Advent Devotional: Dec. 7, 2019

Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room!

by Katie Calkin
December 7, 2019

The contemplative season of Advent reminds me to step back and take stock of my practices for living in the body of Christ. There is so much revealed about who God is, and how God relates to us, by Jesus coming into the world vulnerable in body and in status. And yet, we guard ourselves in many ways. It takes intention to acknowledge our repetitive thoughts and emotions, to loosen our grasp on our desires, agendas, pursuits, attempts to be in control, and surety of our own perspective. It is a humbling and gritty practice to see ourselves more clearly, to witness our connection and dependence on each other and the earth, and to be vulnerable and open to each moment as it is.

This Advent I renew my commitment to prepare him room by catching myself when I’m distracted and refocusing on the person I’m with to be present and curious about them; swimming laps to clear the stress and clutter from my brain; noticing the color of the sky, the flight of falling leaves and the feel of the air on my skin as I walk my dog; doing yoga to invite flexibility in body and mind; and sitting in silence with the coming Christ daily (yes, I am going to meditate daily during Advent!).

What are the ways that help you prepare him room?

Prayer: Living savior, help us to prepare room for you. Give us courage to be as vulnerable as a baby in a manger. Give us compassion and conviction to be connected to our sisters and brothers who are truly vulnerable. Help us make space in our minds and hearts so that we can gratefully receive you as we breathe in, and freely share you as we breathe out. Be born in us each moment with each breath. May we be in awe of this miracle! Renew and transform us this Advent so that our actions are ways that you come into the world each day. Amen.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 6, 2019

Anticipation is Making Me Wait

by Jon Biron
December 6, 2019

Let’s begin with Galatians 5:22, the “fruits of the spirit” passage –

“But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience ( long-suffering in KJV ), kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

If asked which of those fruits is the greatest, then I suspect that many people would say “Love”. Love is first on the list. However, I suggest that the greatest fruit of the spirit is “patience”. Why? Because without patience, none of the other fruits seem truly possible – even love. (maybe especially love)

My prayers from childhood until now have always included two big requests from The Lord – wisdom and patience. I don’t think that I have received noticeable amounts of either, but the one I am truly getting impatient about is patience. If you are anything like me, then you are tired of waiting for The Lord to return. Our world is languishing from our lack of spiritual fruits, and we really need God – here, now, doing something for Christ’s sake. Advent serves to remind me of my need for patience, and that The Lord has unforeseen ways and means and times for coming.

As I was thinking about that, I recalled another passage, 2 Peter 3:9 –

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

OK, now that is a sobering sentence. Who am I to be impatient with The Lord after all the ways and circumstances in which The Lord has been patient with me?

Prayer: O Lord, help us to believe that you will come again indeed because you came before. Help us to turn our impatient waiting into patient anticipation of your promise.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 5, 2019

Waiting or Running?

by David Stanley
December 5, 2019

Read Hebrews 11:1-2 and 12:1

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12:1

This is not really an Advent passage. It was read at my wedding … which was in the spring … it is my father’s favorite, who celebrates his birthday today, December 5 … so we are at least closer to Advent there. But what do these words mean for us in a season where our church is “waiting with purpose?”

When my father’s father was a young boy, his older brother was drafted into the Second World War. Bob left for training in November 1943; the family faced the bleak prospect of Christmas without him. On Christmas Day, they opened a record instead. Like many troops, Bob recorded a holiday greeting for family. Just as his voice began to play through the speaker, Bob himself walked in the door, having received last-minute leave and traveled through an ice storm to make it home.

Still reading? You are farther in the story than Grandaddy ever got. He always started crying well before the end; Daddy, too. I cried writing it, even though my brief telling doesn’t really do it justice. I never knew Bob, but I know that story. Understanding its importance to my family means I’ve known “Uncle Bob” is part of my great cloud of witnesses for quite some time.

This Advent, we prepare to hear another story: a miracle of our faith, the story of our greatest witness, the story about a son showing up unexpectedly. In the context of that familiar tale, we find that the ordinary stories we hear everywhere remind us of the miracle. The best part? Everyone can tell the story. We are called to be witnesses to those we do not even know—like shepherds, angels, and wise men.

This is my family’s first Christmas without Grandaddy. I’d like to hear him tell that story again. Of course, I don’t have a record and he won’t walk through the door. But, as it turns out, I’ve spent the last year finding Grandaddy everywhere, and realizing that my great cloud of witnesses—our great cloud of witnesses—really is a miracle.

Maybe it is an Advent verse after all. “Running with perseverance” seems a lot like “waiting with purpose” to me.

Prayer: Dear God, when we feel bleak, help us be active: running with perseverance and waiting with purpose. Fill our clouds, reveal everyday miracles, and make us faithful witnesses.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 4, 2019

Learn to Know Christ

by Sean Beckwith
December 4, 2019

Read Philippians 2:1-11

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Philippians 2:2 (ESV)

Learn to know Christ and Him crucified.
Learn to sing to Him, and say,
“Lord Jesus, you are my righteousness, I am Your sin.
You have taken upon Yourself what is mine and given me what is Yours.
You have become what You were not,
so that I might become what I was not.”
-Martin Luther, 16th century

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Save us, we pray, from ordinary religion;
give us the peculiar grace of a peculiar people.
May we abide in Christ, may we live near to God.
-Charles Spurgeon, 19th century

Advent Devotional: Dec. 2, 2019

“Leave the Anger to God”

by Joe Dennis
Dec. 2, 2019

Habakkuk 1:1-4 (The Message)
God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen?
How many times do I have to yell, “Help! Murder! Police!” before you come to the rescue?
Why do you force me to look at evil, stare trouble in the face day after day? Anarchy and violence break out, quarrels and fights all over the place.
Law and order fall to pieces. Justice is a joke.
The wicked have the righteous hamstrung and stand justice on its head.

A former student recently posted on Facebook a link to a story showing that, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, more than 69,000 immigrant children were separated from their families over the past year. The student wrote, “How are we letting this happen?”

Joining a series of replies expressing heartbreak and outrage, I posted, “Sorry. I tried. We tried. I hope your generation can do better.”

My seemingly innocuous reply resulted in some well-deserved criticism. Another student wrote, “Wow, Joe. Way to give up.”

As someone who teaches journalism, I have to keep up with the news. Each day I’m inundated with stories about another mass shooting, more terroristic threats, governments brutally assaulting protestors, men sexually assaulting women, intentional destruction of our land and water, the President degrading a fellow citizen via a tweet, and the Supreme Court ruling against anyone who is not a rich, white, straight man.

At times, the parade of never-ending bad news elicits one of two emotions: I either get so angry that I want to punch something, or I get so beat down that I want to give up.

The little-known book of Habakkuk makes me feel like I’m not alone. Although Biblical scholars aren’t sure on the exact identity of Habakkuk, it is likely that he was a prophet around 598 BC when the Babylonians marched against Jerusalem. Habakkuk is witnessing substantial evil in his midst and cannot comprehend how God could be letting this happen. He is angry. And he wants to give up.

Habakkuk’s questioning of God does not go unanswered.

Habakkuk 1:5-10 — God’s response
Look around at the godless nations. Look long and hard. Brace yourself for a shock.
Something’s about to take place and you’re going to find it hard to believe.
I’m about to raise up Babylonians to punish you, Babylonians, fierce and ferocious —
World-conquering Babylon, grabbing up nations right and left,
A dreadful and terrible people, making up its own rules as it goes.
Their horses run like the wind, attack like bloodthirsty wolves.
A stampede of galloping horses thunders out of nowhere.
They descend like vultures circling in on carrion.
They’re out to kill – death is on their minds.
They collect victims like squirrels gathering nuts.
They mock kings, poke fun at generals, spit on forts, and leave them in the dust.

God not only hears his complaint, but doubles down on Habakkuk’s criticism of the Babylonians. What joy this must have given to Habakkuk (which he later expresses in song in chapter 3). Not only did God hear him, but God gives justification to Habakkuk’s anger. Most importantly, God closes his response by noting that the Babylonians will get what’s coming to them …

Habakkuk 1:11 
They’ll all be blown away by the wind. Brazen in sin, they call strength their god.

It’s easy to get angry, and give up hope in the wake of today’s troubles. It’s easy to plot revenge and fantasize about vigilante justice against those perpetrators of death, violence and greed. But that is beyond my human capabilities — I need to let go of anger and leave that part to God. My focus needs to be on spreading love, social justice and caring for God’s amazing creation, in any way that I possibly can. 

Prayer: God almighty, you have given us an awesome world. Although there are people intent on destroying this world, give us the strength to persist in doing the work we are called to do. Help us have faith to know that our work is making a difference, and that you will be there in the end. Amen.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 1, 2019

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel”

by Rob Yongue
Dec. 1, 2019

Read Isaiah 11

Isaiah 7:14“Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.”

The text for “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” comes from a seven verse Latin poem that dates back to the 8th century. It was used in a call and response fashion during the vespers, or evening service.

The poem came to the attention of Anglican priest and hymn writer John Mason Neale in the mid 1800s. Neale was prevented from serving in a parish due to lung disease, but he devoted much of his life to social ministry. He founded a nursing order of Anglican nuns and helped organizations that cared for orphans and young women. In his “spare time”, he translated early and medieval Greek and Latin hymns for his fellow Anglicans.

Like the original poem, Neale’s translation from 1851 contained seven stanzas; today many modern hymnals contain only four or five. Various names for the Messiah are used in each stanza to express the fulfillment of prophecy that Jesus brings. English choirmaster Thomas Helmore was the first person to pair Neale’s text with the tune Veni Emmanuel. He also is said to have added the familiar refrain “Rejoice, rejoice, Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel.”

British hymnologist J.R. Watson provides a context for the antiphons included on the second page after the hymn in our United Methodist Hymnal: “The antiphons, sometimes called the ‘O antiphons’ or ‘The Great O’s’, were designated to concentrate the mind on the coming Christmas, enriching the meaning of the Incarnation with a complex series of references from the Old and New Testaments.”

Each antiphon begins as follows:

  • Sapentia (Wisdom)
  • Adonai (Hebrew word for God)
  • Radix Jesse (stem or root of Jesse)
  • Clavis David (key of David)
  • Oriens (dayspring)
  • Rex genitium (King of the Gentiles)
  • Emmanuel

Put together, the first letter of the second word of each antiphon spells SARCORE. If read backwards, the letters form a two-word acrostic, “Ero cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.” Jesus is God with us. He has not only come in history, but he is coming again. What a reason to rejoice!

Prayer: Lord Jesus, we wait in joyful hope for you. Send us your grace this Advent season so that we can prepare for your coming. Touch our hearts with longing so that we can better love and serve you and each other. Fill us with the hope that we can be transformed by your Spirit and so help transform the world. We ask these things in the name of Jesus whose kingdom we seek. Amen.