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Advent Devotionals 2018

Day 18 - December 19, 2018

Jeremiah 23:5 New International Version (NIV)

5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will raise up for David[a] a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
    and do what is just and right in the land.

 

Let’s talk trees. The land of Israel used to subsist on 7 major foods so called the Seven Species which consisted of wheat, grapes, olives, barley, figs, pomegranates, and dates. They are mentioned in the Bible as imbued with hallowed significance and were known as the only acceptable offerings in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. You may remember reading in Deuteronomy chapter 8 verses 6 to 8: 

"Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. "For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 

There are hundreds of other references in the bible to this ancient agriculture. Today’s verse from Jeremiah refers to raising up a righteous Branch from the house of David. We know, of course, that this is foretelling of our Savior, Jesus Christ but what does it mean to be compared to a “righteous branch”?  Experts say a healthy grape vine could produce 4 bottles of wine a year.  A strong olive branch could produce enough olives to make up to a liter of olive oil every year. Olive trees are said to be some of the oldest trees in the world so mathematically, if we look at a liter a year for thousands of years, we’re talking about an incredible branch. 

A strong branch can yield tremendous fruit, but it can’t do that alone. You can’t just be a branch. A branch, by definition, grows from the main structure of something else. Without the roots and the trunk, the water and oxygen, the soil and the air temperature that branch would wither and die before it even had a chance to ripen into fruit bearing age. I think this verse is highlighting how amazing David’s lineage must be to compare our Lord to a branch from David’s tree. It highlights the fact that God doesn’t stay the all-powerful, justice wielding, Old Testament deity.  He comes to be with us, his most beloved creation, in the flesh and blood. A branch from the lineage of a King yes, but also of Abraham, a devoted follower, as well as outcasts and weaklings. David’s tree didn’t always have the best sun and water, but it had Miracle Grow. It had faith and communication with the Lord.  

So, I put this to you today, brothers and sister, less than a week from Christmas, an olive branch can live thousands of years and feed people for millennia. It’s strong. It perseveres. It digs deep roots and weathers the storms.  When the Lord flooded the earth and Noah sent his dove out, that dove came back with an olive branch. When people write psalms and books about you, on whose tree will you be a branch? Where will you plant your roots and flourish? 

 

Dear Lord, 

Help me plant my roots in you every day. Help me to grow and blossom sharing your love and kindness and mercy with others. Your Righteous branch has shown the way, and I will follow. Amen.

 

Elizabeth Sherman 

Day 17 - December 18, 2018

Isaiah 40:9-11 New International Version (NIV)

 

9 You who bring good news to Zion,
    go up on a high mountain.
You who bring good news to Jerusalem,[a]
    lift up your voice with a shout,
lift it up, do not be afraid;
    say to the towns of Judah,
    “Here is your God!”
10 See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,
    and he rules with a mighty arm.
See, his reward is with him,
    and his recompense accompanies him.
11 He tends his flock like a shepherd:
    He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
    he gently leads those that have young.

 

You know when you’re listening to a lesson or sermon, and your mind wanders off (Forgive me, Father) because some word or phrase reminds you of something else? That’s not just me, right?!?  Well, this passage reminds me of learning to ride a bike. I was 5 or 6 in an empty parking lot with my parents and they would hold the back of my bicycle and run behind me to get me started. While I wibbled and wobbled I would look back over my shoulder just to make sure they were still there; one of my parents was holding on, holding me up, keeping me from falling. By try 84 I had it, I found my balance, and I peddled my heart out and away from my parents loving hands who stood there, tired and proud. 

                I’m not sure who the speaker is in this passage, and from my cursory internet search, the rest of the world is pretty divided on it, too. Regardless, the message is clear: The Lord, your God, is here! He’s powerful. He’s strong. He’s merciful and kind. He’s good at farming. I’m really not kidding; He is good with everything, but that’s not quite the message of this passage, perhaps.  This may be a call to action to spread the good news, but it’s also a reassurance. God is here. He is holding on. He is holding you up. He won’t let you fall. In the reality of the time, this is for the people of Jerusalem/Zion who have been through a lot, to say the least. They need good news and it doesn’t get better than this. The Messiah is coming in the flesh to walk amongst them. 

                God wants the best for us. He has our back. He holds us up when we’re falling. From bike riding to bachelor’s degrees, he helps us become our best selves. He endows us with skills and talents, passions and pursuits that will enrich our lives and others. Spoiler alert – you’re supposed to use those.   Spread the good news knowing that God is with you. He’s there when you’re afraid and you look over your shoulder. He’s there supporting and loving you in your triumphs. “Here is your God!”  Rejoice and be glad in it. 

 

Dear Lord, 

Forgive me for taking you for granted. You have always and will always be there for me and I am forever grateful. Help me to remember to turn to you when in doubt and praise your name for all that I have. I ask this in the name of your son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Elizabeth Sherman

Day 16 - December 17, 2018

Isaiah 40:1-5, NRSV

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,    and cry to her
that she has served her term,
    that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
    double for all her sins.

3 A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
    make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
    and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
    and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
    and all people shall see it together,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

                This time of year is a time of preparation. We have likely decorated our homes in a way that only happens this time of the year. We’ve brought the tree in the house and put the lights outside; presents have been (or will be) bought, plans are made and time is taken off of work so we can be where we want come Christmas day. Maybe, if we have kids, we’ve even got our Advent calendar in the house, counting down in chocolate the days until Christmas.

                We all understand, in some way, that this time of year is a time of preparation. Yet, I have to ask in our biblical and theological sense, what is it we are truly preparing for? Here in Isaiah, our text for today, we hear what that is: Every valley lifted up, mountains made low, the glory of the lord to be revealed that all people together will see what God has done. These images are not the cozy, Christmastime images of a family in front of a fireplace or a snowy landscape. These are images of great disruption that completely reconfigure the landscape. Then, all come together as equal to see the glory of the Lord.

                This gift of a disruption is what we are waiting and preparing ourselves for. Christ, the light coming into the world which no darkness can overcome, is a blessed disruption in our lives. To know and receive this Christ child in the world is as great a reconfiguration of the world were all the mountains leveled and all the valleys filled. We are preparing for the thing that has happened: that after Christ came into the world, it would never look the same way again.   

                 In this transformation, as we gather together with friends, families, and loved ones this holiday season, may we remember this seismic transformation of the world, that the glory of the Lord may be revealed among us as a result. 

 

Will you join me in a word of prayer? 

                Gracious and loving God, you have faithfully prepared your people through the ages for their life with you. As we once again prepare to welcome the gift of your Son come into the world, prepare in us a heart to receive the transformation of the world and the will to carry out your work in the world. We ask this in your most holy name. Amen

Pastor James Henricks

Day 15 - December 16, 2018

Isaiah 52:7-9


How beautiful upon the mountains
   are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
   who announces salvation,
   who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’ 
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. 
Break forth together into singing,
   you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
   he has redeemed Jerusalem.

 

As you read these words, it is mid-December. As I compose them, it is early November, just days after an armed man entered Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and killed 11 faithful Jews; one was a 97-year-old woman who had survived the Holocaust. He killed them in the name of Christianity and explicitly because he blamed their prayers for refugees moving toward the U.S. border in search of asylum.

 

I read today’s passage mindful that both Christians and Jews claim Isaiah’s words and consider them sacred—these words of peace and of good news, of joy and of singing, of God’s comfort to the covenant people. And I wonder how my Jewish neighbors hear them. How do these words of assurance and hope strike their grieving hearts and souls? How do they strike ours? 

 

The Christian season of Advent invites us to dwell in a space of anticipation for the Holy Light that God has promised will come into the world and take on human flesh. This Emmanuel, God-with-us, comes to comfort and redeem us—and also to invite us, as graced and sent disciples, into the sacred work of helping mend the world. 

 

For both Christians and Jews, God’s promise is first a gift and then a call. The Jewish Talmud counsels us to “not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief” but instead to “do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work,” it says, “but neither are you free to abandon it.” May we tend both God’s gift and God’s call faithfully as we looked toward the promised Light of Christ this season.

 

Prayer: Holy One, even during this season of hope for your promised arrival in our midst, we grieve the senseless ways life is violated rather than honored in our world. Where your promise meets our grief, empower us to walk in your ways, to extend your healing touch, and to be instruments of your peace. 

 

Dr. Krista E. Hughes

Director, Muller Center

Associate Professor of Religion

Day 14 - December 15, 2018

Isaiah 11:5-9 - New International Version (NIV) 

5. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. 
6. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. 
7. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 

9. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 

 

 

We share our home with two cats. The running gag is that our older cat, because he has stripes, believes he is a mighty tiger; the younger cat, who likes to leap atop our cabinets, believes he is a mountain lion.  They are two very different cats (in more ways than one) and there are inevitable turf battles and annoyances. Sometimes the mountain lion will try to wrestle with the tiger, and although it’s meant to be playful, the tiger doesn’t appreciate it and will fight back. Other times the tiger will shoot the mountain lion a certain look. (And sometimes they compete for my lap, as they have while I’ve been writing this.) But for all the moments those two compete, there are other moments when something different happens. Perhaps the tiger doesn’t feel well and the mountain lion, knowing something’s wrong, will get mournful. The mountain lion is distressed by something he sees outside and the tiger will gently lick the mountain lion’s back to calm him. Or on a morning when it’s cold outside, the two will snuggle up against each other, fast asleep. 

 

I think of those two cats and their differences as I read this famous passage from Isaiah, which foresees a day when the predator and prey, the menace and the innocent, cast aside their traditional roles and are together in community as creatures of God, nothing to fear from one another. Beyond that, I think of the divisions we so often see in the modern world – religious, political, philosophical, you name it. Too often we create our own adversaries, inflate our own differences, try to elevate ourselves over others...all the while losing sight of the fact that what unites us is far greater than what divides us, and that we can realize that as children of God, we really have nothing to fear from each other, and the only thing keeping us apart from one another is ourselves.

 

The tiger and the mountain lion know that on a cold morning like the ones we have this time of year, the differences you have don’t matter anywhere as much as the warmth you can create and share. I think they’re on to something. As we enter another season and another year, let’s take a lesson from those two.

 

Lord, when we are tempted to create division, help us instead remember that You made us so much more alike than different. Help us to get over ourselves and over our differences with one another, and help us build the unity we need to make the world a place where gentleness prevails, in which the faithfulness of a child will be sufficient to lead us all. In Your name we pray. Amen.

 

Jodie Peeler, Professor of Communications

Day 13 - December 14, 2018

A reading from the prophet Isaiah:

 

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, 

and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, 

the spirit of wisdom and understanding, 

the spirit of counsel and might, 

the spirit of knowledge 

and the fear of the Lord.  

His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.  

He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear;  

but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, 

and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.

 

There’s a lot going on in our world these days that may well make us feel, as they say, “stumped.”  

We find hungry and homeless here in the most prosperous nation in the world.  
We who possess the most effective communication technology in the world in too many cases do not seem capable of carrying on either a meaningful conversation or a civil dialogue.
We hear of gunmen committing acts of violence directed at random people, including school children and folks just minding their own business.
We hear reports, on the one hand, that our economy is booming, while on the other, the news tells us that major corporations are closing plants. 
We participate in a marketplace where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the rest of us get by. 

 

Whatever it is that may be stumping us today, the world has been here before—felt like this before.  

 

Those who first heard these words from Isaiah knew what it meant to feel stumped.  Enemies of the people of Judah had already stormed over much of their land, and now surrounded their sacred capital city threatening to invade.  The brave and mighty kingdom of David, son of Jesse, that once stood tall as a towering oak had been cut down to the size of a stunted stump. 

 

But “out from this stump,” assured the prophet, “would issue a shoot”—that is, a descendent of King David himself who would arrive on the scene in the nick of time to save the day.  Only this one would come armed not with swords and spears but words and Spirit.    “The Spirit of the Lord would rest upon him,” said the prophet.  A spirit marked by wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear of the Lord.”  And so inspired he would come not to joust but to judge, not to wreak havoc but to restore justice.   “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge….”  

 

Another way of saying that is that one who delivers on behalf of the Lord does not make decisions the way the world does, but the way God does.  So, do not expect divine rhetoric to sound like the uncivil tones that characterize our contemporary political and relational discourse.  God’s messages are sometimes challenging and sometimes comforting, but they are always marked by some element of “Love God, love neighbor.”  Anything else is something else.  But it is not God-talk.

 

So, these days, in the midst of all the noisy gongs and clanging cymbals of blistering tweets and angry diatribes, try to pause and listen for those still small voices—voices speaking words of wisdom and understanding, words of love and social justice.  Those, you can be assured, will belong to the shoot promised by Isaiah stemming from that holy stump, words inspired by God’s Spirit.  Words to live by.  And words we can live by together!

 

Let us pray.  O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.  Stir within us ears to hear, a will to listen, and a mind able to distinguish in the midst of all the noise your life-giving word.  Lead us to love you with all we are, and love others as you first loved us. In the name of the word made flesh, we pray.  Amen.

 

Rev. Dr. Wayne Kannaday

Day 12 - December 13, 2018

Isaiah 9:2-7

 

"The zeal of the Lord will make this happen." That's future tense. It will happen in the future.

 

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a brilliant light and on them light has shined." That's past tense. It already happened.

 

You know, the prophet Isaiah would have points taken off of his writing in college. Don't mix your tenses!

 

Of course the prophet doesn't write or prophesy for academia, but for a people who were actually walking in darkness and who knew intimately the boot of their oppressors and the bar across their backs. The Assyrians had conquered territories in Israel. Exile from their homes looms in their future. Syro-Ephramaites were threatening the northern kingdom of Judah.  Don't read that last part as a history lesson; read it for what it meant to a frightened people, a threatened people, a people who lived with a constant sense of foreboding, and who had very little power to stop the inevitable. Constant threat and danger, teetering on the edge of being overtaken by more powerful militaries, made Isaiah's people fearful.

 

So why does Isaiah open this prophetic word in the past tense here? None of his people actually feel this way; they feel precisely the opposite. They are people who are stuck in darkness and cannot see light.

 

Isaiah invites the people to imagine a future where having brilliant light to shine on them could be past tense. In other words, imagine a future where God brought the people through, and where it is so cemented as reality that it is past tense. It happened. It's done. Such use of the past tense has a name in scholarship; it's called the "prophetic past." Isaiah's promise of God's deliverance in the future should be considered already done, because God makes it happen.

 

Advent is a mixed-tense time in the church too. We celebrate what God has completed in Jesus, and yet await the culmination of God's time where all things will be made new through Jesus. 

 

Fearfulness has not gone away. Even if we as a country and people have significantly more power than Isaiah's people did, somehow fear still wins out, darkness feels close and threats loom large in our minds.

 

Isaiah speaks into that fearfulness and says, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light and on them light has shined. God has broken the rod on our backs and destroyed the trampling boots." We are invited to live like God has already broken through the darkness, through the fear, and through the threats. We are invited into embodying God's already-but-not-yet triumphant mercy and peace. We are invited to live into a future when the outcome is grace and love and hope realized.

 

If we cannot see the light, then we must be the light, because the Light is coming.

 

Let us pray.

 

All praise to you, Holy God, for you have done it! Your mercy reigns, your light shines, your grace triumphs. Make us instruments of your peace. Where there is darkness, let us bring light. Where there is hatred, let us sow love. Show us where to go, and awaken in us the faith that through Christ, you have done it. Amen.

 

-Rev. Michael Price, class of 2002

Day 11 - December 12, 2018

Luke 2:21-35

Good morning Newberry and friends, wherever you are. Today’s devotion is based on scripture from the Gospel of Luke chapter 2: verses 21-35.

Rather than read you the scripture, if you will allow; I will simply tell you a story.  Eight days after the birth of the Christ child and in accordance with the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the law, and to offer an appropriate sacrifice to the Lord.  While they were in the temple they were seen by a devout and righteous man named Simeon.  Simeon had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.  In fact, this temple meeting between Mary, Joseph, Jesus and Simeon was no coincidence, it was the work of the Holy Spirit who brought Simeon to the temple at that time.  Simeon asked if he could hold Jesus and while doing so he prayed to the Lord.  His prayer said simply that he could now wonderfully depart this world in peace having seen the Messiah, the salvation of God, in the person that would bring light to the Gentiles, and Glory to God’s people, Israel.  Needless to say, Joseph and Mary were astounded by Simeon’s words.

What a great story, right?  Do you recognize this story?  You’ve heard the story before?  Right?  Maybe you haven’t heard it the way I told it?  Have you ever been involved in a conversation with a group of people when something is said that you do not recognize or a point made that you don’t quite get?  Everyone else in the group gets the story but you don’t, and when they look at you they laugh and say something like, “inside story” or “You had to be there.”  My point today is that there is nothing fun about being left out of the conversation.  In fact, when this kind of behavior happens it often makes us feel a bit worthless, or like we are outsiders, not part of the group at all.  It’s not very nice to be exclusive.  It’s also not very God-like either.  Christmas is all about inclusivity and family, extended, created, biological and every other way.  Simeon’s prayer says it all.

The Messiah came to be a light to the Gentiles, to dispel the darkness in which they walked, to include them in the story, and to adopt them as family, and in doing so, bring Glory upon His people Israel.

This Advent season brothers and sisters, share the story of salvation by living the example set by the Child of Bethlehem.  Be kind. Be present. Be loving. Be inclusive.  Be Just.  Be forgiving.  Our Christian faith is not an inside story for a few, but an announcement for the world. The Prince of Peace is born. Christ is Risen.  The King of Kings shall return.

God bless you all Newberry,

Please pray with me: Almighty and merciful God, pour out upon us all your eternal love, by the power of your Holy Spirit, wrap us in your amazing grace, and fill us with your guiding light so that we may become beacons of your Holy Light wherever you send us.  Amen.

Have an amazing day Newberry.  Good day.
Pastor Ernie Worman (PEW)

Day 10 - December 11, 2018

Luke 2:8-20 New International Version (NIV)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  

Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: 

You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

”Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“

Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 

“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  

When they 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.


 

Good morning Newberry and Newberry College!  Happy Advent of our Lord! 

 

Here are my thoughts on today’s Bible verses... I don’t know about you, but when I read or hear this set of Bible verses, I play the Charlie Brown Christmas special segment in my head where Linus explains what Christmas is about.  It is such a special moment when Linus drops his security blanket as he says, “Fear not!” which in the NIV version is “Do not be afraid.”

 

So here we are on the 11th of December.  Is there Anxiety and Worry and Fear in your heart and mind as you review your list of things to get accomplished before Christmas?  Doesn’t that seem like the normal mode for December and Advent?  A few years ago, just days before Christmas, my beloved Ernie and I went out shopping finally for gifts for the family.  We decided to wear our favorite UGLY Christmas sweaters and Santa red and white fur hats and smiles.  Of course with Ernie’s almost white beard, in a Santa hat and red sweater, with his huge smile he brightened up many a frazzled mom and impatient kiddo at the local mall.  It almost felt like our positive attitude was rubbing off on the others, our smiles were spreading smiles across the stores. Now we were fully aware that much of the laughter and smiles were because we amused them as a silly old couple, holding hands, wearing ugly sweaters and Santa hats and smiling about something they couldn’t understand.  And looking back on that day, I am just a little bit sad for the ones who didn’t or couldn’t understand happiness during Advent.  Didn’t they know that the angels said, “Do not be afraid...a Savior has been born to you.”? 

 

How did we allow the weeks before Christmas to be turned into a list of chores and obligations instead of the anticipation of a wonderful celebration?  Before you beat yourself up for this, please hear that I am as guilty of this as any of you!  It is so easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle and “have-to’s.” So let me repeat again for you and me, the angels said, “Do not be afraid!”  And throughout His ministry, our Lord Jesus also greeted his people with the salutation, “Shalom,” which means, “May the Peace of God be with you.”  

 

This Advent season, as we prepare for Christmas once again, let’s try to greet each other in the JOY of the gift of our Savior and remember to let go of fear and anxiety.  “Do not be afraid!”

 

Pease pray with me.

Lord God,  Thank you for the wonderful gift of your son, Jesus and for all of the many gifts and blessings you have given us. Help us to let go of our fears and anxieties and stresses so that we can truly find joy in those gifts and blessings.  Amen.

 

R. Annie Worman

Day 9 - December 10, 2018

Luke 2:1-7

While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. (CEB)

 

In one of the opening scenes of the movie Forrest Gump, we see a young Forrest getting on the school bus for the first time. As he walks down the aisle, child after child tells him that, “He can’t sit here.” Or “Seat’s taken.” Finally, getting to the back of the bus where a young girl offers the seat next to her for him to sit.

I think for many of us, that is how this scene of the gospel has always been depicted. The young couple entering into the city of Bethlehem as they journey to be counted for the emperor’s census. Where they go to home after home and are told, “No. Can’t stay here. All full. No room. Go down the road.” There is a sense of ‘anger’ that can rise up because of how this young couple and almost family of three is being treated. It does not paint a warm or welcoming picture for the people of that time and place.

However, a few years ago I was able to be in a Bible Study led by one of my friends, Rev. Jay Gamelin, who offered a different interpretation. Based on his and others’ sound research, perhaps the holy family couldn’t stay in the ‘main house,’ but space was offered in the home’s outer room. A room that did share space with animals and supplies. But, a place for this family in need was offered out of kindness, welcome, and love. Where space is made for this family, and unbeknownst to the family who offers a place of rest, they’ve made space for God. 

Our world today is filled with so many things. Especially during this time of year; obligations, meetings, parties, presents, meals, and more. If you’re not careful, you’ll notice that there isn’t much time for the holy in our lives; there isn’t much space for us to rest in God’s love and presence.

Perhaps this year, we can remember to make space for God in our lives – especially during this incredibly full time of year. To set time a part for prayer, for love, for rest, for worship, for others – whether we know them or not.

Maybe, this part of the story of Jesus’ birth isn’t so much about a family not being able to rest after a long journey, but instead about a people who welcomes in a family in need and, unbeknownst to them, welcomes in the very presence of God into their lives. Perhaps in our efforts to make space – for others, for ourselves, and more we will indeed welcome in God’s very presence in our life as well.

 

Let us pray…

God of space and love. We enter into this season with full schedules that only become more crowded, help us to make space for you as we welcome your holy rest and presence. Guide us to make space for others, for prayer, for worship, for rest. Amen.

 

Rev. Matthew Titus
The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Newberry, SC

Day 8 - December 9, 2018

Luke 1:67-80 (Amplified Bible) 

Now Zacharias his father was filled with the Holy Spirit and empowered by Him, and he prophesied, saying, “Blessed (praised, glorified) be the Lord, the God of Israel, Because He has visited us and brought redemption to His people, And He has raised up a [a]horn of salvation [a mighty and valiant Savior] for us In the house of David His servant— Just as He promised by the mouth of His holy prophets from the most ancient times— Salvation from our enemies, And from the hand of all who hate us; To show mercy [as He promised] to our fathers, And to remember His holy covenant [the promised blessing], The oath which He swore to Abraham our father, To grant us that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear, In holiness [being set apart] and righteousness [being upright] before Him all our days. 

“And you, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; For you will go on before the Lord (the Messiah) to prepare His ways; To give His people the knowledge of salvation By the forgiveness of their sins, Because of the tender mercy of our God, With which the Sunrise (the Messiah) from on high will dawn and visit us, To shine upon those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, To guide our feet [in a straight line] into the way of peace and serenity.” 

The child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel [as John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah].

 

In the passages leading up to today’s reading, the angel Gabriel visits the priest Zacharias in the temple to inform him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, shall bring forth a son, John the Baptist. This comes as an answer to Zacharias’ prayers, despite that Elizabeth is barren and they were both growing old. But to Zacharias, this sounds almost too good to be true, and he questions God’s messenger, only to be muted until the day his son is born. Here, after John is born, Zacharias can speak for the first time in months, prophesying his son’s destiny and the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist’s job, then, is to pave the way for Jesus, and he goes on to preach and baptize in the River Jordan, baptizing Jesus along with many others.

 

Today’s reading reminds us that God calls each of us to lives of service and furtherance of His Will. Even though we may serve God and serve others in different ways according to the gifts with which we have been blessed, we are all charged with preparing the way for Christ’s Second Coming, just as John the Baptist was for His first. We are called to give God’s people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of sins, and to tell our brothers and sisters of God’s mercy, love, and light. And we are to do this not simply by preaching and baptizing people in the river, but also by living our faith, leading by example, doing well the work we are called to do, and bringing good news and encouragement to those in need along the way.

 

Heavenly Father: help us to do the work you have called us to do. Remind us that you have called us to pave the way for Christ and to share your love and promise with our brothers and sisters. And especially now, as we end one year and begin another, and as the nights get longer and the days get colder, warm us and renew us with your Word, and strengthen us and guide us for the work ahead and the glory to come. In Jesus’ name: Amen.

 

James “Jay” Salter, Senior, Newberry College

Day 7 - December 8, 2018

Luke 1:57-66

 

“All who heard [these words] pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.” – Luke 1:66

 

If the story of Jesus were a movie, the part of John would be played by a famous actor in a cameo role. His is an important part of the story, but it is a short part. We meet John when he is born a few months before Jesus. It is an unlikely birth to an older woman, but nothing like the miraculous virgin birth of Jesus, his cousin. There are no heavenly hosts, no magi, no shepherds abiding in the fields. Just a father struck speechless for not believing and an overjoyed mother who insists on a name that doesn’t show up in the family line. 

 

“What then will this child become?” We don’t hear from John again until we see him out in the wilderness, clothed in camel skin and eating locusts dipped in honey, a desert prophet who keeps  demanding that people repent, change, turn around. John won’t be quiet, and he won’t go away. He demands to be heard. He doesn’t seem to be intimidated by anything or anyone until, finally, John’s short story ends in a gruesome beheading for speaking truth to power. 

 

You have to wonder how Elizabeth felt about the fate of her miracle baby. I imagine that when everyone agreed that “the hand of the Lord was with him” she never considered that special status would mean an early and violent death. But doing the will of God doesn’t always lead to happiness and ease, despite what some currently popular theologies would suggest. 

 

Sometimes, to do God’s work is to be sent out into the wilderness or even into the halls of power to call the world to change, to turn away from self-centeredness and toward God and the neighbor. And sometimes that proclamation brings on resistance, opposition, and struggle. But even then, as it was for John, the hand of the Lord is with us. 

 

Prayer: Ever-present One: you call us to faithfulness and courage and you promise to be with us in all circumstances. Give us a strong assurance of your presence and make us bold to proclaim and to live your good news in what we say, in what we do, and in how we live. Amen.

 

The Reverend Julian Gordy, Bishop, Southeastern Synod, ELCA

Day 6 - December 7, 2018

Luke 1:46-56

46And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” 56And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

 

Mary sings her ecstatic vision of God: “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She sings of how God has scattered the proud, brought down the powerful, lifted up the lowly, filled the hungry, and sent the rich away with nothing. I say that this is an ecstatic vision because Mary saw these things as if they had already happened as if this work of God were already completed.

 

In our world, we still have proud, powerful, rich folk who deserve nothing less than being scattered, cast down, and sent packing with nothing in hand. Pride, power, and wealth are not inherently wrong. The problem comes when proud, powerful, wealthy people treat lowly and hungry persons with contempt. In fact, one doesn’t even have to have all that much to be just as guilty of the same contempt. The innkeeper in Bethlehem might have said, “Traveled all the way from Nazareth, did you? About to have a baby? Not my problem!” A border guard in Egypt might have said, “Herod’s been killing all the boy babies in Palestine? What makes you think you deserve to be given refuge here in Egypt?”

 

Mary’s vision is of a world where the proud, powerful, and rich longer heap contempt upon persons who are lowly and hungry. Rather, the lowly are lifted up and the hungry are fed. Mary envisioned the fulfillment of God’s promise to turn our upside down world right side up, setting it aright, the way God would have it be.

 

We pray. . .

Saving God, you look with favor on your lowly servants. Grant us a glimpse of Mary’s vision of a world in which your justice, kindness, and compassion reign. We ask this in the name of Jesus who you sent to save your people.

 

The Rev. Dr. Ben Moravitz (Class of 1976), Assistant to the Bishop, Southeastern Synod ELCA

Day 5 - December 6, 2018

Luke 1:39-45  

 

This past weekend, my family was together with my pregnant daughter, who is expecting in early January. Several times she would interrupt our conversation and say, “Put your hand here, the baby is very active.” Most of the time, the person who placed their hands on her tummy were disappointed because that would be the very moment the baby stopped kicking or became shy to another’s touch. Yet even when we couldn’t detect the “kick,” our daughter certainly did. The effect on us was a sense of this unborn child letting us know she was already a part of our family and was making her presence known. These were joyful moments.

In this passage, Mary is visiting her elder relative, Elizabeth, who thought at her late age she would never get pregnant. Much to her surprise, however, she also was expecting her first child. It was right when these two expectant moms came together that the unborn John the Baptist decided to leap inside Elizabeth’s womb and make his presence known. Elizabeth interpreted this “kick” as something more than just a baby kick; instead it was a sign from the Holy Spirit that Mary was carrying the Christ child. And she exclaimed with joy, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . . And blessed is she who believed there would be fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

This year when you watch most of the Christmas movies on television, I invite you to notice how often they use the word “believe” or “faith” to talk about who Santa is or what Santa does, or why Santa comes. Our culture loves to play around with this concept of “faith and Christmas” belonging together. Yet what is missing most is the messiness of an unexpected human pregnancy to a 14-year-old peasant girl in Palestine who dared to believe in God’s promise that she would give birth to the Messiah. I can’t help but wonder what God may be inviting us to pay close attention to this Christmas, and how our lives can also be a witness to God’s incredible loving promises for our world. 

 

Dear God, 

Open our eyes this Advent season to the mystery and majesty of your promises being fulfilled in and through the birth of Jesus. Free us from cynicism and indifference to the hurts and needs of others, and use our words and actions to share your loving and forgiving intentions for humanity. 

In the name of the Christ Child and for his sake we pray.

Amen.

 

Bishop Herman Yoos 

Day 4 - December 5, 2018

Matthew 1:18-25 New Life Version (NLV)

18The birth of Jesus Christ was like this: Mary His mother had been promised in marriage to Joseph. Before they were married, it was learned that she was to have a baby by the Holy Spirit. 19Joseph was her promised husband. He was a good man and did not want to make it hard for Mary in front of people. He thought it would be good to break the promised marriage without people knowing it. 20While he was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. She is to become a mother by the Holy Spirit. 21A Son will be born to her. You will give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from the punishment of their sins.”

22This happened as the Lord said it would happen through the early preacher. 23He said, “The young woman, who has never had a man, will give birth to a Son. They will give Him the name Immanuel. This means God with us.”24Joseph awoke from his sleep. He did what the angel of the Lord told him to do. He took Mary as his wife. 25But he did not have her, as a husband has a wife, until she gave birth to a Son. Joseph gave Him the name Jesus.

Key Verses: Matthew 1:21,23
21 – A Son will be born to her. You will give Him the name Jesus because He will save His people from the punishment of their sins.”
23 - He said, “The young woman, who has never had a man, will give birth to a Son. They will give Him the name Immanuel. This means God with us.”

 

                Thanksgiving is one of the holidays I look forward to most. A time to bring the whole family together, or as many as can come, and commune and give thanks. All of the cousins were sitting at the “kid’s table”, though the youngest is just shy of eighteen, and were rubbing the rim of Grandmother’s crystal glasses, letting the hum fill the room. Whoops, maybe it was too loud. Someone got called out by name; their full name. You know you’re in trouble when they call out your full name. 

Time to start a new conversation and move away from playing with the dinnerware. How about that name? How did we get our names? We went around the table and each cousin told the story of why they got the name that they did. For the older cousins, their names came from family members further down the line - family names, keeping tradition. For a few of the others, mom and dad both made lists of boy names and girl names; if they had the same name on each of their lists, that would be the baby’s name. The last group said that they had gotten their names based off of their meaning. 

It escapes me frequently that words have origins, as do names – and names that have meaning. Our names, the names we share with others, and the names unique to ourselves. Each of our own individuals with their own personal significance. And then there is the name given by God with the greatest meaning – Immanuel. This time of year, we celebrate the coming of Jesus… Immanuel… the One whose name means “God with us.”

 

Please pray with me, “Dear God, thank you for giving me my name. A name that signifies me, who I am, and who I will become in your world. Thank you for giving your Son the name “Jesus, Immanuel, God with us.” Thank you for being with us. Amen.”

 

Hunter Berley
Newberry College, Class of 2019

Day 3 - December 4, 2018

Luke 1: 26-38 (KJV)

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

 

Miracles are unlikely things that happen in unlikely places – the unlikeliness, even the impossibility, is what makes them miraculous, after all. And certainly, God’s decision to come to us as one of us seems unlikely indeed. But when the angel Gabriel approaches a young woman and informs her that she will be the mother, the caregiver of God in His Incarnation as Jesus, Mary’s response is simple and straightforward: “I am the Lord’s handmaid. Let this happen as you have said.”

I think there may be at least two lessons in today’s reading. The first one is that miracles may happen even as we mind our own business and go through our daily lives. They may not always be announced by angels, but we may notice them if we accept that they can happen.

The other lesson comes from Mary’s response. Presented with miracles – the Virgin Birth to come and the Son of God she is to deliver – she accepts the Will of God. It’s too easy for us to think that we’re in control, that we know what can and what must happen, that our world is limited by what we can perceive and explain. Mary is wiser than that. Let us learn from that, and be willing to accept God’s will for us, even as a young woman did two millennia ago.

 

Heavenly Father, thank You for the miracles around us, whether they are as striking as a sunrise or as tiny as a baby born in a small town. Grant us the vision to note them and the wisdom to accept them. In the Name of Your Son, Amen.

 

Dr. Warren Moore, Professor of English

Day 2 - December 3, 2018

Luke 1:5-17

In the time of Herod, King of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife, Elizabeth, was also a descendant of Aaron. Both of them were righteous in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commands and decrees blamelessly. But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old. Once when Zechariah’s division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to go into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshipers were praying outside.

 

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born.He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

~New International Version

 

GOD does many things well. Wait a minute. GOD does all things well. He does things so well and so smooth that we often don’t realize how he did what he did! He has a mysterious way about doing things. A great illustration of that is right here in this text. Zechariah is minding his own business when an angel of the Lord appears with great news. It was news of great hope and news that would lead to even greater news. Zechariah might have wanted that news to be told to him in a different way, but GOD chose to do it the way he did because he needed to get Zechariah’s attention.

 

We can easily get ourselves lost in the hustle and bustle of life. There are so many distractions that we are prone to missing what GOD is trying to tell us. This is especially true during this time of the year. We are so preoccupied with shopping for gifts and preparing for the holidays that we forget the true meaning of the holidays. We turn our attention towards celebrating the wrong thing. Thankfully, GOD has numerous tricks up his sleeve to get our attention back and help us to focus on the true reason for the season.

 

Heavenly Father,

We simply stand in awe of the amazing things that you do. You show your power to us every day and we thank you for that. Thank you for always managing to grab our attention when we need it. 

In Jesus Name, 

Amen   

 

Dr. John Lesaine ‘07, Associate Professor of Sport Professions

Day 1 - December 2, 2018

Matthew 1:17

17 Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah.

 

There is no better feeling than when a promise is fulfilled. Especially when an anticipating, anxious feeling disappears in favor of peace. It may not be obvious but the verse above in the first chapter of Matthew is all about promises. Promises of a God who willingly gave an imperfect people their perfect Messiah. 

However, in order for the people to understand that their perfect Messiah had arrived, God set up a series of prophecies in the Old Testament. When these promises were finally satisfied, the people would know that Jesus had come. One major prophecy surrounded the lineage of the Messiah as established through Abraham and David. In Genesis 12:3, Abram (soon changed to Abraham) is told “I will make you into a great nation”, indicating the importance of Abraham’s offspring. In 2 Samuel 7:12-13, David is told “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever”, indicating a continuation of David’s line. The fulfillment of each promise was essential in creating a lineage which would become the foundation for Christianity’s everlasting life and was proved in the first chapter of Matthew as evidence of Jesus’ true purpose.

But why are promises made in about 1000 BCE relevant to December 2018? Each December, Christians all over the globe take time to prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ, both as a baby in Bethlehem and during his second coming. Traditions vary between denominations, but the purpose is clear. Advent allows us to pause in order to acknowledge the amazing promises which have already been fulfilled through the lines of Abraham and David while also remembering that one day Jesus will come again with an exulting trumpet sound. During Advent, this year, use this time to reflect on the complexity of our Christian history of prophets and promises while also anticipating the assurances made for the future. 

 

Prayer: Dear Lord, During this season of Advent, I pray that we use this time to remember the amazing works You have already done and Your continuous works which fulfill daily promises to us. Help us take the pause in this busy season to be reminded of the blessing of Jesus. Amen.

 

Sarah Johnson, Senior, Newberry College

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