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How Great Thou Art by Linda Greason

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week Two: The Magnificat

Thursday, December 14

Psalm 126

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. (Psalm 126:3)

After months of researching the governmental education standards, weeks of shopping online, packing suitcases to deliver scads of school supplies, and meticulous attention to translating materials into French, our team felt we were prepared to go to Haiti for an educational workshop. We packed and weighed our suitcases to make sure we had not exceeded airline limits, gathered passports and plenty of mosquito repellent, and set off.

Upon arrival, CBF Field Personnel, Jenny Jenkins greeted us and quickly set out for the two-hour road trip to Grand Goave, our home for the next six days. Most at this point would share the sights of a beautiful city, its impressive architecture, or friendliness of the locals, but that was not to be the case. This was a place of sheer poverty, piles of trash, and a seemingly endless road of gray desolation no matter where one looked. The only color found was on the numerous tap-taps, or cleverly painted "taxis."  Even the rural areas did not have the beauty one would expect from a Caribbean island. We passed a police license/insurance checkpoint and were stunned to see weaponry more akin to a war zone. Local businesses too were guarded with intimidating weaponry. Everywhere there were people walking and engaging in the busyness of a Saturday afternoon.

We observed twelve-foot high concrete walls topped with razor wire to discourage would-be intruders as we entered the CBF compound. Yet despite our first, perhaps dire, impressions our host assured us that the workshop was going to be great and local educators were looking forward to attending. We unloaded our bags and gifts, and Jenny shared the itinerary for our week’s activities that would occur on the property under the mango trees. Finally, we took the opportunity to rest after our long journey and prepare for the workshop the next morning.

After a long, hot, mosquito buzzing in our ears, sleepless night, we awoke to the blessing of a cold shower. Jenny wanted us to walk to church to understand the community and see how folks lived; I wondered if we had not seen that on our drive the afternoon before. However, on the twenty-minute walk to church, I noticed that the “piles of trash” were actually gravel ready for a building project; cinder block houses had bars rather than glass windows to allow for air flow, and the numerous skinny chickens were enjoying freedom before they became someone’s next meal. In addition, we understood all that needed rebuilding after the 2010 earthquake.

Continuing on our tour, we began to hear music that included electric guitars, drums, piano, and the sheer beauty of people singing in the workshop with tremendous gusto. Although the words sung were in Creole, the tune was extremely familiar. The closer we walked, the larger the lump in my throat became, and I held back tears. Tears that come when one has finally arrived home after a long journey. For among the poverty of this place, we found men, women, and children colorfully dressed in their Sunday best smiling broadly, singling loudly, and praising God through every single verse of “How Great Thou Art.”

I was humbled by the pure joy and majesty of these beautiful people whose true workshop touched me and informed my heart that this trip was indeed a mission trip for my own soul. It was to be a reminder that God is bigger than earthquakes, poverty, weaponry, walls, and barricades. Yet small enough to fit in the hearts of all who choose to recognize His Presence. Mary’s Song – the Magnificat – illustrates that she too recognized the Presence of God in her life; was humbled by the mission of delivering God’s Son to the world. This Advent season look beyond the holiday trappings and busyness and allow yourself to be humbled by the greatness of God in the lowliest and unlikeliest places as I did in a simple, gray, concrete church on the island of Haiti in the hearts of beautiful Christians.

by Linda Greason

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"But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming?" by Mitlon Horne

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week Two: The Magnificat

Wednesday, December 13

Malachi 2:10-3:1

"Who can endure the day of his coming?" (Malachi 2:10-3:1)

The way we frame things makes all the difference in how we understand our lives.  This applies to politics, economics, as well as biblical interpretation. Most of us will read these verses from the 5th century BCE prophet Malachi and hear only the words of chap 3:1. It asserts that a messenger is coming to prepare the way of the LORD. And, during our Advent season, we will interpret this in some way consistent with the triumphalistic story of Jesus' birth as a fulfillment of that ancient prophecy. We will not hear the words of accusation that precede our verse, nor the words of judgment that follow. In short, if this textthis whole textis to be read as a canticle of Christmas, it is a dirge and not a celebration, it calls for a eulogy, not euphoria. Think of the bass aria from Part I of Handel's Messiah: But who may abide the day of his coming?" But why the sadness?

The prophet is concerned about the purity of the community's Levitical priests, especially regarding their inter-racial marriages. He knows undoubtedly that Deuteronomy prohibits intermarriage with Canaanites. He also likely knows that Ezra, long after the codification of the Mosaic code, expands this prohibition to include other peoples, people who were contemporaries in the days of Malachi and the second temple. But the prophet also knows that Mosaic Law allows for these non-Israelites to convert to Judaism, and thus become a part of the community. Imagine that! There were people from other nations being folded into the holy people of Judah. Only priests, in a quasi-caste fashion, were prohibited from such intermarriages. What was available to all other people could not be available to the Levitical priests. Needless to say, there are no more Levitical priests in Judaism today.

But purification, no less than the policies of vetting immigrants to the United States, is not based on any absolute point of reference. Its terms shift and change with the times, the economy, the reigning political ideologies, and their ideologues, as well as the changing interpretation of prophetic words. If there is any good news in this passage, it is that history and the Creator have the final say on who may be included and excluded.

by Milton Horne

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"And Obey the Spirit of the Lord" by Andy Pratt

An Advent Devotion
The Canticles of Christmas
Week Two: The Magnificat

Tuesday, December 12

Acts 11:1-18

“Who was I that I could hinder God?” (Acts 11:17b)

The African-American Spiritual says, “I’m goin a sing, pray, and shout when the Spirit says sing, pray, and shout.”  The last line of each verse is “and obey the Spirit of the Lord.”

In Acts chapter 11, Peter is called-on-the-carpet by the circumcised-believers for going to the house of a Gentile (Cornelius in Caesarea), engaging in table fellowship, and baptizing Cornelius and his family without first converting them to Judaism and circumcising the men (for the full story see Acts chapter 10).  Peter’s defense was, “If God gave them [Gentiles] the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”  The Spirit’s fingerprints were all over this situation. Recognizing the Spirit at work, Peter thought it best to “let go and let God,” as the gospel hymn says. Back in Jerusalem, facing the hard stares, Peter told the brethren that it was not him they were challenging but God’s Spirit. Could there be an uncircumcised-believer?

When the Spirit is at work, Mary says, “the lowly are lifted up and the hungry are filled; the powerful are brought down, the proud scattered, and the rich emptied.”  When the Spirit is at work, Peter says, “the rules about clean and unclean are rewritten, and Gentiles receive the Holy Spirit.”

This is not our first rodeo. We’ve been up this Advent road before. What if this time we committed ourselves that no matter what happens, we are going to “obey the Spirit of the Lord?” Mary did. Peter did.

Andy Pratt

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