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Introduction During Advent this year, build a habit that will last beyond Christmas. The four weeks of Advent offer an opportunity to examine whether we are living with hope for God to act decisively in our lives and in the world around us. How do we create a habit of hope? One way is to immerse ourselves in the stories of scripture in which God is not only a character but the author who makes the entire drama possible. The stories in scripture reassure us that we live in a world where God makes promises and keeps them.


How to use this devotional This Advent devotional booklet is intended to be a useful tool to draw you and your family closer to Christ during this special season of anticipation. Inside you’ll find devotionals written by Covenant members wrestling with scripture, questions on which to reflect and discuss with others, and suggestions for activities to do with your family. Each day’s selected passages are drawn from the Two-Year Daily Lectionary from the Book of Common Worship, which is the source used for Covenant’s Daily Devotional email ( We hope that you’ll build a habit of spending time in scripture that will last long after Christmas comes and goes. Here are some suggestions for making the most of your Advent journey with the help of this booklet: ²² Each Sunday in Advent, we light one candle in our Advent wreath during worship for each of the four themes of Advent: hope, peace, joy, and love. Look for these weekly themes of Advent as you read. How do you see the coming Christ in each story?


²² The daily scripture readings include a Psalm, an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading. We encourage you to read all the scriptures for each day, even though the author may have chosen only one or two from which to write their reflection. Pay attention to how God may be speaking to you through the daily scripture readings and the author’s reflection. ²² Each page of the devotional contains a Family Connection segment, with suggestions for family activities pertaining to that week’s Advent theme. These practical, simple, and meaningful activities are intended to engage your entire family to celebrate the season and be reminded of the light of Christ coming into the world. ²² Each author has shared his or her family’s favorite Christmas tradition, which perhaps will help your family create new traditions or enhance your existing ones.



Hope and Trust Psalm 24; 150, Amos 1:1-5, 13-2:8, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Luke 21:5-19 by dallas maham


or what have you hoped? Hoped for the perfect soul mate? To get the perfect job? To find the perfect house? Eternal life? In Luke 21:5, disciples are marveling about the “perfect temple” with all its beautiful stones and gifts. But Jesus uses their glorification of the temple to teach them about something much more remarkable: the end of time, or what we refer to as the second coming of Christ. The disciples want to know when and what signs there will be when this time comes. Jesus warns in Luke 21:8, “For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them.”

events. Jesus warns us that as His disciples, we will be arrested and tried, but to stand firm and be assured that He will give us the words to say. Through standing firm in Him, we will gain eternal life!


Christmas Tradition

Lord Jesus, please give me faith to trust You. Help me to know You love us even when the world seems so out of control. Help me to stand firm in faith and in your love. As you came as a baby to Bethlehem, you will come again to each of us who believe in You. Amen.

We enjoy stollen (a traditional German Christmas bread) and pecan rolls on Christmas morning.

In this season of Advent, we remember how Israel was told to anticipate the coming of Jesus – Jesus’ triumphal return. Jesus also tells us not to listen to false teachers who predict when He will come by interpreting current events as signs of His coming. Some say wars, floods, hurricanes, and massive forest fires are signs that Jesus is returning next week, next month, or next year. Jesus said, “I will Jesus tells us not worry when we hear of wars come in cloud!” We don’t have to hope, but and revolutions – these events must happen. stand firm in faith. Have faith and trust Jesus! We will witness nations fighting nations, earthquakes, famines, and other fearful

Family Connection – ADVENT CANDLE Today in church, we light the candle of HOPE, the first candle in our Advent wreath. HOPE is the theme of the first week of Advent.



A Psalm of Praise Psalm 122; 145, Amos 2:6-16, 2 Peter 1:1-11, Matthew 21:1-11 by samantha sipowicz


housands of years ago, David wrote songs to praise God that later became known as the "Psalms." Little did he know that those messages would offer hope and inspiration to millions of people over the ages and over the world. In times of grief, adversity, or heartache, reading the psalms helps to comfort and reassure. The holiday season is one in which cheer and joy abound. But if you are not feeling well, missing a loved one, or going through hard times, the holidays can feel bleak. The Christmas season of 2011 was a particular challenge for me as I sought to keep holiday traditions strong after our family went through a divorce and a move that profoundly changed the lives of my children and me. Determined as I was to keep everything as positive as possible, my best-laid plans were scrapped when I was unexpectedly diagnosed with cancer. I struggled to cope with the stress and anxiety of compounding challenges.

Only then did I recognize that I had to let go of control and let God steer my path forward. Hope was practically all I had left, yet hope, truly, was all I needed. During that time of despair in my life, God gave me rest and perspective to heal from my physical pain and my heartache of loss. He surrounded my kids and me with good people and hopeful prospects to help us through that difficult time. Jeremiah 29:11 became a guiding light for me: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." God knows intimately who we are. He knows what we need. It’s comforting to trust that He is in control and will not forsake us. “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love" (Psalm 145:8). As you approach the holiday season, I encourage you to ask the Holy Spirit to help fill in any spaces in your heart where you need shoring up. If a baby born in a manger can save us all, that’s a testament that God's power has no limits.


Family Connection – ADVENT GRATITUDE

What can I give Him, Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd I would bring a lamb,

Think of five things for which you are thankful. Make a collage or write them down. Hang them on your door or refrigerator so you can be reminded of them during Advent.

If I were a wise man I would do my part, Yet what I can I give Him, Give my heart. Amen.

Christmas Tradition

(From “In the Bleak Midwinter”)


One of our most special traditions was inviting a foreign student to live with us during the holidays through the Christmas International House, a ministry offering foreign students the opportunity to enjoy and learn about Christmas traditions, American culture, and faith.


Sing Joyfully to the Lord Psalm 33; 146, Amos 3:1-11, 2 Peter 1:12-21, Matthew 21:12-22 by jack feger


he first thoughts in my head when I consider preparing for Christmas are my family and music. Music is very important to my family. We love to sing in church; it brings us together even though we don’t have the best, most beautiful voices. The first three verses of Psalm 33 stand out to me because they are about music. I play the tenor saxophone and love to play in my middle school band. It also makes me think about the instruments of biblical times. David played string instruments, the two mentioned were both string instruments and both complex.

The harp has 40 to 47 different strings and the 10-stringed lyre has 10 strings (hence the name "10-stringed lyre"). The author of Psalms also tells the people of the church to "play skillfully and shout for joy.” I believe this is the author telling us that even if we can't play an instrument, we can still praise God by singing (however good or bad we are), and we should always know that God is with us and He is not some grumpy old dude in the sky. He has emotions and He loves us so much that He gave His only son to die on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven. During this holiday season, sing to the Lord a new song and shout for joy, even if you don’t think you can.


Christmas Tradition

Dear God, You are our help and our shield and in You our hearts rejoice. We thank You for music, laughter, and family. Ready us for the coming of your son. Amen.

Each year, we each pick out a new ornament for the tree. My mom has ornaments from when she was a kid and when I am grown, I will hang these ornaments on my own tree and start the tradition with my family.

Family Connection – ADVENT SERVICE Think of someone who may be lonely this Advent season. Send them a card, call them on the phone, or take them a meal. Talk about how your actions can help that person have HOPE.



Because You Can Psalm 50; 147:1-11, Amos 3:12-4:5, 2 Peter 3:1-10, Matthew 21:23-32 by austen zoutewelle


ole in the wall restaurants that stick around all have one thing in common: They make good food without focusing on their appearance. Ever been to Taco Joint? Sounds like a generic name, but it’s a real place. If you Google it, you’ll find some great Yelp reviews and a link to “Website coming soon!” The menus are laminated Microsoft Word documents in Comic Sans font. Food is served in a basket and the furniture is basic. There’s no special charm, glitz, or glamour. But when I hear the scream of my order number and see my taco waiting for me on the counter, my mouth instantly starts watering. In the parable that Jesus presents to us in Matthew, we see the power of actions. Your presentation and past matter less to God than what you believe, where you turn your heart, or how you react to the Gospel. God wants us to glorify Him wherever we live, work, and play. He calls us to stick to what

we know from scripture and live it out daily. Taco Joint doesn’t need a fancy name, chill ambiance, or a cool website because it has undeniably great tacos. God cares less about our outward declarations of faith and more about our inward desire to lift up His name in what we do. Our God is a God of action. In Psalm 50, we read that God does not keep silent; He speaks to us, delivering us to glorify Him. I see this in others so clearly. There are people who live with a strong sense of unapologetic fierceness. They know what they believe, stick to their faith, and act in a way that is undeniably God’s will. What power there is in such a simply truthful, action-oriented life! How will you react to what you believe? With Jesus speaking into our hearts, we can act fearlessly without worry of our appearance to others. God calls us to live abundantly, acting in the truth of the Gospel.


Christmas Tradition

Dear God, we praise You for giving us the ability to respond by giving our lives to You in each action. We want to hear your call and follow your path. Help us bring your Word to life in our simple, daily actions so that we may spread your love. Amen.

On Christmas Eve Eve (or Christmas Adam), five families with whom we’ve been close since I was in preschool enjoy a chili dinner, talent show, or group game and silly white elephant gift exchange.

Family Connection – ADVENT VERSE “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope” (Romans 15:13). 10


Light of Hope Psalm 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Amos 4:6-13, 2 Peter 3:11-18, Matthew 21:33-46 by kyle spencer


ince as long as I can remember, my family’s favorite Christmas tradition is attending a Christmas Eve service together. My favorite moment is near the end of the service, when the lights are dimmed and the congregation passes the light of a flame from one candle to another while simultaneously singing “Silent Night.” As a young boy, I specifically enjoyed this part of the service because it gave me the chance to play with an open flame. Thankfully for the rest of the congregation, I was under the watchful eye of my parents. However, as I grew older, I began to appreciate this tradition for its true significance, which is hope. Lighting the candles in a dark room and singing of our Savior’s

arrival on Earth provides a physical expression of our hope in God, in what is often a very dark world.


Christmas Tradition

Father, we thank You for being our rock, our shield, and the horn of our salvation. We ask that You would remind us daily to put our hope in You and You alone. Thank You Father, for being the light of our life and the hope that gets us through our darkest times. Amen.

Attending a Christmas Eve candlelight service with my family.

In Psalm 18, David shares how he got through his darkest hours by putting his hope in God. While reading these verses, I can’t help but picture David holding a candle while he sang these words to God. Much like David, all of us will face dark times in our life on earth. But same as David, if we put our hope in God, he will draw us out of deep waters and rescue us from our enemies.

Family Connection – ADVENT ACTION Clean out your toy boxes and donate some to a charitable organization. Talk about how receiving your toys can give another child HOPE.



Hope Psalm 102; 148, Amos 5:1-17, Jude 1-16, Matthew 22:1-14 by jennifer palm


n Psalms, we read of God’s people turning to Him in times when they become overwhelmed with trouble. They pour out their problems before the Lord and they beg Him to listen to their pain. Then, as His faithful servants, they trust in Him and sing His praises. They lift His name. They love their God with their whole hearts. In the time I have been a member of Covenant, our world has witnessed horrific tragedies. During these periods of extreme sorrow and unimaginable pain, I have come to the place that makes the most sense to me and turned to the One who can heal my heart. During special prayer vigils, I have prayed with, hugged, held hands, and sometimes cried with my Covenant family members.

I can tell you exactly with whom I held hands in the circle at the altar on September 12, 2001. Like the people in Psalms, we wept, then sang His praises and worshipped His name. I was reminded that His light still shines upon and through His people. His continual presence with us is an absolute promise. We felt His love and grace, and most of all we found hope. God wants us to learn from these difficult days. He wants us to trust in His perfect timing. As we journey through grief and mourn our losses, we gain confidence from our knowledge that, with Him, we can handle anything. We have hope for our future.


Christmas Tradition

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us hope. We pray to be filled with your light and glory as we face our struggles. Help us to spread your love, hope, and grace during this Advent season and beyond. In your Son’s name, we pray. Amen.

Our family’s annual Christmas tradition takes places just after Thanksgiving. No matter the weather, we all head to the Christmas Tree Farm in Elgin and choose from a field of trees and cut one down to take home and decorate.

Family Connection – ADVENT WORD HOPE is the theme of this week of Advent. Talk about what HOPE means or draw a picture. How does the coming of Jesus make you feel HOPEFUL?



Created For Hope Psalm 90; 149, Amos 5:18-27, Jude 17-25, Matthew 22:15-22 by rachael mcconnell


s a new mother, the concept of creation is very real to me. As the aunt of twenty-somethings, the concept that the lives of those that we birth and/or raise are not simply our own is apparent as well. I fully believe that in the cycles of our lives God is revealing not only aspects of Himself, but how we relate to Him. We appreciate the beauty and delight in creation, but we quickly learn that we have mortal powers as we watch little lives push back against our control and we realize at times the only thing we can do is pray to our Creator for peace and favor.

creation! When I look at my sons, I delight in them, and I rejoice that I am raising them in relationship with their God! We’re not alone in the rhythm of life. We are part of a bigger story. Each of the lives that we claim as our own, the lives that we have touched, invested in, prayed on our knees over, are God’s precious children as well.

We named our oldest son Isaac because in all of our sincerity, we wanted to give him to God. However, living out that kind of faith is where we find our greatest need to pray. Our love for our children is the taste of the joy that God has in us, He delights in His

When we wake up on our best days and still experience struggle and sorrow, may we rejoice in the fact that we are never alone. The creator of the world, of the ancient trees and far away stars, cares for us and remains with us. This is hope. When our best laid plans, created by our human hands, fall far from our desires, we can hold on to this: that the Creator of all things, the Savior of the world, desires to dwell with us beyond our concept of time.


Family Connection – ADVENT GIFT

Gracious and Wise Creator, in this season when we remember the birth of your Son our Savior, may we cling, as Mary did to her precious baby, to the hope that is given freely through Christ. Through the hugs of loved ones, the preparation of food, in the gathering of your children may we experience your presence, your power, and your love. May we rejoice that we are your beloved creation! You are with us when we feel our own mortality and see the work of our hands fade away. Through Christ, You show us that You desire to dwell with us for eternity. Thank You Lord for your steadfast love. Amen.

Celebrate the gift of friendship today and spend some time with a friend. If you can’t see that friend in person, call or write a note. Talk about how friendship gives you HOPE.

Christmas Tradition My favorite Christmas tradition is to attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service. As a family, we enjoy driving around Austin looking at Christmas lights while listening to Christmas music (especially Mozart’s Coffee light show, the lights along 37th St., and the “Santa House,” a Clarksville home on 12th St. just west of West Lynn). 13



Peace Psalm 24; 150, Amos 6:1-14, 2 Thessalonians 1:5-12 , Luke 1:57-68 by ardis cox and eli peace cox iii


od was not happy. The people of Israel appeared to have it all: food, wine, music, oils, beds of ivory – and the peace and security to enjoy it. But it was a gilded age and beneath the gold veneer was a core of base metal. The people were prideful, turning justice into poison, and the Lord said: “I am rising up against you a nation, O house of Israel … and they shall oppress you …” across the reaches of your land. Advent is about preparing for the birth of our Savior. Not only is Lent a time of introspection, but Amos reminds us that we should focus on Him during Advent. Our prosperity and the glitter and glitz of Christmas

entices us to indulge our children’s and our own material desires. Perhaps a greater portion of our abundant gifts should be given to those with broken bodies, broken hearts, broken dreams. Perhaps then, we might find true peace that surpasses our understanding. Perhaps we may receive the blessing Paul bestowed on the Thessalonians: “that our God will make you worthy of His call and will fulfill by His power every good resolve and work of faith so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in Him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”


Christmas Tradition

Dear Lord, thank You for your countless blessings and especially for your Son, Jesus. Give us the wisdom and the strength to see beyond the glitter and glitz that may distract us. Help us remember we are your stewards responsible for distributing the bounty placed before us. To You be all praise and glory. Amen.

We have made an effort to keep Christ in Christmas. When Mark and Andrew were young, we would read Bible verses and sing carols during Christmas Eve. We honored the family tradition of singing the doxology before Christmas dinner. We also have many warm memories of Christmas Eve services we attended during our travels.

Family Connection – ADVENT CANDLE Today at church, we light the candle of PEACE. This is the second candle in our Advent wreath, along with the candle of HOPE. PEACE is the theme of the second week of Advent.



Eternal Peace Psalm 122; 145, Amos 7:1-9, Revelation 1:1-8, Matthew 22:23-33 by henry hargrave


wo summers ago, my family and I traveled to Cle Elum, Washington, for a family reunion. On our final day in Washington, our extended family attended a worship service at a small Episcopalian church that sat at the top of a hill under the mountains in a town called Roslyn. Collectively, the pews could probably barely hold 100 people, and our family members took up well over half the building. I wasn’t exactly feeling compelled to go to church that day, and was not expecting much from such a small place that to me, seemed almost like an unholy place to worship, given it was essentially a wooden shack. Toward the end of the service, the congregation sang “Here I Am Lord.” I was familiar with the song, but that day, the words clicked for me to where I felt God wanted me to realize just what He is capable of, as well as the serenity that comes with the good news of

Jesus Christ. The opening verse of the song proclaims, “I the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry. All who dwell in dark and sin, my hand will save.” In the season of Advent, I take great peace in knowing just that: God has whatever sin or anxieties we are holding on to all under His control. His Son is now just days away from being born and forever changing the entire course of human history. His inexplicable and unceasing love for us has been here for ages, is with us right now, and will remain for eternity. Even when we are outside our spiritual comfort zones, like how I sometimes feel worshipping outside of Covenant, God doesn’t go anywhere. He wants us to acknowledge Him at all times, regardless of what our phase of life may look like at that point in time or our faith background. I feel God knew what I needed that day, and I was enlightened with what the idea of true, never-ending peace looks like.


Family Connection – ADVENT GRATITUDE

Lord, help me to fully understand and be up to the challenge of discovering and acting upon what your idea of peace looks like in my life. Guide me to live out my life how You intend and show me how I can spread peace to others. In your Son’s heavenly name I pray, Amen.

Write a note to someone you appreciate. Tell them what they mean to you and why. Do this either individually or as a family. How can showing appreciation to someone make you feel PEACEFUL?

Christmas Tradition My favorite tradition is visiting family in Denver and not having to go to school!



Love Grows Love Psalm 33; 146, Amos 7:10-17, Revelation 1:9-16, Matthew 22:34-46 by robbie albracht

“...and the second greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-46).

parents retreated, burned out with all the craziness. I longed for something optimistic, so asked him about his hopes and dreams for is sign caught me. A CUP OF COFFEE the future. The answer came at rocket speed, MUCH APPRECIATED. Doubts flew “I want to get off this junk and work again.” around my brain. In this town, $2.50 gets you a cup of coffee — enough I thought about getting up to go and wishfor a tallboy of beer or a pill of some kind. I ing him luck but I saw the pain and sadness stopped anyway and asked, “Do you want to on his face. I stuck around that day, and kept walk down the way for coffee? Right now, the inviting him to coffee. Over the months we holiday lattes are here.” He said “sure” with a drank many cups. I listened and encouraged surprised look in his eyes. him. Very slowly with setbacks and times of despair, he finally put the pain pills down. Lattes in hand, we settled on a corner table and began with small talk. Over a second cup, He stays in touch from his new city to let sensing he wanted to say more, I asked him me know he is still sober, is working, and about how he landed on the streets. His story has a wife. I met during Christmas that year. tumbled out rapidly. He was from a small Now, each year I think about that tiny baby Texas town, couldn't afford college, so he changing hearts with His compassion and found work in the oil fields. The money was challenge for us to follow Him and love one good. He got his own place, bought a new another each day. truck, and found a girl who liked to two step as much as he. A busy day, he fell and injured That day I saw his sign, I was a mess — newly his back. His work disability and medical cov- divorced and drinking way too much. Being erage ran out after he was hooked on pain moved by compassion and finding a way to pills. One thing led to another. First went his love this neighbor, I started down the path to apartment, and then his truck. His girl and begin loving myself again as well.


Prayer Christmas Tradition Dearest Savior, help me to follow your lead of compassion and your challenge to love my neighbor as myself. Amen.

Family Connection – ADVENT SERVICE

We enjoy tamales for Christmas Eve dinner. Then we open presents while we drink hot chocolate with a peppermint stick. Santa comes in the morning for the kids.

Do something kind for a neighbor. Take a poinsettia, baked good, or other treat to their house. 17


Out of Silence, Peace Psalm 50; 147:1-11, Amos 8:1-14, Revelation 1:17-2:7, Matthew 23:1-12 by rob bishop


hen I pray, I have no expectation that I will hear a reply from God. When I was a kid, I wished that God would answer me directly. There were so many questions I wanted for him to clear up! I especially wanted to receive a clear-cut answer from God about things that confused me about life. As I’ve grown older, most of my questions remain unanswered. But who am I to define how God will respond? Would He just answer my questions and fade back into the heavens, at my request? Lest I forget, I am but a creature, He is the creator. I cannot define God, but God is the architect of my existence. I must remember whose universe this really is.

If God were to talk directly to me, would I be able to absorb what He would say? As it is written in Psalm 50, were there not times that I turned away from God and yet He remained silent? Would I want to hear Him arraign me? I might fall into a pit of despair but for the fact that God is a God of relentless love. In the very same Psalm, God assures me that in the day of trouble, if I call on Him, He will deliver me, and I will honor Him. Out of possible despair at my predicament, comes the peace of knowing that God, the architect of the universe who is not subject to my expectations of how He should respond, is there for me even when I am unable to hear His reply. Halleluja!

Now, many years down my spiritual path, I don’t think I want to hear directly from God anymore.


Christmas Tradition

Heavenly Father, who created the universe, forgive me for the times that I have turned away from You. And though I may not be able to hear You, I know that You are always there, and I am grateful for the peace that comes from the God of unrelenting love. Amen.

On Christmas Eve, our girls leave a little snack for Santa, usually consisting of milk, cookies, and a shot of Santa’s favorite whiskey. They will also leave a little something for an entity named “Sandy Claws,” which, as I understand the legend, is a cat or cat-like creature who also leaves extra goodies for well-behaved little girls.

Family Connection – ADVENT VERSE “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16).



Peace Psalm 18:1-20; 147:12-20, Amos 9:1-10, Revelation 2:8-17, Matthew 23:13-26 by alyssa aventa


very Christmas Eve, my family sits in the living room together and we open our individual stocking stuffers. Although this tradition takes place on Christmas Eve, I like to think of it as one of my favorite Christmas traditions because Mom isn’t stressed over cooking the perfect Christmas dinner. Dad is able to fully relax from work, and my sister and I are able to ignore our schoolwork for a bit. Overall though, it’s a time when we can all put our schedules on hold and come together to take a deep breath and relax. For most families, the holidays are a time to spend with each other and really be able to connect. The feelings of comfort and warmth that come from those relationships are the very feelings that lead us toward peace in our lives today. Psalm 18:2 says, “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Much like how my family is able to take refuge from work in the celebration

of Christmas, we should all feel comfortable taking refuge in God whenever life becomes too overwhelming. We should be able to feel like God is our shelter and be able to have an open connection to talk to Him about anything, big or small. There might be times in life when we feel like the tide is against us and we are trying to balance on a thin wire. It’s times like these when you want to put focus into that area of your life to try and get it under control, but it is also during these times that you should take a break and speak with the Lord. I would like to suggest to everyone to take a second, no matter how hectic life may be, and talk to God. It doesn’t have to be about anything big; it could just be praises, or you could even be praying for someone else. Try and take at least small amounts of time out of your day in order to better your relationship with the Lord. In doing this, you will feel a sense of peace.


Christmas Tradition

Dear God, please help us continue to seek refuge in You, and to strive to be peacemakers in our home and in our world as we look forward to Jesus’ birth. Amen.

Every Christmas we enjoy going for a car ride with hot chocolate to look at the different house decorations.

Family Connection – ADVENT ACTION Write a letter to Jesus, thanking Him for the blessings you’ve received throughout the year. Talk about the PEACE you have received from His blessings. 19


Seeking Peace Psalm 102; 148, Haggai 1:1-15, Revelation 2:18-29, Matthew 23:27-39 by doug wolfe

“For my days vanish like smoke…” (Psalm 102)

Satisfaction eludes me because these pursuits do not lead to Peace. Wholeness. Harmony. t’s a common lament: “Where does the Daily I decide that I know best how to achieve time go?” The subtext is so often a sense the feeling of wholeness, of “enough,” motiof not accomplishing all I had hoped to. vated by fear of want, fear of shame, fear of What are these accomplishments that elude losing control. Success, when found, is fleetme? More wealth, richer experiences, per- ing. At best, I am “…like whitewashed tombs, fection…fuel for pride, boasting, control. But beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full satisfaction eludes me. of bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23). “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never God tells me how to find peace. While my have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. days vanish like smoke, the psalmist tells me You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with that while the things of this world “will perish, holes in it” (Haggai 1). [God] remains…[He] remains the same, and [His] years will never end.” How to find peace? The directive is simple: Praise the Lord. Seek Him first, submit to Him, praise Him.


Prayer Father in Heaven, You have blessed me beyond description, when I am not worthy. Forgive me my disobedience when I doubt You, and help me to know the path You have for me, and the peace You give me. Amen.

Family Connection – ADVENT WORD PEACE is the theme of this week of Advent. Talk about what PEACE means or draw a picture. How does the coming of Jesus make you feel PEACEFUL?


Christmas Tradition My kids love A Charlie Brown Christmas. In the culminating moment, Charlie Brown asks if there is anyone “who knows what Christmas is all about.” Linus answers, sharing the story of Christ’s birth from Luke chapter 2, ending with “that’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” Everything else will pass away, but the glory of God is forever. Seek Him first, submit to Him, praise Him… be at peace.


Peace for a Crying World Psalm 90; 149, Haggai 2:1-9, Revelation 3:1-6, Matthew 24:1-14 by jessica henderson


esus’ death was not subtle nor was it gentle. He died a brutal death that left the hearts of His followers broken and their minds in disbelief. Yet through the brokenness of His people, God brought peace.

were given a sense of peace through the countless accounts of people risking their own lives for complete strangers. Through catastrophe, God has a way of making His glory shown.

We live in a world filled with hate, disaster, and heartache. When tragedy strikes our family, our country, and the world we too are struck with brokenness and disbelief. God walks these journeys with us, no matter how low the valley is at times. Through our anguish and fear of the unknown, God reminds us to not be afraid. Haggai 2:5 says, “My spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.”

He will one day make all things new. In the meantime, we are not to fear the world which surrounds us, but instead embrace the beauty and goodness of He who gives us peace.

We all watched as the stories of heroes from the Las Vegas shooting emerged. Our hearts

In the death of a loved one, God is there. In the broken marriage, God is there. In the loss of a job, God is there. In the mass shootings, God is there. In the midst of natural disasters, God is there. Together, let us remember God is in control and He will bring peace.


Christmas Tradition

God, fill our hearts with your perfect peace. When we are crying out for answers and relief, remind us to not be afraid. For in this place, You will give peace. Amen.

My favorite tradition growing up was on Christmas Eve, to go the candlelight service at church, drive around to look at Christmas lights, and then sit around the fireplace and read ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and the Christmas story from the Bible.

Family Connection – ADVENT GIFT Celebrate the gift of nature by doing something outside today. Take a walk, visit a park, or have a picnic. Talk about how being in nature makes you feel PEACEFUL.




Praise the Lord Psalm 24; 150, Amos 9:11-15, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, 13-17, John 5:30-47 by lee blank


he final five Psalms in book five are titled “Praise the Lord.” However, the last is an invitation to offer praise without asking for God’s mercy, making requests of armies, or various other pleas. Psalm 150 simply speaks to some of the many ways to praise the Lord with musical instruments — cymbals, horns, flutes, strings, tambourines, as well as dancing in accompaniment. The last verse, five, states, “Let everything that breathes sing praises to the Lord.” There are an infinite number of instruments that we all have — every single one of us — to offer

praise in our own form and manner. Our voices, eyes, and ears, of course, are the most common ways. Activities and money are very powerful ways to praise the Lord by doing good deeds for others and by providing financial resources to help those in need. However, our attitude, our interest, sympathy shown to others, our thoughts of good will, sorrow, joy, and happiness — all of these can be formulated in a fashion of praise to the Lord when we do them and demonstrate them with a prayerful and praiseworthy manner toward all that God has created.


Family Connection – ADVENT CANDLE

Dear Lord, we offer to You all of our praises and thankfulness for the vast number of blessings that You have bestowed on all of us. Your constant and dependable love, caring, and presence are what gives us the will and energy to serve in your name. We offer praises in all forms of actions, thoughts and deeds to You in clear, loud, and meaningful ways so as to honor You, O glorious Lord. Amen.

Today at church we light the candle of JOY. This is the third candle in our Advent wreath, along with candle of HOPE and the candle of PEACE. JOY is the theme of this third week of Advent.

Christmas Tradition Our favorite Christmas tradition is to enjoy tamales on Christmas Eve.



Joy Psalm 122; 145, Genesis 3:8-15, Revelation 12:1-10, John 3:16-21 by billy won


oy can manifest itself in different forms. Sometimes joy may be a result of external events, while at other times, it may come from a careful introspection that reveals something wonderful within ourselves. The Bible gives us many reasons to be full of joy, but the story of redemption and undeserving love is one that creates joy both internally and externally. In Genesis, we see God curse mankind due to Adam and Eve disobeying His direct orders. Although it seems God’s heart is set on punishing us for giving into sin, we see through the life of Jesus in John 3:16-21 that He still loves the world unconditionally and wants to save us from the very trouble we got ourselves into.

Externally, this story gives an image of our receiving love that we don’t deserve. Through no virtue of our own, God sacrifices His own son to give us another chance to find the light from which we once turned away. This story of undeserving redemption and unconditional love is enough for a lifetime of joy, yet this joy is bolstered when we internally reflect on what this gesture means for us. God created each and every one of us individually, and this redemption means that He loves us enough to be willing to look past our sins and passionately pursue us. That our hearts are at the center of God’s love and pursuit means that we are more than simple creations of God, we are carefully crafted beings that are loved unconditionally. This news is enough for a joy that transcends our earthly boundaries and can connect us with the Holy Spirit.


Christmas Tradition

Heavenly Father, we praise You not just for the unconditional love You have given us, but for creating in us a heart worth pursuit. Grant us the peace of mind to continually reflect on your gift so that we may be full of joy. Amen.

Growing up, my sister and I would alternate putting little stuffed Christmas characters (Santa, Rudolph, etc.) on the calendar as we got closer and closer to Christmas.

Family Connection – ADVENT GRATITUDE Sit together with your family in your PJs and drink hot chocolate. Talk about the things in your life for which you are thankful and that bring you JOY.



Choosing Joy Psalm 33; 146, Zephaniah 3:14-20, Titus 1:1-16, Luke 1:1-25 by sara crawford


he words “joy” and “rejoice” appear in the Bible nearly 500 times. This leaves me with no doubt that choosing to weave joy into the very fabric of our beings is of utmost importance to God. Thus we ask ourselves, “What exactly is joy?” The concept of joy is too often confused with the idea of a bubbling, blissful feeling of elation. To recognize and practice biblical joy requires that we look at the definition of joy through a different lens. In her book, “Choose Joy,” Kay Warren offers this definition, “Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” The key to joy lies in trusting God, and in choosing a grateful heart. So how can we cultivate the heart-attitude that leads to joy? Put on our Holy Spirit-colored glasses!

As Christians we are promised the indwelling of the Spirit – this means we do not have to rely on our deteriorating and imperfect human vision. We are offered the gift of putting on the Spirit’s corrective lenses to give us perfect vision. Vision that allows us to clearly see the words of promise in scripture, cultivating an attitude of trust in our sovereign and loving God. Vision that helps us to focus on things we can be grateful for in every situation, leading us to that attitude of gratitude and praise that our psalmist calls for in Psalm 33. Consider the quote, “We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.” The choice to complain or rejoice is all in the lens through which we choose to view the world around us. Guard against the urge to view life through your fully human eyes, choose instead to see the world through the lens provided by the Spirit. Choose JOY.


Christmas Tradition

Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us the words of the psalmist to remind us that You are indeed a powerful, faithful and loving God, a God who is worthy to be trusted and praised. Give us the desire to reach out and put on your Spirit-colored glasses, in order that we will be a people who choose your gift of abundant life through joyful hearts. Amen.

Thirteen years ago, we decided to put a small Christmas tree in the family room where we spent most of our time together. That first year, after stringing the lights, we wondered, “what can we do to make this tree different?” After deliberation, we decided to make it a prayer tree! Each year, we write names of people or things we want to pray for on ornaments and hang them on the tree. Then, at dinner, each member of the family takes a different ornament, and prays for the person or thing represented on that ball. It is a fun and wonderful way to share the gift of intercessory prayer together as a family!

Family Connection – ADVENT SERVICE Serve your community by making a donation of food, clothes, or money to a local organization that serves those in need. Talk about how doing this brings your family JOY.



Joyful Faith Psalm 50; 147:1-11, 1 Samuel 2:1b-10, Titus 2:1-10, Luke 1:26-36 by drew fuller


n Luke 1:26-36, God sends the angel Gabriel to visit the Virgin Mary and give her the news – soon she will conceive and give birth to a son. She will call him Jesus, and He will be the holy Son of God whose kingdom will never end. Upon the initial greeting from Gabriel, Mary is greatly concerned about the meaning of his visit. When presented with this life-altering, glorious news, Mary does not immediately celebrate and burst into tears of joy. Mary’s immediate response is skepticism, disbelief, perhaps even anxiety. Mary was a dutiful servant of the Lord, and though she quickly accepted her destiny, her initial reaction was not one of pure joy. How do we react when life presents us with game-changing circumstances? Do we accept trials and tribulations or news with uncertain outcomes with a full and faithful heart,

an attitude of thankfulness and joy? After all, James 1:2 tells us to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds...” If your answer is yes, then you are a far greater Christian than I. In my experience, we humans are quick to measure the downside risk and evaluate the worries associated with the worst-case scenarios. As my wife and I prepare for the birth of our first child next spring, many questions come to mind: Will we have a healthy baby and delivery? Will she have plenty of friends in school? Will we always be able to provide for her and give her the loving home she deserves? All seemingly valid concerns, but far inferior to the pure joy we should be espousing daily in anticipation of the wonderful gift that has been given to us. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 sums it up well: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”


Christmas Tradition

Father in Heaven, we thank You for the many undeserved gifts You give us daily. We ask that You help guide us toward lives filled with thankful prayer, uplifting actions, and joyful faith. In your Son’s name, Amen.

On Christmas Eve, my brother, sister, and I would always gather with my mom for her to read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Even in recent years, all well into our 30's, we continue the tradition when we're able to be together that night. Now we include spouses and have expanded the ritual into watching our all-time favorite Christmas classic, Home Alone. Christmas morning and gift opening is always fun, but it's the uninterrupted time with family that means the most these days.

Family Connection – ADVENT VERSE “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).



Growing Up and Growing in Faith Psalm 18:1-20; 147:12-20, 2 Samuel 7:1-17, Titus 2:11-3:8a, Luke 1:39-48a (48b-56) by emma hoffman


s a child, I never understood the value of Christmas. As mentioned in Titus 3:3, we were all once too foolish, disobedient, deceived, and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. Similarly, in my childhood, I loved the holiday season because of the materialistic aspects of it. I enjoyed Christmas day because of the presents, the family reunions, and the universal spirit of joy. All are important parts to the day, but definitely not the main idea. When I joined our youth choir in elementary school, I was a lot more explorative of my faith. As I sang with my friends, I learned about God and how we are born to serve Him. I could finally make sense of our celebration. We were God’s followers, disciples, and servants. It made perfect sense that we would rejoice in the day that He was born, and that was a good enough explanation for me. I didn’t need to take it any further. In middle school, when I went on my first mission trip with our church, I decided that

even if I had no idea who I wanted to be in this world yet, I could assure you that I would be someone who lived through Christ. Which, as I learned later, is harder than I thought. It involved saying “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions even outside of church, which are especially difficult expectations to uphold during the time of Advent. It meant that as we sat around the Christmas tree opening gifts and eating Christmas cookies, that our heart, soul, and mind could be devoted to the hope and expectation of the second coming. Every Christian realizes the true meaning of Christmas at different times and when we do, we all recognize how much God has saved us and how much He continues to save us every day. As I grew up, I grew in Christ as well, and I pray that as we journey through this joyous time and prepare for the second coming, we won’t forget the explanation for our joy. We won’t forget that Christ is the true reason for our salvation.


Christmas Tradition

God of joy, thank You for everything You give to us. As we journey through Advent, help us not to forget that You are the reason for our joy. May we be content in You. Amen.

After attending the Christmas Eve service, we head back home, eat cookies, and drink hot chocolate while my sister and I each open one present.

Family Connection – ADVENT ACTION Sing Christmas carols with your family, or visit a few friends or a retirement home and go caroling. Talk about how singing Christmas carols brings you JOY. 27


The Answer To The Question Is “Not Yet!” Psalm 102; 148, 2 Samuel 7:18-29, Galatians 3:1-14, Luke 1:57-66 by tom mitchell


ll of my adult life, I have served a congregation somewhere as a musician. In some cases the congregation has been large, other years the congregation has been small. All of these communities of faith have had a few things in common: the festival celebrations of Easter Sunday and Christmas Eve, and sometimes Christmas Day. Each of these congregations has also maintained serious observances of the seasons of Advent and Lent. Several years, including this year, the fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve both fall on December 24 — the last Sunday of Advent in the morning and Christmas Eve in the evening. The question is always the same: How many worship services are we going to have on Sunday, December 24? In one location the answer was eight: three in the morning and five in the evening. We experience almost the same amount of fun and frustration when Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday, with typically five services

on Saturday evening ending around midnight followed by the usual three on Sunday morning. In cities with a major state university, the fall semester exams typically finish on the Friday prior to the first Sunday in Advent so very few people, including most of the choirs, are in town between the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the spring semester. In some congregations, there are no Christmas hymns until Christmas Eve, with only Advent hymns on the four Sundays of Advent. One congregation would have no weddings during Advent or Lent. In our family, much of the understanding and emotional response to Christmas and Easter is found in Advent and Lent, quiet times of reflection and prayer making the celebration of the big festival days even more meaningful and joyful!!


Christmas Tradition

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord, Emmanuel. Amen.

Our tradition is to give serious attention to the two seasons of preparation and waiting — Advent and Lent. Doing so continues to improve our understanding of Christmas and Easter with greater depth and joy.

Family Connection – ADVENT WORD JOY is the theme of this week of Advent. Talk about what JOY means or draw a picture. How does the coming of Jesus make you feel JOYFUL?



Joy Then and Now Psalm 90; 149, Jeremiah 31:10-14, Galatians 3:15-22, Luke 1:67-80 or Matthew 1:1-17 by jean brender


hat brings you joy? In Luke 1, Zechariah’s heart overflows with joy at the birth of his first and only son, John. His son’s birth was nothing short of a miracle because both Zechariah and Elizabeth were very old. Not only did they finally have a child, but the angel foretold that John would prepare the way for the longawaited Messiah through whom salvation would come for Israel. In response to these wonderful events and promises, Zechariah prophecies and sings a beautiful song of hope. In his book The Good and Beautiful Life,James Byron Smith notes that “happiness is a temporary condition based on circumstances” whereas “joy is an inner disposition not based on external circumstances.” While Zechariah was delighted about his son’s birth, his joy emanated from a life centered on God and His promises.

We may find ourselves at times in dark and difficult situations. How can we keep our sense of joy? Corrie ten Boom, a watchmaker in the Netherlands, experienced a very dark period in her life when the Nazis overtook and occupied her homeland during World War II. In her book The Hiding Place, she recounts her family’s experience of hiding the Jewish people from the Nazis, being imprisoned, and losing her beloved father, sister, and other family members. John and Elizabeth Sherrill had the privilege of helping Corrie write this book and were amazed how much it spoke to the present and the future. “But,” Corrie replied, “this is what the past is for! Every experience God gives us, every person He puts in our lives is perfect preparation for the future that only He can see.” What joy, peace, and hope are ours when we realize how much God loves us and that He is sovereign in our lives.


Christmas Tradition

Lord, we thank You that You fill our hearts with your joy, a joy that is independent of our circumstances. We ask You to guide our feet into the path of your peace. Amen.

Our family’s favorite Christmas tradition is to attend Christmas Eve services and then to enjoy a light buffet with our family at our home.

Family Connection – ADVENT GIFT Celebrate the gift of JOY by doing something kind for someone who brings you JOY. Write a card or make a gift, letting them know how much JOY they bring to your life. Plan to give it to them on Christmas Day.




Checklist Christian Psalm 24; 150, Isaiah 60:1-6, Galatians 3:23-4:7, Matthew 1:18-25 by susan telge


y tendency is to be a checklist Christian. I create my very own list of tasks to complete in order to earn God’s love and to show everyone my good Christian badge. However, over time, the items on the list turn into chores and become “have to dos” instead of “want to dos.” It becomes harder and harder to complete the tasks on the list. So I change things up a bit by creating a new checklist and start the whole cycle over again.

translation refers to me as someone kidnapped by the law. Paul goes on to state that God has ransomed me through Jesus Christ His son and that I have a relationship with God. Also, I am a child of God with all the legal rights that come with being His child.

Thankfully Paul provides a way out of this cycle in today’s Bible passage. The Message

Paul’s words ring true. While I have “head” knowledge of this truth, I now need to turn it into “heart” knowledge. Why? I have found that in order to act on truth, my heart must be involved. To move this truth to my heart, God must intervene and soften my hard, kidnapped, legalistic heart.


Christmas Tradition

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I need your help. I think that love must be earned by following rules as proof that I am worthy to be loved. I find it difficult to accept your unconditional love knowing how imperfect I am. Help me to be willing to have You change me. Help me to accept your gift of love. Amen.

My sister-in-law is a wonderful baker. Every Christmas we bake many different types of cookies. We create cookie plates and give them to friends. Of course, we keep some for Christmas day. I say we bake, but in reality it’s all her. Ever since the great flour shower of 2010, I’m no longer allowed near the mixer. Instead, I’m in charge of sprinkles. Merry Christmas!

Family Connection – ADVENT CANDLE Today at church we light the candle of LOVE. This is the fourth candle in our Advent wreath, along with the candle of HOPE, the candle of PEACE, and the candle of JOY. Talk about LOVE and draw a picture. Talk about how God LOVES us so much that He sent His Son, Jesus to be born.



Becoming Reservoirs Psalm 122; 145, Micah 4:1-5; 5:2-4, 1 John 4:7-16, John 3:31-36 by jon wasson

“They love more who realize they are loved.”


like this phrase written centuries ago by the French Abbott Bernard of Clairvaux. It is a perfect summary of our text for today from I John 4 in which we are reminded that our capacity to love emanates from our being loved by God. We are also told that in the process of loving others, God perfects His love in us. In other words, the love of God transforms us even as we give it away to others.

someplace else. For Bernard of Clairvaux, the Christian life is best lived as a reservoir rather than a canal. A reservoir retains water until it is filled and only then overflows without a loss to itself. The person who lives their life like a reservoir first recognizes that they are beloved by God and then shares out of the abundance of the love they have received. Which brings us back to his summary: “They love more who realize they are loved.”

I had a friend who once described himself as a canal of God’s love. But the thing about canals is that they pour out as fast as they take in, and the person who lives as a canal of God’s love lets the love of God rush past them on its way to someone, something, or

May you realize the love of God revealed on Christmas morning. May it not rush past you on the way to someone, something, or someplace else. This Christmas and in the year ahead, let us each become a reservoir of love, and may God perfect His love in us that it may overflow into the lives of others and needs of the world. Amen.

Family Connection – MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Christmas Tradition

Talk about how Jesus brings us HOPE, PEACE, JOY, and LOVE, and enjoy this day for which we have been waiting!

Our family exchanges four gifts with one another each year: something you want, something you need, something to wear, and something to read. I love the challenge of narrowing my Christmas list to four things and to choosing the perfect gifts for my wife and kids. But my favorite part is that we exchange books on Christmas Eve and spend the day reading, cooking, and, of course, snacking.


Acknowledgment This 2017 Advent Devotional was written by members of the Covenant congregation. Our contributors represent all ages, backgrounds and experiences. Each of them was assigned scripture and one of the four Advent themes, and asked to reflect on Jesus’ coming in the world. Many thanks to all who participated. Your words are a blessing to all of us this Advent season.

AUTHORS Dallas Maham Samantha Sipowicz Jack Feger Austen Zoutewelle Kyle Spencer Jennifer Palm Rachael McConnell Ardis Cox Eli Cox III Henry Hargrave Robbie Albracht Rob Bishop Alyssa Aventa Doug Wolfe Jessica Henderson Lee Blank Billy Won

Sara Crawford Drew Fuller Emma Hoffman Tom Mitchell Jean Brender Susan Telge Jon Wasson

ADVENT ADVISORS Jon Wasson Kathryn Sedberry COPY EDITORS Stephanie Schultz DESIGN AND LAYOUT Noël Kalmus PRINTER Austex Printing & Mailing The typefaces used in this book were Mrs Eaves by Zuzana Licko, Quimby Gubernatorial by Chank Co. and Cera Pro by Jakob Runge.

Christmas Eve Worship Times 2:00 p.m. S anctuary

Traditional service with candles

4:00 p.m.  Sanctuary

Children & family service

5:00 p.m.  FE 200

Contemporary service with candles

8:30 p.m. Sanctuary

Traditional service with choir and candles

10:30 p.m.  Sanctuary

Traditional service with candles, communion, and string quartet

Advent Events Wed, Dec. 6 5:30 - 7:30 pm

Journey to Bethlehem and All-Church Carol Sing

Sat, Dec. 9 9:30 am - 1 pm

Silent Advent Retreat Covenant members and friends are invited to unplug using the ancient spiritual practice of solitude this Advent. Visit

Sun, Dec. 10 4 pm

GraceNotes Christmas Concert, Sanctuary

Wed, Dec. 13 6:30 pm

Journey and Children's Choirs, Sanctuary

Sun, Dec. 17

Sanctuary Choir presents Christmas Music Traditional Worship, Sanctuary

9:30 & 11 a.m. | 3003 Northland Drive, Austin, TX 78757 | (512) 454-5231

Advent Devotional 2017  
Advent Devotional 2017  

Prepare your heart for Christmas with the Covenant Advent Devotional. In the booklet and emails, you’ll find devotionals written by Covenant...