December 23rd, 2018 Luke 1:39-55 Belinda Quaye, FOCUS Volunteer Coordinator Luke 1: 39-55 is Mary’s Song of Praise to God, or also known as the Magnificat. It spills out of her heart after her relative, Elizabeth, acknowledged her blessedness as the mother of Jesus. We can read Mary’s song and say, “Oh, what lovely thoughts!” But do we seriously consider what she said? When we do, we realize that the Magnificat can be unsettling. Why? Because it calls us to devote ourselves to being like Mary, a willing and humble servant of God. It reminds us that we are called to be God’s servants in the world, serving others as a reflection and extension of God’s Kingdom. In the days before Christmas, we can easily get caught up in mass consumption. Mary’s song encourages us to step back and reflect on our values. Maybe, this season of Advent can offer us a new way of seeking and of serving. Lord, in this season of Advent, help me to use well the opportunities and gifts you have placed in my hands, serving you and others for your glory. Amen. December 24th, 2018 Isaiah 9:2-7 Rev. Lynn Carman Bodden, First Church Albany “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”Isaiah 9.6 The first two phrases of this verse: “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given” announced the birth of our first child. Perhaps it was presumptuous. This tiny baby, three weeks early, was not the Messiah. Still, this long-awaited first child, this first grandchild on both sides, aroused a joy surely mirroring the rejoicing of God’s people who celebrated the birth of a new day. In Isaiah’s time, it may have been the birth of a crown prince. In the days of Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon, magi from the East, Herod the Great and Caesar Augustus, it was the birth of Jesus. A day to change all others dawned: a day of hope, of righteousness, of justice and peace. These are the hopes of which we sing and for whose reality we fervently pray as we worship this night. These are the hopes for each child of God born, regardless of gender, nationality, race, creed, orientation, or ability. Each birth changes our lives — although none more than Jesus, the wonderful, mighty, everlasting true hope of the world. We are blessed by your coming among us, Lord Jesus. May we be worthy to receive you. Amen. December 25th, 2018 Luke 2:1-20 Rev. Glenn Leupold, First Presbyterian Church Christmas can be considered the start of Christianity, even though Easter is what makes it a religion. Christmas makes Easter possible. In the center of the Christian faith is the belief that in some way, Jesus’ life and death and resurrection collectively convey the message of God’s acceptance of us, long before we do anything to deserve that acceptance. All our statements about grace, salvation, and God’s will are rooted ultimately in Christmas —and they sound like we’ve got God all figured out. Yet Christmas is not a rational, heartwarming event. It’s less Mary serenely gazing upon a baby and more the power of light cracking open a dark universe. It’s the messiness of childbirth. It’s the astonishment of all the poor and downcast realizing that God just may be on their side for a change. Christmas is God made flesh. It is extraordinary. It is eternity breaking through into human history, even though God did not have to do such a thing. Instead of a precious, soft moment, Christmas is the crashing of the divine into human history in a way that still shakes creation. On this day the power of God bursts forth, and the world is told that the one we’ve been waiting for has arrived. And he’s born to a peasant girl. And he can be found in a feed trough. And the king is already out to get him. And he is God’s own son. Come, let us adore him. God of creation, we praise you for coming to us in our Lord Jesus. We cannot offer adequate thanks for your coming to us as one of us. We pray that we may never take your ray of light in a dark world for granted. May your Holy Spirit enliven our Christmas season this year like never before. Amen. Click here to view the complete FOCUS Churches Advent 2018 Devotional FOCUS was created in 1967 when pastors of four churches in downtown Albany recognized a need to join together in a cooperative spirit. Over the next decades FOCUS identified serious physical needs of those in poverty. For more than 30 years, FOCUS has operated feeding programs which have grown to include tow food pantries, a year-round breakfast program which guests themselves named, “The Breakfast Club.” FOCUS is also dedicated to educating others about the realities of poverty and advocating for the needs of those suffering injustice. FOCUS has committed to speak truth to power in addition to its direct ministries of the body. Today, FOCUS is a stand-alone not for profit organization, separate from those member churches that first envisioned what such a community could accomplish. FOCUS honors its roots and the original vision (read the FOCUS Covenant here) but continues seeking new ways to address issues we and our neighbors face. We welcome participation from all individuals and organizations seeking justice in our world. For more information, please visit our FOCUS Churches of Albany website.