Advent Devotionals 2015

O come, O come Emmanuel.Advent-Candles

The season of Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for the coming of Emmanuel, God with us.  These weeks invite us to prepare our hearts and minds for the good news that God chose to dwell among us.  God chose to enter the world amidst our normal everyday activities and shine light into the darkness around us.  This devotional guide is designed to help us take time each day to focus on the promise that God is with us amidst the everyday, ordinary joys and struggles of life.  As you read the reflections from friends in PCM, I invite you to pray, watch, and look for signs of hope, peace, love, and joy around you this Advent season.  

Scroll down for a new devotional each day. 

-Rev. Katie Owen Aumann

December 24, 2015-Nativity of the Lord III
By Amelia Cheatham, T’18

Psalm 98, Isaiah 52:7-10, Hebrews 1:1-4, John 1:1-14

This past year, discrimination on college campuses, including Duke’s, has demonstrated a still pressing need for equality and justice.  Violence between police officers and those they have sworn to protect has undermined citizens’ faith in public institutions.  Terrorist attacks in places like Kenya and Paris have shaken the certainty of many in the inherent good of humanity. In an ever more connected world filled with mass and social media, it’s often too easy to be confronted with reminders of human sin.  Unfortunately, evidence of God’s goodness is often not as apparent to us.  However, as these passages remind us, the existence of evil in the world can never negate or overcome the faithfulness of the Lord or the joy we share as followers of Christ.

If you have not already done so, I invite you to read these passages interactively by circling, underlining, or even illustrating the words that stand out to you the most.  No doubt, each one of us will have selected a distinct group of phrases (if not both passages in their entirety!).  These selections brim with the hope and promises we receive as followers of God; however, three small aspects of these passages emerge as especially encouraging to me as I struggle to comprehend recent world events.

First, God remains faithful.  Through salvation, “He has remembered His love and His faithfulness to Israel,” and, I believe by extension, to Christians today (Psalm 98:3).  Furthermore, Isaiah 52:9 speaks of the Lord comforting his people.  Even as our brothers and sisters endure the burdens of others’ sins, the Lord will remain faithful to them, guiding them and using them for His purposes.

Secondly, “He will judge the world with righteousness and the people with equity.”  As we watch those we love being hurt by unfounded prejudice and violence, or perhaps experience it ourselves, the assurance that we are all indeed made in His image, loved with the same fervor, and ultimately judged equitably is hopefully a source of comfort.

Lastly, perhaps most encouraging to me, is the undeniable call of these passages to praise the Lord in unison with other believers, “those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’” (Isaiah 52:7).  Indeed, from the seas to the mountains to the rivers, the Lord calls upon his creation to “burst into jubilant song with music” (Psalm 98).  The simple reminder that Christians around the world, though perhaps divided by tongue, nationality, or geographical barrier, can join together in praise of the Lord, even during difficult circumstances, is especially beautiful to me as we prepare to celebrate the birth of the reason for our unity: Jesus.

As you explore these passages on your own, I hope that the jubilance they convey will provide you with renewed joy regarding the birth we will soon celebrate.  Similarly, I pray that you may find new faith in what the brilliance of a gift like our Savior can mean to a world still partially enveloped in darkness.

December 24, 2015-Nativity of the Lord II
By Delaney Thompson, T’18

Luke 2:8-14

Not So Ordinary Night

When I was little we sang a song in Sunday school during advent called “Ordinary Night.” The beginning went something like this:

As shepherds watched their flocks by night

In pastures green, in the pale moonlight;

And for the star that shone so wonderfully bright

It would seem just an ordinary night.

But things aren’t always as they seem. These shepherds didn’t know what to expect on this “ordinary night,” and I’m sure none of them thought that an angel of God would appear to them. There was little, if anything extraordinary about the shepherds or their sheep or the pasture they kept watch in: they were just normal shepherds doing their job. And to these ordinary shepherds came extraordinary news: “a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” A savior, the Messiah, the Lord, had not only been born, but had been born to them.

And where were they to go to find this most holy child? What temple or citadel or extraordinary place? A stable. Not even a house or an inn. In one of the lowest, most ordinary places amongst the donkeys and sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ lay in a manger. It’s not an accident that the angel appeared to ordinary shepherds to deliver extraordinary news; or that the most extraordinary baby was born and laid in a stable. Jesus didn’t come to be above us or to be presented only to kings and rulers, he came to the world to walk with and amongst even the lowest, most ordinary of his people. By doing so, and by spreading the unbelievable love of God, he made each and everyone of God’s children extraordinary.

So as we gather on this Christmas Eve with our loved ones, who are, in our and God’s eyes extraordinary, we remember the love that made them so. We remember the beloved baby who lay in a manger, the shepherds who received the amazing message and the heavenly hosts who proclaimed “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” In doing so, if we share God’s love in all we do this Christmas, maybe even we can turn someone’s “ordinary night”-extraordinary.

Most holy and merciful God who sent your Son from the highest Heaven to be born in a lowly stable and laid not in a crib, but a manger; remind us that it is your love that makes the regular and lowly, amazing and the ordinary and simple, extraordinary. Be with us in this Christmas season as we hope to spread your love to those who are not only closest and dearest to our hearts, but to the rest of your children who are close and dear to yours. All this we ask in the name of your son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

December 24, 2015-Nativity of the Lord I
By Shannon Thoits, T’18

Luke 2:1-14, 15-20

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.

Last year 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 flashy 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.

December 23, 2015
By Graeme Peterson, T’17

Micah 4:6-8

These three verses are, though short, full of importance. They note the promise of God’s kingdom for the marginalized and simultaneously direct our attention – often distracted by a commercialized Advent season – to those very people, calling us as Christians to seek a world where God’s promise is realized for those with less.

Advent is fundamentally a season of hope and promise – we anxiously anticipate the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh, dwelling among us. With that arrival in mind, we read our text from Micah today with an eye towards God’s new heaven and new earth, full of assurance for the marginalized – the lame, the afflicted, the cast out – who will form the foundation of the coming kingdom. Our words from Micah, placed in a historical context, capture the promise of this kingdom well: as God assures restoration for Zion, God chooses to emphasize the centrality of the long-marginalized in a restored kingdom, calling our own attention to those we often forget.

As Christians, we are called to bear in mind how we might seek God’s promised kingdom in our present lives. The coming birth of Christ brings us comfort and great joy, but can also inspire complacency in our spiritual lives, wherein we lose sight of our call to serve those in need in light of salvation and God’s grace. In the face of this complacency, Micah’s words turn our focus to the least of these, as God’s designates the lame and afflicted as the center of the world to come.

If our call as Christians is rooted in a desire to walk in the way of the Lord, then we too must seek the promise of Christianity in the faces of the less fortunate. As Jesus dined with sinners, as God promises restoration to the lame and afflicted, so too must we seek out “the least of these” – as God reminds us in Matthew, what we have done for them, we have done for God.

Who do you see in your day-to-day life that is marginalized? How can you make them feel a part of the Kingdom of God? 

God of the lame and afflicted, God of hope and the kingdom to come, we lift up the suffering. Help us to seek out the afflicted and, in anticipation of your coming kingdom, make for them a place in a world already so torn by strife and destruction. Keep us vigilant in the face of spiritual complacency and forgive us when we fall short of your vision for our broken world. We wait with hopeful hearts for the return of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, who so mildly laid his glories by, born that we no more may die. Amen.

December 22, 2015
By Amy Little Jones, T’09, PCM Board

Micah 4:1-5

Here Micah brings us a joyful image of the future that awaits us after the coming of the Lord. It’s a world full of peace, where we have no need of weapons and war is a thing of the past. However, this peaceful, harmonious world seems a to be a far cry from ours. We live in a world ruled by fear. This fear takes many forms: fear of those different than ourselves, fear of failure, fear of vulnerability, fear of the future. If you’re like me, fear drives how you make big decisions, how you spend your time, and maybe even who your friends are.

But when we look back to the passage, we learn why are the nations putting down their swords and spears. It’s because they no longer can be made afraid. The Lord has given them peace through eliminating fear.

During Advent, we await the coming of the Prince of Peace. We yearn for the coming of a little baby who will redeem the world. God didn’t choose to send his son as a king or a general or a celebrity; he had the audacity to deliver the world through a harmless infant.

So what if we banished fear from our lives and put our trust in the Lord? We might accept more refugees into our homes; we might roll down our window to talk with the homeless man on the corner; we might propose those crazy ideas at our next big meeting; we might finally say “I’m sorry” or “I love you”. Living without fear frees us to be the people God wants us to be, a people that is confident to “walk in the name of the LORD our God forever”.

Lord, let your perfect love enter my life this Advent season to drive out my fear. Let me put my trust in you so that I may lower my defenses and be open to new experiences and new relationships.

December 21, 2015
By Lauren Harper, P’17

Colossians 1:15-20

Jesus is inherently paradoxical. It becomes habit to say “Jesus was both God and man” without really delving into that paradox, likely because our minds struggle to hold both of these concepts at the same time.

The Colossians passage beautifully describes the divinity of Jesus in high, dramatic language: in him “all things were created” he is “before all things,” and “through him to reconcile to himself all things.” He truly the “firstborn over all creation.” This is the Messiah that the Jews of Jesus’ time were expecting, a savior with power over all earthly authorities to free Israel from the yoke of Rome. But Jesus is a paradox, and while he did possess the power of the invisible God, he instead chose to walk a path of humility.

This is the Jesus we usually talk about in church, the Christ we wish to emulate when we called ourselves Christians. On earth, Jesus came a servant, putting all others before himself to the point of the ultimate sacrifice. During the Christmas season, we decorate our homes with tiny manger scenes and sing of a “lowly cattle shed” to remind ourselves of the humble origins of Christ’s birth. Again the nativity story creates more paradoxes: Jesus, the king, the Messiah, unable to be born in a proper building, and the ruler of all nations, the fullness of God dwelling within a newborn human child. Like Schrodinger’s cat, that exists in a superposition of alive and dead, so Jesus exists in the paradox of simultaneous humanity and divinity.

Take a moment to reflect on the full meaning of Jesus humanity and divinity existing in the whole body. How do you see this paradox at play in the Psalm?

December 20, 2015
By Jacqueline Emerson, T’18

Luke 1:46-55

Welcome, Fourth Sunday of Advent, the last Sunday before Christmas! As we light the fourth candle of Advent, I hope that we are feeling the anticipation for the coming of our Lord, the importance of this event, and the culmination of our hearts’ desires this season of Advent.

On this Sunday, we are presented with the scripture of Mary’s Song or the Magnificat, as it is also called. The word “magnificat” is Latin for “my soul glorifies”. In this passage, Mary is praising the Lord; for she is going to be the mother of Jesus Christ. After Mary is told by the angel Gabriel that she will conceive and give birth to a son, Lord of the Most High, she runs to tell Elizabeth. As she walks in, Elizabeth’s baby, John the Baptist, jumps in the womb at the sight of Mary. Elizabeth proclaims how blessed Mary is, and Mary replies with her song of praise.

After actually singing the Magnificat in church choir, I really began to understand the emotion Mary feels in this piece. Mary, a young virgin, is told she will give birth to the Son of God and what does she do? She praises God. She thanks Him. She meditates. In a moment that could have been truly frightening, this beautiful song of praise pours out of her soul. Mary calls God by name and addresses Him by numerating his actions. He has…“performed, scattered, brought down, lifted up, filled, sent, and helped” as each line v. 51-54 begins. These are not only words of praise from Mary but they are active, powerful words that demonstrate that yes, God has been acting and still will. Mary’s song illuminates this link between the divine and human. And God makes it so much more personal by acting through Mary, who maturely professes her thoughts from the depth of her heart.

If only we turned to every life event like Mary does in this passage. What if our first thought was to praise the Lord, disregarding how frustrating or scary or joyful or fun the event seems to be? Mary remembers God’s work and trusts in His future endeavors. Of course, being told you will give birth to the son of God is not an everyday occurrence, but can we, today, take a little bit of Mary’s courage, faith, and passion, and apply that to our lives and how we face each circumstance?

Dear Lord, we thank you for working in unexpected and mysterious ways. We acknowledge your hand in areas of life and ask you to allow us to better show our soulful praise to you. And if it is not praise in the moment, then our feelings and reactions. Thank you for developing a personal relationship with us- let us remember just how personal your work was with Mary and the birth of your Son. Amen. 

December 19, 2015
By Rob Palmisano, T’19

Psalm 23:1-3

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.

He has gifted you with everything you know

Many of us are longing for something—something materially satisfying. Whether it’s a new smartphone, the perfect job offer, or even a significant other to hold close over the long winter holidays, this is the time of year when we tend to reflect on what we believe we are lacking. We long for machines that help us stay in touch with our “friends”—these friends, whether virtual or real, our driving force for achievement, especially during the time of adolescence. We long to share in our wild vacations, our academic successes, and the doors we open for our future careers—for the sake of approval and admiration from our friends. We crave these successes in order to “measure up” to their expectations for us, and only victory can sustain these cravings. And at the ultimate root of our desires, we dream of that one person—the one who loves us unconditionally—the one who will stay with us, regardless of our shortcomings or the mistakes we may so untimely make. The one who openly expresses their love for us without expecting anything in return. Our celebration of the Messiah’s birth is so often overshadowed for our longings that have gone unfulfilled as another year prepares to go by—but this is not so.

The Lord, our only sight, our one true guide, and our one, undying beacon—has, in fact, already given us these things. Were it not for God’s unconditional love, from where we would we derive our own capacity to feel the love of others? From our desire to be loved to our longing for someone to share it with, these are feelings that we share with a God who created us in his own form for just that purpose—out of his unconditional love for us, and for all of our friends and neighbors. He guides you at every crossroads along the path to succeeding in your endeavors, and if one endeavor fails, then it is for the sake of another endeavor’s success down the road—one he knows will satisfy you even more than the one you had hoped for.

As we celebrate the birth of the savior who brought us under the watchful wing of the shepherd, our God, let us take a moment and depart from what we believe we are lacking. Let us praise Him for the capacity to love, to feel loved, and for the desire to always be loved by others. Let us focus our perspective on all of the things He has given us—everything we know.

December 18, 2015
By Natalie Knox, T’17

Psalm 80:4-7

The world we live in is far from perfect. Every day, we watch horrible things happen to innocent people. Floods devastated homes in South Carolina. Terrorist attacks killed hundreds of people in Beirut, Egypt, and Paris. Racism and homophobia are alive on our campus. It’s hard not to wonder where justice, love and tolerance are in today’s world. But we remember that our world today is the same Earth that the Israelites and early Christians walked on thousands of years ago. They were persecuted, and cried out to their God, our God, for deliverance. We find solace here that it is okay to be angry. In fact, being angry and questioning God prompts a closer relationship with Him, and He responds to our prayers for mercy. As we await Jesus’ birth, we remember that He came to conquer evil, and to walk with his people through their struggles. He doesn’t ask us to suffer in silence, but encourages us to bring our burdens to Him. Jesus’ love can and does overcome our broken world.

As we faithfully wait for Jesus’ birth, we remember that we wait in hope for our ultimate gift, a life spent in Heaven with Him. No matter what tragedies confront us in this world, we know we will overcome them, because God walks before us and with us.

December 17, 2015
By Lukas Gschwandtner, T’18

Psalm 80:1-7, Jeremiah 13:31-34, Hebrews 10:10-18

Sometimes we can forgot how lucky we are to have such a gracious God. We are blessed with a God, who despite much power, shows us mercy. Throughout the advent period I think it is important for us to remember the blessing that the Lord has placed upon us. Despite the stresses of school, family, and other relationships, we can easily forget the blessing given to the mankind on the fateful night in the manger. We should remember that we can hide nothing from God. It is this that scares me the most. It is this where I believe God can instill fear in his followers; however, the Lord offers us salvation from these sins. He offers us forgiveness.

December 16, 2015
By Courtney Trutna
, P’17
Luke 7:31-35 

I’m frequently inclined to designate the Bible as the distant past, and shrug off anything that seems to be directed to the disbelievers at the time. After all, I’ve known that Jesus ate with tax collectors since before I understood what taxes were, and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. In this passage, Jesus is not talking to me.

And then, as typically happens when I reread something I’ve decided isn’t relevant to my life, I realize I’m wrong. Jesus chastises the people who find fault with John for not eating or drinking, and fault with Jesus for eating and drinking too much. He compares them to children who won’t play with their peers, always finding something wrong with every situation. I can hear the children’s voices: “no, I don’t wanna, dancing is too happy. No, I don’t wanna, singing is too sad.”

I can hear their voices because they sound a lot like mine— “Oh no, that opportunity is only for an hour, it’s not worth it.” “Oh no, I can’t do that, it’s too much of a time commitment.” “God isn’t calling me towards THAT, that’s way too extreme.”  I can pretend Jesus isn’t talking to me, but he is.

Like those 2000 years before me, I’ve fallen into the temptation of waiting for the ‘perfect’ God—that is, the middle-of-the-road God that acts the way I want him to, affirms my choices, and doesn’t disrupt my life—and ignoring the real God. The real God, who shows up in odd places and frequently makes extreme requests. I want to pretend this passage is critiquing someone else… but I know it is calling me to live with my eyes and heart more open.

Dear God, help me to not critique possibilities, but to live with my eyes open to the ways you are calling me. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.  

December 15, 2015
By Sarah Beaverson, T’18
Isaiah 11:1-9, Acts 28:23-31, Numbers 16:20-35

In this passage, Isaiah is telling the coming of a new king. This king is much different than the selfish, dishonest ones they had before. The new king will come not with a sword and shield, but with righteousness and faithfulness for all. This new king will not judge by status and wealth or by looks and reputation. The king will judge all equally, giving just as much mercy and grace to the poor as the rich and wealthy. The king brings with him the knowledge and spirit of the Lord, and a promise of justice and joy – for young and for old, for just and unjust, for poor and for rich.

Just as the Israelites awaited a new type of King, we are waiting for a king too. In a world filled with violence, suffering and terror, where billions of people struggle to find shelter and food, where deaths in Iraq, Israel and Syria are daily occurrences, where differences in skin color, gender, and religious belief tear our communities apart – our world is thirsting for the new king and all he brings. In this passage, Isaiah paints a picture of a world of peace and harmony. Children will play by snakes without fear, and animals will graze and eat together. This visual is powerful, for a child who can live among the most dangerous of creatures in harmony can become a man who will live his life with justice and virtue. A man who cares for his neighbors, loves the poor, and embraces the diversity of others around him rather than letting differences divide them apart.

This advent season, I encourage each of you to think about what you are waiting for, to think about who you’re waiting for. A new king is born and he brings with him righteousness and justice for all. We are living in a broken world, and amidst our brokenness we have forgotten the righteousness and justice Jesus brought with him when he was born as the new king. God wants us to embrace the coming of our new king and join in on his journey to a new world of peace and harmony. As it says in Isaiah, when he comes, “the earth [will] be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea”(v. 9).  Jesus’ coming is the beginning of a new world of righteousness. That new world is out there – but it’s up to us to embrace it and live it out in our daily lives. That is the call and that is the challenge of the coming birth of Jesus. May we wait for it, hope for it, pray for it, and join in it when it comes.

And God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace:
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice and joy!
(from Presbyterian Hymnal 769-For Everyone Born)

 

December 14, 2015
By Nick Andersen, PCM Intern, Div ’16
Isaiah 11:1-9, Hebrews 13:7-17, Numbers 16:1-19

Having faith is not always easy. Especially around the holidays when it seems like loud-mouthed Christians are often on the wrong side of popular and cultural debates. Why is it that Christian charity and grace go unnoticed but Christian vitriol is so public at this time of year? Why does the Starbucks cup guy get so much attention but the good people at Urban Ministries remain largely invisible? Isn’t this supposed to be a time of generosity and joy rather than fear-mongering? Aren’t we supposed to be celebrating and giving back, inviting people into a time of happiness and worship rather than awkwardness and shame?

Today’s readings from Scripture concern leadership and public representation in the Christian community. Hebrews asks us to obey our leaders and to imitate them. Numbers is an account of what happened when Korah grumbled against Moses and Aaron. And Isaiah tells us what it will be like when Jesus reigns over all the earth. As I read these passages I find myself grateful for all those exemplars of the Christian faith who taught me a bit about goodness; for those leaders who demonstrate, however imperfectly, what it looks like to imitate Christ; for those who do their best to live righteously according to God’s loving, generous, and joyful Word.

Can you think of persons in your life who have shown you what “the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord” looks like? Does a parent, friend, or church member come to mind?

As we look forward to Christ’s coming and God’s peaceful kingdom being established on earth, let us pray and give thanks for all those people who represent Christ and make us proud to own our faith and the name “Christian”:

Lord Jesus Christ,
Watch over all those who are examples of faith for us.
Keep them faithful to their vocation—whatever it may be—
and to the proclamation of your word.
Teach them to recognize and interpret the signs of the times,
and to act accordingly, with charity, mercy, and justice.
Strengthen them with the gifts of the Spirit,
and help them to love those in their lives as they have loved us,
and especially the poor and lowly.
Give them a vivid sense of your presence in the world,
and a knowledge of how to demonstrate it to others.
Amen.

December 13, 2015
By Maryann Verghese, T’15, Pathways Fellow
Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, Isaiah 12:2-6, Luke 3:7-18

I’m going to give you a fair warning for today. Read all the passages. If you’re like me, and you get lazy during this time and just read whatever the devotional is about, I’d encourage you to take this Sunday to read all four. They’re all really good. What struck me most about these four passages is that three of them seem pretty consistent. Rejoice! For God is great! Rejoice! For God will redeem you. Then, we get to Luke. And we get to John the Baptist. Now, I have to confess something. I love a good Biblical insult. So John’s opening of “you brood of vipers” immediately drew me in. All of the other passages are about how God is saving us from all the evil. And John calls the crowd the evil ones. He tells them to repent for all they have done. What I like about John’s passage, too, is that he talks practical steps. See, I love the concept of joy in theory. The idea of “drawing water from the wells of salvation” in Isaiah is just beautiful. But I struggle with that in practice. As much as I want joy, life is hard. Life is busy. Life is stressful. There are many reasons why I love John the Baptist, but in Luke, I love how honest he is. He directs all the people who come to him to take only what they need and give extras to those who need it. John doesn’t pretend that joy is easy to keep constant. Nor does he pretend that this joy is just a constant state of overflowing happiness and abundance on earth. As Paul writes in Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord.” He doesn’t say rejoice in everything. Rejoice in the Lord. In every situation, rejoice in the Lord. There’s nothing that we have to rejoice in besides God. And through this, we find joy in all the stresses in life. I’m going to find a way to rejoice in the Lord today. I hope you can, too.

December 12, 2015
By Richard Phillips, T’17
Isaiah 12:2-6, Luke 1:57-66, Amos 9:8-15

Lord God, my eternal Flame, too often do I look to myself when I should be looking towards You. My eyes are too often downcast, enamored by the shadows of the world, when the mists would clear if only I were to turn the UP to meet Your gaze. It’s simple, really, but I often find that releasing the futile hold that I keep over my life is kind of impossible.

But is it really as simple as it sounds? If it were, then maybe being a Christian wouldn’t be so hard…or at least it wouldn’t have made me feel so guilty when I went through my wild phase at UMich this summer…#lolsadness. But on the real, that constant struggle of light vs. dark within my soul, that seemingly endless cycle of sin, repentance, and forgiveness, all the mistakes I’ve made and strife I’ve gone through in the process…I see God in all of it. And I think the journey is His way of making me into the weird, unique, Richard-creature that He means for me to be despite my living in a really messed up and fiery, incredibly harsh destroyer (aka NOT the God that you’d exactly want to confess your sins to every night), but I don’t see it like that. In this world where each one of us is the victim of the countless errors (read: sins) of others compounded by eons of interconnected human existence, where the very fabric of creation is flawed and doomed to chaos, God doesn’t abandon us. In the midst of so much confusion and suffering God galvanizes, God strengthens, and God makes something so much greater than ever could have ben before. I guess sometimes (or always) that transformation can be painful.

El Roi, the God who sees, You see me and know every atom that comprises my being. You know every possible path that my life could take in this blink of a cosmic eye. You knew me before I even knew myself on this earth, and You will know me long after I leave it. I trust in You, God, and I give my life into Your hands. Like Zacharias, let me be a sign to others of Your love to the world, and like the house of Jacob, build me up through the fires that may scorch me within it. I trust that in all this strife and darkness, You always find a way to turn everything and everyone back towards You and Your Good. Let me believe that, Lord.

My Love and My All,

Amen.

December 11, 2015
By Tommy Klug, T’18

2 Corinthians 9:1-15

Many of us have already heard of Christmas referred to as “the season of giving.” Growing up we are told that Christmas is more about giving than it is about receiving. This passage points out, rather intuitively, that when you plant too small of a crop you will harvest too small of a bounty. But planting generously will yield a bountiful harvest. When we give to others we are planting seeds that blossom into compassion and love. These gifts come in all forms. They can be material or just pure acts of kindness. Planting these seeds yields bounty for both the giver and receiver. The giver has performed an act of selflessness, which is also an act of God. Spreading compassion is spreading God’s love to others.

I liked this passage because it doesn’t force the concept of giving down our throats. It instructs us to give what we have decided in our hearts to give. Giving out of compulsion is not what God wants. We must take a step back from the bright, flashy, and commercial representations of Christmas. We must look within our hearts and ask of ourselves what we can give and how much we can give. Not necessarily what we want to give. This is God’s way of saying: do it with your whole heart, and you will be carrying out His will. The gift of giving is a powerful one. It is a gift that can keep on giving. Let us remember this passage as we continue through our busy lives and even past the holiday season.

Dear Lord, help us to live in your Word and sow our compassion generously. Thank you for Your abundant gifts and help us to share those gifts with others this season. Let us be cheerful givers and let Your love work in us and through us so that other’s can see Your face in ours. May we abound in these good works and not be tempted by selfishness and greed. Open our hearts on this day and let us be bearers of joy and peace within this beautiful creation. In Your name we pray, Amen.

December 10, 2015
By Katie Becker, T’17

2 Corinthians 8:9

On my first day studying abroad in Guatemala – the seventh poorest country in the Western Hemisphere – my group visited the garbage dump in Guatemala City. Still jet-lagged from staggering off the plane only twelve hours earlier, we stood on a ledge looking down at the scene and holding our breaths to avoid the smell. Below us, thousands of Guatemalan men, women, and children worked under the oppressive sun, combing through the heaps of trash, looking for anything of value to use or sell.

I’ll be honest; at first I was annoyed that that was my introduction to Central America. There’s so much beauty in that region – why did we have to start our trip at the dump? But, over the course of the semester, I began to understand. Because, for the rest of my time in Central America, that image stayed with me. I couldn’t forget it. No matter how many volcanoes I hiked or piña coladas I drank on the beach, I could never get that image of poverty – and the hundreds of other images that came after – out of my head. My semester in Central America consistently brought me face-to-face with poverty so extreme that mere exposure to it left me paralyzed.

I also began to realize that justice starts with a mere acknowledgment of these realities. This is a central idea of Liberation Theology, the strain of theological thought that fueled revolutionary social movements throughout Latin America. Before we can begin helping or “saving” the poor, we must see them – really see them – and acknowledge their humanity.

That’s where Jesus comes in. The truth is that the Christmas story is full of images of Christ’s earthly poverty. In fact, they’re so abundant that we become almost desensitized to them. We forget that Bethlehem was but a small village in Judah – so small and inconsequential that the wise men went to Jerusalem first, assuming the Son of God would be born there. We forget that “swaddling clothes” were not some type of first century onesie; according to the original Greek translation, Jesus was, quite literally, wrapped in rags.   We also forget that Jesus wasn’t born in a manger because it makes for a good story; he was born there out of necessity.

So when we hear repeatedly during the Advent season that the Son of God was born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger, we must not forget what that implies. And we should ask what that means for us as followers of Jesus.

The truth is that Advent is a season where we must confront – where we should confront – Jesus’ poverty. In other words, Advent is a season of Jesus leading us to the proverbial garbage dump. Jesus is leading us to the garbage dump, forcing us to look, and challenging us to find value.

Question for reflection: What does it mean that when God became human, God became poor “for our sake”?

December 9, 2015
By Laura Johnson, Div ’16
PCM Intern
Isaiah 35:3-7

We read this oracle from the prophet Isaiah to “strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees” (Isa 35:3) right in the middle of finals week while our hands are weak from writing essays, bubbling in patterns, and typing nonstop, and our knees are buckling under all of the stress. In the midst of this dark, chaotic, wilderness that is finals week, in the midst of the gloomy cold winter days, and in the midst of our own brokenness, grief, disappointment, fear, loneliness, and suffering, these words of Isaiah offer a beacon of hope. This passage is a call to some unidentified group; all we know is that this group can hear these words and have the ability to do what is being asked of them, namely to share that God is coming and will save. What a daunting and humbling task—what would it be like if these words and tasks were bestowed upon us? How do we strengthen the weak and tell people to not fear when there is so much in this world that is terrifying and so much in our own lives that is overwhelmingly stressful?

As the passage continues, the prophet declares that once these words escape the lips of those commissioned to express them, people who live in darkness will be able to see a beautiful sunset, created beings isolated by silence will be able to hear the laughter of a child, those unable to move their bodies will be able to leap and twirl like a ballerina, and those without a voice will be able to sing at the top of their lungs (Isa 35:5-6). These words of God’s salvation have the power to completely change lives. As we faithfully approach the day in which God enters into human history and changes the world by doing so, may we live in a posture of trust that God is a God of hope and transformation, and may we share this good news with all whom we meet.

December 8, 2015
By Adam Hollowell, T’04
Director of Student Ministries, Duke Chapel
Psalm 126

Stephen Colbert keeps a sign on his desk that reads, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the existence of God.” I like this idea, perhaps because it challenges my associations with the word “infallible.” Colbert, of course, is the most famous Catholic in the United States, and I can’t think about infallibility without thinking about Catholic doctrines concerning the authority of the Pope. But this quote points me in a new direction. Can an emotion or a state of being be infallible? Can it be a witness? The psalmist seems to think so. “The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” Joy, it turns out, points unfailingly to God’s goodness. Wherever there is joy, somewhere, there too is God.

I like this idea. I like it because I believe in joy. But, truth be told, I can be joyful without doing very much rejoicing. What Monica Coleman writes about gratitude in her memoir Not Alone is, I think, also true of my experience of joy: “For me, gratitude is an intellectual knowledge, but it is not a feeling. That is, I can be thankful without seeming thankful.” The psalmist chastises readers like me. In Psalm 126 the people of God are active in their joy: they dream, they laugh, they shout, they weep, they sow, they reap. They rejoice. This means that when God is involved, joy has to be more than an idea. Wherever there is God, somewhere, there too is rejoicing.

The people of God have known the truth about joy for generations. Wherever there is joy, somewhere, there too is God. Wherever there is God, somewhere, there too is rejoicing.

Thanks be to God.

December 7, 2015
By Xiating Chen P’17
Romans 8:22-25

But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. -Romans 8:25

Advent is the season of preparation and waiting—preparing and waiting for Christ’s arrival on this Earth. Waiting may seem like a routine process on an assembly line to others, if we “have our lives together” and know exactly what the next step is going to happen and precisely where and when it is going to take place. As Duke students, we know that winter break is coming. As Christians, we know that Christ has come and Christ will come again, and Christmas is in twenty days. But not everything has a deadline to meet. A lot of times, waiting is laborious and uncertain.

I have always admired the hope in the Psalmist and the prophet Isaiah. “Restore our fortunes”, the Psalmist prays, and “here is your God”, the prophet cries out. I cannot picture the month leading up to the Birth of Christ. Maybe it was not that special to commoners like us, whose sins and busy-ness had blinded their perceptions of Christ’s arrival. Perhaps only people around Mary knew that Christ was coming. But that is the beauty of God’s gift of faith. Quoting from Farm Church’s co-founder Allen Brimer, “If you keep walking, steps will come to meet you at your feet.” We might not see what our next steps in life will be, but we know that God has our lives together, and our faith will prepare us to be a part of building of His Kingdom. We believe, we know, and we wait.

Merciful God, I believe; help me with my unbelief. This world has experienced too much pain, and we cannot fix it all because we need you. Only you can restore the ones in pain, in loss, in doubts. We lift up the uncertainties and anger in our hearts to you, especially the Syrian refugees waiting to enter a safe place, knowing that your Word and love can heal the pains of this world. Make us instruments of thy peace during this time of difficulty, teach us patience and love despite our differences, and show us glimpse of your great plan for us through our tongues and our acts in our waiting. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen. 

December 6, 2015
By Vanessa Lusa T’18
Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi 3 opens with “Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come.” And indeed we do desire the coming of the Lord. The season of Advent is all about how we can better prepare ourselves for the birth of the Savior. So, in between making our shopping lists and decorating Christmas trees, we read our Advent devotionals. We read them to stay connected to the true meaning of Christmas season, but which activities do we prioritize?

I know I am guilty of spending a plethora of time picking out the “perfect” gift for my family. In fact, some years I spend more time trying to think of a gift for just my father than I do reading the bible in preparation for Christmas. And while the Christmas season is one of joy, Malachi reminds us in the next verses (2-4) that there is much we must do to cleanse and refine ourselves, neither of which are the most joyful activities. We often celebrate with Christmas the birth of Christ the baby, but let us not forget the birth of Christ. For Christ will come and “he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap” and he will come to cleanse us, but that does not mean we cannot begin the process ourselves as we celebrate the Advent season. It’s hard to begin serious changes in our life, especially when New Years is right around the corner. I mean, why not wait a few weeks? However, I encourage you to think about how to refine yourself during the advent season. Because changes you make during New Years are changes you make for yourself; whereas changes you make in your life for Advent are changes for Jesus Christ.

December 5, 2015
By Autumn Carter T’17
Luke 9:1-6

As I have been privileged enough to be studying abroad in Venice this semester, I’ve had the chance to travel quite a bit. So when I put myself in the disciples’ shoes and imagine a trip to several new places, by foot, with no luggage, no cash, and not even an extra shirt right off the bat sounds kind of like my worst nightmare. Of course the disciples weren’t traveling to see museums and famous sites, instead they were off to do The Lord’s will.

To me, fact that God trusted Jesus’ disciples, mere men, with the power and authority to heal and perform miracles is, frankly, astounding. Jesus asked the Twelve to trust him by taking nothing along with them. They had to trust they’d be provided for as they traveled with nothing to their names. But the 12 aren’t the only group in this story Jesus trusts – he trusts the inhabitants of these villages to provide.

Like these villagers, we as children of God are called to be welcoming and open to those without clothing, without money, and without a home to call their own.  We too need to act selflessly, in kindness, in order to receive the abundance of blessings our loving God has in store for us.

And though Jesus hasn’t personally blessed most of us with healing and miracle-performing abilities, he has blessed the members of PCM+ with mouths with which to “proclaim the good news.” And as each of us progresses in our walks with Christ, we hope to gain a level of trust the disciples had when they left with absolutely nothing and no doubt that God would provide.

And though I am currently carrying not one but two bags chock full of shirts for my 5 day stay in Madrid, I, like most of us would, only hope someone would show me the hospitality the disciples received.

O God, we pray that you who is the creator of love itself would teach our hearts to love a stranger as we would our own sister or brother, and that you with wisdom beyond our human comprehension would teach our minds to trust that what you say will be will, without exception, be.

December 4, 2015
By Kate Watkins T’19
Malachi 3:13-18

It’s easy to lose sight of God. Constantly confronted with homework and extracurriculars, we struggle to set aside time in our day to just be quiet and sense God. Duke students all around us compile impressive resumes, and like the ancient prophet, we wonder, “What do we profit by keeping His command?”

This day of Advent, in the week of Hope, let us pause a moment, let the worries and commitments swirling around our overburdened brains subside, and be still.

As you reflect and create the quiet space for God to enter in, consider this prayer of Francis of Assisi:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury let me sow pardon, where there is doubt let me sow faith, where there is despair let me give hope, where there is darkness let me give light, Where there is sadness let me give joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not try to be comforted but to comfort, not try to be understood but to understand, not try to be loved but to love. Because it is in giving that we receive, it is in forgiving that we are forgiven, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

December 3, 2015
By Phoebe Donovan T’17
Malachi 3:5-12, Luke 1:68-79, Philippians 1:12-18

When reading these passages, the overarching theme that really struck me was that of fear, and how God has responded throughout history. In Malakai, we learn that despite our inherent flaws, “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you“ (3:9), God is always reminding us that He will “rebuke the devourer” and return the nation to be a blessing. Instead of punishing the Priests, God asks to be tested, prompting us to have faith in Him, knowing “For I the Lord do not change” (3:6).

The fruit’s of this promise are then explored by Luke through Zachariah’s prophecy, not only that “we should be saved from our enemies” but also that we may serve God without fear (1:74). Reading this amidst the strife of the world today, it is no small comfort that we can hold onto the knowledge we will be saved from our enemies and those who hate us (1:71). Not only must we respond in love towards God but also to our neighbours.

In reaction to such catastrophic events, messages of hatred rather than love are often sprawled across our Twitter feeds and Facebook walls. The last reading for today, Philippians 1:12-18a calls us to preach without envy, rivalry and ambition. Even through persecution, Paul is passionate for spreading the Gospel, accepting of His circumstance and even being thankful for His brothers who are “much more bold to speak the word without fear” (1:14). Such times of strife hold small opportunities to share the word of God, a timeless promise of salvation that cannot be conquered by the acts of a few. As Christians, we are called to respond not in hatred but in love, having already being forgiven for our sins, we cannot but help reflect this forgiveness unto others.  In a forever changing world full of uncertainty, these passages have been an awesome reminder of God and His love for His people.

 

December 2, 2015
By Rachael Clark T’15, Div’17
Isaiah 1:24-31

The strong shall become like tinder,
    and their work like a spark;
they and their work shall burn together,
    with no one to quench them. (Isaiah 1:31)

Verse 31 reminded me that it takes community to grow a spark into a flame; it takes a community to create an unquenchable fire glorifying God.  A few weeks ago I helped build a literal fire on a Divinity School Retreat. We were not allowed to talk and so we built the fire in comfortable silence.  Three of four people gathering brush and sticks, while two stood over the flame, arranging the kindling and protecting the nascent fire from the wind.  All of a sudden our fire caught and went from a flicker to something that actually gave of warmth. The most beautiful part of our fire was sitting in community together; knowing that we had accomplished something without speaking and could all enjoy the warmth together.

This verse reminds me that building a fire is not about my specific contribution but about how a community builds something together.  While, I believe that God puts a spark inside of all of us, this verse is about community.  It says, “their work shall become like a spark”, and “they and their work shall burn together.”  Remember that even Jesus had 12 disciples. Even Jesus worked though community.  And so by all means find the things that make you come alive and fan those flames.  But if you aren’t sure what that is, try to fan the flames in others. Put your energy towards helping other’s work grow.  So ask yourselves, where do you see God in others, and how can you help strengthen the communities around you?

 

December 1, 2015
By Cameron Tarry T’18
2 Samuel 7:18-29

Right before this passage, God promises that David’s house shall live forever without imposing any conditions for this promise to be fulfilled. Verses 18-29 contain David’s response, one praising God’s greatness and his devotion to his people. In Jesus we have the fulfillment of God’s promise – the promise of unending love, the promise that God will always be with us without us having to earn it first. God has made a covenant with humanity and has not only renewed it repeatedly, but given us examples of his constant devotion – leading the Israelites out of Egypt, building a dynasty with David, and sending His son to live and die amongst us so we can know what it is to be redeemed. In being the fulfillment of the covenant Jesus is literally the words of thousands of years’ worth of promises becoming flesh, which is incredibly powerful. We don’t even have to do anything to earn such a gift – it is given freely like the promise was to Moses and David, and like David, in this season of Advent we prepare for the fulfillment of that promise with praise and thanksgiving.

It is powerful to look at David in this season of Advent because it reminds us of the eternity of God’s covenant – and just how significant the coming of Jesus is. God promising an eternity of togetherness to one as mistake-filled as David is powerful for us as ordinary human beings, since we have the very evidence of that togetherness in Jesus, in whom all our sins are washed clean. In our busy lives it is meaningful to sit down and take a moment simply to thank God for all that we have and all that is coming – for it is no small thing to love and redeem all of humanity. We are so fortunate because no matter what we have or do or experience, God keeps his promise with us.

 

November 30, 2015
By John Hare-Grogg T’16
2 Peter 3: 1-18

If Jesus came again tomorrow, would you feel ready?

I know I wouldn’t. I may go to church quite frequently, but all too often, I spend the intermediate weeks failing to live as I feel Christ would want, counting on future chances to live out the call of my faith. I could show more love to my neighbor, but instead I choose to put myself first. The tests on my mind, especially this time of year, are the ones my professors are grading, not the opportunities I encounter to be a better disciple and develop a closer relationship with God.

Superficially, this approach seems appealing enough. If there is a pretty good chance I’ll be around a while longer, and that the “day of judgment and destruction of the godless” isn’t just around the corner, maybe I will be better off if I don’t put my faith at the forefront right now.

But what I take from this text is that this sort of thinking is fundamentally flawed. The reason we don’t have to fear imminent judgment isn’t because God is slow or unsure, allowing us to take our chances and game the system; it’s because God is patient with us, “not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.” We are admonished to “regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” If that is true, aren’t we obliged to honor God’s patience with sincere efforts to reform ourselves?

Advent, literally, is “the coming”. It is an invitation to purposefully contemplate the ways in which we are yet unprepared to receive Christ when he comes again, and to work toward versions of ourselves that respond to his call more faithfully.

God is coming. How are you preparing yourself today?

O Lord, help me to honor your patience by earnestly preparing myself for your judgment, that in so doing I may live as you desire. Open my eyes and guide my feet to ways I may prepare myself for Christ’s coming. Amen.

 

November 29, 2015
By Rev. Katie Owen Aumann
Jeremiah 33:14-16

Advent is here!  Yet Advent’s arrival just marks an intentional time of waiting and anticipation.  If Katie Becker has been waiting with great anticipation for Advent, now we all join together to await God coming into the world.  So it is fitting that the season begins with the prophetic cry of Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming…”

Jeremiah offers a word of hope in the midst of a time of exile and captivity.  We joke about our year in “Babylon,” exiled from the Chapel and grieving the place so many in PCM call home.  And yet Jeremiah seems to be pointing to a greater sense of displacement, a deeper sense of longing for God to realign powers, and a stronger sense of urgency for God to reconcile the world.  Jeremiah speaks hope into a scene of destruction, displacement, and violence, and yet his words of hope remind us that God’s reconciling is still something for which we wait.

Waiting doesn’t come easy to most of us.  We struggle to wait for things that have anticipated deadlines: watching the timer on the oven waiting for the turkey to be done; counting down the days until finals will be over; hoping the construction team will meet their deadline so we can return to the Chapel.

If we struggle to wait for items with concrete timelines, Jeremiah’s words require us to draw on a stronger faith amidst scenes where there is no end to the waiting in sight.   Jeremiah invites us to trust that God’s justice might enter into scenes of racial injustice and microagression, that God’s righteousness might compel leaders toward greater love of the immigrant and the refugee, and that God’s peaceable kingdom might yet be possible.

So the question for you this Advent season is: what posture will you take for this season of waiting?  Perhaps Advent waiting does not imply inactivity but active anticipation and participation in God’s unfolding work in the world.  As you wait, how will you be part of the unfolding justice and righteousness that God promises?

God of hope, prepare us to wait for your unfolding justice and righteousness with anticipation and participation in God’s promised reign.  Amen.