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December 23, 2012–Be Unreasonable

Contributed by Jocelyn Breeland, Fairfax, VA


Warm-up Question

Are you a reasonable person? Is that an asset?

Be Unreasonable

Daniel Epstein is an unreasonable man. A self-proclaimed “impatient optimist” and founder of the Unreasonable Institute, Epstein believes entrepreneurship is the key to solving the world’s great problems and his organization is committed to supporting the entrepreneurs who are tackling our most impossible challenges.

For example, the team behind Artificial Vision for the Blind, have invented a way for people without sight – even without eyes – to learn to see using cameras mounted on glasses and a sensory pad that converts signals from the visual cortex into physical sensations. Individuals outfitted with this apparatus have been able to describe their surroundings, even read books.

The Unreasonable Institute supports innovators by giving them advice and help in raising capital so they can bring their ideas to the world. To date, the Unreasonable Institute has helped 70 teams in 36 nations, and they continue to attract new innovators every year.

The Unreasonable Institute gets its name from a quote by George Bernard Shaw, who said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Thanks to the Institute, unreasonable men and women all over the world have some help in changing the world for the better.


Discussion Questions

  • Can you name a historical figure who succeeded by being unreasonable? (For example, you might say that Christopher Columbus was unreasonable in believing he could sail around the world to India or that Abraham Lincoln was unreasonable to think he could free the slaves without destroying the Union.)
  • In the instance you named, what do you think contributed to the success of the unreasonable idea?
  • Think of a problem in your congregation, your community, or the world. How could you address that problem? Be unreasonable.

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 23, 2012 (Fourth Sunday of Advent)

Micah 5:2-5a

Hebrews 10:5-10

Luke 1:39-45 [46-55]

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

Today’s Gospel highlights a very improbable situation. We have Elizabeth, elderly and barren but carrying a child, and Mary, a virgin, also pregnant.

It might be a challenge for us to relate to the details of this scene. None of us is likely to be in the exact situation as Elizabeth or Mary. But we are similar in this way: Like these two women, we all have received gifts from God, and we each have a special purpose to do his will.

Although we are unlikely to ever be in the presence of the unborn Jesus, we do see and feel the presence of Christ in our lives every day. Through Bible study and prayer, we can come to know God better, and more easily recognize his constant presence among us.

Like John in the womb, God has given us souls attuned to his presence. If we can understand our world through the eyes of faith, as Mary and Elizabeth did, then we too will leap for joy, like John, in the presence of our Messiah.

Discussion Questions

  • How does Elizabeth know that Mary is “the mother of my Lord”?
  • Explain the blessings Elizabeth proclaims in verses 42 and 45.
  • What does Mary mean in verse 46 when she says her “soul magnifies the Lord”?
  • Does your soul also magnify the Lord? How so?

Activity Suggestions

Write your own Magnificat:

Luke 1:46-55 form a poem (sometimes sung) known as the Magnificat (translated: my soul magnifies). In it, Mary praises God for his blessing to her, and his many great acts on behalf of his people.

  • To write your own, start with a simple expression of praise and thanksgiving for something God has done in your life. Tell what this means to you.
  •  Next, list the qualities of God’s actions towards you (mercy, power, wisdom, compassion, etc.).
  • Finally, list some (at least three or four) of the other ways God has shown his presence to you, your friends and family, and your community.
  • Share your work with the others in the group.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the many ways, great and small, that you show yourself to us every day. We are comforted by your presence, and emboldened to live fully the lives you have planned for us. Teach us to know and accept your will, and let our souls leap for joy to have you near. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

December 16, 2012–Expanding the Promise

Contributed by Steven Alloway, Granada Hills, CA


Warm-up Question

What would your life be like if you had extraordinary superpowers? What would you do and how would you use them? What if one day you discovered that everyone in the world had the same superpowers as you?

Expanding the Promise

Amber Case studies the interaction between humans and technology, in a field known as Cyborg Anthropology. This can include things such as prosthetic limbs and electronic implants in the brain, but more commonly deals with computers, smartphones, and other devices that people use every day.

“A cyborg is simply someone who interacts with technology,” says Case. “The technology can be a physical or mental extension, and doesn’t need to be implanted in the person.”

As we interact with this technology, it gives us abilities that just a few years ago were purely in the realm of science fiction, from sensors that turn lights on and off as we enter or leave a room, to camera phones that allow us to speak face to face with someone on the other side of the globe.

“A cyborg is not a Terminator or Robocop,” says Case. “Everyone that uses technology is a superhuman. It’s not so strange anymore because it’s the norm—most everyone else around us is also a superhuman.”


Discussion Questions

  • What kind of technology do you use in your everyday life? What does it allow you to do?
  • What can you do with technology now that you weren’t able to do five years ago? What can you do that your parents couldn’t do when they were your age?
  • Are there disadvantages to this technology? What do you do when your batteries run out unexpectedly, or you’re in a place where you’re unable to connect?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 16, 2012 (Third Sunday of Advent)

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

The Jews were God’s chosen people: the children of Abraham. He had set them apart from the rest of the world, blessing them and giving them a rich inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey. As such, it was hard not to feel superior. But John tells the people something different. Being children of Abraham doesn’t make them superior. The Lord can raise up children of Abraham from the stones!

It seems an odd passage to study in the middle of Advent. Where’s the “peace on Earth, good will to mankind”? Instead, we get, “You brood of vipers!” and promises of axes and fires poised for the judgment. But if you look more closely, it’s actually a very appropriate passage. Advent is the preparation for the coming of the Savior. And that’s exactly what this is. John was sent to prepare the way of the Lord: to get the people ready for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s just not what we’re used to at Christmas.

Still, at its core, it’s a very hopeful passage. It’s a foreshadowing of what Jesus came to do: to take the promise given to the Jews, and open it up to everyone. To make us ALL children of Abraham, and recipients of a rich inheritance—salvation.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Though anyone can now receive the inheritance of salvation, John makes it very clear that not everyone will. Only those who bear fruit will receive the promised blessings. The rest will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So how do we bear fruit? First we must be baptized. Baptized not only with water, but with the fire of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t like the fire that will burn up the refuse that produces no fruit. Rather, this fire burns within us. Through the Holy Spirit, we are able to be “on fire” for the Lord, filled with the joy of salvation and spreading that joy, that fire, to those around us. And that’s what the coming of the Savior is all about.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you tend to feel superior to the people in your life who aren’t Christians? Or do you try to spread the good news of Christ to them, so that they can have the same fire that you do?
  • “Baptism by fire” is sometimes used to mean a painful or harrowing ordeal which makes us better people, once we’ve come through it. In what way has your Christian life been a “baptism by fire”? What are some difficulties you’ve had to endure for your faith, and how have they made you a better person, or a better Christian?
  • What are some things that you have now, or are able to do now, that wouldn’t be possible without Christ in your life?

Activity Suggestions

Read the promise first made to Abraham in Genesis 17. Compare it to the promise in Romans 4, that we can all be children of Abraham.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for the promise that you made to include us in the inheritance of Abraham. Make your Spirit burn in us, so that we may bear fruit, sharing that promise with those around us and spreading the joy of your salvation.  Prepare our hearts for your unexpected coming into our lives and our world. Amen.

December 18, 2011–Messed Up Message?

Contributed by Scott Moore, Erfurt, Germany

Warm-up Question

When have you misunderstood someone to the point where it was either funny or embarrassing?

Messed Up Message?

On a cell phone anywhere, U.S.A.— As cell phone technology improves and the phones themselves getting “smarter” with every new version, one thing seems to be struggling more than in the past: text messaging. Newer auto correct features now allow the phone to decide how the word should be finished based on the first few letters and based on entries from previous text messages. The advent of such smart technology and the “failtexts” it brings with it is causing everything from a good chuckle to more serious relationship crises. Without the advantage of someone’s voice to help interpret the meaning of text messages, it seems that communication is more challenging now than ever. “Well, you need a sense of humor, I guess,” said one seventeen-year old. Another user mused, “I don’t use the feature. I don’t want the phone messing up my messages. It’s crazy.”

Needless to say, not only do the texters themselves have to pay closer attention to what they write before they hit “send”, but the readers have to try to be open and forgiving of miscommunications. But only if they can tell it’s a fail message.

Discussion Questions

  • Survey: (please raise your hand) Do you use your text function throughout the day 5 times or less?…..6-10?…..11-25?…..26-50?…..More than 50?   What does that number say about the you, if anything?
  •  What are the advantages of texting over other forms of communicating?  What are the disadvantages?
  • When have you ever missed out on something “important” to you where you were because you were texting and not able to pay attention?
  • When has texting helped you be more present in someone’s life?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 18, 2011 (Fourth Sunday of Advent

2 Samuel 7:1-11

Romans 16:25-27

Luke 1:26-38
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

An intimidating angel comes out of nowhere with a message for a woman on the verge of adulthood. “God really likes you. God thinks you’re great.” That’s what it means to find favor with God. Somehow this young person got on God’s radar screen. Or rather, God simply put her on the radar screen. God chose her. God’s love makes her special. But somehow she didn’t know it yet. Here she was going about her business of getting ready to settle down with a nice guy from her home-town and maybe start a family and make a go at this thing called life. Now this angel—which comes from the Greek word for bringer of news or messenger—is throwing a wrench into all their plans. A son? How? We’re not trying to have kids yet. Pregnant you say? By the Holy Spirit? Uh huh.

This is a strange beginning to a strange and overwhelming conversation with an angel of the Lord. Mary started out “perplexed”, out of sorts. As the story gets more surreal, she seems to get calmer. It would be easy to think that the average person would just have shut down after that kind of communication at the start. We might even respond with a polite, “Well, thanks for stopping by, here’s the door.” But that’s not what happens here. Before she finds out she will bear Jesus, the Son of the Most High God, Mary has been prepared through God’s loving favor.  God’s loving favor for her precedes her being made ready for the eternal Word of God, Jesus.

Mary is the prototypical (the first example) Christian. She is the first one to be prepared to bear Christ. In fact, she is called that in the Orthodox tradition—theotokos, which means “God bearer”. It is a special term for Mary as the one who bore God, in this case Jesus the Christ. But just as Mary was loved into readiness, we too are loved first by God and drawn into the message of good news of Jesus. For some that comes later in life when we are consciously aware of the message, for others that happens very early on, first in the waters of baptism, with learning about the message of Christ afterwards.

Mary seems a little confused about the message Gabriel passes on to her from God. But Gabriel is able to clear things up. Mary gets it. Not only does she understand clearly what the message actually is but she also accepts it in faith. She offers herself to be an instrument of God’s will, even though this may have meant shame and ridicule among family, friends, and neighbors. The clarity of the messenger and the message reach someone who is open for God’s word. God’s love, Mary’s response. This is certainly something to rejoice about. And, in the next story (Luke 1:39-56), that is exactly what Mary does—sings a song of praise to God for loving her and choosing her to work great things in the world.

Discussion Questions

  • When have you been perplexed by a message someone passed on to you?
  • When has someone dear to you entrusted you with an important task?
  • When have you been willing to change something about your life in order to do something good for others?
  • What kind of message from God would you find “perplexing?”
  • If the word angel simply means ‘messenger’ in Greek (the language of the New Testament), what do you think angels look like?

Activity Suggestions

Playing Gabriel:

Participants create messages (either on paper, or spoken, or sent as text messages) of God’s love and favor and speak them or hand them out to members of the congregation, strangers, family or friends. Some example messages: (Feel free to create your own in the same style but your own words!)

“Greetings, Child of God. You are special. God loves you and wants to do great things with you.”

“Hey there! You know what? God thinks you’re alright. Keep it up. God has big plans for you.”

“Hi, friend. You may not know this but God is with you. All the time. And God wants you to pass that message on.”

“God wants you to know something. Ready? You are so loved! And, you are important.”

Closing Prayer

O God who shows favor to the young, make your love and favor known to us. Empower us to turn and open our hearts and minds to you. Guide us to be faithful servants, like your servant Mary. Let us bear Christ in the world. We ask this in the name of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

December 11, 2011–We Will Live

Contributed by Jay Gamelin, Pilgrim Lutheran Church, Lexington, SC

Warm-up Question

What do you hope to do with the rest of your day today?  What are you hoping to get or give for Christmas this year?  Do you already have some New Year’s resolutions planned for 2012?  What might those be?

We Will Live

The best part of Christmas isn’t the day itself but the preparation for December 25.  A part of the Christmas season is seeing the decorations go up in the mall and on your neighbor’s gutters.  It is putting together the schedule of Christmas parties and worship services.  Preparing for Christmas means it is time to pull out the manger scene and the artificial tree and grumble about the time it takes to set up.

But of all the preparations perhaps the most fun is the creation of the Christmas wish list.  Once a year young folks (and some older ones as well) get a chance to dream about what may land beneath that tree and hope for the best.  It is an art of dreaming and then ordering the list in such a way that what you really, really want comes out on top.  In the past they may have dreamed of sugar plums.  Today it is Xbox games.

For some adults the list of hoped-for gifts can be expensive and, worse, what can be purchased may never be used.  In this article on ( a list of the most expensive gifts you never use includes items such as swimming pools and outdoor grills.

When we plan what we want for Christmas, we are often thinking of the life we will have when we have this “thing”.  We imagine spending time by the pool or cooking off the grill or treating ourselves to an afternoon espresso.  When push comes to shove, we may end up getting what we want, but discover the life that comes with it is not exactly what we thought it would be.

Discussion Questions

  • What are you hoping for Christmas this year?  What do you think “life” will become when you have what you want?
  • Think about a gift you want this Christmas.  What does this gift say about you?  What does it say about what is important about you?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December  11, 2011 (Third Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 61:1-4

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24

John 1:6-8, 19-28

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection

There was a lot of hope surrounding John.  Clearly he was leading quite a revival movement among the people of Israel.  In John they heard words that reminded them of a greater story.  They thought of Elijah, a prophet who would usher in the messiah.  They wondered if he were a prophet. They had not heard a prophet in more than 400 years!  They even hoped that perhaps he might be the messiah.

John denied it all.  When asked who he was John pointed, not to his own life and witness, but to the one who would come after him.  John pointed to the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit’s fire.  He knew what he wanted was not for him but for those who came after him.

Perhaps John could have been a greater prophet and more of his words would be remembered. John was careful to point people to a bigger, better gift to come.  People may have thought that what they wanted was John, but John knew the better gift was coming.  It would be a gift that would truly change the world.

Like the people who came to see John we often think we know what we want.  We dream and hope for the life we want. We  settle for the lesser and do not realize the greater thing that is beyond the gift we want.  We want a pool but even more we want the community that gathers around the cool relief on a hot day.  We may want the wine cellar but what we really want are the people who gather for a glass and conversation.  We think we want an exercise machine but our real desire is to feel good, feel beautiful, and to be appreciated.  The thing is often not the thing we want!  We long for something beyond “stuff,” something much more beautiful.

As you prepare for the season be sure to look beyond the garland and tinsel, the music and the sweets, and the gifts and cards.  Instead, see that which is coming.  A true gift is on its way.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever gotten a gift you really wanted but then were disappointed?  How were you let down?
  • Have you ever been in a situation that felt rotten at the time but came out the other side in a better place? Share this time.

Activity Suggestions

All I want for Christmas. Make a Christmas Wish list, but instead of the usual “things” make a list of intangibles that you are hoping for this season.  For instance you may want a Christmas where the family all gets along or a Christmas that is not so hectic.  Perhaps you want a Christmas where you see good friends you have not seen in awhile.  Put this list down.  When you are done, what are steps you can take to help “get” the things on this list?


+    What are you hoping for on this list?

+    What does this list say about what you value?  What are your hopes and dreams beyond stuff?

Closing Prayer

Immanuel, you have sent your servant John to point us to you.  While we are thankful for John, it is not John we hope for but you, God-with-us.  Help us to desire the things this season that you desire.  Give us what we need to see you clearly.  All this in your name.  AMEN.


December 4, 2011–Why Aren’t We Gasping (or Laughing)?

Contributed by Paul Henrickson, Salem, VA

[Editor’s note:  This week’s Faith Lens is in a slightly different format than usual, but you will find the same opportunities for reflection and discussion]


Warm-up Question

What event has most impacted your life?

Why Aren’t We Gasping (or Laughing)?

I am writing this on November 22, 2011.  Like everyone over the age of 54, I remember exactly where I was at 1:30 pm 48 years ago.  The assassination of President Kennedy is etched in my memory.  When I watch this YouTube video, I still gasp at the harsh reality.

What makes you gasp today?  What event, idea, or proposal takes your breath away?  I am not a social-psychologist, but I have a hunch that, because we have instant access to so many events, there are fewer things that truly amaze us.  We may be entertained or even embarrassed, but are we left breathless with the surprise of real life?

Mark 1:1 is an incomplete sentence that simply blurts out a truth that is breathlessly remarkable: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”  Listen!  Good News, Jesus, the Christ, Son of God; these words are like a prelude that we need a few moments to digest.

What might come next?  Are we prepared for an Old Testament reference, a “Wilderness Man” preaching a baptism of repentance, a promise of one even more powerful yet to come?  Compare this story with the accounts in Matthew and Luke and you will find that Mark gives the polite version of events.  In Mark there is no “brood of vipers,” no clearing of the threshing floor; no burning of chaff with unquenchable fire.  It is straight forward proclamation of the Good News.  Are you gasping yet?  Do we need disastrous consequences or is the simple declaration of Mark sufficient.

Below are 6 “P” words to help you work through this text.  Once you are finished, try telling the story to another person in your group with amazed excitement.

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, December 4, 2011 (Second Sunday of Advent)

Isaiah 40:1-11

2 Peter 3:8-15a

Mark 1:1-8

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection


The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

+ begin a conversation with these words of verse 1, what would you say next?


2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,

+ why is the voice crying in the wilderness?

+ what wilderness of the spirit do you know?

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

+ Again, Baptism takes place in the wilderness.  Why?


5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

+ Can you imagine “all” the people of a city showing up for baptism?

+ What people might show up today?


6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

+ John is truly a “Wilderness Man.”  Why is that important?


7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

+ How would you share with another person, the power of your baptism?

Activity Suggestions

Role Play the situation in the text.  Assign persons to be John, some hearers, persons who are offended by him–and a news crew covering the event.  Have the crew interview folks to get their reaction.  Pay special attention to what would be “newsworthy.”  What would excite people and get them talking?

Closing Prayer

God of Grace and Glory, forgive us when we are not amazed at the in-breaking of your kingdom; forgives us when we are complacent with the sacred presence of your Son.  Strengthen our faith so that we may receive Him with Joy and Thanksgiving.  Amen