Advent Devotional Reflections

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Advent and Christmas 2017

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Within these pages, you will find reflections from the members of our congregational staff for the season of Advent.

When we contemplate events from around the world, within our nation, and within our own homes, we can easily claim that the world is anything but still. There is a spiritual restlessness within each of us. Whatever tool we strive to use to reach a “better place in our lives” leaves us with nothing but failure. Attention is the greatest commodity of our culture and the yearning for attention drives our economy. Social media platforms provide us with the tools we need to get that attention. We begin to understand ourselves solely by what others post on our social media pages. It is easy to lose any self-understanding and rely wholly on what others say about us. This is an insatiable desire.

Three messages repeatedly confront us. We are told, “You are not who you should be. You are not where you should be. You are not doing what you should be doing.” The forces behind these voices then offer themselves as solutions to our problems. The right product, the right method, the right political ideology, the right traditions—all these will solve our problems.

Christmas is about God telling us who we are. Notice, in the Christmas story, the events of Christ’s birth happen to all the key players. God acts upon Joseph and Mary, upon the shepherds, and upon the angels. This activity of God is nothing less than God accepting each person and heavenly being into God’s extraordinary plan for the world. The glory of God is shown forth upon the earth at the birth of Jesus. This incarnate presence of the divine brings about peace to all peoples of this earth.

May God be glorified in you and bring peace to your life.

Pastor Tim


Week of December 3 through December 9, 2017

The First Week in Advent

From Patti Corll

I adore children! I suppose as someone that works in Children’s Ministry, this is an expected occupational requirement (or hazard) but I find the enthusiasm, excitement, honesty, and simple joy with which children, tweens and teens approach the world refreshing and inspiring!  And for our young people there is no more exciting time of year than Christmas.  The anticipation of receiving a desired gift can be almost unbearable during this Advent season – Christmas is coming!  Oh the anticipation!

A friend recently shared how Christmas anticipation almost backfired on her boy. As a young teen the only thing, the ONLY THING, he wanted was a specific pair of basketball shoes. A very expensive, hard to find even on the internet, specific pair of basketball shoes. Of course, she found them, scraped together the funds to buy them, and purchased the exact thing he wanted.  Now all she had to do was hide them to give them to him just at the right time.

During Advent, the weeks leading up to Christmas, he reminded her many times that he only wanted the shoes. That he knew they were expensive but that they were all he really wanted.  Each time she simply smiled and said “we’ll see.”

Christmas morning came and there was only one box next to the tree for him. One HUGE box. The look of disappointment on his face was obvious, but being a kind child, he tried to mask his feelings.  When the time came for him to open the gift, he slid the large box out into the center of the floor.  It was heavy and clanked as he moved it. The look of disappointment grew on his face and could no longer be masked, despite his ongoing efforts.  He ripped the paper away to reveal a pressure washer box.

“A pressure washer?” he questioned with astonishment.

“Yes,” came the reply.  “I thought it would help you do some odd jobs over the summer, you know, to help make money for school.”

“Thank you,” came the not so gracious flat response. He moved to sit back down in his chair.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Nah. I think I’ll wait until spring, when I can use it.”

“Oh come on,” she encouraged. Finally, he relented and opened the box.  Inside, under the many bottles of his favorite Gatorade (which provided the weight for the box) and cans of his favorite soda (which provided the clank) he found a Nike box containing his much desired shoes! If he hadn’t opened the box, he would have missed his wonderful present!

It’s that way with our scripture lessons for the week. They guide us to examine what we are expecting.  The words of Isaiah remind us what the people of Israel were expecting – a God who appeared in earthquake and fire, who caused nations to tremble and who punished iniquities by hiding himself from his people.  Certainly they were not expecting the Son of God to appear as a small, weak, beloved baby. Born in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes, little more than rags, and laid to sleep on the hay of a manger.  And so, because Jesus was not the thundering God they expected, they missed the coming of the Messiah.  He was not in the package they thought he would be.

But Jesus came and he is coming back!  As our Gospel lesson from Mark reminds us, Jesus is coming again and warns us not to be deceived. The Gospel states, “And if anyone says to you at that time, ‘Look! Here is the Messiah!’ or ‘Look!  There he is!’ – do not believe it.  False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”  This is our reminder not to be deceived by packaging or the words on the box, or its size, or weight or the noise it makes. The gift of Christmas is surprising.  Mark cautions, “But be alert; I have already told you everything.”

As Mark reminds us not to be deceived, Paul in Corinthians confirms that we have everything we need so that we won’t be!  As Paul says of you, the believers, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind – just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you – so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Just like my friend’s encouraging voice reminded her boy to open the unexpected box, Paul also encourages us to listen. Listen to the voice of God who loves you.   Don’t miss the best God has to give you simply because it may not appear in the form you expect. Jesus came and is coming again. He loves you, forgives you and saves you and in you he has planted strength and knowledge and grace and all the spiritual gifts you need.  And isn’t that revelation the best and most unexpected gift of all?

Texts for Reading: Isaiah 64: 1-9; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 24-37

Prayer:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection awaken us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


 

Week of December 10 through December 16, 2017

The Second Week in Advent

From Pastor Beth Hawk

As I write this devotion for the upcoming Advent Season, I am reminded of how violent, fearful, fear-filled, and polarized our world is.  In our own lives we suffer heartbreak, disappointment, illness, and the loss of loved ones.  Our spirits seem crushed and broken.  Is there any peace for us?  Is there any comfort for us?  Where is our God?

The Jews suffered and asked the same questions during their years of exile in Babylonia.  They, too, wondered how long God would be silent; how long before their punishment would end.  Then came a voice from the heavenly council saying to them, “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.”  “Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid.”  “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.”

Though we feel like all is falling apart around us and that nothing can make things better, the good news is that our Lord God is the one who will make things better.  Our Lord God has broken into human history as a tiny baby.  Emmanuel, God with us.  God is with us and we need not fear the world or what is happening in it.  Our Lord God speaks tenderly to us.  Our Lord God comforts us.  Our Lord God feeds us like a shepherd feeds his sheep.  Our Lord God cares for us all – for the hurting, the lost, the lonely, the vulnerable, and the outcast.  Our Lord God carries us close to God’s heart and gently leads us.  We have nothing to fear because the word of our God will stand forever.  Thanks be to God.

Texts for Reading: Isaiah 40: 1-11; 2 Peter 3: 8-15a; Mark 1: 1-8

Prayer:

Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


Week of December 17 through December 23, 2017

The Third Week in Advent

From Pastor Tasha Genck Morton

As I write this devotional in mid-October we have had the one-two-three punch of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Marie; North Korea; the flooding in Asia; the earthquake in Mexico; the messy fight regarding race relations and standing for the national anthem, and the shooting in Las Vegas.  It’s been a pretty depressing and worrying stretch.  It seems like every time I check a news website, peek at my social media, or turn on the TV more bad news has surfaced.

But lest we forget bad news can also be very personal and come on a smaller scale.  Whether it’s receiving bad news from the doctor, learning your job is being terminated, hearing a loved one’s cancer has returned, or continuing to mourn the death of friend or family member the bad news hits home, too.

God’s people are living in bad news, too.  They’ve been conquered and hauled off into exile in a strange and distant country.

Into this the prophet Isaiah announces that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him to, among other things, bring good news to the oppressed.  In this passage as a whole the prophet paints a picture of hope, of spring, of new life given to God’s people.  However, we don’t get the full picture of what this means for not just God’s people but for us until Jesus’ time.  In the Gospel of Luke Jesus will take up these words as his own.  Jesus reads the first two verses and declares that this scripture has been fulfilled in their presence.  Boom.  Mic drop.

Through Jesus’ life, death on the cross and resurrection we have been brought good news, the brokenhearted have been bound up, we have liberty and release, and it is the year of the Lord’s favor.  In this we have the good news of new life, of healing, of wholeness, of forgiveness, of comfort, of hope, and of relief.  We finally have some good news and good news that endures and that the world cannot overcome.

So as the bad news cycle churns on we hold tight to the promises given to us by the Good News Himself, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Texts for Reading: Isaiah 61: 1-11; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Prayer:

Dear Lord, as we pray for all those facing bad news of any kind we give you thanks for the Good News we receive through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Empower us with the same Spirit given to Isaiah and Jesus to also go out and proclaim your Good News through Jesus in whose name we pray.  Amen.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

The Fourth Sunday in Advent

From Pastor Adam Morton

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

It is worth wondering for a moment why we still tell this story. In fact, it’s perfectly possible to tell Jesus’ story without talking about his conception, or his birth – both Mark and John do that in their two Gospels, and do a fine job of it. Luke begins differently, before Jesus was even conceived, and he focuses on Mary, whose situation seems so unlike our own.

Some say the story was told to show that Jesus is God, but it isn’t clear that it actually does this (the angel says that the child will be holy, and called Son of God, but not that the child is really divine), or that it is needed for that. In the rest of the New Testament, it is Jesus’ resurrection, not his birth, that shows him to be the Lord. So, again, why this story?

The angel says to Mary, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you,” and by this simple message, something entirely new enters her world and her womb. That word “favored” indicates the grace of God. Jesus is conceived in her by grace, in the form of a promise from the angel, and Mary responds in faith. However strange to us the details of her life might be, here Mary is a picture of Christian faith and life for all of us. She hears a simple message of the Lord’s favor, and so Christ is given to her by faith. Nothing more is necessary. She has nothing else to go on – no obvious sign, no proof that this is really God’s favor – but she has God’s own Word to her, and in time, that Word will emerge to be seen by her and by all the world, and she will call him Jesus. Amen.

Texts for Reading: 2 Samuel 7: 11-16; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38

Prayer:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. With your abundant grace and might, free us from the sin that would obstruct your mercy, that willingly we may bear your redeeming love to all the world, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


December 25, 2017

Christmas Day

From Robert Horton

The little town was anything but still.  No deep and dreamless sleep, no silent stars going by.  Joseph and Mary are fugitives.  Exhausted, bankrupt, and now with an infant in tow, they pulled up stakes and flee for Egypt.  In their wake, the little town of Bethlehem is visited with screaming carnage:  A king is afraid.  Afraid at the birth of a child.

Children are scary.  They are never fully under our control and, in their innocence, they demand an accounting of things we are ashamed to explain.  They force us to confront what we already know is true: That the world has sold us lies and we’ve bought them.  Worst, children force us to ponder our mortality, that everything we have built will come to an end and that future generations will look back upon us with benign amusement.

King Herod was in his 70s when Jesus was born.  All of this was the last thing he wanted to ponder.  Surrounded by riches, Herod had the high priests wrapped around his little finger.  But Jesus of Nazareth?  He was going to crash a hammer into the pseudo religious games that kept Herod and his high priests in power.  This child had to die.

Herod himself died four years later and his temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. but his spirit is still very much alive today.  It survives wherever adults look at children as a threat.   It survives in gender-selective family planning, in China’s one-child policy, in honor killings, and it survives in the promiscuity of our age, where children are described as punishment for those who have played the game of recreational sex and lost.  All of this comes down to fear:  Fear of losing control, of seeing our imperfections exposed, or of knowing that the world will keep turning after we die…the same fear that drove Herod to send troops into Bethlehem.

But the good news of the incarnation is this:  In God, our fears are overcome: Mary was afraid.  Joseph was afraid to keep Mary for his wife.  The shepherds were sore afraid.  And still, Jesus, Son of the most high, came to such as these.  This is why we can sing and say with confidence, “Death, where is thy sting?” even as we are surrounded by the spirit of Herod and all its fearful evil.  We lay our fears at the feet of a young child on the run in Egypt who would ultimately bear the totality of human sin in death on a cross.  And it through faith in this child that we can say with assurance, “Be not afraid.”

Texts for Reading: Isaiah 62: 6-12; Titus 3: 4-7; Luke 2: 1-20

Prayer:

All powerful and unseen God, the coming of your light into our world has brightened weary hearts with peace. Call us out of darkness, and empower us to proclaim the birth of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.