Epiphany of the Lord
by Josh Noblitt
Scripture: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1
Epiphany is the day we commemorate the manifestation of Jesus for the first time to the gentile (non-Jewish) people, specifically in the story of the wise men. A further understanding of the word “epiphany” tells us that it is also a sudden manifestation, or perception, of the essential meaning of something.
Jesus came to us in the vulnerable, precious and sacred form of a newborn baby. When I hold a newborn baby, I feel a sense of intimacy, a sense of protection, a sense of closeness that I don’t often feel in other ways. There is no judgment, no past or future to worry about, and no expectations. There is only the present moment, holding new life and new possibilities. Thinking about encountering God in this way also opens us up to new possibilities of intimacy and vulnerability with God, both holding God as close to us as a newborn baby and God holding us close in the same way.
When we hold God close and allow ourselves to be aware of God holding us close, we are able to see moments of epiphany everyday. God is present all around us, sustaining, transforming and renewing all of creation. I think of these moments of epiphany also as glimpses of Beloved Community–like moments when we see the essence of God’s love reflected in the people around us, in a beautiful sky-scape, in a small piece of nature, or in a new truth that makes itself known to us.
May 2015 be the year of Epiphany in your life, where God’s love, truth and peace are seen and felt in all you do.
Prayer: God, as we look out across a new year, may we experience your love in new and profound ways and in turn share that same love with others. Amen.
by Kim Sorrells
Scripture: “Put on the full armor of God.” Ephesians 6:10-20
When I was growing up, we spoke about “spiritual warfare” as a sort of battle between good and evil, between angels and demons, so to speak. Well, that’s not really how I think about the world now. And, as such, the idea of this battle and armor imagery is a bit foreign to me. Still, I do recognize that there are very real things that we all struggle against every day. It may not be literal demons which we need “spiritual armor” to protect us from, but struggles nonetheless.
Addiction, anxiety, depression, our own egos, greed, doubt, exhaustion, fatigue, stress, heartache – and the list goes on. While I no longer see the world as a spiritual battlefield, I do think there are some things we can do spiritually to protect ourselves a bit and to weather the storm a bit easier. Perhaps those things are the armor of God.
For me, I find a variety of spiritual practices to be essential to my own well-being. When I am doing my meditations, centering prayer and self-care, I tend to weather life’s storms a bit better. I even tend to do better just in normal day-to-day life. For me, these are my “spiritual armor” – centering prayer, yoga, and meditation, and there are others. As we draw this season to a close and return to “ordinary time”, it may be more and more necessary to really focus on these practices when we don’t have the “high” of the season to carry our spirits.
Prayer: God of peace, help us to armor ourselves in your love, your presence, and your peace. Amen
by Jennifer Hansen
Scripture: Joshua 3:14-4:7
I love to hike, especially on trails that travel though national parks or state parks. It soothes my soul to be able to shut out the busyness of the everyday and to slow down to get back in sync with creation. It is on these walks that occasionally I stumble upon ruins of the past. That happened this summer as I was hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park.
After a four mile hike along the beginnings of the Colorado River, deep into uninhabited park lands (well, by humans anyway), I came across what remained of an abandoned mining community. There was not much left to mark the existence of this former settlement on the banks of the Colorado River other than a few log planks and a tiny sign that was erected by the Park Service commemorating Lulu City. While I enjoyed a picnic lunch sitting on the stones on the bank of the river, I couldn’t help but contemplate what it was like for the people who had lived here and wonder what significant events had happened in the life of this community.
In today’s passage, God commanded Joshua to have the people gather stones from the river Jordan to erect a monument on the shore as a reminder of the significance of the crossing of the Jordan. God’s presence with the people made it possible for the people to cross the river, which was overflowing its banks, by dividing the waters and making a path. The memorial made of the stones served to remind future generations of the miraculous crossing made possible by God. God intended for the people to reflect on their past in order to remember how God had walked with them.
What markers do you see today that God may be using to remind you to reflect on God’s presence in your life?
Prayer: Gracious God, help me be aware of the reminders each day, of your constant and abiding presence with us. Amen.
by John Turlington
Scripture: I Kings 19:9-18
We have all heard of Elijah and the “still, small voice of God.” Beware of familiarity with the Bible; it can induce careless reading. Knowing a story can be a trigger to not really reading it with attentiveness and openness to new insight that the story might bring.
Accept an invitation to try reading with the eyes of Jesus or of Elijah here. Elijah had his assumption about God and how God might “speak” to him changed because he was open to allowing God to speak to him in God’s own way, not in ways he might have expected God to speak. Because Elijah’s ears were attuned to God, he heard God’s still, quiet, thin voice.
In this New Year may we be open to finding God and listening to God in places, ways and sounds we might not expect. Let’s wait on God’s voice for where and what to do in the New Year.
The very heart of the Bible is about meeting God in uncounted and un-thought of ways with unaccounted and unanticipated consequences. So, it is wise for us to slow down and encounter the word of God in whatever form it may come with the expectation that we, too, may experience God in new and future-giving, future-changing ways in this New Year. We too may learn anew about the inescapable wonder of God’s prevenient grace which will find us, feed us, and employ us, just as Elijah here.
Prayer: Oh God of the still small voice, open my ears that I might hear what You have to say to me in this New Year. Amen.
by Beth LaRocca-Pitts
The common theme in today’s readings is that God provides. In the Old Testament Lesson, 1 Kings 19:1-8, the prophet Elijah is fleeing for his life from the wrath of Queen Jezebel. He is exhausted and ready to die when an angel visits him and provides food to sustain him. This happens again on a second day and after this he is able to travel on his journey for forty more days and nights, strengthened by the food God provided. In the Gospel reading, John 6:1-14, Jesus feeds five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish given to him by someone in the crowd. Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish and everyone eats and there is food left over. While both of these stories are marvelous miracles, I get more daily encouragement from the Epistle reading, Ephesians 4:1-16. In this passage Paul explains how God provides gifts for each person which empower them to do the ministry that God wants them to do. God gives some the gift to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and some teachers. God gives others the ability to do works of ministry and to build up the body of Christ. What I love about this passage is that it makes clear that for every work that God wants from us, the skill set will be provided. I don’t have to give myself what I need to do God’s work. God provides all that is needed. If we remember this then we won’t fear failure. All that we need to succeed as God wants has already been given to us!
Prayer: Lord, help us to remember your wise provision. Help us to trust that you will equip us for all that you want us to do in your name. Amen
by Susan Wilson
Scripture: Numbers 6:22-27
Happy New Year! Today is the day we focus on setting our goals and resolutions for the new year. How many times have we done this? In my case, many times.
I set resolutions and goals with the intent of achieving each of them. I write them down and fully commit myself to reaching each new goal. About two weeks later, I realize that I’ve done not much of anything to accomplish my resolutions.
Today’s lesson from Numbers is the well known blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” As a Director of Fine Arts, I have directed many choirs in singing this familiar text. I generally remember most the first phrase but while writing this devotion the part that struck me was “the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace”. Peace, peace, wonderful peace. Don’t we all need peace on some level? I, for one, long for peace. How does that come?
For me it comes through hugs of support and love. It comes from giving back. It comes from time spent alone with God. I think God offers us peace but we are too busy worrying or scurrying about to even receive it. Slow down and accept it. God gives it. Once you have received peace, then you can become a vessel from which others can receive it. It sounds simple but carving out that time with God and actually opening our hearts and minds for peace can be tough. Instead of making a long list of resolutions this year, I think I’ll try to find inner peace from the one who created me to live in his presence. How about you?
Prayer: God, help me to know and accept your peace, that I might also pass it on to others. Amen.
by Brenna Lakeson
Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1-13
Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, the author emphasizes the fleeting nature of our lives. The style of literature and the theological themes in the book give insight into the circular patterns of our existence. These patterns are particularly present in this well-known passage, where the author tells us about the cycles of time through the juxtaposition of opposites.
This isn’t necessarily a positive thing for the author, though. He or she claims that no one can “find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.” For the author, there is no method through which we can understand what God is doing in the world. Some people, like myself, find this discomforting. If there is no way for us as humans to figure out this whole life thing, we might as well relax and enjoy ourselves.
For me, this seems terrifying and difficult. I like to be in control. I like to know the answers. However, Ecclesiastes tells us that life is a never ending pattern of love and hate, seeking and losing, war and peace, and that there is no way for us to truly understand these fleeting seasons.
Despite my discomfort, this is true in my own experience. Life has thrown seasons of death and life, study and rest, change and stability, at me. In these patterns, I grow. While it’s usually not easy, making myself open to the changing seasons of God can generate beauty. The author of Ecclesiastes claims that, because there is no way for us to know and understand God’s plan, we should allow ourselves to relax and enjoy the seasons of life as they come. This is not an easy task. However, in this often busy season of family, shopping, planning, and preparation for the birth of Christ, allow yourself to rest in God by knowing, that, ultimately, our plans are fleeting and God’s plans, although unknown to us, are the ones that endure.
Prayer: God, Help me to rest in you, no matter what this season of life brings. Amen.
by Betsy Allen
Scripture: John 4:46-54
Were I writing a resurrection story, I would use excessive capitalization and punctuation. I doubt I would double-check my grammar, let alone use transition words.
When John opens the narrative of Jesus’ second sign – bringing a child back from death’s door – John not only refrains from using caps lock but he also pens one of the most boring “hook sentences” ever. Paraphrased, John writes, “Then Jesus went back to a place he’d already been that’s only worth mentioning because of the thing he did the first time he was there.” In twenty-first century words, “In 2015, we’ll go back to places we’ve already been that are only worth mentioning because of the things we’ve already done.” No offense to John, but this is monotonous and depressing; it is not a great way to preface anything, let alone a miracle or the coming year.
Perhaps there is more to John’s opening sentence. Maybe, instead of simply orienting Jesus geographically and chronologically, John underscores Jesus’ return to Cana with deeper purpose. Although Jesus has already been to Cana and performed a sign there, he returns. Jesus is not done with Cana; he comes again with healing and patient love, sharing his second wonder with those who didn’t see or believe the first. Although we also have already heard Jesus’ story, he is not done with us. His healing and love return again and again in our hearts and lives.
Prayer: Faithful God, let Jesus’ message come again to us, just as it did to Cana. In this coming year, let us not return to physical, emotional, and spiritual places only worth mentioning because of the things we’ve already done. Instead, help us cultivate love and healing throughout our lives and in the lives of others. Amen.