Reflection by Peter Hanson, Lead Pastor
Perhaps my favorite line in all of Eugene Peterson’s The Message translation of the Bible is his version of John 1:14a; “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.”
Far from cheapening the mystery of the incarnation that John’s gospel highlights, it reminds us that the incarnation, the action of God’s Word becoming flesh, is itself universal and particular. The warm, familiar specificity of a word like neighborhood—as opposed to the vaguer “community” or the more general “humanity”—reminds us that God’s coming is for us, just as God in Christ is coming to be with us.
We, as children of God, have received God’s grace right where we are. This gift of grace is no less than the gift of the Christ Child, who makes God known to us. We and our neighbors are the subject of this last verse. “We have seen the glory with our own eyes … generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14b, The Message) In Jesus, the Word-Made-Flesh, God has chosen to disclose God’s own self in flesh and blood so that we might recognize ourselves and our neighbors as children of God. Now, we can see our own neighborhood as the holy ground into which Christ comes.
A prayer: Long ago, O God, you moved into our neighborhood, becoming one of us, sharing our humanity. As we celebrate Christmas again this year, help us to truly see you in the face of all of our neighbors.
Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest. Amen
Reflection for December 23rd, by Nate Crary, Director of Worship
In “Dear Church: A Love Letter from a Black Preacher to the Whitest Denomination in the US,”
Lenny Duncan writes this about our church:
“During Advent, we spend an entire season struggling through the darkness looking toward the coming light. The primary symbol and image we use for the season is the anticipation of an emergence from darkness to light. We could focus more broadly on Holy Anticipation. Or the God Child being born into a world where empire will try to lay waste to him. Or a God who throws God’s own self upon the world, clothed in vulnerability and dependency. Or the place of unwed teenage mothers in our world. Or the slaughter of innocents by a leader grasping for power. We don’t tend to focus on the theme of refugees fleeing radical evil. Or preparing the way of the Lord by creating conditions more conducive to grace. Nope. We have reduced the Advent season to “from darkness to light,” a theme reinforced by repetition and tradition. And darkness is just another way of saying blackness—another symbol that equates blackness with evil and light (whiteness) with good.”
Why do so many of the favorite Advent and Christmas hymns we love to sing reinforce the idea of blackness being bad and whiteness being good? How have I been okay with this? What do I need to admit to myself in order to change? In what ways do we need to own up to what we’ve been singing for so long?
My prayer is that we no longer reduce the Advent season to themes of “from darkness to light,” but to themes that give power to and express beauty within the blackness that invites us into deeper relationship with God and with one another.
Reflection for December 22nd, by John Rohde Schwehn, Associate Pastor
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. Here is a verse of scripture worth wrestling with in these days of waiting.
“But I really loved the former things, God! I want the things-of-old back!”
The year 2020 has been its own sort of Advent. We have found ourselves waiting on something merely hoped for: a vaccine, a miraculous vanishing of this virus, sudden immunity. It has felt at times as though we’ve simply hit the pause button; when this virus goes away, life will resume where we left it in March 2020.
If this is how we tell the story of 2020, we will have missed something: that this has also been a year – a season! – of God doing a new thing. Let’s be clear about one thing: God does not cause pain and suffering in order to do a new thing. Instead, what we see on the cross is that God enters the pain and suffering of the world, feels lovingly and compassionately for God’s people, and then finds a way to use it for transformation.
This has also been a year of transformation. Vocations reimagined. Old relationships rekindled from afar. We have been confronted with our need for one another, with the myth of total independence. We have stayed local, fallen in greater love or admiration with the place we always were. We have polluted less; the earth has been given a break from our relentless consumption of her.
Tragically, COVID has also revealed the inequities that were already here. It turns out that your zip code, racial identity, and economic class are way too determinative of health outcomes. As they have throughout history, the poor have received the brunt of the world’s suffering.
2020 has been a year to clarify what is most important to us, and a year to be renewed in our baptismal callings to work for the restoration and reconciliation of ourselves, our communities, and our whole world to the love of God. All of this comes only through God’s creative and life-giving Spirit. And, when the Holy Spirit is involved, something new is bound to happen next. Watch for it.
Pray: God, you are forming us into something new. Grow our faith and deepen our love as we navigate this messy process of transformation. Open our eyes to the newness around us every day. Open our hearts to love others and your creation more deeply. Open our minds to imagine new possibilities. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Reflection for December 21st by Megan Crosby, Organist/Accompanist
As a church musician, I have sung many versions of Mary’s Magnificat. Two examples from our red hymnal include “My Soul Proclaims Your Greatness Lord” and “Canticle of the Turning.” Mary’s voice resonates with me, even though it’s over 2,000 years old. I hear vindication, triumph, and joy. God has “exalted the humble and scattered the proud,” This imagery is reminiscent of the prophet Isaiah’s “every valley shall be exalted and every mountain made low.”
And while I feel the strength and power running through her proclamation, I look around and still there is greed, pride, and injustice the world over. What can one person do in the face of this tyranny? Lucky for us, God doesn’t need human power. In fact, God is happy to use the powerless, the humble, the poor, the “lowly” things in life to accomplish our salvation. Mary was unwed, pregnant, and young, and in her culture she had little control over her own life. God gave her a task that was already expected of her: have children. So when you are doing your ordinary, daily tasks, just consider that maybe you are doing the work that God needs done without even knowing it. What are you good at? What are you already doing that gives you strength and can be used to help others?
Dear God, while we await with joy the coming of your Son, move us to welcome all—the hurt, the lost, the lonely, the poor, the suffering. Move us to action. Amen
Reflection for December 20th by Peter Hanson, Lead Pastor
Nearly every day since mid-February, I have listened to a recording of Kim André Arnesen’s Magnificat. Early on, this was to help learn my part, as I was to be part of the CtK choir group singing in Carnegie Hall in April. Later, on, especially during my sabbatical, when the Covid-related shutdowns postponed the concert, I continued to listen to it more as a spiritual practice. Its Latin words were at once familiar enough to be comforting, yet foreign enough not to be a distraction to reading, writing or prayer. Paradoxically, this piece that we never got to sing in public speaks a word of hope about the future possibilities
While the text for today is not the Magnificat, but rather the Annunciation that precedes it, I tend to combine these two passages—these two events—in how I relate to this story. Mary is visited by the angel Gabriel, who announces that she will bear God’s own child. Caught off guard, she wonders how this will be; yet when the news is further unpacked, she says “yes” to this surprising blessing. And later, as she visits her relative, Elizabeth, she sings of a magnificent God who overturns the status quo, who upends our expectations, who lifts up the lowly. That such a disruptive thing could be so soothing, so calming to us these days is nothing less than an Advent miracle.
A prayer: God of surprises, God of blessing, God of promise: you come to us and call us to bear your word to the world. Help us to respond to you, so that our very lives my sing “Here am I, a servant of my God; let it be with me according to your word!” Amen.
Reflection for December 19th by Amity Lantz, Director of Youth and Family Faith Formation
It’s the beginning of winter in Minnesota. Are you feeling comfy cozy, or a bit stir-crazy? Have you dusted off the skis and snowshoes, or are you looking at your shovel and wishing it was a kayak paddle?
We often take for granted the blessing of having four seasons. In these winter months we can get caught in the white gray haze and forget to see the deep green of the evergreen trees that get lost behind the bright greens of summer and the red and yellow of autumn. We miss the craftsmanship of the journey water takes as it forms robust and striking icicles hanging from the sides of buildings and the gutters of houses. And as snow falls from the sky it’s easy to brush past the complexity in each and every snowflake. The attention and expertise that went into designing something that has never been created before and will not be replicated again.
God begins everything by creating our world. Piece by piece he creates this beautiful and complex landscape that will be the setting in all stories throughout history. A place that will provide us with everything that is essential to human life in a physical way, and a place that can also provide for us in an emotional way. The quiet of sitting on your back porch reading in the sun, and laughter of throwing snowballs at your friends, splashing your cousins in the lake, watching the stars with your loved ones.
With the world around us God invites us to see ourselves outside of our bodies. We can reflect on the way our relationships can mimic rivers and streams. How our health can be seen in the way flowers bounce back after getting the nutrients they need. The way baby turtles return to the beach where they were born to lay their own eggs and start their own families. When we go outside, we get to see ourselves reflected back in the way that God lovingly created everything around us.
“God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but on the trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
— Author Unknown
A prayer for Today: Creator God, we give thanks for this world you have blessed us with. The care and attention you gave to each and every tree, flower, bird, and insect. We ask that you help us to see the importance of the world around us, and that we are here to care for this creation, in the way you care for us. Be with us as we step into this world and see not only ourselves, but You reflected in the power, light, and love we are constantly surrounded by. Amen
Reflection for December 18th by Megan Crosby, Organist/Accompanist
If there’s one thing we need right now, it’s a good dose of “perseverance and encouragement.” As a write this, the Covid pandemic has claimed 245,000 lives in the United States. People have lost their jobs, their homes, their families. We are tired. We are tired of the deaths, of not being able to see our loved ones, of not living “normal.” Our nation has not been “of the same mind with one another” and it shows in the state of our health care, the division of our politics, and the treatment of those most vulnerable at this time.
Paul encourages us to “Glorify God with one voice.” Obviously, he’s talking about a group of people, but we can’t sing in a group right now, let alone worship together without people getting sick. But you know what you can do? You can still sing; albeit by yourself, with the with whom people you live, or possibly in the backyard very far away from each other! And while you sing (or after you sing) pray for understanding, for acceptance, for unity.
Dear God, help us to listen to our neighbors and search for common ground as we help the most vulnerable around us: the homeless, the poor, the sick and dying. Amen
Reflection for December 17 by Katie Ahern, Communication and Office Administrator
Isn’t it easy to get caught up in negative mind talk? God knew this about our human nature and created the healing balm for it. Himself. If we focus on Jesus and what He says about the truth of who we are, we’re less likely to give in to the untrue narratives we make up about ourselves and others. Yet, God made us free. In any given moment, have a choice on how we choose to show up and respond. Paul tells us that we need to fix our thoughts on what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. These all sound like much better qualities to fix our minds on then those of judgement, bitterness, jealousy, or hatred! If we choose to follow Jesus, we will be led to peace, moment by moment. Together, let’s keep our minds fixed on God’s word and practice living lives built on the love and peace of Jesus.
Dear God, As we practice walking in your example, please guide us to be kinder with our words, more gentle in our actions, and peaceful in our thoughts. May our day to day responses to life be ones that are healthy for our mind, body and soul. Help us let go of the behaviors that no longer serve us. We thank you for gifting us with your encouraging love and promise of peace. Amen.
Reflection for December 16th by Peter Hanson, Lead Pastor
Theologian and author C.S. Lewis once compared the offerings we give to God and for God’s work to a young child who asks their parent for money to buy that same parent a Christmas gift. Of course the parent gives the child the sixpence as requested, Lewis says. And of course, he continues, the parent truly appreciates the gift, and thanks the child genuinely and joyously for their thoughtfulness. But the parent would be a fool for thinking they had become sixpence richer in such an exchange, Lewis concludes. Any gift we may present to God has first come to us from God, and belongs to God.
Nonetheless, we can and do find great joy in giving what we can to God and for God’s mission. And we believe that God appreciates receiving all our gifts, and joyously accepts each such a gesture. Christ the King has long been a generous congregation, using our gifts to God to extend the reach of our ministry and to provide for our neighbors in need. This has not only continued, it has increased during these pandemic days. And while we would be fools for thinking that such acts of kindness somehow enrich God in the transaction, we can take comfort in the belief that God sees our generosity and is genuinely overjoyed by our thoughtfulness.
We pray: God of abundance, all things come from you, and all that we may give belongs to you already. Make of us a generous people, willing to give of our abundance to others near and far. Help us to be mindful of all we have received, and joyful in our giving. Amen.
(note: for the life of me, I still don’t know why this day’s image is three sacks of potatoes!)
Reflection for December 15th by Pepe Demarest, Pastoral Intern
I love getting and writing Christmas cards. I take out my list and think of the various people who have passed through my life, remembering them with gratitude and hoping for their happiness. Paul blesses the Corinthians by calling on the “God of all consolation, who consoles us in all of our afflictions, so that we may be able to console those who are in affliction.”
(2 Cor. 1:3-4).
As we are preparing for the birth of the One who brings good news to the oppressed and binds up the brokenhearted, we may feel that there is little that we can do. But as Paul is telling the Corinthians, we have been consoled so that we can console others. Our prayers are to encourage those who are afflicted. Perhaps on our Christmas cards this year, we can say that as we have been comforted, we will pray for you that you may feel the comfort and consolation of God. .
Prayer: Oh consoling God, we pray for all those who find this season dark, who feel absent and apart from the hope you promise in your Son. May we remember that during the coldest season, hearts can be warmed by remembering others. Amen.