Tuesday; Dec. 12

Read Psalm 33:1-11

from Richard Howard, Morgantown, WV

For the Church, the body of Christ on earth, nothing reveals the joy we can experience in our relationship with the Lord more than our music.  Psalm 33 today begins with that joyous call to “Rejoice in the Lord…”  How can one rejoice without a song in our hearts and on our lips?  Even if we can’t “carry a tune even with a bucket,” music in praise of God stirs us in ways that nothing else in the Church ever can!  It is said that if you want to know what Methodists believe theologically, turn to their hymnody.  That’s true of many denominations as well.  When we sing our Advent hymns at this time of year, we hear the barely contained joy at our anticipation of the coming of the Christ child.

Many of us wish to rush into the singing of Christmas hymns right after Thanksgiving, but to do so is to miss the opportunity to allow the joyous anticipation within us to build and build.  Letting Advent be Advent makes the arrival of Christmas ever more special.  So, I invite you to do as the Psalmist calls us today to do with the anticipatory music that represents Advent: “Praise the Lord with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings. Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.”  As we move through the Advent season, allow the music of Heaven to move within you, to ever spill out in all its joy as we joyously anticipate that greatest gift of all.

Gracious God, may our harps, and our lyres,

and our voices ever reveal the joy of your love.  Amen.

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Prayerscapes for Advent is published by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.  WV and PA Disciples ministers have given themselves to this wonderful project, which will provide daily devotions in your inbox from Dec. 3 through Jan. 6.  We hope you will share the word with others who would appreciate receiving them, and direct your friends to https://prayerscapes.wordpress.com.  They also will be published daily on our Facebook pages.

All of this is made possible because of your faithful support of Disciples Mission Fund, and the Christmas Offering for Regional Ministries.  Please consider how your gifts will help us continue our work, and encourage others toward generosity in this vital mission.

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Read Exodus 12:1-14

On this blessed day, we in essence are beginning a new life.  The tomb is empty.  Jesus was raised!  Our Scripture lesson reminds us of another beginning of new life, and the preparations that would be needed to begin that new journey.  For the newly-liberated Hebrews in Egypt, a new, exciting, dangerous life journey lay before them – life that would require sacrifice.  In the freedom that God was offering, they would have to risk much, but the rewards would be great“Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people.”  (I Peter 2:10)

The advent of the Easter season once more offers us new life, and a renewal of the journey.  The 18th Century reformer, John Wesley, called upon his fellow travelers in the Christian faith to journey towards “Christian Perfection”.  At ordination services in the United Methodist Church to this day, ordination candidates are asked the questions, “Are you moving towards perfection?” and “Do you expect to reach it in your lifetime?”  The expected answer in both cases is a resounding “yes!”.  The perfection sought is not to be perfect in all things, but rather to be faithful in the journey to which we are called as Christians, as imitators of Christ.  To be to the world as the resurrected One would be.  May this Easter season find each of you committed to the journey of new life!

Loving God, grant us strength to make the journey,

walk with us along the way, and at its conclusion, receive us into your glory.

Richard Howard

Morgantown, WV

 Read Hebrews 5:5-10

Dictionary.com defines “Priest” as “a person whose office it is to perform religious rites, and especially to make sacrificial offerings.”  In today’s Scripture lesson, we have Jesus’ priesthood proclaimed and confirmed, not only for himself, but for all whom he represents.  Historically priests were the ones who, on behalf of their societies, offered up sacrifices which were hoped to be pleasing to God, therefore deflecting negative divine actions towards them, or opening up the flow of heavenly blessings upon them.  The concept of sacrifice is key to defining the term “priest.”

In Jesus’ case, the “sacrifice” became no longer a “thing.”  The sacrifice offered up to God became his own life and person – his own physical and spiritual selves.  By doing this, he set the example for each of us who claim the mantle of “Christian” – one who lives in imitation of Christ.  May this Lenten season lead us to ever greater sacrifices to God on behalf of those God loves.

Gracious God, teach us each day to offer ourselves up in sacrificial ways, that your creation may benefit greatly from our gifts.

Richard Howard

Morgantown, WV

Saturday, Dec. 3          Read Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

from Richard Howard, Morgantown, WV:

As people of hope, we want to believe that God is a God of justice, peace, joy and righteousness.  Such hope is reflected in Psalm 72 today, for in it we hear prayers for a God who will be in love with all the people of God’s creation, not just with the proverbial “chosen” few.  Prayers are offered for all needy children, as well as for God’s healing and hope for all who suffer.  God’s special compassion is sought for all oppressed and burdened people bearing the brunt of others’ manipulation and greed.  And the Psalmist implores God’s special care for all who are hungry, poor and needy.  Psalm 72 reminds us to pray continually for a generous spirit so that all people everywhere will nurture God’s creation and share their prosperity with all others who are not receiving such blessings.

Like the One born so long ago, yet who lives within and amongst us even today, we pray for a generosity of spirit to flourish amongst all people, so that it may serve as a sure sign of the in-breaking of the fullness of your Reign on earth. Amen.

We express our gratitude to the ministers of the regions who have offered their devotional thoughts and prayers through this project, which is sustained by your gifts to the Christmas Offering for Regional Ministry.  To contribute to the offering, please visit the following pages:  Supporting the PA Region   or    Supporting the WV Region

Prayerscapes is published by the Christian Church in West Virginia and the Christian Church in Pennsylvania for the not-for-profit distribution of their members and friends in the ecumenical church.  ©2016. All Rights Reserved.

This ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in West Virginia is supported by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund.

Read Psalm 30 

from Richard Howard, Morgantown, West Virginia

Lent is a time for personal reflection on our brokenness of relationship, especially between us and God. This Psalm reminds us that such brokenness does not have to remain a permanent disconnection. It takes note of this right from the beginning as it addresses God’s protection of the Psalmist from all foes, which comes by the restoration of the Divine-human relationship. Now, the “foes” of Psalm 30 can literally be other people, but “foes” could also be all those things, events and situations that cause confusion, sadness, even grief, that happen over the course of our lives. They could be times of sickness, the loss of loved ones through death or estrangement, even the loss of meaning or purpose in life itself. The Psalmist proclaims, however, that with petition for divine intervention, God will respond and lift us up, heal us, and restore us to wholeness. Therefore, while a being a work of personal thanksgiving, Psalm 30 also has a public dimension. It is a work of personal thanksgiving meant to be expressed within one’s faith community, in order to testify to the glory and goodness of God. It reminds us that God has chosen to enter into an interdependent relationship with creation itself – that God wants to be in relationship with us, and in turn have us embrace the love of the Divine as our own. With God in our lives, we can indeed have our mourning turn into dancing, and cast off our sackcloth to be clothed with joy. In this reflective time, let us praise God and not be silent. Let us give God thanks forever.

We praise you, O God, as a people redeemed by your love.  Now fill our lives with joy that dances the faith into your world!

Read John 1:19-28

from Rev. Richard Howard, Morgantown

In today’s lesson we encounter John the Baptist (or “Baptizer”), a man we think we know very well. In the Synoptic Gospels, he is spoken of by Jesus in Matthew and Mark, and by an angel in Luke as the new Elijah. Here, however, we find John himself denying that identity, then go in to claim a title that is more important to each individual Christian: “Witness.”   As Jesus is referred to as the “first born of the dead,” perhaps John should be celebrated as the “first witness” or “first testifier.” Why is John’s role in this world as defined in this fourth gospel so key for us today? Because he goes out and does what we are called to do: to go out and witness, or testify to who and what Jesus is for us and for the world: Savior.

This Advent season has been closed by the fulfillment of its promise: the arrival of Jesus. Today, in this passage, John sets the foundational standard on which we are to build our faith: proclamation that Jesus is Lord!

Gracious God, grant us strength and courage to boldly testify to the new life that is found in Jesus, that all who hear our testimony will rejoice and embrace your salvation.

Read Isaiah 7:10-16

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,

Ask a sign of the LORD your God;

let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.

But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.

Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David!

Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.

Look, the young woman is with child

and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.

He shall eat curds and honey

by the time he knows

how to refuse the evil and choose the good.

For before the child knows

how to refuse the evil and choose the good,

the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.

 

from Rev. Richard Howard

First Christian Church, Morgantown

There are times in our lives when we want tangible assurance about our faith. We desire some sign about the reality of God to guide us when full of doubt. King Ahaz desperately wanted assurance that the decisions he was making were right. The prophet Isaiah urged Ahaz to ask the LORD God for a sign, but Ahaz had wandered so far off from the LORD God that he was afraid to ask. God, through Isaiah, gave Ahaz one anyway.   Ahaz wanted God to smite Judah’s enemies and bless his reign and the foreign alliances he had made. Instead God, through Isaiah, told Ahaz of a child to be born soon to a young woman of the kingdom, a son who would be named “Immanuel” or “God with us.”

Isn’t this often the case? We want God to promise to go powerfully before us, to make our way in life smooth and level. Instead, God promises that whatever we encounter, he will be with us in the journey. As Christians, we have traditionally looked at this passage from Isaiah and interpreted it to be the promise of the gift of Jesus into our lives and world. While not the original interpretation, as we look at it through our Christian “lenses,” we can see the promise of God through Isaiah revealed in the gift of another child – Jesus.

We want a sense that God is with us in meaningful ways. The promise found in the journey of Jesus in our world offers us that sense. The author of the Gospel of Matthew looked at Isaiah 7 and saw the promise of God in the child named Immanuel to be fulfilled in the child Jesus. It is in Jesus that we, too, will find the fulfillment of the promise of Immanuel. In Jesus, we will find that God is indeed with us, always.

O God, help me to see your promised fulfilled

in the coming of your Holy Child. Amen.