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Advent Devotional – Dec. 22

Dec. 22                                 Luke 1:39-56                                      Lina Belar

    I once had a priest tell me that Mary was the first feminist.  This was not an ordinary priest. He had been a chaplain during WWII and came away a devout pacifist. He never served in the high churches but instead sought to do some good in the poor rural reaches of Minnesota.  He was a plain man with simple needs and I spent several months talking with him about marriage.  I was 40 years old, once divorced, and engaged to be married to a Minnesota boy whose family had settled here more than 100 years ago as part of a group from Ohio. They were following a radical priest who had displeased the bishop of another state with his notions of inclusiveness and equality among all.  So it wasn’t surprising that this rural country priest thought of Mary as someone important.  She might have been a peasant girl of low estate but for thousands of years afterwards she would be called blessed and be a symbol of importance unlike anyone who had come before her.  And with the simple and magical act of giving birth to Jesus she ushered in a new world with new promises and new hopes and new admonitions.

“Turn the other cheek”,  Jesus said and everybody grumbled because it had always been the habit to return injustice with justice and that was the way things stayed level.  It was also the way they stayed the same, generation after generation, people fearing other people.  “Love your neighbor”, he said and added, “as yourself”.  Well, how can we do that if we don’t turn the other cheek?   Exactly.  Jesus’ logic was unassailable.  And simple.  Like the simple peasant girl who bore him. Can we be that simple, too? 

Today, another woman has our attention.  A woman who has achieved what no one else had done before and is now the vice-president elect of the United States. Let us pray that we can all follow Jesus’ simple request to love our neighbors and to forgive our former enemies.  

Advent Devotional – Dec. 21

Dec. 21                            Luke 1:26-38                                 Lisa Thompson

Imagine that an angel appears to you…well, that’s pretty much enough to blow anyone’s mind right there…but there’s even more. The angel tells you that you are “God’s favored one” and tells you that something will happen to dramatically change your life. The event that will happen is a blessing and an honor, but the people around you may not see it that way. You may be criticized, judged, made fun of and put down. When the angel tells Mary, she responds, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord”.  What wonderful faith and trust in God Mary displays. When we hear God’s calling (maybe we don’t actually see an angel, maybe we just have a strong feeling that we’re being called), do we respond with faith like Mary, or do we let our fears get in the way? Do we delay our response by spending too much time thinking and rationalizing about what might happen or what the negative consequences might be for us? Do we think maybe we should wait until the timing is better? If we truly believe that God favors us and is with us always, we can try, like Mary, to be more open, trusting, and faithful in our answer when we are called to be a servant of the Lord.

God, please give me the courage of my conviction this day. 

Help me not to waver.

Help me not to procrastinate.

Help me not to rationalize.

Help me not to play games with myself.

Help me to stand strong with Thee.

(by Marian Wright Edelman from Guide My Feet: Prayers and
Meditations For Our Children)

“When god wants an important thing done in this world or a wrong righted, He goes about it in a very singular way. He doesn’t release thunderbolts or stir up earthquakes. God simply has a tiny baby born, perhaps of a very humble home, perhaps of a very humble mother. And God puts the idea or purpose into the mother’s heart. And she puts it in the baby’s mind, and then—God waits. The great events of this world are not battles and elections and earthquakes and thunderbolts. The great events are babies, for each child comes with the message that God is not yet discouraged with humanity, but is still expecting goodwill to become incarnate in each human life.” – Edmond McDonald, Presbyterian Outlook

Advent Devotional – Dec. 20

Dec. 20                            Luke 1:5-25                                   Erin Counihan

“This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.” -Luke 1:25

She called it disgrace. Elizabeth, when she became pregnant after all those years, she celebrated this promised beloved child, and she celebrated being liberated from her disgrace. Being freed from her own community, “my people” she called them.

I think I usually read this as a magic grant wishing moment. Of Elizabeth and Zechariah being rewarded for their faithfulness and also winning the God lottery and getting to have that dream they always dreamed, that wish of all wishes, finally in their old age having the baby they always wanted.

But this year, I noticed. In the one line the author gives her in this whole scene, Elizabeth is thankful for being released from her shame. Elizabeth is thankful for being restored to full standing in the community. Elizabeth is being granted justice and reparations and freedom and healing.

We talk so much about Jesus finding people on the margins, on the fringes, and helping and healing them in order to welcome them back into community. It’s a healing justice. But look at God here, setting up John, who will set up Jesus, by doing that very thing with Elizabeth.

This Advent, I am praying hard for that kind of healing and helping, that kind of relief and repair, that kind of liberation and justice, that restores our communities. And prepares us for what God might bring next….

God, take away our disgrace and restore us to one another. Remind us that you are with us on this journey toward community, justice, and welcome. Now and always. Amen.

Advent Devotional – Dec. 19

Dec. 19                            Isaiah 11:10-16                                Jillian Embrey

The phrase “the root of Jesse” always reminded me of those beautiful illustrated family trees that you see in genealogy books. Branches that twist and extend and wind through generations, even centuries. We have copies of many of them in file drawers in our house – both Dan and I have family members that are huge genealogy buffs. Dan’s uncle Ed can trace their family back to passengers on the Mayflower. My uncle David has traced my family tree back to Colonial Williamsburg and one of our ancestors who came over from England to serve as the first governor of the Virginia colony. Although growing up, I was always proud of the fact that my family had such deep roots in this country, as an adult, that pride is often tinged with painful realities. Amid those boughs and branches of my family tree sit slave-owners, white supremacists, Confederate generals, and more recently, many like myself who have been the willing beneficiaries of great amounts of white privilege. As with any giant old tree, there is rot, blight, branches felled by terrible storms – the same reality of sin and brokenness that permeates our human family tree. 

But this text offers hope – both for the brokenness of our human family tree, and for those branches that may be sick or damaged on our own family trees. For the original audience of this Isaiah text, their family tree had been split down the middle, divided into two kingdoms, ravaged by war, and displaced in exile. But these words speak of the Messiah that will take what is broken and divided and reassemble, reunite and restore us all into the family of God. 

No matter what has happened in the past, whether it was hundreds of years ago or two years ago, God gathers us in. God takes all the broken branches, the lost limbs, and works to make our trees whole and beautiful again.  To grow new green shoots of hope and love and peace and justice. 

Advent Devotional – Dec. 18

Dec. 18                            John 3:16-21                                      Bette Welch

God so loved the world that he gave his son so we, who believe, can be saved. We will not perish but have everlasting life. What an awesome gift!

When I hear this text, my mind and my heart go back to high school and the church choir I sang in in East Alton, IL. John Stainer, a nineteenth century English composer, organist and professor wrote an oratorio, “The Crucifixion”.  In the oratorio is a free-standing piece “God So Loved the World”, which is the text of John 3:16 and 17. This is a beautiful and poignant musical interpretation of this scripture and one which I have sung or directed in all of the churches I have been involved as a choir director or member. My first, at First United Methodist Church in East Alton, IL. I was awestruck by the music and the message and I will never forget that I was loved so much that I could be saved.

The second part of this scripture (verses 18-21) addresses condemnation.  The condemnation is that the light has come into the world and evil men hate the light as it will expose their evil ways. When I think of the Light of Christ, another wonderful piece of music comes to my mind and heart. “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”.

My home church in St. Louis is University United Methodist Church. Kathleen Thomerson, composer of “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”, wrote this hymn in the summer of 1966. Kathleen is a former organist and music director at University UMC. We sing this song quite often during Advent. The chorus of the hymn is:

              “In him there is no darkness at all

               The night and the day are both alike

               The Lamb is the light of the city of God

               Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus”

As we approach the last week of Advent, let us recall the greatest gift we have received when God sent his son to be our light. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Advent Devotional – Dec. 17

Dec. 17                            Matthew 3:1-12                  Christine Woodward

In Matthew 3:1-12 we learn about John the Baptist and how he is proclaiming to Repent and prepare the way of the Lord.  Advent is a season of preparing for the birth of Jesus.  What better way to prepare for Jesus than to repent!  One word with so much meaning.  The Google dictionary says repenting means “sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.”  I read this verse as turning to God and making good choices.  God loves us and forgives us of our sins.  I find so much hope in this verse about looking toward the future because Jesus is coming to save us all.  Yes, Matthew had to put a bit of Wrath of God in there to remind us what will happen if we don’t listen, but don’t we all need our parents to yell at us to listen once in a while!  This Advent I will remember to prepare for Jesus’ return by turning towards positivity, telling myself to never give up, and being grateful for all of God’s gifts.  Take time to repent this holiday season and find your way to Jesus.

Dear God, thank you for all of the amazing things you do for me.  Lord, I am truly blessed by your generosity.  I am so thankful for my family, friends, and fur babies.  Lord, please forgive me of my sins.  Please help me leave behind my negativity and help me find the beauty of this holiday season.  Amen.

Advent Devotional – Dec. 16

Dec. 16                            Matthew 1:1-8                    Christine Woodward

In Matthew 1: 1-8 we learn of the genealogy of Jesus.  If we cheat a little and read a bit further, we learn in verse 17 that Jesus is the 14th generation and the Messiah.  Sorry to give that away a bit early!  I love history and knowing that Jesus comes from some amazing people we have read about in the Old Testament is amazing and inspiring.  We are all amazing and come from our own inspiring family.  I am blessed to be from some extremely hard working women in my family tree.  My great grandma lived on a farm in Fredericktown.  My grandma worked in a factory to support my sick grandpa while also caring for my mom, brother, and myself.  Family can drive us crazy, but we can learn so much from our history.  Jesus was from the seed of Abraham.  He was God, but he was also just like you and me.  I realize I cannot walk on water like Jesus, but I can show love and compassion for my neighbor.  I also can pray that my water turns into the good wine!  A girl can dream.  No matter what I am I know I am from some great people, and one of them is Jesus who loves and cares for me as his child.

Hey Jesus, it’s me!  Thanks for giving me strong, positive women in my life to learn from and be like.  Lord, give me strength on those days I forget how strong I am.  Thank you, Lord, for always loving me and my neighbor. 

Advent Devotional – Dec. 15

Dec. 15                                   Isaiah 9:2-15                                   Sandy Kay

The land was mostly darkness. There seemed to be little hope of things changing or getting better. People wondered and wandered in uncertainty and that darkness. But then! Great light and joy and yokes of burden relieved. And yes another anthem. “To us a child is born”. And in verse 6 we learn that His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father and Prince of peace. God came down through this tiny child that would establish order with justice and righteousness forever. Forever. Forever.

So as this year of 2020 quickly comes to a close and our frayed nerves, our long sighs and our buckets of tears stop for this moment, this day: may we pause to reflect on the tiny child: the light: the joy: the One who will lead us through Forever. May the heavy yoke of the life in 2020 fall from your shoulders onto our Mighty God and Wonderful Counselor and may Joy fill your heart this day. Amen.

Oh Father, this year we have been isolated and in darkness so much. Let us dwell upon that tiny child, our Lord Jesus Christ, the light of the world, to lead us out and May we smile with true joy from deep within our souls. Amen

Advent Devotional – Dec. 14

Dec. 14                            Psalm 40                               Christine Woodward

Psalm 40 resonates really well to me and my life.  There have been so many times in my life that I know I should be thankful for what I have, but I feel like I am still trudging along and not making much progress.  I am waiting for God to tell me what to do and I hear nothing.  I know God is there and I know he is carrying me at times, but sometimes I need more.  This year has been especially difficult for me with losing my mother.  I am happy she is in heaven and I have another angel, but I still hurt.  Most people do not know that I had a strained relationship with my mother for most of my life, and when I decided to forgive her I was able to have a new relationship with her.  It took many years and lots of prayers to find that forgiveness.  God delivered me from the hate I carried to a much better place.  I was able to have a positive relationship with my mom for the past 12 years.  I was able to help take care of her at the end, which was an honor and very laborious. I thank God often for my time with my mom, but I still pray for God to deliver me from my pain.  It’s okay to love and thank God but still need a bit more.  It’s okay to ask God for help.  Sometimes God sends us a church family to help us heal and remind us that we will always have a family who loves us. 

Lord, I am here and I am in need of you. Lord, please help me and deliver me from my pain.  Thank you for listening to my cries.  Thank you for lifting me up when I am in need.  Thank you for loving me every day. 

Advent Devotional – Day 15

Dec. 13                            Isaiah 13:1-13                                   Valery Welch

Sometimes I struggle to understand the world around me.  Things like:  conflict between nations and the saber rattling that only adds more strife…or widespread disregard for human rights and human life…or a planet in such physical trouble that it emits smoke so thick it can be seen from a satellite—completely obliterating the light from the sun and the moon and the stars…or an unexplained virus that shows no mercy for any population.  Then there are the heartbreaking images and sounds of grieving relatives…and the daunting task of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and connecting with vulnerable older neighbors who were already desperately alone before the pandemic.  

When I was a kid, the answer to understanding these challenges would have been simple.  I would have read Isaiah 13: 1-13 and known with absolute certainty that pain and suffering was simply God’s way of punishing the non-believers and the oppressors.  But I have not been a kid for a long while, now, and the answer is not so simple.  Earlier in Isaiah 2: 3-4 we find the image of ‘beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.’   Isaiah 13: 1-13 reminds me about how complex human beings are.  Isaiah’s vision restores my faith in human evolution and our capacity for owning our anger and all of its ugliness and yet—reconcile ourselves with actions and a vision of a God who does, indeed, set the record straight—but with just a little bit more mercy and reconciliation than we see in 1-13.  After all, several generations after Isaiah, God sent us a fragile baby to save the world.

Oh God of infinite mercy and kindness, I am grateful that I do not always need to understand everything that is going on.  It is enough for me to know that you have blessed each one of us with talents for being part of a compassionate solution.  Thank you for this annual peaceful time of anticipation when we can share joy and faith in your holy design.  In Jesus Christ I pray, Amen.