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Advent Devotions Week 2

Week 2 Sunday December 4 – Saturday December 10

Isaiah 40:1-11

This passage from Isaiah marks a break in the message of the book, where the focus is less on the iniquities of Israel and the subsequent punishment and more on the comfort that God brings to the people. In this passage God speaks to the people, telling them their “penalty is paid” and redemption is near. For a number of years, while the Israelites lived in exile after their Temple was destroyed, many believed God had left them and fled to the wilderness. This passages calls for a return of God to land of Israel as their redemption is near. In this time, God will make all things new and right. In this time of Advent, how do we see God absent in our world? In what ways is God returning? How can we work to “prepare the way” of God back into our lives and our world?

 

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13

The theme of assurance is a popular and important one for the season of Advent. Though we wait for God to arrive in our world, our waiting is not in vain. We do this with the assurance that salvation is coming. In this psalm Israel is assured shalom (peace) and hesed (steadfast love and loyalty) for God’s people when they trust and fear God. A Christian view of this psalm would be to read the promise of God’s peace and love in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. In what ways does the advent of the Christ child speak to your hope for peace and love on earth? What is it about the Christmas story that sends this hope to the world?

 

 

2 Peter 3:8-15a

The second epistle of Peter ends with another reference to the coming reign of God, something for which the early Christians must keep a look out. Again, it instructs the people to follow in the footsteps of Christ, so that when the day comes, their hearts will be ready. By the time of 2 Peter’s writing sometime in the early second century, the early Christians had lived a number of generations since the death of Jesus and we still waiting his return. The author provides some comfort for the people, possibly very frustrated with the delay, that gives the reader insight into the nature of God. As we wait for Christmas, what does it mean for our world if, for God, “a day is like a thousand years?” What does God’s message of hope and justice mean if God’s sense of time is so expansive and transcendent? How do we live in light of this?

 

 

Mark 1:1-8

John the Baptist plays a central role in the early portion of Mark’s Gospel. John is portrayed as a prophet, quoting Isaiah and living an eccentric lifestyle with his clothes and diet. In his role as prophet, he calls the people to “prepare the way” for Jesus who will bring God back out of the wilderness and baptize with the Holy Spirit. With such an introduction to Mark’s Gospel, the author is letting the reader know that things are about to change! Exciting things are coming as the reign of God takes over the land! Last week we talked about God working in quiet, uneventful ways. What are some larger, more exciting ways that God is moving in your life? How do you see God’s reign making noise around the world? What major shifts must we see to realize God’s reign?

Advent Devotions Week 1

During this Advent Season, take time to read and reflect on the lectionary readings for the week. Take one passage a day, read its contents and the devotional, and spend time reflecting on the questions provided or questions of your own.

 

With each passage what words or phrases stick out to you as dramatic, thought-provoking, or contemplative? What message is the author trying to convey? How would the people of the time have heard this? How might people hear it today?

 

 

Week 1 Sunday November 27 – Saturday December 3

Isaiah 64:1-9

The later chapters of the Book of Isaiah speak of the restoration of Israel with the Persian Empire working as servants of God to fulfill this renewal. For years, the people of Israel and Judah were exiled from their homeland after the Babylonian Empire conquered them. In this passage, the author of Isaiah speaks about patience in waiting for God’s action, about seeing the restoration that God will provide in new, unexpected ways. Is God’s work of redemption always visible and extreme? Do the mountains always tremble? In this Advent season, reflect on ways that God is working in your life and in our world, that may be unexpected or hardly noticed. How can we use this time of waiting to discover the work of God for the healing of our lives and world?

 

 

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19

The Psalms contained in the Hebrew Scriptures are poems of worship for the people of Israel, through early Christianity, and even today. They were set to music, sung or chanted and they address God in a number of different ways; from praise and adoration, to lamentation and supplication. Much like the passage from Isaiah, this Psalm calls on God for restoration of God’s people. It is of important note that the Psalm begins with a reference to Israel’s history, that of Joseph and the other son’s of Jacob who would become the 12 tribes of Israel. These types of references are common in the Psalms, reminding both God and the people of their past and of the history of their relationship. How has God been present in your own history, that of your family, your country? In what ways has their been a break in those relationships? What events and stories can you call upon to refresh these relationships?

 

 

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth opens with a greeting traditional of letters during this time period. This opening is one of assurance to the people as they look for the “end of the age” which many early Christians believed was close at hand. Paul recognizes how the people were “enriched” in living out the testimony of Christ. Reflecting back on the past year, how has your living out of Christ’s testimony been enriched? How has it lacked? What are some new areas of your life where you can live out Christ’s message of love and justice?

 

 

Mark 13:24-37

The Gospel of Mark is the earliest of the four canonical Gospels, authored around the time of the fall of the Temple in 70 CE. This historical context is very important for this particular passage. Jesus addresses his disciples’ questions about the “end of the age” and what will take place. There are many different themes and lessons one could reflect upon from this passage. One particularly important for Advent is the theme of “keep awake” for the Son is soon coming and our hearts must be prepared. After the destruction of the Temple, first Century Jews were looking for a sign of redemption and hope in the midst of this collapse. Where is the reign of God we were promised? If Jesus was our Messiah and promised us the redemption of God, how do we live in this time of destruction? Reflecting on Mark’s Gospel may give us insight into the problems of our own world. In what ways to we wait for redemption? What is the benefit of keeping watchful in a world of violence and destruction?

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Good Friday Resource for April 22, 2011

art by He Qi

Good Friday is the holy day on which we remember the crucifixion and death of Jesus. At First Church, we will observe this day with a simple time of scripture reading, prayer, and silence at noon. If you are unable to join us at church, we invite you to use this resource as a guide for observance at home. Below are just a few suggestions for practice, reading, meditation, and prayer; please draw from it as you see fit.

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Baptism question of the week

This week I’m addressing this question:

Are there parallel rituals or events in other faiths?

Hindu ritual washing

I should first admit that an anthropologist would probably answer this question better than I can!  But the short answer is yes.  At its most basic, baptism is a rite of passage, and many cultures, of course, have rituals to create and mark transformative experiences.

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Tough Love

February 20, 2011; Matt 5: 38-48; Lev 19: 1-2, 9-18

A sermon preached by Rev. Jane McBride, First Congregational Church of MN, UCC

A childhood friend of mine regularly issued a teasing challenge to my pastor father. “I dare you to preach a one-word sermon,” she would say. “Just get up and say “Looovve”; then sit down. I remembered this exchange as I considered Jesus’ words in today’s lesson: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

Jesus, in his teaching about love, challenges the conventional, common-sense wisdom. We are to love those near to us, those like us. But we are also to love the adversaries who hurt us. In effect, enemies become neighbors. And what is Jesus saying about the space between “neighbor” and “enemy”? Are to love those we don’t like? Love those whose politics we find offensive? Love those with whom we wouldn’t normally mix or socialize?

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Breaking the Surface

Baptism of Jesus by He Qi

1/9/11 Baptism of Jesus/ First Sunday After Epiphany; Matthew 3: 13-17

Rev. Jane McBride, First Congregational Church of MN, UCC

“May you find the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep need meet.” Each confirmation student held the bowl of water, and traced the sign of the cross on forehead or hand, as, together, we said spoke this blessing based on the words of Frederick Buechner. Our deep gladness. The world’s deep need. It is an intersection, a cross. The center of this intersection is purpose, call, vocation. That day in class, we read biblical call stories, shared dream careers, chewed over the idea that sometimes vocation is not the same thing as our work and that our sense of call may change in the course of our lives.

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Sermon 1/2/2011: “Seeing the Light”

“Seeing the Light”

Early Christian art depicting the Magi.

a sermon preached by the Rev. Abigail G. Henderson at First Congregational Church of Minnesota, UCC, on Jan. 2, 2011.

Isaiah 60:1-6 (NRSV); Matthew 2:1-12 (NRSV); John 1:1-18 (The Inclusive Bible)

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Daily Advent Reflection for Fri Dec 17

I’m cheating a bit and posting my reflection from our Longest Night healing service, on 12/16/10.

Scripture:  Isaiah 40:1-8; Matthew 1:18-25

For the herald’s voice is calling in the desert far and near, Bidding us to make repentance since the realm of God is here.  Oh, that warning cry obey!  Now prepare for God a way; Let the valleys rise in meeting and the hills bow down in greeting. (Comfort, Comfort, O My People, verse 2, by Johannes Olearius)

As I began shoveling, the plow thundered down the street. The blade sliced through the drifts, carving a neat edge at the curb. Snow sprayed in a high arc. Just as I turned to continue my work, a second plow rumbled by, smoothing and perfecting the work of the first.

Mired in the slow, heavy labor of moving snow by hand, it was truly awesome to watch this process. What power! To make a straight highway in this desert of buried, stuck cars and exhausted shovelers! To lift up the ruts and lower the piles! To level and smooth the rough, uneven, impassible road!

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Daily Advent Reflection for Thurs Dec 16

“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!  Let earth receive her king; let ev’ry heart prepare him room…” Isaac Watts

Yikes!  So much undone cookie baking, gift shopping, package mailing and house cleaning!  The first two weeks of Advent felt reflective for me.   I wasn’t worried about Christmas actually arriving; I just focused on the spirit of waiting and awakening.   Now, I grow weary and unfocused.  I have to remind myself that the work of preparing my heart, making room for this infant God in my life, is not a seasonal activity.  Learning to receive God’s gifts of joy, even amid lives filled with stress or sorrow or sin, is the work of a lifetime.