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December 29-January 4–Happy New Year

Contributed by Paul Henrickson,  Chaplain, Roanoke College;  Salem, VA

Warm-up Question

Was 2010 a happy year for you?  Why?  What do you think makes for happiness?

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  (With great emphasis on HAPPY!)  It’s time to make those New Year’s resolutions – you know those promises you make to yourself and then wiggle out of them by Valentine’s Day.  Let’s see, what will make me “happy” in 2011?  In 2011 I am going to lose 20 pounds; I am going to quit smoking; I am going to take more time for my family; I am going to read one good book each month … We make New Year’s Resolutions because we imagine that we can live happier in the future than we did in the past.  If I ask my students what they want in their life, they always say “I want to be happy.”  After all, we have it written in the Declaration of Independence that we have the right to the “… pursuit of happiness.”  So let’s all resolve to be happy in 2011.

Daniel Gilbert is a Psychology professor at Harvard – he studies “happiness.” In 2003 he wrote an article for the New York Times entitled “The Futile Pursuit of Happiness.” In this article he argues that we can’t “pursue” happiness because we really don’t know what will make us happy.  He emphasizes that there is a gap between what we predict will make us happy and what we ultimately experience.  Gilbert calls this gap the “impact bias.” He says that we consistently over estimate what will make us happy; i.e. planning for a vacation anticipates more happiness than actually going on the vacation.  Gilbert writes that impact bias “…characterizes how we experience the dimming excitement over not just a BMW but also over any object or event that we presume will make us happy.”

So… “Happy New Year!” (with Happy being an elusive goal.)

Discussion Questions

  • What are your resolutions for 2011?
  • If “happiness” is your goal, what kind of grade do you give your life so far?
  • Why do you think we experience “impact bias,”  the gap between what we think will make us happy and what we actually experience?  What might we do to lessen the gap?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 2, 2011 (Second Sunday of Christmas)

Jeremiah 31:7-14

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 1:[1-9] 10-18

(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

If I ever have the opportunity to teach conformation class again, I will require the students to memorize John 1:1-18; this is the pure Gospel.  It is, in a sense, our own “Declaration of Independence” from the bondage of sin and it is the foundation for the life of a Christian.  Listen to these phrases:

  • In the beginning was the Word
  • the Word became flesh
  • the light shines in the darkness
  • power to become the children of God
  • we have all received grace upon grace

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

This is not about being happy; it is about joy. It is about having the abundant life that comes, not because of our clever planning, but as a gift from God.  We are required to do nothing but accept the gift and make it the foundation of our lives of faith.

Resolve to live your life in the gift of grace.

Resolve to repeat these 18 verses once a day.

Resolve to surrender, not to pleasure, but to joy.

Discussion Questions

  • What is the difference between happiness and joy?  Is it possible to be joyful without being happy?
  • John 1:1-18 is one of the great passages of scripture.  If you could only share one other text from the Bible with another person, what would it be?

Activity Suggestions

  • John’s prologue emphasizes that God’s love is not merely an abstraction, but has become touchable in a person.  Share a time when the love of God became more than a theological term because you experienced it in a person.
  • Draw a picture to illustrate, ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.”
  • Read John 1:1-18 each day for a week and keep a journal of your thoughts in response to the words.  Share your insights the next time your group meets?

Closing Prayer

Lord of all Joy, by your grace let me surrender to the joy you have given me.  Let me live this day in the light of the Word, made flesh, and evident to me. Amen

December 30-January 6, Miracle After Mother Assaulted

Contributed by Erik Ullestad, West Des Moines, IA

Warmup Question

 Have you ever witnessed a miracle?  What happened?

 Miracle Born After Mother Assaulted

The temperatures are getting colder, snow is piling up, and homeless shelters are filled to capacity.  Such is the scene in cities the world over.  Washington D.C. is no different, claiming record snowfalls and near all-time highs in unemployment.  Teka Adams is one of the thousands of pregnant women who rest their heads in a homeless shelter.  She is in her third trimester, only a few weeks away from delivering her first child.  It is a time of excitement, fear, and wonder.

women and child This was the scene a few weeks ago, until Teka met Veronica at the shelter.  Veronica was moving into her own apartment soon.  She invited Teka to help her move, in exchange for food and baby clothes.  Teka agreed, her hope renewed by the chance to provide for her unborn child.  When they arrived at the apartment, things took a turn for the worst.  Veronica locked the door and tied Teka’s hands behind her back.  She came at Teka with a knife, saying, “You’re strong, you can handle what I’m going to do to you.”  Veronica then cut into Teka’s abdomen in an attempt to remove the baby.  A few months earlier, Veronica had lied to her friends and family, telling them that she was pregnant.  She was trying to remove Teka’s baby and take it as her own. 

 Before Veronica was able to remove the baby, Teka was able to escape.  Neighbors found her bleeding in a nearby parking lot.  Teka was taken to a hospital where doctors were able to heal her wounds and save the baby.  Both are expected to make a full recovery.  The baby – a girl – was named Miracle.



  • What do you know about the homeless population in your community?
  • Why do you think someone would fake a pregnancy and try to steal someone else’s baby?
  • If you were related to Veronica, how would you respond to her?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 3, 2010 (Second Sunday of Christmas)

(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.

 Jeremiah 31:7-14

Ephesians  1:3-14

John 1:[1-9] 10-18


Today is the second Sunday of Christmas, but the gospel lesson is not a traditional Christmas story.  There are no tales of shepherds, angels, mangers, or innkeepers.  Instead, John talks about the Word, which we often assume to represent Jesus.  He traces the Word back to the creation of the world.  He even uses the same phrase as Genesis 1:1 – “In the beginning…” – to indicate that there is a connection between what God created in Genesis and what God created in the birth of Jesus.  The Word was with God, the Word was God, and the word became flesh in the person of Jesus.

 In addition to “the Word” John mentions two other important things in the opening chapter of his gospel.  The first is John the Baptist.  John the gospel writer and John the Baptist were two different people.  The author was “the beloved disciple”, a brother of James and the son of Zebedee.  John the Baptist was the one who pointed the way to Jesus and was eventually beheaded for his blasphemy.  When Jesus was around, there were many people who thought that John the Baptist was the messiah (or “the Word”).  John the writer wants to make sure that readers know that John the Baptist was an important person, but was not the one.

 John also talks about Jesus’ purpose on earth.  On one hand, Jesus will be rejected by the very people he came to save.  On the other hand, he brings “grace upon grace”, truth, and the power to become children of God.  Jesus comes with good news, but not everyone will be ready to receive it.  He will be tested, questioned, beaten, and even put to death.  He comes to teach, to inspire, and, ultimately, to sacrifice his life so that we might live.  What a miracle that God loves us this much!


  • What is the importance of making a connection between God creating the world and God sending Jesus into the world?
  • Why do you think John chose to refer to Jesus as “the Word” instead of just calling him by name?
  • Would you describe Jesus’ coming into the world as a “miracle”?  Why or why not?
  • How does the miracle of Jesus’ arrival on earth inspire you?



Gather colorful paper, markers, glitter, and other decorative items.  Create greeting cards for new mothers in your community.  These could be for women in your neighborhood, church, workplace, or a women’s homeless shelter.  Look for some verses in Scripture that would give hope to someone who had given birth.  (Consider portions of today’s gospel or the Advent and Christmas stories in Matthew or Luke.)  Talk as a group about how you plan to deliver these cards during the week.



God, thank you for the miracle of Jesus’ birth.  We praise you for loving us so much that you forgive our sins and give us the promise of eternal life.  Help us to give hope to those who have none.  Give us the inspiration that comes in the form of a baby, born in a feeding trough, who brings light and life to the world.  Amen