Advent Devotions Archives » Page 3 of 13 | Devotions | Goshen College
I remember singing this Psalm of David, clothed in a blue robe, swaying to the beat with the rest of the choir as we entered the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. I am grateful for the rich diversity of musical styles I was able to experience growing up in my home church. The diversity of styles came about in part because we were diverse in other ways – racially and economically were probably the most evident. We also had people who lived right in the city, and people from the suburbs and surrounding rural areas. With people from so many backgrounds, it would be strange if we didn’t have a diversity of worship music.
The youth choir began when I was a teenager, and we sang gospel music. Although representative of our church’s African American membership, the choir was by no means limited to that group. We loved singing gospel music together so much that, as young (and then older) adults we stayed in the choir. The name shifted from “youth” to “gospel” choir, and eventually became (and still is) an intergenerational group.
That home church with the diversity of people and music is where I came to know and love God. Through worship, and especially through singing, I learned the stories of God’s people, God’s love and God’s call to be peacemakers. Here I learned to sing in the company of others, “I was glad when they said to me, let us go into the house of the Lord!”
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 122 (NRSV)
A Song of Ascents. Of David.
1 I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
2 Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.
3 Jerusalem—built as a city
that is bound firmly together.
4 To it the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.
5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up,
the thrones of the house of David.
6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
7 Peace be within your walls,
and security within your towers.”
8 For the sake of my relatives and friends
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
9 For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.
Teachers are visionaries. At their best, teachers inspire their students to dream of and work to create a better world. There is a famous scene in the movie “Dead Poets Society” (1989) when the odd out-of-bounds teacher Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams, has all the boys stand on their chairs to get a different perspective on the world. In the process, he turns teenage boys into lovers of poetry, dreamers of a new way of living as a “band of brothers” in a community of passionate learners.
I am struck by how Isaiah’s Advent vision describes God as a teacher standing on Mt. Zion. And like the Master Teacher that God is, God’s lecture is magnetic. The nations stream to class, like a river flowing upward against gravity to the highest of mountains. It’s as if God has all the nations stand on their chairs to imagine a different possible future. The instruction, the Word of the Lord, goes forth with such sway that the nation-students do the unimaginable: they beat their instruments of war into farming implements, no longer willing to go to war against one another. They leave their mountain-classroom singing what would become the great African American spiritual inspired by this Advent vision, “Gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside… I ain’t gonna study war no more!”
In this war-weary world, let us stand on chairs, if we must, to catch a glimpse of Isaiah’s vision of nations who one day willingly turn their war colleges into colleges of peace; nations who one day choose to study war no more. Now that would be worthy of an Advent anthem, “Gloria en excelsis, Deo!”
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 2:1-5 (NRSV)
2 In days to come
the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.
3 Many peoples shall come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the house of the God of Jacob;
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
4 He shall judge between the nations,
and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
5 O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the Lord!
THIS WEEK’S THEME: We may walk in God’s paths
Welcome to Goshen College’s online devotionals for the 2013 Advent season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “O the Mystery of God’s Dwelling.” Every Monday an author will introduce the sub-theme, and on the following weekdays authors will reflect on a specific Scripture passage. The theme for this week, Advent 1, is “We may walk in God’s paths.”
“O the mystery of God’s dwelling” expresses a sense of awe and wonder. Will we hold these words as a reverential expression for God’s act of incarnation? Will we mutter them with a sense of frustration and confusion trying to fully make sense of God entering the human world? The Advent Scriptures present us with a plethora of images of judgment, pain, suffering, idolatry and oppression in both the natural and the human worlds, as well as the parallel images of restoration, redemption, salvation, wholeness and peace.
When you consider the literal and metaphorical paths you have walked in life, what comes to mind? I go back to the woods of my childhood farm. There were different paths traversed for various reasons. Some were made by our tractor, others by human feet, and still others by deer that regularly bounded through. Most of the paths were contained within our property boundaries that I knew well. As long as I stayed on them I was sure to circle back to a place of familiarity. But other paths went beyond our property to unknown destinations. What was on the other side? Where would it take me? Were those lands more of the same or different? Should I go there? What will happen if I do?
I have had both joyful surprises and unexpected annoyances on the paths of life. But sometimes the paths I trekked delivered tragic realities for which I wondered if there could have been another way, or why this happened. Like the Psalmist, I questioned and exclaimed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest,” (Psalm 22).
O God, wander with me in the paths of life. Help me recognize your presence when mystery is my close companion.
As churches prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth, Goshen College offers an online spiritual resource to help believers make time and space in their hearts and minds to welcome Advent, even in the midst of busy schedules and hectic lives.
Beginning Nov. 25 (the Monday prior to the first Sunday in Advent) and culminating on Christmas Day, Goshen College students, faculty and staff will provide weekday reflections based on lectionary Scripture passages. Many writers will reflect on the Advent theme: “O the Mystery of God’s Dwelling,” taken from Mennonite Church USA worship resources.
The devotions will reflect honestly on the Scriptures and offer words of assurances of faith. The spiritual offerings will include poetry, personal stories, reflections and prayers, all intended to more closely examine the call to change and follow Christ.
Since 2001, Goshen College annually celebrates special seasons of the church calendar, particularly Advent and Lent, with online devotions.
Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I have stored up wonder-filled memories standing over tide pools watching the tide come in. The wonder of this cyclical renewal is heightened by the manner in which the water rushes powerfully into every nook and cranny, filling the pools, reviving the sea urchins, anemones, mussels, sea cucumbers and the star fish that have been exposed to the salty sea air while the tide has been out. In very short order, that which has been exposed to the harsh elements is flooded with life-giving water and nutrients from the sea. Day in and day out, year after year, the powerful, yet merciful, tidal flood restores and revives the life of the tide pools. It is a pure, glorious gift, built into the ebb and flow of tidal life.
On this day, December 25, as we welcome the coming of Christ to our world once again, we are invited to pause and pay attention. We stand before the tide pools of our lives, aware of the places that are exposed to harsh elements; mindful of the beauty that makes up the complex habitat of our beings and of our communities; conscious of the struggles inherent in our world – struggles to survive and thrive and live in symbiotic relationship with all around us. And in one glorious, strong current, we receive the refreshing, reviving, life-giving flood of God’s mercy flooding every nook and cranny of our lives, gracing us with hope that we are still loved by God, sustained by God and made whole by God. And we join with the heavenly hosts and shout: Glory to God in the highest. And on earth — in every tide pool, in every nook and cranny — peace. Amen.
NOTE FROM THE EDITORS:
Thank you for joining us through this season of Advent. We are honored that you have taken the time to hear our stories and share in our reflections. Unless you unsubscribe, Goshen College’s Lenten devotions — beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013 — will automatically come to you. Until then, may the merciful presence of Christ fill every nook and cranny of your life!
SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:1-20 (NRSV)
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. 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. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 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 for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
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.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
December 24 was not just Christmas Eve for my family. It also was (and still is) my mother’s birthday. So our growing excitement that day about the birth of Christ was magnified by our gratitude for Mom, who loved Dad and her seven rowdy children.
Mom grew up poor and as a child never got birthday gifts on December 24, so we made the day special for her. Before we opened our presents, she opened hers. We learned it was sweeter to give than to receive and the early celebration enhanced our Christmas.
Psalm 148 calls on us to offer God abundant praise. The Psalmist summons praise from all Creation – from the heavens to the depths of the earth, and from all living things, including sea monsters, birds, trees and even creeping things.
Since psalms were written as prayers and songs, hymns are an appropriate way to praise God. Psalm 148 reminds me of the beloved hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, with its joyful praise to God. Canticle of the Sun by Saint Francis of Assisi also praises God for all creation, including Brother Sun and Sister Moon.
Christmas carols also help us worship and praise God. And for me, there is no more glorious song of the season than the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Hallelujah means, “Praise the Lord!” On this day, may your heart and soul be filled with joy and praise for God: “And He shall reign forever and ever! King of kings! And Lord of lords! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 148 (NRSV)
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
He established them for ever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
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!
And with that, Mary’s world turned.
No, I’m not talking about some cute little 10-degree rotation. I’m talking about a full whopping 180-degree turn around.
With a single divine visit, Mary was no longer “simply” a young teenager, engaged to be married and great with child. Suddenly, she was the sole woman chosen to mother the only son of GOD. Yes, that’s right, GOD. Imagine the awestruck wonder that Mary must have felt at receiving a visit from an angel, and then at being informed that great miracles were to be worked in her life and that of her cousin. Not only was her barren cousin to have a child, but she, Mary, a virgin, was to give birth to God’s Son. Incredible! It’s no wonder that Mary went sprinting with joy to bear the news to her cousin, and then prayed the Magnificat, a prayer of utter reverence and astonishment. What a blessing.
My prayer for you in this Christmas season, whatever might be happening in your life, is that you will find cause to rejoice as Mary rejoiced. I pray that you will rest and soak in God’s blessing. I pray that you will experience God’s peace. I pray that God’s peace will rise to its feet within you to sing a song of reverence and astonishment, a song of awe and wonder. And I pray that you might step into the stream, however much you’re able, and allow yourself to be swept along in God’s remarkable flood of reversal.
SCRIPTURE: Luke 1:39-45, (46-55) (NRSV)
In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’
And Mary said,
‘My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.’
Have you ever been in one of those frustrating or disastrous situations when you are certain that nothing good can come of it?
I had such an experience as a junior in high school after playing my viola with a string quartet at an an outdoor wedding. While playing, I had noticed something was wrong with my instrument. Afterwards I asked my orchestra director about it and she told me my viola was ruined. The direct sunlight had melted the glue in the viola and it had developed a “rattle.” As you can imagine, I was crushed.
A short time later, a girl who had played viola next to me in the orchestra moved to another state. Thanks to a generous aunt, she had two extra violas and so as she left, though she did not know of my ruined viola, she gave me one of them and donated the other to the school. And she included the receipt from the original purchase in case I ever wanted to sell it, which revealed that it was worth five times as much as my ruined one. I was shocked and overjoyed by the unexpected — but needed — gift. I am still playing that viola today.
Carried on a “flood of reversal,” our lives are filled with reversals. Have fun looking for such moments and experiences in your own life.
SCRIPTURE: Hebrews 10:5-10 (NRSV)
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body you have prepared for me;
in burnt-offerings and sin-offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, “See, God, I have come to do your will, O God”
(in the scroll of the book it is written of me).’
When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt-offerings and sin-offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘See, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
“Restore us, O God!” a chorus of ancient voices cries in this song of lament. They address their tears to God the Shepherd and in verses following our selection, they compare themselves to a battered vine on an abandoned farm.
This fall, I visited a farm that not only produced food; it also trained pastors in the meaning of restoration. The owner, Jeff Hawkins, is a Lutheran pastor who offers monthly retreats for church leaders. Pastors come to HOPE CSA for a day each month to become better shepherds of human flocks by tending flocks of farm animals.
Jeff’s word for restoration is “holy health.” He believes that Creation is an ideal place to learn about God’s intentions for human communities. On the day I visited with the students participating in Merry Lea’s Sustainability Semester in Residence, we spent time with a flock of chickens and the ducks that were charged with weeding the grapevines.
We also helped out in the tomato patch. The vines had already frozen and were hanging limp and dejected. Our job was to disentangle them from their stakes so that the stakes could be reused and the field could lie fallow for a year.
As we worked, I was struck by how much care the plants needed in order to be fruitful. Even though this year’s vines were dead, they still needed tending, and that care would result in vigorous new vines and juicy tomatoes in another season. The dead vines were depressing to look at, but they were just one part of a larger system that was healthy and brimming with life.
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 80:1-7 (NRSV)
To the leader: on Lilies, a Covenant. Of Asaph. A Psalm.
Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up your might,
and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
O Lord God of hosts,
how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
You have fed them with the bread of tears,
and given them tears to drink in full measure.
You make us the scorn of our neighbours;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
December 25 stands out like a red nose in my calendar, so I know that it is only a few days away. When I was a youngster, calendars and dates didn’t tell me much about the coming holiday. Instead, my Christmas intuition was triggered by falling temperatures, snow and my grandparents’ home.
Colored light bulbs lined the rain gutters and garland wove around the porch railing of my grandparents’ home every winter. Inside, a set of remote-controlled carousel horses twinkled, danced and sang Christmas carols every time my cousins and I clicked the on-button of the controller (which would mysteriously go missing about once per year after we used it too many times). These traditions reminded me to go into waiting mode; they were hints telling me that wrapped presents were imminent!
Prophecies told the Israelites that they, too, were in waiting mode. In today’s Scripture passage, Micah tells the Israelites that a person is coming to be their peace; a person who would be their Shepherd. Now we know that the Israelites were waiting for Jesus, whose arrival we still celebrate every year.
Advent is a time to celebrate the Israelites’ waiting and a time to remember our own wait. Just as Israel waited for Jesus, we also wait for his second coming. Until that time when humanity is reconciled with God and Creation is made perfect, we cling to Jesus who has already come to show us how to live justly in the tension of an imperfect world.
In this season of Advent, pay attention to Jesus, who brings hints of a coming new world.
SCRIPTURE: Micah 5:2-5a (NRSV)
But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labour has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.
If the Assyrians come into our land
and tread upon our soil,
we will raise against them seven shepherds
and eight installed as rulers.
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