Thursday (December 23, 2021)
“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9
It is a not-very-well-kept secret among pastors that whenever we get home on Sunday, when the workday is finally over, we mostly melt in a chair somewhere and do something that is not in the least bit “productive.” Sometimes, for me, this means working a crossword puzzle… even more often it means watching an old movie that I have seen a dozen times before.
Actually, there are very few movies or books that I love enough to do this with. But there are a few… a few great films, a few novels, a few operas or plays, a few old poems or folk tales, a few Bible stories that I tell one more time with my little wooden drum to a church full of people who probably know the story better than I do. There are those few precious expressions that I can come back to again and again.
And even though I know every line by heart and know exactly how it all turns out in the end, for some reason, there is always something fresh and surprising in the experience; some little thing that was always there but that I never noticed before, or something that reminds me again of why I love it so much. I think it is because even though the story doesn’t change at all, I have changed. And in bringing something new of my own into the relationship, all things are made new.
The season of Advent is coming to an end, now; Christmas is right around the corner and the new Church year has begun. But even though we will be hearing the old story this year through the lens of St. Luke rather than St. Mark, I have to be honest enough to tell you (spoiler alert!), that I doubt if you will hear much of anything that you haven’t heard before: same child, same humble origins, same villains and scoundrels, same clueless disciples, same cross, same empty tomb.
And yet, the old story that contains nothing much new under the sun, invites you, this Christmas, to bring something into relationship with that story that has never been there before – this year’s sorrows and joys, victories and defeats, breakthroughs and disappointments, all the things you have done or failed to do. It is a season that invites you one more time to lay all that you are and all that you have in front of the old chipped and worn manger that shows up under the tree in exactly the same place every year… and then step back, with the wide open and expectant eyes of a child and behold the fresh and completely surprising miracle of birth.
Pastor Wayne Miller
Stir up your power, O God, and come. In your great love, receive now all that we lay in the straw beside the manger; our joys and tears, hopes and fears, confidence and doubt. Transform them all into a source of wonder and gratitude for the gift of your son. Amen.
Wednesday (December 22, 2021)
“… And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore…” Micah 4:3
There is an often-told story that in the year 312, the Roman general, Constantine, fought a great battle at the Milvian Bridge. On the eve of battle the future emperor had a dream in which the sign of the “Chi-Rho” (the first two Greek letters of the word “Christos”) appeared before his eyes. A voice from heaven then declared, “By THIS you shall conquer.” Constantine awoke, had the Chi-Rho painted on the shields of all his troupes; they won the battle, Constantine become emperor, and Christianity became the new religion of the Roman Empire.
Thus began a long and dubious relationship between Christianity and violence – a precarious embrace of brute force that led to centuries of holy wars, crusades, heretic persecutions, witch-burnings, and a Thirty-Years War that annihilated one-third of the population of Europe, all in the name of a religion of peace… And all because Constantine never considered the possibility that the voice in the dream meant, “By this sign – NOT by the sword – you shall conquer.”
We live in a world that reminds us, every day, of our culture of violence; a culture that lives and dies by many different kinds of swords. There are swords of war, swords of gang rivalry, swords of bullying and belittling on social media, swords of derision and humiliation in political speech, swords of economic disparity and swords of domestic violence, all contrived, in some fashion, “by this to conquer” … But I wonder who wins.
The famous image from the prophet Micah, about beating our swords into plowshares, has always seemed, to many, to be naïve, even foolish – certainly unrealistic. But it is important to remember that Micah was calling his hearers beyond present reality and toward a vision of what God’s future looks like. It is a vision in which our instruments of death and conquest are transformed into instruments of life, abundance, well-being for all. It is a vision of peace and good will. It is a vision in which those who are left out in the cold are freely welcomed in. It is a vision in which the King of Creation conquers through love and self-sacrifice.
Above all, it is a vision that, kept in front of our eyes in this season, reminds us that when we begin to use our ingenuity to conquer the sword, rather than using it, everyone wins.
Pastor Wayne Miller
Stir up your power, O God, and come. On our hearts imprint your image. Hold before our eyes the new creation you are building. Give us the courage to trust the Prince of Peace more than our own illusions of power and bring us at last into your kingdom. Amen.
Tuesday (December 21, 2021)
“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel…” Micah 5:2
Even though I don’t have as much time for it as I used to, I love baking bread from scratch. I also like eating it, of course… but the making is very nearly as good.
And I certainly don’t like baking bread because it is easy. Among other things, you have to engage in a long, labor-intensive process called “kneading the dough,” which, as you know if you are a baker, means conscientiously taking the edge of the dough and folding it into the center… and then taking the edge and folding it into the center… and then taking the edge and folding it into the center. Because it is only through the effort of repeatedly folding the fringe into the center that the power of the yeast is evenly distributed through the whole loaf.
It’s a lot of work, I can tell you. So much so that it can sometimes seem like it would be more efficient to just cut the fringes off and stay with the center that you already have. The only problem with that strategy is that it is such a waste… such a waste of the potential of the part of the dough that is still waiting for a chance to touch the power of the yeast at the center.
Actually, now that I think of it, some of you may know first-hand the tragedy of being part of the fringe that is cut off and thrown away. Perhaps you yourself have had some experience of being left out on the margins, totally out of touch with life at the center…
The prophet Micah suggests that perhaps even the village of Bethlehem might have known the feeling of being out there on the fringe, so little among the clans of Judah. But as we know, it was just a matter of time before the hand of the Almighty would fold this sleepy village on the fringe into the very center of the master plan for redeeming creation.
And so for us, especially in those times when we feel a bit left out, invisible, or marginalized, there is a promise from the prophet, that the God at the center of it all wastes no one, forgets no one, overlooks no one, but reaches all the way out there to the fringe every single day to enfold and raise up that precious, irreplaceable margin.
Pastor Wayne Miller
Stir up your power, O God, and come. Come to us now in our own experiences of feeling forgotten, left out, or marginalized. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that ours may be the hands to reach out to those on the edge and fold them gently back into the gift of communion with you. Amen
Monday (December 20, 2021)
“When the boys grew up, Esau became a hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man dwelling in tents.” Genesis 25:27
While I served as bishop, one of my staff members was an identical twin. I had heard Jeff tell many stories about his brother over the years, but I had never met him, until their mother passed away and I went to the wake. And the two brothers looked so much alike that I really could not tell them apart… that is, until I talked with James and realized that they were not identical at all. They were more like two sides of one coin; complements to one another rather than clones of one another.
In the scriptures there are many stories about siblings, but only two noteworthy references to twins. One of these is St. John’s description of the Apostle Thomas as “the twin.” Although we never meet Thomas’ brother and don’t have any idea what either man looked like, in John’s highly symbolic way of telling the story, it is generally believed that “Thomas the Doubter” was the inseparable twin of “Thomas the Believer.” Faith and Doubt are twins; two sides of the same coin; neither identical, nor contradictory, but rather complementary to each other even for the most faithful.
The second twin story, of course, is that of Jacob and Esau, who were quite clearly NOT identical twins. And though the symbolism is a little bit less explicit, what seems quite clear is that Esau was a man of ACTION and Jacob a man of REFLECTION – two sides of the same coin; complementary to each other.
As we come into the last week of Advent, many of us are completing a time of great activity in our lives. There is the shopping, and putting up lights on the house, and planning gatherings that are a little bit safer to plan this year, and wrapping, and baking, and sending cards, and… and the activity just seems to keep getting more intense right through Christmas Day. Like Esau, we are people of action with little time or energy left for reflection.
So, it is a gift, to my way of thinking, to have this little story of the birth of Rebekah’s twins show up in our daily readings, with its simple reminder that as great as all this activity may be, it is only one side of the coin. And maybe this is exactly the week to carve out just a little time to pause, to breathe, to imagine, and to ponder in the quiet part of our heart, the miracle of that silent and holy night.
Pastor Wayne Miller
Stir up your power, O God, and come. Bless our activity in this season, that it may always bear witness to your glory. Open our hearts to listen, to receive, and to reflect upon the wonder of your love for us and all creation. Amen.
Friday (December 17, 2021)
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved. (Psalm 80:3)
This verse from Psalm 8 is a refrain. Throughout the Psalm it is a repeated petition. It is the chorus to a song amid the many verses. It is a constant plea by the Psalmist for God to come and restore both himself and his people, Israel.
We all have refrains in our life, those we speak out loud and those that we say in the silence of our hearts. They are many and varied. We have our go-to lines when we are frustrated. We have the lines of love and affection we repeat to those closest to us. We have the sayings or verses of scripture that we’ve committed to memory and that we use in times of joy or lament. We have jokes that we like to repeat at parties.
At church we also have our refrains. And whereas in most of our lives we say, scream, cry, or mutter our refrains by ourselves and sometimes to ourselves, at church we say our refrains together. There is power in this. It is one thing to pray, “Let your face shine on me.” If God did this, it would look like a tiny birthday candle in a sea of darkness. It is another thing to pray, “Let your face shine on us.” This is what the Psalmist prays. And the answer to this prayer is not a single candle but a spotlight, a bonfire, a sea of light from candles on Christmas Eve. You cannot stay warm from a single candle, but together with all of our lights, we can feel an intense warmth and light a whole room.
This advent, listen to the refrains we say and sing. Come Lord Jesus. Shine on us. Restore us. Come, O Come Emmanuel. Let my soul proclaim the greatness of the Lord. And remember that this is not your refrain or mine alone. But the whole church and all of creation, cry out with us, so that we all might be restored and saved.
Let us pray: O God, even when I feel alone, I know that you are with me. And through your love you connect me with all the faithful. Hear my prayer; listen to my refrains this Advent and forevermore. Amen
Peace in Christ,
Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller
Thursday (December 16, 2021)
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Someone asked me at the beginning of Advent, “How much of Christmas does Eliza understand?” It’s a tough question because Eliza can’t answer the question herself. At this moment her vocabulary consists of yes, no, mama, dada, Connie (our dog’s name), various farm and jungle animal sounds, and the incoherent ramblings of someone who just ate maple syrup for the first time that morning.
It’s not like we haven’t tried. We compiled a stack of all of the Christmas children’s books we have in our house. A popup book about Santa finding Rudolph, the 12 Days of Christmas, one about frosty, Little Blue Truck’s Christmas, and a couple that tell the Bible story of Christmas in fun and colorful ways. She loves these books, but I think she is more interested in mooing at the cow in the stall next to baby Jesus in the picture book of the nativity than she is at grasping the world changing significance of the incarnate God lying in the manger.
The closest I think we have come to explaining Christmas to Eliza actually came from her experience with our Christmas tree. Kendra and I bought our Christmas tree, brought it into our house, and decorated it with ornaments and lights all while Eliza slept. The next morning when she awoke we picked her up out of her crib and took her into the living room. She saw the tree and kept repeating one word, “Wow.” Wow, wow, wow, wow. The lights, the shininess of the ornaments, the living breathing thing that was all of a sudden a part of her house.
She didn’t know what it was, but even this little tiny human knew that something special had happened. We didn’t have to say anything, but she knew greatness was in front of her. And one day she will know that this greatness which was written on her heart was all because of the birth of Jesus.
Let us pray: From the least to the greatest of us, you, O Lord, write wonder and knowledge of you on our hearts. Let us be open to the wonderful ways, and sometimes with childlike wonder that you come to us each and every Christmas.
Peace in Christ,
Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller