Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Day, December 25, 2020

 This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3: 6-7

Being called an “heir” reminds me of what I have been given from those who have gone before me.

On a typical day, I might think about the land I live on, the faith I live by, and the body I live in. I would recognize that the land we live our lives upon did not always belong to us. I would remember that the faith I put my trust in is one that has been given to me through moments with all types of people. I would acknowledge the white skin I live my life within carries with it privilege that comes with a responsibility to amplify the voices of those who do not look like me.

These are all important observations.

But today, on Christmas, I notice another inheritance of mine: traditions.

Beloved family festivities and faith practices have been turned upsidedown in 2020 for many of us. Fewer cookies are shared, songs are whispered rather than belted out, and more gatherings take place through a screen than not. These are not the traditions we have passed down for so long. Even on this day of great joy and celebration, these changes can feel particularly disappointing.

And yet, the purpose of this Christmas Day remains true. And here we are yet again, celebrating this new baby born – a gift from God for all of humanity. This Jesus promises not that we are heirs to sweet Christmas treats and holiday traveling, but instead we are “heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” We are heirs to the Holy Spirit, “poured out on us richly” and continually making us new. Thanks be to God. 

Christ has come. Hope has come. Yes, hope even in 2020. 

Holy One, grant us renewed hope on this Christmas Day. Be with those who are disappointed by and grieving a year like no other and show us the light of life anew. Amen. Sammy Kelly, Director 

Sammy Kelly, Director of Youth, Young Adult, and Faith Formation Ministries of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Synod of the ELCA. 

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas Eve, December 24, 2020

 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it.”

Psalm 96:10-11

This passage made me think about the many hikes I did throughout Pennsylvania this summer. I saw God’s amazing creation from the tops of mountains, under waterfalls, along rivers, inside caves, and among the trees. Spending time with creation in this way brought me closer to God.

Just like the psalmist writes, I too have witnessed the mountains and rivers rejoicing, the leaves of the trees singing in praise, and the fields jubilantly praising God’s name. I have felt the trees sway and heard the rivers roar at the sound of his name. 

On this holy night, we remember His coming, and tomorrow as we celebrate with friends and family, let us lift our hallelujahs to God. Let our songs be more than sweet lullabies and old hymns. Let us proclaim that Christ’s birth is bringing righteousness to all the world. 

As we look forward to 2021, make worship and praise part of your daily routine. Come January 30 or March 27 or September 8 when we are hopefully back to experiencing ordinary days, let us remember this night and how “heaven and nature sing” when the “earth received it’s King.” I pray that as we think about the birth of the Savior of the world, we would reflect on God’s promises, not only on December 24, but on those ordinary days, too. Because you never know, God may make tomorrow earth-shattering.

So, let us indeed raise our voices with Creation. “For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised. Through all the earth, let us worship the King. The Savior has come. Let all the nations sing. The mountains ring out with angelic praise. The heavens rejoice. For the earth receives her King. Come let us worship the King.”

Creator Lord, May we never take your gift for granted; may our songs never fade, and may we treasure your creation in our hearts forever. Amen.

Sadie Wallace is a 7th grader in the East Penn School District. She and her family attend Nativity Lutheran Church in Allentown.  

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

 The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us lay aside the works of darkness and put on an armor of light.

Romans 13:12

In order to see the good in people we have to set aside the bad things and come together. As a society we need to be there for each other and see the good instead of the bad. We live in a society full of hatred, lies, harm, and much confusion. But God’s word tells us to “cast off the works of darkness and put on an armor of light.” We have to put ourselves out there almost like a shining light “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16a). We shouldn’t light a candle just to hide it. We have to let our light shine bright to indicate individuality. As one church song says, “This little light of mine I’m gonna let it shine, hide it under a bushel no! I’m gonna let it shine!”

Whether you are part of the LGBTQ+ community or you are black or white, or you come from a different country, all of it is okay! People run from their home countries to be here in America so they have a safe space to come. For some, the safe space they imagined is not what they hoped it to be and there is terror out of our control. In a world full of very different people God says to put away your differences, and come together as one. All are welcome as brothers and sisters because together we are God’s children. 

God of light, help us let our lights shine, and make them shine bright! Amen. 

MaryElizabeth Soffera is a student at Wilson Area High School in Easton, Pennsylvania, and attends Good Shepard Lutheran Church. 

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

 O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. 

Psalm 96:1

“Wow, hasn’t 2020 been a terrific year?”

Haven’t heard that line yet, have you? The lowlights of this year, including the global COVID-19 pandemic, and the ugly continuation of centurieslong, deep-rooted racial injustice and inequality, don’t have 2020 lined up for any glowing “year in review” retrospectives. In fact, many of us people of faith are wondering where God is in the midst of all this tragedy and heartache, or how long it will be until he calls us all to his heavenly kingdom.

Admittedly, the vast majority of my prayers this past year have been cries for help: for healing, for justice, for reconciliation, for health, for comfort, for peace, and for basic needs to be met. Nothing about what I see in the world, on the news, or on social media strikes up an instinctive urge to sing.

However, throughout the Bible we are reminded that God is good in all circumstances (including 1 Chronicles 16:34) and worthy of our praise (Psalm 145:3). Singing to the Lord may not always come of our “natural” human volition, nor does it permit us to neglect the problems that continue to plague our society; even so, let us sing to the Lord during our earthly tribulations as we remember that this fallen world is not our home.

Lord, although many loved ones and I may be experiencing overwhelming pain and suffering, I sing to you. Please bless and heal us, both in this season of advent and throughout the upcoming year. Amen.

Brandon Frank is the Manager of Financial Reporting for Liberty Lutheran. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Monday, December 21, 2020

 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.

Luke 1: 52-53

Upon first glance, this verse can feel like an opportunity to fall into the “us vs. them” mentality. It is easy to picture those in positions of wealth and power being sent away empty handed, and thus miss the far more personal challenge to this verse. In the surrounding passage, Mary speaks of how the Lord does not forget His people, despite their conditions, and that he favors those who trust in Him.

Throughout our lives, we will find ourselves on both sides of this coin many times over. Our pride pulls us away from God. We are brought back to him, often through painful means that are necessary to keep the wealth of the world from ensnaring us. But when we are in our lowest points – fraught with worry or loss, that is when the Lord makes his presence known to his people. Whichever way we are being brought, therefore, means that God is pulling us closer to himself, saving us from despair on both ends. 

Mary speaks of the descendants of Abraham to bring this story to life. God brought the enslaved into freedom. He separated the idolaters from their false gods. He brought the wanderers to their home, and then allowed that home to be taken when they turned from His law. And most importantly, when He saw the oppression of sin, God sent His son to establish a new covenant of salvation that would change the world forever.

Rather than fear which side of this seemingly ever-swaying pendulum we are on, we can instead trust that God will always pull us closer to Him. Any losses or gains that come from this pale in comparison to the ultimate gift of Jesus, the one who sets all injustices and losses to right.

Dear Heavenly Father, we pray that you make yourself known. Whatever our story, and whatever our struggle, we pray that our feet are led back only to you. In your precious name we pray, Amen.

Carter Bowman is Digital Media Specialist at Liberty Lutheran. He attends Covenant Church in Doylestown, PA.   

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Saturday and Sunday, December 19 and 20, 2020

 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”

Luke 1:30

How wonderful would it be to hear an Angel of the Lord say those words to you? You have found favor with God. Wow! As I read the passage, a verse from the song “Oh Holy Night” came to mind. “Fall on your knees, oh hear the angel voices.” Surely, anyone would fall to their knees if an Angel of the Lord appeared to them telling them they found favor with God.

The Bible does not tell us why Mary found favor with God. Mary is an ordinary person, betrothed to an ordinary carpenter, living in an ordinary town. She began her day thinking it would be as any other day, but an angel of the Lord came to her to tell her she found favor with God and would give birth to the savior of the world. Mary responded to the angel without hesitation. She responded in true faith knowing that it was God’s will for her to do what was asked of her in spite of the consequences. We too must respond to God’s will without hesitation or complaint. We must show our love for God to all those we meet. 

I recently told my husband what I’d like my gravestone to say: “Well done good and faithful servant.” But, have I earned God’s favor? Can anyone earn God’s favor? No, but we can show our love for Him to everyone we know and meet. 

During this Advent season, make a point of going out of your way to be the Lord’s hands and feet by sharing His love, and with great joy may we all enter the gates of Heaven hearing our heavenly Father say, “Well done good and faithful servant”. 

All powerful Lord, through your grace, please find favor with all of us. Amen 

Chris Naessens is Administrative Assistant for Human Resources at Liberty Lutheran and a member and deacon at Oreland Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Friday, December 18, 2020

 I will set his hand on the sea and his right hand on the rivers. 

Psalm 89:25

The Latin root of the word virus means slimy liquid; poison. As my family and I continue to adjust and adapt to daily life amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I find it fitting that the root of “virus” means, simply, “poison.” One of the most unexpected side-effects of COVID-19 has been a slow but steady injection of additional anxiety, uncertainty, and fear into my daily life.

As a parent of two rambunctious boys – ages 3 and 4 1/2 – I’ve gotten accustomed, somewhat, to the natural worry and uncertainty that accompanies the life of a parent; however, I find myself struggling to process the overwhelming uncertainty and fear that COVID-19 presents for me and the ones that I love most.

While reflecting on today’s verse, the respective titles of Psalms 88 and 89 (TEV) – “A Cry for Help” and “A Hymn in Time of National Trouble” – resonated deeply with me. In Psalms 88 and 89, God promises to give David rule over a wide kingdom from the sea to the rivers. The image of God’s hands reaching from the sea to the rivers is a palpable reminder for me of God’s literal and figurative reach; God’s hands are outstretched before, beside, and behind me even when I’m not able to see through the fog of uncertainty and fear that threatens to engulf me.

In these uncertain times of COVID-19, natural disasters of increasing strength and frequency, and ever-present racial and cultural injustice, I find myself clinging – sometimes with cracked knuckles and bloody hands – to God’s promise to never abandon us. Though some days it is an on-going struggle to find hope, I am comforted by the image of God’s outstretched hands offering me rest. In the face of the greatest uncertainties of my life, God has never failed to show up – not always in the way I expected, or wanted in some cases – but I can rest knowing that God is, once again, with me.

God, when hope seems out of reach and impossible, remind me to be still and know that your promises of love and rest are never-ending. Amen. 

John Pyron is the Program Director for Lutheran Disaster Response-US.