Merry Christmas and thank you for joining us in this season of hope for a weary world. Our hope is that you have found sustenance for your journey by joining with others along the way. We invite you to join us again during the season of Lent. Until then, may God’s presence surround you and God’s love sustain you as you live into the reality of Christ with us.
Advent Devotions Archives » Page 3 of 16 | Devotions | Goshen College
I’m reflecting on today’s text and this year’s Advent theme while in Nanchong, China, where my family has been accompanying a group of Goshen College students on their Study-Service Term.
Thinking about hope in this context, I was reminded of the words of Lu Xun, one of China’s most important modern writers. In 1921 he wrote, “Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many people pass one way, a road is made.” For Lu, hope was not abstract or distant, but emerged from persistent action, in the present, by people around him.
I hear a similar sentiment from the Apostle Paul in today’s text. Amid all the things that might have discouraged him (read the rest of his letter to the Corinthians!), he found hope in God’s faithfulness as revealed in the ordinary lives of the believers in Corinth and in their daily witness in their world. They awaited a fuller revelation of the Lord, but their waiting was not an idle pause or an aimless hiatus. Enriched in speech and knowledge, not lacking in any spiritual gift, they were, imperfectly but surely, the living body of Christ in their community. And a road was made.
May hope be revealed to us, not only as a distant destination, but also as the journey itself: in the small, sometimes faltering, steps of faith – our own and those around and before us – that carry us onward. And a road is made.
Today’s passage follows the week’s theme of asking God to reveal hope in this Advent season. “Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved,” verse three implores. This phrase is repeated twice more in the selection, each time growing more urgent as the writer transitions from addressing the Lord as “O God” in verse three to “O God of hosts” in verse seven to “O Lord God of hosts” in verse 19.
The imagery of God’s shining face is certainly powerful at this time of year. As the snow falls, we realize we must accept the inevitable — winter is here to stay. We draw back into hibernation, dreaming of blossoming flowers and warm breezes. It is the pitch black of winter mornings that we wake up to, early and cold, and too soon the darkness returns in early evening. At this dreary time of year, the promise of God’s gloriously shining face is an incredible and hopeful dream — one that perhaps we’d like to be here now, rather than some distant hope.
But, as one of my favorite passages on hope reminds us, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:24-25). At this early point in Advent season, as we reluctantly accept the imminence of winter, it is helpful to remember that “hope that is seen is not hope.” The process of hoping, of longing — of Advent — is not just a means to an end; it is a very important and meaningful step along the way.
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!
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
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.
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
Restore us, O God;
let your face shine, that we may be saved.
A potter friend and Goshen College alum, Dick Lehman, describes one of his pottery techniques as that of “capricious control.” He wraps a large leaf or other vegetation around an unfired clay pot, then covers it with sawdust, places it in a protective container called a saggar and puts it in the kiln. As a result of the heat and pressure in the kiln, a film of carbon penetrates the pot’s surface, creating a ‘fast-fossil’ leaf pattern on the pottery.
Depending on the potter’s choice of temperature, glaze, even differing placements in the kiln, a beautiful piece of pottery emerges that clearly contains the potter’s art and skill and design. However, the overall splendor of the piece can be quite surprising – something hidden or furtive or mysterious made visible for the very first time, majestically revealed even to the artist.
Isaiah, the poet of today’s Advent lesson (Isaiah 64:1-9), like all of us at times, longs for God’s mysterious presence to be revealed for all to see: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” He wants God to be seen and experienced blatantly like a “fire that kindles brushwood,” a fire that “boils the water,” or, perhaps, like the fire inside a kiln, violently hot and devastatingly destructive, especially toward one’s adversaries. He also acknowledges times when God’s hiddenness was surprisingly revealed in “awesome deeds we did not expect.” Whether by design or by surprise, he longs for God to be known by all.
He concludes with the awareness that God may, indeed, be hidden due to a combination of divine design and willful human disobedience and likely many other factors as well. God, like a potter, has “capricious control” in designing and crafting the piece of pottery, choosing the shape, color, saggar and temperature. The final splendored pot, however, is a mystery revealed only in the final piece itself.
The amazing, wonderful truth of this Advent season is that God did, indeed, “tear open the heavens and come down,” not as a violent, fiery, vengeful warrior or judge. Instead, God came to earth swaddled in a manger, in clay-like human form, whose divine and merciful presence is now most wonderfully revealed as a holy “treasure in clay-vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7), the Spirit of Christ in you and me. The miracle of Advent is most simply named, Emanuel, God-with-us, Christ-in-us. I, for one, can’t wait to see the artfully designed, yet unpredictable beauty of God’s mystery revealed in each one of us. To the Divine Potter and to us, that may be the best Christmas surprise of all.
Welcome to Goshen College’s online devotionals for the 2014 Advent season! Our theme this year, taken from the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada worship resources found in Leader magazine, is “Oh, That You Would Reveal Your Mystery.” 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 “Oh, That You Would Reveal Your Hope.”
“Impatience” – the opposite of “patience.” I excel in the former, struggle with the latter. As a youngster, “impatience” described my demeanor towards the Christmas presents my parents would eventually reveal to me. They didn’t wrap our presents, but placed them on the dining room table covered with blankets. On Christmas Eve, we kids would see the “mound of mystery,” wondering what secrets the blankets concealed. Now that I am all grown up, I am so glad that I have graduated from “impatience” to “patience”! (The last sentence is to be said with a sarcastic tone.)
In a world of anxiety and fear, I get quite impatient with God at times, yearning for the hope to shine its light into the darkness. As I ponder our various global realities, I wonder where is the God for whom Isaiah calls out to “tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at [God’s] presence” (Isaiah 64:1) and the God for whom the Psalmist who cries “stir up your might, and come save us!” (Psalm 80:2)? As I reflect on the current affairs of my denomination, I wonder how Apostle Paul could confidently write “God is faithful; by him you were called into fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Corinthians 1:9) to a community of believers riddled with divisions? But then I am challenged by the words of Mark: “But in those days, after that suffering…Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24, 26).
Is God’s power and glory truly “hope?” I want to believe that, but what if it comes in a form that I don’t like? What if God’s revelation is not something that I can agree with? Can it still then be “hope?”
O God, Revealer of Hope. Absolve my impatience and bolster my patience.
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. 24 (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: “Oh, That You Would Reveal Your Mystery” taken from Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada 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.
Into a weary world bombarded with news of injustice and environmental degradation and hatred and war and violence and greed and exploitation and fear, Christ comes. Innocent. Vulnerable. Beautiful.
If I listen closely, I hear the echo of angels: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace to all God’s friends.” The words of the familiar carol resonate in my mind as “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” paints a musical picture of angels appearing through cloven skies with peaceful wings unfurled offering hope to a weary world:
Yet with the woes of sin and strife, the world has suffered long;
Beneath the heav’nly hymn have rolled two thousand years of wrong,
And warring humankind hears not the tidings which they bring.
O hush the noise and cease your strife and hear the angels sing.
And you, beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,
who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow;
Look now! For glad and glorious hours come swiftly on the wing,
O rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.
The angels have spoken: Christ has come. The bread has been made. The wassel has been shared. May we, this day of celebration and hope, find the space to “rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.”
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
“I will put my trust in him.’
‘Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
This week’s theme is “Out of Egypt,” which plays into the overall theme of the mystery of God’s dwelling. In my faith life, there has never been a doubt that of all the places one can find God, the most conveniently located is within our own bodies. Even so, it is not always easy to see the Holy Spirit hiding behind our eyes, wrapped around our tongue, or supporting our hands, and yet it is there.
Psalm 148 exalts not only God’s omnipresence, but the authority of God over things like beasts in the depths, the moon and sun, the stars and the rulers of the earth. “Out of Egypt” is a reference to the enslavement of the Hebrew people before Moses led them to freedom in Exodus.
So with that in mind we can take a look at what enslaves us, whether it is a grudge against one another, or material desires that distract us from wealth of the spirit, or even a growing apathy that comes from a weary soul that has been working too long without rest, we must see and know God’s dominion. God’s dominion that exists over the very stars in the sky. God’s dominion that will last longer than flawed human institutions. God’s dominion which led a people from enslavement and promised them paradise. God’s dominion which holds us now and promises freedom from all that which enslaves us.
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!
Advent – the time that marks the coming of God into this world through the incarnation of his son – revives our hope. I am most mindful of the hope that the birth of every child should bring, the hope realized by Christ, the hope that this child will remedy the mistakes of the past and bring a better world. The birth of a child also brings hope for our own redemption, while we have been selfish in the past and negligent of others’ needs, knowing that this child’s survival depends upon us leads us to hope we will give ourselves over selflessly to the welfare of this child.
Isaiah 63:7-9 speaks of God’s hope for us, his children. If one turns to the verses that precede and follow this passage, one will learn that these are words spoken from exile in Babylon. God’s children have followed the wrong leaders and failed to live up to God’s hope. Nevertheless, just as we hope that whatever our children do, that we can be their savior in their times of trouble, we understand God’s hope in Israel’s rebirth and desire to redeem his children from exile.
While this passage does not speak to the coming of Christ, it does speak to the hope of Christmas. While it is the responsibility of adults to make Christmas special and to help children understand the significance of this holy day, Christmas draws us into its realm and we all become children again. It is a time in which we praise the gift of God’s son who makes us new again. It is the time we drink from the cup of God’s kindness and compassion and seek to be true to God’s gift by giving generously to others.
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us,
and the great favour to the house of Israel
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
For he said, “Surely they are my people,
children who will not deal falsely;”
and he became their saviour
in all their distress.
It was no messenger or angel
but his presence that saved them;
in his love and in his pity he redeemed them;
he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.
Recently, my husband and I helped out at a children’s game night at our church. The young participants were offered prizes from a bucketful of candy. Some kids knew immediately what to snatch from the pile of treats, while others took a painstakingly long time to decide. It was tempting to make the choice for them to relieve their agony of indecision.
As an adult, I can recall the discomfort of vacillation when making big life decisions. Like the marriage proposal – even though I anticipated it, the moment evoked anxiety. Was I making the right choice? The long-term effects are so significant! Even harder was the decision to marry the second time, when life and circumstances were much more complicated.
In the text, Joseph wrestles with how to handle the delicate situation of a pregnant fiancé. He makes a noble plan, and God intervenes with clear instructions through a dream and Joseph chooses to obey, in spite of the humiliation and judgment he and Mary will have to endure from their community. The story moves ahead to the eventual, glorious scene of Christ’s birth.
If only a heavenly vision would show us what to do during life’s hard choices. While such a dream is not impossible, God gives us other great resources to draw from. Joseph had the rich history of ancestors who were examples of righteous living. So we can gain wisdom and encouragement from the lives of God’s people in Scripture and those living now. God’s Word enlightens us (Psalm 119:105). Even at night, we receive instruction (Psalm 16:7). And the very familiar verse from Proverbs 3:6:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.” (NRSV)
Can we not trust that the One who wrote and produced the greatest story ever told will send us the direction and help we need to follow the plans God has for our lives? May you find comfort today in knowing our God is big enough to make a sure path for you. May the One who directed the details of the Advent story continue to tell the good news through us who seek to follow and obey.
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son, and he named him Jesus.
Grace to you and peace!
Could you imagine greeting everyone you see with Paul’s beautiful salutation to the Romans? You’re headed into the grocery store and you start offering “Grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!” to all you encounter there. You stop at a drive-thru and when the voice comes over the speaker you offer grace and peace to the person on the other end. To people at every store counter you approach, those in every line you stand in, to everyone you walk past, to all you see in church, at school, at work, you shout out “Grace and peace to you!”
I can imagine it, but that’s about as far as it goes. It was awkward enough in the church services I grew up attending to “pass the peace of Christ” and shake hands with people – even though we were instructed to do it from the pulpit, and I did it week after week. And if I keep imagining, awkward turns to scary. What would happen if I actually just went for it? People might think I’d lost it. They might judge me. They might remember other things I’ve done or said and think I’m just being false. And that’s not even the worst of it. I, myself, might feel a little silly, or more than a little false. I would probably begin to examine my faith, encounter my own doubts and tell myself I’m not worthy to offer anybody anything from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
But Paul would have us remember today, and every day, that we are all God’s beloved – from Rome or Jerusalem, privileged or outcast, broken or whole – and we are all called to be saints no matter what our lives are like. That grace and peace we can offer to one another this season is God’s greatest gift to us and we received it from Jesus in order that we might pass it on to everyone. And while I’ll probably choose some different words or a different tone of voice to pass on that grace and peace to everyone I meet this season, I believe it’s the best gift any of us can give.
So, grace to you this day and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ! See you in the grocery store…