Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. —Hebrews 11.1
Hope is not optimism, not wishing, not a bet on the future, but trust in what is already present, unseen. I hope in the sunrise because the earth is already turning. My faith is not that God will intervene and make things better or fix problems; my faith is that love is at work. I trust in hidden love even as injustice runs loose. I believe in our Oneness even as war and racism wound us. I know our Belovedness even as we assault each other. Even though we damage the earth, though the violent rage and the rich oppress the poor, still this world is born of Goodness, and grace flourishes even in bad places, and Love holds us in aching but untiring arms. Even when the way is not well lit, I live in hope.
People who speak of faith make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. — Hebrews 11.14
Beloved Dark Mystery, among the places I have gone, the places I have stayed, the places I long to see— I am seeking a homeland. A place of deep belonging, of rest and safety, where my story is part of the story, my life is part of the beauty. Whether a native in my native land or an immigrant still rooting or a ceaseless nomad, I know my true home, my original soil, is you. I am at home in you. You are my womb, my earth, my people, my root. You, Love that births all being, you are my homeland, and I am always coming from you and traversing you and returning to you. Here is my gratitude, my peace, and my belonging. Thank you. Amen.
For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. – Eph. 3:14-15
Blessing begins with reverence
A reverence for our Wondrous God
Who bends low to welcome us
Birthing us through water and Spirit
Naming us and claiming us
beloved and blessed
Who not only welcomes us but welcomes all
Knitting us together
in the Body Miraculous
Strangers becoming brothers and sisters
A family far beyond class, clan, or culture
Far beyond what we could ask or imagine
I pray that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. – Eph. 3:16-17
From an incalculable treasure of grace upon grace
God pours out strength
Not as the world gives
Not with obvious outward displays
But hidden in the very depths of our frailty
God pours and floods with blood and breath
The very power of life
Driven and danced by Holy Spirit
That we may find our true home in Christ
Our true self in Christ
And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, May have power, together with all the saints, To grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, And to know this love that surpasses knowledge— That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. – Eph. 3:17-19
This indescribable, priceless love of Christ
This is the blessing
Infinitely wide and long and high
Poured forth and driven deep
All the way down to the roots- our vines anchored in God’s grace
Rooted and Established- tilled till all the wild branches embrace
and the sweet fruit overflows the cups of justice and joy
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, According to his power that is at work within us, To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus Throughout all generations, forever and ever! – Eph 3:20-21
Glory be to the Blessed One
Opening our lips in blessing
With power to make new
Glory be to the Blessed One
Opening our hands in blessing
With power to make whole
Glory be to the Blessed One
Opening our hearts in blessing
That the grace poured in by Christ
Generation to generation to generation
An endless procession
To all, in all, and through all
This prayer was inspired by by the Ephesians Reading Challenge. Click Here for more information on the challenge to read and reflect on the entire book of Ephesians 3 times in 3 weeks.
The Ephesians Reading Challenge accompanied a sermon series entitled Sit Walk Stand which was inspired by Watchman Nee‘s bookSit Walk Stand, a study of Ephesians. You will find recordings and notes from this series on the blog as well.
Do You Hear What I Hear? The Songs of Christmas
December 9: O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks
Scripture References: Micah 5:2; Matthew 1:20-23
These are the notes from a message offered Sunday, 12/9/18 at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota Florida.
Micah 5:2 (NRSV)
2 But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.
Matthew 1:20-23 (NRSV)
20… an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
History of O Little Town of Bethlehem
In 1868, Phillips Brooks (1835-1893), an Episcopal priest, wrote the beloved O Little Town of Bethlehem for the Sunday school children of his Philadelphia congregation. He was inspired by a horse ride he’d taken a few years earlier on Christmas Eve. He’d ridden from Jerusalem to Bethlehem to assist at the midnight service in the Church of the Nativity.
The lyrics are far more than a description of a sleeping Bethlehem on the first Christmas night. They offer the meaning of Christmas itself, God’s gift of our Savior Jesus Christ and our receiving that gift with thanksgiving and hope.
O Little Town of Bethlehem by Phillips Brooks
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie;
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the Everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to all on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him, still the dear Christ enters in.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
Its Christmas time and I’m longing for hope and home.
Where are you home? Home is…
a place where you grow up, discover your calling and voice
a place of wonderful memories
where you spend a great deal of quality time
where you are safe, known, valued, belong
In A Chorus Line, three women each talk about their troubled families, then they sing about finding a home in ballet class. Up a steep and very narrow stairway to the voice like a metronome Up a steep and very narrow stairway,
It wasn’t paradise, it wasn’t paradise, it wasn’t paradise but it was home
Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz says it over and over again- There’s No Place Like Home
Its Christmas time and I’m longing for hope and home
The world feels so far from home
so fast when home is a place of rest
so violent when home is sanctuary and peace
so divided when home is a place where we come together
so lonely when home is a place where they know your brokenness and still love you
We search for deep relationship in this world and often find disappointment, sometimes even abuse and betrayal.
Then there’s that voice.
You are not enough
You will never be enough no matter how much you own or achieve
If you reveal your true self you will be rejected; you will be abandoned and alone forever
My friends that is not the voice of God. It’s a voice from your past, or the voice of your inner critic, or the voice of the accuser. It’s the voice of sin and shame, not God.
Hear the Good News! God offers us another story, another voice!
Joseph’s dream of a home is shattered when his fiance announces she’s pregnant with the long-awaited Messiah. He decides to end the engagement quietly but is visited by an angel in his dream. The angel tells Joseph, “Mary will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” And that’s exactly what happens.
God is coming for us. This is Good News of Christmas. This is God’s story of hope and home.
When we place our trust in Jesus, when we say, “yes” to follow him, Jesus saves us from sin- what we have done, what we have left undone, broken state of creation itself. Jesus saves us from isolation, separation, brokenness, disintegration, shame.
Jesus doesn’t just save us from. Jesus also saves us for– for relationship, redemption (good from the bad), for hope and an eternal home.
Henri J.M. Nouwen, with John S. Mogabgab, in a Spirituality of Homecoming says: God is not in the distant heavens or in the hidden depths of the future, but here and now. God has pitched a tent among us. Even more than that, God has made a home in us so that we can make God’s home our home. We find our way home by following Jesus.
Story of Quinton’s Moore’s conversion after hearing the story of the Prodigal Sons
Its Christmas time and I’m longing for hope and home We find our way home by following Jesus
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
*********** CLICK HERE for a pdf of the Christmas Song Devotional Readings.
The Christmas Story is full of singing. Mary sings. Zechariah sings. Simeon sings. The angels sing. Over the centuries we’ve continued to celebrate with songs of our own, songs born from the joy of Christ’s coming.
This holy season, to prepare our hearts again for the coming of Christ, we’ll reflect on the poetry of these meaningful songs. Some will be old friends. Others will be new. My prayer is that their beauty and power draw us closer to Jesus, the babe of Bethlehem, the Risen King. And that the grace of drawing near fulfills in us Christ’s power of new life.
Suggestions for Reflection on Each Song Lyric in the Christmas Devotion:
Find a quiet place to sit. Take a couple of deep breaths.
Read the song lyrics several times slowly, savoring the words.
What is the big idea?
Why is it important?
How does this truth connect with my life?
Have a conversation with God about this truth.
Invite God to use this truth to birth something new in you this holy season.
Journal your reflections
Draw, paint, or create some other kind of art based on your reflections
Find a scripture or two which inspired the song or where brought to mind by the lyrics
Sing or listen to the song
Share the song or just the lyrics on social media or face to face
Excerpt of At the Balletfrom the musical A Chorus Line
Up a steep and very narrow stairway to the voice like a metronome
Up a steep and very narrow stairway
It wasn’t paradise, it wasn’t paradise, it wasn’t paradise
but it was home
From Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk, Success, failure and the drive to keep creating
Gilbert is a successful author, best known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love. It took 6 years of failure before Gilbert was finally published. Why did she continue to put herself through that pain? “I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing. Which is to say I loved writing more than I loved my own ego. Which is ultimately to say I loved writing more than myself.”
Writing is her home. She returns to it again and again in failure or success. “I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live.”
Revelation 21 is one of many places in the scripture where we get a glimpse of heaven. Heaven is not a dream due to a bump on the head, it’s real, trustworthy and true. This gives us hope. We don’t get there by wishing on a star, or riding a tornado, or sprouting wings like a bluebird. Our Jesus gets us there – we are saved by grace through faith, not works or magic. If we confess with our lips that Jesus is Lord, believe in our hearts God raised him from the dead we will be saved. It’s about placing our trust in his life, death and resurrection. It’s available for all. This gives us hope, too. -Lisa Degrenia <><
2 Peter 3:13 NRSV
But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.
I’m excited to now offer mp3’s of my Sunday messages. A huge thank you to Leon and my brothers and sisters at Trinity United Methodist Church, Sarasota for all their help in making this possible. If you’re ever in Sarasota, please drop by for worship Sundays at 9am or 10:30am, or drop by during the week for a chat or small group. You and those you love are always welcome.