The 2022 CSM Daily Advent Devotional

Advent is the season of preparation for the coming of the Christ Child. Our theme for this year’s devotional is “Making Room!” You recall how in Luke 2:7 we are told that Mary “laid him a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” Devotional writers will be meditating on that theme of “Making Room.” Perhaps you may recall a time when someone “Made Room” for you and what that experience meant to you or in contrast you may recall when God moved you to make room for someone or something else. Or maybe that call to make room is current in your life today – what/who are you being called to make room for right now?

December 24, 2022

by Philip Brockett

The Word Made Flesh John 1:14

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.

God is always surprising me! One of God’s most recent surprises has been Mehdi. Mehdi began coming to CSM this fall. He quietly sat in the back and exited as soon as worship was over. Seeing him from a distance one Sunday, the next week, I raced to greet him and after a couple of more weeks, I suggested we get together.

When we sat down, I learned that Mehdi is from Iran, and that he was raised in the faith of Islam. However, recently he had read the Bible. He found reading the scriptures to be extremely comforting and wanted to understand the scriptures better but needed someone to talk with. We agreed to discuss the Gospel of John. The first time we met, Mehdi told me that, in preparation, he had read the Gospel of John 6 times! He wanted me to explain to him what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus? The next time we met Mehdi told me he had become a disciple, and we prayed together. A week or two later he told me he had been reading about baptism and he wondered if he could be baptized? Of course I said, “yes!” and it was my joy to baptize Mehdi. Now, Mehdi tells me that his faith in Christ and the experience of Sunday worship brings him a great sense of peace and joy. He also regards me as his father in the faith and I in turn look upon him as my son in Christ.

But get this – “I didn’t do anything!” I didn’t evangelize, or try to convince or change his mind. No it was all God’s Spirit that drew Mehdi, it was as John 1:14, our verse for today  which says, “The Word”, that is Jesus revealed in the scriptures “took on flesh”, became embodied in Mehdi himself. All I did was just “make a little room” in my life and God has done and is doing the rest. Thanks be to God!

December 23, 2022
Allan Eickelmann

The Cosmic Christ John 1:1-4

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Today, I received an email from a student who took a couple of courses from me over ten years ago. She said that she lost her son in 2021 and that she was so angry at God that she was losing her faith, and she wanted to talk to me about her grief. So here I am at the end of the semester, with all of its demands, feeling that I must find a place for this woman.

Everyday, people come to us and say, “Can you find a place for me?” Sometimes it is someone whom you hardly know and at other times it is a member of your family or a close friend. We all have to deal with this question, very often not knowing what to say or do, but feeling the need to respond in some meaningful way.

So how am I going to find a place for this former student? What can I possibly tell her that will give her comfort and hope, that will give her the desire to continue on with this life’s journey? Why did she turn to me after all these years? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter, because the fact is that she did and I can’t simply turn her away or make some kind of referral. That would only add to her pain and her sense of having no place to turn.

The answer is that there is probably nothing that I can say, but I can be a continuing presence, if that is what is required. I can listen and I can stand with her in the midst of her inconsolable grief. Whenever, she calls, I can find a place for her in my heart.

I will not be able to answer the question of why God did not save her son. All I can do is remind her that God also lost a son, and that God knows our grief and sorrow and is there for us, but honestly, sometimes that answer is sufficient and at other times it is not. But finding a place for another in our heart in the midst of their greatest pain, is something we can always do.

Lord, When others come to us seeking a place, may we find a place for them in our heart. May we stand with them, not speaking platitudes, but performing a ministry of waiting silence, assuring them that as we stand with them, so do You. For ultimately only you can provide the place they seek. Amen

Allan Eickelmann, D. Min. is a retired UCC minister and currently serves as an Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. He is married to Margene Minor, who keeps him on track and out of trouble. They live in the Irish Channel, with their four cats, P.P. aka Precious Princess, Callie, who was found on second street, Breesy, named after Drew Brees and Dusty, who is a Schnickelfritz (look it up).

December 22, 2022
by Dawn Robinson-Weldon

Anna’s Insight  Luke 2:36-38

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The overarching theme of my devotional is “Making Room,” as Mary made room for Jesus:

In reading both these passages, what stood out to me was how both these women, Mary and Anna, were described; defined by their relationships to others (mother, widow) and measured by their steadfastness to serve. It made me wonder if these women were valued by those around them for their service to God, AND for being individuals?

As Dawn, a black, cis-gender female, mother, wife, social worker, and many more things; I struggle with the duality of seeking redemption and worthiness from God through doing for others, while wanting to truly be valued and appreciated (in general) simply for being me. I get caught up in doing for family, for my job, and for others, and tie my worth as a person into these things I do (mom-ing, wife-ing, social-working).

Thinking back to Mary and Anna, I started to imagine them being just like me; trying to be a good mother and a good wife, and trying to live their lives the best way they could. Then I began to think of them as individuals, and who they were as… themselves. And shortly, I came right back around to me… trying hard to separate who I am (my personality, quirks, and shortcomings) from who I am to others (mother, wife, social worker, etc). It felt interesting, a little weird, and ultimately freeing to think intently about myself as a person, and to give that person “room” to just be… and to know that me, as I am, am loved by God.  As I know Mary and Anna were loved by God, just as they were; I hope their whole selves were loved and celebrated by those around them.

Dear Lord, thank you for helping me make room within myself to appreciate and love who I am– as You made me. Help me to always see the whole me, and to likewise see others as their whole and true selves; and to love them as You love them. Amen.

Dawn Robinson-Weldon is a member of Central St. Matthew UCC, and lives in New Orleans with her husband and two kids (Nick, Xavier, and Zora) also members of Central St. Matthew.

December 21, 2022
by Ayobami Adesina

A Prophetic Word from Simeon  Luke 2:25-35

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”

In recent times, I have both had to make room for people, while people have made room for me as well, and my understanding from this experience is that making room – in one’s heart, home, space, etc. – is actually God’s provision for keeping His children from being stranded at the various phases into which they come in their lives.

When I arrived the US three months ago, a colleague had to make room for me in her apartment for as long as I needed to stay. This saved me the stress of an early search for an apartment in a community that is wholly new to me; a community in which I do not yet know the neighbourhoods to avoid, if there are any. I can, hence, trace my not being stranded in my first few, crucial weeks to this act of making room.

In like manner, I have had to make room for people – in my heart, space, finance, etc. For instance, I had to be deliberate about making room for my wife in my heart before marrying her. I had the understanding that we are two completely different individuals with dissimilar backgrounds, upbringing and past life experiences. Thanks to this understanding, I was able to effortlessly create the room for her in my heart, and she could come in to a husband who loves and accept her the way she is. This saved her from being emotionally stranded in her marriage as some, if not many, are.

Prayer: May we find ease in our heart to make room for those around us who are in need of it.

Ayobami is a bilingual teacher from Nigeria, father of 8-month-old Jacques and husband of beautiful Clementina. I decided to be a teacher in 2013, and the classroom is where I plan to spend my entire life.

December 20, 2022
by Evelyn Raymond

The Angel Appears to Mary Luke 1:26-28

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said,

Some people know I was an unhappy child, often looking for ways to hide from God. I thought I was so bad that He would not want me. How different I am today! Just can’t stop smiling from the joy of the Lord which is always present despite losses. How can that happen?

Well, a wonderful lady, Mrs. Paul, made room for me in her Sunday School class at Suffern Presbyterian Church. She taught me that Jesus loved me so today, “this I know.”

Then at Suffern Elementary School, Mrs. Hansen made room for me. She told me I was smart and worthy. She is the reason I became a teacher, so I could tell my students the same thing. Even though my students were mostly special needs, they were special to me and Jesus in many other ways.

I thought my life was over when my beloved, Dennis, passed away February 2020. God had other plans for me. He had me make room for Doug to be my companion and Doug made room for me.

Now I say boldly to always make room for God to guide and direct your path. You never know what wonderful plans He has for you. They are plans for your good. Make room for the Holy Spitit of Jesus to work in your life!

Dennis and I became members of CSM two weeks before Dennis passed. God definitely had a plan for Dennis to come  to Jesus. I am a virtual member now of Bible Study and worship service. My plan, God willing, is to be there in person in April for FQ fest or when I visit Marg and Dave and Nettie. Doug and I Currently live in Sebastian, Florida in winter and Hurleyville, NY in the summer.

December 19, 2022
by Stephanie Osborne

Mary’s Reaction to the Shepherds Luke 2:19

and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

The theme of Making Room is extremely meaningful for me. Whether it was my parents making room in their home for my sister and me as they learned at the last minute that we were eligible for adoption, or the making room for both of us when their initial intention was to adopt one child but we were both available and they didn’t want to split us up. I could share how I later made room for growth in my marriage and also as a parent, making room for my kids to spread their wings into adulthood… But the most meaningful space that I’ve created was the making room for self-compassion. Not a feeling sorry for myself, but on the contrary, taking an honest look at some of my most challenging personality traits… taking responsibility for how many things have turned out and simultaneously acknowledging that we are all doing our best based on our level of awareness at the time, and as Maya Angelou has said, “When you know better, you do better.” Self-compassion in some instances lets you off the hook, but in the truest form of kindness, self-compassion invites you to feel into your body, where the pain of your most difficult emotion lies, and instead of rejecting it, allowing it to surface, sitting with it and holding it, just like you would hold your wounded child, with kindness and compassion. Self-compassion is like chicken soup for the soul, accepting yourself just as you are, taking one step at a time, and moving into self-love with kindness.

Dear God, the highest power that exists, connected to all things good and loving, the witness to my strengths and weaknesses, hear my prayer. Remind me that I am whole and complete. Take away the feelings of separation, and cultivate in me a sense of oneness. A sense of kindness, not just towards others but towards myself. Open doors and relationships that create opportunities for me to become gentle with myself. Just as my brothers and sisters suffer in ways that I am unaware, You know that I carry wounds that even I don’t see, which contribute to my suffering. Grant me clarity to heal my wounds when possible and, at minimum, to only brush against them when I have support and a tender heart towards myself. You brought me here to experience joy abundantly. Today I will allow the sun, the trees, smiling eyes, and fresh air to greet me. Today I will hold myself with the same love and compassion that I would of a precious, innocent child, knowing that, just like that child, I deserve love and grace. And thank You. Thank you for allowing me to see You in all the things I do. Thank You for reminding me that You are always here, holding my hand, guiding and protecting me. Amen

Stephanie Osborne is the wife of Terrance Osborne and mother of Terrance, Seth, and Sydni Osborne. She is the daughter of CSM Parishioner, Helen Smith Green. She manages Terrance Osborne Gallery and is a meditation and yoga instructor, and recently named Ambassador of Wellness for the City of New Orleans. You can experience a 30 minute guided meditation most Sunday mornings with Stephanie at CSM from 9:15-9:45a on the 2nd floor of the school building.

December 18, 2022
by Julie Gardner

The Shepherd’s Reaction  Luke 2:15-18, 20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them,……  20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.

In mid-2011 or early 2012, I experienced new-found freedom. I wasn’t responsible for anyone but myself for the first time since I was 19. What should I do with that new freedom? I was in good health. I yearned to “make a difference.” But how? Where? I looked for my next open door.

The door opened when it dawned on me that I still wanted to join the Peace Corps, an adventure I’d wanted to do when I was 22. At the seasoned age of 55, I joined the Peace Corps. The Lord (and the U.S government) sent me (a lawyer) to Mozambique to work in HIV/AIDS prevention & treatment compliance. I knew less than nothing about community health, life in southern Africa, or how to teach HIV/AIDS prevention. While in Mozambique, I may have helped at least a few people by organizing HIV testing campaigns and facilitating adequate housing for two HIV+ widows and their children. Courageous colleagues at the NGO to which I was assigned made those things possible.

Peace Corps service blessed me! And the experience opened at least one door for me. Upon my return to New Orleans from Peace Corps in 2015, I was miserable. I had no patience with “first world whining” and no idea how to fit in again. Re-entry to the U.S. was so much harder than adjusting to life in Africa! I prayed and thought, looking for the next open door.

In time, I thought, “I need to help refugees from the civil war in Syria.” CSM: God is still Speaking: Lo and behold a door appeared! For me, the Lord’s angels spoke through a computer – not as exciting as a host of angels in the starry night, but clearly a sign. The second listing on the first job search website I visited read, “Wanted: Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with law degrees to work with refugees.” Like the shepherds, I left in haste for my Bethlehem (Washington, DC) and joined the Refugee Corps where I’ve been privileged to help refugees from around the world open doors to futures and hopes for themselves and their children in the U.S. And now, I’ve made known abroad the saying which was told to me.

Prayer: Lord, please help each of us to seize opportunities to open doors for ourselves and for others. Don’t let fear hold us back!

Julie Gardner is the proud mother of three and grandmother of four. She lives in Maryland, justoutside of DC, and is working remotely to process refugees and seekers of humanitarian parole. She looks forward to regaining her medical clearance and resuming travel throughout the world to interview refugees.

December 17, 2022
by Rev. Barb Dickason

The Angel Appears to the Shepherds Luke 2:8-14

8 Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

I awoke to the sensation of water bursting. I shook my husband awake, and checked my cellphone for messages. Somehow my body had simply known…

It was time to load the car for the 13-hour drive to Indianapolis. My daughter and her husband were headed to the hospital. A baby was being born.

As we travelled, I pondered these passages that we are hearing this advent. When I asked Siri, I was told that walking directions between Nazareth and Bethlehem would take 42 hours. I imagine there may have been a more direct route 2000 years ago than there is today, but it still would have only shaved off about 10 hours of walking. In contrast, our trip was 843 miles, or approximately 281 hours of walking. If we had needed to walk. Without any breaks, that is almost 12 days of walking.

Ironically, even though our trip took less time, my mind was constantly dwelling on the labor that my daughter was experiencing, and my body played along. When she got an IV, my arm started spasming. When the baby was born, I simply knew.

I wondered about the trip that Mary took. I can’t imagine that it was very comfortable, even though she was riding on a donkey, what with her body pitching side to side with every step.  Did her mother know?  And then at the end of it? At the end of an exhausting, labor filled trip? A baby was born.

I imagined Mary, instead of receiving the constant care like that bestowed upon my daughter, being turned away from place after place. I imagine how frantic Joseph must have become, simply trying to find a place for them out of the wind so that the child was not simply born there on the street. And yet, this Mother with her child being born, labored and gave birth to a child in a stable that was less than sanitary, was heralded by angels, and was visited by multiple shepherds, none of whom wore masks.

So many things have changed over the centuries, and yet the essentials remain the same.  Whether our labor happens in a hospital room or a stable, a business office or a home office, on the side of the road or in the highest high-rise, through the miracle of Jesus’ birth we are also able to birth something new: A world where we can sing with Mary, proclaiming that, as the hands and feet of her baby boy, we are the ones to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and set all those who are oppressed gloriously free. And as we do so, perhaps the echo of the angels’ song will circle around the globe — and we will finally, and blessedly, know God’s peace.

Holy God,In the midst of our labor, remind us to sing. Give us songs of Hope, Justice, Joy, and Love. And above all, may the wholeness of your peace — your shalom — fill the world with the voices of angels. Amen

Rev. Barb Dickason is at home wherever her dogs, Stella by Starlight and Mr. Coal, reside with her husband Rob.  She is the mother of two identical twins born two years apart who are nothing alike (being a boy and a girl), and as of the trip herein mentioned, grandmother of two girls and two boys who are also identically cherished and uniquely gifted with love. And, while she never participated in a pageant, her greatest hope is… World Peace.

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me…”

December 16, 2022
by Nick Weldon

Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple  Luke 2:21-24

21 When the eighth day came, it was time to circumcise the child, and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Both the theme verse and my assigned verse call attention to Jesus being Mary’s firstborn child. I am my parents’ oldest child, and a big brother to three amazing siblings. As the four of us have gotten older, started/changed careers, expanded our families, and moved all over, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my role as the eldest. The implication I read in the Bible verses is that being the firstborn carries an added responsibility—to the parents and any potential siblings. My wife, Dawn, is also the oldest of three, and we both grew up with a sense that it was our responsibility to “make room” for our siblings—literally, in our childhood homes, and metaphorically in the sense of providing space and emotional support as we move through life’s ups and downs. I think there’s also a cultural expectation for firstborns to take the lead in making room for our parents as they age, in all the meanings of that phrase.

The last three years have brought myriad challenges to our families, as they have to so many. Physical distance can make the heart grow fonder, but it can also harden it, or at the least challenge the strength of those bonds. My family is very spread out now, but I am thankful that 2022 has provided more opportunities for us to come together. I am particularly thankful for my sister, the second-born, who lives closest to our parents and has supported them in various ways the rest of us can’t. I also feel guilt over missed opportunities to see my brothers. But just as Mary made room for Jesus where she could despite challenges, I feel moved to commit in 2023 to being resourceful and open-minded about how to make room for family despite the distance between us.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for siblings—elder and younger, brothers and sisters of all definitions. I pray that you help us recognize opportunities to support our siblings when they are in need, and help us find ways to strengthen our bonds no matter the distance between us.

My wife, Dawn Robinson -Weldon, and I have been CSM members for several years. By day, I’m an editor at The Historic New Orleans Collection, a museum and research center in the French Quarter. By night, I’m a horse, a troll, or a member of the Star Wars Rebel Alliance, depending on the play theme concocted by my kids, Xavier and Zora.

December 15, 2022
by Shiela Grose

Zechariah’s Prophecy Continued   Luke1:76-80

76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High, for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give his people knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 Because of the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us,79 to shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” 80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

It was 2007 and I was struggling hard with the decision whether or not to “make room” for my dad. This decision had to be made in 2007, but the reasons I struggled started back in 1990. At the time my 90-yr-old grandmother needed a lot of help, and it was left to me make her understand why she needed to move to the nursing home and then, after the move, to see her daily until her death in Dec. 1992.

A couple of years later it was my aunt. Just one month before she turned 62, she got a sinus infection. She had no health insurance and was determined to wait until her birthday when Medicare would begin to see a doctor. Unfortunately, sepsis set in, and she spent most of the month in the hospital and then died on her birthday! This was another crisis which was thrust into my hands.

While all this was going on, there was my mother. In the early 70’s she developed a phobia to the weather. At the time I had been divorced and was the mother of four children ages 6,7,8, & 9 and in 1971 I remarried. The storms that year were almost daily, and with each storm mom got worse. She had two long stays in a psychiatric hospital. It got to the point that my dad could not deal with it, and my mother and father were divorced. It was left to me to deal with my mom’s lawyer, living arrangements, doctor’s appointments, etc. All the while keeping up with my job, my four kids, and my new husband who was beginning to feel a little neglected.

But the Good Lord wasn’t finished testing me yet! We were quickly approaching teenage years. But I soon learned that God is a merciful God, and I still often thank Him for giving me those kids so close together because, as we moved through those years, my younger children saw that the oldest one did not get away with his shenanigans, so they were fairly easy.

Now it was the year 2000. After four back surgeries, my mom was confined to a wheelchair in her apartment in Kenner. And I was on constant call when she fell or had an emergency.

About this time my husband, Gene, also began to experience falls, and to exhibit a myriad of other symptoms. In Feb. 2004, Gene’s care required me to retire. Two primary care physicians, five neurologists, one psychologist, and one neurosurgeon later, Gene was in a wheelchair. By September 2006, Gene was unable to walk, he could not feed himself, and his speech was so garbled we couldn’t  understand what he was saying. My youngest daughter, Donna and I took him to see a new neurologist who had been studying Gene’s multiple head scans from over the years. As we entered his office the doctor turned to us and said that Gene had a rare degenerative brain disease called Progressive Super Nuclear Palsy, PSP, for which there is no cure. He suggested we look for a Nursing home with Hospice Care because very soon I wouldn’t be able to care for Gene at home.

Over the course of all this time my dad had remarried, and was now living 2 hours away in Foxworth, MS with his wife, Micky, who was in the last stages of breast cancer. Dad would call when he needed help and I would put my husband and his wheelchair, in the car and make the trip to help. Mickey assured me that Dad could take care of their affairs after she was gone, but when Micky died in March 2007, Dad was lost! I would find checks and bills in the trash and it was abundantly clear he could not function on his own.

I asked my sisters for help but, because of their family situations, neither of them was able to do much. And to further complicate the situation, Dad was in need of a hip  replacement which he had been putting off and all of his doctors were in Hattiesburg!

By this time my husband, Gene was getting worse and becoming more agitated. Finally in April 2007, I made the sad decision to place my husband Gene in a nursing home. This was very difficult. The worst thing was that PSP attacks the body but not the mind. I could see in Gene’s eyes that he knew what was going on, he just had no way to express himself. He still believed that he could get out of bed but when he tried he would fall and hurt himself. This was agonizing to watch and it was heartbreaking to place him in the nursing home.

When Dad’s surgery & rehab was complete, I asked him if he had decided where he wanted to live?  He looked at me and said, “Yes, I’m going to stay with you!” Right then I said a silent and most fervent prayer asking the Lord for strength and patience, knowing I was so tired of being “care giver” to old people, knowing I did not want this but, also knowing I could not tell Dad “No”. So I made room for my dad.

Now I was caring for my mother who was deteriorating and still living in her apartment, my husband who was living in the nursing home, and my father who was living with me! Mom was becoming more and more belligerent! She fell frequently, fought with caregivers, but refused to consider moving to a nursing home and was angry with me for suggesting it. I was constantly calling the EMT’s but each time she went to the hospital they would patch her up, pronounce her “better” and send her home. One day when this all happened again, and the ER doctor said everything was OK . I lost it. I burst into tears and shouted that she should not be taken back to her home. I demanded that a Social Worker be called and when I told her everything that had been going on she made some calls and the next thing I knew, Mom was being admitted to the same nursing home where Gene was.

It was now June of 2007. To Mom, I was now “That Woman.” She was angry with me for being in the nursing home and was abusive to the staff, which caused her to have two stays in a psychiatric facility. Finally she passed peacefully at the nursing home in Oct, 2008.  She was 85. Gene passed peacefully in Sept. 2009, 15 minutes before his 83rd birthday and my Dad lived with me for three really good years.

Eventually because of his declining health we moved Dad to the Assisted Living Facility just a few blocks from me. Dad passed in July of 2012. He was 91. I’m grateful for the time we had together for my sake and the sake of my children and grandchildren who had never had a chance to get to know him before that time.

Through all those years, I never doubted the Lord was by my side. He had my back. We were able to raise 4 amazing kids with relatively few traumatic incidences. He brought me through B cell Lymphoma in 2014 & 15.  I remarried in 2016, only to find out a month after we wed that John had Myelofibrosis. The doctor gave him 2yrs.  God gave us 2yrs & 8 months. John & I met dancing. Now I am 80 and still dancing, with Gods help, through all of this trauma. God has always brought me through to a brighter day. My faith has never failed me. I am forever grateful.

December 14, 2022
by Margaret Rota

Mary’s Song Continued Luke 1:51-55

51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly;53 he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.54 He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Locked Doors
When I was a child, the youngest of three, our family lived in the parsonage, a tiny house in a working class neighborhood, a few blocks away from the church. The living room had three doors – a door that led to the front porch, one to the kitchen, and the third to my parent’s bedroom. Each year, as the Advent season progressed, we three kids took turns carefully opening the windows on two Advent calendars from Germany. Carefully, because we reused the calendars for many years. One told the story of the birth of Jesus and the other one, which was my favorite, I have to admit, revealed various toys and the arrival of Santa on Christmas day. But, I was especially drawn into the depictions of scenes from the Christmas story.

A few days before Christmas, the doors to the living room, where our Christmas tree would be, were mysteriously locked. Well, y’all know what a locked door means to a kid! I’d sneak into my parents’ bedroom and try to scrunch down and peek between the threshold and the closed door. Then I’d try peering through the keyhole. No luck. My parents had closed the shades, so the room was dark. I ran outside, around the house, and up onto the front porch, thinking I might get a better look from outside – maybe they forgot to close those shades. Nope. And the third option, the kitchen door? Well, when was my mom not in there baking Christmas cookies?!?

On Christmas Eve, when we got home from church, we kids ran into the house to behold a brilliant Christmas tree, surrounded by presents that Santa brought while we were at church! Proof – Santa’s footprints would be in the snow on the porch. Later, I found out that my older sister, and then my brother, had been in on the mystery, and actually helped decorate the tree while I was asleep!
Open doors, locked doors. Anticipation.

PrayerDear God, we can’t/don’t always see what lies on the other side of doors we encounter. It may not be the right time. Help us to react in a loving way, whichever side of doors we are on. Amen

Dave and I are Midwesterners at heart, but have embraced New Orleans as our home since 2016. CSM feels like home. Our son, Matt and his family are here, and son Ben and family live in Massachusetts. I find peace quilting and working with fabric. New Orleans music fills my soul.

December 13, 2022
by Amy Hamilton

Zechariah’s tongue is Loosed; Luke 1:63b-66

63b And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For indeed the hand of the Lord was with him.

I will tell you about fear. I am frequently frightened. I know, what a puzzle. I have spent thebetter part of my life fearing all sorts. So Zechariah, being frightened of the angel Gabriel, putshim right in my wheelhouse. I am scared. Of a lot. And if you were presented with the news hegot from a source you didn’t know, would you believe them? I’m with Z. I would probably bemade mute. I would likely have simply been confounded for a very long time, left to ponder all that the miraculous announcement meant. All that it connected to in all of scripture.

In uppity Seminary Language, we are dealing with an essential Inter-Testamental passage. Thepassage this one plucks hard on the string of is the Samuel birth narrative in 1 Samuel.Barrenness Narratives are what they are called. Narrative patterning is significant and foretellscertain things in Hebrew. Barrenness ones tell there is about to be a shocking event. A verysignificant birth. Sometimes a birth against all odds. Births are tricky. Even in present dayU.S., we are grappling with reproductive complexity and asking all sorts of God-like questions, but in the times we are working thru in Luke and Samuel, women had very little value if she couldn’t bear a child. In the Samuel story Hannah was the much loved, but barren wife of Elkhana, and it still didn’t help Hannah. Hannah had prayed for a child. She had labored at the temple and even had Eli believing she was drunk, she was so wrought. Do you know anyone who has struggled with fertility? I have a few friends, but this is often a silent struggle. It is hard and private and so incredibly lonely. And, just like with Zechariah, there are no words. Poor Zechariah and Elizabeth had prayed long and without success, and now…like with Abraham and Sarah, God is going to give them a child? No Way!!!

Zechariah was not imaginative enough to make room for his son, John. But he got there. Andin the silence of his own son’s advent, he must have searched the scriptures and found theanswer to his wonder.

Amy Hamilton is a long time lover of New Orleans. She arrived here for the first time at theSuperdome for an Ephesians Conference in 1976. For All The Saints. She spent the entiretime trying to escape to the rest of the city, especially Le Pavillion. After a few (indeed toomany) years, she came to live here in 2008. There have been ups and downs as with anymove, but CSM is definitely a HUGE UP.

December 12, 2022
by Michele D’Aquin
The Naming of John Luke 1:59-63
59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.”
Lord, open my heart this season, to make room for others who need your help. Let your grace and mercy grow in me, that I may bless others with it.

I grew up the eldest in a family of seven children. My parents divorced, and my Dad raised us, even while working full-time. There were about fifty school-age children all growing up on the same block in Metairie. We were all blessed, innocent, and protected, and knew nothing of the world of crime, violence, and addiction that has become so common in our world today.

Moving from this innocent background, I worked for years at a non-profit that housed people who were living on the margins of society, people with mental health and substance abuse issues; people who made poor decisions while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which resulted in an HIV diagnosis. I had to learn to open my heart to these people and yet, despite all this experience, this Christmas I find myself still challenged to “open my heart” and to “make room.”

One of my siblings loves an addict and he has recently chosen to go to Florida to be a father figure and help other adults to raise her three pre-teen children and a toddler and newborn infant that are part of her extended family. He hopes that this woman whom he loves, and who is an addict, will maintain her sobriety and says that regardless of what happens with her recovery, he is happy and committed to helping with the children for as long as he can. I’ll be honest, I did not see this coming. This turn of events comes as a shock and concern for me. I’ve wanted a better life for my “baby brother” whom I dearly love. Now that I am “retired” I had imagined that he would visit us in Lafayette, and we would go on Cajun exploration trips together! However, that is not the path he has chosen, and now God is calling me to “make room” in my heart for the direction my brother has chosen and for this new family, which is surrounded by drama and trauma.

Lord, thank you for opening my eyes. Lord, let your countenance shine on this new family who needs your help.  Let these children have some normalcy in their lives. Thank you for showing me that my “baby brother” is a grown up. Show me, God, what you would have me do now to be of service. Thank you, God, for your perfect timing, and for giving me another reason to pray. Thank you for reminding me how wonderful my childhood really was. Hear my prayers of support for this new family, send your army of angels all around to fight the demon of addiction. Let the addict feel your presence, God, for with you all things are possible.

I am a native New Orleanian, now living in Lafayette with my spouse, Vicki Weeks. We joined St. Matthew UCC (now CSM) in 2004. We moved to Lafayette just before the height of the pandemic, in March 2020.

We are blessed, thanks to technology, to be able to actively participate with CSM, watching online streaming, and attending Zoom meetings. We are also thankful to attend in-person worship when in town.

Vicki is now retired after 20 years of operating Shelter Resources Inc., dba Belle Reve New Orleans. We both volunteer with Shelter Resources, which is now building affordable housing for seniors.

I pray about whether I am fully retired and how God will lead me to use my time.

December 11, 2022
by Curry Miller

The Birth of John the Baptist Luke 1:57-58

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

MAKING ROOM – In late August of 2005 my brother and I moved our uncle out of his small apartment in our hometown and into a nursing home several miles away. We began the process of giving away his few meager possessions. Then August 29, 2005 happened. Milton and I had waited until the very last minute to evacuate as Katrina bore down on New Orleans. We put a couple of pairs of jeans and some tee shirts in a bag, assuming that we would be back home in two or three days after the storm had passed, and we headed to my hometown and my uncle’s small apartment. What normally would have been a three-hour drive turned into an eleven-hour bumper to bumper drive that day. During the drive I was frantically calling people asking them to not take the bed, to leave a couple of chairs and a few other things. I was asking the people of my hometown to make room for us as we fled from the storm. And they graciously complied. One person even brought us a small twelve-inch portable television that would only pickup one channel. This allowed us to know what was happening with the storm and that New Orleans was flooding.

On our second day in Pitkin there was a knock on the apartment door. It was my ex-sister-in-law. She had found out that we were camping out in that small apartment, and she insisted that we pack up and come stay with her and her husband in Alexandria until we could return to New Orleans. They made room for us and our dog in their very ordered life. We watched on tv as the city flooded and descended into chaos. After a week in Alexandria, it became abundantly clear that we would not be returning to our home any time soon. So, we made the decision to go to South Florida. A client who lived in Pale Beach had offered us his garage apartment for as long as we needed it. Another person had made room for us.

After six weeks in Palm Beach several of us were able to return to New Orleans to assess the damage to our homes and properties. Our house was not as damaged as most in our neighborhood, but the floors were buckled and moldy. It was apparent that we could not stay in the house. Angela, another friend, and client who also lived in Palm Beach had a condo in the French quarter that was untouched by Katrina. After she saw the damage to our house, she announced that she would not be coming back to New Orleans for some time so she wanted Milton and I to move into her condo until we could repair our home. She made room for us to have some semblance of a normal life amid the chaos for the six months it took to repair our home.

Prayer: Lord I am eternally grateful for the blessings you have bestowed on my life and for the people who have made room for me in theirs. You have provided me with more than I could have ever imagined. You have surrounded me with people who have made room for me in their lives. You have given me family and friends who bless me every day with kind words and deeds.

Curry Miller has been a member of St. Matthew UCC-Central St. Matthew UCC since 2004. He has been in a thirty-year relationship with Milton Cheramie, and they have been married for eight years. They have two Rat Terriers, Zack & Lucca.

December 10, 2022
by Tracey Braden

Mary Remains with Elizabeth  Luke 1:56

56 And Mary remained with Elizabeth about three months and then returned to her home.

Throughout 2021/2022, God heard my prayer to show me someone willing to be there for me, as I believe Elizabeth was for Mary. It was clear that He chose Deacon Dale Bonds; to be my Elizabeth.

Since high school Dale has been neighbor, boss, church member, confidant, spiritual sister, and dear friend. Just like Mary, I needed a mature woman to confide in. Someone who was also blessed and highly favored of God, who experienced hardship, grief, pain, disappointment, and struggle. No one knew that I needed someone to make room for me, but God knew! As much as I love chatting with God, worshiping God, struggling with God; He knew I needed that human touch, warm smile, and tender embrace, so He gave me room in the arms of Dale.

In reading God’s word, I find myself relaxing and peaceful thoughts come over me. When I need counseling, I go to God first and many times He sends me to Dale for confirmation of what my next steps should be. God makes room for me by freely giving me His wisdom by her:

Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or swerve from them.  Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.  Wisdom is supreme; therefore, get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Esteem her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you. Proverbs 4:5-8

Now, I have peace on my job at Tulane, financial peace, spiritual peace, and peace in my life.

Father, continue to show me your wisdom through those you have chosen to guide me on my journey. Amen

December 9, 2022
by Dave Rota
Zechariah’s Prophecy Luke 1:67-75

67 Then John’s  father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied.  “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his child David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness  in his presence all our days.

Making Room“. . . and laid him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7

My father was a coal miner’s son. When he was about ten year’s old, his mother was murdered. Since his father spent long hours in the coal mine, Charles was left not only motherless but virtually fatherless as well. Dad had nobody to watch him; he spent his days walking the two muddy streets of the company town and, on occasion, sneaking on a train on its way down the Pennsylvania mountain and then walking back up. Not long after the loss of his mother, he became estranged from his father and ended up in an orphanage.

Luke tells us that when Jesus was born, an animal (traditionally a cow) made enough room for him to sleep in a feeding trough! My dad’s “manger experience” was two fold. First, he was welcomed with open arms by Mrs. Graham who was in charge of the orphanage. Much to his Surprise, he was given a private room that he relished. The second “manger experience” changed the direction of his life. Between the one room schoolhouse and the orphanage was a Methodist church. On many occasions he would stop at the church because he knew he could get something to eat. He became friends with the minister, and by the time he finished high school the pastor had convinced Charles to go to a small college in the Midwest with the intention of becoming a Methodist minister. Even though he had not been formally accepted to the college, and had only a few dollars in his pocket, North Central College made room for him, provided him with scholarships and work, and, indeed, the Holy Spirit guided him to become an ordained minister. Over the following decades he served churches in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and Missouri. After retiring he continued to serve as an interim minister and then as a chaplain in a retirement community in Texas. He lived a joyous life to the age of 102, and until his dying day on a 30 below zero day in January, Charles brought spiritual knowledge, comfort, and tender mercy to many.

Prayer: At some point in our lives we all need somebody to make room for us in our time of need. Who knows? By making room, we just may be helping somebody to have a manger experience. Spirit of Gentleness, we thank you for helping us to learn how to make room for others.

Since retiring in New Orleans eight years ago, Margaret and I have been grateful members of Central St. Matthew. We’re blessed with having our son Matt, daughter-in-law Beth, and grandson Arlo living close by. Our other son Ben, daughter-in-law Annie and granddaughters Henrietta and Charlotte live far away in Boston, but we manage to get together frequently. Margaret and I have been happily married for 52 years.

December 8, 2022
by Lori Hume

Ceasar’s Call for Taxation Luke 2:1-7

1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room.

The theme for this year’s Advent Devotional called to my spirit. For the past two and a half years, while living in Florida with my 83-year-old mother, I have had to “make room” for all the changes that the pandemic has created in my life. While many things have been lost to me during the pandemic, many blessings have occurred in their place.

In some ways, I feel like David going to Bethlehem to be registered. Traveling back to a place of origin to be recognized. I was estranged from my mother for a very long time. And if I were to be honest, I never thought that I would have the opportunity to be in a relationship with my mother before she died. Asking my mother if she would be willing to watch my cat while I had construction done on my home in New Orleans in March, 2020 was life altering for me. Being with my mother when the world shut down created a space for both of us to reconnect with each other. With time, a new “room” in our relationship has emerged and it is one of understanding and forgiveness.

A new relationship has also emerged for me during the pandemic with Central St. Matthew. Although I am no longer able to go to Sunday School or Church in person, I am thankfully able to attend virtually through Zoom and the live streaming of Sunday’s service. I have had to “make room” for technology to allow me to stay connected to the Congregation that feels like my family. I also help host the Virtual Coffee hour each Sunday. In doing so, I hold a space for others like myself who cannot attend Church in person yet want to remain connected to Central St. Matthew and the church family. So, grab a cup of coffee and come visit, I would enjoy seeing you from my room in Florida.

PRAYER:Dear Father God, Help us to see the room of GRACE you have created for us in the body of your son, Jesus Christ. Allow our hearts and minds to make room for the understanding that we are all your children and deserving of your love. Amen.

I am a retired real estate paralegal who continues to be a virtual member of Central St. Matthew. Although I have since sold my home in New Orleans, my daughter continues to live there and who I now visit in my “Mobile Room” aka RV called the Barb Mobile.

December 7, 2022
by Jim Tingley

Mary’s Song  Luke 1:46-48

46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,48 for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed,

“Opening Doors”
When I think about the idea of “Making Room,” the thought that comes to mind is how important it is to open doors for others. I will tell you some ways that others have opened doors for me.

I was maybe 13 and my best friend was our pastor’s second son, Bruce. We became interested in the Historical Society that was next door to the parsonage and began to volunteer there. The director of the Historical Society was Kimmie Wood, a retired school teacher. She piqued our interest in the history of our small town, the larger world, and the role of civics. In town hall meetings she was always a powerful ethical voice.

I was 22 and in my last semester of college doing work study as a preparator at the university art museum. A crew from an art moving company came through the galleries one day to collect some artwork. One of them was a very friendly guy named Michael Crivaro. At the time I had no idea what I would do after graduation. I asked Michael if they were hiring, he said yes, they were starting a big project at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. About a month later, on my first day on the job, I found myself at the Peabody packing Hopi pottery, something that made me feel incredibly privileged. Michael went on to mentor me for several years on the ins and outs of handling, packing, and moving art and artifacts. I continue to work in the field of global art logistics 40 years later.

Lord God, I thank and praise You for all of the doors that have been opened for me and all the doors I hope I have been able to open for others.

Jim Tingley has been a member of Central St. Matthew since 2020 and currently sits on the Board of Trustees. He lives happily with his wife PC and his dog Snooks.


December 6, 2022

by Dale Bonds

Mary Visits Elizabeth Luke 1:39-45

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Making Room
Many of you know that writing is not my strong suit, however, I am one who occasionally steps out of my comfort zone. So here we are again.

As I thought about this year’s theme, I backtracked through years of my life. So many stories flooded my thoughts. I finally settled on one incident, a long time ago, when there was no room for my mother and me. We were doing some shopping in preparation for my first year away in college. We walked into a store in South Philly and started looking at raincoats. A salesman came over, rather close, shook his finger at us, and said loudly, “there’s nothing in here for you!”

Have you ever been turned away for no apparent reason? It conjures up some strange feelings. Feelings hard to describe. Feelings that are unexpected. Feelings that make you uncomfortable. Feelings of humiliation. How do you respond to something like that? At 18, I was smacked with my first real taste of racism! Not exactly being turned away like Joseph and Mary, and yet each time they were turned away, feelings undescribed, bubbled within. Feelings of anxiety and worry about where to go next and where was this baby to be born? Yet, they persevered. Their faith kept them going in the right direction.

Thankfully, I had a mom who was a woman of strong faith, who kept a clear head. She grabbed my hand, turned on her heels and with head held high we walked out of the store.

This incident had a profound impact on me … to always have room for others in my mind and in my heart.

Prayer – Gracious God, help us always to make room for you and for others in our lives. Amen

Dale is married to James K. Bonds and together they have four children, ten grandchildren and two great grands! We are Katrina survivors. We are also among the original members of Central St. Matthew UCC.
December 5, 2022
by Princella “Princi” Graham
Mary’s Song Continued Luke 1:49-50
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name;50 indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
Advent Reflection – 2022
The one word I’ve heard from the Lord over the last two years has been “detach.” That one word has been a lesson in not only letting go but becoming EMPTY…making room. In some ways that has meant coming to the end of myself…my ability to “make things happen” or at least feeling like I should. In quantum physics, which fascinates me, the smallest part of an atom is NOTHINGNESS, and from that nothingness, the observer creates MATTER from a WORD. Sound familiar??  “In the beginning was the Word…”
One morning while in prayer I said, “Father, I only want what You want to matter in my life.” He said, “Baby Girl (what He often calls me), do you know what you just asked for?” “Huh,” I answered incredulously. “What did you learn about MATTER in physics?” He asked. “Well…matter is that which is experienced by our five senses…taste, touch, smell, hearing and seeing,” I replied. “So,” He laughed, “You’re asking that only what I WANT FOR YOU to come into the realm of your 5 senses…right?? Then become NO THING.”
WOW…THAT was an awakening!!!
God has been calling me…all of us…to empty ourselves…to enter that sacred space of “nothingness” in which all possibility exists…an emptiness from which God invites us to be co-creators with Him. As I empty myself, become that sacred nothingness, and align myself with God, only what God wants will MATTER in my life…and that’s “awe”-some.
Rumi – Prayer of the ChaliceFather, to Thee I raise my whole being…a vessel emptied of self.
Accept, Lord, this my emptiness, and so fill me with Thyself – Thy Light, Thy Love, Thy Life – that Thy precious Gifts may radiate through me and overflow the chalice of my heart into the hearts of all with whom I come in contact this day, revealing unto them the beauty of Thy Joy and Wholeness and the serenity of Thy Peace, which nothing can destroy.
Princella (Princi) and Charles lived in Ocean Springs, MS, for 14 years and just moved back to Michigan in 2021 to be close to family and their youngest grandkids. Princi, a CSM Deacon, says their love and home will always be New Orleans, especially at CSM!

December 4, 2022

by Rachel Ricks

Mary’s Reaction Luke 1:34

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

When I have to scroll down past 26 new messages to read yesterday’s advent devotional, I know it’s time for me to clear out my inbox. That’s just my personal email. My online shopping email address where all the advertisements go (only the ones I subscribe to) has been holding 40 more messages since early this morning. And then there’s my work email where I grapple with 75-100 messages a day ranging from “this is important, make this a priority” to “extreme urgency I expect a response within the next three minutes or I’m coming to find you!”

The real challenge however, comes when I get that one unexpected email from an employee who just took a phone call from a panicked, single mom who can’t understand why a collection agency is contacting her about a $400 medical bill she never received, for a balance she says she never should have owed because her child has insurance coverage. It is at that point that I must take pause to evaluate the situation. It would be easy enough to point the finger and say, “Well, give her this number for the insurance company, they are the ones that said she owed the balance.” Or, “Sorry there’s not much I can do since the balance was already turned over to collections and it’s too late to file a claim anyway, she’ll just have to pay it.” But the easy way would only leave the mom angry, frustrated, and lost for help, and it would leave me faced with more emails like, “Can I get a report of all of the colonoscopies I billed last March with a breakdown by how much each insurance paid and whether any of the claims are still outstanding?  And by the way, I need it for a meeting in an hour.”

So instead of pointing the finger, I make room in my day and become an advocate, not just for the mom and for the doctors that provided the care, but for the integrity of the system. What went wrong that could have caused this issue, and more importantly, how am I going to fix it? This takes research, navigating through multiple systems, phone calls, and clear communication to make sure there is a solution, a resolution, and that it’s the right one for everyone’s best interest. I personally (and virtually) hold the mom’s hand and take her from point A, reaching out for help, to point B, breathing a sigh of relief when I tell her that I contacted the insurance company and they have agreed to reprocess the claim because of an issue with the dates of coverage which has now been corrected, and that the balance with the collection agency is being cancelled and she does not owe anything. (Whew!)

When Mary learned she was with-child, she surely had a moment of shock and disbelief. How in the world was she going to be able to make the journey to Bethlehem having to carry a surprise baby that she didn’t even ask for? How did this even happen and what was she going to do?  After she and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and were trying to figure out who they could stay with, was there anyone that said to them, “Gook luck finding a place to stay!” Or did anyone point a finger toward the inn and say, “Go over there, they will surely help you out.”  Or, was there perhaps someone running by who saw Mary in distress and the worried look on Joseph’s face and stopped and said, “Take my hand and come with me. I will show you a safe and warm place where there is room for you to stay and space for your baby.”

Dear Lord, may we each find it in ourselves to do the best we are able by offering room in our busy lives to help make a difference in someone else’s.

Rachel Ricks stayed up past her bedtime to finish this devotional, and spends entirely too many hours a day looking at computer screens.  She used to be a band director and spent a lot of time on her feet in the classroom and on the field with her marching band, but now she works for a medical billing company which was homegrown in Lafayette Louisiana, and sold last year to be part of the healthcare division of i3 Verticals, a publicly traded company headquartered in Nashville, TN. If anyone has questions about their medical bills give her a call – or better yet – send her an email.

December 3, 2022
by Annette McClendon

Mary’s reaction to the Angels Announcement  Luke 1:29-33

29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

I grew up on a Ranch in Oklahoma with my cousin Doyle, who was six years older than me. His brother was always picking on me and Doyle was my protector. I looked up to Doyle. He was very brave and he was my hero. Doyle also helped me muck out the horse stalls when I was very small.

After I grew up and moved to Illinois where I married and had two boys, I became very involved in the Civil rights movement. I never told Doyle of my involvement in the civil rights movement or my “super liberal” views because Doyle was an outspoken racist and he remained so until the day he died. I could never understand how Doyle could embrace such a bigoted view of others, since my Mother’s father and Doyle’s father were half Cherokee and we both knew what it was like to be treated with prejudice. And yet, Doyle was so good and protective of me as a child that even after we had grown up, and even after our views of the world had taken such opposite directions. I always felt compelled to  “make room,” and to “keep room” for Doyle in my heart. I’ll never know or understand why Doyle chose to think the way he did, but even his unkind judgement of others cannot erase his kindness toward me.

After his passing, I have wondered if he did know and chose not to acknowledge my views, and if he “made room” and “kept room” in his heart for me.

I was raised in Okmulgee, Oklahoma My Father was a rancher, gentle horse trainer and calf roper in the rodeo. My Mother was a beautiful, kind and sassy country wife.

I was married and have two sons, one in Hawaii and one in New Orleans. I also have two grandchildren and one great grandchild.

I graduated from Nurses training. I have a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Hawaii Real Estate license, and am a graduate of BOMI (Building, Owners, Management Institute). I was a Psychiatric nurse for 10 years and a Project/Property Manager for 45 years (15 years in the French Quarter in New Orleans). Active in the civil rights movement in the 60′ and 70’S, 80’s until present involved in the civil rights movement, LBGTQ and a Womens’ shelter.

Kahu: You did not embarrass me or yourself. I appreciate your concern.

My son here is disabled but he does live on his own, but needs more help as he gets older which is why I came back to New Orleans. I live on SSI.

December 2, 2022
by Philip Ricks

The Angel Answers Mary’s Questions Luke 1:35-38

35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Sunday August 29th 2005 was a warm and sunny day in St. Louis, MO where Rachel and I had moved to the previous year. We were enjoying a picnic sponsored by Rachel’s company but were also keeping a wary eye on a certain tropical system rapidly approaching our beloved New Orleans, where most of our families still resided. It was that afternoon that we received the call from my two elderly Aunts and two cousins that they, along with their three dogs, were headed to our house to escape the storm. We had offered our home to them if they indeed decided to evacuate. We lived in a modest two bedroom home that was comfortable for us but definitely not suited to handle six people and four dogs (we had our puppy as well) for an extended period of time.

The visit lasted more than any of us had envisioned but the next five weeks offered challenges, but many more blessings as well. We made room in our “inn” for our family with no reservations because that’s what we do for family. There was a need and we opened our arms to provide comfort and peace during a very troubling time.

We didn’t hesitate to offer our home to our family, but the question that I struggle with personally is whether I would be as willing and open to offering help to a stranger in need. The innkeeper had no idea who those people were that were requesting refuge. Two people just showed up out of nowhere asking for help. Many times we are approached by strangers as well. Hopefully the Holy Spirit will work through me to provide the peace and understanding that will comfort those in need.

PRAYER: Lord, help me to be a more faithful servant, for I know that I can always trust You to lead my thoughts and actions.

Philip Ricks was born and raised in New Orleans and lives with his wife Rachel in River Ridge. He was a member of St. Matthew since 1969 before moving with Rachel to St. Louis in 2004 for 6 ½ years. Upon returning to New Orleans in 2010, they returned to rejoin St. Matthew which would become Central St. Matthew.


December 1, 2022

by Michael Boucree
Elizabeth’s Reaction Luke 1:23-25

23 When Zechariah’s time of service was ended, he returned to his home. 24 After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, 25 “This is what the Lord has done for me in this time, when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.”

Upon graduation from Tulane Medical School in 1984, I left New Orleans to pursue an Internal Medicine Residency in Washington, DC at DC General Hospital. Upon its completion, as a recipient of a USPHS National Health Service Corps scholarship to attend medical school, I was obligated to provide primary care services in a medically underserved, health manpower shortage area of the US for four years. I was assigned to Flint, Michigan to begin work August 3, 1987. On my birthday, July 30, 1987, I arrived at the home of my first cousin’s wife’s sister, Barbara. She had an empty nest three-bedroom home and made room for me to live there until my apartment was ready in a few weeks. I didn’t know her prior to meeting her on July 30th, but she became my adopted “Flint Mama.” She made room for me in her home, and in her heart, and in the family, as her son. She had two sons, one a physician, whose name also was Michael, and we shared the same initials MB. So, I named myself “the other Michael” and signed cards and notes as “your other Michael!”

When I arrived in Flint in July 1987, I had no expectation or anticipation that the person who made room for me in my relocation transition would become one for whom we would mutually make room for the rest of her life which ended January 2018. I saved the last message from her for a long time until I realized that I could part with it, albeit bittersweet. She had become a part of me as one for whom I made room, when I wasn’t expecting to need to make room. And I am eternally thankful to and for Barbara! It rings much like the discovery of a new lesson from the bible or a teaching of Jesus: we make room for a revelation which changes our lives in a way we had no anticipation that it would. And that new reality leaves us in a place better than we were before! And for that, we are thankful!

PRAYER: Heavenly Father-Mother God, the world didn’t make room for your Son in the way that You had hoped. But eventually, we did, and we are so fortunate that we did. We are in a much better place than we were before we made room for him in our world and in our lives. Father-Mother, we are so thankful we made room for your Son and our brother, Jesus Christ!

Michael Boucree wedded his partner of 24 years, Ivan, in February of 2022 at CSM. He regularly serves as CSM Worship Leader and currently serves as President of the Governing Council.


November 30, 2022
by Melissa Aguilar

Zechariah’s Reaction Luke 1:18-20
18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I know that this will happen? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.” 19 The angel replied, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. 20 But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

Reading this scripture, I wonder how often we have missed God’s blessings and provision because we did not believe, or we let our faith falter in the face of what we thought was impossible. I must continuously remind myself that nothing is impossible for God. If God said He will do it, it’s as good as done.

Making Room – This theme is a subject very close to my heart. My parents divorced when I was two and my sister was four. My dad won custody, which was very unusual back in 1971. Since he was an truck driver who was gone for days or even weeks at a time, he would leave us in the care of whoever would “make room” for us. Sometimes it would be for a few weeks or a few months. Some people were kind and some were not so kind. Our older half-sister “made room” for us for a couple of years, and although she was very loving and kind, her husband was abusive to me.

Then, when I was about seven years old, what I now believe to be a miracle from God happened. My dad met a woman named Evelyn who lived in the same rural area of Texas that we lived in. She had already raised five children of her own and was helping to raise her grandchildren, but she told my dad that she would “make room” for me and my sister. The house was a bit crowded, but was big enough for us. Evelyn took us in and treated us like we were part of her family. After a while I even began to call her “Mama” because I only saw my mother once a year and rarely spoke with her. Evelyn gave me the stability that I needed and, for the first time in my young life, I felt that someone really loved and cared about me. She introduced me to Jesus for the first time and started to form a foundation upon which I would continue to build later in life when I returned to the Lord after walking away for a while. She took care of us for about five years. I credit Evelyn a lot for who I am today, and I can’t even imagine where I would be if God had not put her in my life, and if she had not “made room” for us.

Lord God, thank you so much for “angels” that you have put in our lives who have “made room” for your children when we needed it most. Help us to open our eyes to see and our hearts to “make room” for others who need it.

Melissa Aguilar has been the Office Administrator at Central St. Matthew since 2019. She has been married to David for almost five years. Between them, they have two daughters, seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. They like to travel, watch movies and sports, and spend time with family and friends. Melissa likes baking, singing and listening to music, and acting.

November 29, 2022
by Norman Robinson
The Angel Appears to Zechariah Luke 1:11-17
11 Then there appeared to the priest Zechariah an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified, and fear overwhelmed him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. 14 You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. 16 He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. 17 With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
Luke 2:7 says: And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Several years ago I was recruited to become an officer in the Rotary Club of New Orleans. The club is the 12th oldest Rotary organization in the world. Rotary international, with over 1.4 million members, is the largest and most successful community service organization in the world, located in over 200 countries with a total of 46,000 clubs. Our motto is ‘service above self.’  I must admit that assuming a leadership role in this group was intimidating, and it became downright frightening, last year when it was my turn to assume the Presidency of the Rotary Club of New Orleans. It meant that I had to make room in my life for the care and concern of communities and people in need of a helping hand.
I am happy to report that the fear and trepidation has now passed. Through prayer and meditation  I have come to accept that this is where God wants me to serve. Serving humanity has been spiritually uplifting. Making room in my life and my heart for people in distress gives me joy and hope. My first service project as President, was arranging for a tractor trailer load of water and sanitation supplies to be delivered to the people of Jackson, Mississippi when their water treatment plant was severely damaged after a powerful storm left their city under water.
My prayer is that God will continue to guide me on this journey, and … that I might always be an instrument of peace and well being to all humanity.
My granddaughter has expressed pride in my new role and is interested in becoming a member of Rotaract… which is a subset of Rotary for college students and young adults. Hopefully I’m also an example for my wife and my three children. Little did I know that after I retired as a Broadcast News Anchor in 2014 … I would become a champion of community service. My initial plan was to play golf and travel. Apparently God had a better plan.
Norman Robinson is married to Monica Hall Robinson. He is the father of three and the grandfather of seven… a faithful member of Central St. Matthew UCC… President of The Rotary Club of New Orleans… Secretary of Unity of Greater New Orleans to help reduce homelessness… Advisory Board member of the Silverback Society dedicated to mentoring middle school African American boys… Advisory Board member of the carpenters apprentice program to train the under and unemployed.
November 28, 2022
by Mona Villarrubia
The Angel’s Announcement to Zechariah Luke 1:5-10
5 In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was descended from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. 6 Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. 7 But they had no children because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.  8 Once when he was serving as priest before God during his section’s turn of duty, 9 he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer incense….. the whole assembly of the people was praying outside.
Making Room
Last spring my son James and his wife Ardis announced they were expecting our first grandchild. Both of them were closer to 40 than 30 and were told this was a “geriatric” and therefore higher risk pregnancy. I’m sure Zechariah’s wife, Elizabeth, would have sympathized.
There were some stressful moments during the pregnancy as batteries of tests revealed potential issues. But all was finally well, and our hearts and our family made room for a new life, a new love. For…who?
During the fifth month, when they found out their baby was a boy, James asked how we’d feel about the name Malcolm. The baby would be named Malcolm Scott after both granddads. But James was also naming his son after his older brother Malcolm who had taken his own life at age 24. James was asking us, his parents, if we could make room in our hearts for our dead son’s name to be used again. (It is so jarring to write those words “dead son.”) James knew that it would hurt to use his brother’s name, as I’m sure it hurt him, initially, to make that decision. Perhaps he wanted to give his son the love he hadn’t had the opportunity to give his brother. To somehow redeem that relationship. Perhaps he wanted to help us all heal.
The name would not be announced until the birth. They would leave the final decision until then. I held the idea in my heart for some weeks. Everyone who knew us would know the tragedy associated with that name in our family story. Their eyes would hold pity alongside happiness as they looked at pictures of our grandson.
And that’s exactly what has happened. People look at me with a mixture of sadness and joy, trying to gauge my feelings, wanting to ask how I’m dealing with it, yet not wanting to trigger my grief.
When I look at baby Malcolm, though, there is no ambiguity. I am overwhelmed with joy. I see life not death, hope not sorrow, a beginning not an ending, and I am glad I stretched my heart wide enough to make room for my son’s namesake. For now, the baby is known as “Nugget” or Malcom-Scott, and each time I see him I am less haunted by his name. In my heart, grief over Malcolm has made room for love for Malcolm-Scott, and I imagine Uncle Malcolm is honored to have his name reborn. And that gives me joy.
PrayerCreator God, I give thanks for the gift of new life that has made me stretch and mold my grief and soften my heart so I can welcome in joy once again.
BioMy husband and I are retired teachers who have journeyed together through life and love, death and grief, certainty and doubt, and are now blessed with a grandson who makes the whole journey worthwhile once again.


November 27, 2022
by Marion Ramirez
Luke Creates A Well Ordered Account Luke 1:1-4
1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative about the events that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, 3 I, too, decided, as one having a grasp of everything from the start, to write a well-ordered account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may have a firm grasp of the words in which you have been instructed.
There are many junctions in our life where we are required to “make room.” Children face this decision often as they navigate childhood.  As adults this requirement may be more difficult to implement. We think we have the script and a “well ordered account” of what we must do. However, as life unfolds our paths twist and turn with the unexpected and unplanned.Growing up in New Orleans, I never expected to spend my life in the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado but when we (tearfully) moved to Boulder in 1965, I had to “make room” for many new experiences, challenges and friendships.
When we chose to live in different countries or states for Fred’s sabbatical years again there was the challenge to “make room.” In France, we learned that our French neighbors were warm and welcoming despite our own language deficiencies and what we had heard about the French! In England we tried to “make room” even though often our British neighbors were hesitant to do so. Even though we were the outsiders with American accents they DID “make room” for us and deep friendships formed! Later we were faced with the challenge of living in the Soviet Union. Certainly, we couldn’t “make room” for Soviets! But we did and so did they.
In retirement we have the great pleasure of returning to our New Orleans each year where the gifts of new and renewed friendships have “made room” in so many ways. And, in our Boulder life, we now live in a retirement home which has provided many opportunities to “make room” and to be inspired by those who “make room” for us.
I have learned that, in “making room,” we open our hearts to change and different experiences.  Although it may not be according to the script, our lives are enriched.
Dear God, open our hearts so we may “make room” for others and accept those who “make room” for us. Amen.
I am a native of New Orleans but have lived in Boulder, CO for 57 years. I’ve been married to Fred for nearly 60 years, am mother to 3 independent-minded daughters and grandmother to 4 delightful (and of course talented) young adult grandchildren. Happily, Fred and I return to “our” city each year to participate in all that New Orleans offers and to joyfully worship at Central St. Matthew.