A star, a star, dancing in the night… with a tail as big as a kite.
Stars are symbolic of many things. For some, they are a spiritual or sacred symbol. For example, an eight-pointed star is a Native American symbol of hope and guidance. For others, stars are a symbol of magic, humanity, divinity, direction (as the Northern Star), excellence, or even fame. Some may say “reach for the stars” as a means to motivate. The star of Bethlehem is one of guidance, the star of David representing hope in the coming Messiah.
In the Christmas story, we read in Matthew 2 that the Magi (wise men, magicians, astronomers) see a star rise to their west and travel great distances to worship the one who has been born, Jesus, the king of the Jews. This star is the beacon of their long-awaited hope, now realized. Imagine yourself in their shoes. For generations the Jews have been awaiting the coming of the Messiah, literally looking to the skies. Can you imagine the heart palpitations, the thoughts that raced through their minds “do you think it could be?” The compelling sense to see the star, to not miss the joyous occasion, the motivation to go and see – with the thought “we must see this miraculous occasion for ourselves.”
Do you see what I see?
The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
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We recognize that all prayers for peace echo through the generations- worship and praise, petition and intercession, supplication, thanksgiving, and lament are the prayers of the faithful.
As a Historic Peace Church, one would rightly expect the Church of the Brethren to highlight the coming of one hailed as the “Prince of Peace.” That the angels proclaim, “Peace on Earth” and not long after, violence would be used by those in power attempting to stifle this coming child. The political and social context then and now make a robust focus on peace a clear need.
We also assert that all theology is practical—what some would call ethics—and as such, that the coming child embodies the fullness of God’s shalom is of immediate relevance for how we live as Christians and the church in the world. In another context I have defined peace as:
Peace is the presence of wholeness in relationships that are characterized by justice, mutuality, and wellbeing. Peace is not a universal or homogenous experience but is experienced in the appreciation and celebration of diversity and between individuals, communities, nations, and with the environment (non-human world).
Jesus came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.” Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.
Today marks the point in Holy Week when we enter more deeply into the Passion narrative, the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection. As we continue to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, these devotions will turn our attention more directly to the Passion story, focusing on events as they are recounted in the Gospels, and how they are remembered and celebrated in Jerusalem today. Read more
And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.
Then Solomon said,
“The Lord has said that he would dwell in thick darkness.
I have built you an exalted house,
a place for you to dwell in forever.”
1 Kings 8:10-13
For the first three Sundays of Lent we will be focusing on Jerusalem as a city shared by three faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This week we look closer at the deep meaning Jerusalem holds for the Jewish people. In 1 Kings 8:10-13, we catch a glimpse of the dedication of the First Temple, built by King Solomon. Although the temple has since been destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again, this passage captures the significance of Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God. It is for this reason that the Western Wall has become the holiest site in Judaism today, as it is the closest Jews are able to get to the Temple Mount, particularly the Holy of Holies where the Presence of God dwelt. It is generally believed that praying at the Western Wall, either from the Jewish prayer book or by placing prayers in the cracks of the wall, is especially efficacious because of its proximity to the site of the Holy of Holies. Read more
The Advent season is the time when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, Christ Jesus. Isaiah 9:6 says:
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Yet when we look at the Middle East today, peace seems to be absent, if not impossible to achieve. The brutal civil war in Syria, the destructive actions of ISIS, and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are just a few reasons why peace seems so far away. This past week, President Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem the Capital of Israel without regard for final status negotiations or the aspirations of the Palestinians, contributes to this chaos. Read more
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
The Christmas season is full of light – sparkling lights on the Christmas tree; houses in the neighborhood decorated with lights for the coming holiday; candles flickering on the mantle; a fire in the fireplace representing warmth, comfort, and hope. These are the images of light we will hold onto this Advent season.
And we hold these images as hope not only for our own lives; but for the lives of those suffering in Palestine, Israel, the Middle East, and around the world. We remember in our prayers this week:
- The men, women, and children who are living in Gaza; often with only a few hours of electricity per day.
- The 60,000 internally displaced persons in Gaza still waiting for a durable housing solution since the destruction of their homes during the 2014 Gaza War.
- The families affected by the 155 demolitions or confiscations of Palestinian owned structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during September and October 2016.
- Those affected by the terrible fires throughout Israel and the West Bank that destroyed hundreds of homes, displacing tens of thousands.
In him was life, and that life was the light of the people.
The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:4-5)
Advent is a season of waiting. The anticipation of things to come. The desperate hope that the darkness of the world is not the end of the story; but one day light will prevail.
For those invested and paying attention to the political realities of the Middle East, often darkness seems to rule the day. There is much darkness to lament ~
The darkness of the Syrian conflict that has raged for more than half a decade and has resulted in the displacement and death of millions…
The darkness of the genocide of Christians and minority groups such as the Yazidis in Iraq and surrounding nations at the hands of Islamic extremists and other militant groups …
In His Image – Women for Change release statement against violence
Nine Israeli and Palestinian women serving with different ministries in the Messianic Jewish, Israeli Arab Christian and Palestinian sectors of the Evangelical churches in Israel/Palestine have issued a statement opposing the use of violence. They invite you to join with them in prayer for the conflict and to endorse this statement.
Using a broad definition of violence as “any physical, emotional, verbal, institutional, structural or spiritual behaviour, attitude, policy or condition that diminishes, dominates or destroys ourselves and others”, the statement challenges the status quo of the deeply divided communities and calls for a renewed commitment to seek peace, justice and security for all in Israel and Palestine. The statement calls for a renunciation of violence in all its forms-military, political, social, psychological and spiritual-and condemns both the recent spate of attacks on citizens and the use of force to maintain the occupation. Read more
by Elli Atchison
Jesus was no stranger to the suffering of our world. He experienced every trial we face today. He did not come to immediately bring an end to sadness and suffering or poverty and injustice. He did not come to overthrow a government or to end political occupations. He came to show us a better way to live, amidst the many tribulations that plague our world. He came that we might have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10) Jesus came to usher in the Kingdom of God on earth.
During the three years Jesus traveled throughout the Holy Land, He constantly talked about the Kingdom. Many times He spoke of it in ways that confused His followers. But, His perfect actions demonstrated the lessons he wanted to teach those who chose to follow Him. The rules of the Kingdom include loving God through obedience and loving others before oneself. They include praying for enemies, refusing to retaliate against evil, and showing kindness even when others don’t. Kingdom values also teach us to trust in God to provide for our needs and all the while to embrace suffering that just does not seem fair. Read more