Advent Devotion 21

Prayer of Thanksgiving

By Ranti Adenijo

 

Psalm 138

I will praise You with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praises to You.

I will worship toward Your holy temple, and praise Your name for Your loving kindness and for Your truth: for You hast magnified Your word above all Your name.

In the day when I cried You answered me, and made me bold with strength in my soul.

All the kings of the earth shall praise You, O Lord, when they hear the words of Your mouth.

Yes, they shall sing of the ways of the Lord: for great is the glory of the Lord.

Though the Lord is on high, yet He regarded the lowly: but the proud he knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me: You will stretch out Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.

The Lord will perfect that which concerns me: Your mercy, O Lord, endures for ever: do not forsake the works of Your hands.

 

It is a good thing to thank God all the time for what He has done and for all that He shall continue to do in your life; but if you don’t know how to think deeply about His daily benefits in your life, you may not know how to give quality thanks to Him. If you fail to give Him praise and thanksgiving, you may not experience His goodness in full. You can give thanks to Him by singing, jumping, dancing, and rolling wisely on the ground. As you do so, you are showing to Him that you appreciate His goodness and that He owns your life.

 

The above Psalm will be helpful to you as you begin to thank God before you start to ask anything from Him.

 

God, Give us thankful hearts. Amen

Advent Devotion 20

Church Hats

By Dorothy Spurr

 

Acts 2:44   All who believed were together and had all things in common.

Much like First Century Christians we at Crescent Hill meet often, get to know each other, take meals together with “glad and generous hearts,” and share. That’s how I came to be blessed with the vintage hats I call my “Taylor Collection.” 

Some of you may have noticed that I sometimes wear a hat to Sunday Morning Worship. ( I grew up in the 1930’s and 40’s, when a lady always wore a hat in public; it was absolutely mandatory in church!)  In the Spring I am often asked, “Is that your Derby hat?”  I reply, “No, it is my church hat.”

So this last Summer, when Diane and Rae Taylor were clearing out his parents’ house, they asked if I would like to see if I could use any of Rae’s mother’s hats.  I could hardly wait.  When I went to view them I found a large array spread out on chairs in the living room, and on beds in the bedrooms.  There were hats of finest quality, some, I would guess, as much as 60 years old; winter ones of 100% wool felt, real feathers, veiling and ribbon, all made in the USA. I could only take a few hats since my apartment has little storage space; choosing was difficult. I learned that Mrs. Taylor was an art teacher, and obviously a woman of taste and refinement.  I asked Rae if they were church hats.  He said, “Oh yes, she certainly wore them to church.”

When I first saw them I told Rae that if he took the hats to a vintage shop he could sell them for a nice sum.  He graciously replied, “We would rather give them to someone we could see wear and enjoy them.”  

Father, help us not to neglect gathering together, learning about each other, and sharing our lives and possessions.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 19

Joy!

By Glen Skaggs

 

Luke 1:13-14   But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechari′ah,… you will have joy and gladness,…”

Luke 1:28-30  And he [Gabriel] came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one,…” And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God…

Luke 2:10  And the angel said to them [the shepherds], “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy …” (RSV)

These three passages in the story about the birth of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke each contain the word “afraid” but only the first and last contain the word “joy.”

Zechari′ah was doing his duty as a priest in the Temple.  He probably was not thinking about why he and Elizabeth didn’t have any children, though he probably had prayed about it in the past.  Suddenly an angel tells him his wife will have a child.  He was incredulous, but quickly believed when the angel told Zechari′ah who he was.  Zechari′ah was left speechless but had joy and gladness.

While the passage related to Mary doesn’t have the word “joy”, it does use the word “hail.” Some translators think a better word is “Rejoice” with its connection to the term “favored one” (TDNT, vol. 9, p. 367, line 7).  This form of greeting is used only in connection with divine grace (TDNT, vol. 9, p. 393, line 11).  This is the kind of joy that continued for Mary during the ministry of Jesus (IDB, 1962, vol. K-Q, p. 292). 

Shepherds had a hard life because they had to work out in the fields and into the night.  They watched over their flocks so they would not be stolen or marauded.  They were “socially despised and economical depressed” (BBC, vol. 9, p.29).  The shepherds provide a model for the ministry of Jesus. 

Each of these passages provides a way to interpret or to receive and be blessed by joy.  You must be diligent in the duties of your faith, expectant that there will be a good outcome, and intentional in your efforts.

Gracious Lord, we thank you for your steadfastness of always being there for us and the grace and care you provide us. Amen

Advent Devotion 18

The Force

By John Arnett

 

 

John 1:1  In the beginning was the Word:  the Word was with God and the Word was God.

One cosmology theory holds that there have been an endless number of “big bangs” with subsequent expansions and contractions of the various universes formed.

By faith we hold that the “Word” or “Force” (to use the Star Wars imagery) has been present in all of these cycles.  In our particular universe the “Force” encourages “Life” (with all its naturally selected diversity) and “Love” (as the key to our species’ survival).

When Jesus entered the world over 2000 years ago the “Word became Flesh” and the “Force” made itself known and “personalized” in the human image of the “Father-Son” relationship.  Through the mystery of Jesus’ incarnation and death we become children of God and eternal advocates of the “Force.”

 

May the Force be with you. Amen.

Advent Devotion 17

Preparing For Company

By Gail Tucker

 

Matthew 3:1-3In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near."  This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah: "A voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him."  (NIV)

The word "Advent" means coming in Latin and we spend this time of the year reflecting on the coming of Jesus into the world and the coming of Jesus into our lives. To truly experience Advent, preparation of our hearts and minds is needed.

This joyous season of the year often includes the coming of friends and family into our homes. That type of "coming" requires a different type of preparation.

For me, my thoughts turn to cleaning, decorating the house and preparing food. My least favorite of those three things is cleaning. While I had a friend years ago that talked about how she had a system of cleaning a room or two each week resulting in an always clean house and never being overwhelmed. I must confess, I have no such system!

I wait until "my days are numbered" and begin the cleaning tasks. Of course, it doesn't all get done and then there is the frantic "stuffing" of items in places where they won't be seen! (No, I won't tell you where!) But that technique means when the company leaves, the items have to be retrieved and dealt with again.

My cleaning technique is not unlike the way we deal (or don't deal) with spiritual issues that could produce growth and more Christ-like qualities.   It takes some preparation for the Lord to come into our lives and homes.  John proposed repentance or cleaning up/turning away from messes in our lives.  As we hustle about to prepare our homes for guests, let us remember who the most special guest of this season truly is and make preparations for His coming.

Dear Lord, help us to be prepared for your coming.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 16

Fire Truck

By Jason Crosby

 

Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

When you have small children, sometimes you just have to get out of the house. A few years ago following a December weeknight dinner, the Crosby family needed to do just that. We decided that night to drive around our neighborhood to check out the Christmas lights. We slowly wound our way through the streets enjoying the familiar displays – lights wrapped around trees and strung along rooflines, glowing Santas and reindeer, wreaths, and nativity sets. As we turned onto another street, we saw something unusual up in the distance. A fire truck seemed to be parked up ahead. Its lights brightly spun. People were gathered around it. “Uh-oh,” we told one another. “I’m afraid a home is on fire.” We drove closer to investigate the matter. As we neared, we did not see or smell any smoke. The look on people’s faces was not one of concern, but of delight. “What is going on here?” we wondered. “Look on top of the fire truck,” my wife said. Lo and behold, atop the truck stood Santa, smiling and waving.

We are living in a heated moment. Our national discourse is fiery. Many of us are feeling burned by hateful comments and acts. Our natural impulse to “fight fire with fire.” There are times when we must turn up the heat. However, we must be cautious not to let the fire that burns within us become so heated that we burn ourselves. As Shakespeare put it, “Heat not a furnace for your foe so hot that it do singe yourself.”

In these days, when it is so easy for the flames within us to become overheated, may we continue to do good deeds that provide light in our world. May we speak out boldly for love and justice for all people in dignified, appropriate ways, as well as concentrate on doinggood to all people. May we not just give off heat, but bring forth light that will lead us toward a brighter tomorrow. That December night we feared that we would see a burning hot fire destroying someone’s home. What we ended up seeing was bright light and Santa Claus, which made us smile from ear to ear. Don’t forget the power of light.

 

Thank you, O Lord, that you have blessed us with the opportunity to let our lights shine through our deeds of goodness.  Amen.

 

Advent Devotion 15

Campfires

By Brittani Bair

 

Leviticus 6:13   The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out. 

There is something primal and gratifying about creating fire, particularly campfires in the fall. As the leaves ignite into orange and red, the autumn season brings all nature into glorious flame and the cool air dares us to collect some dry wood and strike up a conversation with the elements.

 

Fire speaks a language. I have not yet decoded enough of the syntax to speak back to it in its native tongue, but I hear in the crackling a message that challenges me to be more fully alive. The best response I have been able to muster is to gather a group of young people to sit around it in a circle and sing about the Kingdom of God and to poke at it with marshmallows. Then after we have sung and eaten, we pour a bucket of water from the nearby lake over the flames and bid farewell. I usually insist on witnessing the extinguishing of the flames on our youth retreats. But this year the group was not done enjoying the campfire when I was needed back in my cabin to tend to my infant. I left three of our more responsible college students to tend to the fire and I returned an hour later. I found a group still gathered, cozy around the fire, telling stories. I had come to make sure the flames were out, but I found myself unable to call an end to the gathering. I told the chaperones to make sure to have campers back inside by 9:30, and I ventured back into the darkness toward my baby. As I made my way away from the circle, I questioned myself as to why I was so compelled to let the fire continue burning. I sensed as I left that cozy circle that I was leaving the presence of a presence beyond myself, as if there were more people gathered around that fire than I could see with my eyes, that at the edge of the light there were gatherings taking place that I dare not cut short between old friends, hallowed saints, and ghosts of youth groups past. I felt like I'd be sending them all to bed early and couldn't bring myself to shut down the reunion. So the fire burned on into the night, adding a layer of memories to the memories that seemed to have been ignited by those flames, year after year, ghost upon hallowed ghost, speaking on into the fire.

 

God of life, as the Advent candles burn, ignite our hearts with hope, peace, joy, and love. Kindle within us an altar fire that never goes out. Amen.

Advent Devotion 14

God Has GOT This!

By Anne-Britton Arnett

 

Jeremiah 29:11   For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.

 

Morgan and I had the opportunity to hear Christine Caine in September at a Joyce Meyer conference.  She was very high energy, which Morgan loved, and had some fantastic insights.  In this time of uncertainty, with the change in leadership of our country, she shared an amazing point of view that I thought would be good for all of us as Christians to reflect upon.  To paraphrase what she said:  Do you think God is up in heaven saying, “Oh my – what will happen to us?  Look at the United States of America!  What are they doing with their election??  O-M-Me!!!!”  (I love that humor.)  She continued, saying:  No – of course not!  God has GOT this.  His plan is bigger than our plan, and we need to learn to trust Him.

Let us all to continue to pray Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”

The plans HE has in mind are bigger than us!  He has amazing plans in mind for each of us, during the Advent season and continuing on into 2017.  I’m so excited to see the path He has laid out for each and every one of us.

Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for continuing to hold us in the palm of Your hand.  We know that your eye is on the sparrow, so how much more do You have in store for us!  Continue to give us strength and hope in our times of doubt and fear. Amen.

Advent Devotion 13

The Prairie

By John Birkimer

 

 

Matthew 25:35  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.  (NRSV)

A pleasant woman’s voice on my phone: “Sir, I hope you haven’t started yet. We are short some staff and won’t be able to do any tours today.” Me: “Well, we’re already on our way so we’ll come on out and just look around.” We had driven to Kansas City the night before and were on our way to visit the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Flint Hills region of Kansas, north of Strong City. I had signed up for a bus tour but this message seemed to cancel that plan. My wife, Sharleen, had grown up on the prairie of North Dakota and had seen tall grass before; I had not but wanted to and wanted her to see this, one of the few remaining tracts of the original tall grass ecosystem that once covered so much of the Great Plains.

Upon arriving we entered the visitors’ center and were greeted by a youngish woman ranger. She asked if we were the Birkimers and when we agreed she said “We’ll be able to do a tour after all. I arranged with another worker to cover here for me so we can go in a little while.” We thanked her with great appreciation. A second couple shortly joined us and the five of us were soon riding across the prairie, listening to her story of the origins of the Preserve and watching small herds of bison in a distant field and cattle in another. When the bus stopped, the deep silence was broken only by the infrequent call of a bird. We left the Preserve after more thanks to this generous ranger. We had been strangers and she had welcomed us.

Lord, help us to always welcome the stranger, and to show gratitude when we as strangers are welcomed. Amen.

Advent Devotion 12

What the Wise Men Forgot

By Quinn Chipley

 

Luke 1:41-42And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” 

 

I was a conservative child with a stubborn aesthetic. When the Sears Christmas catalog came, I was struck more starry-eyed over the lights and ornaments than by the toys and candy. The Christmas colors in my palette matched a fantasy shaped by Alps and fjords:  Spruce greens, holly-berry reds, midnight blues, and snowy whites.  I dismissed the faux boxwood wreaths -- stuck with the travesties of lemons, oranges, and grapes -- as the peculiar error of miscreants. These Della Robbia dalliances kept too-close-company with that lady who floats with her infant in a vaporous shell of robin-egg blue. Some folks just cannot keep Christmas and Easter crayons properly apart.

 

But here it is in Luke. “Blessed is the fruit.” Fruit must ripen. It cannot be rushed. I too can grow.

 

Prayer:

                                                “All this was a long time ago, I remember,

                                                And I would do it again, but set down

                                                This set down

                                                This.” --- T.S. Eliot, The Journey of the Magi

 

What the Wise Men Forgot

 

After all that taxing travel, for her

to find no inn at the end of the trail

in labor, left-hand kneading doughy ankles,

the right cupping a spine skewered on pain,

 

she surely must have welcomed that last turn

of her travail,  now matured in spasm

strong enough to expel a mewling head

amid indifferent asses and manure,

 

a place where blood and afterbirth clot straw

and dirt to taunt her magnificent plot:

fierce song of toppled thrones, the hungry fed,

the poor avenged, comeuppance for the rich.

“Later for all that,” she thought. “Words must wait

for my flesh to heal and for his to grow.”  Amen.

Advent Devotion 11

Love in a Plain Brown Wrapper

By Mera Corlett

 

Nehemiah 8:10   Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

 

An apple. An orange. A candy bar.  At nighttime worship on the Sundaybefore Christmas, those were the benediction after all the churchy things were over. There’d been angels donning tinsel haloes, shepherds in bathrobes bathed in candlelight as a narrator told the biblical story “by heart.” There’d be carols picked out on an old upright piano. Sunday School classes had drawn names weeks earlier. Just after they’d been handed out, there’d be jingle bells outside the church doors. Enter: Santa Claus! He’d hand out plain, brown-paper sacks to every child of God. It was said in hushed tones that some member of the congregation provided those sacks. Imagine! Someone in our little country church with enough money to see no one went away empty! I speculated it must have been a wealthy farm owner. When I reached the age of accountability regarding Santa, I learned “Miss” Fannye Wallace, one-room-school-teacher who later became elementary principal, was behind those sacks. (She was also the church superintendent, a pretty extraordinary thing for a woman in the 1960s.) Why, “Miss” Fannye wasn’t rich by any stretch of the imagination!  She just loved God, loved children (of all ages) and gave from her heart.

 

I was brought up to believe true wealth was measured in generosity. Gifts given, however humble, were reminders of the best Gift ever given.  That plain-brown wrapper was metaphor for a straw strewn manger. The fruit and candy bar were bounty found in the bottom of the bag.  This season, surrounded by della Robbia, may we be reminded of the bounty of God’s love. May we give and receive in the Spirit of graciousness. And, may we ponder the mystery that multiplies the beneficence found in an apple, an orange, a candy bar, and a manger.

 

Gracious and Generous God, Teach us to be more and more like You. Amen.

Advent Devotion 10

No Fear in Love

By Eugina Robertson

 

I John 4:18    There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out all fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

 

Last year during Advent, after reading about seeing the world like a child hanging upside down from monkey bars, I had an interesting conversation about how most children today don't even get that experience. Many playgrounds, including the one at the daycare where I work  had them removed because they were too dangerous.  I also noticed that some other playground equipment that I loved as a child had also been deemed too dangerous, such as the small merry go rounds and teeter totters. Even some of the children at the daycare have complained, there is nothing to do on the playground but swing and that gets boring after a while . 

 

 I find it sad that children are growing up without the opportunities to explore the world from different perspectives and new ways.  That was the fun of playing as a child that when you grow up you can remember fondly because you will never have that same freedom to play as when you are a child. I understand the adult fears of keeping our children safe but at what cost. Wes Moore has often quoted his younger sister who said, "To me hell would be God showing me all the things I could have accomplished if I had only tried."

 

I pray that perfect love will cast out all fear, so we will not be afraid to try. Amen.

Advent Devotion 9

The Waiting Responsible Father

By L. Lee Whitlock

 

Luke 12:32  Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

 

The Greek word for “flock”, ποίμνιον (poimnion), appears just five times in the New Testament (Luke 12:32, Acts 20:28,29, 1 Peter 5:2,3). It is a word that a grandfather might have used addressing his grandchildren. It was also used for Christ’s disciples.  I understand the sentiment. When Jenny and Cortney were babies, I could discern their different cries: Feed me; Change me; Pay Attention to Me. I loved all three. My favorite was the latter, especially late at night. I would pick them up, pat their backs, and they would nestle their heads between my neck and shoulder.

Bill Thomason in his wonderful book Real Life Real Faith notes: “G-d simply wants us, sins and all….” (59) Indeed! G-d wants to give us, His children, His flock, all that He has. For all of my daughters’ cries, it was my good pleasure to give them the same. Bill makes a startling claim: it is G-d’s responsibility to do so! He is not responsible because He has to be, He is responsible because He wants to be.  We know our responsibilities as Christians, but as Bill points out G-d is the Loving Father, and like all loving earthly parents, it is our responsibility to love, nurture, and provide for our children. Remember the Prodigal? The Good Father waits, looking into the distance, for the son to come home so He can give him good gifts: robe, ring, fatted calf, party! That’s Father Love. At every juncture, victories and defeats, when I began returning from the Far Country of sin, G-d has been waiting for me holding out all the good graces that my Father who art in heaven wanted me to have. He is always at the edge of His Kingdom, eyes toward the distance, waiting to give us His Kingdom.

Dear Lord and Father of mankind, thank You for being our responsible Parent. Thank you for hearing and answering our cries. We were hungry, and You fed us: thirsty for the Living Water, and You gave us drink; naked in our sinful ways, and You clothed us with forgiveness; sick, and You comforted us; prisoners to our addictions, and You released us. Most of all, we were strangers to Your Kingdom, and you invited us to come in and be sons and daughters and inherit the gifts of the Kingdom, and found joy in the fact that it was Your good pleasure to do all of these things. In the name of Our Father, as sons and daughters of the Kingdom, we give You Thanks. Amen.

Advent Devotion 8

Two Sides of the Same Cloth

By Kevin Corlett

 

John 3:16   For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only Child, so that everyone who believes in that Child may not perish but may have eternal life.

 

Matthew 2:11  … and when they had opened their treasures, they presented the child gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

On Friday nights when I was twelve, I would watch the television show, Kung Fu.  I found the teachings of the Shaolin masters to be interesting and, sometimes, applicable to parts of my life.  I was attracted to Caine’s pursuit of peace and his desire to follow this path.  Each week, he would help those he met on his journey.  Recently, I discovered that the show is back on cable TV at two in the morning.  In the early hours one morning, I watched an episode that focused on serving others and being served by them.  After teaching young Caine about service through the example of serving Caine and being served by Caine, the master wrapped the lesson up with this statement: “Serving and being served are two folds on the same cloth.”

I confess I always seemed to get the message about serving; however, I have often had difficulty being served by others.  The message I received from my parents was to not depend on others, to rely solely on myself in order to avoid being let down or manipulated.  I am still trying to unlearn that message.  When I saw this Kung Fu episode, I started to think about who exemplifies both sides of service and thought about Jesus. 

Christ provides the full example of service throughout his life.  As an infant, just as when we were infants, he needed nurturance.  The story of the magi is a clear example of persons gifting Jesus.  Later, as he moved closer and closer to the cross, he allowed his disciples to serve him.  Mary’s extravagance in washing his feet is only one instance.  Giving and receiving are important elements of this and all seasons. I realize if I do not allow or ask for help, I am denying the very joy to others that I feel when I am of service. 

    

Most Holy Jesus, In this season as we celebrate your birth, let us remember you came as servant to a world in need.  May we claim the truth in knowing that serving and being served are two folds of the same cloth.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 7

The Natal Cross

By Dale Tucker

 

Matthew 2:2 Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.

Colossians 1:19-20 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him and through him to reconcile to himself all things whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Above the choir stands an important symbol of the Christian faith.  Actually it is two symbols--the star and the cross--combined into one prophetic symbol.  The wise men from the east are seeking the King of the Jews who has been born and they have come to worship him.   What happened afterwards must have been confusing to many people.  These astrologers see a sign of importance and promise and follow it, probably thinking to see an infant king living in a palace but they end up at a humble house in a backwater town. (Don't confuse the shepherds finding him in a manger with this which happened later) And then they are warned to return another way to their homes.  Herod sought a potential threat and tried to eliminate it.   During this Advent season, we also recognize the promise of the star--He is coming!  We say "Wise men still seek him." 

But, of course, there is more to the symbol and the story.  We would not be in this church without both the birth symbolized by the star and Christ's death symbolized by the cross.   His death and its meaning are also confusing.  Why would a father send his son to die for others?  Of course we have seen that when sons go off to war and we see afterwards the pride and the sorrow of parents whose child has paid the "ultimate price."   We can reflect upon what was going through the minds of the Father and the Son, not to mention mother Mary.  But the death of one human (yet God's son) that covers the guilt of all present and future sinners.   Even we in the church still try to wrap our heads around that mystery.

Promise and sacrifice all in one symbol.  Yes, we are waiting for His birth during this time, but we are aware of the rest of the story and what it means to those who follow Him.

May we always reflect on both the promise and the sacrifice and how this has changed the lives of millions through the years.  Let us be like the magi from the east and seek Him.  Amen.

Advent Devotion 6

Mourning and Dancing

By Brittani Bair

 

Ecclesiastes 3:4  A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.

At 2:30 am the morning of November 9th, 2016 I turned off the Live CNN Election Results and cried myself to sleep. In the morning I realized I had held out hope longer than many. In fact, it still bothers me as I write this, that six precincts in Philadelphia have not reported and Michigan is only at 96%.

 

For some in our country, in our churches, and in our families, November 9th was a time to laugh and dance for joy. But for me, November 9th was a day to weep. Not only did the election not go as I had hoped, but a longtime pillar on our congregation, Tom Sherwood passed away on Election Day. 

 

As I sat through Tom's funeral the following Saturday morning, it occurred to me how much I had been needing to grieve the events of the week. I needed to grieve not only the passing of such a kind and gentle person from our midst; who greeted me on Sunday mornings coming from youth Sunday school in the West tower to worship in the Sanctuary and handed me nearly 1000 church bulletins over the years; but I needed to grieve the other events of November 8th as well.

 

I pondered what it would be like to observe a funeral service for the dreams I'd been dreaming of for a woman as President of the United States, for better healthcare, for solace for refugees, for cleaner air and water and all the things I'd hoped Hillary would bring if elected. I felt truly blessed by Tom's funeral, which was a beautiful celebration of a life well-lived and also an opportunity to cry into my sleeve when Bill Johnson talked about Tom Sherwood handing out bulletins in that "second balcony" above.

 

As we move into Advent, a time of waiting for the Christ-child, let us take time to weep for what needs to be mourned, and dance for what needs to be celebrated. Let us prepare to fight when it is time to defend others and embrace our fellow Americans when it is time to come together. Let us give a handshake and a word of welcome at the door when it is time to enter worship. And when Christmas finally arrives, may we be prepared to welcome Jesus into our hearts anew.

 

God of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love, grant us each of these blessings during this time of Advent waiting. May this time ready us to be transformed by the baby in the manger. Amen.

Advent Devotion 5

Hoping for the Best

By Eugina Robertson


Hebrews 11:1    Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

 

In an interview with Wes Moore, talking about his book; The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates, he was shocked to discover that this other Wes Moore not only shared the same name but also lived in the same neighborhood as a child. This other Wes Moore, however, ended up in prison for armed robbery and murder. The author Wes Moore had a very different life as a college graduate and Rhodes scholar. He asked the other Wes Moore why their lives had taken such different paths, supposing perhaps we are simply products of our environment, since the author Wes Moore had moved out of the rough neighborhood as a teenager.  The prisoner said, we were not products of our environment but products of our expectations. The prisoner Wes Moore was told he would never amount to much as a young black man in a rough neighborhood, while the author Wes Moore, who is also black, was always told we expect you to go to college and do great things and be successful. "The tragedy, was not that we both did not live up to expectations but that we both did," said the prisoner Wes Moore.

 

Father, I pray, that the expectations of the hope of a Messiah during this Advent also remind us of the expectations you have for us. For you give us hope. Amen.

Advent Devotion 4

God Sees

By Bobbe Crouch

 

Mark 11:24    Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

 

The darkest periods of my life have always been the most hope-filled. I can't pinpoint who taught me this or when, as I cannot recall a time this wasn't in my heart. The times I have been face down on the pavement of life, I've always had one eye focused on the love of God and the Blessing that's surely on the way.  

These are the times my heart whispers to me, "God will heal this. God sees you. God sees!"

I believe the Almighty does see, hear and feel everything I go through on this earth. Being the loving father He is to me; He waits for me to find the lesson of the experience; and when I do, He sends His grace.

That being said, it's a dark time for me right now. For days I've been up at five am succumbing to tears and lamentations. It's so hard to find the hope in a situation that keeps replaying itself in the exact same manner year after year. I keep telling myself, "God sees", yet for the moment, it isn't bringing me any resolution.

I do not know what to do in order to fix this. I don't know that it can be fixed. I know perfectly well that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again expecting a different result. However, in this case, I am not the one repeating the same action and I already feel I have tried every possible approach.

Still in all, I keep one eye open, knowing unequivocally that through every single period of darkness in my life, God has revealed Himself to me in miraculous ways.

And so I will pray again, believing God will heal this situation, and He will.

Dear God:

I can't. You can. Please Do.

Thank you in advance.

I love you.

Amen.

Advent Devotion 3

Jacob and Us at the Jabbok

By L. Lee Whitlock

 

Genesis 32:26  Then he [Jacob] said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’

 

Jacob’s question saved my life. Saturday after Thanksgiving 1994, I faced the most extraordinary battle of my life. I was powerless. Early in my life, I became obsessed with Jacob’s Angel (G-d?)? Who believes in Angels? If they exist, why would you fight one? When I was a little boy, I wondered what I would do if I encountered an angel. I imagined that I would say, “Hello, Mr. Angel, what are you doing here?” Maturity and a theological education changed my approach, but the concept of Deity struggling never left.

 

On that November 5th, a friend suggested I talk with a Jesuit trained priest who lived in Washington, DC. He belonged to a chapter of a worldwide organization of which I was a member. I called him, left a message. Within half an hour, he called me. My fellowship of 22 years is like that. Members reach out quickly. I told him of my “Jacob at the Jabbok.” I ended my part of the conversation by saying, “Jacob was lucky. He walked away having received a limp and a new name, ‘Israel’. I’m still struggling. I feel like I’ve been in a bar fight my whole life. I’m beaten, bloody, bruised and battered from the tips of my toes to the top of my head. I demanded of this disguised G-d, ‘I’ll not let you go unless you bless me.’” I began to cry. After a few moments of holy silence, my Jesuit brother said, “Ah, but you ought to see the other Guy!”

 

I got it. Grace happened. The rest of the story, the part that the redactor left out was why this Angel stayed in the struggle. I heard the Angel saying, “I’ll not let you go until you accept my blessing.” I got it. Grace happened. I accepted grace. I read where a physician said, “Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.” We do not just accept that we will face difficult problems at any time; it also means that we have to accept that G-d is in the fight with us.

 

Jesus, you said, “Come unto me all you that labor, that struggle, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We heard, “Wanna fight?” You said, “I will and I will stay in the struggle as long as it takes for you to receive My blessing. I want you just as you are, without one plea. My blood has already been shed for you. In the wonderful revival hymn, we hear the refrain six times “O Lamb of G-d, I come, I come.” We feel the urgency to come to You, and we learn slowly that You will continue to struggle with You until we come and receive Your welcome, Your pardon, Your cleansing, and Your relief. You have broken every barrier down. O Lamb of G-d, we come, we come. Amen.