Advent Devotions Archives » Page 2 of 13 | Devotions | Goshen College
It happened again yesterday. I was excitedly sharing with someone about the gardens and fruit trees at our home. I explained when and how I had planted and nurtured various parts of our landscape. It is amazing to recognize how the diversity and health of our property has improved over the last 15 years. All of this conversation implied I was responsible for all this transformation. I needed to acknowledge that I am only the gardener – and that the actual growth comes from factors and sources outside myself. While that realization is humbling, it is also the basis of my hopefulness.
Psalm 146:5-10 repeatedly names the One who transforms many desperate needs in our world. Multiple actions of generative healing are named following each stating of the name LORD. The repeated focus on the Actor who makes change happen guides me into hope and courage. It is impressive to see the ways that God is involved in making all things right. Verse five sounds the clarion call for us to be participants in these activities. The happiness of our engagement with the many needs rests in knowing the Helper who energizes the transformation.
Over the past number of weeks, I have planted many fruit trees, nut trees and berry bushes in some additional property that we have acquired. I know my role is the gardener who cares for the health of this piece of God’s earth. I plant with delight, hopefulness and anticipation. I believe that growth will happen and that there will be an eventual time of bounty. The orchard will supply food for many and will also be there for future generations. My anticipation parallels the multigenerational hopefulness of the Psalmist – and Mary awaiting the Promised One. My hope is based on the Source beyond myself.
God is my helper – the true source of my happiness and hopefulness. May it be so for you.
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 146:5-10 (5) (NRSV)
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith for ever;
who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
The Lord will reign for ever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
To me, the journey of life is reflected in Isaiah 35:1-10. What came to my mind while exploring this text was the mention of “wilderness” and how my experiences in the Rocky Mountains could relate. Climbing a mountain is an internal struggle as well as a physical one. With blistered feet, sore hands and sweaty body, also comes the mentally demanding fight to keep moving forward. One part of the passage says, “Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come.’”
I find myself overwhelmed with seeing God’s presence through the fatigue and cold that I feel above the tree line. It’s not for the weak of heart, but God is present throughout. Personally, I believe that the wilderness is beautiful, wild and refreshing to the soul. It is where I feel most at home, but it comes with dangers too. I think that in Isaiah, the importance of life through salvation is clear. Water will burst forth into the wilderness and all will be lush and green. Happy are those whose help is in the Lord!
Where have you found the beautiful parts of life even amidst trial and tribulation? Whether climbing a mountain or bearing the heavy load of life, it is important to ask God to be present and give support. With God, anything is possible.
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 35:1-10 (NRSV)
The Return of the Redeemed to Zion
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing.
The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it,
the majesty of Carmel and Sharon.
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.
Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
‘Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.’
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water;
the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp,
the grass shall become reeds and rushes.
A highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
but it shall be for God’s people;
no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray.
No lion shall be there,
nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it;
they shall not be found there,
but the redeemed shall walk there.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: “Happy are those… whose help is in the Lord”
By this time in Advent, the stresses of final exams and papers are upon us. But long nights of studying will soon be replaced with nights of sipping hot chocolate in front of the fire and enjoying time with family. A majority of the semester, however, is not quite so relaxing. Assignments accumulate, research papers continue to avoid writing themselves, and exams are always looming. Of course, I expect college to keep me busy, and I truly find joy in all that I’m learning, but it’s easy to forget that I can rely on something other than late-night cups of coffee to help me handle the workload. In the midst of my busy schedule, God is there, calling me to place my trust in Him.
This week’s devotional theme is “Happy are those…whose help is in the Lord.” The scripture passages describe God’s unwavering commitment to justice and to God’s people. Indeed, God is committed to helping people through much greater trials than college homework. We are reminded that God will protect the orphan and the widow, lift up the downtrodden and set the captives free. God will create streams in the wilderness, and the desert itself will rejoice and blossom. God knows those uncertain wildernesses that hold each of us captive, whether they come in the form of strained relationships with loved ones or endless stores filled with holiday bargains and stressed shoppers.
In this season and in life, God calls us to look towards Him for our source of help. We are called to pay attention to the signs of God dwelling in the world around us, here and now. By seeking the help of the Lord, we begin to notice the blossoms in the desert, and we, too, can rejoice and be happy.
One of the most important aspects of my spiritual journey throughout the years has been the connection I feel to God when I am immersed in the outdoors. As a child, my father would frequently take me on bike rides and hikes through a local forest preserve. Each time we went on these excursions, we would venture off the trail briefly to visit a magnificent old oak tree. While there we journaled, prayed and enjoyed God’s beautiful creation together.
Everyone needs the wilderness in their lives, a place where they can escape from the hustle and bustle and meet with God. One of the most difficult times to do this is during the busy holiday season, where it seems that other concerns and plans take precedence over our spiritual commitments. The truth is, we need this time alone with God especially to prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth.
John the Baptist devoted his life to living in the wilderness, and drew the crowds there to baptize and speak the Good News about Jesus. He knew that someone greater was to follow him, one whose sandals he was not worthy to untie. In preparation for Christ’s coming, John encouraged people to repent and restore a right relationship with God. We should do the same as we prepare to honor Christ’s birth and the hope that this brings for all of us. During this busy season, may we all find time to retreat with God in the wilderness.
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 3:1-12 (3) (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor;’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'”
Have you ever lived in a community where you knew the people who lived next door and across the street or hall? For me growing up, it seemed that living near to someone meant doing life together. I remember my parents talking with neighbors on a regular basis – at home, at the grocery store, at church and at numerous places of business. Yet looking back I realize how protected and sheltered I was to people different than myself. We only recognized the holidays that we cared about, were only concerned about the traditions we inherited or started, only worshipped the way we were taught and only served people who looked much like we did.
In college this changed a bit when I lived with someone who was not a family member and didn’t have the same beliefs, traditions and attitudes that my family and I had growing up. It was the first time I remember having to allow for other versions of “community” life. Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to work with people who I don’t look like, don’t act like, don’t share common beliefs with or honor similar traditions, and these years have been some of the best of my life because I have been able to see Christ through sameness and differences.
Do you have someone in your community that you don’t look like, talk like, share beliefs with, celebrate the same holidays, or has a different political view than you? Take time to celebrate that diversity – knowing that God is present in all cultures and people. And during this Advent season, may the Holy Spirit bless you and your family with a spirit of unity and harmony.
SCRIPTURE: Romans 15:4-13 (NRSV)
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name’;
and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him’;
and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
As contemporary people, I believe that many of us aren’t sure what to make of the role of kings in our lives. For many people, kings are only historical persons, and even in countries where monarchs exist, they are often more figureheads than legislative authorities. This makes it difficult for us to deeply resonate with the idea of Christ as King, although we can certainly see many glimmers in our lives of what that kingship might mean. Personally, I tend to think first of bowing before the King, and trying to live my life in fidelity to Christ as my King.
But Psalm 72 emphasizes a completely different aspect of kingship — the flourishing of justice and peace in a country ruled by a monarch after God’s own heart. The psalmist petitions God to strengthen the king for the express purpose of bringing righteousness and justice to the land. As that happens, even the land itself will bring forth the means for just and prosperous lives for all. This ripple effect moving out from the king’s decrees is likened to steady, life-giving rains, which stands in direct contrast to the images that mark many other Scripture passages of drought and desolation resulting from ungodly monarchs. And of course, if a human monarch can cause this degree of life-giving change, our King Jesus can bring that in its fullness. The wonder of Advent, of course, is that we celebrate the ongoing arrival of this new vitality, even in the dark seasons of our lives. With the psalmist we pray, “blessed be God’s glorious name forever; may God’s glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen!”
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (NRSV)
Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King
Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.
When I was younger, Christmas time was my favorite part of the year. As soon as the tree went up at my grandmother’s, I knew that more of my favorite traditions were to come: Aunt Geraldine’s sugar cookies; hide-and-seek in the crevices of my grandparents’ old, creaky home in Richmond, Ind.; living room floors covered in colorful, wadded-up wrapping paper. It all made sense to me; those little pieces of Christmas all fit together so nicely.
The prophet Isaiah told stories of a future when things will fit together nicely that don’t go together now. He said “the wolf shall live with the lamb” and “the calf and the lion together” and all these would be lead by “a little child.” The world will be pleasantly full of paradoxes. What a mystery of a place to live!
Eventually, Jesus fulfilled Isaiah’s paradoxical prophecy, arriving as fully human and fully God. He was perfect, but bent down to a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) and washed the feet of his followers (John 13:1-20). “The kingdom of God is at hand,” he said (Matt. 10:7), yet it is still coming (Luke 17:20-37). The things that don’t seem to fit were those that Jesus put together.
My favorite Christmas tradition happens at midnight every Christmas Eve. To the sound of church bells, my family gathers with my grandparents’ congregation in an old, historic Lutheran cathedral. The lights go off, and the tall room is illuminated by candles as we sing “Silent Night” a cappella in German and English. Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht! Alles schläft, einsam wacht. The tune moves through the pews and the flames dance at the sound. Light meets darkness, and all is calm.
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 11:1-10 (NRSV)
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: God’s kingdom is here
God’s kingdom is here. As I thought about this theme and read the lectionary Scriptures this week — the coming of Jesus’ birth, the story of John the Baptist, the Old Testament Scripture foretelling the birth of a Savior — the beautiful simplicity of the statement kept jumping out at me. God’s kingdom is already here, in place, right now. So, what are we doing about it? How are we celebrating?
The kingdom of God has often been described as radical, an “upside-down kingdom.” The more I learn about the message of the New Testament, the more I believe that God’s kingdom truly is radical. Where else can we find someone telling us to throw self-interest behind and love our enemies, do good to those who harm us? It’s incredible, really.
So, I challenge you today to pause for a bit. Think about it for a moment. God’s kingdom is here. And ask: What does that mean for you right now, as we enter into the Advent season? What can you do today, be it small or large, to further God’s radical, “upside-down kingdom”?
No one knows the day or the hour when it will strike. For me, it was September 28, 2013 around 2 p.m. No warning. No reason. But on that day, at that hour, I developed an illness, and it has been a battle. My semester at school has panned out very differently than I had planned. My illness radically changed every aspect of my life for the past two months. No warning. No reason.
There is this sense of injustice when negative events happen in our life without warning. We want reasons. We desperately seek explanations for those events because suffering without purpose seems cruel. This seems especially true during the Advent season, when we spend our time rejoicing, when we spend our time reflecting on the word of God. Tainting this traditionally blessed time just seems cruel.
Three weeks ago, my illness took a turn for the worse. Three weeks ago, I had all but lost hope in ever feeling normal again. We are told that we cannot know the hour or “on what day your Lord will come.” Two weeks ago, I began to recover.
Both my illness and my recovery came without warning, but I no longer believe it was without purpose. There are good friends who I would not have met. There were close friends that I would have never understood otherwise. There were changes in my friend’s life that may have never occurred. There were personal revelations I’m not sure I would have come to.
We are asked to prepare for the Lord, to “be ready” for the day the Lord comes. Faith is our best preparation. Faith that God will deliver us from evil. Faith that God is always near. Faith that God has a greater plan. We may not be given any warning, but we are given faith that there is a reason. We may not know the day or the hour, but we can have faith in the outcome.
SCRIPTURE: Matthew 24:36-44 (NRSV)
The Necessity for Watchfulness
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
Bananas ripen. Baby giraffes are born. Chimpanzees eat tiny, tasty bugs off each others’ backs. A flamingo dies. Water drops down from pregnant clouds, and, eventually, evaporates back up. The ocean—big and blue and full—waves and waves. Wind circulates across the earth’s surface, searching and knowing.
From the mating song of a cardinal bird to the crevices and craters on our earth’s moon, God knows everything. His love is greater than we can fathom and far beyond what we deserve. Yet God freely lavishes God’s love on creation, on us. God is found in overripe fruit and awkward infant giraffes, but God is also found in us, in the miracle of ear canals and eyeballs. The awe, the wonder, the mystery of being made in God’s image is astounding. The majesty of God coming to be with us in our own form is what we anticipate to celebrate on Christmas.
Have you encountered this God of the mountains, the valleys, the animals and the storms—the God of the universe? The God of it all who, in all God’s glory, still wants a personal relationship with you.
Now is the time, brothers and sisters. In the midst of bellowing whales, buff ants, eroding boulders and bright stars, human beings have a place. Now is the time to open our eyes and see God all around us in creation and in our lives. He asks us to wake up from our slumber and to activate our faith. To put on the armor of light; not only this, but to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Now is the time to be fully alive.
Come, revel with me in the glorious mystery that is the beauty of creation, light of the world, the hope of God with us.
SCRIPTURE: Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)
An Urgent Appeal
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12
the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13
let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14
Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
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