Thanking God for you, overflowing with love.

By Traci Rabenstein, director of Mission Advancement

“How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? . . . May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you.” ~1 Thessalonians 3:9 & 12, NIV

As I write this final reflection for 2021, it’s hard to believe that the year is almost over. My grandparents used to talk about how fast time was moving along. As a young girl, I didn’t really understand. Now I do. Each year seems to go by more quickly than the last, and near the end of each one, I find myself wondering:  what impact is the Church of the Brethren making in this world and in our communities?

It is easy to get caught up in the drama and chaos of our country, to move to one side or the other of a discussion or political view, or to use that view as the lens in which we mold God into the image we prefer. We are called, however, to discern with scripture and the Holy Spirit what the shape of God actually is.

In his speech to the Greeks in the Areopagus, Paul told them that we cannot think of God as an object that we can shape. He said, “Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising” (Acts 17:29). Instead, we are called to increasingly embody the image of God through our transformative relationship with Jesus Christ and through him seek to love one another as he loved us.

The words of Paul to the church in Thessalonica contain encouragement and blessing for them. 1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 was also written as a prayer for them. His words are a reminder to those who followed the teachings of Christ to be centered, not on themselves or their struggles, but on loving each other and showing compassion to all who were suffering. Indeed, by encouraging them to love generously, he was inviting them to “live and share the radical transformation and holistic peace of Jesus Christ”—a mission that we now carry together.

Through loving one another, we join together to show compassion to those who are in need and with whom we can serve and share God’s blessings. Your support this year allowed for the Global Food Initiative and Brethren Disaster Ministries to send grant monies across the globe to our partners who were in need of assistance during this pandemic season. Your contributions made a way for National Older Adult Conference to gather online and for our Intercultural Ministries to offer webinars to stretch us to think outside ourselves and toward survivors of all kinds of injustice. Your partnership has made it possible for Brethren Volunteer Service and FaithX to provide opportunities for service and workcamps in areas where support was needed. In all these ways and many more, the ministries of the Church of the Brethren have made a difference in 2021 with your help.

As this year ends and the next one begins, we thank God for you and celebrate all that we do together. Thank you for your generous gifts of finances, prayer, and service. Together our love increases and overflows for the glory of God and our neighbor’s good.

Learn more about the ministries of the Church of the Brethren at or give a year-end offering.

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)

Zechariah praises God

Copyright LUMO project (Big Book Media) under license exclusively by FreeBibleimages.
All rights reserved.

By Sheila Klassen-Wiebe

Luke 1:5–25, 57–80

Priests like Zechariah were called upon to serve in the temple for two weeklong periods every year. During the particular term of service described in our text today, Zechariah’s name is drawn by lot to perform the special task of burning incense in the holy place, a space second in holiness only to the Holy of Holies. In this sacred space, an angel visits Zechariah with news that his wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, and that he should name the boy John, meaning “Yahweh has shown favor.” This announcement is an answer to Zechariah’s prayer for a son and the people’s prayer for redemption.

The angel’s words outline the role John will have in God’s saving purposes. The command to abstain from alcohol signals consecration for a divine task. Like God’s agents in the past, John will be filled with the Holy Spirit. His vocation will be to prepare people for the Lord’s coming by calling Israel back to God, thereby fulfilling expectations for Elijah’s return on the last day.

Here the language of turning is used in verses 16 and 17. Later we learn that John will carry out his mission by preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins. In response to Zechariah’s incredulity, the angel identifies himself as Gabriel, the revealer of divine mysteries (see Daniel 8–9), who comes from the very presence of God. As a sign to Zechariah that his words are true and as reproof of Zechariah’s unbelief, Gabriel pronounces that Zechariah will be mute until the events have come to pass.

Luke mentions John’s birth briefly, focusing instead on his circumcision and naming. The theme of joy, so prominent throughout Luke’s narrative, reappears here. Zechariah’s naming of the child in accordance with Gabriel’s command acknowledges his acceptance of the divine message, and he regains his speech and praises God.

The crowd’s wondering question, “What then will this child become?” (1:66) anticipates John’s divinely given commission and leads into Zechariah’s song. The Benedictus (1:68–79) reiterates previous themes and introduces others that are equally pivotal in the Gospel of Luke. The first part of the hymn praises God for great acts of deliverance in the past. It highlights God’s restoration of David’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham.

The language of salvation is prominent here, envisioning a time of freedom from enemies and freedom to serve God without fear. In the second part of the hymn, Zechariah addresses John directly and looks to the future. He echoes Gabriel’s message that the child will prepare the way for the Lord, anticipating the coming of God’s Messiah. The themes of peace and light, which appear as salvation language elsewhere in Luke and Acts, conclude this hymn of praise.

Where do you need to be silent today, like Zechariah before John’s birth, and marvel at what God is doing in your life?
Where do you need to burst into song, and share good news with anyone who will listen? God, quiet my voice when needed so I can become more aware of where you are at work in and around me. Amen.

This Bible study comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia. It was also featured in
Messenger magazine. Support the ministry of Communications of the Church of the Brethren today at

(Read this issue of eBrethren.)