Advent Devotional: Dec. 15, 2019

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed

by Rob Yongue
December 15, 2019

Read Psalm 72
Psalm 72: 1-2 (NLT)
Give your love of justice to the king, O God, and righteousness to the king’s son.
Help him judge your people in the right way; let the poor always be treated fairly.

James Montgomery (1771-1854) began writing poetry when he was 10 years old. Like John Wesley, he was inspired by the hymns of the Moravians. Montgomery was raised from the age of six in a boy’s boarding school while his parents served as missionaries to the West Indies. He flunked out of school when he turned 14 but was working at a radical weekly newspaper, The Sheffield Register, by the time he was 21. He took over leadership of the paper when the previous editor fled the country fearing persecution for his politics. Montgomery changed the name of the paper to The Iris and served over 30 years as editor. He was a tireless supporter of social justice and was even jailed twice for his radical views. He used his time in prison to write poetry.

Montgomery wrote “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” in 1821 as a paraphrase of Psalm 72, a well-known prophecy of the coming Messiah. It is also a prayer, in which the psalmist petitions God to grant justice and righteousness to the King…perhaps the newly crowned earthly king of Israel, but also the anticipated heavenly king. Montgomery’s poem captures the very essence of that prayer. It is paired with the hymn tune ELLACOMBE (Hosanna, Loud Hosanna, O Church of God United) in the United Methodist Church hymnal, but other denominations use different melodies. It is a perfect hymn to sing during Advent. Though it was based off of a psalm that foretold the first coming of the Messiah, we can now sing these words as we look forward to Christ’s second coming.

For a completely different take on this hymn, you should listen to a version recorded by the husband/wife Indie Folk duo known as The Welcome Wagon. It was arranged and produced by Sufjan Stevens: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUbXRMaocQI

Prayer: We praise you Lord God of Israel. You alone do such wonderful things. We will praise your glorious name forever! Let the whole earth be filled with your glory. Amen and amen!

Advent Devotional: Dec. 14, 2019

Relish the Waiting

by Joshua King
December 14, 2019

Isaiah 40:8 (NRSV): The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.

It feels appropriate to think about divine, apocalyptic transformations during Advent. We’re preparing for one of the Church’s two universe-shaking transformations: the birth of Christ, celebrated in the dead of winter, when the dark backyard at 6 p.m. can feel downright apocalyptic. This is just the time, then, to remind ourselves of Isaiah’s reminder. Everything ends. We wait for the yard to turn brown, the garden to die back, for the light to fade earlier and earlier. But there’s something after that ending. If we wait patiently, we experience the transformation of apocalypse to rebirth. We experience Christmas.

So as I go into this week, just a week and a half before Christmas, I’m working to see the familiar as something in the process of transformation. It’s not dead grass; it’s grass that’s waiting for renewal. The flowers are gone now, but they’ll push up through the ground again in spring. The lights and garlands, trees and wrapped presents all speak to waiting. Our Christmas decorations turn the rooms in our houses into spaces for glorious waiting: why wrap presents if not to enjoy the anticipation?

Christmas helps us not only bear, but relish the wait. It reminds us that even in the cold dark winter, the word of God is waiting for us, and the Word of God, Jesus Christ, arrives to bring us out of waiting into grace.

Dear God, help us be eager in our waiting. Help us see our world as a place in the process of becoming, and help us celebrate with Jesus when our long winter wait is over.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 13, 2019

Waiting

by Carla Dennis

Psalm 40:1 (The Message)
I waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked; finally he listened.

Are we there yet? When will dinner be ready? As a child, my dad would frequently remind me that “patience is a virtue,” and I would usually snap back, “a virtue I don’t have!” 

Having patience when you’re waiting is not easy. The other evening our family was waiting for Matthew’s 3rd grade production of the Nutcracker to begin, and I was asked three times about when the play was going to start (of course, after about song number six that same person also asked me when the play was going to end). 

As I reflect on this year’s Advent them waiting with purpose, the concept of waiting seems contradictory to all of the hustle and bustle happening in preparation for the holidays. At work, people are rushing through end-of-the-year tasks to get to winter break. Schools have scheduled classroom parties, field trips and other events in the race to end the semester. Stores are filled with customers trying to hurry through their lists to wrap up their Christmas shopping. 

It is for those reasons that I never really saw Advent as a time of waiting. The world around me seemed way too busy this time of year, and I felt way too impatient to take a pause. It was just easier to rush through Advent to get to Christmas as if I was checking things off my list. I wanted to jump to singing carols and opening Christmas presents as if the Advent candles each Sunday served as a countdown to Christmas rather than a chance to focus on the preparation for the arrival of Jesus. 

Most people are not good at waiting. Waiting is often uncomfortable, and at times, boring. Sometimes when waiting for the unknown, fear can enter in. Patience during the waiting is often difficult because things feel out of control. It’s no wonder why we want to complain when we have to wait for things! Yet because we know God is in control, we can be patient. We can relax and we can wait because we know that God loves us. We can take time to pause during Advent to remind ourselves to prepare not just our homes for Christmas, but more importantly our hearts and our minds.

Prayer: Loving God, I appreciate that you are in control and that I can let go. Although everything around me feels so busy, I pray for the patience to wait with purpose this Advent season. Please grant me a calm and present heart to allow me to truly prepare for your coming.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 12, 2019

Trusting in God’s Faithfulness

by Adriene Bumpers
December 12, 2019

Deuteronomy 31:6
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.

A few years ago I was in a group where we were asked “what’s one thing that describes God’s character to you?” I don’t remember much else of what was shared in that conversation but I do remember one of my friends saying “faithfulness.” This stuck out to me because he then described why: In his life, time after time God’s faithfulness was affirmed and he couldn’t ignore it.

I was reminded of this experience today when I read a Henri Nouwen devotional: “The situation in our world is frightening, and many people experience deep anxieties. More than ever we will be tested in our faith. I hope and pray that the Lord will deepen our faith during these weeks of Advent and will fill us with peace and joy, which belong to his kingdom. Hope is not optimism and I pray that we will be able to live hopefully in the midst of our apocalyptic time. We have a promise and God is faithful to his promise even when we are doubtful and fearful. As Paul says “Our hope is not deceptive because the Holy Spirit has already been poured into us.” (Romans 5:5)” Henri Nouwen from You are the Beloved

Easily I can be filled with anxieties, doubt, or fear when I read the news, deal with people at work, worry about a sick kid, even spend time with family. This message and reminder was not only comforting for me, it gave me a fresh perspective on where my focus can be this season.

Prayer: Gracious and Loving God, thank you for the ways you show us your faithfulness. I pray as Henri prays, may this reminder deepen my and others faith during this Advent season. May our hearts be filled with unexplainable peace and deep joy that only comes from you. May it protect us from the ills of the world so that your light is not easily dimmed within us and might even shine through us for others. Amen

Advent Devotional: Dec. 11, 2019

Transformed in Christ

by Sean Beckwith
December 11, 2019

Read Galatians 6:14-18
Galatians 6:14 (NRSV)

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Augustine of Hippo

This was the way in which, though immortal, He was able to die; the way in which He chose to give life to mortal men: He would first share with us, and then enable us to share with Him. Of ourselves we had no power to live, nor did He of himself have the power to die. Accordingly, He affected a wonderful exchange with us: we gave Him the power to die, He will give us the power to live.

In taking upon Himself the death that He found in us, He has most faithfully promised to give us life in Him, such as we cannot have of ourselves. Brethren, let us then fearlessly acknowledge, and even openly proclaim, that Christ was crucified for us; let us confess it, not in fear but in joy, not in shame but in glory.
-Augustine of Hippo, 5th century

Prayer:
O God our God, grant us grace to desire You with a whole heart,
so that desiring You we may seek and find You;
and so finding You, may love You;
and loving You, may hate those sins which separate us from You,
for the sake of Jesus Christ.

-Anselm of Canterbury, 12th century

Advent Devotional: Dec. 10, 2019

Annunciation

by Beth Gavrilles
December 10, 2019

Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 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. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” 35 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. 36 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. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 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.

This devotional image of the annunciation is a fresco by Beato Angelico, an Italian painter of the early Renaissance who was a Dominican friar. It is painted on the wall of a monk’s cell in the monastery of San Marco in Florence as a focus for contemplation.

When I look at this image, I imagine the scene it depicts takes place just after Gabriel has delivered his startling message and Mary has accepted it. They both seem, to me, to be contemplating what has just happened and what is about to happen. The world has shifted; nothing will be the same. The scene is still and quiet. There is no extraneous detail to draw the eye, mind, and heart away from what’s important.

The figure on the left is St. Peter Martyr, and may have been the work of a student of Angelico’s, but he, like the viewer, is focused on Mary and Gabriel and what’s passing between them. The stillness is expectant; the silence is alive. With them we are waiting for what is to come.

Prayer: God, let us see the world with our hearts as we await the coming of Jesus.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 9, 2019

Stop and Smell the Cocoa

Anette & Jackie Wright
December 9, 2019

Matthew 6:30-34 (NKJV)
Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The holiday season brings so much to stress about. I wonder how I can possibly pick a gift that my godmother will want and that she hasn’t already gotten for herself. Won’t she already have it if she wants it? What do I need to know to be ready for the chemistry midterm next week? Should I sacrifice the rare family harmony to correct my uncle’s wild political incorrectness? There are meals to plan, gifts to buy and wrap, and gatherings with family and friends. We have all of these things, and more, to stress about this season. It feels like there’s so much to do and not nearly enough time to do it.

But every Christmas, we can be thankful for so much. We reflect on the season and feel blessed by all of the good times and regret the times we spent stressing when we should have just handed the stress over to God. The scripture says, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things.” Instead of worrying about what the next day will bring, we should take the time to show love to our friends and family. We should take the time to feel the intense love of God. And we should allow God’s love to carry us through each day, and this season.

This season, we should stop to ask ourselves, “Where am I in this moment?” Am I stressing about the future, regretting the past, or am I really living in the present? Am I really hearing the Christmas carols, feeling the cold wind on my nose and cheeks, and enjoying the hot cocoa as it warms me? God is trying to make us smile with these little gifts, but are we even taking the time to notice them? The kingdom of God is all around us, we only have to live in the moment to experience it.

During Advent, we can remember to be in the moments that God has given us, and enjoy the blessings of the season. When the stress takes over and we forget to appreciate God’s little, and not so little, gifts to us, we can meditate on this prayer:

A Prayer to Savor the Moment
by Rachel Wojo
Dear God,
Thank you for this exact point in time.
Sometimes I struggle to enjoy the gift of the present.
I push forward before your timing is perfect
And then feel the pain of rushing.
My spirit longs to savor the moment
While my mind scrambles to snatch the next minute.
Will you slow my heart to beat your rhythm?
Will you sync my step to mirror your tempo?
May my spirit fail to chase after the next beautiful experience
Until I’ve unwrapped the gift of right now-
The present.
Amen.

Advent Devotional: Dec. 8, 2019

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

by Rob Yongue
December 8, 2019

Read Isaiah 40:27-31

Daniel 7:13-14“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

I hate waiting. Waiting in line. Waiting for the light to turn green. Waiting for the previews to end and the movie to begin. Waiting for food to cook. Waiting for test results to come back. Waiting for the new year to begin … and then waiting for it to end. Waiting for answers. Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Sometimes the waiting is brief, but at other times the waiting can seem to go on indefinitely. But one thing is constant…I’m always longing to fast forward through the present circumstances and get to the place where the waiting is behind me.

Charles Wesley first published “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus”, in 1744. In writing this great hymn, it was his intent that people recognize the significance of Advent in the midst of the Christmas season – we commemorate the birth of Christ and express our longing for His second coming. The hymn is a prayer that begs God to be among us—a prayer and a cry of all who wait on the Lord. “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” calls out to the longing in our hearts—the deepest part of our hearts—and shares the hope of the season we are entering—God’s son has come as Savior of the world.

Although we live in a different time than Charles Wesley, the longings of people’s hearts run just as deep today. We long for security, love, relationships, meaning. We long for an end to all of our waiting. Let us open ourselves to the message of this hymn that identifies with that longing at the deepest levels of our existence. Let us all take heart in Jesus; our long expected Jesus, who has come…and who will come again!

Prayer: God, We know that Christ goes with us and before us every day, but we long for the day when we are with Him in all of the fullness and glory He will bring. We long for the day when we are with Him in a New Heaven and New Earth, when all things are made new. Amen.

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.