Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. Here we are the day after Christmas Day. The cookie platter sits almost bare except for a couple of broken cookie pieces and some crumbs. The torn wrapping paper is scrunched into balls of various blurs of color, and there are stacks of new clothes and games in various corners of the room. Christmas is over. We can take a breath… Wait!! Christmas is not over – it has just begun!
I said, “Christmas has just begun,” and that might have confused many of you. Some have already begun to take down their Christmas tree. But that’s okay. I’m not talking about Christmas trees, wrapping paper, nor the Christmas dinner leftovers. We celebrated Jesus’ birth on Christmas day. But it was the beginning of Jesus’ life and we continue to celebrate God’s Christmas gift. We read and study. We worship. But most of all we continue to marvel in the reminder that God loves us so much that He came to be with us, live beside us, and walk the journey of human life with us. “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”(Matthew 1:23) Do you feel God is with you? When are those feelings the strongest? When are those feeling the weakest?
The scripture in today’s worship lectionary is about Jesus going to the temple with his mother and his father. Mary and Joseph left the temple and were making their way home when they realized Jesus was not with them. They thought Jesus had met up with family to begin the journey home, so they were concerned when they realized after a day of travel that Jesus was missing. Yes, they found Jesus back at the temple, having a conversation with the teachers. But Jesus had been missing.
Have you ever found Jesus missing in your life? Did you keep him near on Christmas day? Now that Christmas Day is past, will Jesus go missing in your life like he went missing in Jerusalem?
Life is complicated and changing away from what we considered an inevitable routine. We have to work hard to take care of our families and keep them safe and healthy. Jobs are challenging and stressful. But doing it without God is so much harder. The peace, comfort and strength of God offers a strong foundation on which we can build not just our life but our lives together in community.
Don’t “lose Jesus”. Keep him close. Find the best path for you that keeps Jesus in your life and in your community.
Dear God. We come in remembrance and thankfulness for your great gift of Jesus, your son, and the spirit of love that is reborn in this Christmas time. May we keep that spirit of love vibrant as we move ahead each day. May we not lose Jesus in the crowds, in the workplace and in our hearts. Instead, let us walk together, work together and live in constant companionship. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. We are getting so close to Christmas and it gives me such a joyous heart to be singing the Christmas Carols. For the church service today we are singing eight favorite carols. As I review each carol, typing up the verses to be projected on the screen for our church members who are attending in-person, and for those who are connecting online, it’s been interesting to actually read all of the verses. I know the first verses by heart and sometimes the second. But when I delve into the rest of the verses, I am finding myself surprised by the depth of the messages. Come along and let’s explore “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”.
On Christmas day in 1863, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was inspired to write the poem we now know as the “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”. It was a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Suffering depression due to the death of his beloved wife and being in the midst of the Civil War, Longfellow found his spirit strengthened as he heard the Christmas bells ringing on that Christmas Day.
The first verse of this particular carol is so pleasant. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day”. It brings our fond memories of past Christmases. And the message of the last line of the first verse is beautiful, “and wild and sweet, the words repeat of peace on earth, good-will to men”. The Advent Candle being lit this fourth Sunday of Advent is “Peace”, so this makes this a wonderful song for the church service. And it is an eternal wish so often expressed during Christmas time. We see it repeated in holiday literature and Christmas cards.
Verse 2 is more of the same message as verse 1. Sweet and innocuous. “I thought how as the day had come, the belfries of all Christendom had rolled along the unbroken song of peace on earth, good-will to men.” The words make me feel safe and peaceful. I love the last phrase that is repeated at the end of each verse “…peace on earth, good-will to men.”
But then we get to the third verse, “And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “for hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men.” This really hits me in my gut. First of all, it hurts to acknowledge there we see and experience strong hate in so many places each day. This song was written over a hundred and fifty years ago so why are these words still so true? There continues to be hate. How do we handle the weight of this truth?
Thank goodness, the song rescues the darkness and gives hope. Verse four goes on to say, “Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” This offers such hope!
Verse 5 comes out even stronger, offering with conviction that we can turn away the hate and embrace and empower the love for one another. “Till, ringing, singing on its way, the world revolved from night to day, a voice, a chime, a chant sublime of peace on earth, good-will to men!”
Although we are imperfect in loving every person as God loves us, God loves us anyway. He loved us so much that he sent his son to live among us, to suffer ill-will, yet teach us love and grace. We can fight hate by loving all people. At Christmastime, we see the spirit of generosity show itself in so many ways. We need to keep this spirit going. “Peace on earth, good-will to all!”
Dear God, you offer us renewed hope every day. We must open our eyes to look for the goodness around us. Help us clear our minds so our hearts are open to your love and free to love as you would have as love. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.
Author - Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday devotion. This is the third Sunday of Advent and on this day we light the candle of Joy. If I would ask you if you feel joy today, or happiness, what would be your answer? Do you differentiate between the two? I see a big difference. Let’s take a deep breath and clear our minds and light our own virtual candle of Joy.
When reflecting on happiness versus joy, think of an example of when you have felt happiness. I’m happy when my favorite baseball team wins. I’m happy when I put dinner on the table and the food is warm and good. What makes you feel happy?
Happy is good, but joy is better. There’s a deeper sense of love, peace and comfort that surrounds joy. I feel joy when my sister tells me her doctor says she is cancer-free. I feel the depth of our relationship. I feel joy when my family is together and enjoying each other’s company. Last night 3 of the 4 “kids” were playing on their video system together. They are together because it makes them happy. More than that, they are together because it gives them joy. What makes you feel joy?
So let’s take a deeper look at joy. One of the very obvious differences between happiness and joy is that happiness tends to be achieved externally, while joy is something achieved internally. For example, we can feel happy when we receive something like a gift or achieve something like awards or honors. Joy, on the other hand, is something deeper. It is something we feel internally in our lives as human beings. Happiness can come and go depending on the circumstances of your day. But joy, pure joy, is deep like a well of cool water. How would you describe joy?
As we travel through the preparation for Christmas and experience once again all the wonderful carols we sing in celebration of Jesus’ birth, the true meaning of Christmas is reborn within me. And there is no better Christmas song that goes deep into my soul to express that joy than “Joy to the World”. Every finale should be “Joy to the World”. The complete picture is in this carol. “[Let] heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n and nature sing, and heav’n, and heav’n, and nature sing.” There is such complete joy. All the earth celebrates Jesus’ birth. In the 2nd verse the image of all the earth celebrating Jesus’ birth continues, expanding in depth and detail, saying, “while fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains repeat the sounding joy, repeat the sounding joy, repeat, repeat the sounding joy!” Can you imagine the immense echo rebounding over and over. In Christ Tomlin’s “Joy to the World” I love the phrase, “unspeakable joy”. You can listen to it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tC3SwhJsLqU
I pray that the joy of the season seeps deep into your soul. Reach for it. Soak it in. And watch it glow from within as you ponder on the joy and wonder of Jesus, the baby in the manger, come to save the world.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Welcome to the Sunday Devotion. The Washington DC Community of Christ congregation is meeting in person for the first time since the pandemic closed the building in March 2020. As I checked in with people to see if they were coming, people were eager to get together again. I sent emails, made phone calls and talked about it to everyone. It really made me think about the song “O Come, All Ye Faithful”. The number of people making plans to come grew.
“O Come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant.” Even if people still can’t make it to the worship service, their faithfulness is not in question. We are Faithful Servants of God as we walk our journey in life. And there is a sense of triumph. We have waited so long, been faithful in seeking out ways to make our bes life and also find opportunities to worship online. So after so long – we are triumphant!
The next line is “O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.” We are being invited to Bethlehem. Just like the shepherds were invited so long ago. But they didn’t know what was waiting for them. We do. I keep asking myself what it would have been like to have lived in that time. People talked about the coming of the Messiah but they had no idea what that meant. We have such amazing hindsight. I read those 2 lines of this carol again and imagine myself on a trek to Bethlehem. Close your eyes and repeat the line “O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.”
When we sing this carol, the refrain repeats, “O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.” When we sing the chorus and begin repeating those words, each repeated phrase just seems to naturally swell and swell in volume.
The song is an invitation, but it is also a song of praise! “Glory to God, all glory in the highest.” It is healing to praise God. As you repeat your joy and adoration, the words become feelings. What feelings do you feel when singing this song?
As I read through the words of all the verses, I find myself slowing down as I read through the last stanza of the last verse “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.” God’s word morphed into human life, lived with us, walked beside us, breathed our air, and shared our meals. It’s a marvelous, miraculous, and incredible act of God.
As we sing the old familiar Christmas carols, don’t let the words mindlessly slip past your tongue. Sing the praises loudly, feel the joy grow within you. And marvel at the story they tell.
Dear God, we come as part of the Faithful. As part of those singing in exultation. Help us absorb the marvelous wonder of your greatest gift of all. May we be reminded that baby Jesus was just the beginning of an incredible journey you walked with us. And help us realize you still walk with us today. Thank you for loving us so much. In Jesus’ extraordinary name, Amen.
Author: Bonnie Barber
Various authors throughout the Chesapeake Bay Mission Center and beyond provide these thought-provoking weekly devotions.