Advent Devotional: The true vine

Isaiah 11:1

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

The true vine

Next time you are in St. Timothy’s sanctuary look up. Look up and to the right that is. Tucked away in the far corner, above the choir are four blue stained glass windows, our advent windows.

Among these four is in odd sight, a stump. It sits all alone, set upon a field of blue light. But this is no yule log, no husk of a Christmas tree; it is the “stump of Jesse.”

In ancient times before Jesus was born, before Rome was built on the banks of the Tiber, during the times of the royal kings of Israel, David sat on the throne in Jerusalem. It was God who promised King David that his family, his family tree that is, descended from his father Jesse, would rule forever. Years passed and the seat of David passed on to his son Solomon and from him to Rehoboam and so forth and through the years until the time of the prophet Isaiah. A funny thing happened along the way, however. The once mighty and faithful tree of David fell further and further from God. The kingdom weakened. Conquerors came and went. Until all that could be seen from the mighty glory of before was a poor measly stump of that royal family tree. Every hopeful, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that one day God’s kingdom, promised through the line of Jesse, would once again return to glory.

And there the stump sat and waited as if in its own perpetual Advent. It was not until many centuries later that a shoot began to emerge. Jesus is born, descended from the house and lineage of David, and it is he, the true vine, who sends forth new branches, announces a new kingdom, and takes form in ways greater than any earthly king could ever imagine.

Back to the windows. Do not let your eyes remain on the blue. Let them travel. Follow the shoot that bursts forth from the stained glass stump. The green, full of vibrancy and life, travels all around our church. It snakes and weaves from one panel to the next surrounding all who are gathered in the reality of the all-encompassing love and mercy of our king, Jesus Christ, the true vine from the stump of Jesse.

Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller

Advent Devotion: Thay you may know

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say on that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
   call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
   proclaim that his name is exalted.
 (Isaiah 12:3-4)

Joy is an inside job. It is not the rush of emotional energy released in moments of victory or success. Nor is it the happiness that sweeps through us when good fortune surprises. Joy is not dependent upon outward circumstances. It is deeper, rooted in the soul.

It rises when the heart is warmed and filled by the presence of love … of God … living within us. This love is always there. It is our truest self. We are made in the image of an immeasurable love.

But most days we live far from this awareness, which is why prayer needs to be a daily, hourly, moment-to-moment experience.

It is also why Christmas is central to our faith and spiritual lives. At Christmas, we meet the transcendent God, the Infinite Love who always was and will be, coming to us in infant form, so that we may see and know the love God is.

Seeing him, we know: God is pleased to come to us, not to inspire fear but to awaken the love within us that is our true nature. We, created in the image of Love, commune heart-to-heart with the Love who made us … and become the Love God is.

In this communion, whether silent … or speaking friend-to-friend, we are filled with the simple joy of being. God fills us, as water fills a glass to overflowing, washing away all cynicism and fear, boredom and bitterness, all greed and guilt.

All that remains is the gentle joy of being alive and knowing the Love who is and was and is to come, the love shining in the face of Christ … and in us.

Pr. David L. Miller

 

 

Advent Devotions: The Far Near One

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
   let this be known in all the earth. 
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
   for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
(Isaiah 12:5-6)

God is as close as our breath and farther than the distant stars. You can feel God in the depth of your being, in the gentle breath passing in and out of you this moment, in the welcome smile of loving welcome and the sparkle of love in another’s eyes.

And yet, what can hold God? For God is more immense than the universe, present in all places in every moment.

The Holy One is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. And, dear friend, you are at the center of that circle of warmth and care, and you always will be.

Can you take this in?

Of course not. No one can totally grasp it, but this is what our faith tells us is true of God. Transcendent and immanent are the two words Christian theology has long used to label God’s great beyond-ness and God’s intimate closeness.

God is great, transcendent, above and beyond every idea or description we can employ to describe the Holy One. At the same time, God is also here, in our midst, in this moment, in me and you and every single situation we shall ever enter.

At Christmas we see the transcendent God, who is beyond our every imagination, become one of us, close, that we may know the joy of seeing, touching and loving the Great Near One.

Rejoice, Love is near. Always.

Pr. David L. Miller

 

Advent Devotional: To see and touch

Strengthen the weak hands,
   and make firm the feeble knees. 
 Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
   ‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God. (Isaiah 35:3-4)

I enjoy visiting people in the hospital. It’s not that I want to see people sick or hurting, but real conversations happen there.

Most patients are pleased to have a visitor because time and worry weigh heavily on their mind. There is also no hiding or pretending that there is nothing wrong. So we talk. Talking leads to honesty, and honesty leads to prayer.

It’s an intimate moment, hands holding hands, hearts joined in hope for healing and strength. Tears sometime appear. The grip of hand-on-hand tightens as hopes and fears are offered in love to the God who is Love. Strength flows through held hands and buoys the heart for whatever might come.

But what has already come … is the God who is expressed in our flesh, as love and blessing are shared. No one needs to ask, ‘Where is Christ?’ because Christ is right there, in our hands.

We call it incarnation. This is what we celebrate in this holy season: God becomes incarnate, flesh, a body we can see and touch, know and love. In the touching, weak hands find strength, and fearful hearts know God is present, with them.

The incarnation of God most certainly appeared in a Bethlehem stable. Here is our God, cradled in Mary’s arms. Jesus is the human face of the Loving Mystery we cannot see.

But the incarnation doesn’t stop there. It is not time limited. Incarnation goes on. The Holy One becomes flesh to see and touch, know and love wherever and whenever Love takes on flesh.

And it happens everywhere.

Pr. David L. Miller

Advent Devotional: Going Home

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
   we were like those who dream. 
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
   and our tongue with shouts of joy. (Psalm 126:1-2)

The favorite destination at Christmas is home. Many travel great distances at a difficult time of year to be among people with whom they experience the warmth of acceptance and the joy of belonging.

This longing for home beats deep in the human heart. It echoes our need to connect not only with family and friends, but with something … more.

The human heart hungers for an ultimate home, to rest in loving communion with God. Then and only then are we finally home, our hearts at rest and peace, filled with the joy that comes when we are know the immense love of God holding and filling us within.

Trouble is, we live most of our lives feeling far removed from this home. We are, in effect, exiles.

The reading today, Psalm 126, exclaims the joy of Jewish exiles returning home to Jerusalem after years in Babylonian exile. It is a good reading for Advent because this season is about making our way home … to the manager, where we see Mary cradling the infant Jesus. Standing in the circle of light around them, the warmth of God’s love radiates on and through us.

It is there that joy fills our being and our inner restlessness ceases, for we are home … in the Love who is always there … always waiting … always eager to welcome us.

So savor the longing you feel within. It will lead you to the Heart you have always wanted.

Pr. David L. Miller

Advent Devotional: Preparing for Christmas

Isaiah 40:3

A voice cries out: ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

Preparing for Christmas

There’s a lot of preparation to do before Christmas arrives. Much of getting ready is about decorating, purchasing, wrapping and making things. But there is also internal work to do, if we want to feel the day and know its blessing. We need to change our minds, our hearts, our consciousness.

Preparing out hearts is not about doing more. Usually, it is about doing less, about letting go, clearing away the stuff that keeps us from receiving love and welcoming Christ in the depth of our being.

We clear a path in our hearts by letting go of things that get in the way, letting go of every idea that more stuff will fill our hearts, letting go of old hurts and angers that harden our hearts and prevent us from receiving the great love who comes to us, letting go of insane schedules that have time for everything but our own souls, letting go of our cynicism and sarcasm about people we don’t like or with whom we disagree, letting go of our confounded need to be right, letting go  and the ways we polish the self-image we project to others.

We need to let go of the idea that we have to be something other than our needy old selves. For it is to you, the real, messy, imperfect you that Christ comes.

So take time to feel the soul you are. Sit by your Christmas tree. Look at the lights. Listen to music that invites your heart. Feel your pains and joys, your lostness and hopes. Feel the longing to know the love that beats at the heart of this holy season. Pray it all.

And you will be prepared to greet the Love who is pleased to come … to you.

Rev. David L. Miller