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Friday, December 26

Scripture Reading: Matthew 1:18-25

Please hold in prayer:

Iris de Leon-Hartshorn (MC USA)
Cynthia Lapp (Inclusive Pastors)
Joanna Harader (Inclusive Pastors)

Friends, this is the last post for Advent 2014: Healing and Hope. Many many thanks to those who read this blog, who participated in the Facebook group, and especially those who contributed. Your reflections over the past weeks have added joy to my Advent journey and provided the gift of grace in a stressful time. My heart is full and my hope is strong as we enter into a new year and continue to work for a renewed church.

Deepest peace and richest blessings to you all. ~Joanna

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What Child is This

Here is a musical piece from Katherine Goerzen and Valerie Klaassen.

Christmas blessings to you all!

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On Being Legitimate

Vicki L Penner is an ordained Mennonite pastor serving as a Chaplain at Grace Hospice in Lawrence, KS.  She is also working on an MSW at the University of Kansas.

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Jesus was illegitimate.  His father was not his mother’s husband (or even fiancée).   Our scripture this day after Christmas, is about Joseph’s struggle.

Being legitimate is important.  Even today, the crown of Monaco will go to the new born prince of Prince Albert and his wife Charlene because he is legitimate.   Prince Albert has two older children, but since they were illegitimate they will not get the keys to power and privilege.

I feel for Joseph who is tempted to dismiss Mary.  Power and privilege are strong forces in our world.  It only seems right – and respectful to dismiss Mary quietly.

St. Paul struggled with privilege.  In Philippians 3, he said he had every confidence in what he was doing in persecuting the early church because of his pedigree. He was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee. None should question his interpretation of the will of God.   Yet, he said he considered all loss because of the sake of Christ. Christ born among us shows us a way of peace and justice that we simply cannot see from the halls of power and privilege.

I struggle with privilege too. I am white and middle-class. There are many times when I benefit by people assuming that I am legitimate and trustworthy before they actually know me. While I am a woman, which is not a privileged class in many parts of the world, I am privileged to have been born to a family who respects me, encouraged by church and friends who support me and employed by churches and agencies that empower me to use my gifts fully.

Even in the Mennonite world, I am privileged.  My mother is an Eby from Lancaster and my father is a Penner from Nebraska.  Their linages can be traced through Mennonite and Anabaptist roots through the direct immigrants from Switzerland  or the circuitous immigrants who spent time in Catherine the Great’s Russia before settling in the United States.   My pedigree is flawless.  Being aware of my Mennonite privilege, keeping my maiden name was not so much a feminist action for me than awareness that my maiden name of Penner goes a lot farther in the Mennonite Game and receiving unearned opportunity than does my husband’s last name of Minder.

Becoming aware of our privilege and how it limits us in being able to perceive the coming of Emmanuel (God with us) is central to this scripture and pertinent to our lives today.

Joseph was tempted to dismiss Mary quietly. Yet he didn’t. He paid attention to the movement of the spirit, to the speaking of an angel in a dream. He continued with his plan to marry Mary and became the human father to Jesus of Nazareth.

I imagine this was a bit of a struggle for Joseph. Giving up privilege,  allowing something that seems a bit sketchy into one’s life,  provokes anxiety.  At least it does for me. I do not go quietly into giving up that which I think is good just for peace and justice sake.   The fact that Joseph contemplated just being quiet about it already shows his character.  But Joseph went further than just not making a fuss about someone he may have thought illegitimate, he listened to the compassionate voice of the Holy Spirit provided in a dream and made Mary his wife. In his heart he knew, the right thing was not the thing that upheld privilege or image, but that which forwarded justice and peace.  In order to do this he had to listen to his heart.  He had to listen to his dreams.  He had to pray. He had to discern where he believed the spirit of God was moving and take a risk to move with it.

And so we begin a new year – a new church year and a new calendar year.   Those of us with privilege are called to not dismiss Emmanuel quietly.   We are called to bring more to bear to our decision –making.  We are called to see beyond our limited point of view.  We are called to bring all of our mind,  all of our heart, and  all of our strength  to discern where Emmanuel moves among us today.  We continue to be asked about the inclusion of GLBT believers. We continue to be asked about the inclusion of all races.  We continue to be pushed to make our faith relevant to the nation-state we live in and address issues of economic inequality.   We continue to be called to change our privileged lifestyle significantly so that our planet can continue to support human life.

Let us resist the temptation to respond from the impetus to protect privilege. Let us show the world that our Prince of Peace is not like the power and authority of this world that we need to defend by violence and war.  Rather let us show the immense power of unconditional love to promote true peace and justice and thereby unleash the Holy Spirit to inspire us to address the perplexing problems at hand.


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Thursday, December 25~Merry Christmas!

Scripture Reading: Luke 2: 8-20

Please hold in prayer:

Hannah Heinzekehr (MC USA staff)
Theda Good (Inclusive Pastors)

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Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming

A song for Christmas Day from Jennifer Yoder.

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Favor >Fear

Amy Epp is a pastor at Seattle Mennonite Church, where she has been a part of the pastoral team since 2005.  She is a spouse to Joe and parent to a 7 year old daughter and a yet-to-be-born son.  She is most content when quilting, sewing or otherwise being crafty.  She blogs sporadically here.

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“Glory to God in high heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”
– Luke 2:14, The Inclusive Bible

When I was ordained I was invited to choose the texts that would be read and preached in the worship service.  I chose two: Mary’s song – the Magnificat – and Jesus’s proclamation from the scroll of Isaiah. It was the beginning of his public ministry.  I chose these both because of their content – the declaration of God’s just reign – and because they both marked no-turning-back points of change for the speakers, mother and son.  They seemed appropriate to the moment of ordination to ministry.

During the ordination service, David Morrow, who was then our District Pastor, preached these texts and revealed what I had not seen in them.  They have in common the declaration and celebration of God’s favor.  In fact, references to God’s favor are threaded throughout the first part of Luke.  Elizabeth, Mary, Zechariah, the angels and then Jesus himself declare or are recipients of God’s favor.

In many of these stories, fear is a companion of favor.  Angels telling their audience not to fear, people boing fearful of what God is doing in their midst.  Favor does not by any means have anything to do with respite or safety or privilege.  What has become clear to me after reading Luke’s take on ‘favor,’ or charis in Greek, is that God is not doing anyone any favors by bestowing this favor upon them.  In fact favor is where the trouble begins.

Just for starters: the child of Elizabeth and Zechariah becomes the prophet to makes way for Jesus, cruelly beheaded because of conflict with a corrupt monarchy.  Mary’s song declares that God’s favor rests on the lowly, poor and hungry, but she’s still one of an occupied people (never mind being a pregnant, unwed teen).  The song of the angels declares that peace will be for those on whom God’s favor rests – people like those very folks – terrified, occupied, lowly and watching their sheep on a hill.

But the thing about favor is, that where there is fear there is also praising and glorifying God.  The shepherds were amazed and they returned from their encounter with the holy family praising!  They wanted to tell it on the mountain.  They wanted to spread the good news.  With the declaration of and living into being favored, there is a mighty hope that the lowly will be lifted up, that the hungry will be fed.  Those who accept God’s favor head right into that trouble because a trouble like that is a trouble the favored want to be a part of.

The baby whom the angels announce to the shepherds, when he first called out the year of the Lord’s favor in his Nazareth synagogue, that sounded pretty good to the people who were listening to him.  Until he went one step further to talk about the love of God demonstrated to Gentiles and almost got himself thrown off a cliff.  Later, well into his ministry of healing, Jesus raises a widow’s son in Nain and the first thing we hear of is fear!  “Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’”

Fear and favor and glory to God are all mixed up together with the prophetic and prophesied action of Jesus – healing, preaching, calling disciples.  Being favored by God is indeed a fearful thing.  It is also a wonderful and joyful engagement with the reign of God.  It is singing with Mary and the angels and preaching and healing with Jesus.  Favor is greater than fear – far greater.  May we give Glory to God in high heaven and may peace be upon those of us who rush head-long into God’s favor.  No turning back.

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Wednesday, December 24

Scripture: Luke 2:1-7

Please hold in prayer:

Isaac Villegas (MC USA)
Megan Ramer (Inclusive Pastors)