Connections DAILY

Connections DAILY is no longer being published.

Our thanks to all who supported The DAILY these past 11-plus years.

We have included below some relfections from the series. We hope you can make some use of them in your preaching ministry.

 


 

A d v e n t

TUESDAY of the First Week of Advent

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.  The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD . . .
Isaiah 11: 1-10

The Book of Isaiah is really the work of two prophets named Isaiah – the first Isaiah preached to Israel at time when the nation was under grave threat by the Assyrian empire in 722 B.C.; the second Isaiah wrote after the fall of Jerusalem one hundred years later.  The works of the two Isaiahs form a single book in our Bible.  Both Isaiahs are writing to a people in crisis, who have lost their religious identity and moral bearings.

In today’s reading from Isaiah, we hear Isaiah’s beautiful portrait of the Messiah, whom Isaiah calls the “Servant of God.”  This Servant will come to save and restore Israel, Isaiah preaches – but he will be neither a mighty military leader who will vanquish the hated Assyrians nor a great king who will transform Israel’s political and economic fortunes.  No, Isaiah says, Israel’s Redeemer comes “armed” with wisdom and understanding.  He will destroy the wicked and ruthless by the force of God’s justice.  His coming will usher in an eternity of extraordinary peace and understanding.

We see Isaiah’s Servant realized in the Jesus of the Gospel – but Isaiah’s vision is also fulfilled in every offering of kindness and generosity, every moment of forgiveness, every triumph of justice for the poor and suffering.  Jesus entrusts to us the work of God’s Servant, as envisioned by Isaiah: that our humble and selfless works of compassion and peace be branches of the shoot of Jesse’s stem.

O redeeming God, send your Spirit of wisdom and understanding to rest upon each one of us so that we may take on the work of your “Servant” Jesus.  In our everyday Advents, may we work to enable your justice and peace to take root and blossom in our time and transform our homes and communities into your holy mountain.  

FRIDAY of the First Week of Advent

“Do you believe that I can do this?”
Matthew 9: 27-31

This is the season for “believing.”  Jesus’ question in response to the blind men’s request – Do you believe I can do this? – echoes throughout Advent:

Do we believe that Christ’s coming can transform our own little stables into God’s dwelling place?

Do we believe that we can be prophets of Christ’s coming – that we can transform, in our smallest, simplest acts of charity and justice, the barren deserts of our lives into thriving gardens of forgiveness, hope and support? 

Do we believe that “peace on earth” is possible in our complex, competitive, market-driven world?
We often wonder, at this time of year, if children still “believe”? 

Do we?

Open our eyes, O healing Christ, that we may believe again in your Word of peace and healing.  Open our hearts that we may bring the hope of your birth into every place and season.

SATURDAY of the First Week of Advent

“As you go, make this proclamation:  ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons.”
Matthew 9: 35 – 10: 1, 5a, 6-8

Could you buy an extra gift for someone this Christmas?  There are many charities and social service agencies that welcome gifts, including toys, books and clothing, to help make Christmas a little brighter and merrier for someone.

So add an extra gift to your shopping list.  Select a gift thoughtfully, deliberately (check with the charities and agencies first – they usually have suggestions and are aware of specific needs you can provide for).  But, as you shop, try to see the person who will be receiving your gift; imagine what his or her days are like, their struggle to make the pieces of their lives fit, the despair and fear that part of their day-to-day existence.  Put as much time and thought into that gift as you put into a gift for your spouse or child or loved one. 

Then do one more thing.  Take the receipt for the gift and put in an envelope.  Then place the envelope on your Christmas tree, or near the family manger scene, or on your family table.  Make that person who will receive your gift – whom you will never meet or know – a part of your Christmas celebration.  Include them in the prayers you offer in joy for the coming of the Christ.  In your generosity and prayer, you can make God’s kingdom a reality for them.

O healing Lord, help us to realize this Advent our own “authority” to bring healing and hope to others.  By our own hidden and unremarkable efforts to live your Gospel of humble generosity, may we “drive out” the demons of despair, raise up the fallen and stumbling, and restore the lost and abandoned to hope in the coming of your kingdom.

TUESDAY of the Second Week of Advent

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated.
Isaiah 40: 1-11

Give comfort . . . speak tenderly . . . fear not . . .

In today’s first reading, God’s speaks through the prophet Isaiah, calling Israel to be the voice of his compassion and his hands of healing and compassion to one another.

Take up that call yourself today.  Be God’s prophet of compassion and peace for someone who is hurting.  Speak tenderly to someone in crisis or who is hurting, assuring them of your help and support.

Give comfort to someone in pain, in crisis, in doubt; mirror God’s peace to the suffering, the fearful and the doubting, help them see the presence of God in their lives.
Sometime today you will have the opportunity to be the voice of God’s comfort, peace, love.

So please speak up.

O God of compassion, unloosen our lips and open our hearts that we may speak your word of hope and compassion to all in our lives.  In the understanding and consolation we extend, may others hear your word of peace and be held in your loving embrace.

WEDNESDAY of the Second Week of Advent

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11: 28-30

Rest?  At this time of year!  Easy?  Have you seen my list of things to do between now and Christmas?!  Burden?!  The decorating, the shopping, the cooking, the cards, the mailing.  How can you even suggest we slow down, let alone “rest”!  We’re in full Christmas mode here!

Actually, this is the best time of the year to remind ourselves that Christ calls us to “rest” in him: to catch our breath, to clear our eyes to see what is important, to unplug the Jingle Bell machine and connect with the peace that is uniquely Christmas.

Easier said than done, of course.  But make time to embrace the true holiness, the “stillness” of this season.  Make room in these busy days to “rest,” to “unburden,” to soak in the peace of Christmas, to let our souls drink the cool water of the spring that is Christ, to embrace what God says to us in the quiet of our hearts.

May we find rest in you, Lord Jesus.  Help us to approach the expectations of these busy days in the spirit of your humble and meek heart, that we may celebrate your birth with wonder at your great love present in our midst.

FRIDAY of the Second Week of Advent

“To what shall I compare this generation?”
Matthew 11: 16-19

We can always find reasons not to act.  We can rationalize the behavior of the moment.  We can develop a sound, reasonable justification to reject whatever is too demanding of us, to avoid what makes us uncomfortable or threatens our comfort zone.

John the Baptizer?  Too austere, a downer, a real buzzkill.  Life is shouldn’t be so unhappy.

Jesus?  Why, he hangs out with sinners!  He’s too quick to forgive and let things slide.  It’s all just too touchy-feely.  Life is much more complex than Jesus’ nice words.

But Jesus challenges us to look deeper than the surface, to embrace a wisdom much more complete and timeless than the latest and newest, than the conventional wisdom.  The Gospel of Jesus and the Advent call of John call us to a life of meaning and purpose, of completeness and holiness that, yes, is demanding and disconcerting and uncomfortable.

So let us replace our cynicism with a sense of hope; let us see things not through eyes cloudy with disappointment but in the prism of Christ’s light; let us embrace the possibilities for restoration and renewal despite the sacrifice and change demanded of us.

May your Spirit of truth and wisdom guide us, O Lord, as we negotiate our Advent roads.  Help us to see your justice at the root of our most complicated issues, your reconciliation as the heart of all relationships, your compassion at work in the most hidden and forgotten places.

TUESDAY of the Third Week of Advent

I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who shall take refuge in the name of the LORD.
Zephaniah 3: 1-2, 9-13

The remnant – that small group of faithful souls who maintain, in a broken world, their hope and trust in God’s Word, who keep their eyes on God through the darkness enveloping them. 

Despite the violence and persecution around them, Zephaniah’s remnant carries on in God’s spirit of compassion and peace, continues to trust in God’s ways of reconciliation and justice.  The remnant, with humility and selflessness, reveals the generosity and kindness of God’s presence in the midst of life’s darkest, messiest moments.

We are part of this remnant.  God calls us in this Advent to be that bright – if small and hardly seen – shard of light illuminating the winter darkness with hope and joy.

Make us part of your remnant, O God.  Let your presence assure us when things seem hopeless; let your light illuminate our most dangerous paths.  May our most hidden acts of generosity and most humble works of justice be a stone in the building of your kingdom.

DECEMBER 17

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Matthew 1: 1-17

Getting together, being re-united with family, is one of the most wonderful aspects of this season.  During the holidays, most of us celebrate the great blessing our parents, children, brothers and sisters and extended family.  At Christmas we re-connect with those who came before us, with those who raised us and taught us, with those who made us the individuals we are and enabled us to grow and establish meaningful and fulfilling lives – and now, we try to do the same for those who come after us.  We cherish throughout the year the photos and letters we exchange and the videos we record this season.  In those images and letters, we realize how blessed we have been by God.

Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ “family album,” of sorts.  Matthew begins his Gospel story with a genealogy of Jesus’ ancestors.  His list includes desert nomads and kings, shepherds and farmers, craftsmen and peasants, saints and sinners, men and women.

And that “list” includes all of us — and our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.  In God, we are connected to one another – and through one another, we are connected to God.  We are embraced in the love of God that gives birth to all of creation; we are made whole in the love of God that takes on our humanity in a little cave in Bethlehem.  In God’s love, we become family.

God of all times and seasons, you reveal your love in and to every generation; your presence blesses us in every loving, nurturing friendship.  As we have experienced your generous and healing love within our own families, may we be vessels of that love for those who follow us; may our friendships with others be the means for building a lasting and loving relationship with you, the Source of all that is good and loving.  

DECEMBER 19

. . . Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this?  For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
Luke 1: 5-25

We all have our Zechariah moments when things just seem impossible, out of sync with our expectations, unreasonable and absurd.  How can God expect me – me?! – to be able to do this?  Me – incompetent, talentless, sinful little me!

Yet God calls every one of us – Zechariahs all – to bring his justice and mercy to birth in our own time and place.  Sometimes we need a Gabriel to remind us not to worry or be afraid, to put aside our doubts and fears and allow ourselves to hope, to realize the possibilities, to embrace God’s grace despite ourselves. 

As Zechariah learns, sometimes it’s a matter of being quiet and doing the hard work of hope.

Help us, O Lord, to put aside the fears and doubts that prevent us from bringing your compassion and peace to birth in our own homes and stables.  Still our spirits, quiet our hearts, so that we may always find reason to hope and believe that reconciliation and love are always possible, despite our doubts and cynicism.

DECEMBER 21

Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”
Luke 1: 39-45

Elizabeth is one of the remarkable figures of the Gospel.  Mary’s “going in haste” to be with her indicates the love and esteem she held for her elder cousin.

Elizabeth seems to be everyone’s “big sister” and “godmother” in her family.  Mary goes to be with her during what had to be a difficult pregnancy for the older woman – but Mary undoubtedly sought Elizabeth’s wisdom and experience to help the teenager sort out the incredible, inexplicable thing that was happening to her.  Elizabeth’s greeting “most blessed are you among women” is one of affirmation and comfort to her young cousin.

Elizabeth possesses the depth of faith to see God’s hand in all of this — and the courage and trust to welcome it.  Her ability to recognize the holy in her midst enables her to support Mary in her young cousin’s most traumatic hour; it gives her the strength to bear the physical pain of bearing a child at her own advanced age.  As must have been the case in all of her life, the wise Elizabeth sees God in yet

another difficult and confusing moment in her life.
This Christmas, let us be grateful for the Elizabeths in our own families, those who by their generosity of heart, joyfulness of spirit, and wisdom of years help us realize God’s presence in our midst.

O God, we thank you for the Elizabeths of our own families, who are sources of love, wisdom and support for all the members of our families.  Bless them with the happiness and grace that they give to us; hold them in your loving embrace as they hold each member of our family in theirs.

DECEMBER 24

“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
Luke 1: 67-79

There is a legend in Northern Canada that at midnight on Christmas Eve, a mysterious spirit of peace prevails throughout the world, a spirit so powerful and all-encompassing that even the cattle in the stables and the deer in the forest fall to their knees in adoration.

Shakespeare referred to this mysterious Christmas peace at the beginning of Hamlet (act 1, scene 1):

Some say that whenever that season comes
Wherein our Savior’s birth is celebrated
The bird of dawn sings all night long;
They say that no spirit can walk abroad;
No planet strikes,
No fairy takes,
No witch has power to charm,
So hallowed and gracious is this time.

May that spirit of peace reign in our homes not just for the next 48 hours but every day of every year.

May we keep in every season the good cheer that enables us to put aside our struggles and squabbles for the Christmas holiday.  And may we continue to give the true gifts of Christmas – compassion and peace – that join heaven and earth not just tonight but even in the midst of the darkest nights of our lives.

Come, Lord, and make you dwelling in our own mangers and inns.  May Christmas not just “interrupt” our normal flow of time but may we allow Christmas to transform time, as well.  Let your Spirit prevail in our homes and hearts every night and every day.  May the song of the angels be sung and heard with joy in every season of the New Year:  Peace on earth to all God’s people.   

C h r i s t m a s

DECEMBER 27

St. John, apostle and evangelist

Mary Magdalene ran and went to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we do not know where they put him.” 
John 20: 1a, 2-8

If you were to compose your own version of the life of Jesus, what would you write?  What stories of Jesus, what wonders that he worked, what details of his life and death – and resurrection – would you include?

The very idea of trying to write a Gospel is too daunting a challenge to take seriously.

But we do write the Gospel.  Our lives are – or should be – the Gospel.  The values we live, the moral lessons we teach our children, the ethical code by which we conduct our lives, are our retelling of the Gospel.  The hope we cling to, the justice we fight for, the peace we seek to create in our homes and communities is the story of Jesus in our midst.

On this third day of the Christmas season, we celebrate the feast of the writer of the Fourth Gospel.  John was one of Jesus’ closest friends and intimates and witnessed many of the events and people he chronicles in his story of Jesus. As we remember John and the beautiful Gospel he wrote, let us remember that we too are Gospel writers, that the love we give and receive, the forgiveness we seek and extend, the kindness we offer and are blessed to receive, all proclaim in a language more beautiful than words the Gospel of Jesus, the Word made flesh who dwells among us.

Write your Gospel on our hearts, O God, and give our spirits voice to proclaim it as we seek to imitate the humble compassion and selfless servanthood of your Christ.  Let even our simplest, most ordinary acts of generosity and comfort mirror your Word who lives in our midst as the Risen One.

DECEMBER 28

The Holy Innocents, martyrs

[Herod] ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.
Matthew 2: 13-18

Every day of every year, innocent people lose their homes and livelihoods in the wake of war, conflict, drought, fire and storm.  Every day of every year, innocent people are struck down by poverty and disease.  Every day of every year innocent people are victimized by greed and racism.  Every day of every year innocent people die as the result of violent hatred or criminal behavior.

The innocent have done nothing to warrant what happens to them.  They are at the mercy of the unmerciful; they depended on justice from the unjust; they trusted in institutions that are badly broken.

Today we remember the Holy Innocents, the children who perished in Herod’s murderous wrath to destroy the Christ Child.  In recalling their martyrdom, let us remember the innocent martyrs in our place and time, who suffer and die as a result of Herod-like hatred, selfishness and injustice in our own Jerusalems.  May we open our hearts to the Rachels and their children in our midst, embracing them in the same love in which we are embraced by God.

God of mercy, open our hearts to hear the cries of the many innocent victims of war, addiction and abuse.  By your grace and their inspiration, may we work to bring comfort and healing, justice and freedom to a world broken and enslaved.

DECEMBER 30

There was a prophetess, Anna . . . advanced in years [who] never left the temple, but worshipped night and day with fasting and prayer.  And coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.
Luke 2: 36-40

Anna lives right here in our own parish and community.  She is the elderly woman who struggles to come to church every day or prays every morning in her room.  She keeps a list of all the people she prays for: the granddaughter who just gave birth to her first great-child, the son and daughter-in-law who are going through a difficult time in their relationship, the grandson off to his first year of college, the neighbor about to undergo surgery.  She has a kind word for everyone she meets.  She radiates kindness and graciousness.

Most families have an Anna: the grandmother (or grandfather, for that matter) or great aunt (or uncle) who has become a model of kindness and a source of wisdom for the family and who, with compassion and care, provides a listening heart and loving counsel to all who come to her. 
So let us give thanks today for the Anna’s in our families and parish.  And let us pray that we may become Anna’s for the people of love, that we may help them realize the presence of God in their midst.

O God, we thank you for the Anna’s in our lives whose prayer and presence among us reveal your love among us.  Open our hearts to receive your Son into our homes and hearts with joyful gratitude.  May his presence in our lives enable us to become, like Anna, prophets of your justice and mercy and ministers of your compassion and peace. 

JANUARY 3

John testified further, saying, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him.”
John 1: 29-34

In his African village, Zacharias served for many years as a catechist and elder of his parish.  After a long life of service to his church and the people of Kenya, Zacharias was laid to rest.  After the funeral, another catechist said of Zacharias, “We will miss him.  He went ki-sabuni"-- Swahili for “like a bar of soap.”

“Like a what?” she was asked.

“Ki-sabuni," she repeated.  “You know.  In the house, the bar of soap sits next to the basin, available morning, noon and night to all -- children, adults, the elderly, family and guests alike.  It never discriminates or complains of being used and reused.  It is taken for granted as it slowly disappears, until someone exclaims, 'Gosh, the soap is gone!' Zacharias was that kind of man."

[From a story by Father Gerry Nolf in Once Upon A Time in Africa.]

Old Zacharias’ humble and generous “soap-like” service to his people gives voice to the presence of the Lamb of God among them.  The Spirit of God that John saw in Jesus at his baptism, the Spirit of God that comes down upon us at our own baptisms enables us to speak the good news of God's presence in our midst and to imitate the selfless generosity and compassionate forgiveness of Jesus. 
Through our own acts of compassion and generosity, of justice and forgiveness, may we let ourselves be “used up” in the love and mercy of God that has dawned upon all of us in Christ.  

Come down, O Spirit of God; dwell within us, hover over us.  Let us be “used up like soap” for the sake of others that our works of reconciliation and justice may reveal your kingdom of mercy and compassion in our midst.