Merry Christmas and thank you for joining us in this season of hope for a weary world. Our hope is that you have found sustenance for your journey by joining with others along the way. We invite you to join us again during the season of Lent. Until then, may God’s presence surround you and God’s love sustain you as you live into the reality of Christ with us.
Advent Devotions Archives | Devotions | Goshen College
Into a weary world bombarded with news of injustice and environmental degradation and hatred and war and violence and greed and exploitation and fear, Christ comes. Innocent. Vulnerable. Beautiful.
If I listen closely, I hear the echo of angels: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to all God’s friends.” The words of the familiar carol resonate in my mind as “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” paints a musical picture of angels appearing through cloven skies with peaceful wings unfurled offering hope to a weary world:
Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long;
Beneath the heav’nly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong,
And warring humankind hears not the tidings which they bring.
O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing.
And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow;
Look now! For glad and glorious hours come swiftly on the wing,
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.
The angels have spoken: Christ has come. The bread has been made. The wassel has been shared. May we, this day of celebration and hope, find the space to “rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.”
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
“I will put my trust in him.’
‘Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
This week’s theme is “Out of Egypt,” which plays into the overall theme of the mystery of God’s dwelling. In my faith life, there has never been a doubt that of all the places one can find God, the most conveniently located is within our own bodies. Even so, it is not always easy to see the Holy Spirit hiding behind our eyes, wrapped around our tongue, or supporting our hands, and yet it is there.
Psalm 148 exalts not only God’s omnipresence, but the authority of God over things like beasts in the depths, the moon and sun, the stars and the rulers of the earth. “Out of Egypt” is a reference to the enslavement of the Hebrew people before Moses led them to freedom in Exodus.
So with that in mind we can take a look at what enslaves us, whether it is a grudge against one another, or material desires that distract us from wealth of the spirit, or even a growing apathy that comes from a weary soul that has been working too long without rest, we must see and know God’s dominion. God’s dominion that exists over the very stars in the sky. God’s dominion that will last longer than flawed human institutions. God’s dominion which led a people from enslavement and promised them paradise. God’s dominion which holds us now and promises freedom from all that which enslaves us.
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
Advent – the time that marks the coming of God into this world through the incarnation of his son – revives our hope. I am most mindful of the hope that the birth of every child should bring, the hope realized by Christ, the hope that this child will remedy the mistakes of the past and bring a better world. The birth of a child also brings hope for our own redemption, while we have been selfish in the past and negligent of others’ needs, knowing that this child’s survival depends upon us leads us to hope we will give ourselves over selflessly to the welfare of this child.
Isaiah 63:7-9 speaks of God’s hope for us, his children. If one turns to the verses that precede and follow this passage, one will learn that these are words spoken from exile in Babylon. God’s children have followed the wrong leaders and failed to live up to God’s hope. Nevertheless, just as we hope that whatever our children do, that we can be their savior in their times of trouble, we understand God’s hope in Israel’s rebirth and desire to redeem his children from exile.
While this passage does not speak to the coming of Christ, it does speak to the hope of Christmas. While it is the responsibility of adults to make Christmas special and to help children understand the significance of this holy day, Christmas draws us into its realm and we all become children again. It is a time in which we praise the gift of God’s son who makes us new again. It is the time we drink from the cup of God’s kindness and compassion and seek to be true to God’s gift by giving generously to others.
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favour to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely;”
and he became their saviour
in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
Recently, my husband and I helped out at a children’s game night at our church. The young participants were offered prizes from a bucketful of candy. Some kids knew immediately what to snatch from the pile of treats, while others took a painstakingly long time to decide. It was tempting to make the choice for them to relieve their agony of indecision.
As an adult, I can recall the discomfort of vacillation when making big life decisions. Like the marriage proposal – even though I anticipated it, the moment evoked anxiety. Was I making the right choice? The long-term effects are so significant! Even harder was the decision to marry the second time, when life and circumstances were much more complicated.
In the text, Joseph wrestles with how to handle the delicate situation of a pregnant fiancé. He makes a noble plan, and God intervenes with clear instructions through a dream and Joseph chooses to obey, in spite of the humiliation and judgment he and Mary will have to endure from their community. The story moves ahead to the eventual, glorious scene of Christ’s birth.
If only a heavenly vision would show us what to do during life’s hard choices. While such a dream is not impossible, God gives us other great resources to draw from. Joseph had the rich history of ancestors who were examples of righteous living. So we can gain wisdom and encouragement from the lives of God’s people in Scripture and those living now. God’s Word enlightens us (Psalm 119:105). Even at night, we receive instruction (Psalm 16:7). And the very familiar verse from Proverbs 3:6:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.” (NRSV)
Can we not trust that the One who wrote and produced the greatest story ever told will send us the direction and help we need to follow the plans God has for our lives? May you find comfort today in knowing our God is big enough to make a sure path for you. May the One who directed the details of the Advent story continue to tell the good news through us who seek to follow and obey.
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son, and he named him Jesus.
Grace to you and peace!
Could you imagine greeting everyone you see with Paul’s beautiful salutation to the Romans? You’re headed into the grocery store and you start offering “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” to all you encounter there. You stop at a drive-thru and when the voice comes over the speaker you offer grace and peace to the person on the other end. To people at every store counter you approach, those in every line you stand in, to everyone you walk past, to all you see in church, at school, at work, you shout out “Grace and peace to you!”
I can imagine it, but that’s about as far as it goes. It was awkward enough in the church services I grew up attending to “pass the peace of Christ” and shake hands with people – even though we were instructed to do it from the pulpit, and I did it week after week. And if I keep imagining, awkward turns to scary. What would happen if I actually just went for it? People might think I’d lost it. They might judge me. They might remember other things I’ve done or said and think I’m just being false. And that’s not even the worst of it. I, myself, might feel a little silly, or more than a little false. I would probably begin to examine my faith, encounter my own doubts and tell myself I’m not worthy to offer anybody anything from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
But Paul would have us remember today, and every day, that we are all God’s beloved – from Rome or Jerusalem, privileged or outcast, broken or whole – and we are all called to be saints no matter what our lives are like. That grace and peace we can offer to one another this season is God’s greatest gift to us and we received it from Jesus in order that we might pass it on to everyone. And while I’ll probably choose some different words or a different tone of voice to pass on that grace and peace to everyone I meet this season, I believe it’s the best gift any of us can give.
So, grace to you this day and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! See you in the grocery store…
Last fall, I found myself alone in a parking lot near my car, clutching my swollen belly (beautiful belly!) and bawling. Hiccups. Groans. A sad end to a lovely pre-natal appointment.
“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel… Stir up your might and come to save us!”
We didn’t have enough money. The life-joy within me—now, a source of betrayal. “O God! Why did you bring us here, where babies cost money to be born? Money we do not have?!”
“You make us the scorn of our neighbors…”
Like the vine (v. 8), we had been transplanted and were trying to set down roots. But there were so many obstacles to overcome.
“You have fed them with the bread of tears. You have made them drink tears by the bowlful.”
But with God all things are possible! There has to be enough! This child, this fluttering of wondrous life will come whether there is money or not. Because life comes. Life came to Mary that cold evening with the bleating of goats, the stamping of hooves. No money. (No room in the inn.) But life! Sweet, bloody life bursting forth in a gush of warmth.
“Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
Our baby came, and there was enough. As for Mary, in a heave of abandon and with a bowlful of tears, she brought us Life.
1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
2 before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
3 Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
4 O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
5 You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
6 You make us the scorn[a] of our neighbors;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
7 Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
18 Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, O Lord God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O, Ahaz! Scion of the house of David. You’re like the part of me that loves the forms of faith, but shies from the substance of it. You want to be taken care of, but cannot bring yourself to trust what you cannot see. Sitting on your ivory throne, all seized up by dangers real and conjured. Seeking refuge in false piety. Dancing on God’s last nerve – you prefer Assyria over a sign.
O, Ahaz! Mysteries abound: There is a young woman out there, perhaps from the royal house; perhaps the prophetic spouse. Or is she just a version . . . of our imagination? No matter. She is “expecting,” and she will bear a child, and name that child: God-Is-With-Us. And before that baby stops eating Greek yoghurt (here comes the point), in less time than it takes for it to know naughty and nice (we are approaching the point), those spectral dangers that disturb your sleep will have been swept away, and (voilà le point) the verbal shall become hominal.
O, Ahaz! Still groping to grasp the meaning of Immanuel. Still preferring your tired realpolitik. That child has come of age. Those former threats have passed (though new ones will emerge). Meanwhile, the freckled glow on the ruddy cheek of that child of promise should remind you every dawning day that no matter what the son of Ramaliah and his ilk are up to, God is about the baffling business of Being-With-Us.
In the past year, a number of my friends have either recently had their first baby or have announced that one is on the way. Joy, excitement and anticipation often fill the lives of the parents, their family and friends. An announcement of this magnitude changes things!
But after announcing a coming baby, the parents’ work has just begun. Sleeping habits change. Eating habits change. Family dynamics change as expectant parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles anticipate welcoming a new life. Physical spaces change. A nursery is set up for the coming newborn. Inevitably the buzzword, “nesting,” will creep its way into expectant parents’ vernacular.
This week’s theme is to “Tell the Good News.” Scriptures throughout this week will focus our attention to the coming Immanuel. Like family anticipating a new life, announcing the coming Prince of Peace is an important first step. And then we begin to prepare.
As the Christmas season draws near, how are we preparing to tell the Good News? How will our lives be changed? After announcing our joy, may we shape our lives to speak the Good News of the coming babe.
What did you go out into the wilderness to see?
Jesus asks this question to a crowd after meeting John the Baptist’s disciples, who were inquiring about Jesus’ identity. Is he the one they’ve been waiting for? Is it true the Messiah had come? Jesus’ answer is to ask them to hear and watch what has come because of his life. The blind see, the lame pick up their mats, the lepers made clean, even the dead awakened. He seems to be saying, “If this is what you’ve been waiting for, then ‘yes.’”
Then, in a whir of rhetoric and analogy, Jesus turns to the crowd and asks, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”
The wilderness, the place where the Baptist dwelt, was a place that I imagine many sought out.
John was a man with disciples, after all.
The wilderness was a place of searching — the arena for answers about life, fulfillment, salvation and prophesy. John lived in the wide-open, strange spaces away from society and the pull of formalities. He wore almost nothing, he ate almost nothing, and everything about him was meager by most standards. His life was so radically weird compared to the standard. Yet, people still wanted to hear what he had to say, and Jesus really, really liked him. He called him the best born among women.
That is, the best. Of all.
Who John was and the place that John dwelt was mysterious. But his life’s work was giving God glory and abandoning his own. Jesus commends him, but also says that anyone who is “least in the kingdom” is even greater than John.
So, I think about this question, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”
In the wilderness — a place that carries us away from our comfort zones and from material — we find answers. We find the radical kingdom that Jesus desires to see on earth — one of making ourselves less and God greater.
In the wilderness, we find God.
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.”
Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
In many Western cultures, most focus is placed on the future.
Steps are made toward the future: in science, religion, politics.
You face the future, with the past behind you.
The future is a gust of wind
rushing toward you to become present –
it rolls up and over your shoulders, and suddenly it’s gone.
In the Eastern hemisphere, much more focus is placed on history.
The future acts as wind at your back,
while history is in your line of vision.
You face the past because it’s far more valuable than the future.
You’re able to learn much more from the past.
There is a lot to learn from these interpretations of time.
We’re often looking toward the future without recognizing the past.
In this season of pandemonium and perpetual to-do lists,
let us change the way we look at time.
Let us be patient, and turn away from what the future holds.
Guardian of the seasons,
keeper of every time,
tune us to your rhythms
that we may know
the occasion for stillness
and the moment for action.
- #156 in the “Sing the Journey” songbook
Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.