Advent Devotions Archives » Page 2 of 16 | Devotions | Goshen College
Within many of us there is an innate desire to believe in something greater than ourselves. For Christians, this belief is rooted in the creator God of the Bible, a God whose Word became flesh incarnate in Jesus Christ. After his death and resurrection, Jesus ascended to heaven and left with us his Holy Spirit. It is this Holy Spirit that Christ calls us by faith to reach out to and commune with in our daily lives. In John 15:4, Jesus exhorts us to “Abide in me as I Abide in you.” Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians, offers some advice on how to “abide” in Jesus.
Verses 16 – 19 of today’s text call us to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, to give thanks in all circumstances, and to not quench the Holy Spirit. In my faith journey, I have recognized that it is part of the human condition to struggle to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances. When we rely on our own abilities and develop expectations based on what we believe we can accomplish, we are frequently disappointed because of our own fallibility (i.e. we are not God). In order to rejoice always, we must pray without ceasing (daily), that the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, would guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7). This peace comes when we trust that God is in control of the universe and when we admit that we are in fact not in control. When by faith we can do this, we truly have cause to rejoice always.
Holy Spirit, help me to relinquish control of my circumstances to you each day, and fill me with your peace; that my spirit may find rest in you.
Those who have known exile – captivity – dare hardly hope for restoration. And they certainly never expect to dream again. Whether captive to lost hopes, ended relationships, the death of one we love, dreams shattered like mirrors thrown to the ground – no matter what holds our souls captive, we often expect to remain there, exiled from the life we had hoped for.
So too the Israelites lived without hope. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down. And there we wept when we remembered Zion.” Whether we read these words in Scripture or listen to The Melodians’ reggae version of them, our spirits weep with the Israelites of old. We too know sorrow; we too know exile.
Thus the words of Psalm 126 leap from the page as the poet sings of the restoration of his people to Jerusalem. The moment is surreal, dreamlike, full of laughter, full of joy. The impossible has happened through the God who makes all things possible, a message Mary remembers in Luke 2:37. A virgin conceives. A Savior is born. Our fortunes are restored!
The writer of Psalm 126 is not so lost in joy nor in the present dream now become reality that he forgets the exile in Babylon. He contrasts planting in tears to harvesting with shouts of joy and repeats it again in the cadence of Hebrew poetry. “They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.”
Our God is faithful, bringing shouts of joy after captivity and exile. Let us praise this God of the Israelites who is our God too, leading us from sorrow to joy, from tears to laughter.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall of that synagogue at Nazareth where Jesus stood up to recite one fateful Sabbath day. They brought out the great scroll of Isaiah. Every pixel of dust afloat on the beams of sunlight in that house of prayer strained against the inertia of an idealized past, an untenable present and an uncertain future. There in the midst of neighbors, family and friends, he rolled that scroll almost to the very end until he found our passage. By the time he had finished reading and sat down, as the fourth chapter of the Gospel of Luke faithfully recounts, he had proclaimed the onset of a recurrent restoration – seven cycles of sabbaticals crowned by Jubilee.
In this season the vision of the ancient Isaianic school is once again pulsating with promise. There is an anointing that announces the transformation of every tired truism. All forms of bondage and breakage have run their full course and taken their final toll. Like the exiles who returned to Zion to rebuild and raise up and repair, we must be dreamers, our spirits alive with messianic imagination, reveling in the poetic reversals of the redeemed: comfort for mourning, gladness for grief, exuberance for faintness, festive headgear for ashes (based on a Hebrew word play). In the garden of the One who loves justice, what springs forth is righteousness and praise, ethics and worship, a salad of salvation that heals the devastations of many generations.
Had Jesus been satisfied with this manifesto of an unfolding freedom, or the shallow praise of the vindicated, he could have had a long life and successful career. He chose instead not only to ennoble our deepest yearnings, but also root out our basest fears. Dare we embrace this proclamation and enter into the emergent mystery of an undoctrinated destiny?
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to provide for those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a garland instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
They shall build up the ancient ruins,
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
I will faithfully give them their recompense,
and I will make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants shall be known among the nations,
and their offspring among the peoples;
all who see them shall acknowledge
that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
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.
We recently celebrated Thanksgiving in southeast Iowa. But more than the turkey or pumpkin pie (though those were tasty!), the highlight of the trip was a much-anticipated first ride in grandpa’s green combine for my three-year-old son, Arthur. We had been talking about the possibility of this for weeks and Arthur had been practicing at home with his toys. Out of great love, grandpa had left several rows of corn in the field so that Arthur could truly experience the wonders of harvest.
And the event itself was pure joy for all three of us as we passed through the rows, watched the auger dump the corn into the grain cart and saw pheasants fly out of our way. As I sit with this week’s theme of “Oh, That You Would Reveal Your Joy,” I keep coming back to those moments. It was a reminder again of how children have a way of revealing joy in the most amazing ways and surprising places. It was a reminder to allow myself to see God in the simple things. It was a reminder that what I am truly waiting for right now is for the Christ child to be born who will bring the ultimate joy of the Good News for this dark and broken world.
It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the latest headlines about terrorist acts, environmental degradation, racism. On top of that, most of us are also overwhelmed by the latest headlines in our own news feeds of friends who have lost their jobs, a relative who is being treated for cancer, a co-worker who is going through a divorce.
But the Scriptures this week have helpful words for us. We’ll be reading about how the “Lord loves justice,” that we must “hold fast to what is good,” that we are called to “bring good news to the oppressed.”
Indeed, like a child, I must choose God’s joy for my own life every day and to create joy with God for others. I must go on walks in the fresh air with a friend, blow bubbles with my son, sing hymns with college students, light candles for those experiencing loss, write notes of encouragement to my colleagues, invite a new person at church for coffee, smile at someone I don’t even know. Then I see God being revealed. Then, possibly, the world might be changed.
God, remove our fear. Reveal your joy to us. May we, like children, reveal your joy to others.
Waiting in anticipation is something we often associate with the holiday season. Whether it’s waiting in line for the perfect present for a family member, waiting for friends to arrive at your house to begin festivities, waiting for cookies to bake in the oven, or waiting in holiday traffic, it is tempting to get impatient, anxious or angry with others as we wait. Perhaps it is not the consumerist culture surrounding Christmas time that steers the central message away from Christ. Instead, maybe it is in our attitudes and how we respond to situations of anticipation that we lose the true meaning of the Advent season.
As a community of believers, we should treat being in a time of waiting as a spiritual practice. It certainly takes discipline and conscious effort to respond peacefully in a time of waiting when there are many messages and activities promoting stress and busy-ness.
In Mark 1, John the Baptist displays this peacefulness wonderfully; he humbly awaits the coming of someone greater than himself, unable to contain the excitement and joy he feels. He shares this message with others, so that they, too, can be aware of what is soon to come.
In many ways, I believe John is able to maintain such a positive and hopeful vision for the future because he takes time to simply “be” as he awaits Christ’s coming, withdrawing from society and living in the wilderness. To some degree, I believe God calls us to follow this model. Even if we can only spare a moment or two each day, taking time to just “be” in the presence of God and anticipation of the Advent season can be quite rewarding. I challenge you to find a few quiet moments to reflect in the awe and joy today as we together await the presence of Jesus.
‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight” ’,
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’
Sometimes I’d be willing to let it all go, in a flash of lightning, in a fiery tidal wave. Like on those days when the dishwasher is backed up, the tub too, when the car repair person quotes us a four digit number, when the kids are grumpy, when we’re all tired. There are days in our house when nobody is behaving in a “holy and godly” way, and we’re not remotely close to being “spotless and blameless.” Yikes.
“OK, GOD! DO YOUR THING!”
Wait . . . then there would be no more bear hugs, no more naps, no more concerts, no more snow days, no more storytime, no more popcorn parties. No more campfires, no more morning coffee. All of it, gone.
“Wait . . . I changed my mind! I take it back! I still want it, all of it!” But it isn’t my choice. I may only receive it – this life – as long as it is offered to me.
But God is patient. God takes my rants, my ungrateful heart and my fist-shaking because, let’s face it, my spiritual journey is less of a graceful dance and more of a wrestling match. God lets me live a beautiful life, even when my heart isn’t, because God is patient.
I’ll close with some words from a lovely and insightful song, written by Goshen College student Monica Miller. She sang if for me recently and I almost wept; it’s so relevant for this tricky passage.
“You are Lord of the changes that break my life; You are Lord of the changes that make my life; You are Lord of the changes that take my life away.
But it’s not mine, it’s Yours.”
I looked with amazement and delight into the holes I was digging. Each of the two-foot deep holes had a lovely profile of soil: 10 inches of topsoil, 3 inches of small river stones, and then coarse sand. This rich prairie soil provides perfect conditions for the half-acre nut, fruit and berry orchard that I am planting on the plot of land next to our home. I am committed to being kind to this land.
As our scripture reading for today asserts, God looks favorably on the land too. God’s relationship to the land is illuminated beautifully in these two versions of Psalm 85:1.
“Lord, you’ve been kind to your land.” – Common English Bible
“God, you smiled on your good earth!” – Eugene Peterson in The Message
The relationship is profound. The verse continues with the undergirding hope found in God’s regenerative purposes for what is broken. God extends a steadfast love to the people and the land.
In my land story – as in this psalm – there is love, brokenness and restoration. The backstory is that this rich land was taken from the Potawatomi in a treaty signed in 1828. The earliest map marks my land as “Elkhart Prairie,” and is next to the major trail that the Potawatomi traversed for centuries. As I work in this soil, I grieve over the injustices related to the “settling” of this landscape by Europeans. I ask questions. What have we done to the land? What have we done to our air? What have we done to our water? What are the injustices in which we have been complicit – knowingly or unknowingly?
Psalm 85 proclaims that pursuing peace is the correct response to the questions. There is a vision of great wellbeing in the last four verses. Here is a confluence of love, truth, righteousness and peace. What a hope-filled message! Salvation is at hand!
I am often on my hands and knees in my land, as I plant and nurture. This is also a time of prayerful communication for justice and peace to emanate from this parcel of ground. I am committed to being one of God’s agents for change and restoration. I follow Jesus, the incarnate one, who embodies the peace and healing that is needed.
Lord, you were favourable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you pardoned all their sin.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
The Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and will make a path for his steps.
After the St. Louis County grand jury declined to indict officer Darren Wilson in the shooting of Michael Brown, the nation erupted in protest. Anger from a weariness of systemic injustice manifested in rallies, marches and outrage. People are angry. People are tired. People are oppressed.
The world appears to be stuck in cycles of violence that spiral continuously, no matter who is speaking against them. For those speaking for peace, it often feels as if our voices fail to reach the ears of those who most need to hear them. I can imagine that the prophet Isaiah felt the same with his messages of repentance to the people of Israel, and yet, he kept speaking.
Isaiah’s message is still true today. He called the people of Israel to comfort. To comfort is our directive. The world is hurting. The world is grieving. We are called to console those in distress. The power of God, both vast and unimaginable, is as the prophet alludes, revealed in tenderness and comfort. Ours is a God who tends to us as a shepherd to sheep. When we comfort those in grief, we chip away at the cycle of violence and begin the transformation of our world into the world of shalom. We say to those hurting, “I can not know all your pain, but I will help you bear it. I am here for you.” We offer our bodies and our voices to undoing of the injustice that leads to their pain. In answering Isaiah’s call, we must prepare the way in this wild world for God’s kingdom, a kingdom defined not by power-over, but rather, by the ways we relate and the ways we share each others’ burdens, and comforting is a step in constructing this kingdom.
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’
And I said, ‘What shall I cry?’
All people are grass,
their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand for ever.
Get you up to a high mountain,
O Zion, herald of good tidings;
lift up your voice with strength,
O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,
lift it up, do not fear;
say to the cities of Judah,
‘Here is your God!’
See, the Lord God comes with might,
and his arm rules for him;
his reward is with him,
and his recompense before him.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.
Oh, that you would reveal your peace! This word “peace” is tossed around on a regular basis, but what does it truly mean for us and for the world? It is tempting, especially during Advent, to wrap peace into a tidy package or reduce it to a greeting on a Christmas card, absolving ourselves of further responsibility. But true peace demands more of us. While it can manifest itself as tranquility, peace can also be bold. It is heard in a triumphant angel song, proclaiming “Peace on earth, goodwill to all!” It calls each of us to add our voices to the jubilant celebration, rejoicing that the Prince of Peace came and taught us how to live and not just dream.
It is easy to live as if “peace on earth” is a fantasy, or something for another time. But this denies everything Jesus stands for. We are told of the blessedness of the peacemakers, and to “seek peace and pursue it.” Our actions of peace don’t need to start on a grand scale; peace brings its own grandeur and flourishes once it has been planted.
A listening ear can create reconciliation in relationships. A helping hand can build bridges in communities. A song of love can reverberate throughout the world. Each small moment of peace reveals more of the mystery of God. My hope for this advent season is that Christ’s peace will be revealed in each of us, and that we would seek to live out this peace.
Toddlers are notorious for resisting sleep. Life is much too exciting for boring old naps and the dreaded evening bedtime. Something might happen! Little ones can be quite comical (and/or maddening) in their quest to stay up “just a little while longer.” Teenagers, on the other hand, want and need more sleep. My now 23-year-old daughter epitomizes this dynamic to its utmost. As a little girl, she resisted naps and bedtime with all her might; if she wasn’t exhausted by her shenanigans, her parents certainly were! As a teenager and now a young adult, long naps became a coveted luxury.
In today’s passage, Jesus’ words to the disciples are a reminder of the natural rhythm of life cycles. The disciples are looking for a sign. As the seasons change, they know what to expect. Year after year, even during the roughest of winters, spring eventually comes. The branch becomes tender. Remember that – God remains steadfast. Even so, Jesus urges the disciples to practice a mature balance of resting in the assurance of God’s presence, and being ready for the unexpected. When things are shaken up, the faithful should be prepared.
The tradition of Watch Night services ties together this rhythm in a tangible way. Faith communities gather on New Year’s Eve to remember the year that has gone by and to pray together for the year that is about to unfold. They stay awake together as the New Year comes in as a sign of their preparedness. As you enter the Advent season, might you prepare a similar ritual of remembering and watching?
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.