While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn
child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the
Born in a barn? Maybe not. “Guestroom” - that’s a much better translation than the older English versions that say “inn.” The Greek word is kataluma and it is used only once more in the Bible, when Jesus refers to an “upper room” where he will celebrate the Last Supper. Maybe we have missed the beauty of this moment by thinking of Mary and Joseph being desperate and alone on this wonderful
night. Jewish culture was big on hospitality. Would an innkeeper turn out a highly pregnant woman?
Wouldn’t another guest give up his room and sleep on a cot?
Perhaps there is a better way to read the story: Mary and Joseph arrive at his family’s hometown. They’re going to stay at a cousin’s house, or an aunt’s. But others are already occupying the upstairs guestroom (and besides, a highly pregnant woman doesn’t need to be climbing outside stairs up to the rooftop room), so Mary is brought into the main living quarter which, yes, did in fact include a manger for the animals to eat from on cold nights. And so, Jesus is born surrounded by love - by caring women helping bring him into this world - and not in some back alley stable.
Where is Christ born among us today? When we show care for others; when we bring them into our homes, our lives, and wrap them in love.
For further reading:
Almighty God, open my eyes to those around me who need love in action. Help me to share my life and my home with them, and may Christ be born among us as I do this in His name.
Kenneth Myers was born in 1959 in Denison, Texas. After 38 years of pastoral ministry (as a pastor, priest, and bishop) he created Graceworks Teaching Minister in 2014 and now spends his time writing books and traveling
throughout the U.S. leading seminars based on his writings. His newest book, Look at Us, tells the story of his romance and love affair with his late wife. More details about Ken including contact information can be found at www.kennethmyers.net.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
A voice is crying out:
“Clear the Lord’s way in the desert!
Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!
Every valley will be raised up,
and every mountain and hill will be flattened.
Uneven ground will become level,
and rough terrain a valley plain.
The Lord’s glory will appear,
and all humanity will see it together;
the Lord’s mouth has commanded it.”
I drove down the newly constructed road, knowing it would cut at least five minutes from my trip. It wasn’t even rush hour. During rush hour, it was really cutting ten to fifteen minutes out of my commute. I marveled at how straight and smooth my drive was. The contractors had built the road through forest and swamp. Hills had to be vanquished, and valleys had to be filled. When you consider highway construction, it really is a technological marvel.
When we think about peace, we often consider how X marks the spot. We are focused on the result. The finished highway in the wilderness. We don’t consider all the steps to get to peace. Those steps are usually anything but peaceful. Dynamite displaces tons of earth and rock. Bulldozers rip up trees. Boiling hot pavement is painted on the land. The conclusion might be a peaceful drive, but the process is anything but.
This is true for highways, and it’s true for peace in general. Finding peace is a dirty, hard-working mess. It’s blood, sweat and tears. Peace is work. Always was, and always will be. Remember that as you sing, “Peace on earth, goodwill towards all.” Peace is a process, and one we work towards every day.
God of love, hope, joy and peace. Help us find the moments where we should act in this world. Action, that will bring us closer to peace. Amen.
Rev. Melissa Fain was ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with duel partnership between First Christian Church of Atlanta, and First Christian Church of Marietta.
She has a BA in Music from Kennesaw State University and a Masters of Divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University. She is currently the senior minister at Fig Tree Christian. Melissa is the mother of two wonderful children, and wife to a great and supportive husband. In her spare time, she loves arts and crafts which includes making costumes from scratch, and knotted bracelets.
She has used her continuing education to study new church plants and church redevelopment.
-Rev. Craig A. McDonald-
While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom.
Sometimes you have to work with what you’ve got. In this small segment of text we have the climax of the story but it’s overshadowed by the fact that they can’t even find a place for Mary to have her child with dignity. One would have thought they could squeeze a little bit to make room for at least Mary and her child. Surely there was another guest who was staying at the inn that was like…oh wait…please take my space since you’re about about have a child! It is surprising that there isn’t anyone who steps up to show even just a little bit of compassion to Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. It must have felt like rejection in their time of need.
There are a couple of things that we can take away from this place. The first is that it is precisely the Inn’s purpose in this story to reveal the lack of hospitality and it’s inability to impede arrival of the Good News. Mary and Joseph have overcome much to be in this moment including a dangerous journey (as much travel was), cultural judgment and barriers concerning their relationship, and now they overcome an inhospitable delivery room.
The second thing that we might take away from the Inn is that it is, of course, something for us to be on the lookout lest we mirror that behavior. Hospitality is a key element of of the Hebrew tradition and Jesus’ ministry. The Inn highlights the injustice of their situation and shares with us an opportunity to ask, ‘what is hospitality?’
Many Latino communities celebrate a tradition called Las Posadas. There are variations in how it is celebrated but the gist is that community members travel to another’s house or church. Some members represent Mary and Joseph as they are in search of hospitality while the other community members represent the innkeeper. They sing and call back and forth, Mary and Joseph pleading for space and the innkeeper denying them a place. However, in this story the innkeeper begins to recognize that this is Mary and Joseph, recognizing the Spirit. Everyone is invited in and a great feast is shared!
This tradition empowers us to look at the world and open our hearts to the spirit of God in others. They may be people we know or they may be strangers. They may be people like us or they may be very different. The point is that we have the opportunity to rewrite the story and to invite Mary and Jospeh in. We have the chance to share that hospitality that was once denied. Let us be open wherever we find ourselves.
Loving God, let us be open to the sharing and receiving of hospitality and may we always find the courage to make space.
Rev. Craig McDonald is an ordained minister with the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), most recently serving First Christian Church of Rome, GA. Rev. Craig served as a Young Adult Pastor at Arch Street UMC in Philadelphia, PA, as Associate Pastor at Mercy Community Church in Atlanta, and as a Youth Pastor at Sandy Springs Christian Church. He earned his MDiv from Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, and earned his Bachelor’s degree from Columbus State University.
Craig loves mountain biking and all things outdoors. He and his wife, Megan, enjoy cooking, traveling, and hiking with their dog Maxwell.
-Rev Becki Barrett-
Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.
A few years ago, I returned to my childhood home. I stood on the sidewalk and felt the hot sun remind me of the day I returned from school to find a huge mound of dirt waiting to become a playground for me and my friends. We ran. We rolled. We skipped and jumped. The dirt felt cool below the top layer and stuck to our faces with sweat.
Finally, when it was time to go inside, my mom’s car pulled into the driveway and I felt the sting of her disappointed gaze. What was a huge mound of playground dirt had blown away into a small, mediocre heap – far smaller than the costly order she had placed for soft dirt awaiting our new sprinkler system the following day. Busted.
Memories of home flood when your feet hit the ground of a familiar sight. Celebrations and ordinary days – arguments, arrivals and departures. Regardless of the experiences, returning home has a sort of gut-filling resonation that reminds us from where we came and how far we have (or God-forbid have not) come. There is nothing like returning home.
Entering Bethlehem must have felt something like returning to his home, for Joseph. This was David’s City – the city that belonged to his family line. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house, maybe he belonged to David’s city, as well. Maybe this place would bring him the provision he needed to care for his wife in the midst of this mandated registration. Maybe returning to the place of his ancestry would provide some answers to the predicament they found themselves in: unwed, with child, homeless, and alone.
We all find ourselves, from time to time, in situations where ‘home’ seems far away. The responsibilities of caring for our children, our churches, our families, the demands of financial security, the energy to connect to those we love in meaningful ways – all the demands of adulthood can leave us longing to stand on the sidewalk of our childhood home and return to the comfort of knowing someone else is in charge.
As Mary and Joseph make their way to their home in a stable, we are reminded that the point of Advent IS that someone else is in charge. Advent points us to the presence of Jesus Christ, with us, as we find our home in God wherever we find ourselves in this world. Advent directs us to the playfulness and security of ‘home’ with Jesus’ promise to be with us. What we are in charge of is remembering - remembering God is in charge and our home is found in Him.
Jesus, help me remember that Your world does not rest on my shoulders. May my home be found in You and may I take the time to remember to play on a hillside and feel Your loving presence as I find my joy in you. Amen.
Rev. Becki Barrett is the Senior Pastor at Overlake Park PC in Bellevue, WA. Born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, Becki attended Whitworth University receiving a degree in Secondary Education and then graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2002. Becki has held pastoral positions leading family ministry, mission, caring ministry, and became an executive pastor before her call to be a senior pastor in Bellevue, WA. She loves all areas of ministry and developed her own leadership development coaching company because of her love for developing strong leaders using Strengths Finder 2.0. Becki served as the chair of the Personnel Committee for the Seattle Presbytery for six years and now loves her work as the Moderator of the Executive Committee. At OPPC, Becki is known for her humor, energy, and love for Jesus, the church and the Bellevue neighborhood. At home, she is known for hiking, reading fiction, and travel.
-Rev Melissa Fain-
In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea.
The only sure things in life is death and taxes.
We had just moved back home with our young son and newborn daughter. Our belongings were still in their boxes. Our four-person family was cramped in a home meant for two. In almost every home, including the one we now live in, our garage was spotless save for our cars and a few bikes. In this home, the garage was filled with everything that we didn’t immediately need. It spoke to our displacement.
We were getting our life on track again: Paying hospital bills, and finding our new center when we were hit with a new blow. Our tax preparer made a $3,000 mistake and the IRS had come to collect. Suddenly we were filling out paperwork, putting everything else aside until we could figure out the tax problem.
I can’t possibly understand what it must have been like in an Ancient Near East context. It’s something that is, in almost every way, foreign to me. Yet, there is a grain of understanding that I can relate to. I know what it’s like to feel displaced in what is considered your own home, needing to focus on taxes when life feels so much more important. It’s not like the census had magically ended when Jesus was born. In the midst of a miracle, regular life still happened.
We tend to forget the regular stuff during the Advent season. The kids still have projects for school; the bills still need to be paid. Life, death and taxes are still a thing. We want to give our love and focus to Christmas, and the rituals surrounding it. Sometimes, that’s just not practical. That’s okay. Life continues. It’s not that life must stop so Christmas can happen. It’s that God joins us in life to celebrate Christmas.
Redeeming God, in loss and gain, in heartache and immense joy, in stress and idleness, help me see your presence in my life. Amen
- Tyler Jarvis-
Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.”
Eleven months out of the year, I am a Scrooge. I’m pretty sure that when I first saw Christmas decorations in the store in September, I actually used the phrase “Bah, Humbug!” I complain (loudly and often) whenever I hear Christmas music on the radio in November. When I see someone’s Christmas decorations still up in January, I offer silent (and sometimes not so silent) judgment on that person.
But something happens to me between the time I go to bed on November 30th and when I wake up on December 1st. Every December 1st, I wake up in the Christmas Spirit. I listen to Christmas songs. I put up my Christmas tree, and will often just sit and watch the lights. I watch Christmas movies. I drink a lot of hot chocolate, and use my fireplace almost daily (even when it’s 70 degrees, as it often is in Texas in December). I read the Nativity passages and the Messianic prophecies. And through all of this, I feel a sense of Joyful Anticipation and Peace.
And I think I’m taking my cue from Elizabeth. When she sees her cousin Mary, Elizabeth and the baby inside her are filled with the Holy Spirit and a sense of great joy. Joy because they know that God is fulfilling God’s promises. Excitement, because they know that the season has come where they will experience God’s salvation. More than that—They will be participants in that salvation!
It’s probably not good for me to be a Scrooge the other 11 months out of the year, but in the month of December it’s very good for us to join Elizabeth in her joyful anticipation, to leap for joy at the coming of the Messiah, and to rest in the peace of salvation that is coming because of the birth of Mary’s child.
Father of Peace, fill us with the Joy of Anticipation that Elizabeth felt. Give us your Spirit that we may believe your promises and become willful and active participants in them. Amen.
Tyler Jarvis enjoys hanging out with his wife, laying in his hammock, reading theology books, and writing. He holds a Master of Divinity from Lubbock Christian University, and has served as the Youth and Family Minister at the Oak Ridge Church of Christ in Willow Park, Tx since 2011. He can be found online at www.tylerjarvis.com or on Twitter (@Tyler Jarvis).
-Rev. Ashley Sherard-
The angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayers have been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will give birth to your son and you must name him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many people will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the Lord’s eyes. He must not drink wine and liquor. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before his birth. He will bring many Israelites back to the Lord their God. He will go forth before the Lord, equipped with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will turn the hearts of fathers[a] back to their children, and he will turn the disobedient to righteous patterns of thinking. He will make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Don’t be afraid, Zechariah.
“Do not be afraid,” is a pretty common phrase when it comes to messages from God. I can only imagine that there was some fear in Zechariah despite the Angel’s attempt at being comforting.
Fear is a common feeling with parents and parents to be, I believe. I remember being pregnant with my oldest and the absolute terror of not knowing what to do or how to do it. My parents, his parents, doctors, nurses, friends, were all offering their two cents on how to raise this little one; all of the suggestions contradicting the others. I wonder how I would’ve felt if an angel had appeared and given me some clue about who this child was and what they were expected to do if I would’ve been any less scared. I mean, maybe I would know that I need to buy books on certain subjects or make sure they have plenty of art supplies. Of course, as they grow and I learn and they learn I realize God is telling me who they are and what He expects of them. God shows me he is with them and me, just like Zechariah, Elizabeth, and John.
We should be always open to the messages God is sending us, it may not be an angel who clearly maps out your child’s future but, perhaps, it’s a child’s love for finger paint, or singing, or playing Dr. with her stuffed animals that we see God’s plan start to unfold. John’s parents knew his path only because Zechariah heard the angel, open your heart to hearing God in your child’s life as well.
Creator, please remind me that this precious child is a gift from you, given to me for a time to “train up in the way he should go”. Remind me of your plan for his/her life in bold and subtle ways and make me a vessel of your love to them. Amen.
Rev. Ashley Sherard is the Pastor of Beechwood Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in French Lick, IN. She has been the Pastor at Beechwood for approximately two months and is loving every minute of getting to know this vibrant faith community.
Ashley is the mother of three amazing little girls who have been her greatest strength and driving force.
-Pastor Holly Jo Engle-
“The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill my gracious promise with the people of Israel and Judah. In those days and at that time, I will raise up a righteous branch from David’s line, who will do what is just and right in the land. In those days, Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is what he will be called: The Lord Is Our Righteousness.”
There are many injustices in our present world. Countless people wake up to the cold wind because they slept in an alley last night. A father tries to scrounge up enough change to buy his daughter the new shoes she so desperately needs. A family of five waits in line at a soup kitchen. A woman tries to block out the racial slurs being hurled her way as she sits on the city bus. An elementary student savors the last bite of his Friday school lunch; because he knows there won’t be another meal until Monday. A newly-hired worker prays her car will start this morning.
All of these scenarios have something in common- hope. Each one of these people finds hope in a warm blanket, a sandwich, the next bus stop, or the turning over of an engine. The horrible circumstances we find ourselves in can only be eased by a feeling of hope for tomorrow-something to look forward to.
God spoke to Jeremiah and entrusted him with a prophesy that would rock the very foundation of our world. The words created an image of a liberator coming to rescue the people from the injustices they endured and bring about a hope that could not be shaken. “..a righteous branch from David’s line” proved there would be a savior, in human form, that would come to earth to set them free. The hope that was spoken here became a beacon of light that would lead those afflicted with pain and grief to a brighter tomorrow.
I am reminded of the hymn, “The Solid Rock”, by Edward Mote. The words so eloquently describe the “beacon” that saved humanity. “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” These words intensify the promise and the expectation that was fulfilled in Bethlehem.
We must remember to speak up for those who have no voice. Through Jesus, we can extend the hope we all received in that prophesy. We can prove to his people they are loved and deserve justice.
Holy Father, thank you for the hope we find in Jesus Christ. Help us to spread the hope by standing up for our fellow man. Amen.
Pastor Holly Jo Engle serves the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Blytheville, AR. Her mission has been providing a safe and nurturing environment for children and families to worship freely. She finds hope in the hymns and is heavily involved in choirs and musical ministries. Not only is she involved in religious education, but also in public education. Her public-school experience ranges from grades K-6 with a focus on curriculum and instruction. Her favorite verse is Psalm 47:1 because it is important that everyone find joy in their worship!
Mary said, “With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior.”
Mary’s Song. The Magnificat. It gets read and sung in churches around the world during the Advent and Christmas seasons. It is a hymn of praise from Mary’s lips to God’s ears, but a close reading will show that it is also a manifesto of topsy-turvy change. Maybe the closest modern day comparison is Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A Changin’. Yes, Mary’s Song is a subversive protest song!
Dylan sang, “For the loser now will be later to win,” and, “For the first one now will later be last.” Mary sang, “He has scattered those with arrogant thoughts and proud inclinations. He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed” (Luke 1.51-53).
When God shows up in the world (and in our lives), things may get messy for a while (think the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s or the unrest in our own time). There will definitely be some tumult. But the end result will be God’s Kingdom manifesting. The key is to not get too comfortable with the status quo, and be ready to embrace the change that God brings our way.
Almighty God, open my eyes to see you in the changes and vicissitudes of life. Help me to cling to you rather than to comfort. And make me an instrument of godly change in the world. Amen.
Kenneth Myers was born in 1959 in Denison, Texas. After 38 years of pastoral ministry (as a pastor, priest, and bishop) he created Graceworks Teaching Minister in 2014 and now spends his time writing books and traveling throughout the U.S. leading seminars based on his writings. His newest book, Look at Us, tells the story of his romance and love affair with his late wife. More details about Ken including contact information can be found at www.kennethmyers.net.
-Rev Amy BeVille-
Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Mary could not have known what was to come when she offered, “Here am I…” It seems to me that none of us knows at critical junctures in our lives, what is to come.
Christmases come and go. What the day may hold is kindly unknown. This year begins with trepidation; perhaps every year does. My father has Alzheimers.
At six thirty, I call my dad’s caregiver and ask if he is up. “He’s already had his coffee. We’ll have your dad ready!” I get in my car; an unusual gift of 2 inches of snow lies on the ground. Ahhh, a white Christmas; dreams are made of such things. I drive through the winter wonderland to pick up my dad. He is excited and ready to roll. Back in the car, we talk.
“Beautiful, huh, Dad?”
He nods. He asks if it is Friday.
I say, “No, its Christmas day… its Saturday.”
“Merry Christmas, Dad!”
“Merry Christmas,” he replies with little affect. “Where are we going?”
“We’re going to open Christmas presents.” He nods.
The roads are a bit slicker; snow is still falling. I down-shift; the car begins to slide from side to side.
“What do you think dad? Do you think we can make it?”
“I believe we can.”
“Do you know who taught me to drive in the snow?”
“Oh, that’s right.”
“How am I doing?”
“I think everything will be okay.”
“Yes, everything will be okay.”
“Dad, if we’re gonna make it up the next hill, we’re gonna have to get some speed. What do you think?”
“I think if you do this everything will be alright.”
“Can you feel us sliding?”
“I think you’re doing the right thing.”
“I’ve got to go faster or we’ll never make it.”
Words echoing: everything will be alright. I wonder if he had said them to me when I was younger? I wonder if he said them for me or for him? I wonder if they are just words that somehow made the long trip from his brain across his lips? Everything will be alright.We join the family. Dad sits by the Christmas tree and opens his presents. He doesn’t realize there is a gift inside. Gifts lay on his lap, and he doesn’t notice. I look at my dad, “What are you thinking?”
“You know I’m not quite right.”
“What do you think I should do?”
“Well, Dad, just sit back and enjoy the fire.”
“The fire needs another log,” he reminds me yet again.
“Everything’s gonna be alright.” I put another log on the fire.
Here we are, Lord. Going through our lives, our struggles as well as precious moments of joy… striving to be the people you call us to be. May we accept your gift of a Savior, who comforts us and leads us to safe places when we need to know everything’s gonna be alright. Amen
Rev Amy BeVille, from Signal Mountain, Tennessee, is an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); she currently serves as pastor of Community Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fayetteville, Georgia. She has served churches from Kentucky to Texas and back to Georgia! She has been a popular speaker and the music resource at a number of women’s retreats. As a complement to her ministry, BeVille is a singer/songwriter and currently plays venues from Nashville to Chattanooga to Atlanta. She has several albums to her credit, with her latest, “Second Chances” available on CDBaby.com. She also works as a music therapist focusing on work with seniors who have dementia or Alzheimers. In her free time, BeVille is found restoring her historic home in Acworth, GA.