Devotions for Advent 2020
Newberry College devotions for each day of Advent.
Each year, members of the Newberry College community offer daily devotions for the season of Advent, a period of the church year set aside to help us spiritually prepare for the coming of Jesus at Christmas.
Check here each morning for an original devotion by a Newberry alumnus or alumna, faculty or staff member. You can also tune in Sunday through Friday just after 9 a.m. to WKDK-AM 1240 or online at WKDK.com.
Friday, December 25
Good morning, Newberry Family, both near and far,
From Campus Pastor Ernie Worman and his beloved Annie, on this blessed Christmas Day, we send our prayers and holiday hopes, that on this Holy Day and every day forward, each of you live fully in the light of Christmas, filled with the love of God and the gracious intent of the Holy Spirit. Merry Christmas, one and all, and a beautiful New Year.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16
A few days ago, I was reading online that some have forgotten the meanings behind the symbols of Christmas. Today, on Christmas, I want to mention my three favorite symbols and their meanings: the evergreen Christmas tree, a symbol of everlasting life because of Jesus; the Christmas wreath, a symbol of everlasting love, round like a wedding ring; and the Christmas gift, a symbol of the gift of Jesus as Savior of the world.
Jesus is the reason for the season. God loves us so very much that He sent His Son to the earth to save us. God loves us so much that he wants us to spend everlasting life with Him. You are loved! You are one of God’s beloved children, no matter what. Love is both an emotion and an action verb. There is no gift you can give better than the gift of yourself and your time and your love. Today and every day is the day to show and tell the ones you love that you love them. It is your finest gift. Christmas to me means LOVE. You are loved.
We send all of our Newberry College family, and all of our Newberry family, our love this Christmas and every day! Thank you for the love you have shown us! God Bless Newberry College and God Bless Newberry! Merry Christmas!
Please pray with me: Dear God, Thank you for all the gifts you have given us. Thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus. Thank you for loving us so much and so well! Amen.
Thursday, December 24
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. — Isaiah: 9
During these last months we have all too often walked in darkness. Never knowing exactly what the next step would bring. For most of 2020 we had no compass. We had no map. We wandered often aimlessly trying to find our way as the pandemic put its vice grip on the entire world. We often felt like we were trapped with no way out.
Our faith, our belief in a better day, that is what will get us through these times. Today there is magic in the air because tomorrow is Christmas. It is such a joyous season and the meaning of the moment does not lessen nor the wonder diminish as we grow older. There simply is no more perfect day in the year. Yet many are lost in the darkness.
For many this is not a perfect day. For some it is one of the most miserable seasons of the year. The Christmas season is tough for those fighting through serious medical problems, grieving the death of a friend or family member, or feeling serious anxiety or depression due to the overwhelming pressures of the day. For these, there seems to be no reason for joy during this Christmas season.
And this year the suffering has been greater than ever. The pandemic has delivered a devastating blow. Millions have been infected and hundreds of thousands have died. Families have been destroyed this year by not only the pandemic, but by hurricanes, tornados and wildfires. At times the pain and suffering has felt overwhelming. What about that LIGHT?
The LIGHT will lead us out of darkness. The LIGHT is our reason for being. We are here to make this a better world, a better country, a better neighborhood. We are here to use the LIGHT to become a better person and give help to those who remain in the darkness. There is no other reason for our existence? What have we done this year to become a better spouse, a better friend, a better parent or a better child. What have we done to put an end to hunger, reduce homelessness, eliminate injustice, discrimination and unfair treatment of others? Have we used the LIGHT to do anything? The LIGHT was a gift to each one of us and with it came Faith, Hope and Love.
The LIGHT gives us purpose, inspiration and encouragement. The LIGHT brings us the peace of love, the power to heal, the capacity to forgive and the empathy to care for others. The LIGHT gives us the courage to make a difference in the lives of others and the strength to show others a pathway from darkness.
The LIGHT of Christmas removes the fear of the darkness. This Christmas we can make this a better world by showing that we care and helping others help themselves. We all need a helping hand at one time or another. This Christmas let’s use the LIGHT to give of our time to understand the needs of others. The victory of creating a more caring world is within our grasp, but there is no victory if others are left behind in the darkness. This Christmas share the gift of LIGHT. Reach out and carry someone out of the darkness into the LIGHT of Christmas.
Wishing you a blessed Christmas,
Sandy & Morrie Scherrens
Wednesday, December 23
“Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your heart. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” — Luke 6:38
What goes around comes around, isn’t that the age old saying? Or, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, that is the Golden Rule of scripture. I’ve even heard it said that a positive attitude produces positive results, while negativity produces negativity in return. Simply put, most often in our daily lives we get what we give. This is so true I think. In my life’s experience, I’ve noticed that most often a smile given receives a smile returned. A “thank you” offered receives a “you're welcome” in return. A door opened for another is often a kindness quickly reciprocated. Perhaps human beings are wired this way, to return in kind that which is offered. Sure makes for a kinder, gentler, more harmonious world, doesn’t it? Someone should study this and get back to us: What would happen if each of us, for the next two days only, showed kindness, generosity, and love toward one another? What if, for the final two days of Advent [I can dream can’t I] as we wait upon Christmas to arrive, we all practice the gift of Holy reciprocity?
I made that up, I think. Holy reciprocity, that is, the idea that Christmas is the giving of salvation, healing, eternal love and forgiveness, even though this sinful world should be on the naughty list. God gives us for Christmas, not what we deserve, but what He believes is best for us, good for us, wonderful for us, an eternal relationship with the Host of heaven right here on earth. Christmas brings again and again the gift of God’s love to be received no matter who we are, to be shared with whomever and wherever we choose, and to be filled with a Holy reciprocity that allows us to give and give and give and give without ever running out of God’s love. We get what we give because the gift isn’t ours to hold onto or keep. It is to be shared and in the sharing of the gift of God’s love we are most fulfilled. It is in fact a no-brainer. God does all the work and we receive all the love, to be shared with others, and in so doing it comes right back to us, full circle. God loves us. What did Dickens’ Tiny Tim say in the classic tale of “A Christmas Carol?” Oh right, “God bless us, everyone!”
Please pray with me: Bless us ‘O Lord with the love of Christmas, the salvation of Easter, and the Glory of Heaven each and every day, and may we find new and wondrous ways to share such things with others and make this world a piece of Heaven on earth. In God’s Holy and Precious name, we pray. Amen.
The Rev. Ernie Worman serves as campus pastor at Newberry College.
Tuesday, December 22
For thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, For My salvation is about to come, And My righteousness about to be revealed.” — Isaiah 56:1
Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” — Luke 2:10-11
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep ... I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and My sheep know me.” — John 10:11,14
Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they [the angels] said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’” — Luke 24:6-7
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” — Rev. 1:8
Good morning Newberry. It is Advent and we are but three days from the start of the 12 days of Christmas which spans Christmas to Epiphany, January 6th. I hope you heard in our scriptures today, the true meaning of Christmas; which is to live lives of justice and righteousness, with new lives born of grace, fed by faith, and given in service to God, loving others as we have been loved today, tomorrow and unto heaven itself. Christmas is the annual gift that reminds us to be the people we hope to be, to create homes and families and communities that are glimpses of heaven on earth. Christmas is God with us, and that is the meaning of Emmanuel. The Christmas child becomes the Easter man and by His sacrifice we are renewed in the promise of an eternity of love that knows no end. Christmas is the gift that keeps on giving and giving and giving. Christmas is worth the wait!
Please pray with me: Child of Christmas, God of Easter, Creator of all that is seen and unseen, hear our prayers. As we wait just a few days more for another Christmas Day, help us to celebrate your love in our hearts, help us to find others to love and with whom to share this Holiday. Help us to accept and to embrace the wonder and the joy of your love for each one of us. Help us to be instruments of your peace, your justice and your righteousness with our very lives. Help us to be Christmas to each other. Amen.
The Rev. Ernie Worman serves as campus pastor at Newberry College.
Monday, December 21
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Ammin′adab, and Ammin′adab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Bo′az by Rahab, and Bo′az the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king. And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uri′ah, and Solomon the father of Rehobo′am, and Rehobo′am the father of Abi′jah, and Abi′jah the father of Asa, and Asa the father of Jehosh′aphat, and Jehosh′aphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzzi′ah, and Uzzi′ah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezeki′ah, and Hezeki′ah the father of Manas′seh, and Manas′seh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josi′ah, and Josi′ah the father of Jechoni′ah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon. And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoni′ah was the father of She-al′ti-el, and She-al′ti-el the father of Zerub′babel, and Zerub′babel the father of Abi′ud, and Abi′ud the father of Eli′akim, and Eli′akim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eli′ud, and Eli′ud the father of Elea′zar, and Elea′zar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ. So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations. — Matthew 1: 1-17
What has always struck me about this reading is the generations of waiting it describes, and the inclusion of people often forgotten in genealogical accounts of the time. Even while reading it we sometimes run in to the temptation to just rush through it rather than waiting to hear these names that connect us through generations. To see all the lives and ancestries, joys and sufferings that go in to the wait for Christ reminds me to enter in to the waiting of Advent as well. It also reminds me to ponder the thought that the kingdom of God is already, but not yet. In our lives we often demand instant gratification and sitting with “already, but not yet” goes against that grain. It reminds of the ongoing watch we have, and connects us with those generations before us who have also waited.
The other reason this passage has struck me is the uniqueness of tracing genealogy through women as well as men with the inclusion of four women besides Mary in Christ’s genealogy: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba). It makes me think about the many times that those who are seemingly forgotten in society are not forgotten by God, and how we are called to remember the forgotten of our day as well. This idea of remembering the forgotten and waiting while already celebrating is so beautifully captured in Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1: 47-57) as she celebrates before Christ’s birth and uses historical reflections to connect God’s work through generations. During a time when the rush to get to Christmas can become another demand for instant gratification, I pray to be able to truly enter Advent.
Prayer: Help us wait with and for You, and help us to remember the forgotten as You remember each of us.
Dr. Laura Roost serves as assistant professor of political science, and as political science program coordinator at Newberry College.
Sunday, December 20
"A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." — Proverbs 11:25
One of the many things I’ve learned over the past year has been the value and power of time. In fact, time is the most valuable resource anyone has to give – more valuable than any material goods, like money, which can be essential to have, but which are, simply put, means to ends. In uncertain times like these, time can sometimes seem like it all runs together – is today Saturday or Sunday? – but when time is uncertain, it also increases exponentially in value.
Today’s short, simple verse struck me for its second clause, the part about refreshment. And boy, could we all use some after the year we’ve had. This verse from Proverbs offers one source: ourselves. You’ve heard the old adage, it is better to give than to receive. Well, in addition to future rewards promised in Scripture, there are also immediate rewards for our generosity, in this life, which come from our innate moral sense. In essence, it feels good to do good.
That said, in this time of Advent, when generosity is the overarching theme of the season, remember that you, yourself, are a gift to someone else. Remember that time with you is a gift to someone else. So this season and beyond, be generous with your time, with your words, with your ears. A kind word, a call or text to check in, and a listening heart all cost little but are worth more now than ever before. And from these simple but meaningful acts, we can earn well-needed refreshment for ourselves in a multitude of ways, every day. Even when we don’t right-off recall what day it is.
Father of all time: Help us to realize fully the value of all our blessings, particularly the blessing of time on this Earth. Inspire us to be generous with this and our other gifts, to be refreshed by our work and each new day, and to be a gift to others as your Son is a gift to us. Amen.
Jay Salter '19 serves as communication specialist for the Department of Marketing & Communications at Newberry College.
Saturday, December 19
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given" — Isaiah 9:6ab
Good morning Newberry College, neighbors, friends, and family, both those near and far. My beloved wife and partner of more than four decades and I have two intelligent, beautiful, talented, loving, and compassionate children, daughters both. Annie and I are so very blessed in our love for one another, for our daughters, for our faith, and for the salvation of God which came down from heaven on Christmas morning in the person of a Son.
The scripture quote from Isaiah says that the gift of Christmas is not just a Son, but a Son for all of us. Together, in faith we are given the Christmas gift of the love of God in a Son for us all to share, to claim as our own, to love as ourselves, to call family. In Jesus of Nazareth we are gathered together to be the family of God.
Family loves one another, challenges one another, corrects one another, hopes for one another, cares for one another, believes in one another, shares faith with one another.
Christmas is the gift of family, God’s loving family, even if you are single, even if you live alone, even if you don’t share the same last name, or look alike, or speak the same language or share the same dream. Christmas isn’t a day on the calendar, it cannot be wrapped and placed under a tree. Christmas is the gift of adoption, to be made new, part of the vast eternity of creation. Christmas is the gift of inclusion, and the promise of family for all of eternity.
Annie and I love watching our children as they live, love, grow and now have families of their own to enjoy. The Christmas Child also grew, loved, lived, healed, forgave, accepted, included, received, and on that Easter weekend, all grown up, gave us the greatest gift born on Christmas Day. On Christmas Day we were given the Son of the Father: Emmanuel, “God with us.”
This year, 2020, with all of its difficulties, sorrows, challenges and problems and the darkness it has brought into our lives still cannot overpower or overshadow the gift of Christmas and the light of Christ. Newberry, at Christmas and Easter and all the yearlong, we are family. Let us always look to each other to be the light of Christ in our homes, our towns and communities, and in every relationship we create. May the blessings of Emmanuel be with us, act through us, and dwell within us.
God bless you all, today, tomorrow and always. I leave you with a word of Scripture.
“Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.“ — Luke 2: 10-11
From Annie and me, Happy Advent and Merry Christmas.
The Rev. Ernie Worman serves as campus pastor at Newberry College.
Friday, December 18
Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call his name Emmanuel, God with us. — Isaiah 7:14
This Advent season I have been listening to George Handel’s "Messiah" and this verse is used in the Part One Alto Recitative called, “A Virgin Shall Conceive.” I cannot deny that it has always been my dream to sing this short solo in some wonderful small church choir performance of this work. But as this music is blaring from my car’s speakers, I also felt the call to repeat the words, “God with us.”
One of the hardest parts of 2020 for me has been the isolation of COVID-19. For what seemed like forever last spring, I was alone in our retirement house in Louisville with our dog while beloved Ernie was alone in the college house in Newberry without even a dog. Even phone calls and Facetime and Sunday Zoom calls with the extended family did not relieve the isolation of delivered groceries and separation. I am a natural hugger and the lack of personal in-person human interaction seemed like someone had cut off some part of my hand or arm. I don’t know if you were alone or isolated with family in quarantine. But, for me, as a extrovert who gains energy from being with other people, it seemed especially difficult to be motivated to perform even more than basic act of turning on the microwave for a frozen meal. It was a good thing that I had several bath robes because even taking a shower seemed like a huge accomplishment. I know that this sounds amazingly like depression, doesn’t it? I admit it, perhaps I was teetering on the edge of depression. Weren’t we all? Bad news and more bad news and conflicting information and guidance all seemed to bear down on my spirit.
The good news of this whole devotion is that after my prayer life and Bible reading and Bible study life resumed, my spirits lifted. I listened to Christian music on the radio and my dance and singing playlist as I performed day-to-day housework and self-care. I stopped watching the news. You see, I finally felt the, ”God with us!”
I wasn’t alone and had never been alone. And that is the message of Advent and Christmas, Jesus is with us. Jesus is always with us. Alleluia! Glory to God in the highest! God sent His Son Jesus to earth at Christmas time to be our, “Emmanuel, God with us.” You are not alone. We are not alone, ever.
Please pray with me. Oh Lord God, Thank you for sending us your beloved son, Jesus to be our light is the darkness, to be our Savior. Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit as our counselor and companion in the lonely times. Amen.
R. Annie Worman is the beloved wife of Newberry College Campus Pastor Ernie Worman.
Thursday, December 17
Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me — holy is his name. — Luke 1:45–49
If you’re like me, you’ve had Christmas songs on repeat since well before Thanksgiving and so you’re very familiar with a song comprising nothing but questions aimed at the Virgin Mary demanding to know how much she knew about Jesus at the time of his birth. Did you know this and did you know that. It’s all questions and no answers. Well, I have your answer today and it is a resounding YES. Mary knew. Luke tells us in the verses we just read that she knows that her child is the Messiah. Luke tells us that this middle school-aged girl fully understood the gravity of the situation. God, THE God, had chosen her to carry and care for his corporeal form entering this painful, sinful human world.
Now that song of questions for Mary is catchy, but every time I hear it, I think it sounds a little accusatory. With no time or section for response, the singer asks a barrage of questions that all sound like guilting. What did she know?!? Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s easy to be judgmental. I’ll say that again. It’s easy to be judgmental. What’s harder is open-mindedness, considering things from another perspective, empathy, in short, love. Maybe instead of Mary, Did you know? We should be saying, Mary, You did Great! Or Mary, show me how! Thrown the biggest curveball in history, a girl much younger than most of the people reading this devotion, embraced and praised the Lord’s decision.
This year has been exhausting for all of us. We’ve been pushed and tested. Some of us have dealt with illness and loss of a loved one, others have dealt with job loss, and we’ve all dealt with loss of our normal person to person community. Instead of pushing each other further away, let’s celebrate each other. Let’s choose to show each other that love is always the better choice. Let’s recognize that we are not the only ones having bad days, and that someone else may be having a worse time than we are right now.
Mary was able to understand and appreciate the Lord of all, picking her to birth and raise His son. Most of us are not dealing with this undertaking but we are entrusted with many of God’s most precious gifts - like Peace and Love – to share them with others. This year, let’s try fewer negative, accusatory questions that make others feel guilt and shame, and more open, encouraging questions that show you support your people. Call your parents, write a note to a friend, check on your community. Share what the Lord has entrusted to you to carry in this world. Love.
Let us pray: Dear Lord, please help us remember that your love never falters, even in these trying times. Guide us to stay positive and show empathy for others. We praise your name. Amen.
Elizabeth Sherman is a beloved daughter of Newberry College Campus Pastor Ernie Worman.
Wednesday, December 16
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” — Luke 1:47-49
Today’s devotional reading, Luke 1:39-56, tells the story of Mary’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth, when both are with child. When Elizabeth recognizes Mary as “the mother of my Lord,” Mary becomes assured that the angel Gabriel has told her the truth: that she is to bear to the world God’s own Son. She is so overcome by this assurance that she bursts into a song of praise.
Mary’s song starts with a sort of marveling that God would choose someone as lowly as she for such a sacred role, and she praises God in part for entrusting little-ole-her. What has always intrigued me is where the song goes next. Sometimes known as the Magnificat, Mary’s song echoes a similar song of praise that Hannah offers to God in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. Both songs speak of God’s mercy and justice, of the hungry having ample food to eat and the downtrodden being treated with honor rather than shame. That is, Mary’s song of praise about her own call gives way to a vision of God’s redeemed world where everyone’s basic needs are met.
As we move into month nine of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., we are all thirsty for a healed and redeemed world. Each of us has a role to play. It may mean simply wearing a mask when we go to the store. It might require more difficult choices of not gathering with loved ones. Or it might be finding ways to serve those especially in need. Whatever role we play, may we also join Mary in imagining the world that God is working to bring about in and through us. We might even find ourselves singing "The Canticle of the Turning," a Celtic hymn based on Mary’s song: “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.”
Prayer: Holy One, many of us are weary from the challenges and griefs of the year 2020. We are indeed ready for “the world to turn.” Give us eyes of hope to see, as Mary and Hannah did, the world you promise, and give us hearts and minds, hands and mouths to do our part in helping bring that world into being.
Dr. Krista E. Hughes serves as director of the Muller Center and associate professor of religion at Newberry College.
Tuesday, December 15
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. — Psalm 46:1-3
The numbers continue to rise in our county and state and country of new COVID-19 cases. There remains more uncertainty about how we get a handle on the current upsurge.
It's such a time as this to remember the promise of Jesus, who still comes to live and dwell with us. The holy waiting for God's promises fulfilled during the season of Advent will likely feel more pronounced this year. We wait in fearful and hopeful anticipation for the day of the Lord, trusting that that day belongs to Jesus. The strength of the church is in the person, ministry, life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and nothing else. Our unity is in him, and nothing else. Our identity is in his identity, and nothing else.
Now is as good a time as any to turn our hearts to the Savior born hidden away from the rest of a bustling world, a Savior sometimes difficult to spot, unless you were paying very careful, careful attention, and even then, you may be surprised at where you find him. Be on the lookout for the presence of Jesus in the quiet of an evening, or the act of service from a neighbor, or the simplicity of a meal. Turn your hearts to God the Almighty who comes among us quietly, even discreetly. Put your trust in the One who found no room at the inn, and so instead found a stable.
Blessings on your Advent prayers and devotions and worships. Blessings on your Advent acts of love and kindnesses. Blessings on your homes and hearts. God is close to you, and may you know deep in your bones this is true.
Let us pray. Stir up your power Lord Christ and come close to us, even as this Christmas may look different, feel different, and be different. Instill in us your Holy Spirit, which has sustained your church through poverty, want, plenty, and abundance. Reveal yourself to us, wherever we are. In your holy name we pray. Amen.
The Rev. Michael Price '02 is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Prosperity, South Carolina.
Monday, December 14
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the LORD to Zion. — Isaiah 52:8
The heavenly hosts burst into singing praises in the presence of the shepherds. Mary bursts into a bold song of God’s faithfulness. Isaiah here envisions sentinels standing guard at city gates breaking out into songs of peace and joy.
This Advent, I will be singing in my home, songs you and I know very well, and others that may be particular to me and what I like, as I imagine you have some favorites that are special to you. Even as we cannot sing together like we'd like, don’t let that stop you from making music, or listening to a rousing song of praise for God. When the time comes again to sing together (and it will come, but we still have to remain patient), I don’t think I’ll be able to contain myself. I’ll want to sing; I’ll be so grateful to hear your voices in melody and harmony with mine again. When the heavens sing, or when Mary sings, or when those sentinels in Isaiah’s vision sings, that’s what I imagine: unrestrained joy.
Whether the song is sung by many, or by two or three, or by only one, the song of joy that will mark this holy season will have all of heaven and earth behind it, because it is the whole creation for whom God sends the Son, for whom God acts mercifully to restore all things through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Sing, all you beloved of God. Sing a song of joy today, a song of peace, a song of hope. I’ll be singing too.
Let us sing...
Joy to the world! The Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king!
Let ev-ry heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing, and haven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing!
The Rev. Michael Price '02 is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Prosperity, South Carolina.
Sunday, December 13
And the angel said unto them, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." — Luke 2:1-19
Our telling of the Christmas story is a romanticized one – a quaint birth in a small town in a manger, with a sweet image of a child surrounded by his parents, shepherds, and wise men. The more you think about it, the messier it seems. Imagine traveling on a donkey at 9 months pregnant. Poor Mary! A birth in a barn. First visitors were Shepherds – the king of kings welcomed by the lowliest people in the backwoods of an empire. This is how our God came into the world – among the lowly, the conquered, and the outcast. If this was planned, it would feel like to us that everything had gone wrong for the incarnation to happen like this.
Among many other things, I think this reminds us of God’s timing and God’s ways. God didn’t send the Messiah when the Hebrews were united under one kingdom. The son did not come into this world when things were at their high point in history, or in a way that anyone would consider ideal. In the messiness of life, in the middle of conflict and oppression, God sent the Son.
As we are dealing with a world that is not ideal – where the coronavirus dominates everything we do – this is precisely the kind of time and place that the Son of God chose to enter the world. As hard as things are, or as frustrating as they might get, we need to remember that this is exactly when and how God has worked in the world. A birth while traveling when there was no room in the inn, as a part of a conquered people tells us that, in moments like this, God enters to take away the sin of the world.
If we are just looking for God in the way things are going right, we are going to miss out. If we are just looking to how we might get back to normal, we are missing the new ways this God of humble origin may be working. If we look to empire to find the work of God, we miss the work God is doing among the marginalized. Christmas is more than a nice story and an opportunity for presents. It teaches us the ways and times that God enters our lives are the ones when we may least expect it. Knowing that God has not left this world or that we remain without God by our side, this Christmas story in corona times reminds us of the strange ways God breaks into this world and reassures us of God’s presence with us now.
The Rev. James Henricks serves as pastor of Summer Memorial Lutheran Church in Newberry, South Carolina.
Saturday, December 12
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. — Isaiah 64:1,8-9
I travel a lot in this job. In fact, 65% of my life. Doing so, I am able to see a lot of signage on trains, in airports, and interstates. Most of the time, they make me laugh and then sometimes, think. When I lived in Nashville, TN, one read: “Don’t make me come down there!” — God.
The writer of our text from Isaiah would like that, I think. Though it is likely that he would be thinking, “WHY DON’T YOU COME ON DOWN ALREADY, WHAT’S KEEPING YOU?”
The Advent prophet, Isaiah, expresses the frustration that many of his fellow believers feel after years in exile. They are longing for God to reenter their lives in tangible, this-worldly ways. It’s been a long time since God sent pillars of clouds by day and fire by night. It’s been a long time since God rained down manna from heaven or sent plagues upon Israel’s enemies.
It’s been a long time since God has allowed an ark to save creation. It seems to these Jewish refugees that God is no longer minding the store.
In the reading from Isaiah we hear of Israel’s temporality and sin, and how the prophet begged for restoration. Isaiah refuses to pretend Advent any more. He wants a fast acting, here and now, on your front lawn type of God. For Isaiah, too many years have come and gone without a sign of God’s presence.
In blunt and violent terms, the prophet begs God to come out of retirement: “Tear open the heavens and come down,” shake up the landscape with forest fires — enough to boil water. Make the mountains quake. Isaiah seems to be saying, “Don’t just stand there silently, God. Do something!” Maybe you have even said that yourself? Maybe even in these pandemic days?
God sometimes chooses to enter our world in a barn at the edge of town. God breaks open the heavens and comes down through the back door of life’s hovels. Advent is the season of YET, of BUT, of HOWEVER, of NEVERTHELESS.
“Advent is a time when we stare into the face of the present data of the world’s sorry state and dare to believe that God still cares and God still plans to do something about it. Advent is a time when we wrestle with and confess the reality that we in the church all too often live out a practical atheism, in which we say with our lives the we really believe, really put our trust, in armies and governments and savings accounts.” (paraphrase of the Rev. Dr. Delmer Chilton)
Advent is a time when we wait for the Lord to come, and while we wait, we seek to become people who gladly do right, who remember God and God’s ways. Advent is mostly about a God who “breaks open the heavens and comes down,” not stopping halfway. God in Christ comes all the way down to meet us in our sinfulness, down into a manger bed, down to the cross, down to the grave. The in-breaking of God coming among us is Advent and it happens at times we can’t even imagine. Where today can you be open to the Advents around you? Hope is here and so is God. Amen.
Let us pray: Come down O love divine and come quickly, we pray. Come into the spaces and places of our lives and remind us that your love has come to stay: Emmanuel — God with us. Amen.
The Rev. Kevin L. Strickland '04 serves as bishop of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Friday, December 11
When they [the shepherds] had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. — Luke 2:17-20
This is part of the most famous and beloved set of Bible verses EVER. It is part of the Luke chapter 2 narrative of the birth of Jesus. And, to me, it cannot be repeated too many times. The special verse that came to my mind was the next to last line about Mary treasuring and pondering these things in her heart. In my brain, there is ALWAYS a song playing in the background. Most recently, as Christmas carols are being played on the radio, the song that is haunting my brain is, “Mary, Did You Know?” (written by Lee Greene and Mark Lowry and performed by several different artists).
Part of the reason these lyrics speak to me is that I choose to remember that, even though the gift of Jesus to the world happened at Christmas, the gift of forgiveness of our sins and our salvation happened on Good Friday and Easter. The words of this song echo that sentiment, I feel, especially the naming of Jesus as, “Heaven’s perfect Lamb.” Jesus was and is the perfect Lamb of God who sacrificed Himself for us. As the song lyrics say, Jesus was sent to, “save our sons and daughters.” And as the angels said, “Glory to God in the highest heaven!”
In this very difficult year of 2020, as we celebrate our family Christmas via virtual meetings and video calls, please remember that each and every one of you is a beloved child of God, treasured and loved by many. You are worth Jesus’ sacrifice to save. Believe and be forgiven. Celebrate Christmas in your heart each and every day you live. Give thanks to God for all the gifts from God and for your very life.
Glory to God in the highest heaven! Merry Christmas!
Please pray with me: Dear God, Thank you for the wonderful, precious gift of your Son, Jesus, sent to save us. Thank you for your gift of the Holy Spirit, our everyday comforter and guide. Thank you for loving us so much. Amen.
R. Annie Worman is the beloved wife of Newberry College Campus Pastor Ernie Worman.
Thursday, December 10
"God’s Advent Alarm Clock"
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to awake from sleep for salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. — Romans 13:11
These words remind us that the Advent Season is like an alarm clock that wakes us from sleep walking through life. It is so easy for us to become numb to the hurts and needs of others and to go through life on auto pilot. It is also easy to miss out on seeing the presence of God in the world around us, especially in the midst of this world pandemic we are living in and in the aftermath of a bitter election.
The question of Advent is to what, or to whom, are we to be awake? In 1 Corinthians 15:34 in the Message we read, “Think straight, Awaken to the holiness of life.” As Advent reminds of the two comings of Christ, the first as God’s Word made flesh, and the second as the one who fulfills all God’s promises at the end of time; we are invited to wake up and recognize the nearness of the loving presence of God in the here and now. What this means is that right now matters both to us and to God. Each relationship including the hurtful and difficult ones help us grow into a deeper source of love from God that undergirds all of creation. Therefore “putting on the armor of light” does not make us invincible to pain and suffering but rather helps us become wounded healers who share the healing hope and light of Christ with those around us. Now that is something truly worth waking up to, isn’t it?
Let us pray: Dear God, help us especially this Advent to wake up to your healing presence in Jesus Christ. Help us not be numb to the suffering of others but to live each day with a deep sense of the sacredness of all life. Open our eyes to the dawning of a new day. Bring your healing strength to all those suffering from COVID-19 and to all those in the medical community who are instruments of your compassion and love. In Jesus' name, Amen.
The Rev. Herman Yoos is bishop emeritus of the South Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Wednesday, December 9
For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of Lord Almighty will accomplish this. — Isaiah 9:6-7
Assurance is something we often take for granted. It’s always good to know what you are getting. Don’t get me wrong. Who doesn’t like a good surprise? I know I do. However, there is still a piece of mind when you know exactly what you are going to get. Thankfully for us, the prophet Isaiah told us about the special gift we were going to receive long before the gift became flesh.
This passage of scripture is perhaps the most famous Old Testament prophecy about Jesus Christ. All was not well in Judah and Isaiah was speaking to the people about who and what was to come. In essence, he was talking to us as well and telling us about the special gift GOD has in store for us. It’s good to know we have a Wonderful Counselor and Mighty GOD. It’s calming to know we have a father who is always there for us and someone to bring us peace that passes all understanding. It’s that calming assurance that allows us to live life as GOD has intended for us to live.
Prayer: Heavenly father, Thank you for the gift of your son. This most precious, special gift is one that supersedes all other gifts. May we always continue to share this gift with others who thirst for righteousness, peace, and favor. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.
Dr. John Lesaine '07 serves as assistant dean of academic affairs and professor of sport professions at Newberry College.
Tuesday, December 8
Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us? — Luke 24:32
The ending of Luke 24 is one of my favorite pieces of scripture of all time. I find so much in this short story of two followers of Jesus as they travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus on that strange day; the day that Jesus was raised to new life from death.
I find hope in all of these words; in the entirety of this story. These two downtrodden followers of Jesus meet their Lord on this road, but for whatever reason they cannot recognize him. Their pain and grief blind them to the joy that is before them. Yet, this lack of seeing or noticing doesn’t keep Jesus from speaking, talking, and sharing with them about who he is. Who he is for them, and who he is for all of creation.
They don’t recognize him until he reveals himself in the promise of the bread and wine; the very ‘stuff’ of God. They recognize what has been going on and they are overcome with joy.
This recognition of joy reminds of the story of Jesus’ birth. Again, our God comes to be with us, and we do not recognize or notice what is going on. Despite our inability to see God at work and present with us, God finds another way to make that love and presence more known.
We’ve all been struggling as we walk that downtrodden road toward Emmaus this year. COVID-19 still causes more angst, separation, and depression in our world. Your year at school has been so different compared to any year before (and that might be the greatest understatement of all time). Remote learning, no to very little sports, adjusting our lives in order to keep others safe. Yet, despite a year that we would allow love to forget, God still shows up. Jesus stills walks with us on that proverbial road. The Lord is still made known in bread, wine, and Word.
God’s love for creation – God’s love for us as God’s own – knows no bounds. No road, no distance, no sadness will keep God from showing up. Take heart, look up, know, and remember that God is with you. Always. Even now. For real.
Let us pray…
God, you walk with us on dusty and winding roads. You come to us in ways that we cannot and will not notice. Help us to remember that you are still here and that nothing separates you from us. Allow us to feel the warmth of your love within our hearts and may it send us out running to share in this truly wonderful news. We pray this all in the name of the one who is to come, Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Rev. Matt Titus '05 serves as pastor at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Newberry, South Carolina.
Monday, December 7
But there will be no gloom for those who were in anguish ... The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness — on them light has shined. — Isaiah 9:1a, 2
Advent’s theme of light piercing the darkness is a powerful one, especially as winter’s days shorten and its nights stretch. For anyone who has experienced depression or despair, the promise of the light is more than welcome: it gives life. It makes sense to imagine the coming of God into our midst as light piercing the darkness.
Yet we lose something when we exclusively equate goodness with light and the unwelcome with dark. Although I grew up in the South, the bright heat of summer is no friend to me: the sun gives me migraines, zaps all my energy, and readily burns my skin. By contrast, the shorter, cooler days of fall and even winter bring me alive. At the same time, I have suffered from seasonal affective disorder in the winter months. The reality is, I need both the light and the dark to be well.
Spiritually I am especially moved by images of light in the dark: candles, stars, oil lanterns, and yes, decorative twinkle lights. Like theologian Barbara Brown Taylor and pastor Jan Richardson — look up their respective books about the blessings of the dark — I have come to appreciate the gifts of the dark. Every single one of us began our lives in the nourishing dark of the womb, just as the grand oaks in my yard began in the dark of the soil. Each night the dark envelopes us, giving us rest. Creation and renewal often happen in the dark.
God comes to us in the light and in the dark. May we be open to the blessings of both.
Prayer: God of all things, for too long we have associated the light with what we should welcome and the dark with what we hope to dispel. Remind us that you, Holy One, come to us in the dark as much as in the light and that we need both in order to know you and to be created each day anew.
Dr. Krista E. Hughes serves as director of the Muller Center and associate professor of religion at Newberry College.
Sunday, December 6
Thus says the LORD of hosts: Old men and old women shall again sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with staff in hand because of their great age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. Thus says the LORD of hosts: Even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me, says the LORD of hosts? — Zechariah 8:4-6
I was asked to pick my favorite Christmas verse – which was extremely hard until I replaced “Christmas verse” with “Hope verse” – then my heart went directly to this passage from Zechariah.
This is a promise made to very discouraged Israelites returning to Jerusalem from exile. Most of them are older people or children, their homes are destroyed, the fields gone wild and filled with boulders, and their temple, city and city walls are in ruins. They are feeling hopeless at the loss of their remembered city, their remembered way of life and worship, their remembered normal.
In the midst of their discouragement, they receive this God promise through their prophet that concludes with “even though it seems impossible to the remnant of this people in these days, should it also seem impossible to me says the LORD of hosts?”
What better, more hopeful message is there for us today in the midst of COVID that seems to never go away and has changed our lives for most of 2020 and continues to do so. It has limited our ability to support families, attend classes, participate in a normal college social life, travel, worship, share meals as communities and to celebrate the milestones of birthdays, births, marriages, and grieve together at funerals.
As Christmas approaches, we need this Word of hope. This Word was offered for such a time as this. Thus says the LORD of Hosts, unto you a Child is born who will Save the World and Defeat Death! Just as God was with the returning Israelites returning from exile, God is with us in the midst of COVID. We must celebrate Christmas and be a visible sign to the world around us that God the Father watches over us, God the Son is with us, and God the Spirit guides us through this time of hopelessness.
Thanks Be To God!
Prayer: Dearest LORD of Hosts, come to us where we are as you did with the Israelites and fill us with Christmas Hope in the certain knowledge that nothing is impossible for you and that this too will pass and our lives will be renewed. In the name of Emanuel, we pray. Amen. Let it be so!
The Rev. Joanie Holden '11 serves as pastor of St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Crystal River, Florida.
Saturday, December 5
On Christmas Eve of 1818, the Church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria, had an organ badly in need of tuning due to damage from a recent flood. The congregation had a young priest who waited to the last minute to take a poem he had written to the church’s organist. He wanted help to set this to music for his guitar (so he could play on that instead of the damaged organ). They put together a quick melody, and at the midnight mass that Christmas Eve, a congregation sang the hymn "Silent Night" for the first time, accompanied by their priest on guitar.
At our congregation – at least since I’ve been here – no Christmas Eve service would be complete without the hymn "Silent Night." Around the world, it’s immensely popular. Just about everyone, Christian or not, can at least sing you the first verse. It’s a beautiful hymn, and has become a staple of the church.
It is amazing to me that this last-minute plan put into action because of a flood-damaged organ has become such a pervasive feature of Christmas Eve. As I think of this story today, I can’t help but wonder what is going to come out of this pandemic. After all, we wouldn’t have the hymn "Silent Night" if that Christmas Eve, St. Nicholas Parish had a working organ. I doubt anyone in that congregation thought to themselves that their organ damage was a good thing to happen. That Christmas Eve as it was sung for the first time, I can only imagine there were unhappy congregants who were upset they couldn’t sing the usual hymns on the usual instrument, and they might have even been upset at this young pastor because they now had to sing this unfamiliar hymn.
I believe there is going to be something – musical or otherwise – that we put together in this moment that will be a lasting feature of our church. We don’t have to be happy with any of what’s going on, and I’m certainly not suggesting we celebrate this moment for the damage that it has done. But in these moments, big or small, when our ‘normal’ is damaged, the church is at her best when we continue to be creative. The organ was broken, and a young priest and his organist sat down and in a few hours gave us "Silent Night." The church throughout its many times of crisis, whether they be global or local, has always relied on the work of the Holy Spirit to guide us. In the moments when ‘normal’ is gone, the church has always found a way to produce something beautiful and meaningful. As long as we are looking for the creative work of the Spirit in these moments, I am sure that God, despite the chaos of this moment, is working wonders among us.
The Rev. James Henricks serves as pastor of Summer Memorial Lutheran Church in Newberry, South Carolina.
Friday, December 4
Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
— Isaiah 40:31
Almost every weekday morning of my childhood and teenage years, as I was eating breakfast, the announcer at the local radio station, WCOH in Newnan, Georgia, read part of this passage from Isaiah in the King James Version of the Bible: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
A lot of miles and many years separate me today from that place and time, but that verse has popped into my mind more than a few times since March when, with much of the rest of the world, we began living in semi-quarantine, waiting – for a vaccine, for worship to resume, to see friends and family, to eat in a restaurant, to see the smiles beneath the masks.
When will things be back to normal? Or, what will the new normal be?
We all have an existential understanding of Advent this year, don’t we? We all know waiting. We are all learning patience. And maybe we are learning to live in hope.
The cross at the center of our faith reminds us that God can bring redemption out of the darkest things. And so we wait in hope with patience. God has not abandoned us and will bring light out of even this darkness.
Prayer: God of hope, you have promised never to abandon us. Give us eyes and hearts open to your presence whatever comes our way. Renew our hope in you and in your goodness. We pray through Christ our Lord, who loves us and walks with us. Amen.
The Rev. Julian Gordy is bishop emeritus of the Southeastern Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Thursday, December 3
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.
— Daniel 7:13-14
This year has been difficult in many regards, including the fact that we live in a deeply divided nation and culture. People on each side of the divide seem certain of their own righteousness, and even more certain of the “other side’s” unrighteousness. They scorn, harass, and persecute their counterparts, assuring themselves that they are doing the right thing even as they succumb to cruelty disguised as virtue.
But in our Scripture reading today, we are reminded that Christ, the prophesied “Son of man,” is coming to rule all “people, nations, and languages,” and to bring them together in a nation, a Kingdom, that will last forever. Yes, it will include you – but it will also include those other folks, the ones who aren’t on your side, whichever side that may be.
William Dunkerley’s familiar hymn reminds us that “In Christ there is no East or West.” Likewise, there is no red or blue. There are only the children of God, flawed and in need of the Lord’s Grace. In Advent, and every day, let us celebrate the coming of that Grace, in the coming of the Lord.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to remember that on the ladder of perfection, we are each and all on the bottom rung. Thank you for coming to us, to gather us up to You, despite our differences from You and from each other. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
Dr. Warren Moore serves as professor of English at Newberry College.
Wednesday, December 2
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. For those who lived in a land of deep shadows - light! Sunbursts of light! — Isaiah 9:2-7
When I think of the Advent season and the anticipation of Christmas morning each year, one thing I look forward to, among many, is the singing of “Silent Night” during Christmas Eve worship the night before. In nearly every worshiping community that I’ve been a part of for this special service, the lights are turned off and a single burning candle is brought forward. One by one, the burning flame is shared by the worship leader with everyone in attendance.
One small flame grows into two. Two flames become four. Four unassuming lights increase to eight. As the light is passed from person to person, the sanctuary slowly becomes filled with the gentle glow of hundreds of candles flickering in the night. What was once just a tiny glimmer of light overtakes and banishes complete darkness.
As everyone begins to sing the traditional verse, “Silent night, holy night. All is calm, all is bright…” we are reminded that amid the gloom and frequent chaos of our daily lives, God’s saving light and love is still, and continues to be, present and spreading to all. A sunburst of hope for those surrounded by fear and doubt.
Thanks be to God!
Prayer: As we celebrate this Advent season during a year filled with uncertainty and fear, let each one of us see Your light in the darkness, experience Your unconditional love in the kindness of others, and know Your saving grace found in Jesus’ birth. Amen.
Elliott Cox '09 serves as resident director for South Carolina Lutheran Retreat Centers' Coastal Retreat in Isle of Palms, South Carolina.
Tuesday, December 1
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hold of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. — Isaiah 11:1, 6-9
I skipped the traditional “Advent” portion of this passage (read Isaiah 11:1-9). I didn’t exactly follow Pastor Ernie’s directions. But, hey, this is 2020. Nothing seems normal or exact anymore. I love the powerful imagery in these verses. Predator and prey, playing with each other, napping together, existing peacefully. The picture Isaiah paints is one of purity, a bit like the Garden of Eden before Adam & Eve ate the fruit and sent the world into chaos. Isaiah lived in a time in which the Assyrians threatened to destroy Jerusalem. They had already torn Samaria apart and dragged its citizens into exile. The once peaceful existence the Israelites enjoyed didn’t exist anymore. They had been thrust into a war and a crisis of faith. As at other times in their history, the Israelites wondered where God was and how God might lead them out of this mess.
The prophecies about a Messiah in the book of Isaiah (chs. 7, 9, 11) all speak of a child, someone innocent, who has received the power of the Holy Spirit and will lead the people with righteousness, faithfulness, justice, and wisdom. This child, born of a young woman, will have authority, will come from the line of Jesse/David, and will bring peace. This is not a simple respite from fighting or war. This is the kind of peace that permits the predator and prey to co-exist. This is the kind of peace that leads people out of the darkness and into the light. This is the kind of peace that is so pervasive that even the animals can feel it. This is shalom.
The season of Advent is the season of hope. We await the birth of this child who will bring peace – shalom – to the land. Jesus is that child. Filled with wisdom, justice, and righteousness, Jesus leads us out of the darkness and into the light. Jesus, as he did at the last supper with his disciples, bestows peace and the power of the Holy Spirit upon us to carry out his mission in the world. My hope is that during this Advent season, we can see with clear eyes the kind of peace that Jesus brings to the world and work to live with the same justice and righteousness that Jesus did.
Prayer: God of Peace, in the midst of this pandemic, social and racial unrest, and the dividing nature of politics, give us a sense of peace. Help us to see the good in others, to pray for our enemies, and to work toward a world that embodies the kind of shalom that Jesus exemplified. Give us patience and love for one another and guide us in being peacemakers. Amen.
The Rev. Dr. Christy Wendland serves as associate dean of academic affairs at Newberry College.
Monday, November 30
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” — Mark 1:1
Brevity has never been my best trait. During my time at Newberry, I remember short meetings with some professors that would often turn into hour long conversations. Yet for Mark’s gospel, brevity is a defining characteristic. If you were to read the entirety of Mark’s gospel in a single sitting, it would take you roughly sixty minutes.
Why so short? Isn’t there a lot more to say about Jesus? Absolutely! But don’t mistake short for being simple. There’s much to study in Mark. So, perhaps the brevity in Mark is owed to two words in his opening sentence - good news. For Mark, there is an urgency to spread this news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God! For a people walking in darkness under oppressed rule of the Romans (who would often bring their own “good” news to the people), Jesus Christ is the authentic good news! It’s urgent! People must know that the Son of God has come and is turning the world upside through his teaching, healing, loving the marginalized, mastering the storms, and challenging the status quo! For Mark’s audience then, the good news is that God hasn’t forgotten his people and is drawing near in the person of Jesus Christ.
As we approach the end of 2020, we could use some good news and brother Mark provides good news for us once again. What’s this good news? The good news is that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has come into the world to restore and recreate the broken and incomplete world into something new! The good news isn’t just in the past, but reaches into the present and future. In the season of Advent, we hope that one day Christ will come again bringing with him God’s new creation in full! In that new creation, there will be no death, no racial discrimination, no wars, no more quarantines, no more tears, and no more COVID-19. And this, my friends, is good news indeed.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, you who have brought good news to your people through witnesses like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we ask that you remind us of your good news today. Bring to us hope for the future anticipating your return! Come, Lord Jesus! Come!
The Rev. Gryff Carosiello '13 serves as pastor of Sharon United Methodist Church in Greer, South Carolina.
Sunday, November 29
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence—
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil—
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.” — Isaiah 64:1-3
For churches that follow a set calendar of readings, a lectionary, this is the very first word that they hear on the first day of Advent. It is not a gentle text, but rather a raw and desperate lament. It is the voice of one shaking their fist at the heavens. They see a world so turned upside down and broken that they call on God to get down here even if the spectacle is fierce. What a way to start Advent.
The people of God at this point in time had witnessed the conquering of their lands, the destruction of the temple, the most sacred site of their faith, and they watched their kindred be scattered in exile across strange lands. If they were God’s people, where was God?
For us in 2020, we likely have wondered where God is in the midst of pandemic, racial unrest, a divisive national election, and all host of fires, floods, and hurricanes. We may wonder what Christmas, generally a time of comfort and joy, may look like this year. Today’s reading is not a gentle and mild text, but it does give us permission to come as we are to Advent and wait for Christ. The text does not give up on God’s appearance among us. Full of faith, it calls on God to draw near. This may not be the year that we wait with excited anticipation, but that’s absolutely ok. God meets us as we are. So if you feel excited or exhausted, full of joy or longing for lament, know that there is a place for you to come and wait. Come and wait, bringing whatever joys and cares, to look for the promised savior.
Prayer: Gracious God, whether we are filled with awe and joy or lament and longing, help us to have faith in the promise that you draw near to us. In this time of waiting, we pray that we may see signs of your love breaking into the world. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.
The Rev. Rebecca Wicker '12 serves as Associate Pastor for Outreach & Evangelism at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Charleston, South Carolina.