Prayer for Illumination
I used the following poem written by Howard Thurman during the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving at the Healing and Wholeness service. It’s been making the rounds, and it’s apt especially for today, the first Sunday after Christmas. Please pray with me.
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all,
To make music in the heart.”
Let it be so according to Your Will, O God.
Open our ears and let us hear Your Word again. May Your Spirit, which has called us here to worship You, make our spirits to desire You alone. Make us to soar on Your mighty wings, and prepare the path for us.
For we pray in Christ’s name, who had no-where to lay His head. Amen.
Galatians 4:4-7 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
James Mctyre writes: “On the First Sunday after Christmas, commonly called a “low Sunday,” Paul calls us to be lifted impossibly high. On a day when worship attendance is normally at its annual low, a day when church choirs often take a “vacation” after the vocal workout of Advent, and when the euphoria of Christ’s birth has turned to postpartum exhaustion, (and perhaps a letdown or disappointment (LP), Paul—ever the counter-culturalist—calls the church and its culture to vivid, pentecostal transformation. Our hearts—our over-indebted, over-sweetened, very over-Christmas hearts—are directly injected with the Spirit of God’s Son. If we listen closely, we hear a new, extra heartbeat within us, faintly echoing the cry of a baby’s first words: “Abba! Abba! Abba!” Our blood is mingled with that of Jesus Himself. We are no longer slaves—to the law, to others, or to ourselves. We are no longer second-class strangers to our salvation. We are now children and heirs of God, just as Jesus himself is God’s child and heir. And so, on one of our “lowest” days, Paul would have the full impact of the heights of Christmas take hold of us and lift us above ourselves and beyond our culture. Paul calls us—the church—to be born again on the first Sunday after Christmas.
Paul composed his letter to the Galatians without the benefit of the written Gospels, so it is impossible to know exactly what nativity story Paul had in mind. Perhaps, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law” is all the birth narrative Paul had, or at least all he needed.” (Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 1: Advent through Transfiguration.)
Words are powerful, Paul reminds us of that. It’s just not true that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words carry heft. Sometimes they carry a bat, sometimes an offering. Words can bully. Words can uplift. Words can break someone. Words can heal someone. Words shape situations, people, communities, churches, a nation, the world. Words can be inspiring or empty. Even the best words can fall on deaf ears, and words you think nothing about received by grateful ears.
In the Matthew passage about the magi and Herod, we hear words like: born, star, rising, homage, perturbed, go, stopped, gold, frankincense, and myrrh, another path, another way home. In Galatians, we hear: fullness, time, born, law, adoption, children, crying, Abba, slave, child, and heir.
These words are knitted together to tell the story of salvation, our salvation, one that we are born into, live into, and die into. One that we pass onto the next generation, as well as to the person in front of us, beside us, and behind us. It’s the story we tell as we drive, as we stand in line at the grocery store, as we live our day in and day out lives.
The Christmas story is only a reminder that there is much for us to grow into as people of faith. We need the Word to inspire us, we need the Word to sustain us, we need the right words at the right time, we need to keep our words to ourselves at other times; words define us, and words shape us. I can call you an idiot, or dumb, or whatever, and that might sting but it wouldn’t make it true. Or I can choose to call you beloved. I choose that. Beloved. Child. Heir.
So why not take these words from these stories, or other words, and grow into them, so that we would not only be nourished in God’s will but grow as mature followers of Christ? Paul says, we are God’s children, adopted by the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ. We are heirs. This is the very best news I can give you on the last day of this year. Anything else pales.
I’ve been reflecting on words and the Word over the last several weeks; ok: months, years, decades, a lifetime. I remember that by God’s very Word, the world was brought into being, birthed. That Jesus Christ is the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth, and we have beheld His glory. The Word was God and the Word was with God from the beginning.
Words are important, and the Word is most important.
There’s a company called MyIntent that makes word bracelets. I ordered one that I am wearing now and will wear in 2018. My word is “surrender.” It reminds me that I desire to surrender to the will of God alone—not to my will, or to yours, or to the world’s. I’m not special, the same applies to every person. We are to be tuned into God’s will for lives. Sometimes I need to be reminded of the gravity and the grace contained in God’s holiness. That’s why my word is “surrender.”
Another friend has chosen “patience,” then she decided that “patience” needed to be supported by “trust.”
Yet another friend of mine has chosen, “share.”
What is your 2018 word, that word you will intentionally choose and grow into? If you take a look at the handout, I give you help.
(The following was the handout, minus a page of suggested words)
What is your 2018 word?
Words are important. We must use them with great care in regard to each other and to ourselves. What word will you choose to meditate on in 2018?
Some ways to think about this:
What causes you pain? The opposite of that is your word.
What causes you discomfort? Is that your word, or its opposite?
What do you want/need to work on? That’s your word.
What trait do you not like about yourself? The opposite is your word.
What is good? That’s your word.
This is a spiritual, not worldly exercise. The point is to strengthen your relationship with God, who yearns for your presence and attention.
Decide today, December 31, 2017, what your 2018 word is. Write it down. Keep it before you. Grow into it. Give it to God and pray on it because God gave you the word in the first place. You may not know why, today, you’ve chosen a word. Grow into it. Meditate on it. Find out where it is in scripture. (biblegateway.com can help– a scripture search engine).
Keep each other accountable. Ask: “What is your word?”
I will think of ways to unpack this this year. Who’s with me? Let’s do this together. Let’s learn about God’s grace this way.
My word is “surrender”—not my values, not what I believe, and not to the enemy (which shows up looking like gossip, or hatred, or impatience, or etc.), but to God’s will. So I will meditate on the word and what it means, because I haven’t got it all figured out yet. I trust the Holy Spirit to show me.
The peace of Christ be with you.
Holy God, Abba, Father, in You we live, and we move, and we have our being. In the fullness of time, You sent Your Son to redeem us. We still need a Savior. We need Jesus Christ and so we are thankful to be called His brothers and sisters, Your children. We are made in Your image and You have adopted us as Your very own children. How grateful we are to be a part of this wondrous family. Your Spirit lifts us from slavery to freedom, heirs of heaven.
You lift us from slavery to freedom, and all things are possible.
Free from the slavery of sin.
Free from the slavery of judgment.
Free from the slavery of addiction.
Free from the slavery of bodies and minds that fail us.
Free from shame and guilt.
Free from the foolishness of our grudges.
Free from the slavery of hurt feelings.
Free from the opinions that divide us.
Free from hatred, the need to be right, and pride.
We are free to serve You in the ways You call us, all different to serve Your purpose.
We pray for a broken world.
We pray that we would be more mindful of You and Your creation.
We pray that You would use us to mend shattered hearts.
Melt us. Mold us. Use us. May we look to Christ and be radiant in His image.
And now we bring to You our concerns for ourselves and for those we love, in our hearts or out loud.
By Your Word, the world was created. By Your Word, we were created. Carry us into the new year with a passion for You. Let Your Spirit revel in us, that we would love better, forgive deeply and mean it, and seek Your face in all.
Gracious God, hear our words as we offer them to You.
Because we didn’t have the words, You gifted us with them and taught us how to pray, saying:
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil; for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.