Advent Devotional 2016

11/27/2016 – First Sunday of Advent (Hope)

Katie Becker ‘17

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

“Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming.” – Matthew 24:32

So Advent, the holy season of waiting and preparation, begins. It seems like we spent a lot of 2016 waiting. We waited with joy for the arrival of Mollie Grace Aumann. We waited with trepidation for the presidential election to be over – and many of us quickly began waiting for the next four years to be over. In my life, I’m waiting for many things – I’m simultaneously anticipating and dreading graduation, and I’m praying for news of what might be next for me.

When I was little, I found waiting for anything to be utterly unbearable, and waiting for Christmas was the worst. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to lean into the waiting – to find hope in the music, food, and togetherness of Advent. It has become my favorite liturgical season. It has also taught me a great deal about what it means to wait. In Advent, waiting is not a passive state – it’s a call to active preparation. Christmas would be pretty boring if nobody spent time shopping, baking cookies, traveling to see family, serving others, and preparing our hearts for the celebration of Christ’s birth.

The term Advent comes from a Latin word for “coming.” During Advent, we are both commemorating waiting for the first coming of Christ while anticipating the second coming. Advent reminds us that we cannot be passive while waiting,. Instead, the Gospel of Matthew tells us, we must stay alert and prepare for God to come and make the world new.

God of anticipation,
Grant us holy patience as we wait for Jesus. As we wait, help us to prepare for the coming of Your Kingdom. Fill our hearts with courage to fight for justice, grace to love one another as You have loved us, and hope for a better world to come. Amen.

11/28/2016

Zach Heater ‘17

Wesley Fellowship

Psalm 124; Genesis 8:1-19; Romans 6:1-11

Genesis 8: 1-19

For most of my childhood, I was really confused by Advent. We sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” as if we didn’t realize that God came, lived, and died in the person of Jesus 2,000 years ago. Why do we pretend like we don’t know what’s coming?

It’s true, we look forward to Christmas, but we don’t really expect to be surprised by anything. The trees go up, the Starbucks cup has a snowflake on it, and in no time we’ll be at the candlelight service welcoming Jesus into the world with “Silent Night.” We all know it’s coming…even if Advent forces us to pretend like we don’t.

But maybe we are waiting for more than just the birth of baby Jesus. It’s true, we all have a little bit of Ricky Bobby in us – “Look, I like the baby version the best!” – but we do know that the baby will grow up. He’ll become a teacher and healer, and his death on a Roman cross will kick-start the salvation of the world. That’s the big thing we’re actually waiting for: the light to conquer the darkness, love to put an end to hate, and peace to reign over war. And while that makes for some nice Christmas carols, we’ve got a lot of questions.

What does the redemption of the world look like? When will it happen? Will it actually happen, or is it just a naïve illusion? Think about the flood story. No one except for Noah’s family knew the flood was coming. One day, it was simply over. More troubling, God never told Noah what exactly would happen to them after the flood, or what the Earth would be like. God didn’t speak a single word of comfort to Noah or his family during the forty days and nights. Silence. And when the rain stops, Noah has no idea what lies beyond the ark until the raven and the dove do some reconnaissance. There are a lot of unknowns.

During Advent, we might as well be in the ark with Noah. After all, God told Noah that he would not die, and that God would establish a new covenant. Noah, like us, is expecting something big – but it’s not clear what it will look like. And surely, during the darkest days of the flood, we might doubt that it’s going to pan out. An ugly year of politics has left Americans hopelessly divided and mistrustful of one another. As the war in Syria consumed 2016, 65 million persons are displaced from their homes across the world. And, as graduation looms, I’m trying to figure out how I can help in the midst of it all.

So I’ll be honest with you. This Advent, I’m not pretending that I don’t know what’s coming. I have no idea what’s coming. I really am watching, waiting, and trying to pray:

“God, give me eyes to see and ears to hear, so that I will recognize you when I meet you. Give me hands and feet that are ready to follow you when you call, and to join you in your work. In the name Jesus Christ, whose help we need and whose coming we await, Amen.”

11/29/2016

Lukas Gschwandtner ‘18

Psalm 124; Genesis 9:1-17; Hebrews 11:32-40

Psalm 124 Reflection

In today’s world it is very easy to be fearful. We live in a world of terrorism, discrimination, and environmental destruction. This passage reminded me of a lot of my travels over the past semester spend abroad in Europe. Just last night I received an email from the Duke Global Education Office telling abroad students to take caution because of the high level of terrorist threat during the holiday season in Europe. Every plane that takes off, every city center that I am in, and every public event I attend causes a small glimmer of fear of pass over my excitement of being in Europe, then I remember my Father; my Father, the protector. My Father who saved us from being engulfed by the flood, who has helped us escape when “their anger flared against us.” This passage has helped me remember that whenever that ounce of fear appears in the back of my mind to remember that my Lord and Savior is always watching over me. I tthink that as the semester comes to an end, final exams are taken, and abroad students start returning home, that we remember that whenever we feel anxious, fearful, or uneasy, to say a prayer and remember that God is always here with us, and, in that I find peace.

Prayer for Protection

Father, I come to You today, bowing in my heart, asking for protection from the evil one. Lord, we are assailed moment by moment with images on television, the internet, books and newspapers that leave us vulnerable to sin of every kind. Surround us with Your divine hedge of protection. Encompass us round about with Your strength and Your might. Let all who take refuge in You be glad, let them ever sing for joy. And may You shelter us, that those who love Your name may exult in You. For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O LORD, You surround him favor as with a shield. (Psalm 5:11-12)

11/30/2016

Celia Kohler ‘19

Psalm 124; Isaiah 54:1-10; Matthew 24:23-35

Isaiah 54:1-10

I love this passage because it’s really a perfect example of the faith and love that backs God’s relationship with all of us—the faith and love He has to let us have the free will to stray from Him, yet always welcome us back with open arms and loving warmth. He is a sanctuary amongst the shame and fear and disgrace that fills our societies and communities. This passage, to me, helps to explain why the bad things that happen in our lives do not negate or diminish His love for us—bad things that may give rise to questions and doubts of “If God truly exists and God is good, then how could He let this happen to me?” And I believe that Isaiah helps us respond to these doubts splendidly with the words of the Lord “’For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.’” To me, what this means is that God, through the relationships we each have with Him, acknowledges that we are imperfect beings, created in His image with heart and wills of our own. And rather than punish us for our failings, He helps us overcome them, and become better people. I think it’s really important to recognize that now, especially with the social and political turmoil we find ourselves in.

We need to have faith that God’s plan accounts for all the bumps and bruises we get along the way, and He will not lead us astray, but guide us to a space of peace, joy, and compassion. And it’s with that hope and longing in mind, that the parting line of this passage really resonates. It gives me peace and sanctuary to remember that “though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed” God will forever has compassion and peace for us, for He loves truly and wholly.

12/1/2016

Graeme Peterson ‘17

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Isaiah 4:2-6; Acts 1:12-17, 21-26

Isaiah 4:2-6

Our passage today’s foretells the coming of the Branch of the Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ. Here, we understand the Branch of the Lord to be Jesus Christ, a depiction of Jesus as a shoot or a branch is seen elsewhere in Isaiah when the texts reads that “a shoot will spring from the stump of Jesse.” We also see the promise of a new Heaven and a new Earth – those in Jerusalem will be called holy, while bloodstains and filth shall be cleansed. As a further point of assurance, Isaiah foretells of a canopy of cloud and fire over Zion to serve as a refuge and a shelter from the elements. This canopy symbolizes the care of our loving God, who watches over us, cares for us, and protects us. And, to that same end, Isaiah furthers our understanding of the world that is to come with the Messiah for whom we wait in this Advent season: a world of new life and holy worship, surrounded and protected by the glory of the Lord.

Questions: How do you envision a new Heaven and new earth? Some interpret the “fruit of the land” to mean the gospel – it is the product of the Branch of the Lord, Jesus, and will be the pride of Israel. What should we expect the fruit of the land to look like in our everyday lives? How do we seek the gospel, and where do we find it, even now, as we await the coming of the Messiah?

Prayer: Glorious God, we wait with hope. We anxiously anticipate the arrival of your Son, Jesus, Christ, who lives and reigns with you and gives us hope of a new Creation. Be with us each day in this Advent season as we celebrate the coming of Christ, and help us to seek the gospel – and the promise of new life, a new Jerusalem, and holy worship – each and every day. We lift up these hopes and prayers in your name, and in the name of the one who is to come. Amen.

12/2/2016

Xiating Chen ‘17

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Isaiah 30:19-26; Acts 13:16-25

Acts 13: 16-25

I don’t know about you all, but patience is not a part of my nature. This Advent is especially difficult for me. After this election cycle, everything seems so uncertain. I am tired and exhausted from waiting, because I am anxious about what is ahead. What is God’s plan for us? I am tired. I have always prayed to God that He can use me as an instrument of peace.

Now, however, I feel exhausted trying to stand up to defend for what I think is right, and even more exhausted from defending what is factual. Drained, here I am, in this season of Advent.

In these synagogues, Paul didn’t preach about Abrahamic lineage. He didn’t preach about the great deeds of the ancestors of Israel. Instead, he preached about Exodus and the abounding grace that had guided the Israelites out of Egypt. He talked about King David, the man after God’s own heart, and the coming of Jesus. Their 500-year wait was long and substantial. It requires several lifetimes. How much faith is needed to endure this long wait? My God allows me to be tired, but He also gives me the strength to trust him that justice is to come.

The scripture today reminds me, that the waiting and this patience are a real and crucial part of the Christian faith. The four-year election cycle comes and passes, but God’s Kingdom is eternal. Christmas is a reminder that this is not the end, that Christ will come again. This country goes through ups and downs. This planet goes through ups and downs.

My faith goes through ups and downs. But God never fails.

This is my confession. I am not born naturally to be thankful for waiting, but these words from the scripture help me fight my natural tendency. I am seeking strength to remind myself to be still, to be patient, and to trust our God. In this season of waiting, I pray for pardoning my restlessness, and for giving me the strength to continue to be God’s instrument to build His righteous Kingdom. O God, for I am weak and weary, guide me through this hard time. In this time of confusion and crisis, let Your Son dwell among us and give peace to this chaotic world. Amen.

12/3/2016

Autumn Carter ‘17

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Isaiah 40:1-11; John 1:19-28

This passage begins with a word Isaiah brings from God directly. Comfort. The comfort is meant to follow a period of suffering, destruction, and difficulty. God seems to tell the people that after Jerusalem has atoned for its sins – they will be met with all the love and protection God has to offer.

For me, this passage calls into question the way our country treats those who have repaid a debt. The way we treat people we deem “criminals” deserving of punishment and withholding of the freedoms we all hold dear, and the way we treat these people after they have repaid their debt to society is the furthest thing from comfort I can imagine.

Even after release from prison, millions of Americans are held to strict probation rules about who they can see, what they can have, where they’re permitted to go. They are barred from many social services that might help them resettle into society and they are stripped of the right to vote. Ex-felon is a title many of God’s people must carry with them for the rest of their life. Here in the land of the free and home of the brave — we claim to offer the American dream to all, but are unwilling to give a second change to millions upon millions of our own citizens.

When writing to death row inmates with PCM as a first year student, I remember thinking that it was not my right to condemn. And so I quelled the curiosity within me, wondering what someone could possibly have done to have received the ultimate condemnation our criminal “justice” system can give — I tried to remind myself instead that each name on that list was someone, loved by God just as I am. As time has gone on, I now wonder who made the decision that landed the names on that list we had. Who was worthy of deciding that no amount of time or community service would repay the debt each name on this list supposedly had to society?

Oppression and immorality were the sins that Jerusalem had committed. Suffering was the punishment. But this verse reminded the people that when the suffering ended, comfort would come. God reminds us here that people are like blades of grass. And maybe others of us are like flowers. But in the end, the grass and flowers will both wither away. New grass and new flowers come. The only eternal certainty is that “the word of God endures forever.”

May God’s word bring comfort to those for whom punishment and suffering seems never-ending, and may it comfort us all in this season of advent, and always.

12/4/2016 – Second Sunday of Advent (PEACE)

Natalie Knox ‘17

Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19; Romans 14:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” – Isaiah 11:6-9

Peace is a little harder to find in today’s world of terror, elections, and gun violence than I would like. It is easy to forget that God’s love transcends all of these – yet is beyond our comprehension. I charge you to take time today to think about where you find peace in your life, whether it is through music, or meditation, or time spent with family and friends. And take time to enjoy the poem-like prayer below.

Dear Father,
Today I realized
How much strife is in this world,
How many hurting hearts need love,
And the number of broken people
Who are barely surviving.
In fact, we’re all broken, Lord.
That’s why we desperately need You
To learn to love and to live.
We crave peace, we explore every option,
Uncomprehending that we’re seeking You.
Peace cannot be found in a treasure box;
It cannot be bought or sold.
Peace is not confined by position
Nor is it contained within possibilities.
You are the source of True Peace.
May I look to You only for peace,
And may I feel the peace only You can give,
Transcending beyond the human comprehension-
Yet experienced through simple trust in Your Word.
Amen

-Rachel Wojo, author of Women in the Bible, Beautiful and Brace

12/5/2016

Kate Watkins ‘19

Psalm 21; Isaiah 24:1-16a; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12

“No one should mistreat or take advantage of their brother or sister…God didn’t call us to be immoral but to be dedicated to him.” ~1 Thessalonians 4:6-7

Thanksgiving Break is officially a long past memory and Winter Break beckons persuasively to us, calling some to Christmas caroling and others to everything peppermint-flavored. Throughout the frenzy of reading week and finals, I invite you join me in a new type of Lord’s Prayer, one that builds upon a Christian understanding of social justice. Think about the ways in which Christmas can extend from an American commercialized understanding to a radical call for social change, for the sanctification of the child of two immigrants who preached love for the prostitutes and the tax collectors.

Think of the protesters at Standing Rock and elsewhere. At the end of the prayer, please allow yourself a minute to meditate on Rolheiser’s words and think of how God is calling you to live out Christian love in the world, and especially during Advent season. Peace be with you.

Lord’s Prayer- Ronald Rolheiser (Living God’s Justice) (edited for brevity)

Our Father… who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the aged, the very young, and those who, by victim of circumstance, beat the heat of the day.

Who art in heaven…where everything will be reversed, where the first will be last and the last will be first, but where all will be well and every manner of being, will be well.

Hallowed be thy name…may we always acknowledge your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways, your standards are not our standards. May the reverence we give your name pull us out of the selfishness that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbor.

Your will be done…open our freedom to let you in, and thus the life that we help generate may radiate your equal love for all, and your special love for the poor.

On earth as in heaven…may the work of our hands reflect the temple and the structure of your glory so that the joy, graciousness, tenderness, and justice of heaven will show forth within all of our structures on Earth.

Give…life and love to us and help us to always see everything as a gift. Help us to know that nothing comes to us by right and that we must give because we have been given to.

Us…the truly plural us…Give not just to our own but to everyone, including those who are very different than the narrow us. Give your gifts to all of us equally.

This day…not tomorrow…Do not let us push things off into some indefinite future so that we can continue to live justified lives in the face of injustice because we can make good excuses for our inactivity.

Our daily bread…so that each person in the world may have enough food, enough clean water, enough clean air, adequate health care, and sufficient access to education, so as to have the sustenance for a healthy life. Teach us to give from our sustenance and not just from our surplus.

And forgive us our trespasses…forgive us our blindness toward our neighbor, our self- preoccupation, our racism, and our incurable propensity to worry only about ourselves and our own. Forgive us our capacity to watch the evening news and do nothing about it.

And do not put us to the test…do not judge us only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothing to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimized the poor.

And deliver us from evil…that is, from the blindness that let us continue to participate in anonymous systems within which we need not see who gets less as we get more.

 

12/6/2016

Grace Smith ‘20

Psalm 21; Isaiah 41:14-20; Romans 15:14-21

Psalm 21: 1-7

Reading these verses from Psalm 21, I initially noticed not a parallel, but more of a perpendicular. A stark contrast. What the king received, Christ sacrificed. As the king “asked [God] for life,” so Christ asked that the cup be taken from him in that tortured prayer, “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). However, while the king was granted life “for ever and ever,” Christ willingly died, giving his life for us.

As the Lord “placed a crown of pure gold” on the head of the king, so Christ received a crown- but His was one of thorns, an instrument of physical pain as well as a mocking symbol of claimed royalty.

As the king was glorified through victories, Christ was glorified through seeming defeat: through death. But. The perpendicular stops there. Because Christ’s death was a victory. His sacrifice opened the way, shined the light, for “unending blessings.” “For the king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High, he will not be shaken.”

By his words, the Psalmist first crafted a contrast: where the king received, Christ gave.

Life. Royalty. Victory. But, as the Psalm comes to a close, the psalmist’s words emphasize not a contrast but a similarity. Glory. Blessings. Stability.

As we spend time in reflection this Advent season, let us remember what it is that swaddled babe in the manger will do and fulfill. Let us take joy in the freedom and solid rock that is found in and through Christ Jesus. For it is because of His birth that we are able to most truly experience that “unfailing love of the Most High.”

Prayer:

O Lord, from the crown of thorns to the weight of our own sins, no words can describe the gift you gave in Christ. As the chaos of the season ensues, help us to remember You. May the peace of your presence- be it in the cries of an infant in a stable or the glory of a risen Son- wash over us in this day, this season, and always.

12/7/2016

Harper ‘17

Psalm 21; Genesis 15:1-18; Matthew 12:33-37

In PCM+, we create lots of covenants, for retreats and bible study and even for proper meme usage on the GroupMe. The covenant has a long tradition stretching back to the patriarch Abraham. In this Genesis passage, we see God promising Abram “a great reward:” that his descendants will outnumber the stars. This is the beginning of God’s covenant with Abram and his descendants, who will become the nation Israel. Though Abram offers God sacrifices in this passage, a covenant is not a contract. The terms of agreement are not “Abram sacrifices specific animals, God gives Abram lots of descendants,” but rather that Israel will worship only the Lord and the Lord will remain devoted to Israel. Contracts are limiting agreements, where each party is confined to a certain set of rules designed to ensure that one party does not get the better of the other. A covenant expects more and is centered around relationship. This passage is the beginning of God’s relationship with Israel that continues throughout the entire Old Testament. Time and time again, Israel breaks the covenant by worshipping other gods and ignoring the prophets. In a contract, God would be free to go and perhaps find a more obedient nation, but the covenantal agreement keeps God committed to maintaining a relationship with Israel, even when Israel is not committed.

Eventually, all communication from God ceases for nearly four hundred years, until he finally sends the Word in the form of Christ to create a new covenant in his blood. When we talk about “having a relationship with Jesus,” we really mean being a part of the new covenant. How does the new covenant in Jesus differ from God’s covenant with Abraham?

What are the expectations in the new covenant and what does your life look like when you are living into the covenant?

Think about the relationships you have in your life, with PCM or your family or your dorm mates. Which relationships are based in some kind of covenant? How does that change the relationship? Where do you see a need for a covenant in your life?

12/8/2016

Jacqueline Emerson ‘18

Psalm 146:5-10; Ruth 1:6-18; 2 Peter 3:1-10

2 Peter 3:1-10

While abroad in Denmark this semester, my concept of time has been rather strange. August moved at a nice gallop, September moseyed along with a hop in its step, October flew by, and November full out sprinted. While I am looking forward to what each day brings, I am also sadly dreading the day when I return home to the US. Once again, I am reminded just how malleable and individually bound to perception time is. In 2 Peter 3 verses 1-10, Peter affirms how we see and experience things may not always align with how the Lord experiences and defines things, as “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness”. Although we consistently try to assign meaning and understand God’s promises, I am reminded how we can only try as best as we can to recognize what the Lord intends and then have faith that He will keep His word, perhaps in a way we cannot imagine. Time, to me, seems to pass differently at different stages in my life (ex: Freshman basketball games vs middle school math class) and I am sure this is a continuing theme. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”; our perception of time is something human assigned and relative. As we wait for the coming of Christ in this Advent period once again, I am reminded of the fluctuation of time and the beauty of something so mysterious that can only be held onto with hope and faith. I pray that we acknowledge our human-defined concept of time and appreciate the promises that God fill fulfill.

12/9/2016

Sarah Owen ‘19

Psalm 146:5-10; Ruth 4:13-17; 2 Peter 3:11-18

In this time of Advent, it is ever important to remember what it is we are celebrating. It is easy to get swept aside by the glittering lights, the beautiful trees, and the sales at every store you pass. Let us remember that we are in a time of waiting for Christ, a time of waiting for the Lord on Earth. During this week of peace, let us remember all the things that we are waiting for: not only Jesus himself but also everything that He has taught us and everything that He stands for. Let Psalm 146 remind us of these things. Remind us that God is the maker of heaven and earth, that He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry, that He gives sight to the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, and loves the righteous. Let us take this message with us, guiding us in our actions throughout not only this season of Advent but also beyond the Christmas season. Let us remember that ‘the Lord reigns forever… for all generations.’

Amen

12/10/2016

Courtney Trutna ‘17

Psalm 146:5-10; 1 Samuel 2:1-8; Luke 3:1-18

Luke 3:1-18

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the heck I’m supposed to do in life. Should I go to school there, should I volunteer here, should I donate to that, should I follow this career– the list goes on and on. There are decisions that seem monumental to the point of being paralyzing, that require dedication and time that I’m not always ready to give to my faith. I would LOVE to have a John the Baptist just give me a flat-up answer, one that’s practical and less self contradictory than so much of scripture seems to be. John’s instructions seem doable, straight forward, and even at odds with the sort of all-in dedication Jesus asks for. It makes me wonder if the simple instructions of John’s followers even “counts”, or if it’s just some half-effort that’s not even worth it, if faith really is all-or-nothing?

But John was sent to prepare the way. So what if it really is that easy? If Jesus needed the way prepared, then it makes sense than we need to preparation to follow him. What if it’s important to give up everything for Christ– but the more important thing is to just to get started?

Lord, sometimes this world of yours is crazy, and the call to be Christlike seems frankly impossible. Help us not to be overwhelmed by all there is to do, but instead, to get started, one step at a time, preparing the way for your kingdom. Amen.

12/11/2016 – Third Sunday of Advent (JOY)

Sarah Beaverson ‘18

Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; Luke 1:46b-55; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Isaiah 35:1-10

Today we celebrate the third Sunday of advent and this Sunday we celebrate JOY. Some of the members in PCM will remember the fall retreat last year that was devoted to this topic. When I began to reflect on the lectionary passages for today I couldn’t help think about our conversations at the retreat that weekend. Joy is a pretty big thing. But what does it mean? And what does it mean to celebrate Joy in the season of advent?

The dictionary definition tells us that joy is “a feeling of great happiness; a source or cause of delight”. Okay so dictionary definition tells us joy is definitely a good feeling. A great feeling. But for me I’ve always struggled to figure out what the major difference about joy is. What is the difference between joy and happiness? Do you have to be happy all the time to be joyful? To me, joy seems beyond happiness. I can feel happy a lot, but when I feel joy, I feel something indescribable and something beyond my own emotions. I can only think that when I feel joy it has to be a spiritual feeling. What I’ve come to find as the major difference is that happiness is an externally based feeling while Joy is internal. Happiness is often conditional on the outcome of external events. However, Joy goes beyond this. I think that Joy comes when you make peace with yourself and who you are. And I think that truth and the love of God help bring that peace of mind. Once you have that peace, you have a joy that cannot be rocked by anything. I believe it exists in all of us and we experience it a little bit in those little “god moments” we all have occasionally.

The scripture for today comes from Isiah 35 and is titled “Joy of the Redeemed”. This scripture passage reminds us of the joy that awaits all of us in an eternal life. This advent season, I encourage you to use this scripture to help you approach the time of waiting with Joy. It can be hard to wait. I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t like waiting. And, when I do have to wait, I usually do it begrudgingly. This advent season, try waiting joyfully. Wait joyfully with hope and delight. We, the redeemed, sing and praise with joy, everlasting joy because JESUS is about to be born – and that’s a pretty big deal! A pretty awesome thing to be waiting for. Joy to the World! The Lord is Come! Let Earth receive her King! 

12/12/2016

Laura Johnson, MDiv ‘16

PCM Intern 2015-2016

Psalm 42; Isaiah 29:17-24; Acts 5:12-16

Psalm 42 is one of my favorite psalms. The imagery in the first verses catches me every time: “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?” The word for soul in Hebrew is nephesh, which means “life,” “soul,” or “throat.” Thus, this could be read as: my throat longs and thirsts for God. God is the cool refreshing water that quenches a dry parched throat. We cannot live without water; we cannot live without God. In this advent time of waiting, we are thirsting and longing for the one who brings life.

As the psalm continues, we are brought into the psalmist’s struggle—she is crying endlessly (v 3), her soul (or throat) is “cast down” (v 5, 6, 11) she is drowning (v 7), and in excruciating pain (v 10). Perhaps she too is facing something similar to finals week at Duke. In the midst of her expression of despair, she recalls God’s goodness and steadfast love, and tells herself to hope in God (v 4, 5, 8, 11). She says these words repeatedly, because often in the midst of chaos and pain, one time doesn’t quite stick, we have to say them over and over again. Like when studying key terms or formulas, we have to memorize them through repetition so when faced with a problem on a test we can apply them, these words of hope are repeated, memorized, and spoken in the midst of a big problem. These words may not provide a quick and easy fix, but remind us of God’s steadfast love that is present with us in the midst of the problem, the despair, and the pain.

So in the midst of the darkness of winter, finals, and the struggles of life, like the psalmist we wait and thirst in hope for Emmanuel, God with us.

12/13/2016

Adam Hollowell

Director of Student Ministries, Duke Chapel

Psalm 42; Ezekiel 47:1-12; Jude 17-25

Ezekiel 47: 1-12 NRSV

Ezekiel was a priest who spoke on behalf of God to the people during Israel’s exile in Babylon. Because Israel is in exile, Ezekiel must give some illumination of their deportation and current struggle. Because he is God’s prophet, Ezekiel must give some vision of the one who will leave no stone unturned in the remaking of the world. In the 47th chapter he uses the image of water flowing from the temple to do both of these things.

The Lord is resident in the temple in this passage, and living water flows from its foundations. The guide walks Ezekiel deeper and deeper into the water, as it rises from his ankles, to his knees, to his waist. What started as a trickle is now a flood that rushes all the way to the sea. On each side of the river are trees filled with fruit, and the waters carry fish of all kinds. This is an image of hope to a people surrounded by danger. At the same time, it is an image of warning. As the water rises around Ezekiel, he observes twice that it cannot be crossed. It is too deep to swim. We do not save ourselves. And the guide asks, “Mortal, have you seen this?”

Here are the paradoxes of the faith. The desert God makes water flow. The people of scarcity see a vision of abundance. The water of new life has the power to drown. And they continue throughout the scriptures. The mighty voice of God is a silent wind. Fire burns a bush but does not consume it. God’s power is made perfect in the weakness of a child. Mortal, have you seen these things?

12/14/2016

Cole Williams ‘19

Psalm 42; Zechariah 8:1-17; Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34

Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34 

If I could rename this passage, I would call it “That time Jesus spoke two words and was asked to leave.” Now obviously, there is a great deal more to this story, but the first, second, and twelfth time I read this passage my mind hung on these details. In Genesis, God speaks the earth and all of life into existence and it could be argued that these miracles are told to show the power of Jesus in the way that Genesis tells of God’s power but maybe this passage is about the actions and perceptions of people instead.

After Jesus heals a woman, people flock to him for help, however, when Jesus takes away a swineherd’s livelihood by forcing his swine over a cliff, he is asked to leave even though his intentions were nothing if not helpful. People have this strange tendency to want something while its beneficial but to throw it away when the benefits are not obvious or come at a cost. I immediately jump to the conclusion that these people are self-serving and ungrateful, but how often are each of us ungrateful in our day-to-day lives because we are missing a bigger picture? As a child, when your parents told you to eat your vegetables and you begrudgingly did it, you likely didn’t recognize that whoever told you to do this was trying to keep you healthy as well as form habit of keeping yourself healthy in the future.

Before you stop reading, I’m not saying the cliché everything-happens-for-a-reason thing; no, I’m saying that sometimes we must take a step back and gain a little perspective on all that we do. The loss of their swine could mean failure to the swineherds or it could mean opportunity to find a new calling or to spread the Word. Yes, that is over simplified but it can have connotations in the lives of all people. In our lives, we face a constant barrage of challenges and those challenges can either mean the beginning of fear and sorrow or they can be the sparks that ignite a call to change. When the world flips you on your head, take your time to recover but remember to get up and speak. Jesus spoke the word “Go” and sent demons racing off a cliff. Your words may not do quite that but they can certainly change the world around you. What will you speak for?

12/15/2016

Danielle Lodge ‘20

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:1-17; Galatians 3:23-29 

Galatians 3:23-29

Before Jesus was born into this world, we were held captive by our sin. We, as humans, only had the worldly laws to obey and from that we find oppression not joy. It is easy to get caught up in the the rules of society, trying to portray that image of effortless perfection- doing everything perfectly without breaking a sweat. As students, we try to follow these “rules” by getting a certain GPA, being in a certain social group, having a certain major, etc. The pressure of abiding by every single rule, written and unwritten alike can be exhausting. But there is hope to be found. Jesus came into this world so we could abide in him. No longer do we need to be oppressed by the law of the land but instead we can experience the joy of the Lord through our faith in Christ. You see following the today’s rules and norms are not going to protect from anything, and our ability to perform to the societies standards does not determine our worth. For Jesus Christ was born into this world so we could find true joy, joy through our faith in him.

And this faith is not exclusive. Galatians 3:26-29 clearly tells us that we are one in Jesus Christ. No matter what society tells you about your worth or where you belong, know that you belong to Jesus. We all are made perfectly imperfect in God’s image, and we are all children of the ruler of all. We are all welcomed with open arms, to become apart of the heavenly family, for God sees us all as equally important to his kingdom. All we have to do to receive his joy is abide in Christ through our faith and love for Him.

This advent season we can triumph over the pressure of society’s standards because we know Jesus wiped away any worth that the laws held. Instead, we can find true joy in the faith of God and through abiding in the savior who came in the form of a little baby wrapped in cloth.

 

12/16/2016

Graeme Peterson ‘17

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:18-22; Galatians 4:1-7

 2 Samuel 7:18-22

In today’s passage, King David goes before the Lord to pray. David asks a simple question: who am I, God? His question is not an uncommon one; indeed, how often in our lives do we cry out to God for understanding, most of all of our own selves and our circumstances? Through David’s words, we come to know God more thoroughly as a God who understands our hearts and our own selves – for we are God’s servants, known well by our maker and made in our creator’s image. What’s more, David’s prayer calls our attention to the splendor of Creation and all that surrounds us, made for us by God so that we may come to know God’s glory and the glory of all that God creates. It is thus the case that we are created by a God whom we know to be great – who knows us, who has created heaven and earth so that we might be stewards of that Creation, and who is the one true God.

Questions: For what do you seek understanding? How do you seek out God’s wisdom and truth in your own life? As God knows you, how do you seek to know God?

Prayer: Creating God, we give you thanks that you know us. We give you thanks that we may be your servants, stewards of your glorious Creation, and that you understand our hearts and our minds and our circumstance. As we await the coming of your son Jesus Christ, help us to know ourselves and to be the stewards of your world that you would have us be – delighting in your will and walking in your way to the glory of your name. Amen.

 

12/17/2016

Margaret Overton ‘20

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 2 Samuel 7:23-29; John 3:31-36 

2 Samuel 7:23-29

The passage from 2 Samuel begins with David praising and thanking God for all of the blessings that he and his people have received, expressing pride in the nation of Israel and their status as the chosen people. As someone not descended from any Israelites, it sometimes makes me feel excluded to know that I am not technically part of this elite group of people. But then I remember that Jesus reached out to Gentiles, tax collectors, and men and women from every place in life. Through this new covenant, are all welcome at the table, and we can all give thanks during this Advent season for everything God has done for us.

It also seems to convey more uncertainty than we typically find in the Bible. Usually we hear of the rainbow and the Ten Commandments and God’s promises set in stone, but David asks—almost commands—God to follow through on their promise and bestow blessings on his family as though he doubts that this will truly come to pass. This scenario may sound familiar to many people who feel as though they were supposed to receive good things, yet have been forgotten by God. However, this uncertainty is not the end of the world; as the speaker says, God’s word is true, and everything will turn out okay in the end as long as we do not lose faith.

My favorite line from the passage is the very last one, where David says, “you, O Lord God, have spoken, and with your blessing shall the house of your servant be blessed forever.” Such is the depth of David’s faith that he is certain that God’s blessing will endure for eternity. We have all been blessed in the same way that David’s family was because we are all children of God, and it is important to remember that that never changes, no matter how dark or difficult things may seem at times.

This Advent, we cannot forget those who feel excluded, those who are uncertain about whether the world will be welcoming to them, and those who are struggling to find and appreciate their blessings. And wherever you go—today, next week, next year—reflect on everything you have to be grateful for, never lose faith in God, and look for ways to welcome everyone to the table.

12/18/2016 – Fourth Sunday of Advent (LOVE)

Delaney Thompson ‘19

Isaiah 7:10-16; Psalm 80:1-7,17-19; Romans 1:1-7; Matthew 1:18-25

In the book of Isaiah, the seventh chapter, we meet Ahaz: a weak king of little faith and not Isaiah’s favorite person. Nevertheless, Isaiah approaches him with undeserved kindness as Judah is being attacked by the kingdoms of Ephriam and Syria. Further the Lord offers to prove to Ahaz His power with a sign as “deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” However, Ahaz refuses to test the Lord. Thus, growing weary of Ahaz’s faithlessness, Isaiah gives the prophesy of Immanuel.

Now, biblical names aren’t chosen on a whim or from a baby book; thus, Immanuel, meaning “God is with us” is not just a clever name, but a promise. But what feeling does this name evoke in Ahaz? And what does it evoke in us?

If I were Ahaz, I could see this almost as a threat. Here he stands, a weak, faithless king on a crumbling kingdom who refuses to acknowledge the Lord or His power, and Isaiah is losing his patience. He makes it clear that God does not need Ahaz’s permission or approval to carry out His plan, to be “with us.” He even goes as far as to say that the kingdoms that Ahaz fears will be “deserted” by the time his prophesy is fulfilled, making Ahaz and his plight seem insignificant in the long-term.

And what about us? To me, the name Immanuel, “God is with us” is one of the greatest comforts I could be offered. It means that no matter what, we will not be alone. It means that God’s love surpasses all trials and tribulations that we face in our lives. Charles Spurgeon’s poem, “Immanuel” resonates deeply; the promise of Immanuel bolsters our hearts against fear, comforts us in times of sadness and brings us the greatest joy we could ask for.

Further, as badly as Ahaz is portrayed, I see him not unlike the man in the poem, not unlike myself and all who fall into sin. What differentiates Ahaz from the narrator of the poem is not his sin or toils, but rather his choice to ignore God. As Ahaz’s kingdom is falling, surrounded by “Bulls of Bashan,” he has the choice to reach out to God, to stay “secure within [His] tower… Immanuel,” but chooses not to.

As this hectic yet joyful season charges on and we get bogged down in deadlines and Christmas lists and the unchecked boxes on our “To-Do” lists, don’t be Ahaz. Advent is the awaiting of the coming of Immanuel. The coming of salvation, of comfort, of “God with us.” Take heart in God and His promise to us. Prepare your hearts because Immanuel is coming and we are so blessed.

W hen once I mourned a load of sin,
When conscience felt a wound within,
When all my works were thrown away,
When on my knees I knelt to pray,
Then, blissful hour, remembered well,
I learned Thy love, Immanuel!
When storms of sorrow toss my soul,
When waves of care around me roll,
When comforts sink, when joys shall flee,
When hopeless griefs shall gape for me,
One word the tempest’s rage shall quell,
That word, Thy name, Immanuel!
When for the truth I suffer shame,
When foes pour scandal on my name,
When cruel taunts and jeers abound,
When “Bulls of Bashan” gird me round,
Secure within Thy tower I’ll dwell,
That tower, Thy grace, Immanuel!
When hell, enraged, lifts up her roar,
When Satan stops my path before,
When fiends rejoice and wait my end,
When legion’d hosts their arrows send,
Fear not, my soul, but hurl at hell
Thy battle-cry, Immanuel!
When down the hill of life I go,
When o’er my feet death’s waters flow,
When in the deep’ning flood I sink,
When friends stand weeping on the brink,
I’ll mingle with my last farewell,
Thy lovely name, Immanuel!
When tears are banished from mine eye,
When fairer worlds than these are nigh,
When Heaven shall fill my ravish’d sight,
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel!

-“Immanuel,” Charles Spurgeon

 

12/19/2016

Ashton Carr ‘20

1 Samuel 2:1-10; Genesis 17:15-22; Galatians 4:8-20

In Galatians 4:8-9, Paul talks about what it is to know God and to be known by God. Paul asks the Galatians how they are turning back “now that [they] know God – or rather are known by God.” But what exactly does this mean? And what are the implications of Paul’s statement?

Since coming to college, I have wondered what it means to be “good friends” with someone. In high school, my metric for being able to tell who was a “good friend” and who was a “school acquaintance” was whether I spent time with them outside of school, went over to their houses for something other than a group project, went on trips with them. But since college has started, the people I considered my closest friends in high school haven’t been the ones I have stayed in contact with. Instead, the friend I have really stayed close to from home is someone who for many years I thought was no more than my stand partner in orchestra or lab partner in chemistry. As I discovered that she was really one of my closest friends, I began wondering how I was so wrong about who I was closest to. A friend from college pointed out recently that to be actual friends with someone, you have to have had a one-on-one conversation with them, gotten to know them at least somewhat. I realized that with many of my “close” friends from high school I had never had a real conversation. And it occurred to me that being in the same room together over and over again isn’t what makes people close. But years and years of individual conversations sitting next to a person in rehearsal or lab had built a friendship strong enough to span 500 miles and months apart, because I know her, and she knows me. We have a close, real relationship because we have gotten to know each other. And having someone who knows you, not superficially, but in actuality, is often what holds a person together through whatever is going on in life.

This is why it is so significant that Paul points out to the Galatians that God knows them. When you are known by someone, you have someone who cares about you, listens to you, and has a stake in your life. When God knows you, that has the power to keep you sane, rooted in the reality that there is someone to whom your existence matters, who would notice your absence. Being known by God also means that there is someone holding you to a higher standard, expecting the best out of you, which is why it is so strange to Paul that the Galatians have turned away. So in this Advent season, rather than getting lost in life like the Galatians, remember that there is a God who knows you and rest in that.

God, thank you for knowing me. Thank you for knowing who I am, caring enough to take an interest in me as a person, and staying by my side always even after seeing who I am. Because I know that You know me, I will strive to live my life in a way that makes You proud. I am not a nameless face that no one would miss, wandering alone in the universe, but Your beloved child, who You love enough to think about and remember. I can have peace in being known by You, and live my life accordingly. I love you, God. Amen. 

12/20/2016

Hannah Shepard ‘20

1 Samuel 2:1-10; Genesis 21:1-21; Galatians 4:21-5:1

Genesis 21:1-21

In the book of Genesis, we learn about God through His Creation, His actions, and how He treats His people, descendants of Abraham. In this section of Genesis 21, we see God fulfill promises He has made, showing us the faithful and loving Father He is. Because of this, my favorite verse from this section is probably the very first one.

As we draw closer and closer to Christmas, (just a couple more days!!!) we are in preparation for celebrating God’s most amazing promise, one which he fulfills like no other. Last Sunday we focused on love for the 4th Sunday of Advent. To me, the promises that God fulfills both in the birth of Isaac and in the protection of Hagar and Ishmael as well as the promise we are currently awaiting could not be better examples of this. Baby Jesus is coming, to love and to serve those in the world, and to display the greatest love that has ever existed on the cross. What an amazing promise God gives and fulfills for each and every one of us!!!

Every year, I try to think about how Christmas means something different to me than it has in the past. There’s always a way I have grown or something I have wrestled with that year which makes me look at God’s promise of Jesus Christ in a new way. I encourage you to think about what God’s promise of Jesus means for you in a new way this year, and also how this should serve as a reminder to all of us that God is constantly fulfilling promises for us throughout our lives, even when we aren’t aware. He is forever faithful, and I am overwhelmed by how amazing our Father is.

Merry Christmas PCM, love you all!!!!!!!!

 

12/21/2016

Natalie Yu ‘20

1 Samuel 2:1-10; Genesis 37:2-11; Matthew 1:1-17

I never fail to be reminded how much effort goes into Christmas preparation every year. There are decorations to be put up, presents to be bought and plans to be made. Indeed, many of us, myself included, become so caught up in the flurry of activity that we tend to think about our own needs whenever we finally get a moment of rest. We seek solace in our families, friends, or even in the realm of social media. Not many of us would intuitively think beyond our immediate circumstances during this season (bless your heart if you do!)

Thankfully, this is not so with God.

Despite the many things that God has to do in a day (listen to our prayers, keep the universe in order, breathe life into new beings etc), He is never too busy to love us. In fact, He pays special attention to the weak, the despised and the broken hearted, all throughout history. These vulnerable groups of people who have nothing much to offer receive instead the full abundance of God’s love. When Joseph was an outcast amongst his brothers, scorned and hated by them, God revealed His amazing plan for Joseph’s life through cryptic dreams. When Hannah cried out to God in misery due to her barrenness, the Lord remembered her and gave her a son. God goes so far as to make certain dubious characters, who were ultimately righteous in their own ways, part of His Son’s earthly lineage. Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law, dressed as a prostitute to trick him into sleeping with her, but did not expose his deeds; Rahab the prostitute took in Israel’s spies before the walls of Jericho came down; Ruth the Moabite faithfully attended to her mother-in-law Naomi and even gave up her pagan gods to follow the true God.

We may not understand God’s judgment and why He chooses who He does, but there is no denying that God remembers and loves the lowliest of His people—even those who have sinned grievously against Him. As believers and doers of God’s Word, will we reflect upon who we can reach out to at this time of the year? The gift of God’s Son extends to the homeless and destitute, but also to people we do not hold in high esteem: those who hold radically different views than us, those who are difficult to be around, and those who have hurt us grievously. As we thank God for redeeming us, may we also take action to demonstrate God’s love to others—even if this may seem daunting at first.

 

12/22/2016

Sarah Beaverson ‘18

Luke 1:46b-55; Isaiah 33:17-22; Revelation 22:6-7, 18-20

Luke 1:46-55 (Mary’s Song)

Last January I was able to see Nadia Bolz Weber speak at the Montreat College Conference and got the chance to hear one of the most beautiful and poetic sermons I had heard in my lifetime. The theme of the conference was John 3:16 and in her sermon, Nadia Bolz Weber presented John 3:16 as a metaphor of a love song from god. Below is an excerpt from the Sermon:

For God so loved the world…that God gave of God’s self in the form of Jesus. And Jesus was like a clearer set of lyrics so that we might be saved from the noise of sin and self-preservation. So that we might not perish. But be reminded again of the true beat, the real rhythm, the clear lyrics of the song of creation and salvation that is life and that is eternal. And those who heard this tune, began to sing it to others, they wrote about it in Gospels and hymns and we here in this room, maybe for only a moment a breath a flicker, hear it for ourselves and we know it is life and it is here and it always has been and always will be.

Christmas time, while often a joyous time, can also sometimes be a time when you think about what it really means to be a member of the larger Christian faith community. This Christmas time especially, after recent acts of violence and religious intolerance from several other Christians in our country, I struggle to openly embrace the Christian faith when so many have used that faith to defend hatred and intolerance. However, reading the scripture for today, Luke 1:46b-55 (“Mary’s Song”) I am reminded of God’s power of goodness that still exists in the world in spite of the hatred and intolerance. Mary reminds us that God’s power dethrones the proud rulers and lifts up the humble. His power fills the hungry and sends away the rich and greedy without. I believe that this is the true song we should be singing about god – the song that reminds us of God’s unconditional and unbreakable love for us – Mary’s Song.

It’s easy to get distracted by the noise of sin and self-preservation, but when we remember Jesus’ love is eternal and forever we remember the true, steady beat of faith in our lives. So maybe it is only for a breath, for a moment. But that moment can be enough to remind us of the true beat and clear lyrics that proclaim that Jesus’ love is for us all. Like the hymn sing, “No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that Rock I’m clinging. Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?” 

12/23/2016

Kate Watkins ‘19

Luke 1:46b-55; 2 Samuel 7:18, 23-29; Galatians 3:6-14

“With all my heart I glorify the Lord! In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my savior…He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty-handed.”             ~Luke 1:46-47, 52-53

It’s almost Christmas! By now the anticipation of Christmas brunch and Advent coming to a magnificent close must be filling you with excitement. With exams behind us and the aroma of Christmas cookies filling the air it can be easy to gloss over Mary’s exultant praise of God. Such a joyful expression of faith can seem more far-fetched the thick of hardship, like enrolling in classes or flying by yourself for the first time. Mary experienced many rough events in her life, not least of which was growing up without the benefits of modern anesthesia and falling pregnant while still an unmarried teenager. Despite the fear of dying a painful, slow death in childbirth or facing social ostracism, Mary enthusiastically put her faith in the Lord and celebrated God’s eternal, omniscient love. How can we embrace God’s love in the good and the hard times?

Peace and Happy (Last Two Days of) Advent!

Nativity of the Lord 1

Shannon Thoits

Isaiah 9:2-7; Psalm 96; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-20

Luke 2:1-20

Reading this bible verse each Christmas is as comforting and traditional for me as curling up next to a warm fire and a Christmas tree, or sipping a cup of candy cane hot chocolate. Just the simple mention of this verse immediately makes me think of the advent season and the joy that is Christmas morning.

Two years ago in my freshman dorm, I counted down the days to when I was leaving to go home for Christmas by writing one verse from this excerpt from Luke 2 on the whiteboard on my door. A few of my friends down the hall asked me what I was writing on my door. They had never heard the story of Christ’s birth in full before. So each day, I took a few minutes to explain to them the story. I told them about Jesus’ humble beginnings in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn. I told them of how the shepherds were at first terrified, but then overjoyed. I told them about the miracle that Jesus was and is as the Son of God, and how the humble shepherds became the first to proclaim this news. And I told them how Mary saw all of these wonderful things and kept them in her heart as treasures she would cherish forever.

Doing this for my friends helped me to revisit the feelings of Christmas that these verses invoke. It reminds me that the best things don’t come in shiny packages with big bows and flashy paper. Jesus began his life in a manger, but came to the earth to save us all. So while the presents under the tree might be bright and exciting, I am reminded to take time to recognize the love I have from my family and friends. Angels did not appear to kings or queens to tell of Christ’s birth. They came to the shepherds watching over their flocks by night. Thus, Jesus came to the world for all of us. I am reminded that giving to those in need during the holiday season is important, as well as the fact that all of us are equals in the eyes of Christ and that it is important to put differences aside and love one another. The shepherds were also joyous and proclaimed the good news of Christ’s birth. I am reminded to be, above all, joyful and happy during this time. I have so much to be thankful for, and I should take time to proclaim my joy to those who make me happy.

Lastly, amid the chaos and excitement of the coming of Christ, Mary took time to ponder and treasure all of these things in her heart. Whenever I sing Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright I think of Mary quietly sitting and saving every memory for the years to come. The joy and energy of Christmas can be stimulating but distracting, exciting but exhausting. I am reminded to take a moment to pause and remember what it is I am celebrating, what it all means for me, and to take those things and treasure them in my heart, just as Mary did.

 

Nativity of the Lord 2

Natalie Knox

Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:(1-7), 8-20

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.” –Titus 3: 4-7

During the Christmas Season we tend to focus on little baby Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. We set up our nativity scenes, with Mary and Joseph huddled over him and the animals lying close by. The Star of Bethlehem hangs overhead, and we marvel at the miracle of the virgin birth.

The passage in Titus also brought to my attention another miracle that occurs on Christmas Day – the consecration of the Trinity. We believe in the Holy Trinity, made up of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Three in One and One in Three. With the birth of Jesus Christ our Savior, God is pouring out his love and mercy on us. Jesus brings renewal and the hope of eternal life, and is the human link to God. In this way, God is inviting us in to be part of His family. Wow. What a miracle that is! Praise Be to God!

Nativity of the Lord 3

Rachael Clark

Isaiah 52:7-10; Psalm 98; Hebrews 1:1-4(5-12); John 1:1-14

Usually, when I read the psalms, I turn to the psalms of lament. But Psalm 98 is a different sort of psalm; it is a psalm of joy and praise, proclaiming the coming Messiah. Psalm 98 instructs the reader to not just sing a song to the LORD, but to sing a new song, because something has shifted—The LORD has made known his victory (Ps. 98.2). After proclaiming that the Lord has done marvelous things, the psalmist gives instructions for how to celebrate and give thanks, writing:

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;

break forth into joyous song and sing praises.

Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,

with the lyre and the sound of melody.

With trumpets and the sound of the horn

make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD.

(Ps. 98.4-6)

Reading these three verses, I immediately thought of an evening a while back, sitting on the floor, having a tea party with a young child. We had cups of different sizes with juice in them, and though occasionally she drank the juice, the more exciting thing was to pour juice from cup to cup to cup, spilling it all over the floor along the way. Her laughter filled the room. Her joy was abundant and unrestrained. Though it had been a joyless week for me, in that moment, I could not help but laugh alongside her, for which I was deeply grateful.

Now, on this last day of advent, we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. There is reason to be joyful. The psalmist tells us to sing to God, unabashedly, without fear of being too loud, or too ridiculous because God deserves all our praise. As we celebrate this last day of advent, I wonder, where do you find joy and how do you share it with those around you?

Prayer:

Lord we thank you for sending your only Son, Jesus Christ. Let our day be filled with gratitude and praise for you. Help us find love and joy and share it with our neighbor.