Thursday, December 27, 2018

Advent Devotional for Christmas Eve


Through Advent 2018 we have studied God’s messages as brought to us by prophets of the Old Testament, centuries before the birth of Jesus, and by angels of the New Testament as promised to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, and as proclaimed by angels to the shepherds.  No matter when the messages were delivered, and no matter whether delivered by prophets or angels, the messages from God are essentially the same:  on a particular day in the city of David, God is sending a savior who will bring peace, love and the promise of eternal life to those who believe in Him.  Tonight, if we stop for a moment and reside in the quietness and awe of worship, we have a sense of anticipation, of His coming, and of the peace of His being with us and in us.  Yesterday we considered the prophet’s call for us to come to Him and we rejoiced in the fact that He bids us come to Him.  Tonight, we anticipate His birth, the time when He came to us- to be God and man with us and in us.

 God’s promises were confirmed by the prophecy of Micah in chapter 5, verses 2-4 as follows:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
   out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
   whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.”
3   Therefore Israel will be abandoned
    until the time when she who is in labor bears a son,
    and the rest of his brothers return
    to join the Israelites.
4    He will stand and shepherd his flock
    in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
   And they will live securely, for then his greatness
    will reach to the ends of the earth.

In writing about these verses, theologian John Piper tells us “Bethlehem is scarcely worth counting among the clans of Judah, yet God chooses to bring his magnificent Messiah out of this town. Why? because Bethlehem is small -- God chooses something small, quiet, out of the way, and does something there that changes the course of history and eternity. We can’t say, “Well, of course he set his favor on Bethlehem, look at the human glory Bethlehem has achieved!” All we can say is, “God does nothing in order to attract attention to our accomplishments; he does everything to magnify his glorious freedom and mercy.” Similarly, God chose a stable so no innkeeper could boast, “He chose the comfort of my inn!” God chose a manger so that no wood worker could boast, “He chose the craftsmanship of my bed!” He chose Bethlehem so no one could boast, “The greatness of our city constrained the divine choice!” And he chose you and me, freely and unconditionally.”

“The deepest meaning of the littleness and insignificance of Bethlehem is that God does not bestow the blessings of the Messiah — the blessings of salvation — on the basis of our greatness or our merit or our achievement. He does not elect cities or people because of their prominence or grandeur or distinction. When he chooses he chooses in order to magnify the glory of his own mercy, not the glory of our distinctions. Therefore let us say with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!” not glory to us, but glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

As we worship here in the quiet anticipation of the birth of our glorious Savior, let us open our hearts to the vastness of God’s love, and the fulfillment of His promises in Christ among us.

Heavenly Father
Thank You for the fulfillment of Your promises in the Birth of the Savior.  Tonight, as we anticipate the wondrous celebration of His birth, we come seeking You who alone can equip and dwell in us so that
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with the flocks,
we are strengthened to do the work of Christmas by radiating Your light and glorifying You and reflecting Your peace, Your grace and Your love.

Advent IV

I am a little behind since Christmas has passed.
Here is Advent IV

For Sunday December 23, 2018

The message today is drawn from the angel’s visit to the humble shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock. Similarly, the old testament prophet, Zephaniah, spoke to the humble of his flock. Zephaniah 2:3 reads: “Seek the Lord all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility, perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.”
Zephaniah pleads with Judah to humbly return to the Lord. As one translation puts it, Zephaniah calls to the meek of the earth. The meek of the earth realize that they must search beyond themselves for help. They must look outside of their own capabilities to find a life of righteousness. They are not so proud as to think they can accomplish any right living on their own. Zephaniah implores Judah to pursue God not vanities.
To those who humbly seek God, Zephaniah proclaims Israel’s joy and restoration. Zephaniah 3:14-17 reads:
Sing, O daughter of Zion, shout aloud, O Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!
The Lord has taken way your punishment, He has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm.
On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp.
The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you.
He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah’s prophecy, like the angel’s declarations, bids us come and seek God.
In his book, the Dawning of Indestructible Joy, John Piper says, “Is it not a wonderful thing this Advent season, to know that God bids us come? That this great, holy God of righteousness and wrath says, “Draw near to me through my Son, your High Priest. Draw near to me. Draw near to me”?”
“This is his invitation in these Advent readings: “Draw near to me through your High Priest. Draw near to me in confession and prayer and meditation and trust and praise. Come. I will not cast you out.”

Let us pray.
Father we lift our thanksgiving in song and prayer.
Thank You.
You have given us a mighty warrior who saves.
Thank You.
You have given us Jesus, Emmanuel, one with us.
Thank You.
You do not cast us out, but You sing over us.
Thank You.
May we humbly seek You.
May we turn from ourselves to You.
May we be Your nation, Your people, Your beloved children.
We pray in Jesus’ name.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Advent III December 16

Named the weeping prophet, Jeremiah cries for Jerusalem. He delivers the same message over and over again, calling for Judah to repent and return to God. He rightly tells of the consequences of Judah's apostasy, but the people ignore him, preferring false prophets and comfortable news. With the exception of king Josiah, Jeremiah lived in a nation ruled by kings who practiced the worst evils, prayed to false gods and sought ease and comfort. The prophets of the time were little different and led the people in the direction of their kings, refusing to listen to Jeremiah’s warnings, closing their minds to righteousness or the love of a fully righteous God.

In the midst of Jeremiah's dire predictions, he twice, first in chapter twenty-three and again in thirty-three, tells of a Righteous Branch, and in so doing, he speaks of the coming Messiah -- the only one who can redeem, deliver and save. He speaks of the “Lord Our Righteousness”, springing up from David’s lineage. His message is urgent and reinforced by repetition. On more than one occasion, Jeremiah repeats an urgent assurance of salvation, telling his people to not be dismayed, that God will save them.

Our Advent devotional Scripture reading is from Jeremiah thirty-three which echoes Jeremiah twenty-three.
Jeremiah 33:14-16 
14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.
15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Through confusion, persecution and fear, love for and frustration with the people of Judah, Jeremiah stands in breathtaking faith. Jeremiah continues to deliver God's message, begging his people to turn again to the Lord. The monumental example of Jeremiah places his service to God in stark relief against the ease-seeking life of mindlessness and shallow peace. It is a message as relevant today as it was in Jeremiah’s time.

We will read today of the angel's message to Joseph and how Joseph like Jeremiah, chose to stand in faith even when confronted with the facts of Mary's pregnancy.

Thomas Merton describes what happens to us when we accept God's plans for us, when we surrender, as did Joseph and Jeremiah. In Bread in the Wilderness, he says: "We ourselves have become someone else. We remain ourselves, fully ourselves. yet we are aware of a new principle of activity. We are fulfilled by an Identity that does not annihilate our own, which is ours, yet is received. It is a Person other than ourselves who identifies Himself perfectly with ourselves. This Identity is Christ, God. We discover something of the theological reality that human nature has been, not absorbed, but assumed." Merton goes on to speak of our new life through Christ, "Life together in Christ," referencing Ephesians chapter 2. Merton echoes Paul, saying that we are with Christ as Christians we are righteous because of our faith not because of our credit.

Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, fill us. Take our sin, our desire for ease and comfort, and replace it with Your love and Your plan for us. Open our ears to hear Your Word as spoken by Jeremiah and Paul. Remind us that without You there is no life, there is no true peace. Melt our confusion and anxiety and remake us into Your people, we pray. Amen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Books and Lingerie, A memory of Lonny

Lonny was a reader. He liked fiction and read fantasy, crime drama and military suspense. His love of story attracted me to him. I not only loved stories, I wrote them, or tried to write them. Stories took me away to a world of clear heroes and clear villains, to places and times that made difficult choices obvious and made life vital. For Lonny books showed the, 'good fight', they told of courage and adventure in worlds where people made a difference, where their lives mattered.
For our third (I think it was our third) anniversary, I gave Lonny a novel that he didn't own, but had long wanted. I gave him several other things as well. He gave me perfume. He gave his full attention. He let me know in so many ways that he loved me. Like many new wives, I assumed that after a nice anniversary dinner, we would spend the evening delighting in the benefits of marriage.
I always enjoyed private time with my husband, but that evening I was tired. I had wanted the day to be perfect and had worried and fussed much of the day trying to make it so. Lonny was not happy to be retired. He had worked from an early age and didn't care for a life of imposed leisure. He was a pilot, but in his final flight physical before forced retirement he had been diagnosed with diabetes. He wouldn't be able to fly for the military or as an occupation. It unsettled him and grieved me on his be-half.
We had been busy during our first three years. His daughter and his son had come to be with us. We had built a home and sold it and moved to Snyder Texas. Through it all, Lonny had weathered the storm with quiet calm, and though his career had taken a nose dive, he was pleased to be married and pleased to be with me. Of course, I had been a bit high maintenance throughout, but young wives will be. I like to think I kept him occupied and in so doing kept him from dwelling on flying.
After we cleaned up dinner, I was glad to see Lonny pick up his book and head to his chair. It was August so we didn't have a fire and the sun glowed softly through the clerestories, making its daily bid for the western horizon.
I went to shower and put on a special robe and gown I had saved for the occasion. Usually it was a nightshirt and a pair of old shorts, but, being our anniversary, I took the finery from the back of my closet.
Once darkness settled for the evening, I pulled back the covers and arranged them neatly, then called to Lonny. He said he would be in in a minute, and so I waited, and waited. I drifted to sleep and woke up and waited. Finally at two in the morning I went in to check on him.
He was reading. He had scooted into his chair so that he was part of it. He smiled. He twisted his tongue in his mouth and chewed on it, which was his habit when he concentrated. Other than turning the page and biting his tongue, he was still.
I watched him for a full ten minutes, loving him, not wanting to disturb him. Eventually, I couldn't resist. "I've been replaced by a book after only three years." I smiled as I spoke.
"What?" Lonny looked up. "Oh, I'll be right in."
I shook my head. "Never mind."
"Okay." Lonny went back to the book.
The next day I teased him again, and he said, "You gave it to me and I really enjoyed it. You should be happy."
I was very happy.
I cannot imagine Heaven. I cannot imagine a place of no grief, no worry and no anxious thought. While I miss Lonny daily and in increasing ways I wonder that he is in a world where he no longer grieves his lack of occupation, where he no longer struggles to fit into an angry world, a world where people are told daily that their lives don't matter.
I wish I could tell him again how much he mattered to me, how much his quiet attention softened my heart and tempered my own anger. I know Heaven is a world beyond our understanding, and i know he is with our Lord. It is a world even finer than the best book.
Today I miss you terribly, husband of mine. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Advent Devotional II, for December 9

In the old testament Scriptures, the prophets were often called to be God’s messengers. They revealed God’s word, power and singular sovereignty to a rebellious and unbelieving world. In Daniel 2:20-23, the prophet praises God and gives thanks having received God’s revelation, not only of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, but of the actual dream itself. After urging his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, to plead for Go'd mercy concerning the mystery of Nebuchadnezzer's dream, the mystery is revealed to Daniel. In chapter two verses twenty through twenty three, he praises the God of Heaven saying:
Praise be to the name of God forever and ever;
wisdom and power are His.
He changes times and seasons;
He deposes kings and raises up others.
He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
He reveals deep and hidden things;
He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.
I thank You and praise You, God of my ancestors:
You have given me wisdom and power.
You have made known to me what we have asked of You.
You have made known to us the dream of the king.

Like other prophets, Daniel becomes the messenger. Through Daniel, the one true God is revealed to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel announces the dream and its interpretation. Verse forty-seven shows how completely God is made known to the king. The king said to Daniel, "Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and the Revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.
We will learn in the message today how Gabriel announces Mary's pregnancy and how Mary, like Daniel, accepts God's message and path and praises God.
In his song, Mary did You Know, Mark Lowry reflects on the fact of Emmanuel humble and low in Mary's womb. He also reflects on the praises people will sing, just and Daniel and Mary have. The chorus ends with these words:
The dumb will speak the praises of the Lamb.
As we wait on the Lord, may we listen for Him in reverence and sing His praises in our hearts.

Based on Psalm 139, let us pray.
Merciful Father, Your greatness is beyond me. You know my every thought even before I think it. You have knit me together in my mother’s womb. I am fearfully and wonderfully made, because of You. Your regard, Father, is precious to me.
Oh, God, fence me before and aft, protect me and nurture me as Your beloved child. May I continue to treasure Your regard and seek Your will. I will wait on the Lord. Amen 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Advent Devotional I December 2, 2018

We talk about Advent as if we all understand what Advent is, and yet, the experience of Advent occurs distinctly for each of us.  In the church, Advent is our time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah, a time to prayerfully listen to God’s Word and inscribe that Word on our hearts. It is a time of making ready, of quiet anticipation. Frederick Buechner captures this sense in his book, “Whistling in the Dark, a Doubter’s Dictionary.” He defines Advent as follows:
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise.  In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised.  The conductor has raised his baton.
In the silence of a midwinter dusk there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself. You hold your breath to listen.
You walk up the steps to the front door.  The empty windows at either side of it tell you nothing, or almost nothing.  For a second you catch a whiff in the air of some fragrance that reminds you of a place you’ve never been and a time you have no words for.  You are aware of the beating of your heart.
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.  Advent is the name of that moment.
The Salvation Army Santa Claus clangs his bell.  The sidewalks are so crowded you can hardly move.  Exhaust fumes are the chief fragrance in the air, and everybody is as bundled up against any sense of what all the fuss is really about as they are bundled up against the windchill factor.
But if you concentrate just for an instant, far off in the deeps of you somewhere you can feel the beating of your heart.  For all its madness and lostness, not to mention your own, you can hear the world itself holding its breath.   
As we hold our breaths awaiting the coming of our Messiah, we contemplate that first year—the year of the birth of Jesus -- and we consider the words of God preparing His people for the birth of the Holy Infant.   The theme of this Advent season is God revealed through His messengers. Today’s Scripture for the opening Advent devotional is from the Book of Isaiah. The message of it shouts God’s sovereignty. It upholds God’s perfect majesty. It affirms His covenant relationship with His people.
Listen to the words of the Lord as told in Isaiah 55:8-13:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.
10 As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the juniper,
    and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
    for an everlasting sign,
    that will endure forever.”

Father thank You for speaking to us, sending Your messengers and Your message that we may become Your children, that we may seek You, that we may know Your Word and Your Way, that we may wonder at Your mighty power and that You still regard us. This Advent season open our hearts and our minds to the wonder of Your sovereignty, oh God. Your words created the impossible, that Zechariah and Elizabeth should have a child. You humbled Yourself in the form of Your Son, sacrificed Him for the propitiation of our sins, loving us before we knew You. Let this season be one of joy, love, worship and surrender. May Your message plant deep in our hearts. Amen

Sunday, December 2, 2018

In Memory of Lonny Gene Coots

 Advent 2018
December 2
My husband passed on November 15, 2018. He died in his sleep. I had gone to the other room. I was surly and tired. If I had known, I wouldn't have left. I wonder two things: did God drive me from the room so He could take His beloved child, or did my husband drive me because he was so tired of living a half life? I do not know, but I believe as we often believe somewhere between the heart and the mind, in a bubble of hope, I believe it was God and my husband together. They had a deal and I wasn't privy to a mystery which I could not keep.
The bubble of hope stumps me. In the middle of profound grief, I find myself smiling. Maybe God did do it. Maybe God sanctioned my husband's leaving. I hope He did. I know He is with God, but to know further that God scooped my husband up according to God's perfect plan, this is beyond me.
I have stories, memories I want to get down, some I almost lost but for friends recalling them. This Advent season I will post a few.
I begin with a recent story. Two weeks before he passed, I was struggling with how to serve him. He shouldn't drive, not that he didn't try, but he was too tired and his truck was in the shop, so my warrior, my pilot, my adventurer was stuck in front of the television with old re-runs and two lazy dogs. He ventured out only for dialysis three times a week and returned spent, still trying to feed me with a take out sandwich, trying to feed the dogs by buying dog food. It broke my heart. We had planned to travel. Maybe he would help me learn to fly, maybe he would finally teach me Karate. He was a cook when we were first married, maybe we could at least cook together teasing each other about what tasted good, and that, according to him, bologna was an excellent entree. Instead, he was a whisper a tangled thought maybe a thin mist of himself in a big chair with the volume on high.
I came in that afternoon, determined to do something right, determined to scoop him up myself, if for nothing more than a diversion  "Come on," I said. "We're going to go vote."
"But it's not election day."
"I know but we'll go early. Let's go feel the power."
He chuckled. "Let me get my shoes on."
Was it then that I noticed his eyes, they were bigger, more childlike, happy for a small gift of time from his too frequently occupied wife. They shone like aquamarine, magnified and lightened in his glasses. He smiled, delighted. Oh that I would have done something for that smile a thousand times more often. But I had it that once and I wouldn't waste it.
We went to the early voting station, but I couldn't get into the close parking. We agreed he would be fine, that it would even be good for him to walk a little.
We walked slowly and though it was a rare cool day, the sun was pleasant away from the wind. I watched him walk bent and slow, holding on to the wall because he didn't want me babying him. It didn't matter. I wouldn't have minded. I wanted to help. I wanted to scream. I wanted him whole and vital as much for his sake as mine. I prayed for a kidney, I prayed for strength in his legs to return, I prayed for that bubble of hope.
Inside we found friends. My former sister-in-law and her husband, kind people. We were delighted. They were delighted. We were all voting, exercising our rights and our minds, participating in life and civics and things that matter. We were part of a teaming mass. We were vital. It was a good day.
My husband cast his vote first, while I was still talking to my sister-in-law. My breath caught. He wasn't confused, or disinterested. He had finished by the time I found him. His grin really did stretch from ear to ear.
"Have you already voted?"
"Oh yes. I've been finished for a while. Just waiting on you."
I was breathless. It was a familiar joke and told in a familiar way. He had joked that I really was going to be late for my own wedding. My heart skipped. "You're teasing me?" I could hardly get the words out for the laughter spilling from every thought. My husband, for this short time and in this short way, he is mine again, and he cherishes me. 
We might have bought sandwiches. We might have gone home and I made supper. I wish I could remember. So much, too much, is a blur. He was tired and slept in front of the television after we returned home.
But I remember his blue eyes, light and bright. They told me not to be so serious. They told me he loved me. They told me that just for a moment we were once again young and in love.