Advent is a season of waiting – not waiting for Christmas, but for Christ to come again. We wait and hope for a Savior to come into a world hungering for peace. We wait for God to set us free from the cares of the world that keep us awake at night. We long for a life that is calm and bright.
But sometimes we look for peace in all the wrong places, or we give up looking at all. We feel trapped in jobs that frustrate us, in classes that seem useless, in negative habits that do not serve us well. We confuse peace with comfort and security.
God’s peaceful kingdom is not anything the world can give us. It is a gift to those who know where to seek it, who follow the right star and listen to the angels instead of King Herod. God’s presence does not spare us from life’s problems, but is a peace of mind available everywhere in any of life’s circumstances if we make room for Christ.
And so today we light the second candle of Advent, the candle of peace, to remind ourselves to prepare while we wait for the Prince of Peace.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
O Holy one who comes to set the captives free, we confess that for too long we have allowed ourselves to be imprisoned by guilt, shame, fear, anger or hopelessness. We have put our trust in things that thieves can steal and rust can consume, and we are always disappointed. Our souls long for peace, but we have been led astray by false prophets of prosperity. We pity ourselves because of adversity and expect peace to just be provided for us. Speak to us again in the stories and songs of Advent. Come Emmanuel, be with us here and now and help us trust you enough that we can give up our foolish pursuits and find true peace that only comes when we are at home in your kingdom. Amen
O Eternal One, we come again today to seek sanctuary from a world that bombards us with continual missiles of bad news: Hurricanes and flooding in Hawaii, gruesome murders in Colorado and Iowa, political turmoil in Washington and serious ethical issues about domestic abuse that raise hard questions in churches, at Ohio State and other places throughout our nation. We pray for all victims of any kind of abuse and for the leaders of society wisdom and compassion. Our hope is that such painful situations will be learning experiences for all of us so we can improve our own relationships and reaffirm the values of human dignity for all.
As we begin another season of classes here and in your churches, synagogues and mosques everywhere, we pray for your blessings on those servants who teach and all who learn that we will grow closer to the kind of world community you envisioned at creation and are continually trying to redeem and renew.
Remind us again O God that conflict and troubles are not new to us – they are a part of the human condition, a price we pay for free will. But remind us also of the saints who surround us like a great cloud of witnesses who have been through stormy seas and came out on the other side. Let us hear again the words of faith and hope like those of the psalmist:
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam.”
Remind us that you are the one who says, “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” Let us be still enough to appreciate the beauty and goodness that is still around us even in the darkest times – the compassion and comfort of friends and strangers, the prayers that sustain us in trying times. Let us be still enough to restore our strength and faith – to know we are not called to do more than we can do – to just be still and know your presence…… [silence]
In the holy silence let us hear the still small voice that assures our souls that the tumult of humankind will not have the final word because “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.”
No where do we draw more strength and confidence than from Jesus the Christ who taught us how to stay calm in the storm and how to pray……
Northwest UMC, Columbus, OH
O God, we humbly come to you with both joys and concerns. We pray for others that we have mentioned or written on prayer cards or in the secret places in our hearts. But we also stand in the need of prayer. Sometimes we feel like we’re drowning in a sea of trouble and we want to ask “why me?” Our 24/7 access to world news seems to feed us nothing but news of suffering, abuse, conflict, and grief. When the world feels like it is going mad, please reassure us that we are in your hands.
We pray for wisdom and compassion for ourselves and for our nation’s leaders. Give us all hearts open to your guiding spirit. We pray for victims of abuse. Let us share the good news with them that there is still love and goodness in our world. We pray for those in nursing homes and those in homes where grudges are nursed. We pray for those caught in cycles of poverty or violence, for those in such pain that they turn to harmful drugs for relief.
Remind us again of our connections to all of your children. No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, regardless of our financial status, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation – we are welcome in this community of Christ’s church. No matter our differences we are all restless until we find our rest in you, O God. We do not worship or serve an unknown God but one who is the ground of our being, the source of our hope, and the guiding light of our lives.
When we rejoice let us share the credit for our good fortune with all those who make us who we are, and when we are tempted to lose hope in any part of our life, give us again the assurance that you are a personal and loving God that never abandons us. We have a deep peace in our souls because we live and move and have our being in the eternal God, our creator and sustainer.
Hear our prayers O God which we offer in the name of Christ who taught us to pray this prayer ….
[As we sang “God of Grace and God of Glory” at an alum gathering at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio last week I was impressed with how prayerful those lyrics by Harry Emerson Fosdick are; and those lyrics inspired my pastoral prayer for today.]
God of Grace and Glory, please listen to your people praying. Pour your power upon us as we pray for the healing of brokenness and suffering everywhere – in our own hearts and minds and in relationships interpersonal and international in scale. You have planted the seeds of love in every human heart, but those seeds are threatened by draught, wild fire, earthquake and the ravages of unbelievable storms.
Please let our time of worship nourish the one true seed of your loving presence in us and in those we hold up in prayer. We feel surrounded by the forces of evil and long to be free from fears that shake the foundations of our faith. Send your Holy Spirit here to the church on the hill to free our hearts to praise you and serve you. Giving you the glory, let us not hide the Good News of your Salvation under a bushel, but let this congregation on the banks of the Scioto be a beacon of hope to a broken and discouraged world.
Lord listen to your people praying. Empower us to set an example as peacemakers to a world too long enslaved to war and violence as our only response to conflict and threat. Let us be leaders in finding ways to beat our guns into plowshares and our nuclear weapons into technologies to feed the starving masses and to power our planet with clean renewable energy. Instead of rattling our sabers let us put on the whole armor of God – righteousness, truth, peace, faith, and salvation to win the struggles within us and around us with selfishness, greed, injustice, and all that divides the very oneness of creation.
Strengthen us please, O God within each of us, to not lose hope when illness or despair sap our human energy. Remind us again that we can flip a switch with a simple word of prayer to connect to the one true source of hope that never fails us.
Lord, listen to your people praying and grant us wisdom and courage for the living of these days. We humbly ask these things in the name of the one who is the way and truth and life as we unite in one voice to pray the prayer he gave us……
One of the most consistent things about our interactions with Jesus is our failure to recognize who he is. We too often are caught unaware and when it’s too late we sing a sad refrain with Mahalia Jackson, “Sweet little Jesus boy, we didn’t know who you was!” From his birth in a barn to his hanging out with sinners, to his refusal to defend himself in the garden or before Pilate, Jesus refuses to show up how and where we expect him to. His entry into Jerusalem is not in a stretch limo befitting a king but in a beat up old Volkswagen beetle. The crowds who shout “Hosanna!” on Sunday change their tune to “Crucify him!” only five days later because he isn’t the conquering hero they were expecting.
Those expectations are understandable for people who were oppressed and dying for liberation. We might guess those strangers who lined the streets of Jerusalem had not spent time with Jesus. Their failure to recognize who he really is may be understandable. But what about those disciples who are closest to him who had spent three years listening to his teaching and watching the way he healed the sick and comforted those who were excluded by society? They too deny and betray and hide when their expectations are not met. Have they never heard the words of Isaiah who tells us that the Messiah will not be a worldly ruler but a suffering servant? (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Or like us have they chosen only to hear and believe what they want? We are expecting Rambo and we get Gandhi instead!
Even Mary Magdalene who stood by Jesus at the foot of the cross and was one of the first to go to the tomb doesn’t recognize Jesus on Easter morning! This woman who was one of the most devoted and loyal disciples mistakes Jesus for a gardener! (John 20:11-18). How could someone who owed so much to Jesus fail to recognize him at this most triumphant moment? Is it not because of her expectations? She went to the tomb to minister to a corpse and instead is the very first to encounter the resurrected Christ!
How often do we fail to recognize Christ in our midst, in the least of God’s children around us? Whom do we expect to encounter when we go to the tomb this Sunday? Will we recognize the risen Christ? What we know from past experience is that he probably won’t appear the way we expect him to. So let’s go with eyes and hearts wide open to see what our amazing God is up to this Easter!
A year ago this week I posted a prayer for my 50th high school class reunion. Of the 122 posts on my blog in 4 years, it continues to be the most read piece by far. It is viewed multiple times weekly and almost every day, and I am pleased but curious why that is. I have some theories about that, but would love to hear from anyone who has read that post from September 24, 2014. Why did you click on it? What feedback do you have about it? Did it speak to your life situation or not, and if so what in particular did so?
And if you haven’t read it and would like to, please go to peacefullyharsh.com and leave a comment. Thanks.
God, I bet you get tired of my whining and begging and calling it prayer. You don’t need a laundry list of all the things I think I need or deserve since you already know what I’m thinking, what I’m coveting, even when I wish you didn’t. We worry a lot these days about privacy and who has access to our information when we really should be more concerned about what you know about the secret desires of our hearts and minds.
Every time we pray you offer us the same deal the young King Solomon got – to ask for whatever we want. And if we ask for the right thing, the answer is guaranteed. But if we ask for wealth, status, power, comfort or other selfish rewards, no matter what the prosperity gospel advocates say, the answer will be ‘No, try again.’
Solomon could have written the great old hymn, “Be Thou My Vision.”* It says “Be thou my wisdom and thou my true word…. Riches I heed not nor man’s empty praise, Thou mine inheritance now and always.” Solomon doesn’t ask for riches or power, he asks for the wisdom to govern God’s people, “an understanding mind…able to discern between good and evil.” O how we need such wisdom in our troubled world today, O Lord!
God, you know that we need the real necessities of life. Help us to trust you to provide those while we seek after the truth that sets us free from our worries and cares and concerns. Don’t let us confuse knowledge with wisdom. This isn’t about education and degrees – but true insight and discernment. As you blessed Solomon because he humbly asked for wisdom, the prayer of our hearts is that you will also “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage for the living of these days.”** Amen and Amen.
*Old Irish hymn, translated by Mary E. Byrne, 1905 (original poem attributed to St. Dallan Forgaill, 530-598 C.E.)
** From “God of Grace and God of Glory,” by Harry Emerson Fosdick, 1930.