Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Christmas Day, December 25, 2019

Who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity
and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good
Titus 2:14

On this day when Christians celebrate the birth of Christ, reading this
verse from Paul’s letter to Titus gave me pause. “He who gave himself
for us…” stopped me in my tracks! As we awaken on Christmas morning
today, are we really thinking about the way Christ’s death is the true
promise of his birth? Of course, the season of Christmas seems to bring
out in people the “eagerness to do what is good.” But to me, the most
powerful part of that verse is, “to purify for himself a people that are his
very own.” Now we belong to him! Christ prizes us more than anyone
prizes a valuable treasure because he paid for us with his blood.
As a bereavement counselor, I am always aware of how very sad
Christmas can be for those who have lost their loved ones. It is a time
when even the most devout believers begin to feel alone and helpless. It
is during such times when I see people eager to do what is good who
come to the side of their grieving family members and friends. They don’t
need to preach to these grieving souls that God has not forgotten them.
For their presence and loving, active listening is the real sermon!
I love all the sacred and beautiful music of Christmas. But I feel that the
hymn, “Lift High the Cross,” expresses the essence of the message in Titus:

Lift high the cross
the love of Christ proclaim
till all the world adore his sacred name.
O Lord once lifted on the glorious tree
as thou hast promised, draw us all to thee!

Living God, On this beautiful Christmas day, compel us to reach out to those
who are grieving and give the a gift of your presence. Amen.

Sylvia S. Havlish is Coordinator of Bereavement Ministries for Lutheran
Congregational Services, a Liberty life service.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2019

But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

Christmas can be an especially difficult time for many people for different
reasons. Those participating in Journeys through Grief understand the
complex mix of emotions people experiencing loss feel during the Advent
and Christmas seasons. Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is a message
of hope for us all.

As the shepherds did their work under the cover of darkness, they
were startled by a burst of angelic light. I can’t imagine how afraid and
disoriented they must have been. In the midst of darkness, fear and
confusion, an angel gave them a message of unimaginable joy and peace,
“Do not be afraid; for see--I am bringing you good news of great joy for all
the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the
Messiah, the Lord.”

We are told they “made haste to see this thing that had taken place,”
proclaiming to Mary and Joseph what would be the beginning of the
greatest love story ever told—God’s love for all people poured out in this
savior Jesus. God with and for us forever…this is good news, indeed!
Like Mary, may we ponder these sacred words of comfort, joy and peace
in our hearts. Arise, shine, for the light has come!

Gracious God, may the light of your love shine in our hearts and lives today
and always. In the precious name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

The Rev. Jennifer Heavner is the pastor of Star of Bethlehem
Lutheran Church, Bethlehem , PA, and serves on the Advisory Committee
of Lutheran Congregational Services.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Monday, December 23, 2019

“And Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices
in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his
servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed.’”
Luke 1:46-48

It was in the spirit of Mary’s prayer that the volunteers at Camp Noah
this summer served. Camp Noah took place in North Philadelphia at New
Creation Lutheran Church. The camp was designed to serve children who
moved to Philadelphia following Hurricane Maria. Nearly 6,000 families
have come to Pennsylvania since 2017 as a result of the storm. Many of the
children had moved more than four times in the last year, as their parents
sought safe places to live as they made decisions about their families’
future. Other local families were impacted by the storm as they took in
family members, or gathered supplies and funds for loved ones in Puerto
Rico and the US Virgin Islands whose homes were destroyed.

The site coordinator at Camp Noah, Margarita Santiago, wrote this
following camp, “I am looking forward to working with you all again; it
doesn’t matter where because when the Lord has a plan he will make
it work anywhere just like he did last week, and from some of the stories
we’ve heard we were a big impact on some of those kids just like they
were an impact on us. ‘Only fear the LORD, and serve him faithfully with
all your heart; for consider what great things he has done for you
(1 Samuel 12:24).’”

Loving God, you give us strength to carry on. Help us bring love to all
of creation. Amen.

Margarita Santiago served as Site Coordinator for Camp Noah, and is the
mother of three Camp Noah campers! Margarita attends Bridge of Hope
Ministries, located in North Philadelphia.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Saturday and Sunday, December 21 and 22, 2019

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the
young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name
him Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14

This promise is made to King Ahaz after he refuses God’s command to
ask for a sign – “I will not put the Lord to the test.” Ahaz does not refuse
out of piety or belief but rather out of fear, fear of the war raging around
him and fear of the rulers of the other nations wanting him to join their
cause. Ahaz was offered the opportunity to be given any sign he wanted
from God (think of Moses and the plagues on Egypt). But he refused, too
afraid. God was rejected by those in power. So God did what God always
does – God shows up, this time in the midst of the lowest. A pregnant girl
of no name. Immanuel – God with Us.

As we wait for Immanuel in this season of Advent, how have we denied
God? And how has God shown up anyway? God is in places big and small,
miracles surround us daily. We simply need to open our eyes to see and
our ears to hear.

Living God, open our eyes and ears to your unwavering presence.

The Rev. Karynjean Dickhoff is Chaplain at Liberty Hospice, a Liberty
life service.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Friday, December 20, 2019

So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also
an heir, through God.
Galatians 4:7

Growing up I was one of five children. We lived modestly in a small
house in rural North Carolina. Mom and Dad made sure we had
everything we needed, but there was never extra for vacations or
extravagant purchases.

I would sometimes daydream back then about some rich relative,
unknown to us, who would leave us their fortune. While the rich relative
never materialized, what I inherited is more valuable than any treasure
I could have dreamed up back then--my faith and trust in God.

In God Has a Dream, Desmond Tutu begins his book with “Dear Child of
God,” a phrase he uses throughout as a reminder of our identity. With that
identity, he reminds us of how deeply God loves us and believes in us.
The son of God lived on earth in stark contrast to how we would expect
a king and their heirs to live. So what might our inheritance look like?
I think that being a child of God means inheriting the character of
Jesus – his peace, wholeness, justice, compassion, kindness, joy, hope
and above all, love.

There is immense freedom in the knowledge that God loves us and
believes in us. No one can take that away from you and me, though at
times the bondage of hate and evil and despair may try.

Dear Child of God, you are no longer a slave. Live freely in God’s love.
Loving God, it is with much humility and gratitude that we come before you
as your children, heirs to your kingdom. Remind us daily of the freedom you
provide to be fully who you created us to be. Help us embrace our inheritance
by adopting the character of Jesus, the Son of God.

Patty Cline serves as Director of Advancement at Liberty Lutheran.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019

But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to
a disciplinarian for in Christ Jesus you are all children of
God through faith.
Galatians 3: 25-26

Faith comes to us as a gift from God. Through faith we respond by living
out Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
This response comes in many ways. A retired man donates pasta to
the food pantry. Church members stay overnight at the church to help
a family who is looking for work and needs a safe place to sleep. The
summer adult Bible school makes fleece blankets to send overseas. The
confirmation class builds a Little Free Library to share books with the
neighborhood. The Mealtime Ministries Team cooks for people who need
a hot meal and a kind word.

In gratitude for faith and God’s grace, may we each use the gifts we have
been given to share God’s love with others and to live lives of service.

Lord God, during Advent and throughout the coming year, help us to love
others as we love ourselves. Amen.

Katherine Raphael is the Director of Ministries at Advent Lutheran Church
in West Lawn, PA. She leads volunteers and manages outreach projects
for local, regional and international needs.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace, do not devise evil in your hearts against one another, and love no false oath; for all these are things that I hate, says the Lord. Zechariah 8:16

We will soon be celebrating the birth of Jesus with angel choirs singing Gloria in excelsis Deo. What is their message? It is that we should rejoice in the Lord and hear the truth through the voice of the Savior.

Unfortunately, in today’s world it is hard to determine what truth actually is.

We believe in the prophets, strive to follow the Ten Commandments, and unscramble our lives as best we can while being fed distorted news reports, wild exhortations to buy some product, skewed figures in research, and on and on it goes. It is baffling to know what to believe. It is only natural that some interpret what we read and hear one way while others apply contrary meanings; but that can be distressing.

If the words in Zechariah were followed precisely, we would have an ideal society. But such prospects are unlikely and it will doubtless be so for eons. So what can we do? Accept with a sigh and a shrug? Expound from the orator’s platform? Flood the streets with shouts and signs? Of course, there’s social media at our fingertips.

We will find an answer to our worries by being honest with ourselves, and through prayer and introspection, trusting the Lord to show us a path to inner peace and a world in harmony. Whether we are bold enough to share our thoughts with others, God wants to hear from us. His guidance, even as we wait, will bring us peace.

Almighty God, hear our pleas and help us recognize the truth as we grapple day by day with uncertain times. May we be messengers of your peace, your love, your light, and your joy. Amen.

Mary McCaw, a nonagenarian, is a resident of Liberty Lutheran’s Manor at York Town. Throughout her many years she has been a devoted volunteer working in leadership roles toward enhancing life in Bucks County and beyond, related to adolescent girls, women, health care, prison inmate recidivism, the arts, and the Church.