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.
Check back each day for the next day’s Advent devotional from a PCM student!
-Rev. Katie Owen Aumann, Presbyterian Campus Minister
Nativity of the Lord 3
Joshua Lazard, C Eric Lincoln Minister, Duke Chapel
John 1:14 (The Message)
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
It’s A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
For many people, living in a community with loving neighbors makes the difference. While many people make decisions about where to live based on the quality of local schools or even proximity to work, most just say they want to live in a “good neighborhood.” Sometimes, there is that one neighbor who goes above and beyond what is expected. This is the neighbor who is invited to share in the family barbecue or asked to come over to the graduation party. But this is also the neighbor who is able to be present in the time of deep grief and sorrow. This is what makes a community a neighborhood: understanding the transforming power of presence amongst one’s fellow neighbors.
At this time of year, we pay special attention to the arrival of Jesus here on earth. The humanity of Jesus is exalted as the Word becomes flesh—he looks like us! We celebrate the incarnation and embodiment of God amongst humanity—Emmanuel, God with us. It is a beautiful day in the neighborhood because as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is as if He has moved next door, asking to be a neighbor. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood because the presence of Jesus has the power to transform how we interact with our other neighbors. Jesus’ life shows us how to answer that basic question “who is your neighbor?” demonstrating that being present with your neighbor is sometimes all that is required.
This Advent season, as we celebrate God’s presence with us, I would invite you to be intentional about who you are present with in the upcoming days. In what ways can you foster your “neighborhood relationships” by inviting someone for coffee or lunch as an opportunity for being present with them.
Dear Lord, help me to be present and be a neighbor to those around me, Amen.
Nativity of the Lord 2
Adam Hollowell, Director of Student Ministries, Duke Chapel
Psalm 97: 4-5
His lightenings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
before the Lord of all the earth.
Two things surprise me about this psalm. The first is the image of mountains melting like wax before the Lord. I can’t remember having seen the word “melt” in any verse of scripture before. After some digging, I discovered that there are a few other places in the Old Testament where things melt, and they aren’t pretty. (One prophet cries, “Melt away, all you Philistines!”) In this psalm, however, fire, lightening, and earthquakes are cause for joy and celebration among the faithful. The psalmist even rejoices at the melting of mountains. I am also surprised to see that the cloud of darkness surrounding the Lord seems to be a good thing. We are often told that light is good, and darkness is bad. In fact, light shining in the darkness is one of our central Christian images of hope. Somehow, though, in this psalm, the darkness that surrounds God is directly linked to the justice and righteousness that are the foundation of God’s holy throne. God’s darkness is a light that dawns for the righteous.
As we approach the end of advent, the once-pristine advent candles have now melted to uneven heights, and discolored wax blemishes the wreath. We find Mary and Joseph in a dark manger, having been turned away from the inn. These are strange signs that we are getting closer to the coming of the Christ. I am reminded of the preacher who said, “New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”
Even as melting candles flicker, we gather to discover again the joy of life with God. Even in a manger, the one who is light of the world swims in the waters of his mother’s womb, surrounded by darkness. In that thick darkness, the heavens proclaim the righteousness of God. All the peoples behold God’s glory. In that thick darkness, new life begins. Let the earth rejoice.
Nativity of the Lord 1
Shannon Thoits, T’18
Luke 2: 1-20
Jesus came as a great light to the world, the Prince of Peace, the Son of God who was to redeem us of our sins and save us from eternal darkness. The coming of the Lord should be a grand affair, His birth a miraculous spectacle. As Luke tells us of the birth of Jesus, we have to remove our images of grand optics and opulent settings. Luke recounts the humble beginnings of the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary in the small town of Bethlehem, placed in a manger among animals and the first to hear of His birth were shepherds tending their flocks by night. There was no room for Him in the inn, because the people had not been expecting His arrival.
Before Jesus came into the world, people had been living in a darkness of sin and suffering that they had not been able to recognize. They had not known to prepare for the coming of Jesus; they had not known to make room in the inn, or in their hearts. When the light of God first shone upon them with the birth of the Son, many were at first, terrified, just like the shepherds were as the angel of God came to them. As soon as the light of the Lord shone upon them, they recognized the glory of what had been given to them, and to all other people on the earth.
Even though Jesus was the great Light of the world, He was humble enough to walk among us. Just as the angels said to the shepherds, “unto you a child is born,” Jesus was a gift of love from God so that we might be brought out of darkness into the light. Even though brightness of new things sometimes seems terrifying and hard to understand, do not be afraid because God is with you. Jesus birth means that the joy and love of the Lord is upon you. So this Advent, even though you may sit in the darkness of your struggles and sadness, know that the birth of Jesus means joy and light that brings happiness into your life. As you take time to rejoice and be merry this Christmas, take a moment to do as Mary did; treasure the light and joy of Jesus and ponder Him in your heart with love.
Maryann Verghese, T’15
Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8
James 1: 17-18
When we first started talking about an Advent devotional, I had a conversation with someone talking about the purpose of Advent. She asked, “why is it important if Jesus didn’t do anything important until decades later?” It is a fair question. Why do we care so much about a child?
Because this child is a long awaited savior. Because this child was going to enter this world and leave this world blameless and without sin. Because this child shows that God fulfills his promises. It’s also a sign that God’s schedule is rarely aligned with ours. It would be easy for salvation to come at the moment of Jesus’ birth, but that is not the case. The birth is a time for celebration, and there will late come a time for growth, a time for ministry for Jesus, a time for death, and a time for resurrection.
Advent is the season of preparation for the birth of our Lord. So, as we come to the day of the birth of Christ, I think about how different Christmas Eve can be every year. There are years when it is easy to be excited about the birth of Christ, and then there are other years when the time of joy does not seem applicable. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there are times for everything. And sometimes, the times of our lives are not what we want them to be. No one wants to be in the time of grief, of sadness, of despair. But yet, we often find ourselves or those around us in these periods. It can be hard during the times of weeping, mourning, and hate to find joy in the gifts of God. Therefore, what happens when we cannot access the joy of nativity?
The beauty of God is that He is consistent and perfect, even when His world is not. As James reminds us, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Advent is the preparation for this gift of unconditional love. This is a gift we never can accept fully in our imperfect understanding and limited human capacity, but yet God loves us still. As we near the end of this season of Advent, remember we have been given the greatest gift, beyond imagination. Let us rejoice, for God meets us wherever we are, whatever time in life we are in, with the gift of love.
Lord, we give thanks for unfailing and unchanging love and for the perfect gift of your Son Jesus.
Richard Phillips, T’17
The Night is Far Gone…
In this passage, Paul is telling us to wake up, trying to rouse us to reality. In doing so, we’ll see the world for what it is. We’ll detach ourselves from this earth because we’ll know that it is nothing but a cursed shell, fleeting in comparison to the grand construct behind it and after it. We’ll wake up like Paul. We’ll strive to understand how to live righteously and act accordingly. And we’ll do it out of sincere realization that doing so allows for a more wonderful existence here on this earth. Paul makes this wake up look so simple and quick!
… but it takes a lifetime.
In this cursed world, chaotic forces are continually at work to cloud our minds with miasma and bind us to the soil. We can’t just “wake up” from this. Just as in our corporeal world, whenever we step off the ground of our reality, we often find ourselves plummeting right back down to where we started. The chaos is so great and so cunning that it convinces us to follow its own laws (lies) for this world, and the miasma is so thick that it covers our eyes and seeps into the very core of our being. Seeing through it is not easy- it’s actually impossible. And do you know what else? This miasma looks awfully clear to me, almost as if its not even there. Is it even there? I seem to be seeing just fine already. Why do I need to clear my eyes again? How do I even clear my eyes again?
Chaos and confusion reign here. The universe may be lost… but is it?
The God of Order has something to tell you.
This passage reminded me once more to never let my spirit sleep, and I know that I’ll need to continually ask God for this until I die… but for now,
I leave you with a question and a challenge: Is your clarity, His clarity?
Look at your life and try to see where it moves. Look at the world and try to see where it races. Look at your past and try to see where it leads. Look into your soul and try to see what it wants. And in all of it, look up to your God and ask how it all could possibly make sense. Chaos may think that it reigns here, but love cracked and shattered that illusion the moment our infinite God stepped into this universe as one of us. The surrounding miasma wants you to think that what we see and what we think we know are all that there is, it wants you to lose yourself in its siren song. Don’t listen. Open your ears to the Whisper in that silence behind the noise.
Dreams can be so lucid sometimes, and so nightmarishly close to perfect… but perfection sits right outside your eyelids, waiting to show you reality… All you have to do is open them. Your miasma is not impenetrable. Wake up.
…The Day is Almost Here.
Jacqueline Emerson, T’18
Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. (Psalm 96:3-4)
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name (Psalm 96:8).
As Christmas is drawing near and you’ve hopefully gotten all of your Christmas shopping done (or for those of you who wait until the last minute- you’re thoroughly prepared to go any day now), I hope we can all set aside some time to praise the Lord in this hustle and bustle of the holiday season. This year, I have learned many things through my transition to college- how to correctly load the laundry, how to steal fruit from marketplace, how to get the most use out of my sweaters, how to snag as many free meals as possible, and how to religiously check Sakai for updates to my classes. But, one of the most important things I’ve learned is the importance of praising the Lord and seeing His glory all around me.
At first, I was confused by the concept of God’s glory. With our human definitions of glory, I was always left with a negative feeling of what the word “glory” meant. With a little help from my friend, John Piper, author of Desiring God and creator of a fabulous website, I developed a new view on the meaning of glory and importance of praise. Do you ever wonder why so many of the Psalms, such as Psalm 96, discuss praising the Lord? We praise the Lord because this is a completion of our joy and part of kingdom-bringing here on earth. God wants us to praise Him because He wants what is best for us. What’s best for us is Him. So the next time you see something beautiful in nature, marvel in its beauty, but then go a step farther and praise the Creator. When you see a glimpse of God in someone’s character, praise the Lord. God’s glory is all around us, shining through the skies, trees, mountains, people, and His Son. We can serve as vessels of His glory, His beauty of spirit, to shine on to others. I challenge you to continually seek out His glory this holiday season and praise the Lord in ways you have not before.
Dear Lord, thank you for the majesty of your creation, the glory seen throughout the world, and our capability to praise you and enjoy your holiness and spirit. Encourage us to see you and your glory through things here on earth and continually look towards your kingdom in Heaven. Let us be vessels of your glory and show that to others this Christmas season. Most of all, thank you for the coming of your Son and your transformation into human form to better relate to us and furthermore demonstrate your boundless glory.
Elizabeth Lester, T’14
Home is the ongoing search for us throughout our lives. When we come to Duke we are looking to make the stone walls and arches the framework for our new home. And then there is of course the leaving of Duke, the goodbye to a well-loved and well-worn home, to go off and search for new homes in the churches, apartments, jobs, and communities to which we all eventually must go. The psalmist speaks of home in the texts we read today. In Psalm 89: 1-4; 26, God swore to David to “establish your descendants forever, and build your throne for all generations.” God is promising a place for David. A place which will extend to all those who shall come after David. A place to praise God, and, as we learn in 2 Samuel 7:1-11;16, a place for rest from all enemies. This house shall eventually include Joseph, Mary, and Jesus in its genealogical blueprint. How often do we hear in the Scriptures that someone is of the house of another? It is a critical tie of which we read again and again in the ways that a house is the bond from one generation of God’s faithful followers to the next. God establishes a home for David and his future generations so that we may all know love.
But home does not always mean love for all of us. It can be marred by grief and pain, hardships and abuse. Some of us see the love that is a home distorted by what is ugly and painful. But, as Paul declares in Romans 16:25-27, the proclamation of Jesus Christ shall give us strength to love the Lord our God, a home that is open to all of us. Mary was visited by Gabriel in her house in that central passage of Luke 1 so that we may know this love. We have a place in God, a place to call home. Even Mary was perplexed and had to ponder the wonder of the message Gabriel brought to her just as we all can sometimes be perplexed at the place God has set for us. But as you search for the home in your life, whether that be at PCM or any other place in the community of Christ, know that in doing so you are searching for the place God has given to you out of love so that we may praise God’s steadfast love and glory forever.
O Lord, let us to open our hearts and minds as we seek the place you have set for us in the house of the Lord. Help us to remember throughout Advent the love that you have given to us through your son, Jesus Christ and the home that we find in you and in the generations of your faithful followers.
Callie Fry, T’18
Judges 13: 2-24
Lord, as we draw closer to the birth of your son Jesus, let us take time to reflect on our relationship with you, and who we turn to when we seek guidance. We often have a difficult time living with a certain purpose and following through on tasks without some sort of tangible leader- whether it be a political leader, a professor, or even a parent-figure. In Judges 13, we see the Israelites striving to serve God, but failing without a consistent human leader. After the death of Joshua, the people abandoned the Lord and began to worship their own Gods. God was filled with anger and handed the people over to plunderers who robbed them of all their wealth. Then the Lord, feeling mercy for his chosen people, offered them judges to deliver them from those who plundered them. The people began to obey the Lord and worship him. However, once the judges died, the people relapsed and behaved worse than before. This inability to consistently praise God and seek relationship with him angered the Lord as He yearned for an intimate, consistent relationship with his chosen people.
This problem is solved through the birth of Jesus Christ. While that does not mean we can effortlessly follow him, as He is no longer on this earth, we do have a more tangible leader whose life we can turn to for answers and guidance. However, Jesus was not like the leaders of the Israelites as He is eternal. He is the embodiment of the Lord’s steadfast, eternal love and second chance for the people. As psalms 80 writes, “Your steadfast love is established forever.” This love and even anger at how easily people shied away from the Lord without a leader shines through the life of Jesus Christ.
When we feel the path is uncertain and begin to stray away from you, Lord, let us look to the leadership and steadfast love embodied by your son, Jesus Christ.
Bryce McAteer, T’17
There was something special about Jesus. The Author of Hebrews weaves together an exalting description of Christ, asking the readers to consider the special place he has in the story of this world. Normally we focus how Christ’s divinity separate from his humanity. Here, Christ is compared to the rest of the heavenly host that dwells in Heaven above. The scenes and prose come mostly from the “royalty psalms” that describe the coming Kingdom of God. While in the time of Israel, these psalms typically had to do with the kingdom that God had blessed under David and Solomon, those psalms also stuck along as a promise of what God’s rule would be like in the future when He returned. Jesus, thus, is not just a heavenly servant (like an angel), but God Himself whose throne is “forever and ever.”
Jesus’ coming is the beginning of something new. The righteousness of God, an attribute so prevalent in the nature of God, is coming in human form to put this world to rights. Each of us is called to join this march, this struggle, this trudge, this hopeful and one day victorious return of this world into God’s perfect love — a place and state where all is right. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “it is not mere improvement but Transformation.” So we hope and we wait, and eventually we join.
Questions on which to Meditate and Pray:
- Where is “righteous scepter… of [God’s] Kingdom” still needed in this world? How can you be a part of it here at Duke? At home? In your relationships? After graduation?
- What sets Jesus apart? Why, if even, is He worth following?
- Where must we, rather than act, wait to hear where God might be leading us?
Lukas Gschwandtner, T’18
2 Samuel 6: 1-11
Psalm 89: 1-4
Hebrews 1: 1-4
Just how powerful is God and what is the extent of His love?
The answer can at first be a bit scary. In the story of Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6:1-11, we learn of just how powerful God can be. David begins to fear the power of God. The power of God is one in which we may fear as we will never fully comprehend its extent; however, when God is accepted as our Lord and Savior he joins our side in the fight against evil. His mighty power aids us as people in our struggle with sin. His power can also be viewed in the love he has for us. As discussed in Psalm 89:1-4, His love “stands firm forever”; the love of God is one that is eternal, and one that will never die. Even in the lowest time of our lives, when we feel that the entire world is against us and hope begins to dwindle, remember that the love of our Savior remains strong. His love is one that remains a constant in our lives. So, as you face your daily struggle with falling into the temptations of sin remember the superiority of God as mentioned in Hebrews 1:1-4.
Remember that God is the most superior being in all of His mighty power, and that he expresses His power through the love that he has for us. God is your greatest weapon in the war against sin, with Him on your side, sin will always be conquered and the devil himself vanquished.
Katie Becker, T’17
Mark 9: 9-10
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
For the longest time, when people asked me if I was religious or attended church, I dodged the question. When pressed, I would spit out a rushed, even embarrassed answer that sounded a little bit like, “YesIAmAChristianButIPromiseI’mNotOneOfThoseChristians.” Even now, I struggle with publicly claiming a Christian identity, for fear that people will immediately think I’m hateful or stupid. The notion of evangelism or proselytizing makes me feel sick to my stomach. I muster up the courage to wear a cross necklace only two days of the year: Christmas Eve and Easter. Even my closest friends don’t know the full extent of my participation in religious life.
I would hazard a guess that a lot of Christians – maybe more than are willing to admit – know this struggle all too well. Even early Christians had to practice their faith in secret to avoid persecution. Images of secrecy are abundant in Mark’s gospel, so much that academics have termed these commands to “tell no one” the Messianic Secret. No one quite knows why the Gospel is written with this motif, though some scholars suggest that it was the author’s attempt to reconcile expectations of a grandiose, conquering Messiah with Christ’s peaceful and simple ministry. The point is, Christianity and secrecy have often been intertwined, and the Advent season is a perfect time to reflect on this.
I’m certainly not suggesting that Christians are a persecuted group in this country, or that there is some sort of “War on Christmas” (swerve, Fox News). On the contrary, I recognize that Christianity dominates a lot of culture and policy of the country we live in, not always in good ways.
But I do wonder if we all might need some encouragement to live out our faith throughout the whole year, not just the giant love-fest that is Advent. Why does it seem that many people come out of the woodwork during Advent to do service and engage in the community, only to disappear after January 1? If the full extent of your service is participating in Adopt-A-Family or donating to the Salvation Army at Christmas, can you really claim that you practice Christianity daily? I’m not convinced.
Question for Reflection: Do you ever feel pressure to “tell no one” about your faith? How can you live your faith – in word and deed – in times of the year when it isn’t as socially acceptable to do so?
Cameron Tarry, T’18
2 Kings 2: 9-22
This passage from 2 Kings has many parallels to Jesus on the surface. Elisha takes up Elijah’s job as the apostles take up Jesus’. Elisha purifies water with salt, saying that it makes the water wholesome, just as later Jesus tells his people that they are the salt of the earth meant to purify the world.
However, to truly understand this reading, we must understand exile. 2 Kings is one of the books directly before the Exile into Babylon, an event which seems to show the most separation from God, so how can we read a promising tale of a prophet when we know it comes before such darkness? Additionally, how can we read a prelude to a dark event during Advent, a time when we are preparing for God’s greatest proof of his love?
Although God sends his people into exile, many pre-Exilic prophets proclaim that he follows his people there. The blessing and covenant of God is that he never leaves us; even, he is most present when we feel furthest from his path. That promise of eternal union, that covenant, is most exemplified through the birth of Jesus – God is so close to his people that he became one of us.
The birth of Jesus wasn’t meant just as a proof of something redeeming or a promise of perfection, however. The stories of Jesus and preparation for exile go hand in hand. Jesus is proof of God’s presence in our pain and darkness. We can dream of a return to perfection all we want, but we, too, live in exile – an exile of material idols and war and sin. God becoming man wasn’t so he could bring all man to a God-like state or a second Eden; it was to show to the utmost ability that God is willing to exist, love, and even thrive with us in Exile.
Jesus was born in a manger and died on a wooden cross – there’s not much perfect about that. The perfection we are given is not some future Eden, but the fact that God is with us in exile, and through him we can make this exile better. In honoring the fact that God was willing to be born human, we should honor the fact that he lives with all of us – that it wasn’t just in Jesus’ suffering where he was most manifest. Jesus’ tale of God’s own perfection existing with us applies to us all – and as the salt of the earth, that is something we must remember and act on every day, not just in this season of Advent.
Katie Becker, T’17
For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
Ephesians 6, from which today’s passage comes, is not an easy chapter. Just verses before Paul compels the Ephesians to “struggle against the rulers, against the authorities,” he commands slaves to treat their masters with respect. Fight authority but be a good slave? Huh? This duality is confusing, to say the least.
However, when we step back and look at the passage as a whole, we may be able tease out Paul’s message. Do not misplace your anger by struggling against individual masters or wrongdoers (“enemies of flesh and blood”), he seems to compel us. This is fruitless, because all are equal in the eyes of God (Ephesians 6: 9). Rather, remember that the fight is against larger systems of oppression, and against evil itself.
Reading this passage in this way, I am reminded of my favorite line of one of my favorite Christmas hymns, O Holy Night:
“Chains shall He break, for the slave is a brother
And in His name, all oppression shall cease.”
What most draws me to the Advent season has never been the gifts, the food, or even the pretty lights (and, believe me, at this time of year in the Pacific Northwest, light is a big deal). It’s not even the lovely music or the sense of joy.
It’s the yearning. It’s the recognition that, yes, sometimes it seems that life sucks and everywhere you look you see sadness, gloom, and oppression. At the same time, it’s the knowledge and the hope that something or someone is coming to rescue us all. The world can be a foreboding, unfair place that looks nothing like how we imagine the Kingdom of Heaven. Too often, we are left at a loss about how to go about fighting the horrors of the world. Advent is a time when we recognize both the gross injustices and the rays of hope that we often fail to see around us.
In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul recognized the complexities of struggling against the oppressions that exist all around us. We, too, find ourselves at a loss when we try to fight the injustices of our world. We find hope in the knowledge that the Kingdom of Heaven looks nothing like systems of violence against women, of mass incarceration, of poverty and war. This Advent season, empower us each to do our part in the fight against injustice, with the knowledge that, one day, oppression truly will cease and all will be equal before you. Amen.
Rev. Katie Owen Aumann, T ’06 Presbyterian Campus Minister
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11, Luke 1:46b-55
It’s Joy Sunday! For many Dukies, it’s also the last Sunday of finals, which brings about a sense of joy many have waited weeks (or a whole semester) to celebrate! Surely there is a lot to be joyful about at this time of year: the end of endless hours of studying; the successful completion of another semester; a time to return home to be with family and rekindle relationships with friends; simply coming up for air long enough to enjoy Sabbath rest! Surely those are good reasons to be joyful.
But this Sunday, we are invited to consider a deeper and more abiding sense of joy—joy found when God’s vision of justice and peace unfolds. Isaiah’s prophetic word speaks of joy found when light shines in dark places and freedom breaks through for those who experience oppression, darkness, and sadness. Isaiah’s words remind us that the One for whom we wait in Advent is One whose life and ministry exhibit how to seek God’s vision of justice and peace.
While we wait, we look to Mary’s Song in Luke 1. Mary, a young, teenage girl who finds herself pregnant, surely had reasons to be afraid. But her words sing of broader sources of joy—joy found in the overturning of oppressive powers and care for those in need. This semester, we closed PCM+ worship each week by singing a modern interpretation of Mary’s words:
My soul cries out with a joyful shout that the God of my heart is great,
And my spirit sings of the wondrous things that you bring to the ones who wait.
You fixed your sight on your servant’s plight, and my weakness you did not spurn,
So from east to west shall my name be blest.
Could the world be about to turn?
My heart shall sing of the day you bring. Let the fires of your justice burn.
Wipe away all tears, for the dawn draws near, and the world is about to turn!
This Advent, may we be active participants like Mary in God’s unfolding vision of a world where our true joy is found in a more just and peaceable kin-dom.
Holy God, open our eyes this Advent to glimpses of your hope for the world, enable us to see ways to participate in the kin-dom of God unfolding, and empower us like Mary to sing with joy. Amen.
Hannah Ward, T’14, Duke Chapel Pathways Fellow
St. Lucia Day
In some Christian denominations (cough, Lutheran, cough) December 13th marks a day for dressing up in slightly scandalous Scandinavian outfits and singling hymns celebrating Christ’s light in the world. They call this “St. Lucia Day.” It is bright and cheery and it interrupts the penitence of the Advent season with cookies, cider, and children in adorable outfits.
A quick Wikipedia search of “Saint Lucia” will produce very little information about the actual person, St. Lucia. And that’s because St. Lucia’s day is not as much about the personhood of this mystical Lucia but rather the celebration that ensued in honor of her name. Saint Lucia’s Day is all about celebrating the light even in our darkest times.
Traditionally (before the acceptance of the Gregorian calendar) St. Lucia Day was celebrated during the Winter solstice (the shortest day of the year). In the far northern reaches of Scandinavian regions, there are only a few hours of daylight during this time of the year. St. Lucia’s Day is a way for people to gather around the light even when there is no physical presence of it (from the sun that is). They do so by lighting lots of candles, eating good food, and gathering to praise God.
The Christian church sets aside Advent to be a time for preparation and waiting. When we wait, we acknowledge that we are incomplete. However, waiting also means we have hope for the change of times. And just as the daylight grows longer after the winter solstice, our hope too grows in Christ. As we await the coming of the Light take some time to reflect about the places in your life that seem too dark to see, need Christ’s healing presence, or feel empty of goodness and warmth. I encourage you to light a candle and see the visible ways the light radiates into the spaces of darkness. If a simple candle can bring such joy, then how much more will Christ be a light in those places of darkness in your life?
Everlasting God, you restore all things unto you. Bring us out of darkness into your Light. When we turn away from you, call us home; when we cannot see, give us vision, and when we fear, give us hope to sustain us through the night. Amen.
Robert Vann, T’17
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
As people of God, it’s easy to become complacent in the assurance of Christ, to let faith become a passive state of being. In this passage, Paul reminds us that the Christian life is an active struggle, a continual journey. In this passage, Paul is realistic – he recognizes that he is far from the life he is seeking but he continues in this pursuit because Christ claimed him. But he also talks about what it is like to press onward on the journey. He reminds us not to dwell in the past and to instead to commit to a continual self-examination and spiritual growth. In the season of Advent, take time to reflect on your own spiritual journey and how you find direction and energy to press forward.
What does it mean to be a Christian?
How are you pressing onward in the goals you have claimed for yourself?
When is it difficult to press forward and how do we deal with this?
How do we press forward even when we are doubtful of the road ahead?
Beth Blackwood, T’14, Young Adults in Global Mission–Hungary
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.
This passage sounds backwards to me. Everything is flip-flopped, these gains and losses. Everything is different than what mainstream society tells us is success, especially at Duke. It’s kind of backwards like Hungarian culture. You say “hello” to say goodbye, you always say your name backwards, “Blackwood Elizabeth,” and they eat fruit soup, which is just weird. My choice to serve as a volunteer here for a year also seemed really backwards to a lot folks, too. “You’re going to be a missionary for a year?” “Isn’t that a waste of Duke degree?” But I’m trying to not let that bother me because this year is about my relationship with Christ and with myself. This year is about spending my Saturday nights in a three-hour church service spoken in language that I don’t understand, but in community with my Roma sisters and brothers. This year is about being asked about my studies and no one giving two flips about who or what Duke University is. And this year is about knowing Christ, His resurrection, and His sufferings, through the tough moments and the beautiful ones.
Dear Heavenly Presence,
Thanks for the really backwards Bible passages that make us think about the beauty in our lives. Thanks for time and space to live in counter-intuitive ways, where we can spend less time counting our wins and more time growing closer to you. During this advent season, we pray for peace in all the communities that we cherish, especially our Duke community, near and far. We also pray for peace between dominant and marginalized communities, specifically the Roma population in Central Europe, who continue to withstand systematic oppression from governments, organizations, and individuals. This Christmas, help us know Christ’s suffering and the suffering of those around us, but also to live in peace with those we love.
In Your Name, Amen
Natalie Knox, T’17
“Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.”
As Duke students, our lives often revolve around deadlines. We have problems sets due every Thursday, an essay due at midnight, and quite possibly an application that closes in just a few hours. While these deadlines bring stress, they also bring a sense of order to our crazy lives. We know what to expect when a teacher tells us to complete an assignment by the next class. However, when a paper is due a month from now, it is much easier to procrastinate and lower this assignment on our priority list, thinking that at the present there are more pressing issues at hand. But what happens when there is no deadline? Would the project ever get done? How can you prioritize something indefinite that may or may not happen even in our lifetime?
This is the struggle we have with waiting for Christ. God tells us to “be ready”, but when should we be ready? When can we mark it in our calendars with an asterisks reminding us that we need to be ready by this date, at this time? Although we celebrate Christmas on December 25th, this is reflective of our humanely fault of needing a deadline. We tell ourselves that the waiting will be done at the end of Advent. But in reality, we are always waiting. We are called to be constantly be waiting and preparing ourselves for Christ, because no one knows when He will come again.
Sometimes this call gets lost in the shuffle of our everyday lives. It’s easy to think to ourselves that we can always be better tomorrow, but what if the deadline really is today? How are we preparing ourselves for Christ right now? I encourage you to think of Advent as a time to make waiting for an unknown deadline a priority. This is far from encouraging passivity. Instead, it is an invitation to be actively resting, trusting in God and his timing. We should wait confidently, knowing that the Lord only seeks to increase our faith by making us wait and prepare for His unrevealed arrival.
Lauren Harper, P’17
Psalm 27, Isaiah 4: 2-6, Acts 11: 1-18
Put on some boots. Grab a jacket, wrap a scarf around your neck, snag a pair of mittens and head out of your dorm (or Perkins). Find a rock, a tree, a secluded corner of the gardens, the forest…find some small bit of creation where you can just sit and be. Now take five minutes to simply listen to your breath, clear your mind of everything and focus on the small sounds of nature, and wait for the LORD.
(After five minutes, read the devotional passages in this meditative frame of mind.)
The psalmist says “one thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I see: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.” For me, deliberately going into creation is a way of seeking the LORD in his temple, where I can gaze on his beauty. Take this moment to seek his face in your small piece of nature around you, use the silence to hear with your heart, use the slower rhythms of nature to still the relentless flow of thought and stress. I find reading the Word in nature brings different revelations and insights than sitting in my room, where I read everything else. The act of bringing my Bible outside is an act of worship, where a rock or a fallen log is my altar, and the holiness of the text is magnified in God’s own temple.
Be strong, and take heart, and wait for the LORD!
Lots of love from Harper, who wishes you grace and peace during finals!
Josh Gritter, Div ’16, PCM Intern
Psalm 27: 8-9
“Come, my heart says, see his face! Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me” (Psalm 27:8-9)
Face to Face with Jesus
In Hebrew the word for face, panim, connotes one’s entire being. To stare into another’s face is to behold all of who they are—a good reminder that God saves us as wholes, not as souls. It is a strange thing for the Psalmist to desire to seek God’s face. Not least because we often suppose that seeing God would mean our demise. But what if God’s face isn’t too holy, too grandiose—too powerful for us to see? After all, the psalmist didn’t seem to think so.
Advent reminds us that seeing God’s face is both deeply hurtful and deeply hopeful. If we see God’s face then we also see Jesus’ tears. His face tells the painful story of our world. In his face we see a world where black bodies don’t matter. We see a world where Duke is in the top ten for sexual abuse on College campuses. We see a world where the relentless call to perfection steals our imagination and with it our hearts. We see a world where people feel so alone that life seems unlivable. We see a world in which “Lord, in your mercy” seems the only fitting prayer.
But this is not all we see. In Jesus’ face we also see his solidarity with the broken. We see that he is “God with us,” which means he is God entering into our loneliness. We see his stubborn yearning for a world shaped by love rather than fear. We see that he practices resurrection. We see that he will not leave us to our perils alone.
Maybe the gift of sight, the ability to truly see one another, is rooted in the conversations we have with God, face-to-face. I wonder if we stare into the face of Jesus long enough this Advent if we might begin to see the world differently. I wonder if we might begin to see ourselves more clearly. I wonder if we might, ever so slightly, begin to experience the inexorable power of hope. I wonder if we might begin to see Jesus’ face in every face: In the face our enemies and in the face of our friends. I wonder if this Advent we might begin to echo the prayer of the Psalmist, “Come, my heart says, see his face! Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
Maryann Verghese, T’15
Mark 1: 1-8
I’ve always found John the Baptist to be one of the most fascinating characters of the Bible. For me, he is one of the easiest characters to visualize. He is high on my list of Bible characters I would want to invite to dinner, or probably more appropriately, hang out and enjoy locusts and honey. But though he is one of the ultimate cool dudes of the Bible, I struggle with his purpose. Because Isaiah foretells of his coming (“Behold a voice comes in the wilderness”), it is clear that John the Baptist is important. What I struggled with is why? If you expected complete answers, I regretfully inform you that I do not have them. But I do have thoughts, so here we go.
I think John the Baptist is important for us on a simple level because as Isaiah and Mark both say, he prepares the way for the Lord. He starts baptizing before Jesus begins his ministry, and he is a messenger of Jesus. He comes from the wilderness and starts to baptize for repentance. However, John is also very clear that he is not the awaited Messiah. “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” (Mark 1:7). While John is specially called, he cannot act as God. For his baptism is only with water, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit. However, we are still stuck with the fact that John the Baptist acknowledges he is not adequate. John knows that even as he is important to God, he still needs the salvation Jesus offers.
So where does that leave us? While John has many great purposes in the Bible, I think one of them is a reminder of both our humanity and ability to care for others. John acknowledges this humanity, he also does do ministry, even when it does seem somewhat useless in the time before Jesus. He is a voice, and therefore is not the same as the light of Jesus, but he does reflect God. The Rev. Katie Aumann, once said, “It’s not my job to be the light, but my job is to hold up a mirror in times of darkness to remind you that there is a light there.” Similarly, John the Baptist reminds us that even though we are not salvation, we still have work to do in the world. We have a responsibility to show Christ’s love and peace to others. Even though are lives are busy and full especially at this time, remember that we aim to be reflections of Jesus in the lives of others.
Lord, help us reflect Your light and peace to the world today.
Hannah Ward, T’14, Chapel Pathways Fellow
Saint Nicholas Day!
Read: Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, Ezekiel 36:24-28, Mark 11:27-33
Saint Nicholas is arguably the most important man of the Christmas season after, of course, Jesus himself. Many Christian traditions honor this day, the day Saint Nicholas died, as a day of gift giving and reflection. Although the image of Saint Nicholas has changed throughout the years to the more common Santa Claus, it is clear that the attribution of selflessness to both personas has not. St. Nicholas, the person, was revered because he was a faithful follower of Christ despite persecution. He worked actively to bring justice into a world consumed with greed and arrogance. Santa Claus became so popular because he gave every kid hope and joy in the Christmas season.
In both of the Old Testament texts for today, we learn of the restorative power of God’s mercy. Both the prophet and psalmist show how God’s love for the Israelites is so powerful that nothing could prevent God from giving them abundance, not even their own unfaithfulness. Although this seems obvious, that God is omnipotent and can overcome any obstacle, I think this message of forgiveness and restoration is something we as sinners need to hear over and over and over again.
Our need to hear this powerful truth is one of the reasons we celebrate the season of Advent every year. We need a time and space to reflect upon the greatest gift ever given: Christ. And just as Christ gave of his life for us, we too are urged to be selfless and giving. Since we were made in the image of God, we as humans are also gift givers. Perhaps this is why Christmas has been coined the “most wonderful time of the year.” Think about someone who needs something in your life. Whether it’s a hug, a listening ear, or a word of encouragement, take the time to make an effort to be that gift giver we were created to be.
Lord, you are the giver of bounty. Instill in us a spirit of charity so that we may go out in your world and give to those less fortunate. Open our own hearts to the gifts you and others have given us, so that we may accept them with gracious thanksgiving. Amen.
Sarah Beaverson, T’18
When I read this passage, at first I was surprised at Jeremiah’s doubt and uneasiness to be a prophet. In this passage God is calling Jeremiah to be a prophet of God, to preach his word to the nations and deliver the message of God across the lands! What an honor! To be called to be a prophet of God! Who wouldn’t jump at this opportunity? If God were to speak directly to me asking me to carry out his word I definitely would! This is what I originally thought; but pondering this passage a bit further, maybe I would’ve responded the same way Jeremiah did. I mean, being a prophet of God is a lot of pressure. I don’t think I would be able to handle that. Too much pressure for someone like me, only 18, a youth. I haven’t done anything extraordinary before. What qualifies me to be a prophet?
This response is probably the more likely one. I feel like these thoughts might have been similar to the ones Jeremiah was having when He declares, “Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth”. Even if God were to come down from the heavens and call to you, speak to you, directly, would you readily respond to his call? Or would you start to doubt. Would you doubt yourself and doubt God’s decision to choose you? Would you let your weaknesses get in the way and use them as excuses? This certainly may be easier. The more challenging choice however, is to defy the doubt that we feel in us, and know that if we trust in God, He will be there to fill our weaknesses and give us the power to carry out his word. As God says, “Do not be afraid…for I am with you to deliver you…I have put my words in your mouth”. God has never chosen the brightest and the best to do his work. God chose the sinners, the tax man, those who cannot speak – and the youth.
So do not be afraid, for the Lord is with you. Trusting in Him, He will put words in your mouth and soul into your heart so that you can build and plant the seeds of Christ’s word. Whether that be over campus, the Durham community, at home or in some other country, you have the power to do good things, and that power comes from God. So what if we are crazy, lost, confused, college students – who cares if we are just youth – God didn’t care when He chose Jeremiah and He doesn’t care when He calls for you.
Dear God: Please help us trust in your strength and your power to be with us. Please open our hearts and spirits to your guidance so that we may be the hands of your work here on earth and disciples of your word. Help us not to doubt you and our weaknesses, but trust in you; knowing you will support us where we are weak. Put words into our mouth and soul into our hearts so that we may plant the seeds of your love. Amen.
Andrew Klumpp, Div ’14, PCM Board
I wore a purple tie to the funeral for my friend’s mother. She was young and her death senselessly tragic. Jarred from Advent preparations, I traveled hundreds of miles to mourn. Clad in black and stunned by murder and loss, I chose a liturgically appropriate purple tie if for no other reason than to remind Jesus (or rather myself) that amid this profound sorrow, I was trusting in his faithfulness. Though grieving at the onset of Advent, I subtly reminded Jesus that we were waiting.
It can be difficult to hope in a world laden with suffering. When the innocent are slain and loved ones taken too soon, the Advent call to hope often rings hollow. Yet, we place our hope in a God who sits with us in lament, and we wait for the arrival of a Savior who knows the darkest reaches of suffering. We hope in a God whose loyalty to us as a covenant people knows no bounds.
In our Psalm for today, verse 11 reminds us, “Faithfulness springs from the ground.” That faithfulness is the faithfulness in which we place our hope during these long days of waiting. And, it is no ordinary faithfulness. The original Hebrew word hesed, which is translated as faithfulness, carries a depth of meaning and encompasses love, covenant, loyalty, and steadfastness. A more robust translation may replace faithfulness with “Covenant faithfulness” or “Loyal loving.” God’s faithfulness is one that springs from God’s promise to be with us always and teems with the love and steadfastness of an adoring and longsuffering parent.
And so, I wore my purple Advent tie to a funeral. Advent stood as a reminder of God’s hesed and that even in the darkest days, hope remains. At the graveside, we committed one of God’s beloved children to the ground from which our psalmist reminds us that hesed springs. In that moment, Advent offered a timely and needed glimpse of hope.
And so when words escape us and the hope seems elusive, we pray, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
Rachael Clark, T’15
Read: Luke 21:34-38
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap” (Luke 21:34)
At this moment in time, I am worried about finals. I am especially bad about self-care during exams—I take it as a challenge to push myself as hard as I can and then collapse just after my last test. My first night home at the end of the semester I sleep for a minimum of 12 hours. It would be disingenuous to claim that this semester I will be less neurotic, eat healthily, sleep 8 hours each night, exercise daily, and not binge eat chocolate from Katie’s office. Nevertheless, I will try to be on my guard against the “worries of this life” by taking at minimum a few minutes to be mindful—For a few minutes I will set aside my worries about tests. I will take my ear buds out and actually listen; I will slow my breathing and be thankful for the gift of breath.
Pausing helps me remember that there is a me outside of exams and that Christ’s love does not depend on my grades. By pausing I remember to pray for the brokenness around me, even if it is no longer the dominant story on the media.
So today, take a moment to close your eyes and breathe deeply. Take a moment to let go of your academic burdens and whatever else may be weighing you down. Take a moment to pray for racial justice, for a respite from violence in the Middle East and for an end to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. And, importantly, take a moment to remember that Christ is with us through suffering and that even amidst brokenness there is hope.
Graeme Peterson, T’17
“In that day,” declares the Lord, “I will gather the lame; I will assemble the exiles and those I have brought to grief. I will make the lame my remnant, those driven away a strong nation. The Lord will rule over them in Mount Zion from that day and forever. As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of Daughter Zion, the former dominion will be restored to you; kingship will come to Daughter Jerusalem.” Why do you now cry aloud— have you no king? Has your ruler perished, that pain seizes you like that of a woman in labor? Writhe in agony, Daughter Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon; there you will be rescued. There the Lord will redeem you out of the hand of your enemies.
Our text today offers further insight into God’s kingdom on Earth. Micah’s words detail a world in which God’s kingdom uplifts the weak and the lame, where the marginalized form the basis for God’s world. Micah’s prophecy gives hope to the lame, who will be protected by God, and to those who are cast out, who will become leaders in God’s new world. The text clarifies God’s intentions for a new heaven and a new Earth, where God’s earthen vessels are not the strong and the powerful, but rather the marginalized and the lowly in society. As Christians, we hope for a world in which the meek and the lame might be uplifted and find their place in the kingdom of God, where they might be empowered and protected by God. We are assured that God will rescue us from the hands of our enemies and thus given hope that in the most dire of times we can look to God for comfort and reassurance that God’s watches over and protects us, even when we are at our most unfaithful.
Questions for today: Who in our world is marginalized? How will they find their place in the kingdom of heaven? Have you ever felt marginalized? How can we lift up those in need? How can we be earthen vessels of God’s kingdom?
God of grace, today we lift up those who are marginalized and those who are cast out. We pray that you will lift them up, give them hope for their place in your kingdom, and offer them assurance that they will know you protection and love in a new heaven and a new earth. Teach us to hope for that new day. In your name we pray. Amen.
Graeme Peterson, T’17
In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken. All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.
Our text for today, detailing the words of the prophet Micah, calls us to hope for and look optimistically to a future with God as we struggle in the midst of a world that is broken and full of suffering. Amidst violence and war, Micah directs our eyes to the kingdom of heaven where swords will become plowshares, where spears will become pruning hooks, and where nations will no longer be at war with one another. We strive for a world in which all people’s needs for food and shelter are met, their heads covered by the fig tree, their bodies nourished by its fruit. We hope most that we might walk in the way of the Lord by keeping God’s commandments and seeking to live with God in the temple of the lord, which shall be glorified above all else. This first week of advent, we learn to hope for the coming of God’s kingdom, which we anxiously anticipate and seek to discern from God’s Word made flesh in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Questions for today: What do you hope for in the world? Where do you see the Kingdom of God in your hopes for the world?
God of Heaven, we pray that you will give us peace in a broken world. Turn our swords to plowshares and our spears to pruning hooks, and teach us to strive for your kingdom amidst the pain and suffering that is all around us. In your name we pray. Amen.
November 30th-First Sunday of Advent: Hope
Courtney Trutna (P’17)
Psalm 80: 1-7, 17-19, Isaiah 64: 1-9,
1 Corinthians 1: 1-3, Mark 13: 29-37
But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. -Mark 13: 32-33
Throughout my life, I’ve been told Advent is about waiting. Waiting with anticipation, looking forward to the coming of Christ.
Well, truth be told, I don’t really like waiting. In my perfect world, my coffee would be made by the time I finish ordering, my tests graded as soon as I turn them in, and my friends would arrive no more than 30 seconds after they say they will. So as you might imagine, a season dedicated to intentionally waiting is not exactly my strong suit.
My struggle with waiting is that it feels like nothing, like a blank spot in my day, such that time spent waiting seems like a waste. But this passage from Mark challenges me to think of waiting differently, not as empty space, but as a state of being—after all, the message is to stay awake and keep on working! It gives me a hope that this holy waiting of Advent can be more meaningful than watching a clock—and not the “I want a unicorn” type of hope, the “I want this and I will work towards it” type.
And so I, the girl who hates waiting, am excited to wait. I wait for the joy of Christmas, because I hope to spend some time thinking about what that means. I wait for love, because I hope to practice loving my neighbor as myself. I wait for peace, because I hope to learn what peace means not just on days of celebration, but the other 364 as well. I wait with the hope that when Christmas comes, I will have a season worth of works, prayers and thoughts to guide my celebration. And I wait with excitement—because Christ is coming and guys, that’s exciting!
So, Advent begins. What are you waiting for?