Mission Devotional - December 22, 2016

Opening Prayer: Lord God, you are, and always have been, in the intricate details of life. It is easy for us to blow right by and overlook if we are not paying attention, but it shows that you are a very intentional God. Help us, Lord God, to notice your hand and your intention in the details of our lives, as well as the details of this day. Amen.

Scripture: Matthew 1:1-17

Journal: What captures you most about the genealogy of Jesus? What do you notice? How does it speak to you?

Reflection: By Christmas Eve, most of us find ourselves very far from our true reasons for celebrating, reasons that are so eloquently expressed in the processional of the Christmas Vigil in the Byzantine rite: "Rejoice, Jerusalem! All you lovers of Sion, share our festivities! On this day the age-old bonds of Adam's condemnation were broken, paradise was opened for us, the serpent crushed, and the woman, whom he once deceived, lives now as mother of the creator."

Here, in just a few simple words, is the essence of Christmas. It is not merely the birth of Jesus we celebrate, although we recall it joyfully, in song and story. The feast of the Incarnation invites us to celebrate also Jesus' death, resurrection, and coming again in glory. It is our salvation story, and all creation is invited to dance, sing, and feast. But we are so exhausted. How is it possible to bridge the gap between our sorry reality and the glad, grateful recognition of the Incarnation as the mainstay of our faith? We might begin by acknowledging that if we have neglected the spiritual call of Advent for yet another year, and have allowed ourselves to become thoroughly frazzled by December 24, all is not lost. We are, in fact, in very good shape for Christmas.

It is precisely because we are weary, and poor in spirit, that God can touch us with hope. This is not an easy truth. It means that we accept our common lot, and take up our share of the cross. It means that we do not gloss over the evils we confront every day, both within ourselves and without. Our sacrifices may be great. But as the martyred archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero, once said, it is only the poor and hungry, those who know they need someone to come on their behalf, who can celebrate Christmas.

Tonight we are asked to acknowledge that the world we have made is in darkness. We are asked to be attentive, and keep vigil for the light of Christ. The readings are not particularly comforting. Psalm 88, a lament which is also commonly read on Good Friday, is stark in its appraisal: "For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol," the underworld of death. The passage from Acts asks us to consider that, just as Israel needed God to lead them out of Egypt, so we need Christ to lead us out of our present slavery to sin. We, and our world, are broken. Even our homes have become places of physical violence. It is only God, through Jesus Christ, who can make us whole again.

The prophecy of Isaiah allows us to imagine a time when God's promise will be fulfilled, and we will no longer be desolate, or forsaken, but found, and beloved of God. We find a note of hope also in the Gospel of Matthew. In a long list of Jesus' forbears, we find the whole range of humanity: not only God's faithful, but adulterers, murderers, rebels, conspirators, transgressors of all sorts, both fearful and bold. And yet God's purpose is not thwarted. In Jesus Christ, God turns even human dysfunction to the good.

The genealogy of Jesus reveals that God chooses to work with us as we are, using our weaknesses, even more than our strengths, to fulfill the divine purpose. At tonight's vigil, in a world as cold and cruel and unjust as it was at the time of Jesus' birth in a stable, we desire something better. And in desiring it, we come to believe that it is possible. We await its coming in hope. (Christmas Eve Vigil by Kathleen Norris)

Prayer for the church, for others, for myself

H. & L. serve in Asia by providing strategic leadership for colleagues serving in several major urban centers in Asia. Their role involves encouraging and coaching these co-workers in their ministries, as well as networking with others to make sure they have the resources and training that they need for their respective ministries. Pray today for more Mandarin speakers to join them in their work.

Campus Renewal Ministries is a National Christian Ministry devoted to seeing transformation on college campuses for God's glory. They have been around for over 15 years and work with colleges all across America. Pray today for their leaders to have a renewed vision for ministry on UT's campus as they serve students this next semester.

Closing Prayer: O God, my loving Father, let me rest in the silence and security of your strong and loving arms this day. Help me to trust God, thank you that you use ordinary, flawed people to accomplish your purposes in this world. It gives me hope that somehow, someway, your purposes can be accomplished in and through me as well. Amen.