Christmas 15: Returning from Egypt

St. Joseph the Worker, artist unknown

The Christmas Story
Day 15 Reading:
Matthew 2:19-23

Effortlessly,
Love flows from God into man,
Like a bird
Who rivers the air
Without moving her wings.
Thus we move in His world,
One in body and soul,
Though outwardly separate in form.
As the Source strikes the note,
Humanity sings–
The Holy Spirit is our harpist,
And all strings
Which are touched in Love
Must sound. - Mechtild of Magdeburg, 1207-1297

God Who Brings the Cleansing Rain
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
Meter 77.77
Suggested tune: THE CALL (United Methodist Hymnal #164)

God who brings the cleansing rain
saturate our thirsty bones
with the milk of mercy sweet
with the blood that brings us home

God who rules the fiery sun
kindle now our brittle hearts
set ablaze our tender lives
forge our ways till sin departs

God who rides the winds of change
anchor us against its wrath
set our face toward holy ends
fix our walk upon your path

God who sends the silent snows
quiet us against your breast
cover us with hope-filled wings
whisper soft your word of rest

God who steps into our time
Take away this needless fear
Turn our lives to songs of praise
Play us for your world to hear

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For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

God Who Brings the Cleansing Rain © 2010 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.
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Christmas 14: Herod’s Genocide

The Story of Christmas
Day 14 Reading: Matthew 2:16-18

The word “innocent” from its Latin root means “not wounded.” That’s how we all start life. We’re all innocent. It doesn’t have anything to do with moral right or wrong. It has to do with not being wounded yet. We start unwounded. We start innocent, but the killing of our holy innocence by power and abuse (as in the killing of the Holy Innocents by Herod [Matthew 2:1-23]) is an archetypal image of what eventually happens to all of us. - Richard Rohr

There was another night in Bethlehem. No angel chorus was heard that evening. No Gloria in excelsis. The air that night was rent with shrieks–shrieks and cries; sobs and tears. A hellish horde had done the bidding–the bidding of a paranoid devil. These thugs search –not for life– but to deal out death. And newborn babes lie bundled in grave cloths–laid to rest–cradled in fresh-turned earth. None to save them; so that the streets of Bethlehem echo– Miserere, miserere!
James T. Dennison, Jr. in Kerux: The Online Journal of Biblical Theology

End the Madness
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

Hear our cry! Hear our cry!
Death is at the door
Evil is taking the day

Fear makes us crazy
Relief supplies rotting on the docks
Vaccines waiting on shelves
Abortions of convenience
Suicide bombers
Enslavement
Genocide
Warfare

End the madness
Deliver us from bloodshed
Teach us to value every life

Come quickly. Come in power.
Rescue your beloved.
Lord, where else shall we go?

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Click Here for another reflection on this scripture by Steve Garnaas Holmes entitled The Slaughter of the Innocents.

For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

End the Madness © 2010 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

For more information on the art and the use of this post in other settings,
please refer to the copyright information page.

Christmas 13: Run For Your Life

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Luc Olivier Merson

The Story of Christmas
Day 13 Reading:

Matthew 2:13-15

Canticle:
Lead Me to Safety, Lord

ALL SINGING:
Lead Me, Lord
(United Methodist Hymnal #473)
Lead me, Lord,
lead me in thy righteousness;
make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord only,
that makest me dwell in safety.

ONE READING: Psalm 5:8-11 (NRSV)
Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies– make straight your way before me. Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit. Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall. Banish them for their many sins, for they have rebelled against you. But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

ALL SINGING:
Lead me, Lord,
lead me in thy righteousness;
make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord only,
that makest me dwell in safety.

ONE READING: Psalm 27:11-13 (NRSV)
Teach me your way, O LORD; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors. Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, breathing out violence. I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.

ALL SINGING:
Lead me, Lord,
lead me in thy righteousness;
make thy way plain before my face.
For it is thou, Lord, thou, Lord only,
that makest me dwell in safety.

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For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

Lead Me to Safety, Lord: compilation © 2010 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
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Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

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Christmas 12c: Gift Giving


Matthew 2:11
On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Born a king on Bethlelhem’s plain,
gold I bring to crown him again,
King forever, ceasing never
over us all to reign.
Frankincense to offer have I:
incense owns a Deity nigh;
prayer and praising gladly raising,
worship him God Most High.
Myrrh is mine: its bitter perfume
breathes a life of gathering gloom;
sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
sealed in the stone-cold tomb.
-from the hymn We Three Kings by John Henry Hopkins, Jr.

Epiphany comes each year to remind us that God has come to us in the person of Jesus, the Word made flesh. People near (like Joseph and Mary) and people far away (like the magi) are invited to come to him. No one is kept away. And as we do so with perception (i.e. eyes of faith), we find that our most precious gifts (our gold, frankincense, and myrrh) belong at his feet.
- Steve Harper, The Holy Gospel: January 6, 2013 (Year C)

Behold, I give thee gold, that is to say My Divine Love; frankincense, that is all My holiness and devotion; finally myrrh, which is the bitterness of My Passion. I give them to thee to such an extent that thou mayest offer them as gifts to Me, as if they were thine own property.-Mechthild

Psalm 51:15-17 (NRSV)
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Each encounter we have is part of our daily offering to God. Each day, every deed, all the intentional motion of our souls – however helpful or hurtful it may be – is the actual “living sacrifice” we give to God as material with which to weave the human story (see Rom. 12:1). At this daily altar our selves are offered to or withheld from the Spirit’s transforming power. – Robert Corin Morris, Wrestling with Grace

Romans 12:1 (NRSV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Say, shall we yield Him, in costly devotion,
Odors of Edom and offerings divine?
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest, or gold from the mine?
Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gifts would His favor secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.
- from the hymn Brightest and Best by Re­gi­nald He­ber

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For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

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Christmas 12b: The Star

Christmas Star by Mark Jennings

Matthew 2:1-2, 9-10 (NRSV)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.”

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.

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

Along my life’s journey, I discovered a Star that does last forever
and his name is Jesus. - T.D. Jakes

Clearly did Balaam reveal to us
The meaning of the words which were prophesied,
Saying that a Star would rise up,
A Star which would dim all prophecies and divination,
A Star to destroy the parables of the wise,
Their teachings and their enigmas,
A Star much brighter than this star which just appeared,
For He is the Maker of Stars
About whom it was written: ‘From Jacob shall rise up
A newborn babe, the God before time.’
- Romanos

Numbers 24:15-17a (NRSV)
So he uttered his oracle, saying: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is clear, the oracle of one who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, who falls down, but with his eyes uncovered: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near— a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…

O star of wonder, star of light,
Star with royal beauty bright,
Westward leading, still proceeding,
Guide us to thy perfect Light
- John H. Hopkins, Jr.

When we realize that we do not have to be clever, powerful or successful in order to be loved, then we can live in truth, come to the light and be led by the Spirit of God.
-Jean Vanier, Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John

Moonless darkness stands between.
Past, O past, no more be seen!
But the Bethlehem star may lead me
To the sight of Him who freed me
From the self that I have been.
Make me pure, Lord: thou art holy;
Make me meek, Lord: thou wert lowly;
Now beginning, and always:
Now begin, on Christmas Day.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
–Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed.
The guilty one is not he who commits the sin,
but the one who causes the darkness.
- Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

Every example of goodwill proclaims Christ’s coming. Every genuine outbreak of “Christmas Spirit” speaks God’s blessing. Every gracious act of love, gesture of peace, and inkling of hope proclaims the witness of the shepherds. Each resounding experience of joy cries out with passion the reality of God’s creative and redeeming love. What a dark world this would be without Christ. What an empty festival of winter would remain if God had not so loved this world.
- Derek Maul, In My Heart I Carry a Star

John 1:1-5 (NRSV)
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

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For a worship resource on the theme of God’s Marvelous Light, click here

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Christmas 12a: The Wise Ones

The Journey of the Magi (1894) by James Jacques Joseph Tissot

The Story of Christmas
Day 12 Reading:

Matthew 2:1-12

Canticle: A Sacrifice
Acceptable to God

ALL SINGING:
What Child is This?
United Methodist Hymnal #219, verse 1

What Child is this
who, laid to rest
On Mary’s lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
While shepherds watch are keeping?
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

READER ONE: Verse from Shepherds’ Hymn by Richard Crashaw
To Thee, meek Majesty, soft King
Of simple graces and sweet loves!
Each of us his lamb will bring,
Each his pair of silver doves!
At last, in fire of Thy fair eyes,
Ourselves become our own best sacrifice!

READER TWO: Psalm 51:14-17 (NRSV)
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

ALL SINGING: What Child is This? United Methodist Hymnal #219, verse 3
So bring Him incense, gold and myrrh,
Come peasant, king to own Him;
The King of kings salvation brings,
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

READER ONE: Romans 12:1 (NRSV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

READER TWO: Verse from In the Bleak Midwinter by Christina Rossetti
What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a wise man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give him—Give my heart.

ALL SINGING:
This, this is Christ the King,
Whom shepherds guard and Angels sing;
Haste, haste, to bring Him laud,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

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For a reflection by Steve Garnaas-Holmes entitled What Led the Magi, click here

For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

A Sacrifice Acceptable to God: compilation © 2010 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

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Christmas 11b: Active Waiting


Psalm 130:5-6 (NIV)

I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope. My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.
- G. Campbell Morgan

Waiting patiently in expectation is the foundation of the spiritual life.
- Simone Weil

Teach us, O Lord, the disciplines of patience, for to wait is often harder than to work.
- Peter Marshall

Advent, meaning “the coming,” is a time when we wait expectantly. Christians began to celebrate it as a season during the fourth and fifth centuries. Like Mary, we celebrate the coming of the Christ child, what God has already done. And we wait in expectation of the full coming of God’s reign on earth and for the return of Christ, what God will yet do. But this waiting is not a passive waiting. It is an active waiting. As any expectant mother knows, this waiting also involves preparation, exercise, nutrition, care, prayer, work; and birth involves pain, blood, tears, joy, release, community. It is called labor for a reason. Likewise, we are in a world pregnant with hope, and we live in the expectation of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. As we wait, we also work, cry, pray, ache; we are the midwives of another world. – Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

We wait in confidence and hope not because of who we are but because of whom we trust and believe God is: faithful, steadfast, full of loving-kindness, true to God’s word, and present with us. - Enuma Okoro, Silence and Other Surprising Invitations of Advent

To wait open-endedly is an enormously radical attitude toward life. So is to trust that something will happen to us that is far beyond our imaginings. So, too, is giving up control over our future and letting God define our life, trusting that God molds us according to God’s love and not according to our fear. The spiritual life is a life in which we wait, actively present to the moment, trusting that new things will happen to us, new things that are far beyond our own imagination, fantasy, or prediction. That, indeed, is a very radical stance toward life in a world preoccupied with control. - Henri J. M. Nouwen

We have learned a bit too late in the day that action springs not from thought but from a readiness for responsibility. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters from Prison

Waiting for God means power to do nothing save under command. This is not lack of power to do anything. Waiting for God needs strength rather than weakness. It is power to do nothing. It is the strength that holds strength in check. It is the strength that prevents the blundering activity which is entirely false and will make true activity impossible when the definite command comes. - G. Campbell Morgan

Timing is so important! If you are going to be successful in dance, you must be able to respond to rhythm and timing. It’s the same in the Spirit. People who don’t understand God’s timing can become spiritually spastic, trying to make the right things happen at the wrong time. They don’t get His rhythm – and everyone can tell they are out of step. They birth things prematurely, threatening the very lives of their God-given dreams.
- T. D. Jakes

When either waiting or moving forward is done out of a spirit of union and surrender, we can trust that God will make good out of it—even if we are mistaken! It is not about being correct, it is about being connected. - Richard Rohr

Matthew 25:1-13 (NRSV)
Jesus said, “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! There will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

For an original hymn text based on the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, click here

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Christmas 11a: Simeon and Anna

Jesus Presented in the Temple by Jesus Mafa

The Story of Christmas
Day 11 Reading: Luke 2:22-38

We duly celebrated at his birth… with the star we ran, with the magi we worshiped, with the shepherds we were enlightened, with the angels we glorified him, with Simeon we took him up in our arms, and with the chaste and aged Anna we made our responsive confession.
- Gregory of Nazianzus

Prayer: Rest on Me
Holy Spirit,
as you rested on Simeon and Anna,
so rest on me.
Keep me expectant and open to your appearing.
Fill my speech with stories
of your praise and glory.

Holy Spirit,
you reveal salvation to every person.
Reveal it again to me.
Shine your light on every motivation,
on every hidden thing.
Pierce my soul,
so nothing I say or do opposes you.

Holy Spirit,
as you guided so many that first Nativity,
so guide me.
Continue to point me forward;
eyes open, steady and true.
Lead me to a faithful end,
so I may rest in peace forever with you, with others, and with my true self.

I trust and pray in the name of the Promised One, Jesus Christ,
my Savior and Savior of the World. Amen.

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For more quotes, poems and prayers on this Scripture, click to Suzanne Guthrie’s blog The Edge of the Enclosure

For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

Prayer: Rest on Me © 2010 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
Please contact Lisa for information and permission to publish this work in any form.

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Christmas 10: Jesus is Circumcised

Circumcision of Christ, artist unknown

The Story of Christmas
Day 10 Reading:
Luke 2:21

Blood Trail
by Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia

Where did the bloodshed begin?
Follow the trail to its start

The last shall be first
A centurion’s spear
Used in an indifferent stab, declaring he’s done

A few steps back,
his rings are found
Glistening like garnets,
each still moist
The ring of jagged nails
The ring of stinging thorns
The ring of prickly ridicule

More clues emerge
A stone that made him stumble
Monstrous cast off from a ravenous whip
Trace from a Sadducee’s slap

Outside Jerusalem, salty crimson evidence
In the dark earth of a lonely garden
Beside a vandalized tomb
Atop a hill overlooking the city

An awl tests positive in Nazareth
Perhaps he was pierced while working with his father
A knife tests positive in Bethlehem
Sharp enough for Abraham’s mark on an 8 day old son
Sharp enough to cut the cord
First blood found

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For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

Blood Trail © 2010 Lisa Ann Moss Degrenia
You are welcome to use this work in a worship setting with proper attribution.
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Christmas 9d: God Living Among Us

John 1:14 by calligrapher Timothy Botts

John 1:14 by calligrapher Timothy Botts

John 1:14 NRSV
And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

God is not in the distant heavens or in the hidden depths of the future, but here and now. God has pitched a tent among us. Even more than that, God has made a home in us so that we can make God’s home our home. We find our way home to the heart by following Jesus. – Henri J.M. Nouwen, A Spirituality of Homecoming

These eyes have never seen the Savior, but this heart has seen Him.
These lips have never kissed His cheek, but the soul has kissed Him
and He has kissed me with the kisses of His mouth, for His love is better than wine.
Think me not enthusiastic or fanatical when I say
that the children of God have as near access to Christ to day in the spirit,
as ever John had after the flesh.
So that there is to this day a rich enjoyment to be obtained by those who seek it,
in having actual fellowship with the Father and His Son Jesus Christ.
- Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Your God’s not absent, distant, impotent.
Your God’s vigilant, infinite, omnipotent, and intimate.
He made dermis His tent and lit the flesh with a pillar of glory — then walked among us? With cheekbones and stubble and hands that could hold you? Came and dwelled among us and knocked on the front door and asked if He could come in? Localized glory for your localized pain. He pitched His tent and camped right in the middle of us….
The Shekinah glory abode in the Tabernacle.
Then the glory of God tabernacled in the skin of Jesus.
The grace and truth of Jesus now tabernacles in you.
- Ann Voskamp, How to Live When Life Just Hurts

Extended quote by Debbie Blue
in From Stone to Living Word: Letting the Bible Live Again

“The Word became flesh” is God acting, God reaching. It reveals the lengths God is willing to go in pursuit of humanity, and it reveals an intimate, passionate, and vulnerable pursuit. The Word enters the darkness in order to bring light. Barth says that in this act “the antithesis, the distance, the abstraction that is created by the fact of darkness…is overcome.” It was not God who created the distance: it was humanity; it was sin. And in Jesus Christ, the distance is overcome.

Jesus Christ isn’t God standing back, beckoning fools to get out of their big and loud and stinky vehicles; Jesus is God climbing in the seat beside the fools and remaining there for the duration of the ride. The Word become flesh isn’t God giving up and turning away in disgust when God sees the people eat their third meal of the week from McDonald’s; it is God joining them for the meal. Instead of God protecting God’s good reputation, remaining above all the futility of the human race, instead of God maintaining good taste and impeccable manners, in Jesus we see God entering the paltry ruckus of life as we know it. It looks foolish. But it reveals, perhaps, something about how God feels about us. It was always in God’s heart to give up glory and power in order to achieve union. In the story John tells, wisdom plays the fool in order to be with us. The story of the Word become flesh is the story of God with us in an incredibly vulnerable way.

Emmanuel by Steve Garnaas Holmes
 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” –
Matthew 1:23

Forget all the fancy theories of salvation,
how this birth will be the latchkey
to our otherwise impossible forgiveness.
No, it is much more simple.

God wants to be with us.
That’s all.
Messed up as we are,
the Beloved likes to be close.

God desires to be with you,
delights to be with you.
Our Heavenly Lover delights
to be with all humanity,
because that’s what love is like.

All the stars in the darkness,
all the aching hearts,
the strangers who,
after all, are lovely,
all of this marvel
is just the divine plea
for friends.

How simple it is
to give God
immense pleasure!

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Click Here for the video which accompanies today’s artwork by calligrapher Timothy Botts.

For information on The Story of Christmas Reading Plan, click here

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