Personal Devotions: Joy

A dramatic morning sunrise

Photo: Anne Hoganson

On the third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate joy! Many Advent wreathes use a pink candle for this Sunday.

Choose one or more of these prayers for daily use over the course of the week.

Scriptural Prayer

Memorize this scripture:

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise! (Psalm 95:1–2, adapted)

or

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)

Breath Prayer

(breathe in) I will draw water, (breathe out) from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)

The Prayer of Jesus

“The New Our Father” by Henry Boon (Aimee Gavin)
Song distributed by Leslie Music Supply; used by permission.

Graces and Blessings

This week create a list or Joy Jar of 105 things that bring you joy. Write or share 15 things that bring you joy (you could do 5 per meal) each day on separate sheets of paper and add it to your Joy Jar. Keep you Joy Jars somewhere prominent (like on your kitchen table or under your Christmas tree) and make sure to give thanks for all of the little things that bring you and your loved ones joy each day. On days when you are having a hard time giving thanks, dip into your Joy Jar.

Find more family prayers and blessings on our At Home page.

Be welcoming. In God’s story, there is always enough!
Alydia

Alydia Smith is Program Coordinator, Worship, Music, and Spirituality for The United Church of Canada.

The Story of Christmas: Meet the Innkeeper

There was no place at the inn

The Innkeeper
Of the Bible storytellers, only Luke describes the moment of Jesus’ birth. And tucked away in Luke’s concise passage is an aside—“because there was no place for them in the inn” (2:7)—to explain the Holy Family seeking alternative shelter. From these few words, generations have assumed that if there was no room for Mary and Joseph, then there must have been an innkeeper who told them!

Perhaps the assumption of an innkeeper points to the importance of the waiting manger. Animals know where to find what will sustain them, said the prophet Isaiah, but people seem unable to turn to respond to God’s desire for relationship.

Perhaps the harried innkeeper is left undescribed in order to avoid distractions. Luke keeps it simple so we don’t miss the significance of the moment: love revealed in human form, Emmanuel, God-with-us.

Or perhaps we turn our attention to imaginary innkeepers of the past so that we won’t have to face the outcast on our doorsteps today. In the simplicity of this story, we witness the plight of the most vulnerable of humanity. And we witness God’s choice to be present in their midst.

Perhaps dropping an innkeeper into the story allows us to paint ourselves in. Every encounter with a stranger is an opportunity to welcome God with a human face. Standing in the innkeeper’s sandals, imagine yourself face-to-face with the one who said “For everyone who knocks, the door will be opened” (Luke 11:10). Ask yourself:

  • How do you imagine the innkeeper? How would you describe this character?
  • When you are told of the events in the stable, where do you imagine yourself in the action?
  • If a stranger knocked on your door asking for help, how would you respond?

Explore the characters in the Christmas story:

And watch for more blogs retelling the Story of Christmas.

—Robyn Brown-Hewitt, Atlantic School of Theology and United Church Chaplain at Dalhousie University

In God’s story, there is always enough! Week 3 Video

Meet the animals and the innkeeper.

(Children’s voices: Advent means to me, happiness all the time. I think Advent means time to prepare for Christmas. I think Advent means, when Jesus was born. I think we can get ready by hanging out with family and praying. I think we can get ready by going to church and praying.)

Christmas is coming. Are you ready?

I wonder if the animals are ready?

“We have nothing to offer.”

I wonder if the Innkeeper is ready?

“But I have no room.”

There was no room in the inn. So Jesus was born among the animals.

“Don’t be afraid” (an angel told them). In God’s story, there is always enough!

Are you ready?

Suggestions for Use

  • The Advent Candle Lighting Liturgies (pdf) have been written to incorporate these videos. Many churches choose to begin their Advent services in this way. You might also adapt them for a ritual at home.
  • Explore the story of Christmas using the Advent Unwrapped Colouring Storybook (pdf)—great for young artists of any age!
  • For more Advent Unwrapped videos, visit our Videos page.

The Story of Christmas: Meet the Animals

These lowly witnesses played a vital role

Animals
When we set up a Nativity scene, we often surround the Holy Family with animals. The scriptures that describe the birth of Jesus, though, don’t actually speak of animals or a stable.

The scriptures speak of a manger. A manger is a trough made from wood or stone that holds animals’ food. In Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth, houses had two floors. The people lived on the second floor, while the animals lived on the first. This floor was usually dug out—a little like a basement. Having the animals underneath helped to keep the house warm for the people above.

So, although the scriptures don’t explicitly say so, we can assume that animals were there at the Nativity. There were probably goats and sheep, and maybe oxen and donkeys. Likely, the animals would have been moved into the courtyard and fresh hay laid down when Mary and Joseph entered the space, so that Mary could give birth in the customary privacy.

I wonder what the animals thought about all the upheaval. Maybe they quietly watched the miracle of this story unfold. Like many of the “lowly” people involved in the good news story, these witnesses also had a vital role to play. Ask yourself:

  • When do we overlook people and make judgments about their significance?
  • Have you ever felt insignificant at first, and then later lifted up and recognized for who you are and what you contribute?
  • How does it feel when you aren’t?

Explore the characters in the Christmas story:

And watch for more blogs retelling the Story of Christmas.

—Bethe Cameron from O’Leary West Cape Pastoral Charge, PEI

Body Prayer: Joy

Repeat the following prayer, using the actions to inspire movement as you are able:

Holy One (reach up and out)
May your joy (put hands toward centre, wiggle fingers)
Sustain me (reach arms to sides, flexing fingers)
May your joy (put hands toward centre, wiggle fingers)
Bubble up in me (wiggle fingers, bringing over head)
May your joy (put hands toward centre, wiggle fingers)
Grow in all of creation (circle wiggling hands around head)
AMEN (head down, hands at prayer with palms together)

The Rev. Catherine Stuart ministers at Bedeque United Church, Prince Edward Island.

 

O Come, O Come

The icons traditionally associated with the O Antiphons: a lamp, a bush, a growing tree stump, etc.

The icons traditionally associated with the O Antiphons

It is a very human thing to “keep vigil.” We gather by candlelight after a disaster; to protest peacefully in places of power; to sit with one who is dying.

As Christians, in Advent, we gather with Mary, Joseph, and those who witnessed the birth, to watch for revealed Love. For that same star to lead us home.

Two resources on Advent Unwrapped draw on the tradition of vigil, as well as on the ancient practice of praying the “O Antiphons.” Each of these antiphons begins with the exclamation “O” and offers a different scriptural image for Jesus Christ; they are most familiar from the carol “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Contributed by the Rev. Andrew O’Neil, St. Paul’s United Church, Riverview, NB, there is a vigil to use at home and one for church:

Watching and Waiting: A Daily Ritual Based on the O Antiphons (pdf)
Set aside nightly family prayer time for this ritual the last week of Advent (December 17–23), or adapt it in another way.

Come, Jesus, Come: An Advent Vigil Based on the O Antiphons (pdf)
A church service suitable for an evening in Advent near the solstice.

O Wisdom, O holy Word of God, you govern all creation with your revealed, compassionate care: come and show your people the way to salvation….

O Radiant Dawn, splendour of eternal light, sun of justice: arise, shine on those who dwell in the shadow of death….

O God of all, joy of every human heart; O Keystone of the mighty arch of humanity: Come and unite your people whom you fashioned in all the earth.

O Emmanuel, revealed hope and source of trust: come and set us free for your work and witness.

Personal Devotions: Peace

Drops of dew on blades of grass

Photo: Anne Hoganson

The second Sunday of Advent is traditionally devoted to the theme of peace. How do you experience God’s peace in your life? Where is God’s peace most needed in the world?

Choose one or more of these prayers for daily use over the course of the week.

 Scriptural Prayer

Memorize this scripture:

 The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought,  but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. (Romans 8:26)

or

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78–79)

Breath Prayer

(breathe in) Prepare the way of the Lord, (breathe out) make your path straight.

The Prayer of Jesus

The Lord’s Prayer in Spanish (Maria-Elena Oliva)

Graces and Blessings

Make a blessings cube.

Before every meal roll a die to pick your blessing. Paste a different prayer or blessing on each side of a cube or large die (or number 6 blessings and read the blessing of the number rolled). Here are 6 blessings to start with, be creative and create your own family favorites. These are some of mine.

  1. We love our bread, we love our butter; but most of all we love each other. (Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans)
  2. For each new morning with its light; For rest and shelter of the night; For health and food; For love and friends; For everything Thy goodness sends. Amen. (Ralph Waldo Emmerson)
  3. (sung to the tune of “Frère Jacques”) We are thankful, we are thankful. We are glad, we are glad, for the many blessings, for the many blessings, that we have, that we have. Amen. (Unknown)
  4. God is great, God is good. Let us thank God for our food.
  5. For food that stays our hunger; for rest that brings us ease; for homes where memories linger; we give our thanks for these.
  6. Be present at our table, Lord. Be here and everywhere adored. Thy people bless, and grant that we may feast in paradise with thee. (John Wesley)

Find more family prayers and blessings on our At Home page.

Be brave. In God’s story, everyone is special!
Alydia

Alydia Smith is Program Coordinator, Worship, Music, and Spirituality for The United Church of Canada.

The Story of Christmas: Meet John the Baptist

Prepare the way of the Lord

John the Baptist
John plays a prominent role in all four gospel accounts of the Christmas story. But who is he?

The first thing we learn, even before John is born, is that his appearance will bring great joy—not just for his parents, but for everyone who is waiting for evidence of divine activity. The angel Gabriel announces to Zechariah that his wife Elizabeth, who had been childless, will bear a son. “You will have joy and gladness,” says the angel, “and many will rejoice at his birth” (Luke1:14).

John lives in the wilderness, subsisting on “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). Like the prophets before him—Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Joel—John lambastes the people of Israel, threatening divine judgment if they do not change their ways. He also offers a way out: repent and be baptized. The practice of baptism was not unknown, but John’s one-time-only baptism for the repentance of sins was unique.

Using Isaiah’s words, John exhorts the people to prepare the way of the Lord. Like Jesus, John proclaims the kin-dom of God. Also like Jesus, he will suffer at the hands of the powerful for daring to challenge injustice and oppression. Ask yourself:

  • What words or phrases come to mind when you imagine John the Baptist?
  • If you could put John’s message in a short slogan, what would it be?
  • The story of Elizabeth and Zechariah recalls God’s promise of many descendants to Sarah and Abraham. Where in your own community do you see God’s promise?

Explore the characters in the Christmas story:

And watch for more blogs retelling the Story of Christmas.

 — Robyn Brown-Hewitt, Atlantic School of Theology and United Church Chaplain at Dalhousie University.

In God’s story, everyone is special! Week 2 Video

Meet the angels and visit Mary and Elizabeth.

(Children’s voices: Advent means to me, happiness all the time. I think Advent means time to prepare for Christmas. I think Advent means, when Jesus was born. I think we can get ready by hanging out with family and praying. I think we can get ready by going to church and praying.)

Christmas is coming. Are you ready?

I wonder if the shepherds are ready?

“No one visits us.”

I wonder if Mary’s cousin Elizabeth is ready?

“No one visits me.”

The shepherds never expected to be invited. And Elizabeth never expected to be visited by the mother of Jesus.

“Don’t be afraid” (an angel told them). In God’s story, everyone is special!

Are you ready?

Suggestions for Use

  • The Advent Candle Lighting Liturgies (pdf) have been written to incorporate these videos. Many churches choose to begin their Advent services in this way. You might also adapt them for a ritual at home.
  • Explore the story of Christmas using the Advent Unwrapped Colouring Storybook (pdf)—great for young artists of any age!
  • For more Advent Unwrapped videos, visit our Videos page.

The Story of Christmas: Meet the Shepherds

Why did the angels seek out the “inferior” shepherds?

The Shepherds
The shepherds were the first to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. And it was the angels who came to tell them.

You might imagine the shepherds in a pastoral setting—warm cloaks hugging their shoulders as they recline on a hill, watching their woolly sheep graze or snuggle each other. But shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth were poorly clad, dirty, and used to living rough. They also had to be brave and hardy—constantly on the lookout and ready to protect their flocks from predators like wolves.

No one noticed their bravery, though; the shepherds were undervalued by their contemporaries. They were outsiders who lived on the edge of society. For the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, the shepherds had another mark against them—they did not observe regular worship.

So why did the angels seek out the shepherds? What influence could such an “inferior” group have? Was this God’s way of widening the circle to include all? of lifting up the shepherds to let them know that they, too, mattered? Ask yourself:

  • In our society today, would those in the centre listen to miraculous news from someone on the margins? Would you?
  • Are you ready for the opportunity that God is offering you to enter the story?
  • What good news do you have to share? Do you hesitate, or do you share it freely?

Explore the characters in the Christmas story:

 And watch for more blogs retelling the Story of Christmas.

—Bethe Cameron from O’Leary West Cape Pastoral Charge, PEI

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