an attempt to stay safe. Herod is a sad character. For all his effort to protect his power, he ends up dying a few years later with a legacy of fear and loathing in his wake. During this season, it’s easy to get caught up in fears about our families or circle of friends. We may pull away or complain that the season is over-commercialized or demanding. If we do those things, if we decide that being unhappy about the season is the best solution, we will miss the message of the season. The message that tells us to engage, reach out, and embrace the miraculous and the wondrous.

—Dear Lord, Help us seek you this Christmas season. Help out reach out and embrace your love instead of fearfully staying inside. Amen.

December 17 Sheep: Following the Shepherd by Kristy Burmeister

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My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me. John 10:27 CEB

When I was younger, I had a pet sheep named Beth. When we brought her home, she immediately bonded with my old dog. Beth would follow my dog around all day. If the dog got a drink of water, Beth got a drink of water. If the dog went to sleep under a tree, Beth would go to sleep under the tree. After my dog died, Beth started following my pony in the same way. After the pony was gone, Beth escaped through the neighbor’s fence and became friendly with his cows. We found her following after the herd of cattle. We used to joke about our confused sheep with an identity crisis. She thought she was a dog, a pony, and a cow.

But, Beth was doing what sheep do. They follow. They imitate. This is what it means to be a sheep. That’s why Jesus frequently referred to his followers as sheep. Not only do we follow the Good Shepherd, but we are also to imitate him. This Christmas, let’s commit to imitating Jesus’ mercy and generosity.

—Dear God, Please show me how to imitate Jesus’ example in my life. Help me listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow him. Amen

December 16 The Shepherds: I’m Not Dressed for the Occasion by Ashley Sherard

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[Then Jesus said,] “Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. Matt. 11:28-29 CEB

I am going to ask you to journey with me into, what could be, a painful time of life. I would like for us all to take a moment and remember Middle School and High School, particularly dances. Those have to be the most awkward situations many of us have ever been in, Amen? I remember spending hours getting ready to try to look my very best only to find out that another girl had the exact same dress or the humidity had ruined my hair and makeup before I ever even got to the event. No matter what, I always felt like I didn’t quite belong in the situation the way I looked. I think lots of people feel that way about church, they just don’t belong. It’s been too long since they’ve been, or they’ve never been or it’s too judgy and hypocritical for them.

On the night our Savior was born a host of Angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields. That’s interesting, wouldn’t you say? The first to know were the last one’s you would ever see in a “worship” setting. They were dirty and stinky because of their occupations. They spent their time with animals and manure and in the outdoors, they were considered unclean and therefore were not welcome at the temple, the only place you could worship in those times. Of course, they had the option to do the necessary rituals to become “clean enough” to worship in the temple, but it meant leaving the sheep…big no, no. Yet, in the reading of the Christmas story we learn the shepherds are the first to know! The Angels appeared to them and even told them where to find the Messiah! Even better yet, they went, no questions asked, no hesitation, no committee meetings, they just went. Stinky, dirty, unclean, they went just as they were to meet the Messiah. That invitation is for you as well, what better time to accept a relationship with Jesus Christ than now, with those lowly shepherds that weren’t welcome before but are now. We are welcome, we are invited, and He accepts us just the way we are.

—Creator God, thank you for the gift of the Christ child who came for each and every one of us. Thank you for the One who will open HIS Table to us, the unclean, the sinners, the saints, the body of Christ. Gift to me, Creator, the ability to accept myself in the way you accept me, the way Christ accepts me. Allow me to see the Child of God made in His image through fresh eyes and KNOW, without a doubt, that this child is born to make me whole. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

December 15 Angeles: What We Need by Katie Bond

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When the angel came to her, he said, “Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!” Luke 1:28 CEB

We hear the word angel used all the time. “Oh, you’re an angel!” “Whew, that was close. I think I have a guardian angel looking after me!” or some variation of those statements. But what do we really know about angels?

Angels act as God’s messengers. We know that for sure. One story we focus on around this time of year is the angel Gabriel delivering good news to Mary. I’d like to think that I would have the courage Mary had if God ever sent an angel to deliver a message to me. I picture myself smiling up and saying “Yes, Lord! Whatever you need!”. In reality, I think it would be more like “Ahhh!”, faint, end scene. And although Mary was frightened at first, Gabriel put her at ease and assured her of her purpose. He was not only communicating something important to her but was also watching over her as a protector. It is comforting to know that God knows exactly what we need and when we need it.

—Lord, we thank you for your angels who communicate your truth and protect us. Open our hearts to receive whatever message you have for us and bless us as we try to live in a way that glorifies you. Give us the courage to do what you ask, for you know exactly what need. Amen.