Merry Christmas from the Prayer Ministry

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“Wait,” you say, “Christmas is over, we’ve done our post- Christmas bargain shopping and we’re finalizing our plans for New Year’s Eve.”

Well, for the Church, Christmas is not just one day, but a season. We Christians always get a second weekend of Christmas. In fact, our Christmas season or the twelve days of Christmas concludes on January 6th, what we in the Church call Epiphany.

In her blog, Seasons of the Soul, Christine Valters Painter suggests spiritual practices for the 12 Days of Christmas. Click here to see the practices.

I invite you to give a couple of them a try, and as you do so reflect on how God is being born in you. We would love to hear about your experiences with your prayer practice. You can join the conversation by leaving a comment on our prayer blog. http://prayer.blogs.cor.org/

Peace on Earth!

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Today we light the fourth candle in the advent wreath – the Peace Candle. And of course, it only takes a moment of checking the news or even Twitter and you know that the world is anything but peaceful. We are called to be peacemakers, in Jesus’ name. So, as we light this fourth candle, let’s offer this prayer for peace, and ask God to make us peacemakers as we prepare to celebrate the birth of his son and the hope of Peace.

O Prince of Peace,
whose advent we seek in our lives,
come this day and show us
how to beat our swords into plowshares,
tools of life instead of instruments of fear.
Let us not yearn for victory
that requires a sister’s sorrow
or a brother’s shamefaced defeat.
Let us be Advent adventurers and peacemakers
hammering swords into shovels,
filling holes and leveling peaks.
Let us be disarmed and vulnerable
for only through such open hands and hearts
can Emmanuel come.

Adapted from “An Advent Peace Psalm,” Prayers for a Planetary Pilgrim by Edward Hays. – Jennifer Creagar

 

Joy

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Today is the third Sunday of Advent. Preferring symmetry, I always thought the Advent wreath looked a little peculiar with its three purple candles and one pink candles representing the four Sundays of Advent. The purple candles remind us that this is a season of reflective waiting. Today, however, we light the pink candle to remind us to rejoice. Even in a serious season, today we pause to lift up our hearts, to count our blessings, to remember that God is good, to laugh and smile, and to be filled with joy. When was the last time you were filled with joy?

Last Saturday night, my husband Scott and I went to church then straight to the mall to exchange a gift we had bought. It was about 8:30 and we were almost home when we realized that we hadn’t had dinner yet, so we stopped at Sonic and I had a chocolate peppermint shake for dinner. Now this might not sound remarkable, but those who know me well will tell you that I’m one of those people who always talk about healthy eating, I exercise frequently, and I’m constantly calculating carbs. Still, I cannot even describe the amount of joy I felt savoring each heavenly taste. The ice cream in the shake was real, not air-fluffed powdered mix blended with ice. The peppermint was not merely flavoring, but crushed up real peppermint candies that lasted until the final slurp. That was the moment for me when the Christmas season became real, and all of the lights looked a little brighter, and all of the Christmas songs on the car radio sounded a little more cheery.

It seems silly that a Sonic shake would bring such joy, which is why I don’t really think it was about the shake. I believe what really brought me joy was for that moment I let go of being an annoying calorie counter and allowed myself grace. In the Sonic parking lot, God focused my attention on his love, mercy, compassion and grace. We believe, as Christians, that grace is a gift from God, so by allowing ourselves grace we connect with the true joy that can only come from heaven. While my stomach was full of ice cream, my heart was full of God’s grace.

So today light three candles for the third Sunday of Advent, and with intention, allow yourself and your loved ones a little bit of grace. Smile and rejoice in the goodness of God.

Gracious God, open our hearts to your grace today. Help us recognize it in places where we may not have previously noticed. In our welcoming of your Son into our homes and hearts, may we embrace the Advent meaning of this gift you have given us. Amen.

– Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer

Advent

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Another parenting first has been slowly developing over the past two or three weeks. It all started when my daughter Annie graduated from KU in the spring and shortly thereafter moved to Chicago for her first “real world” job.  I never thought it would happen. One would think that with Facebook, Facetime, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and texting we would be in communication all the time. Yet, with our long hours and busy weekends, we only exchange transitory traces of each today. Blessings as they are, what I truly long for is to feel a heartfelt hug and look directly into her warm smile and sparkling eyes. As a newbie in parenting young adults department, I was not expecting how agonizing the slow wait for Annie to come home for Thanksgiving would be. It’s the kind of waiting that grips you just underneath your ribs and squeezes your gut every time you think about their arrival home.

Celebrating Advent, likewise, means experiencing the ache of waiting.  Dietrich Bonheoffer, in a letter to his fiancée from prison in 1943, shares his thoughts on the art of waiting.  He says, “Whoever does not know the austere blessedness of waiting – that is, of hopefully doing without – will never experience the full blessing of fulfillment. Those who do not know how it feels to struggle anxiously with the deepest questions of life, of their life, and to patiently look forward with anticipation until the truth is revealed, cannot even dream of the splendor of the moment in which clarity is illuminated for them.”

Each weekend in worship, we light special Advent candles to mark and sanctify the anticipation of the birth of Christ, God-with-us in the flesh. This is also something you can do at home as a part of your own personal prayer time or with friends or family each Sunday. If you already have a special Advent wreath, that is fine, however it is also fine to simply light a candle and say a prayer that acknowledges the feelings that arise when you have to wait for something amazing to happen.

Jesus, it is so hard to wait. Like a heartfelt hug and warm smile, I long for you to be near once again. I look forward with anticipation and excitement your blessed arrival. I light this candle today as a sign of hope and an affirmation of faith that You, who is revealed in the manger, is also revealed as love and light in the world and becomes truly alive through the movements of my life.

 –Nancy Pauls, Pastor of Prayer


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