Sunday, December 15
Gathering up the straw of joy
On this third Sunday of Advent, reflect on the ways in which you showed the love of Christ to others.
What did you do as an individual, as a family and as a church?
How were these acts of love transformative to you, your family and the church?
Invite children to draw pictures of their “straws” of love.
As we begin a new week, think about joy. How does the world define joy? How does God define joy? And what ways might God be using you to bring joy to the world?
Monday, December 16
I have indeed received much joy and encouragement from your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, my brother. — Philemon 1:7
How can we refresh the hearts of others in a season that claims peace and goodwill to humanity, but is more often characterized by short tempers, exasperation and anxiety? A simple conversation with a stranger can save a life — or your own. Sometimes it is only a matter of affirming something about the other, such as, “You are lovely.” It was those three words that saved Tanya Gold from continuing down the suicidal path of addiction, she writes in the newspaper The Guardian. Such conversations are often with someone we might never see again. Being hospitable to the stranger matters everywhere we are, wherever we go.
Straw for the manger: Pay attention to the Holy Spirit’s nudges as you see the strangers around you. Bring some joy to a stranger through striking up a conversation in the checkout line or as you wait for a cup of coffee. Initiating positive interactions not only will lift your spirits, but also raise theirs. Encourage children to talk to someone new at school. At church, seek out a visitor or someone with whom you’ve never spoken.
God, may we be mindful of strangers and realize we are all struggling in some way. Help us to lift the burden of feeling alone in the world by engaging those in our path, by speaking life into them. Amen.
Tuesday, December 17
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. — Hebrews 13:2
I’m no angel, and just about anyone who knows me will confirm that. But I was treated like one many years ago when my husband and I packed up our little orange Chevette with our 9-month-old daughter in the back seat. Everything we had, which wasn’t a lot, was stored in a friend’s garage. We didn’t know where to go. My in-laws were willing to take us in, as were friends from our church. We had fulfilled our commitment to renovate a historic house where we had also established a house church. Now we were walking by faith with no clue where to go next, or should I say, driving by faith. At the end of the long driveway, we turned around and said goodbye to the house and the life we had lived for the previous 18 months.
“Should we turn right or left?”
If we turned left, we’d head toward my in-laws, a half-hour away. We turned right instead, toward Sam and Vicki’s home, which also housed their two teenage sons and daughter, a few miles away. They welcomed us as if we were long-lost family and they insisted that my husband, daughter and I take over the master bedroom. I refused and kept refusing. They kept insisting.
“We can’t do that, Vicki,” I said.
She said, “If Jesus were to come to your house, where would you put him?”
I said, “I’m not Jesus.”
Sam and Vicki slept on their living room floor for the next 30 days.
Straw for the manger: Send a thank you note to someone in the past who showed you hospitality. Tell them how it has influenced how you express hospitality in your life. Encourage children and teens to write thank you notes to grandparents, pastors or teachers for the ways they have blessed them.
Jesus, help us to see your face upon every face; to see your image upon every stranger, and on those who are so familiar to us as well. We pray for those we have considered our enemies, that we might see you even in them. Amen.
Wednesday, December 18
You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us; for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. — 2 Corinthians 9:11–12
“I wish I had been more generous with my time,” Constance said, days before passing from this life — a life she had spent teaching American literature at Georgetown University, coaching pastors, acting, pursuing artistic endeavors and managing her farm.
Are we generous enough with our time?
Karen, a deacon at the church I’m currently serving, is in the habit of generosity. She pays attention to others, she practices gratitude and she shares it. Karen is famous for the notes she sends out regularly to members and visitors of the church, among others, including shut-ins, old friends, new friends and neighbors. I am a recipient of those cards, as is my mother, who periodically can worship with us. These little cards, with an average of three scripted lines, bring unexpected joy to all those who receive them. Such acts spur others to a habit of generosity.
Straw for the manger: Consider every letter or card you send a love letter of sorts. Instead of signing only your name on any Christmas card you send, add a personal note; it will bless the receiver. Everyone needs to know they matter. Encourage young ones to send a card to someone they don’t know, such as to a local fire or police department, and thank the men and women for putting their lives on the line every day for those they don’t know. Goodwill is contagious.
Lord, teach us through experience the joy of being generous with our time. Show us all of the ways that it enlarges our hearts and the hearts of the receivers. Amen.
Thursday, December 19
[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. — 1 Corinthians 13:7
Sometimes we look outward to the ways we can feed the hungry, satisfy the thirsty, clothe the naked and visit the sick, yet we forget about those within our households. Children try their parents’ patience; parents try their children’s patience. But if ever there was an arena for love, it’s in the home. We forget that parents have the most profound influence on a child’s life for good. We forget that our children are the most critical work of our lives as parents. Remembering to feed our families the food and drink of love and affirmation, remembering to clothe them against the cold of the world, and being present in sickness and in health will impact every generation to follow.
Straw for the manger: Write a love letter to each of your children of any age, to your spouse or a valued friend, sharing with them all that you value about them. Ask your children to do likewise for their father, mother or grandparent, and have them wrap their letter up and place it under the tree for Christmas morning. These gifts
are a part of our legacy and last a lifetime.
God, help us be intentional about expressing our love and appreciation to those closest to us, knowing we are impacting the generations yet to come. Amen.
Friday, December 20
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. — Genesis 2:15
If Jesus were to tell the Matthew 25 story today of the king and the inheritance of those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked and gave drink to the thirsty, he might have added, “Remember the first work God gave you to do. Care for Eden, be faithful and good stewards of the earth. If you are kind to the earth, you show kindness to me and to all who reside there.”
In a day when climate change plasters the news, and millions of species of animal and insect are added to the endangered or extinction list, let us love the earth. The earth is hungry and thirsty for care, and there are places on this globe where it was once clothed, but now it is naked. Commit acts of kindness for the land we tread, for the air we breathe, and for the streams and rivers and lakes and oceans we thirst for and refresh ourselves by their beauty. This Advent, give the best gift ever — your loving care toward Creation.
Straw for the manger: When you pass by trash on the side of the road, on a path or anywhere that it doesn’t belong, pick it up. Recycle whenever possible. Also, go out as a family and make it a project to collect trash together. Start a movement. Examine the excesses of the way you live. Perhaps even aim for a simple — and green — Christmas.
Forgive us, Lord. Forgive us for polluting the very paradise you created for us. Help us to hold ourselves and others accountable, and willingly care for this dazzling, remarkable world of rivers, streams, seas, forests, mountains and deserts that is our home, our shelter, our food and our drink. Amen.
Saturday, December 21
I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. — Psalm 32:8
Our brains crave knowledge. Learning is like a transfusion into our blood that leads us to seek the One we call the mystery of mysteries. Breathing life into the minds of others through supporting education is one of the key tenets of our Reformed faith tradition. We can bring hope to the underserved, and to those who teach them, by donating school supplies.
DonorsChoose.org is an organization that empowers public school teachers from across the country to request much-needed materials and experiences for their students. In fact, 81% of all of the public schools in America have at least one teacher who has posted a project on the website, and 83% of schools that have participated were schools where half or more of the students hail from low-income households.
Mrs. Burns, a teacher at Robert Boeckman Middle School in Farmington, Minnesota, posted a request for $350 for paint, brushes and organizers to help create a “Kindness Rocks” garden.
The garden is the project of a small group of students who paint inspirational quotes or pictures on rocks and then place them in a garden in front of the school.
“We talk all the time about how one small little act can really make someone’s day. Students are encouraged to think of sayings that are meaningful to push others to believe in themselves,” Mrs. Burns said. But these words of kindness go even further, as students bring their creations into their neighborhoods to begin their own gardens, planting seeds of hope and generosity wherever they go.
Straw for the manger: Serve the underserved by making a donation to schools for supplies, feeding the hunger for knowledge.
Our Lord and our God, the more we learn, the more knowledge we obtain, the greater our sense of awe and wonder, and the deeper our faith can grow. Bless our teachers who work so hard and often with so little. Amen.