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2019

FROM THE SPIRITUAL LIFE COMMITTEE


The Meaning of Advent It is good to remember that the word Advent in Latin, translates to COMING, and in this season of the church we ponder the COMING of Jesus. For four Sundays prior to the Christmas celebration, we prepare and anticipate the COMING of Jesus into our hearts anew and for the Love of Jesus to shine forth into our world. Jesus’ COMING is not a onetime event! Jesus COMES again and again and again. Yes, the season of Advent reminds us to remember and reflect on these significant times in our life of faith. This year’s Advent season begins on Sunday, December 1 and proceeds through December 24. Interestingly, the first Sunday of Advent also begins the church calendar—so Happy New Year, church! Now you probably are not going to find many Advent greeting cards (if any) in our local stores; perhaps if you look carefully, you may discover an Advent calendar or wreath. Preparing for the coming of Jesus, our Savior, has become overwhelmingly commercialized. It seems gift giving has taken on a life of its own while the pace of the season’s events tempts us to fall into a frantic frenzy. Dear friends, Advent offers another option. It offers time for meaningful, reflective, thoughtful prayer as together we “make straight the paths” for the COMING of our Lord.

COME, LORD JESUS, COME

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Asbury First 2019 Advent Devotional Dear friends, The Spiritual Life Ministry team is pleased to offer the 2019 Advent Devotional. Beginning December 1, you will enjoy daily readings/personal reflections from our staff, children, youth, and adults. Their memories and experiences will be a light to the theme for that week. We know you will appreciate each of our writers. THANK YOU!

Week One HOPE Week Two PEACE Week Three LOVE Week Four JOY

We all recognize that the season of Advent can slip by with the business of preparing for our holiday celebrations. These celebrations are to be enjoyed, indeed; but not at the expense of preparing our hearts for the coming of Jesus. You are invited to intentionally plan some reflection/prayer time—privately, with friends or your family—prior to December 25. Take time to REMEMBER (your memories will be rich as you picture in your mind’s eye how Jesus has come into your personal lives and into the world around us), to EXPERIENCE (Jesus “up close and personal” as you and Jesus face each day. Invite Him in), and BE IN THANKSGIVING (take hold of God’s promise that Jesus will come again). Friends, prepare your heart to receive the coming of Jesus anew, anticipate the joy of this promised gift for you and for all people, and consider how God’s Son is the source of your Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace. During this Advent, being better together... Let us pray... -Karen Barner, Cindy Burkhartt, Charlotte Craig, David Crawford, Bill Freed, Linda Freed, Kathi Johnson, Cassandra Jordan, Bonnie Matthaidess, Lyn Saunders, Mary Scahill, Christine Shaw, Vicki Stankaitis, Jeanne Stickney, Jeanne VanVorst, Lois Wentis, and Rev. Kathy Thiel

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December 1 This is the beginning. For many, including the Church, Advent is a season of preparation. For some of us, it’s the season when we prepare our homes, our hearths, and our hearts for Christmas—that miraculous time when people are a little friendlier, music a little more familiar, and cookies a little freer. For the Church, this is the season when we prepare for the kingdom of God. This is the beginning of the liturgical calendar year, and in the months ahead we will rehearse together the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—beginning on Christmas. Before we look back, however, we have to look forward. Before we tell the part of the story we know, we pause to remind one another of the part yet to be written. The kingdom of God describes that time when we all finally and fully live as Christ commanded and it draws closer with each kindness extended, with each sacrificial gift, and with each act of love. This is the season when we recommit to living the story, remembering that “the kingdom of God is among us.” (Luke 17:21) As Howard Thurman said in his beautiful poem, the work of Christmas is “to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among brothers, to make music in the heart.” Advent is our reminder that the work is not yet finished, that it extends beyond any one season to encompass the entirety of the Christian life. Perhaps our task in this season of preparation is to ask ourselves what we might do to move the story forward. What part will we play? What can we do in this season that will bring us closer to the promised kingdom? Maybe one of the reflections in this devotional will help you to pause long enough in this busy season to remember that the story of God’s gracious gift to the world is not yet finished. In many ways, this is still just the beginning. — The Rev. Dr. Stephen M. Cady II, Senior Minister

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December 2 Christmas was definitely different forty-eight years ago. I was stationed on a mountain in Vietnam. It was called Nui Ba Den, a major communications relay site, that soared 3200 feet above the dense green jungle. The view was spectacular, but the only way in or out was by helicopter. The Viet Cong owned the entire mountain below our feet. The infantrymen and signal teams shared five tiny acres on the mountain top, about the size of our Asbury First Church campus. It was hard to think about Christmas that year in the midst of war. As December 25th approached I tried to focus on Christ’s pending arrival, but His wonderful message of Hope, Joy, Comfort and Love eluded me. All the ingredients were there: the calendar read December and gifts arrived from home…but it didn’t feel like Christmas in the 90 degree heat and no snow. When Christmas morning arrived so did the helicopters. Visiting chaplains offered services to all without regard to denomination. A group of Red Cross Donut Dollies, a small USO troop, and even Santa made quick visits. Soon the visits were over, however, and silence filled the Christmas Day sky. My thoughts were like everyone else remembering our homes and the families we missed so much. I think that everyone on that mountain prayed for the kind of peace that only Christ could truly bring. In those moments we desperately needed hope. As we pondered the message of Christmas we prayed that Christ’s promise of hope would carry us all safely home. — David P. Crawford, father, grandfather, brother, and veteran who looks forward to the hope, joy, and comfort God brings each day of his life.

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December 3 I hope there will be a table at the restaurant when we get there. I hope that I will get the job. I hope there won’t be much traffic when we go home. I hope the team will score and we will win. We have all said similar expressions of hope. The Bible does not teach us that kind of hope. This kind of hope brings with it an element of uncertainty that it won’t come to pass. This is not Christian hope. It’s like crossing your fingers and wishing all will be ok. Hope shown in the Bible is desiring something good for the future with the expectation and a moral certainty that it will happen. Paul writes about Abraham in Romans 4:18, “Against all hope, Abraham believed and became the father of all nations just as it had been said to him.” Abraham spoke with the confidence in hope because God stood with him. Hope does not stand by itself as it is connected with faith. Faith is the larger idea and hope is a necessary part of faith. Faith is our confidence and belief in God. Faith focuses on the past and present while hope focuses on future. Without hope that God will be there for us in the future our faith is doubtful. I was in my hospital bed the night before my open heart surgery. Everyone had gone and left me hoping and praying for the best for my operation. I felt anxious as I began to consider what could happen. So, I put on my headphones and listened to Sunday Choral music over and over. Loving Hands, For the Beauty of the Earth, Be Thou My Vision, All Things Bright and Beautiful. I repeated the words as they were sung for each song. The longer I listened the greater a feeling of peace came over me. My anxiety about the surgery and the future were washed away by God. The idea of hope came into my mind that whatever happened God would be there for me. I thank the Lord for hope and peace he provided me that night. As we turn to the Advent Season, let us focus on the hope that Jesus brings with his birth on Christmas Day. He came to bear all of our sins and relieve us from eternal darkness. His light provides us with the hope that we need each day of our life. — John Smalt, husband, papa to three grandkids, woodcarver, guitar player, loves working with kids with our beloved therapy dog, Rusty, and thankful to the Lord for all their blessings.

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December 4 Hope Blooms All of a sudden in the middle of a dry, rocky slope, arises a splash of color – a sure sign of hope, When troubles seem impossible to overcome remember the red cactus opening to the sun. Come holy season, come! — Nancy Davidow, wife, mother of four, grandmother of six, whose interests include traveling, knitting and needle work, reading, and within the past eleven years, writing poetry.

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December 5 “We all need HOPE. As souls, we journey in physical bodies, traversing a life that is dually lived. We experience safety through attachment to the physical world, but we are also comforted and cared for by a trust in the non-physical, spiritual part of our reality. Two different roads, available for us and from which we choose, moment by moment.” — Susan Barbara Apollon I am pleased to share this inspiring life sustaining and a source of daily quote that sustained me often during centering and hope. a medical emergency and surgeries in Following a medical challenge and 2008. Having fallen and hit my head, healing, many of us notice a definite causing a hematoma, I needed 2 brain shift in our lens on life and may revisit surgeries in the span of a month to our reason for being. That has been finally relieve all the pressure and true for me, striving to spend more begin to regain strength and mobility in mindful time in meditation and study the year that followed. During this life- and trying to more actively bring joy, changing period, the essence of Advent love, and affirmation to others. Craig truly came home for me: When life is and I visited Corning Glass in January sweet, say thank you and celebrate and again this summer with visitors each day with gratitude. When life is and each time, as we watch the bitter, also say thank you and do your glassblower shape the glass with heat, best to be open to growth and learning, bending inside before it hardens into and a deeper faith journey. a new shape or vessel, it is a powerful I realize that HOPE, the metaphor: through the darkness, life’s expectation of good in the future, pressures, we too can be transformed surrounded me and our family from the inside out and reach for the during this time; from competent transforming light of HOPE. and reassuring medical professionals to family, friends, colleagues and — Susan Larson, has been blessed to learn and grow in the Asbury First Community neighbors offering their stories of over the last 20+ years. She and Craig have resilience, encouragement, good food, two grown sons, Brett and Brandon, and yes, humor. I am grateful that and their growing families are a source adopting a Yoga Practice was strongly of joy and hope for the future. Susan enjoys working with individuals, small groups encouraged after surgery and have on Life Planning +50 topics, and finds hope found this inner/outer movement and stimulation at Chautauqua Institution 9 and shared community practice to be in the summer.


December 6 My life’s journey to this point has been decorated with many wonderful blessings. On each path along my journey, I have tried to convert challenges into (some degree of) opportunity—aided by prayer and enduring faith and hope. All elements borne from a foundation modeled by my parents and grandparents. There have been times, however, where it seemed there was “no light at the end of the tunnel” and finding the strength and courage to move forward was sometimes difficult. Losing my dad at a time in my life where, arguably, I needed him most, rocked my world and caused me to dig deeper in search of that beacon of faith to help me maintain some degree of hope. So it is true for other trials and tribulations, victories and celebrations, where I have chosen to look back as a matter of perspective and course correction, and then chose to embrace the opportunity to look forward to what lies ahead. Today I stand, proudly, as a dad, not void of battle scars of parent-hood, but buoyed by an opportunity to see my two sons blossom in their own way during their own adulthood journey. I rejoice in my role as a son and the opportunity to be present in the life of my mom as we share special moments of reflection on the past and as we anticipate the wonderful times that still lie ahead. I continue to strive to be the best brother/brother-in-law, uncle, and nephew to others. Now, hope abounds as I am well-placed in varied ways to help those individuals who need it most. In joining the many others who are willing to make a difference in a world that is becoming increasingly out of control, I can help in some small way to bring a guiding light of hope and optimism for the young men and women who are our future. Hope buoys all. Let it be so. — Ike Jordan, Jr., loves football and still believes he can be the world’s oldest free agent wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Ike also enjoys cooking and good Spanish cuisine and travel to faraway lands to explore different cultures.

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December 7 O Come, O Come Emmanuel is one of our more familiar Advent songs. It’s not exactly a hymn with the same joy as Christmas carols, but with lyrics that speak of hoping, longing, yearning, and even aching for Emmanuel (which means “God with us”). O Come, O Come Emmanuel, Be with us now. The Church’s symbol for Hope is the anchor, the rock-solid anchor that holds a ship secure no matter the buffeting storms or winds it might experience. I see Emmanuel, God with us, as my rock-solid anchor as I face the reality of my personal life and that of the world around me. I pray the same for you. (What are your anchors of Hope?) One such anchor of Hope comes from my family of origin. My grandparents, parents, and extended family come from hearty stock, immigrating to the Midwest, homesteading, living off the land, and suffering a multitude of challenges and losses—and yet, they always pressed on. Often, their Hope was named as Creator God as they gave thanks for a bountiful harvest or prayed for rain in the midst of a drought. They lived in Hope and stood together with family and neighbor. My maternal family joined their neighbors and built the “little white church with a steeple” in the rolling hills of their Iowa farmlands. This church still stands tall as a beacon of Hope for me. This year we buried another dear member of our family, my cousin Kris. As we walked from the church through the adjoining cemetery, my family’s tombstones stood as sentinels for our march to Kris’s final resting place. Kris even wrote a letter to us speaking of her living Hope, (her anchor), the Good Shepherd who sustained her in her long battle with cancer. In the midst of our sadness was Hope. Without a doubt, Hope lives on within the hearts of those buried there and within us as we marched together with Emmanuel, God with us. This Advent, may you walk with Emmanuel, God with you. — Bonnie Matthaidess, a farm girl at heart who gives thanks for Creator God and for her rich heritage to press on no matter the circumstance and prays to offer this same gift to others.

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December 8 Every Sunday after church, I go to the Liberty Diner on Winton Road for lunch. One Sunday, I was seated in a booth near two moppy-haired men covered with tattoos and in need of a shave. Their language was raw and they ate their lunch quickly leaving the restaurant with haste. After they left, the waitress told me that they paid for my lunch including tip and made her promise not to tell me until after they left the diner. Were these men my Jesus? Was God telling me not to judge my fellow man by their appearance? The Harvard Medical School issued a guide on strength and power training for adults of all ages. The guide lists many physical health benefits by raising confidence, brightening mood, and fighting mild to moderate depression. So I decided to take the advice of the Harvard Medical School experts by finding a small private gym run by a thirty-year-old black gentleman who stands six foot five inches. He is so muscle bound that he could put me in my grave with just his little finger! I was surprised that he took me on as a student because of my age and that I never lifted weights before. He has enhanced my spiritual and physical life by his words of wisdom and expertise. Is he my Jesus? During the summer I like to sit in my garage with the door raised and read the newspaper. Wednesday is garbage day so I have the trash tote at the edge of the driveway. One day, the trash truck was followed by a young man who hooks the tote to the truck to empty the contents. The gentleman rolled the tote to me and with a big smile, said “see you next week.” His act lifted my spirit and I could not forget his words. The following week I made a special effort to greet him for another smile and words of encouragement. Is he my Jesus? I’m using the above examples of the many people that come into my life everyday. Are they my Jesus? This is the time of the year that we give praise to God for the birth of his son and the message that his son gave to us. I think of the baby being like a mustard seed planted by God into humanity, giving us many forms of Jesus. Jesus’ birth and life was spectacular but the spirit of Jesus that is given to me by others is spectacular too. I try to be a Jesus to others, but do I succeed? I will never know. — Karl Greenhagle, old enough to be called a senior without any reservation.

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December 9 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out!” — John 1:5 At a Christmas Eve service many, many years ago, the minister shared that he waited for the true magic of Christmas to happen and it would; together in faith and fellowship, slightly dimmed light, four Advent candles lit, awaiting the lighting of the Christ candle, the light that would be then carried to the congregation, and the warmth of a magnificent burst of light. We have been on this journey before, but the anticipation was always fresh. After he said those words, we waited in silence, reflecting on the moment. I remembered our own Advent wreath in years past. Our four young children sang Mary Lou Walker’s “Light the Advent Candle,” waiting for a turn to light a candle—a tradition that would begin in their own families. The Advent wreath was our important connection with each other in weeks leading to Christmas. As the children grew older and involved in many activities, we clung to that special time. I sense I am not alone when I say, that at times, darkness comes and the light seems too far off, unreachable. In times of deep sorrow, loss of family members, people caught in harm’s way, people desperate to survive, it is difficult to reach for the light and the love of others who wait in the shadows ready to help. In time, the darkness does lean toward the light, especially when we look for the face of Christ in the people we meet, respecting each and everyone. — Lorraine Fusare, mother, thankful for four children, six grandchildren who keep her young at heart, and is a learner forever.

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December 10 THE PEACE OF GOD IN DIFFICULT TIMES Holidays can be difficult after the loss of a loved one. For those like myself who approach this holiday season with the realization that it is the first holiday without your precious loved one, we carry into this season of joy much grief and uncertainty. We carry with us joyous memories of past holidays and now moments of deep sadness that often leave us wondering if we are even going to celebrate the holiday season at all. I get it, and I’m there. With all of the emotions that come with learning how to live without someone, especially around the holidays, I write this with a very personal connection to the pain, disappointment, and perhaps anger that many of us face. I also write this with a renewed understanding of the peace of God. Often times we think about the peace of God as something that suddenly replaces all other emotions, causes us to forget our feelings, and makes our problems appear small. After enduring the loss of a loved one though, this is not the peace I’ve felt. The emotions, feelings, and problems, remain. The questions, doubts, and paralyzing moments, remain. But I’ve also come to realize that the peace of God also

remains. This peace, however, appears in the most unexpected moments and encounters of any given day: In the way the sun shines through my closed blinds reminding me of the light on the other side of this dark space; in the way moments of intentional silence allow me to recognize my breathing amidst moments of panic reminding me of life in my own body; in the way people surround me and offer a hug without ever saying a word allowing me to appreciate the ways in which words don’t always have the most to say; in the way one phone call from a family member or friend reminds me that while I have endured loss, I still have reason to believe I am not alone. The peace of God is revealed to us in the daily and sometimes random experiences that we endure. Our task, friends, is to recognize them. Beloved, God’s peace can be felt in myriad ways—I pray this holiday season grants you an opportunity to recognize them, and find your smile even as the tears continue to fall. May God’s Peace Be with You! — The Rev. Jackie Nelson, sister, daughter, granddaughter, and friend, who is inspired daily by the ability to share God’s love with everyone she meets. 15


December 11 My favorite worship time of all the year is the worship service on Christmas Day. No matter how I anticipate the holidays in general, or what my expectations are, Christmas morning at church is the BEST part of the holiday. There is no tree in our home. No traditional gift exchange centers our activity on the eve or morning. Christmas day starts with a thankful prayer as my eyes open. Then a whoop and a Merry Christmas holler for Roy and the world. I open the must-have discussion of “how special can we make breakfast?” I move toward choosing a colorful outfit with red or green. Then it’s off to church with the joy of knowing Christ is alive in my life. Our route passes lots of lights strung on trees and porches along quiet snowy streets. I sense hope, and love, and peace all at once; and they’re growing stronger. I have confidence in my heart. In church I bathe in the air of faithfulness. Every decoration and symbol reflects the spirit of the day. I see the face of the present Christ. He is so alive in the world this morning. Every wrapped present I ever gave or received, has led me here: I understand the gifts of life and faith I share in Christ. Merry Christmas! — Sally Wood Winslow, surrounds herself with books, art, art supplies, daily adventures, and optimism.

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December 12 “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never put it out!” — John 1:5 Christmas Eve, 1966, Philippines: Our family walks along a dry, dusty path to the church. There is no electricity in our village so it is very dark. It is sweltering hot! We miss the snow! We think of our families in the states, driving through the snow to attend Christmas Eve services. Afterward, they will gather as families to celebrate Christmas Eve and the gift of family and friends. As we walk along this dusty path, we notice bits of light moving through the cogon grass and other bushes; bits of light moving toward the church building. It intrigues us! We continue to watch as we walk. Suddenly we realize that people are bringing their lanterns to the church so we will have light for the service. The lights gather for worship! It is a holy moment! The service goes well, though we understand very little as it is in the Ilocano dialect and we have been in our village for only one month. The service ends and we depart. The light moves through the cogon grass and bushes once again as folk return home. The light, gathered in the church to provide light for our worship, is now taken into the world to provide light for all; to celebrate the light that came into the world this Bethlehem night. The light of Christmas! The light of the world! The light of Christ. We remember: “I am the light of the world; those who follow me will never walk in darkness!” Darkness can never extinguish the light! Thanks be to God for God’s ‘un-turn-off-able’ light! Let it shine through us! A beautiful, memorable Christmas Eve in our new Philippine community. — The Rev. David P. Lubba, Retired UMC Minister

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December 13 We all look for and crave that oft-elusive peace in our lives. That moment of freedom from worry, that day of no obligations, that lifetime free of suffering. Where do we find it? Where do we look? Sometimes we look to the physical parts of our lives, and we turn to napping, a quiet walk in the woods, or time laughing with friends and family. We find peace when we shut down the world’s noisy demands. We can also find peace within ourselves, when we become aware of what truly calms us, the peace that we can find which will grow more peace within us, which will feed our souls and make a memory we can revisit when we need the comfort of a peaceful moment. Thinking about writing about peace called immediately to mind a song we sang when I was young. The tune is a little somber perhaps, but I’m sure the intention was to offer a soft, healing vibration which will let us in every way, relax in to the peace of God that rests within our souls. Elusive as it may be. My prayer for you today is that you find the peace you need, and that it strengthens, enlightens, and comforts you for your days to come.

Peace I Ask of Thee Oh River Peace I ask of thee, oh river Peace, peace, peace When I learn to live serenely Cares will cease From the hills I gather courage Visions of the days to be Strength to lead and faith to follow All are given unto me. — Rev. Kathy Thiel, Minister for Congregational Care.

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December 14 PEACE IN MANY LANGUAGES

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December 15 Love Does That by Meister Eckhart All day long a little burro labors, sometimes with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries about things that bother only burros. And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting than physical labor. Once in a while a kind monk comes to her stable and brings a pear, but more than that, he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears and for a few seconds the burro is free and even seems to laugh, because love does that. Love frees. This beautiful poem is about gifts of love—the gift of a visit to the stable by a monk to see a burro, offering presence and companionship, telling the burro that she matters. The gift of a pear, surely a treat, to tell the burro that the visit was planned, the treat procured, this was not a spur-of-themoment visit. This gift conveys to the burro that the monk was thinking about her and cared enough to bring

something she would appreciate. The gift of God’s love expressed in the exchange of touch and a look of love. Our eyes are the windows of our souls, another poet wrote—and to recognize the material, animal qualities by touching her ears, while also taking the time to look in to her eyes—is a gift of God’s love flowing from one soul to another. Our lives are continuous reflections of God’s love among and within us, and when we accept this gift from God and recognize it in each other, we laugh and we are free. May God grant you eyes to see the gifts that are offered daily to you in presence, treats, and the pure and true love of God and the dance of the Holy Spirit, calling us to dance and frolic and in so doing to know the freedom and joy of God’s unconditional love! May your life be blessed with opportunities to give and to receive God’s love in myriad ways, this season of Advent and all year long! Meister Eckhart was a mystic and theologian who lived in Germany about fifteen hundred years ago. His spirituality, and the ways in which he expressed it, continue to be a great gift to us. — Rev. Kathy Thiel, Minister for Congregational Care. 21


December 16 “Love is patient and kind… “ 1 Corinthians 13:4 Christmas is coming and we can’t wait—or shall we say, we couldn’t wait. Because while it is true that the liturgical season of Advent, our season of waiting, is observed from December 1 to December 24 this year, one could make the argument that this season of preparation commenced back in September when the store decorations began to appear. But let us not lose our focus on the reason for the season. Instead, let us pray for patience this year. Christmas will come—it is promised! In the meantime, let us acknowledge the gift that is each day, and let us share our own gifts of love daily while we await the nativity.

“Love bears all things … “ 1 Corinthians 13:7 Anticipating the coming of Christmas can be a wondrous time. But for some it can also be a time fraught with worry, sadness, and yes, despair. Love bears this all. Let us be a beacon of light for those who for one reason or another can’t enjoy the bright lights that we see, or the warmth and security that we feel. Let us share the burden of others. Let us come, bearing gifts of love.

“Love never ends … “ 1 Corinthians 13:8 And in the blink of an eye, Advent will end, Christmas will arrive, and then if we allow it, Christmas will also fade quickly from our lives. But it doesn’t have to be so. “Keep Christmas in your heart” is a phrase that has always been near to my own heart. The challenge to keep good cheer throughout the winter months and into the seasons to follow can be a daunting one. But as each season ends and blends into the next, remember this: “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love— and the greatest of these is love.” — Glenn Peck is most comfortable behind the view finder of a camera, where he can focus his eye on the beauty of the world that surrounds him, leaving his ears free to listen for God’s calling.

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December 17 Advent is a season of anticipation. Advent is a season of mystery. Advent is a season of traditions. Some traditions visit our homes, our churches, and our communities once a year. Other traditions make their way into our daily lives and never depart. We have a tradition in our home. It is a simple tradition, not fancy or complicated. It is something that we do each and every night—all year long: After baths have been given, pajamas have been donned, teeth have been brushed, stories have been read, and three little bodies have climbed into their beds…. a song is sung from parent to each child:

You are my sunshine, My only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll never know, dear, How much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away. Perhaps you remember this song? Can you hear the tune? Maybe it was sung to you years ago by someone who loved and cared for you? Could this be God’s lullaby to us each night? Could it be that we may never know just how much God loves us? Could it be that God longs for a relationship with us...no matter the season? This Advent, listen carefully for God’s voice. Listen for God’s song to you. Because once you hear it, you may just start singing along. — Emily Cady wife, mother to three wonderful children (Ellie, Charlie, and Hannah), school counselor and educator, who loves to run, laugh, and sing!

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December 18 Step 1: Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. In through the nose. Out through the mouth. Slowly, slowly. Think about it. Step 2: “Breathe on me. (inhale) Breath of God. (exhale) Breathe on me. Breath of God. Breathe on me. Breath of God.” (remember the hymn?) Or sometimes...“God is great. (inhale) I am grateful. (exhale) God is Great. I am grateful. Step 3: Repeat many times walking briskly! Ideally somewhere along the canal path! But I have also practiced these “breath prayers” in my car and when first waking up in the quiet of the morning...and almost anywhere and everywhere. I have just let you in on my super secret technique of attempting to take better care of myself. Self-love if you will. I had begun to recognize that while I am quite good at taking care of everyone else, I sometimes fall short when it comes to taking care of me. And I think, no, I know that God loves me so much that I MUST treat my own life experience and being with reverence and kindness and love. And so about a year ago I decided to embrace “mindfulness.” I haven’t taken a class or an online course on mindfulness and I haven’t read a pile of books on meditation. But mostly, I have thought about what the term means to me and how I can use intentional ideas, thoughts, exercises, practices and prayer to be more attentive. Without fail it helps me feel closer to God. These simple “breath prayers” have become a routine part of my daily life. Breath prayers for the good days. And for the bad. This Advent, I may think of new breath prayers that remind me specifically of the season, and the baby, and the promise. Breathing is usually such an automatic unconscious act, but in each breath there can be a prayer, and in each prayer there is the remembrance of God’s love for you and for me and for us to extend to one another. Breathe in. Breathe out. Amen. — Vickie Stankaitis, mother to five 20-something daughters, loves to walk, do anything outside, volunteer, play in the hand bell choir, road trip or air trip to see those daughters, and cook and share food with family and friends. 24


December 19 In this Advent season, will you share your love, as God shared God’s own love with us? It is the Christmas yearning of every heart to love, and to be loved unconditionally in return. The Christmas story assures us that we begin and end our lives loved by our God. Love is a big idea. It is one we think we understand...but do we? We love those closest to us and those who are good to us. We struggle with loving those who are different from us, those who dislike us, those in need. God knew that love, real love, modeled and revealed to us, touching us, filling us, and changing us, would fix the love “problem” in the human heart. In my preparation and my anticipation of the birth of our Lord Jesus, I want to remember the love that God has shown us, and extend my love to those who struggle to show love to me. To those who are different from me, to those in need of a smile, a hug or of things greater. — Karen Barner, Mom, wife, grandma, behavior specialist-who loves working with children, loves the Adirondacks, long hikes and quiet reflection

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December 20 I want to share with you a thought that has been going around and around in my head ever since my brother, Bill, went into hospice care for cancer. I have probably heard this quote before, but now, these words by Teilhard deChardin resonate with me:

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” This gives me a whole perspective from which to ponder the mystery of eternal life. The first verse from John’s Gospel (The Living Bible) reinforces this perspective: “Before anything else existed there was Christ with God. God has always been alive and is always God. God created everything there is—nothing exists that God did not make. Eternal life is in God, and this life gives life to all mankind. God’s life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it.” Try to realize the possibilities in this perspective of life—spirits were created first, we were then born, and when we leave these bodies, our spirits continue to live on through eternity. Still, “We see through a glass darkly,” (1 Corinthians 13:12); but for me enough rays of light come through to illumine my spirit’s journey and give me hope for the future. — Dave Petherbridge, husband, brother, father, grandfather, and joyful new great grandfather

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December 21 Love. Imagine how different our lives might be without the amazing story of Advent. On one of the longest and darkest nights of the year a miracle occurred that changed and brightened the world forever. The story of Jesus’ birth has been retold for centuries. A baby born in a simple manger. Loving parents swaddling him from the cold, damp night. Sounds and smells of animals quietly filling the air. Shepherds nearing word of his birth from angels on high. Wise men following a bright star and bearing gifts. And all for a tiny baby. For many it was just another night. We know, however, it would be the beginning of a great journey. That tiny baby grew up and taught the world about peace, justice, mercy, caring, forgiveness, kindness and LOVE. His words brought new hope to the multitudes. Perhaps today our poor tired world needs his message of LOVE and hope more than ever. During this season of preparation remember the many lessons Jesus taught. “LOVE thy neighbor as thy self” should become a cornerstone for daily living. Practice acts of kindness by reaching out with LOVE. Not just during the holidays, but every day make this your gift to others. — David Crawford, loves being with his family and church family, and is devoted to caring for Asbury First’s labyrinth and friends.

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December 22 “Rejoice Always.” — 1 Thessalonians 5:16 As a pastor writing for an Advent Devotional, I am left with the quintessential quandary: to provide the theologically rich pastoral meditation; or to fall prey to the juggernaut of joy. I think you can guess where this is going... Below is a choral refrain that was often stuck in my head as a youth:

When I was a little man Playdough came in a can I was Star Wars’ biggest fan Now I’m stuck without a plan GI Joe was an action man Shaggy drove the mystery van Devo was my favorite band Take me back to my happy land

Not only was this song catchy, but it was also by a band that was stuck on joy. The Aquabats started as a joke in the 90s to combat the serious and aggressive nature of the punk scene. They dressed as superheroes and wrote songs about villains like the Powdered Milk Man. Instead of focusing on the negatives and harsh realities of life, The Aquabats invited their listeners into an alternative punk/ska world of joy. In this season of Advent may we remember not to get too bogged down by the hectic nature of life, and may we take a moment to remember joy. May we remember to find our “happy land” wherever we are, and do our best to help share that joy with those around us. I encourage you to reminisce about some of the joys from your youth, and how you might bring those joys with you throughout your day today. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” — Philippians 4:4 — Mike Mullin, Minister for Youth and Discipleship, takes joy in his family, the outdoors, and taking on the personae of superheroes and princesses with his children 29


December 23 As we light the third Advent candle for Joy, I am reminded of one of my favorite songs, which I learned at Vacation Bible School when I was a child:

I have the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart. (Where?) Down in my heart. (Where?) Down in my heart. I have the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. Down in my heart to stay. This song fills me with joy! You know how something just reaches out and touches you? Well, that’s the way the word “Joy” resonates with me. In the book, The Mountain that Loved a Bird by Alice McLerran, the story is told of a mountain in the desert that is solid rock. Nothing touches it but the elements, until one day a bird lands on its peak to rest, and the mountain feels the touch of its feet and feathers, and hears the songs it sings. The mountain asks the bird to stay, but it cannot because there is no food to eat or trees to build a nest. But, the bird, whose name is Joy, promises to return every Spring on its way through the desert. And, since it will not live forever, Joy promises to name her daughter Joy

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and tell her how to locate the mountain, and her daughter will do the same, so there will always be a returning Joy. That makes the mountain happy, but also sad, and the mountain cries, producing water that breaks open the rock, and on subsequent visits, Joy brings a seed and places it by the stream many times until the seeds grow and the mountain is transformed into a lush, green area filled with plants and trees. Finally, when Joy arrives, she tells the mountain that she has come to stay! This symbolism reminds me of the importance of promises kept, and how the power of a simple touch or kind deed can make a difference. God gave us the gift of His only Son to transform the world through our love for one another. The second verse of the song says, “I have the love of Jesus, love of Jesus, down in my heart.” Let’s share it with the world. When I was undergoing radiation for breast cancer many years ago, the nurse’s name who attended me was Joy. I shared the book with her as I have with others. So, as we light the candle of Joy, there is another song that resounds, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!” May you be blessed with the Joy of knowing Jesus down in your heart... to stay!

— Linda Freed, Wife, Mom, Grammy, teacher, Dahlia lover, thankful person who enjoys life and retirement


December 24 Joy—what an elusive and temporary presence! In contrast, hope, love, and peace, the other subjects of our Advent reflection, can be cultivated and sustained. We can be intentional, even thoughtful, in our pursuit of hope, love, and peace. Joy is different. True joy punctuates and interrupts our lives in the most unexpected moments. The experience of joy surrenders our attention to the present. In joy we are inescapably in the moment, fully feeling and free from past and future. These moments are rare in our daily lives. Our minds—soaked in thought—project our past. Joy holds us in the presence of the divine. Joy is the thoughtless recognition of the presence of God. It is a moment when we acknowledge the sacred in ourselves, another, creation, or creativity. For a moment we abandon our illusions of control and embrace the mysterious wonder of life. Although we cannot rest in joy, as we can with hope, love, and peace, we can open ourselves to experience joy in all we do. When we still our thoughts, empty our egos, and open our hearts we prepare room for the spirit in our lives. In this Advent season, as we anticipate the birth of Jesus, prepare him room. — Brennon Thompson, a lifelong member of Asbury First, who finds joy in our vibrant and dynamic community.

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December 25 Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. — The Prophet by Kahil Gibran

“Yet it cannot be denied that many times joy is withheld even from them that walk uprightly.” — John Wesley

Giving to others is joyful AND often trapped in the despair of too little too late. Opening our hearts to others creates the reality that our hearts will be broken. Self-sacrifice surfaces feelings of selfishness. We struggle to center our trust in GOD to lead us through our broken relationships. JOY: elusive, fleeting, liberating, intoxicating, exhausting and often overshadowed with unrelenting grief. — Martha Stuart

Not a perfect place however more perfect when we are able to embrace AND witness to the countless gifts of joy-filled love we receive throughout our Advent season. — Asbury First United Methodist Church

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— Stuart Mitchell and Martha Neubert, sojourners who love and support each other, and with humility and thanksgiving, work diligently to live their faith one day and a time.


Notes, Prayers, and Meditations

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Notes, Prayers, and Meditations

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Notes, Prayers, and Meditations

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1050 East Ave. Rochester, NY (585) 271-1050 • info@asburyfirst.org • www.asburyfirst.org

Profile for Asbury First United Methodist Church

Advent Devotional 2019  

Advent season begins December 1, 2019, and an Advent devotional is available for you as you prepare for Jesus' coming. Each day of Advent, y...

Advent Devotional 2019  

Advent season begins December 1, 2019, and an Advent devotional is available for you as you prepare for Jesus' coming. Each day of Advent, y...