This week, as we live into the season of Christmas, I offer these pieces for you to reflect upon throughout the week as we dwell in the joy of the birth of the Christ child. The first piece is a poem written by theologian Howard Thurman called, “The Work of Christmas.” The second piece I invite you to reflect upon and ponder is a passage from Isaiah 11:1-10, and then finally I invite you to use the prayer assigned for the first Sunday of Christmas as your prayer for the week. There are reflection questions for each piece, but let the Spirit be your guide. Merry Christmas!
In Peace, Pastor Ruth
Devotion 1: The Work of Christmas, by Howard Thurman
“When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among others,
To make music in the heart.”
I don’t know about you, but it’s hard for me to not think that Christmas is over once the tree has been taken down, the cookies have all been eaten, and the wrapping paper all cleaned up. But really, it’s at this point that Christmas truly begins, because birth is always a beginning, a time when the raising up starts. How does this poem make you feel? Comforted? Unsettled? Challenged? Inspired? Take a look at the verbs in this poem: find, heal, feed, release, rebuild, bring, and make. When have you felt the Holy Spirit’s activity acting these verbs out in your life? How are you feeling called to act in this time and place?
To learn more about Howard Thurman and his life and ministry, and how his life’s work can influence how we live the work of Christmas, I recommend this article to you. “Today in our divided country we could use a little more Howard Thurman. His life’s work focused on a non-violent path and celebrated the dignity of all and the benefits that come from the search for common ground. If we would only take the time to “go deep” and discover through our own individual religious experiences the many ways we “are all one” – it might offer some guidance as we struggle for a better world.” https://auburnseminary.org/voices/the-wisdom-of-howard-thurman/
Devotion 2: Isaiah 11:1-10 NRSV
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lordas the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
This passage, known as the peaceable kingdom text, is full of God’s radical, tenacious love breaking into the world to transform us into something new. Our passage begins with that shoot coming out of the stump of Jesse. Stumps are the remnant of what once was, they’re used up, dead. We don’t plant anything in stumps and expect something to flourish, but that is just what Isaiah’s metaphor is saying. Have you ever seen flowers push their way up and out of the cracks in the sidewalk? It’s like that- new life growing against all odds exactly where it isn’t supposed to be and where it wasn’t planted. Shoots look fragile but they are tenacious, seeking whatever they need to survive and grow. Think about the weeds in your driveway. Those shoots usually prevail because they are much more stubborn than you and your weed killer. This vision of the peaceable kingdom from Isaiah shows us that God’s spirit is that tenacious too. Out from that which looks fragile comes a new kind of strength that disorders our human assumptions, disrupts our broken patterns and sets us on a path for a new creation. The poor and the meek are lifted up. The strong and vulnerable lay together in peace. The usual order is disrupted in favor of the peaceable kingdom. How do you hear this good news in 2020? What would a peaceable kingdom look like to you here and now?
Devotion 3 and Prayer for the week:
Prayer of the Day for the First Sunday of Christmas (year B)
Almighty God, you wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and yet more wonderfully restored it. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of the one who came to share our humanity, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
As you use this prayer this week, I invite you to reflect on these questions:
Where do you see dignity in humanity? Where is our dignity challenged, and how can our own words and actions help build up the dignity of our neighbors?
What does it mean to you and to your life that Christ shares our humanity and knows our human struggles? What difference does that make to you?
And just as Christ shares our humanity, we share in the divine life of the one who came to be God with us. What glimpses of the divine have you seen in your life? Who in your life was the face and grace of God?