12-14 Advent Devotional

Isaiah’s Vision

Chris Deacon

Isaiah 11:1-9

 Sandy Hook.  Iraq.  Pulse.  Syria.  Mother Emanuel.   Afghanistan.  We don’t have to look far to see violence in the world.  We see needless killing both in our own communities and abroad.   The world can be a very scary place.  Isaiah was living in a scary place too.  King Uzziah had died, leaving uncertainty and the Assyrian Empire was expanding beyond Judah’s borders.

It is no wonder that Isaiah’s vision of the Messiah was one who would bring peace.  It is a message we can’t hear enough of today.  Isaiah gives a litany of natural enemies not only coexisting, but cohabitating.  The wolf and the lamb live together, the leopard lying down with the baby goat, and the calf and the lion together. The cow and bear lie down together while the lion eats straw like an ox.  What beautiful imagery!  Natural enemies living together in harmony.

As we celebrate advent, we wait for the time when Christ will come again.  We wait for the time when Isaiah’s vision will come to be.  We wait and pray for a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb, when violence will cease, when God’s peace will rule.  As we wait, we should remember the words of the Lord’s Prayer, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven,” and ask ourselves who are our enemies?  What are we doing to make peace with them?

Rev. Chris Deacon is a pastor in the PC(USA). He is currently serving the United Parish of Bowie in Bowie, Md, outside of Washington D.C.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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12-13 Advent Devotional

Creating Righteous People

Catherine Belles

Isaiah 63:15-64:12

Isaiah 12:2-6

Ms. Hanson, red curly hair, big smile, freckles and artistic creativity. In Riverdale Jr. High, we had never encountered anyone like her. Art taught me something amazing: Creation is ongoing. Working with clay, paint, yarn, wax, wood and carving tools, shaped and changed by my hands meant I had power within me. I made choices that could result in beauty, me, my choices.

“Why O Lord, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you?” As I wrestled with clay, that just would not turn into something beautiful, the fault laid in my hands, not the clay. Our Lord, our

father, our creator is the potter and we are the clay. We wait for the father’s hands to craft us into something beautiful and useful, something amazing. Would we not sin if the Lord were fully here? If we were not in that time betwixt and between?

Advent is a time to ask our father, the Lord, to make the crooked straight and the rough places plain. The clay, I, am waiting for the potter’s hands. I am waiting for the father to wash me and lead me to righteousness.

Catherine Belles, a pastor of two rural north central Iowa churches, Eden Presbyterian in Rudd and First Presbyterian in Greene, Iowa. 

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-12 Advent Devotional

Joy

Tara Wilkins

Isaiah 63:7-14

 Advent joy reminds us of the abundance of God’s love.  Isaiah’s words call us to remember God’s grace filled acts in the world.  They are a call to extravagant joy.  But researcher and scholar Brene’ Brown, in her book, Daring Greatly, points out our resistance to joy.  She writes, “In a culture of deep scarcity–of never feeling safe, certain, and sure enough, joy can feel like a setup”.  She goes on to say that when life is going really well, we begin to anticipate that disaster must then be right around the corner.  We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, so we don’t let ourselves feel joy.

This sense of foreboding joy is just what Isaiah is speaking to.  The people were saved by God’s abundant love, but they struggled to let it in, so they grieved instead.  We celebrate God’s presence in our midst, God’s transformation and grace.  And then, not wanting to feel too vulnerable, we begin to shut out joy, to not let ourselves feel it.  We begin to feel that we don’t have enough, that we aren’t enough, that something bad must be about to happen.  And we erect walls around our hearts.

But we can’t have a mentality of scarcity, when we have a theology of abundance.  The antidote to foreboding joy is practicing gratitude.  Joy can be practiced every day.  Isaiah said, “recount the gracious deeds of the Lord, the praiseworthy acts of the Lord”.  The Advent practice of joy is a call to gratitude as a form of prayer.  When we remember just how much God has done for us, when we notice moments where God’s love is made real, when we look at life around us with a sense of awe and wonder, we experience joy.  In this Advent season, may we heed the call to extravagant joy!

Rev. Tara Wilkins, pastor at Bridgeport United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon, and executive director of the Community of Welcoming Congregations.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-11 Advent Devotional

Glimpses of the Kingdom

Tracy Spencer-Brown

Isaiah 61:1-11

When I read this passage from Isaiah, I am reminded of the trip I made to Central America in the early 1990s.  The group I traveled with visited El Salvador, which was still in civil war at that time.  We met people who were brokenhearted, without hope to stop the tide of violence in their country.  We met those who were oppressed, who had had their lands seized, and who were afraid to speak out about the human rights violations happening daily around them.  We met those who had been imprisoned, and those who had family who were “disappeared” – gone -and presumably forcibly conscripted by the government forces.

Despite the circumstances, the Salvadorian people were not people of faint spirit, but were filled with deep faith and praise.  The people stood against the fear and violence like oaks of righteousness, and they trusted boldly in our God who is just, and worshipped God with joy.  We went to learn, and the Salvadorian people brought us the Good News.

Their faith was tangible.  They were eager to tell us their stories.  They graciously and warmly welcomed us to worship, which was the most moving experience for me, even though I speak not a word of Spanish!  They led us in Bible study – and we heard the gospel with new ears.  They embodied a faith that made mine seem pale in comparison.

Jesus proclaimed these words of Isaiah as he began his earthly ministry.  He lived a life that fulfilled that prophecy.  We’re not sure what it will look like when the kingdom comes, but sometimes we catch glimpses.  In El Salvador, God gave me a glimpse.  For that I give thanks and praise.

 Rev. Tracy Spencer-Brown is the pastor of Andrews Presbyterian Church in Andrews, Texas.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-10 Advent Devotional

Straying

Rob Shrader

Nehemiah 12:27-43

Nehemiah 9:1-3, 32-37

 A friend of mine used to use her morning walk as prayer time.  She had a beloved dog that needed daily walking so it seemed a natural centering time.  She began her walks with confession.  As she moved away from her house she’d list the areas of her life that needed attention and forgiveness.  After she made the turn for home she’d switch to petition and eventually she’d move to praise, ending on a positive note.  Describing her routine she said, “That walk away from home was a painful symbol of how far I’ve strayed from God.”

It’s never fun to admit when we’re wrong. As the people of God made their confessions in Nehemiah 9 I imagine the mood was heavy and the pain was difficult.  Sitting with the knowledge that we’ve fallen short of the glory of God is not an easy burden to bear.  However, realizing our need for God’s grace makes that grace all the more amazing to receive.

This time of year is mostly marked with joy and laughter as we move from one holiday activity to another.  But we would do well to take time to pause and to consider our sinfulness and our need for forgiveness.  Coming face to face with our mistakes makes receiving the gift of the Christ-child all the more powerful.

No matter how far away from God we stray we are always blessed with the invitation to turn back toward home – to receive the grace of God.

Rev. Rob Shrader is the pastor of Campbellsburg Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henry County, Kentucky.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-9 Advent Devotional

Gus

Bruce Ehlert

Nehemiah 8:1-12

Reading Nehemiah reminds me of Gus.

Gus was a hard-working guy. Immigrating from Germany after WWII, Gus built a life in western Canada, constructing the massive brown grain elevators that once loomed over our prairie landscape. Twice widowed, his house was tiny, but his garage/workshop was immense. After he retired, you’d find Gus puttering with something in his workshop every day except Sunday, when he would arrive at the church 20 minutes early — like clockwork.

Looking for Gus sitting in the sanctuary (in the back row, of course) became part of my own preparation ritual. Later, I learned that coming to church early to pray and “prepare one’s heart” for worship and Holy Communion is a time-honoured German tradition.

The women and men in Nehemiah are like Gus. Working hard, stubbornly building a temple and a life in a new land, they were hungry to hear God’s Word. They wanted to hear from God so much, they were willing to stand from early morning until noon in the hot Mediterranean sun. (And afterward, they went for brunch – something else Gus would appreciate!)

Reading Nehemiah as Christmas approaches makes me wonder… do we eagerly anticipate worship? Or is it another chore? During Advent busyness, is spending time with Jesus — “the Word made flesh” — a priority?

I pray it will be, for both you and me.

Rev. Bruce Ehlert serves Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, an Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sherwood Park, near Edmonton, in central Alberta, Canada.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12-8 Advent Devotional

The Goat at the Party

Jan Gregory

Ezra 6:13-22

I hear Ezra’s description of the first celebration of the Passover in the newly dedicated “house of God” and can only imagine the peak emotions of such a gathering. Amidst all the preparation, the corralling and consecrating of carefully counted bulls, rams and lambs, generous sacrifices worthy of this pinnacle point in time, there is this smaller acknowledgment that even now, with our joy at full throttle, we need to acknowledge our “lesser nature,” our unbecomingness, our sin. Ezra recounts that among the abundance offerings made in joyful thanksgiving: “and a sin offering for all Israel,” 12 he-goats, one for each tribe.

We don’t usually like to go there in the midst of our joy and celebrations. We don’t want to be reminded of our Scrooge-like natures when we’re singing Christmas carols or our rancor when we’re lighting candles of peace. But there it is. Right in the middle of “the most wonderful time of the year.” The goat at the party. Not just one, but twelve, every tribe included.

Advent offers us an invitation to make ready for God’s joyful incarnation into our lives, but also to pause and remember just how and why it is we need a savior. So, let’s rope our stubborn goat-like hearts, prone to wander – Lord, I feel it – and bring them forward, too, in the middle of this season of God’s coming, tucked in between the shining gifts of profound joy that new incarnation brings, and lay them on the altar of God’s amazing grace, offering our best and our worst that we might be truly born once more into new life.

Rev. Dr. Jan Gregory-Charpentier is the pastor of First Congregational Church of Westbook, CT.

©2016 by individual authors and Facebook Narrative Lectionary Group.  This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.