Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer serves as senior minister of United Church on the Green in New Haven, CT, and as president of the Board of Directors of the Southern New England Conference, UCC.
Scripture: Isaiah 61:10 (NRSV)
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Reflection: I Will Greatly Rejoice
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel much like rejoicing these days. But then, I suspect that Isaiah’s original audience didn’t feel much like that either. The conquered and exiled Israelites were making their slow, painful way back to their decimated homeland, counting their losses and gritting their teeth and trying to find some hint of hope for the future.
Maybe it’s when we don’t feel much like it that we most need the prophet’s message—not to deny the reality of our struggles, or to tell us we shouldn’t feel as we do, but to remind us that even in our worst moments, this is also true. Your whole being shall yet exult.
You may feel sadder than words can express, heart broken into pieces by so much suffering, grief, and loss. You may feel incandescent with rage, furious at leaders who spout falsehoods and deny science and politicize precaution and amplify bigotry and forsake their sacred duty of care for those who are most vulnerable. You may feel afraid, the kind of fear that makes your gut twist, your spirit shrink in on itself like you want to disappear. You may feel like joy is inaccessible, out of reach, never to be seen or heard or felt again.
And also this: your whole being shall exult.
God shall bend near, so near that She can clothe you with softest garments, wrap you in a cozy robe, cover you with a blanket and tuck you in and kiss your sweet forehead.
God shall attend to your precious body, which bears Her image and breathes Her Spirit.
God shall attend to your cherished soul, whose prayers rise like incense to Her nose, whose voice is a sweet sound in Her ear.
God shall attend to your whole beloved being, offer tender care for all your hurts, pour out extravagant grace, and grace, and grace, and grace to make you whole.
Yes, you shall greatly rejoice in God; your whole being shall exult.
As 2020 grinds toward its long-awaited end, I doubt it will go down in history as “the year of the Lord’s favor.” But then, God has always chosen unfashionable places to arrive, always shown up among the last and the lost and the least and the lonely. God has always anointed unlikely prophets to bear God’s love in their words, in their deeds, in their very bodies.
God has always been about the reversal of fortunes that Isaiah foretold, that is coming even now to you and to me. We may not be able to see it with our eyes, hear it in our ears, taste it on our tongues, in this year of so much pain—but the fact that we cannot yet perceive it has never once stopped God from bringing about transformation right under our noses.
So as we raise our voices in lament, as we sit in the hurt and the heartache of this holiday season like no other, let us also cling to the promise Isaiah offered to hurting, heartbroken people before us.
For this very week, God’s Love is born again on earth, wrapped in mortal flesh, in swaddling clothes, in garments of salvation.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my whole being shall exult in my God. Holy One, please make it so. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org
Prayers of Intercession:
- For those grieving for the more than 315,000 victims of the Covid-19 disease
- For the compassion to make safe and reasonable choices as Covid-19 cases rise in the region and across the country
- For all those who do spend time with family that they may do so safely and with care for all their family and neighbors
- For the family and friends of Rev. Robert Van Gorder, retired pastor who served in MA and CT and was Pastor Emeritus at First Congregational Church of Westbrook. Robert died following a recent illness
- For the family and friends of Rev. Lloyd H. Dunham, retired UCC pastor who served in MA. Lloyd died on Dec. 13
- For the family and friends of Rev. Donald S. Mathison, member of First Congregrational Church in Sutherland, MA who spent over 50 years in ministry. Donald died on Dec. 15
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- For the joy of celebrating Christmas, regardless of how we visit (in person or virtually)
- For "pods" of friends and family who work during this pandemic to keep each other safe and sane
- For innovative ways of celebrating Advent, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in our churches
Please Pray for the Following SNEUCC Churches:
First Congregational Church, UCC, Auburn, MA
Pakachoag Church, Auburn, MA
Central Congregational Church, UCC, Attleboro Falls, MA
Second Congregational Church, UCC, Attleboro, MA
Athol Congregational Church, UCC, Athol, MA
The United Church of Assonet, UCC, Assonet, MA
Federated Church of Ashland, Ashland, MA
First Congregational Church, UCC, Ashfield, MA
Ashby Congregational Church, UCC, Ashby, MA
Ashburnham Community Church, Ashburnham, MA
Park Avenue Congregational Church, UCC, Arlington, MA
This Week in History:
December 25, 1914 (106 years ago) At the very beginning of World War I, early on Christmas Day, front line German troops leave their trenches and approach Allied lines calling out "Merry Christmas" in German. Seeing the soldier unarmed, the Allied troops climbed out and greeted the German soldiers. The opposing troops even exchanged gifts of cigarettes and plum puddings. together they sang Christmas carols. One story reports soldier starting an impromptu soccer game.
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer
The Rev. Jocelyn Gardner Spencer is the President of the Southern New England Conference and the Senior Minister of United Church on the Green, New Haven CT.