Advent Devotions Archives | Devotions | Goshen College
Praise God from whom all blessing flow, praise God all creatures here below. Praise God above ye heavenly hosts! Praise Father (and Creator and Mother), Son (Redeemer and Friend) and Holy Ghost (Sustainer and Comforter)! Hallelujah Amen!
The sound rang through the chapel at Newcomer Center on the Goshen College campus very early Sunday morning, Nov. 16, 2014. Gathered in this space shortly after 1 a.m. were about 100 people: students, faculty, staff, community members, young and old, liberal and conservative. For the 30 hours prior to this final song, a small group of students sang straight through “Hymnal: A Worship Book,” the Mennonite and Church of the Brethren hymnal, taking time to sing every verse of every song, 658 songs in total. The group was bolstered by 300 additional singers from the Goshen College community who came and went at all hours of the day and night, singing as they were able, stopping by to drop off food and hot drinks, adding donations to support the global peacemaking work of Christian Peacemaker Teams.
The singers made their way to the Advent/Christmas section of the hymnal in the darkness of the early morning on Saturday, Nov. 17. Extra students groggily rose from their slumber to make their way across campus to join in the singing of the Advent and Christmas section as soon as the texts and emails went out informing peers that “Christmas is about to begin!” Into the darkness of the morning hours they came and they sang “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” “Comfort, Comfort O my People,” and “‘Twas in the moon of wintertime.” And while it was still dark and cold, the weary singers joined their voices and proclaimed: “To Us a Child of Hope is Born!”
Into a cold and dark world, may we all find the courage, the conviction and the resourcefulness to venture forth into the night and add our voices to the peace-filled chorus of love that calls to us anew each Christmas.
Thank you for joining with the Goshen College community through this season of Advent. We wish each of you many moments filled with hope and light as you live into the full meaning of the incarnation in these days. Join us again in February as Goshen College students, faculty and staff offer daily reflections in the days and weeks leading up to Easter. And in the meantime, sing on!
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
Think back to those days when you were young. Those days when your biggest responsibility was choosing what bedtime story Mom should read, and the thing you dreaded most was the steamed broccoli that Dad insisted you eat to “make you big and strong.” Or perhaps you didn’t grow up in such a privileged setting, and the situation I described was something you dreamt of, but never had.
If you did grow up in such a home, imagine you hadn’t. Imagine you had no concept of what it is like to be cared for by anyone or held in the arms of a father or a mother. Imagine not having a home, moving from place to place, and never having anyone show you love. No one to read to you, tell you to eat your broccoli, and no one to hold you when you hurt.
Imagine that someone came along and showed you for the first time what it meant to be loved and comforted. This is what the Galatians passage describes. Instead of being sent from place to place, Christ is our home, and we cry to him “Abba, Father.” Christ is born as both a child and a father, adopting us as his children. He shows us love and teaches us how to love. Christ adopts us into the family of God so we may be, as the hymn states, “no more a stranger nor a guest, but like a child at home.”
The excitement at Christmas was always palpable when our children were young. As we each took turns selecting a gift from under the tree, they watched with anticipation to see the mystery revealed beneath the wrapping. What fun for both givers and receivers alike during the joyful exchange!
One gift stands out in my memory. The contents of that particular box brought shouts of glee from all four children, but our second son, age eight, was especially animated. He raced through the house, down the stairs and back up. He jumped into my arms exclaiming, “thank you, thank you!” Then, pumping his fists, he ran around the room again, whooping, hollering and leaping. I have the photos and video that captured his exuberance! And I can tell you, his parents received as much joy in the giving as he did in the receiving. What a guy, what unbridled joy, and what a memory!
“Oh, That You Would Reveal Your Mystery” has been our Advent theme, and at last this week, the waiting is over! God’s glory is revealed, and all creation shouts for joy. With the psalmist in today’s text we cry over and over, “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!”
The call to praise is first shouted to the highest heights, the heavens and everything above the earth. Then all things on the earth and under the earth are commanded to praise the Lord. Finally, all peoples are given the exhortation – rulers and children, young and old, women and men – no one is excluded in the joyful celebration. God’s beauty is revealed: Christ the Savior is born! We all join in jubilant praise, and rejoice together!
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!
The date of this Advent meditation posting, December 22, is the anniversary of my birth. My birthday has forever been fused with the celebration of Christmas, in part, because December 22 was often the day my parents reserved for decorating our Christmas tree. I cannot read these words from Isaiah without applying them to that tree. The garlands, lights and ornaments with which I adorned it signified my delight in Christ’s birth and awaken a deep-seated joy in my own existence as a God given gift. Whatever the origins of the Christmas tree, its meaning for me is unambiguous. Its evergreen branches signify the promise of eternal life. It is the occasion to sing glad tidings of joy to the world. Its lights reflect God’s glory, the light of the world. The star at the top, its crown of splendor, is that herald of the birth of Zion’s savior.
The Christmas tree, like these words of Isaiah, is an unrestrained expression of joy in anticipation of God’s vindication. Especially in the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere where the landscape can seem barren and shows signs everywhere of death and decay, the Christmas tree, like the bride and groom in Isaiah, signifies God’s promise of eternal life. Like the Israelites in the aftermath of the Babylonian exile, we may look about us and see the world as a dreary, bleak place and not at all the glorious restoration of creation promised earlier in Isaiah. We are still waiting for lambs to lay down with lions and swords to be beaten into ploughshares. In our increasingly secular society, it seems ever less likely that the nations will recognize God’s reign, ever more improbable that vindication will come. But as I gaze upon my tree and my soul rejoices in God, I know that just as the garden in which I planted fall seed and bulbs will bring forth shoots in the spring, God’s promise is true and God’s righteousness is constant.
my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up,
so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise
to spring up before all the nations.
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
and her salvation like a burning torch.
The nations shall see your vindication,
and all the kings your glory;
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Lately I have found myself thinking a lot about Mary. The Virgin, sweet and mild, holy and pure, the mother of God. She is praised in countless songs and hymns, depicted in art of all time periods and styles, and revered across the globe. As the Virgin of Guadalupe, for example, she acts as the patron saint of Mexico, offering strength, comfort and a sense of identity to Mexican people. Mary is one of few women featured in the Bible, and has provided a welcome space for the empowerment of women in the biblical narrative.
But underneath all this, who is Mary? What is most notable about her – her youth, her poverty, her virginity? I find myself grasping for a glimpse of a real, human woman. The lofty standard of both virgin and mother is one that women can never achieve, and can sometimes create an unrealistic ideal of womanhood. I can’t help but wonder whether Mary was more than a little perplexed by the angel Gabriel’s announcement: whether she felt fear, disbelief, or even resentment. In other words, I struggle to find a sign that Mary is someone to whom I can relate.
Yet in the face of my doubt, the text offers hints of what I am seeking. The writer takes care to note Mary’s confusion, followed by deep thought. And her initial reaction is human enough, wondering about the logistics of a virgin pregnancy. Upon closer examination, the human aspects of Mary make her resounding “yes” to God’s call that much more remarkable. What is most notable about Mary – the virgin engaged to Joseph, the young girl from Galilee – is her unflinching faith. Her profound offering of herself as a servant of God will, as we know, later be followed by a subversive and hopeful vision of the future, the Magnificat. It’s true, Mary is no ordinary woman. But she does show a powerful example of how a human life can be offered to serve God. May we honor Mary for this extraordinary act of faith.
I enjoy reading mystery novels. My mind is tantalized by the myriad clues and possibilities inherent in a seemingly unsolvable situation. But at some point in the reading, I grow restless. I want to know the answer to the mystery, and I want to know it now. So I confess, I go to the end of the book and read the last page. Then having satisfied myself with the knowledge of the plot’s direction, I read the clues and their development in a clearer way.
Our lives can exhibit a similar desire for clarity. In times of confusion or stress, we cry to God for immediate information. We want to read the last page of our own existence and know that it all turns out well. We want the answers to our struggles, so we can know that they are worth our efforts, and with that knowledge live more easily.
In Paul’s letter to the Gentiles in Rome, he ends with an expansive doxology, speaking of the revelation of a mystery formerly kept secret. That revelation is Jesus Christ, who combines both glory and humanity, who loves us in spite of and because of ourselves. The end page of our mystery is already known to us. God has revealed God’s truest self in the figure of Jesus. As a child King, as a living sacrifice, His life of supreme love is both mystery and revelation, all wrapped up together.
“I will sing of the Lord’s great Love forever.” The fact that we have this opportunity is absolutely amazing.
Imagine you’re a singer and a songwriter. Now let’s say you’re given the chance to meet and play for your favorite musical artist. You’re extremely excited. You’ve spent years working and developing this talent that you have, and you’re slightly nervous to show your songs. How honored would you be to have this opportunity? How much would you prepare your songs to make them as good as possible? How long before the date would you spend thinking and preparing in order to impress the artist? How happy would you be if that musical artist liked what you played?
This is the same opportunity that we have when we sing to the Lord! When we sing and worship, the Lord hears us! The maker of the heavens and the earth hears us and loves when we sing to him! Shouldn’t that excite us? Shouldn’t that make us jump off our feet in joy? Why is it that when we go to church on Sunday morning, we slightly slump over, sigh when we’re told to stand, and simply sing the notes without really thinking about the meaning behind them? Friends, this should not be! In worshiping the Lord with our heart, we come with recognition of the amazing gift of grace, and the amazing person of Love, that he sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world to make us holy and blameless in his sight. Holy and blameless! WE are holy and blameless! I know sometimes it may not feel like you’re holy and blameless, but guess what? God has completely forgotten our sins — all of them! Even the ones that we’ll commit in the future! Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
If that’s not exciting to you, and doesn’t make you want to take this opportunity to sing and shout to the Lord in adoration, then I don’t know what will! Because of God’s love, and because of his gift of grace through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can be holy and blameless and sing to God as pure lambs who follow after a shepherd. That’s all sheep do! And they love every minute of it. Following Jesus with all our heart is not a burden — it’s something that we should be doing with joy. So with this recognition of who you are in Christ, go and sing of the Lord’s great love forever.
I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, for ever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.
I declare that your steadfast love is established for ever;
your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.
I have sworn to my servant David:
“I will establish your descendants for ever,
and build your throne for all generations.” ’
‘I have set the crown on one who is mighty,
I have exalted one chosen from the people.
I have found my servant David;
with my holy oil I have anointed him;
my hand shall always remain with him;
my arm also shall strengthen him.
The enemy shall not outwit him,
the wicked shall not humble him.
I will crush his foes before him
and strike down those who hate him.
My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
I will set his hand on the sea
and his right hand on the rivers.
He shall cry to me, “You are my Father,
my God, and the Rock of my salvation!”
At first read, this passage, buried deep in the historical books of the Old Testament, seems to have little to do with Advent. What does it mean that our God is far less interested in having a permanent house built than in ensuring the Israelites will find rest, will be at home?
This reading begins with an almost routine checking off of another key item on King David’s to-do list: building a temple to the Lord. His trusted spiritual advisor (and gadfly) Nathan endorses David’s plan to get started on this building project right away. They are both ready to see that God is given due glory, now that the kingdom is “settled.” But God’s response, as it so often does for all of us, takes David and Nathan in an entirely new direction. God stridently defends the transient life that He has had with His people over the preceding centuries. And even more surprisingly, God insists that His intentions for settling the people securely in their land, and for providing a just and loving king to rule over them, are far from finished. It becomes quite clear to both David and Nathan that if anyone is going to be a home-builder here, it is God, and it will be built in God’s time.
And thus we return to Advent, where we join Nathan and David in waiting for the arrival of the only King who can be gracious enough to build a home spacious enough for the whole world.
“Mama once told me you’re already home where you feel love.”
These were the words ringing in my head on an overcrowded bus in Lima, Peru. I hadn’t expected the tears to come as the song, “Lost in my Mind” by The Head and the Heart came on my iPod. But then again, I hadn’t expected such a statement to ring so true when I was on Study-Service Term (SST). I had been in Peru for a month and my time with my host family in Lima would soon be coming to an end. The realization that I would never live with this family again broke my heart.
But more striking in this moment than the heartbreak was the realization that I truly felt at home. Although much was still foreign to me, such as the language and customs, I was overcome with the undeniable feeling of comfort. The love from and for my host family was so familiar and understandable. I could take refuge in this love and thrive in it, even if so much of my world was difficult for me to understand. This love broke down all language and cultural barriers.
This moment became a turning point for me during my time in Peru. I can’t quite explain it, but when I felt this intense moment of love, I realized that I needed to remain open. Up until that point, I was trying to sort through my experiences to decide what was and was not important to process. In that moment, I realized that I needed to be open to all my experiences, good and bad. I needed to live in the moment and become immersed in the world around me.
By the end of my time in Peru, I had let in the world. I let in the love of two host families, several amazing directors and 15 new friends. I let in the mountains, the cities, the languages and the cultures. I let in joy, sorrow, hope and a renewed need for justice. I let in a new-found love for myself. I let in God.
No matter where we are, we are never far from home. God’s love is constantly around us. It is present in our families, in our friends, in strangers, in sights and in sounds. It is present in the sun that rises and sets on every horizon. It is present in the winds that sweep the streets of Goshen and the mountains of Cusco. It is present in the ground under our feet and the rains that wash over our nations. God’s love follows us to the ends of the earth and beyond.
God’s love is not a revelation, but a realization. When we allow ourselves to take in the world around us, we will realize the many gifts that God has tucked away in the most unexpected places in our lives.
So in this season of advent, welcome home, welcome love, welcome God.
Like John, we have all been sent by God. We have been dispatched to be a witness to light and to instill belief. Belief in self, belief in others, belief in God. What a magnificent journey!
In awe of John’s light, many inquired, “Who are you? Why are you here?” John simply stated, “I am a mere messenger. I bear witness to the light that we all await.” Still, the Pharisees persisted, “Then why do you baptize if you are not the one who redeems? If you are not the light?” John stated, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know. The one who shines and pierces far greater and deeper than I.”
Profoundly, when speaking to the Pharisees, John emphasizes how the one, who has not yet come, stands among you at this very moment. As if this light is within all of us. It is as though we had a jewel in our pockets that we never knew about.
So, what is light? What does it do?
Light radiates. Light produces heat. Light exposes. Light transforms. Light bears truth. Light energizes. Light reveals.
Advent is a time of waiting. Stillness. A time of the anticipation of a mystery yet to be revealed. But even in stillness, movement remains. Take for example a hummingbird. A hummingbird flaps its wings 50 times per second, in order to maintain stillness.
At this time when you see lights, allow yourself to see how God has transformed you. Allow yourself to be reminded of the paradox of stillness and movement. To bear witness to light, we must cling to the movement within our stillness. Let light radiate, warm, expose, transform, reveal and energize you! Bear witness to light!
But don’t forget to move.
‘I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
“Make straight the way of the Lord” ’,
as the prophet Isaiah said.