Advent Devotions Archives » Page 3 of 11 | Devotions | Goshen College
In the dead of winter, Violet Cemetery, near Goshen College, is one of the more beautiful places to go for a walk. All is quiet, so quiet, you can hear the icicles creak, glassy pins dropping to the snow-white comforter below. The billowy quilt spreads out across the ground, around every trunk, flung carelessly over gray tombstones as if to warm every grave. Only one color imposes itself against the backdrop of this study in contrasts. Small fir trees dot green across the white quilted ground like so many comforter knots, reminders that Mother root is still very much alive, gently tossing and turning beneath her frozen covers.
Should it be any wonder that imaginative human beings for thousands of years have seen something profoundly meaningful in trees that can stay green in the dead of winter and be chopped down and grow new shoots?
Jeremiah uses the lesson of a tree branch to teach an early Advent lesson. He tells of a future time when the stump of Judah, cut down and carted into Exile, would sprout again as a “righteous branch.” The New Testament writers saw this promised branch to be none other than Jesus Christ, Tree of Life, cut down, buried in a wintery grave, aborning life three days later.
When we enter the bleak mid-winters of our lives, let us look to the Tannenbaum, the fir tree, gracing the snow-covered gravestone and know that resurrection life is near at hand. In this season of Advent, at the height of the winter solstice, even as the days are shorter and the nights are colder, may we behold in every evergreen tree, a Christmas tree, our advent sign of hope.
SCRIPTURE: Jeremiah 33:14-16 (NRSV)
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’
Welcome to Goshen College’s on-line devotionals for the 2012 Advent season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “Flood of Mercy.” Every Monday an author will introduce the sub-theme, whereas the following weekdays authors will reflect on a specific Scripture passage. The theme for this week, Advent 1, is “Wading in Faithfulness.”
In its life-giving power and in its sometimes frightening clean sweep, the image of a flood fits well with this season, which at the same time calls us to repentance and invites us into new life. If we’re honest, we have to admit that we sometimes hang on to things that don’t matter or last, things that may even get in the way of what God wants to do in us, in our communities and in our world — things we may need to let go. Yet God’s work is not about wiping things out simply to wipe them out. Even painful and difficult clearing away is for the sake of something bigger and truer, and it is always grounded in God’s overwhelming mercy, in God’s care and concern for all that God has made.
The Scriptures for this Advent season include many water images. In the Bible, water usually means two opposite things: destruction and life. Desert-dwellers realized how crucial water was for survival. No doubt that the “righteous branch” announced by the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 33:15) won’t live long without regular watering. Yet while water is absolutely necessary for life, it can also be scary. The panic is there where “the roaring of the sea and the waves” causes people to “faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world” (Luke 21:25-26). We can imagine the scene; we’ve seen videos of floods and tsunamis carrying away everything in their wake — or we’ve lived through this kind of destruction ourselves.
Sometimes I struggle to keep my head above waters in the “flood of life.” I wish I could be merely wading in knee-deep stuff, but instead, it feels as if the only visible part of me is the brown hair on top of my head. Where is the snorkel?!?! Oxygen tank anyone?!? But then I hear a voice saying, “Bob, put your feet down and stand up. Take my yoke/lifesaver…”
O God, help me wade in your faithfulness to me. Allow me to consider how you both comfort and disturb so that I may be more faithful to you.
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. 26 (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: “Flood of Mercy,” 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.
SCRIPTURE: Luke 2:22-40
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Christmas day! Presents unwrapped, Christmas dinner eaten. Grandpa snores silently on the easy-boy. Grandma fusses over the newest grandbaby. Aunts put puzzles together, while uncles watch reruns on TV. Nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters, cousins all, go bowling in the basement on the Wii. Awesome are the experiences and deeds we expect and take for granted at Christmastide. The coming together of generations, whether in our families of origin or in the church or with friends and others we love, is one of the priceless gifts of Christmas!
This advent season, my regular activities of work and life have had a little more of a frenetic feeling underneath them than usual. As my kids get older, I find our family having to craft tight plans for all our days to get everyone to their rehearsals and Christmas parties. Weekends have been taken up with preparations for and performances in pageants, festivals and music recitals, and we’ve even been caroling with our Sunday school groups. We want all this activity to spread joy and create powerful memories of the season that remind us every year of God’s place in our lives.
As I sat down to reflect on today’s Scripture passage, I found myself steeped in the stress of the ending semester, a time when no one seems to be able find time to get all of his or her work done, let alone stop to breathe. In the hustle and bustle of school, I compartmentalize my life, convincing myself that if I only get through each of the parts, I will survive the whole of my busy existence. But in reality this separation will not help me come out the other side in one piece, and the comfort of to-do lists can only go so far.
In a few days, we will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Isaiah reminds us to loudly praise God in all we do because it’s only through God’s glory that Jesus was sent into the world as our salvation.
As I read this passage, considering my busy semester, I asked myself, “At what times have I truly praised God lately?” I seem to be more thankful to God than anything. Yet, the times that I have praised have been wonderful and rejuvenating.
I praised God in community when I sang in the Homecoming hymn sing. As I sang in harmony with an inter-generational group of people, I felt an unexplainable joy. I had this same feeling of joy and wonder as I was walking through the woods and I saw leaves falling off of a massive oak. The leaves seemed to fall with perfect timing, and I knew that because of the complexities of nature never again would I see that exact same sight. I then praised God.
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 9:2-7
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I have sisters-in-law who are elementary school teachers. With the start of each new school year, our family is entertained by the unusual or ridiculous names of children in their classrooms. A familiar name gets an update with a unique spelling, or a child is saddled with a long title, or, as the present trend seems to be, children are named for an object. Listed under celebrity baby names, I found Apple, Banjo, Ocean and Moon Unit.
THIS WEEK’S THEME: His glory is above earth and heaven
“I wonder if God comes to the edge of heaven each Advent
and flings the Star into the December sky,
laughing with joy as it lights the darkness of the earth;
and the angels, hearing the laughter of God,
begin to congregate in some celestial chamber
to practice their alleluias.”
So muses writer Ann Weems in the opening lines of her advent poem, “This Year.” I love the striking image the poet’s words evoke: a brilliant star startles the dark sky as divine laughter sets all the angels abuzz; God’s glory radiates throughout heaven and earth.
Our Scripture texts this week bear witness to this radiant glory of the God who saves and redeems, who comes to dwell among us, whose name is praised from all corners of the earth. But these verses also tell of longing and anticipation. The people who walked in darkness have yearned for the great light. The gray-haired Simeon and Anna have waited all their lives for the Child to be born. As the glorious light of Christ’s nativity shines brightly this week, we hear in these verses the stubborn hope of those still waiting under starless skies.
Many of us know all too well what it is to walk in darkness. After a sudden decline into the final stages of dementia, my 84-year-old grandfather passed away early last month. His final weeks brought dark moments, as spells of delirium thrust him into frightening realms of his imagination. But there was something else in those last days. Not usually one to boldly announce his quiet faith, Grandpa could be heard reciting hymns and offering spontaneous prayers of thanksgiving, praise and hope. In the week leading up to his departure, he spoke of a new day dawning on earth that would bring healing to racial conflict, mercy to immigrants, release for prisoners and medicine for the sick. Grandpa’s last days glowed with the light of God’s glory anticipated and revealed, a light shining brightly in heaven and on earth.
In her poem, Ann Weems imagines the angels’ response to the brilliant display of God’s glory each Advent. Perhaps when the star appears, she concludes, perhaps the angels all come.
“Perhaps they come,
winging through the winds of time
full of expectancy
full of hope
that this year
perhaps this year
the earth will fall to its knees
in a whisper of ‘Peace.’”
With Simeon and Anna and all souls who have walked in darkness, on earth and in heaven, we too lift our hopeful eyes to behold the star. May it be so.
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