Christmas Greetings to our Gardner-Webb Family and Friends! I am delighted to join with you in celebrating this holiest of seasons, and I invite you to participate in our daily reflections through this 2019 Advent Devotional Book. For Christians, Advent is a time of great expectation and preparation. We look forward to trumpeting the nativity of Jesus, and in doing so we are filled with renewed hope, peace, joy, and love. In these pages, members of the Gardner-Webb community share with you their individual thoughts as we march through December and arrive at the blessed day of Jesus’ birth. Kim and I feel so happy to be spending our first holiday season with you at GWU. We thank you for the warm welcome that you have extended to us and to our family, and we are grateful for all that each of you does to support this special University and our beloved college town. We have all been called to Gardner-Webb, and our prayers are extended to you as you walk the path that leads us to realize our purpose and to fulfill God’s mission for us. This work would not be possible without the editorial work of School of Divinity faculty members Dr. Jim McConnell, Dr. Cal Robertson, and Dr. Danny West. Lisa Hollifield, Administrative Assistant in the School of Divinity was invaluable in the process of finalizing the product. She is the glue that holds it all together. As always, this work honors the memory of beloved colleague, Dr. Dan Goodman, who launched this initiative years ago. Dr. Goodman’s legacy is perpetuated by the embossed star that always adorns the front cover of the book. It is our way of saying, “Thanks, dear friend. We will always remember your contribution to our lives.” May these words of hope inspire us all on our Advent journey this year. Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas, William M. Downs
Time is that intriguing, occasionally vexing word that is loaded with meaning. Sometimes we don’t seem to have enough of it. Other times we wish that it would simply hurry on past. Occasionally, when we are expecting the arrival of someone or something special, the time cannot pass quickly enough.
Sunday, December 1 Robert W. Canoy Dean of School of Divinity and Professor of Theology Romans 13:11-14
When we sit in a hospital waiting room anxiously expecting a word from the doctor about a loved-one, the ticks of the clock move dreadfully slowly. The same thing happens when we anticipate the arrival of someone that we’ve been missing. Every sound we hear or light that flashes outside the door makes our hearts beat more quickly. Time cannot pass quickly enough. On the other hand, when we’re having fun, we exclaim: “My, how the time has flown!” In truth, most of the time we wander in and out of doing good and right with the little or lot of time that we have. What makes life challenging is learning how to balance how much time to work, how much time to rest, and how much time to play. Thank goodness Paul understood “time’s” importance (as well as our human predicament) enough to write something valuable to us about it. Since the Christian New Year begins four Sundays prior to Christmas (and not in January like the early Romans, and our calendars, indicate), why not think back to the beginning when God created time and
located people in it initially? Recall that when God created the world “there was evening and morning the first day” (Gen 1:5b). The darkness came first, then the light. In short, time belongs to God and we are privileged to play a small (or sometimes a large) role in it—when we correctly understand our place in time. The Roman Christians to whom Paul wrote needed the same reminder that we need today, that should we choose to do with time as we please, our lives will drift back into darkness filled with “reveling and drunkenness … debauchery and licentiousness … quarreling and jealousy” (Rom 13:13, RSV). So Paul wrote to Christians to remind us that we can easily drift in and out of faithful consciousness by getting side-tracked making, as he says, far too much “provision for the flesh” (Rom 13:14). When we live with heightened anticipation of the eternal “salvation” (13:11) that Jesus’ birth brings, the temporary pleasures that seem so important to us now will lose their hold on us. Undoubtedly, this new perspective on living isn’t easy or Paul would hardly have written anything about it. So, on this first day of Advent 2019, let’s allow God to bring light and order once again into the darkness and chaos that creep too easily back into our lives—because today marks the time when we confess that Jesus is coming into the world! “Even so come Lord Jesus” (Rev 22:20).
“The world is a perfectly safe place to be.” —Dallas Willard As a former middle school assistant principal, my morning and afternoon duty was to account for the arrival and departure of seventeen school buses. Day in and day out, I would arrive at my post at least fifteen minutes early to unlock four access gates to ensure the safe boarding and disembarking of student passengers. While walking toward the gates one morning, I noticed a large spider web that stretched from one pole to another. The enormity of it would have entangled me (which is par for the course for me as a tall person) if its presence had not been illuminated by the light of the sun. As God’s magnificent creation to provide both light and warmth to the earth, the sun served as my protector that day from an unseen danger. Without its light, I would have been unable to clearly see the web, a sign of the potential nearness of a spider whose bite may have proven harmful. When seriously regarded and celebrated, the season of Advent serves as a reminder of how the light of God in his Son, Jesus Christ, was sorely needed to serve as light and lamp to our paths to expose the many unseen dangers of the world in which we live. It not only encourages us to be intentional with our awareness of the true meaning of Christmas, but also to pause and to reflect upon the holy magnificence of the magnitude of Christ’s entrance into the
world, not as a warrior king, but as a baby. It is his infantile vulnerability that precisely captures our desperate need for God’s gift of grace. Therefore, we are empowered alongside the psalmist and the congregation of Israel to declare that “if God had not been for us” then we would be swallowed up by our enemies alive, especially the enemy of our sins (Psalm 124:1-3a). As in the case of God’s remembrance of Noah, God commits to an active pursuance of us by finding alternative ways and means to accomplish his divine goals for humankind despite “the inclination of the human heart [being] evil from youth” (Genesis 8:21c). The season of Advent is commemorative of the Divine’s undying, unfailing commitment to us, and the subsequent birth of Jesus Christ is its firm evidence. Jesus Christ’s presence in the world has made our deliverance from the death grip of sin possible through what Dale Moody regards as the entrance “into the new solidarity of sanctification and life” that eventuates in righteous living as the order of the day. Grace then becomes more about the power to live holy than merely what is necessary to momentarily deliver us from the evil we do. God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ makes the world, despite its entangling threat of darkness, “a perfectly safe place to be” for all of us who take care to allow the light of the Son to shape our reality.
Monday, December 2 Paulleatha Bruce Pastor of Freedom Alive Church of Greenville, SC, Current Doctor of Ministry Student Psalm 124 Genesis 8:1-19 Romans 6:1-11
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come.” Genesis 9:12
Tuesday, December 3 Jeff Hamilton Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator DEOL Genesis 9:1-17 Hebrews 11:32-40
Several years ago I was fortunate to be a part of a men’s community ecumenical choir. We often sang at local churches or community gatherings; we sang mostly traditional hymns that most would recall from their childhood. As part of the program, we would often tell the history of the song or the story behind the hymn. Being a part of that group was gratifying in many ways, but it changed how I listened to and sang hymns. Learning how those old, favorite hymns were written gave those songs a context, and more importantly, a personal connection. “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” one of my favorite hymns, took on an even more enduring meaning to me from my time in the chorus. Thomas Chisholm, a prolific poet, penned the words to the hymn as a testament to God’s faithfulness. Born of very modest means in Kentucky, he became a pastor at thirty-seven, but served only one year due to poor health. He sold life insurance for a living, relegated to a desk job because of his frail health. Yet he wrote some 1,200 poems, several which were published as hymns. Near the end of his life he wrote about how his lifetime of wages had been compromised due to his health, but how a covenantkeeping God had given him so many displays through the years of his unfailing faithfulness.
While Advent represents so much, it is a powerful reminder of God’s faithfulness, just as he has been throughout human history. Scripture documents time and again humankind breaking those covenants, but true to his steadfast nature, God continues to pursue a relationship with us relentlessly. Again and again we see a God who longs for us and fulfills his promises. The miracle of the manger is yet another display of his assurance to provide a way to him. Lord, may we be reminded this Advent season that as we wait for and anticipate the coming of your Son, you are ever faithful. May we continue to see, as your servant Thomas wrote, that there is no shadow of turning with you. As you have been, forever shall you be. Amen.
Have you ever had something of value break? Maybe your car, your printer, or your cell phone? When your car was repaired, or your cracked cell phone screen was replaced, how good did you feel? Forget about these insignificant things—what about major things, such as your health? Think about a time that you were extremely sick or injured. During that time, did you pray for healing? Did you long for your old healthy self, and anticipate with excitement all the things you were going to do when you got better? When your condition improved and you were able to resume your normal schedule, how good did you feel? What about things that are within our control? Most times we cannot control when we get sick, but can you recall a time in your life or in others, when bad decisions led to harsh consequences? Self-inflicted or entirely avoidable, we may have experienced or witnessed in others a time that decisions led to times of sadness, difficulty, or struggle. Sometimes we do not realize what we have until it is broken or gone. We can see this in objects and personal property. Although small in the scheme of things, they are important to us and we miss them when they are broken. We can see this in things much more important, such as our health and well-being. And we can see this in times of difficulty and personal struggle.
Restoration is most often a blessing. When your car or cell phone is restored, you feel good. When our health is restored following sickness or injury, we praise God. When we persevere through harsh times in our lives, but are restored through grace, we grow immensely, and we may realize how much we are loved by our creator. All forms of restoration are powerful. We see this power in Isaiah 54. The promise of Israel’s restoration is comforting, reassuring, and powerful. It is a message of hope to the intended reader. Isaiah 54 outlines in vivid detail the things to come and shows the Lord’s love, compassion, and coming restoration. Like the audience of Isaiah, people today often need restoration. The Lord promises to restore all sinners who turn to him in faith, no matter what they have done. Regardless of the consequences people face for their disobedience, restoration is possible. Until Christ comes, there is always hope that all can experience restoration in Jesus.
Wednesday, December 4 Jennifer Marion Mills Chair of Gardner-Webb University Board of Trustees Isaiah 54:1-10 Matthew 24:23-35
Hope. Like love, hope is a word that we often use casually without really thinking about it. “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” “I hope our team wins.” “I hope we have hamburgers for dinner.” And, yet, in our dimmest, darkest times, hope can be the only word that gets us through.
Thursday, December 5 April Shauf Secretary, Department of Arts and Theatre Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Isaiah 4:2-6 Acts 1:12-17, 21-26
I just finished reading a Facebook post from a friend whose wife has recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She went through a series of tests and scans this week, and the family waited anxiously for the results. But the news was not what they wanted. Test after test revealed the worst. Family and friends were taken aback. And yet, amid all of the bad news, came one small ray of hope—a referral to a doctor who can sometimes help in the direst of cases. A call is made. Good news at last! The doctor has agreed to see them. They still don’t know if he will take the case, but at least they now have some reason to hope, a glimmer of hope. I think many of us have found ourselves in situations such as these. Times when we couldn’t see which way was up, times when we felt that God had abandoned us. In our readings for today, we see this same
situation. The Israelites must have felt these same emotions as they faced exile and the destruction of everything they held dear. They must have longed for a glimmer of hope. And the disciples after Jesus’ death—they, too, must have struggled to find a way to go on, now that their friend and leader had gone back to heaven. But even in the direst, darkest times, God always provides a glimmer of hope. The hug of a friend, a scripture that provides insight, a phone call at just the time it is most needed. The Israelites were given comfort through Isaiah’s promise of a branch that would survive the desolation that they were facing. As Christians, we believe that this branch or shoot is none other than Jesus himself, “the root of Jesse.” The disciples, who had met this promised one in the flesh, were given hope to continue their work by Jesus himself as he ascended into heaven: “And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” We too, can take that hope. Our God is a God of hope. We KNOW who wins in the end! And we know, too, that Jesus, the root of Jesse, is with US, even in our darkest times. Even until the end of the age.
He is in control. He has a plan. He is our provider. My girls and I celebrated the end of summer by visiting a friend who had recently moved away after God called her husband to pastor a new church. As we discussed her family’s move and all the personal changes that come along with a move—a new church, a new house, a new job, and new friends—she shared the many doors God closed before he opened the door that led them to where they are today. In that moment, I stood in awe as she shared how she completely trusted in God as he prepared a new path for her family and how he provided all of their needs during a time of uncertainty. As I reflect on today’s passage, I am reminded that in all things we are called to trust in God. Just as God protected and provided for the Israelites, he protects and provides for us. Many times we fail to acknowledge that God is in complete control of our lives. Our faith in his ability to provide for us tends to falter when he does not reveal his plan to us in its entirety or when his plan takes a different path than we would have chosen for ourselves. We often find that he uses the difficult roads we travel as a way to draw us closer to him. God provides for us in many ways in our daily lives, but his ultimate provision is the gift of eternal life.
Isaiah 30:2 states, “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’” This verse reminds us to listen to the Holy Spirit and the Spirit will guide our path and provide all of our needs. When I find that I have an anxious heart, usually from not trusting in him from the beginning, I often quote scripture to myself as a reminder to take my burdens to him. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” My prayer for you this Advent season is that you will draw closer to him and know that he is in control. He has a plan. He is your provider.
Friday, December 6 Tracy Arnold Associate Dean, Hunt School of Nursing Isaiah 30:19-26 Acts 13:16-25
Saturday, December 7 Alex Carroll Enrollment Development Officer Isaiah 40:1-11 John 1:19-28
A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5 ESV). When I think back about memories of Christmas, one of my fondest memories is of the Christmas party that my parents hosted each year in our home. This was a staple of our annual Christmas plans. I remember the preparation that went into this party; everything had to be cleaned, decorations placed around the house, and of course, food to be baked! When I close my eyes, I can still picture the decorations and even smell the food being cooked. Lots of preparation went into this party, and it just didn’t feel like Christmas without it. Christmas for most people is certainly a time of celebration, but also a time of preparation. Not only for parties and family gatherings but most importantly, for the birth of our Savior. This monumental event is essential and is the beginning of the salvation of our world. The voice calling in the wilderness tells us to “prepare the way of the Lord.” What does this mean? As Christians, we are called to continually prepare the way of the Lord, not only to prepare our hearts but also use our time wisely to prepare the hearts of others. We must use our lives and our activities to be a witness to
others. Our society has made Christmas into a busy time of year that often focuses on everything except the birth of our Savior. We must take the time to truly focus on what the birth of Christ means to us. In preparation for the coming of Christ, I often try to reflect on what it must have been like leading up to his birth. Did Mary and Joseph know what was about to take place? Did the prophets genuinely understand the magnitude of what was about to happen and how the world was about to change? It still puzzles me when I try to wrap my mind around the fact that a baby could be born as the Savior of the world. I also wonder, how God felt sending his son to earth, knowing ultimately what would take place. My prayer for this Christmas as things get busy and we’re making plans is that we truly prepare our hearts for the coming of Christ. I also pray that we will use our time wisely and make ourselves a witness to help prepare the hearts of others. We must make a clear pathway for them to see Christ living in us and realize why we celebrate Christmas each year.
We live in a troubled world, donâ€™t we? Things happen in our world today on a regular basis that we never thought we would see in our lifetime. We all cry out for order, civility, unity, and peace. We have often made a joke out of the beauty pageant contestant who when interviewed had to make sure to include world peace in her answer. If interviewed today we might say not just world peace, but peace in our own neighborhoods, towns, and cities. As we approach another Christmas it is good to be reminded that there is only one who can make that happen. Isaiah promises a Messiah who will bring a peace far greater than we ever imagined. He will be filled with the spirit of God so that his wisdom, his power, his integrity, and his justice will bring that which we long for in our hearts. Paul and Matthew confirm that the Messiah is Jesus Christ. He is the one who was promised, and he will fulfill all our hopes and dreams. If that is the case, then why such a troubled world now? Our world is affected by sin. Until our Lord returns, it will continue to be that way. Perfection, perfect peace, will never be obtained while Satan continues to be free to affect our world. A day is coming when we will no longer have to deal with sickness, poverty, grief, injustice, racism, greed, or death. Our commitment to Jesus Christ has bought us a ticket to that celebration. Until then, we are called to bring as much light as we possibly can to a world filled with darkness. We have a
hope that allows us to live in a world that is not perfect and still have joy. Our faith allows us to serve him each day and attempt to share his love with a world that desperately needs it. Can you imagine that a wolf could live with a lamb or a leopard lay down with a goat? Or can you imagine that a child could play near a cobra hole with no fear? Isaiah means to portray a world that will be characterized by harmony in all of creation. If Isaiah were to prophesy today he might say the Republican and the Democrat will sit side by side and discuss with respect and civility their differences of opinion. Isnâ€™t that a wonderful thought? As we prepare to celebrate again the coming of our Messiah, may we be grateful for a hope that promises a peace we have never known. May we be excited about sharing that hope with the world around us.
Sunday, December 8 Bobby Morrow Pastor of Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church in Charlotte, NC and Trustee of Gardner-Webb University Isaiah 11:1-10 Romans 15:4-13 Matthew 3:1-12
Have you ever been “drug through the mud”? “Kicked while you are down”? Had a good deed “be punished”? For those of you saying yes, was it at a job in your church, in your family? Let’s find hope for moving past these situations in today’s passages!
Monday, December 9 Tammy Bass Director of First-Year Programs, Student Success Psalm 21 Isaiah 24:1-16a 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
In Psalm 21, after the psalmist praises the Lord for unending blessings, he begins to reflect on the Lord as a warrior fighting his enemies. Psalm 21:11 says, “Though they plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.” When we think of being wronged or “drug through the mud,” we can remember the Lord had evil and wicked schemes plotted against him as well. We are in good company! As we move to Isaiah and the prophet speaks of the Lord’s devastation of the earth, we see this will happen for all people: the priest and the people, the master and the servant, the borrower and the lender. Could this also be the one dragging someone through the mud and the one being dragged, the one doing wrong and the one being wronged? We all come up short of God’s righteousness, yet we will all shout and acclaim the Lord’s glory together one day! In this Advent season, let these two Old Testament passages remind us that as we have been wronged, so was Jesus. As we consider the second coming of Jesus and the end of the earth as we currently know it, we will all, the “kicked and the kicker,” be experiencing the judgment and the majesty of the Lord together.
The Old Testament passages help us be honest with our sinful selves, but our New Testament passage exhorts us how to live now to please God. We are to live a holy life, to love each other more and more, to live a quiet life, so that outsiders will see and respect how we live to please the Lord. Do these passages sound “Christmassy”? No! But they do remind us how desperately we need a Savior; whether we are the one being wronged or the one devising schemes, we have all experienced both. Do these wrongs cease during the month of December? As much as we wish the holidays were only filled with bright lights, celebrations, and tender fireside chats, let’s be honest. Hurt can come in this season, too. Right when we are supposed to be so joyful, we can be so hurt. Today’s passages remind us that we have a Savior who understands being hurt and that we will all stand before the Lord together one day. So, at this holiday season let us celebrate the coming of our Savior, the one who understands hurt and who will make all things new one day. Then let us live to please him so that others can see his gift of forgiveness and eternal life for us all!
If you were to ask me what my greatest weakness is, I would tell you that it’s myself. Confusing as it sounds, it really is true. I consider myself a driven, confident, independent thinker but sometimes that “thinker” gets out of control. Hello, my name is Jessica and I suffer from Imposter Syndrome.
one of us perfectly with our own unique gifts and talents. We are all worthy of love, guidance, successes, and praise. Romans 15:17 says, “Because of Christ Jesus, I can take pride in my service for God.” How amazing is that? We should never feel like an imposter if we are working for God.
Imposter Syndrome isn’t as scientific as it sounds. It simply means that sometimes I feel like a fraud. I have trouble celebrating my successes to the point that it makes me uncomfortable. I even have trouble starting projects that I can’t finish perfectly. I think more people struggle with this negative self-talk than would like to admit. Women, first-borns, and success oriented high achievers have a greater chance of suffering from Imposter Syndrome. Go figure; I can check all of those boxes.
As we enter this season of Advent, my prayer is that we all remember that we have been created for so much more than we can imagine. Thousands of years ago, God brought grace to earth as a tiny baby and his love was poured out on all of humanity. The Son of God left heaven, his place of perfection, to come to earth to mend our hearts and hurts, our failures and fears. He was beaten, bruised, and broken for us on a Roman cross so that we could know forgiveness and healing. He did all these things for you and for me.
One of the greatest things about being a believer in Jesus Christ is that we are never alone, never alone with our thoughts, never alone in our perfectionism, and never alone in our successes. We might not always remember, but God is always there. Isaiah 41:14-20 is a reminder to all how faithful God is. Verse 14 says, “‘I will help you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.’” The passage continues on with multiple examples demonstrating how God is our Rescuer, our Help, and ever-present Savior. That “people may see and know, may consider and understand.” God is our Redeemer. He created each
Lord, thank you for your constant reminder that I am enough. Without you, I would be lost. But because of everything you have done for me, today I am free; my life is blessed. Jesus is my Lord. Heaven is my home, and Satan has no right to control me. Help me always remember that I am loved and have been created to do wonderful things.
Tuesday, December 10 Jessica Herndon Instructor in the Godbold School of Business Isaiah 41:14-20 Romans 15:14-21
Every Christmas morning my best friend goes hiking alone the entire day in the mountains. He forgoes all the hectic and seemingly required Christmas family gatherings that occur on this day and elects to spend Christmas outside, in solitude. He has shared that it is a time he “gets in and out of his head,” a natural and important way for him to spend Christmas. I thought of his Christmas meditation as I reviewed today’s scripture.
Wednesday, December 11 Yvonne Smith Assistant Professor of Nursing Genesis 15:1-18 Matthew 12:33-37
A covenant is an oath, a promise, a fulfillment, a relationship that individuals enter fully informed, understanding the partnership, responsibility, duty, and hope given of and promised to each party. There is ownership and an understood responsibility within a covenant. There is faith and fidelity with a covenant relationship. Today’s scriptures speak to a shared covenant of God’s promises, the charge of our responsibility and our penchant for careless words and actions. God shared a righteous covenant with Abram of land and a legacy of children and descendants as countless as the stars in the sky. Consider the magnitude of this oath God made with Abram. Land infused with rivers translated simply to life. The fertility of the land insured the safety and care of children and future generations. The promise and presence of children ensured joy, hope, and existence for current and future generations. As Christians in the modern era, it is important to reflect upon how and if we have kept
our God-led oaths toward land and children. How are our actions or inactions impacting this sacred and current covenant? Jesus informs us a tree is known by its fruit. Actions, deeds, and intention impact the final fruit product, for the good and bad. Jesus speaks to the overflow of our hearts, be it good or evil, ultimately spilling out of our mouths. He reminds us of the contradictions between our hearts and words, knowing that in the end, our words and our heart will not ultimately remain dissimilar. Children and nature’s balance can be edified or broken by our words and actions. Careless words, cavalier attitudes, neglect, and inaction can eventually be as destructive as intentional harm. Jesus engages us in a holy covenant now and forever. The Advent season is the season for preparation. It is necessary to practice reflection and self-evaluation to adequately prepare. It is a season for us to examine our words, actions, intentions, and our contribution to the covenant relationship with Jesus. It is a relationship in which we often fall short. Each year on Christmas morning, I think of my dearest friend as his engagement within his Christ covenant is explored and nurtured through the conduit of nature, stewardship of land, and spiritual discipline. His Christmas hike concludes with spiritual renewal and peace as well as a recommitment to Christ’s teachings and example. May we all explore and commit to our role in an active and fulfilled Christ covenant this Advent season.
Is it time to move? Have you ever had to leave a house you thought youâ€™d love forever, move to a new location, separate from an organization, or dissolve a relationship? Were you sure about the move? Deep down inside, did you doubt your decision because you made it on your own or depended on the guidance of others? Or, were you confident in your decision because you asked God for guidance and waited on and heard from him (Ruth 1:6-18)? Many moves we make are determined by our own intentions, sometimes with confirmation from our friends, family, and coworkers. Occasionally, we move because of opportunities; however, often we move impulsively out of frustration. Have you ever found yourself stuck in a frustrating situation and invited others to your self-made cyclone of misery? Did your cyclone grow because you and others fed it negative energy, and you decided to move just to get out of the storm? Or, in the midst of your frustrating cyclonic storm, as you waited for the winds and pressure to dissipate, did you pause and speak to God? Many times we say we are waiting for God to direct our moves, but we have not consulted him or patiently awaited his answer (2 Peter 3:1-10). I have made many moves in my life. Unfortunately, even when I asked God for direction, sometimes I was not patient enough to wait for his answer. I would
answer myself or seek help from others. Some of those moves worked out for my good while others did not. Recently, I found myself in a frustrating cyclonic storm. I decided not to listen to myself or others; rather, I paused and took the time to ask God if it was time for a move. To make sure I was speaking to and asking God, I placed my frustrations on paper to make my needs plain. I decided to be more patient than I have ever been because I was determined to hear my answer only from him and not others. God answered my question and instructed me to move. Because he continues to prove to be a faithful God, I have never been happier, knowing that he is working out all things for my good (Psalm 146:5-10). Prayer: Lord remind me that the negative energy I spend on telling others my frustrations could be spent putting my trust in you. Help me to come to you when I find myself in a cyclone of negativity or feel frustrated, for you already know my struggles and are willing to hear me. I will be patient and trust your will, and not the will of others, because you are a faithful God. Amen Did God hear me? Did God answer me? Did I even speak to him? Or was I speaking to myself or someone else? God is patient and waits for us; since when does he not deserve our patience for his omnipotent answer?
Thursday, December 12 Cheresa Simpson Assistant Professor, School of Education Psalm 146:5-10 Ruth 1:6-18 2 Peter 3:1-10
In the Old Testament, both direct and indirect messianic prophecies abound. Ruth 4:13-17 shows how the loyalty of one marginalized woman could play a strategic role in setting the stage for the Advent story.
Friday, December 13 Terry Casiño Professor of Missiology & Intercultural Studies Ruth 4:13-17 2 Peter 3:11-18
Pain, suffering, helplessness, bitterness, heartaches, and uncertainty represent an Israelite widow’s misfortunes in a foreign land. Having previously lost two precious sons and a husband, everything in Naomi’s life came to a halt. With a string of losses, Naomi hits rock bottom. Unexpectedly, a fellow widow stood by her—the persistent daughter-in-law, Ruth. When the grieving mother-in-law resigned to her adversities, Ruth made a life-changing pledge that echoes around the world even today: “Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16, NIV). Naomi was reluctant but relieved, so the “journey of two widows” began. Both widows were aware that their future depended largely on how they would treat and trust each other. Ruth’s assimilation in Bethlehem required hard work. Cultural mores were not favorable to a young immigrant widow, not to mention living as a Moabite within the Israelite community. However, the residents of Bethlehem opened their arms to her and treated her fairly. Of course, the “creative tips” Naomi gave to Ruth in order to win Boaz’s heart proved effective. The caring kinsman-redeemer eventually took Ruth as a bride, which fast-tracked her integration into a foreign society. Ruth undeniably turned out to be
Naomi’s “person of hope.” Obed’s arrival in the family brought joy to Naomi and the community. Biracial at birth, the child’s presence depicts God’s inclusive and universal love and favor. The juxtaposition of the narratives of mother (a non-Israelite) and son (biracial) offers hope to those who live on the margins of society, including the diasporas and migrants. Through Obed’s lineage, David was born, and one of his descendants would be instrumental in the arrival of the Messiah as God incarnate. Turning to 2 Peter 3:11-18, the twin motifs of loyalty and hope continue as we observe Christmas. While the coming of the Messiah in the flesh is cause for celebration, it is the surety of Christ’s Second Coming that completes the Advent spectrum. The Apostle Peter assures believers of a final victory when the day of God comes. The forewarning of the certainty of divine judgment on a godless society requires serious attention from God’s covenant people. As overcomers, believers should be alert and “on guard” always. They should also strive to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 3:18). Evidently, Christian life is not a package but a process and a lifetime commitment. Those who faithfully learn from Christ cannot subsist on a one-time encounter with divine grace, even if such experience changes one’s eternal destiny. After all, relationship with God is not stationary but rather an exhausting yet exciting lifelong journey.
The Cut. Athletics can be wonderful. They can be cruel. They result in the joy of victory, and bestow the malice of defeat. It is a tribal passion intertwined with individual display. What we miss is that the individual participants are people like us. We see the daring élan and we cheer the victor. The stars of the game are easy to see. They grab the headlines; they are the beloved, and we seldom see the temporal nature of fame. Recently, one of my children tried out for a sport and faced the dejection of being cut, not being selected for the team she did her best to make. It made me think of the times I was the one making those decisions. She was obviously dejected. She felt she had put in the effort; she felt the shame of all her friends making it, and dreaded the next day at school facing those people. “I don’t want them to laugh and make fun of me,” she cried. The cold reality is your name isn’t on the list. You aren’t included. You face that rejection. Now the question is, how does a thirteen-year-old girl face this? It hurts, but you either give up, or say, “I gotta work and get better!” In 1 Samuel 2:1-8, we see Hanna’s Prayer. We see that the ultimate list is God’s. We see that he weighs our deeds and makes the final selection. In vv. 4-5 we hear, “The bows of the warriors are broken, but those who stumbled are armed with
strength. Those who were full hire themselves out for food, but those who were hungry are hungry no more.” We gain comfort that our Heavenly Coach has judged us and through our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice we are worthy of his selection. We have earned our name to be on his list for his team. It is my prayer that my daughter knows three facts: 1) The effort is noble. 2) Being “cut” isn’t a personal decision. 3) As a father I am proud of her and love her. I believe that this is what is meant in 1 Samuel 2:3: “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the Lord is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.” We all can be thankful to know that our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross has allowed us to make God’s eternal team.
Saturday, December 14 Tony Setzer Head Men’s Soccer Coach 1 Samuel 2:1-8 Luke 3:1-18
How can we best celebrate Advent, the coming of Jesus? By sharing this good news with those God brings into our lives. Who’s your ONE? Who is the person for whom God wants you to pray? To talk with? The one you will invest your life into so he or she can possibly experience the hope of Advent? Our job is to intentionally point them to Jesus. The hope is that they will say to Jesus, “Come in.” And his coming into their lives brings transformation. How awesome is that?!
Sunday, December 15 Caitlin Foster Mental Health and Counseling Graduate Program Student Isaiah 35:1-10 Psalm 146:5-10 James 5:7-10 Matthew 11:2-11
I have been blessed to find that one, and I am going to be intentional about pointing him to Jesus. God is the One he needs. This “one” needs to realize that the Advent of Jesus is the provision of God to meet all his needs. He is the One lost people are looking for. He is the One that will satisfy the soul and give hope. Jesus is the One who came to save. His coming gives us hope. God has given me the blessing of having two friends who needed hope. Both of these individuals have spent some time in prison. One is experiencing hope in Christ. The other is needing hope in Christ. I have seen God transform the life of my friend who is experiencing hope. He is experiencing true joy that only comes from Christ. I have learned so much from this friend. We get so discouraged from little things in our day-to-day lives. We get defeated when things do not go the way we want them to go. But, if someone who is in prison can be content with life and find JOY,
why can’t we? He has told me that even though most people believe that he has lost everything, he believes that he has all he could ever need and more—JESUS. That should give us hope. Even when life is hard, hope in Christ can bring true joy. The other friend, who needs hope in Christ, has spent his life very far from God. He turned to every other worldly “fix” that is possible. Even through all of that, God has never stopped pursuing him. After years of fighting it, he has felt the love of God. I have been able to tell him about the coming of Jesus into my life and how this changes everything. Through this difficult season in life, he needs to experience the hope of God. So, he is my one. He is the one that I am praying for every day. I am intentionally going to point him to Jesus. “Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God” (Psalm 146:5). I am so thankful for the hope and peace in Jesus.
Advent is often a time of yearning. As Christmas approaches, we anxiously wait for time off from school and work. We look forward to delicious food, fun gifts, and spending time with loved ones. Even with all of the stress Christmas sometimes brings, we yearn for it because we carry with us the memories of wonderful Christmases before. We remember the excitement and smiles of children when they see the beautiful lights and when they get to open their presents. We remember how it felt to be a child at Christmas and all the wonder that entailed. The author of Psalm 42 speaks of yearning for God and of remembering the days when God felt closer. Likewise, in Isaiah 29, God feels far away. A time is spoken of when help will come for the “wayward in spirit” (Isa 29:24). God is near. God will make things better. The readers are reminded that God redeemed Abraham and that God will redeem them also. It is not hard to relate to the authors of these texts. The world is full of chaos and oftentimes it seems like God is further away than we would like. Our bodies and our world long for God’s redemption. We remember when times were better, and we hold on to the promise that they will one day be better still. In the meantime, as we yearn for God, we hold on to whatever thread of goodness we can find in the world.
In Acts 5 we see that people are still yearning for God. Jesus has saved the world, but they were still left, as we are, to live out time on this planet before God is ready to make all things new. People yearned so much for the redemption of God that they believed that if they could have the shadow of one of God’s faithful fall over them, they could have a small taste of that redemption. Just like the woman who reached for the edge of Jesus’ clothing, they wanted just a piece of the amazing restoring power of God. I can understand how they felt. As a Christian, I understand that God has timing and that I must be patient and wait. One day I will see the world renewed and redeemed, but for now I live in the world of chaos. However, these texts remind me that God can still be found in this in-between time. We, too, can get pieces of God’s redemption if we look closely and position ourselves to find it. God is present in the smile of children, in the grandeur of creation, and in the loving embrace of a friend. These things remind me of God’s faithfulness and serve as a sustaining force that keeps me going until the time God again feels near.
Monday, December 16 Regina Johnson School of Divinity Graduate Psalm 42 Isaiah 29:17-24 Acts 5:12-16
I am a river of renewal and life and so are you. The abundant life-giving provision of the God of benevolent, merciful, graceful, and persistent love is being replaced by a desolate landscape, created by the collective ego of humanity both literally and figuratively. From the temple high upon the mountain of human achievement we can see the path humanity has carved into the landscape of history, division, death, and destruction, with only flickers of the hope of peace.
Tuesday, December 17 Burke Jones School of Divinity Graduate, Current Doctor of Ministry Student Ezekiel 47:1-12 Jude 1:17-25
In contrast, the river that flows from the Temple of Yahweh in the prophetic writings of Ezekiel brings life to all creation. Its waters teem with creatures and its banks overflow with an inexhaustible abundance to satisfy the hunger of women and men. The epistle of Jude compels Christians of the 21st century to “remember, dear friends” that the endeavors of the human will without Christ divide and deride humanity, robbing us of joy, peace, fulfillment, and love. The source of life and renewal, though, is not lost in a mythical land but remains where God resides. Through the love of God, manifested in Christ, we are the temple from which the life-giving, redeeming love of God flows. This love must compel us to be benevolent, merciful, persistent, and full of grace to all of creation, from the lilies of the field to those with whom we believe we are diametrically opposed. This task of love has proven difficult for humanity, as
human instincts stand in resolute opposition to the selfless love of Christ. Self-preservation is the driving force of our most basic nature; it’s even hardwired into our biology, so surely the satisfaction of our natural instincts will result in fulfillment. Ironically, it is self that must die for a life of fulfillment to flourish. Yet, in a culture of opulence and excess the God of Self has replaced the God of Love. The local community church is being replaced by the “church of spectacle” as it strives for cultural relevance, and Christians and non-Christians alike have no time for the likes of benevolence, mercy, love, and grace in action, only in rhetoric. Yet within us lives a unifying and transcendent force. The mystical waters that flow from the Temple of Yahweh in Ezekiel bubble in anticipation in the souls of those who know the love of Christ. This season we must seek to let Self dry and wither and we must allow the river of life and love to flow through our hearts, minds, and actions, bringing the renewal of life to ourselves, our environment, and all of humanity. “Keeping ourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and remembering that no two rivers carve the exact same path, yet originate from the same source, Jesus Christ, the God of the universe and source of all life, we shape the future. By grace and through faith I am a river of renewal and life, and so are you.
The passages we read today from Zechariah and Matthew are filled with visions and stories of a revived city, renewed people, and miraculous healings. Yet, the very last sentence we read in Matthew’s passage leaves us with a harsh truth that is hard to reconcile (especially during a season that hopefully awaits and prepares for Christ’s coming): through an astonishing cure of two men, Jesus brought peace to those who had been excluded from the community. The townspeople, however, “begged him to leave their neighborhood.” Why would they do this? It’s not the first time Christ has been unwanted. In fact, at the news of his birth, Christ was unwanted by Herod, and leading all the way to his crucifixion, Christ was unwanted by the religious leaders of his day. They were afraid; they didn’t understand Jesus, and they didn’t want to, because it meant they would need to alter their hearts, minds, and actions. We must admit that we are much the same. Sometimes we welcome Christ, but often we beg him to leave. When we feel Christ near us, we initially are amazed, until he challenges our whole way of living. Pastor and scholar George Buttrick says, “When Christ is near, boundaries of race and nation are down, and we must surrender our dearest prejudices.” We can no longer treat our neighbors as mere “maniacs,” or “strangers,” or “immigrants,” or “enemies,” or “LGBTQ,” or … (fill in the blank with a people you don’t understand,
causes you fear, or with whom you disagree). No, we must treat our neighbors as the children of God that they are, because we are all connected to one another and to Christ more intimately than we usually care to realize and accept. Matthew’s Gospel will later tell us what we do to one of the least of our neighbors, we do to Christ (Matthew 25:40). The message we hear from Zechariah is not different; through this ancient prophet, the Lord of hosts establishes that the mark of a restored city is one in which the elderly and children are welcome and happy. Yes, a revived city values those who are too often neglected because they are not able to care for themselves, or those who produce little to no social or economic benefit. A renewed city cherishes the least of these. And how might we become the people of a restored city, a revived nation, a new earth? The Lord of hosts instructs us: do not be afraid; speak the truth to one another; render verdicts in your courts and in your lives that are fair and lead to peace; do not imagine evil in your heart against your neighbor; do not lie or say what is not true. And so, this Advent season and always, may we welcome Christ by heeding these instructions, by loving our neighbors and valuing even the very least of these. Amen.
Wednesday, December 18 Lauren Hamilton School of Divinity Student Zechariah 8:1-17 Matthew 8:14-17, 28-34
Thursday, December 19 Regiani Pereira School of Divinity Student Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 2 Samuel 7:1-17 Galatians 3:23-29
On my first and only river rafting experience, I was reminded of a valuable lesson: it matters where we focus our attention.
Our God does that because he is a God who restores. God brings us back to the abundant life he has prepared for us.
I am not a water person and as we were going down the river that chilly morning, I was so afraid. Fear led me to think I was supposed to anticipate our boat’s move, disregarding our leader’s last words before we even got into the water: “We are about to get into the water. If you do what I say, we will be fine.”
The Scriptures also teach us that our God is a covenant God. He guides us back into the boat, because he has plans for us. As he promised a future for the house of David, he also has promised a future for you and me.
At the beginning of our journey, the water was calm and nice, but after a little while my eyes were focusing on the danger that I perceived ahead of us. I was so worried about getting prepared for it that I failed to notice the threat right where we were. Then, I felt something on my right arm literally pulling me back into the boat. I was falling overboard, and I did not even notice it. Our boat leader used his paddle to bring me back. How many times in life have we found ourselves “falling overboard” and the Lord literally pulls us back into “the boat”? Why does he do that? Well, we are creatures in need of restoration. Every time he brings restoration to our lives, he also brings life, new beginnings, deliverance, and revelation of his character. Every time we cry out to him in despair and he shows up with mercy and grace, we are in awe, because we have encountered the living God.
The God we believe and trust is a God of before … now … and no longer! He is the one who was with us in the past, before we even knew there was God. He was there with us, and he knew what we needed. Now, he is the one who is with us in the present. He is the one who gives us identity. “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Gal 3:26). So, we can surely trust him to take care of our future. Through Jesus we are no longer confined to people’s labels. We are children of God! That is our identity and we belong to him. We have a future! As we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, let us remember that indeed he was born to bring restoration to humanity, to fulfill the promises of a future, and to bring us back into the boat—his boat! May you and I keep our eyes on Jesus!
Tears streamed down their faces as they cried out to God in prayer. Their hearts longed for the promise, but the procedures and doctor’s reports confirmed what they already knew. They could not have children born from her womb. Amid disappointment, they received counsel to seek how God wanted to fulfill his promise to them. His answer was adoption.
When the couple met the girl and boy for the first time, the caseworker introduced them to the children by their names: “This is Ms. Julie, and this is Mr. Ken.” The very first words out of their mouths were, “Hi Mommy! Hi Daddy!” It was as if they knew this moment was their fullness of time, and they had received their full adoption!
A beautiful little girl and her handsome brother, five and six years old, were in the care of the state. They were waiting for the “date set by the father” (Gal 4:2) to turn into the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) so they could transition from the “property” of the government to the promise of adopted children. The caseworker informed the couple about all these precious children had faced in their short time on earth: physical abuse, malnourishment, confinement in closets, and life in several foster care homes. This adoption was their redemption from a dark start to their life and afforded them a new narrative of their life, moving them from being seen as cases to being seen as children and heirs.
As we continue to celebrate Jesus during the Advent season, we, the redeemed and adopted children, can echo David’s prayer of gratitude in 2 Samuel: “Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you [God] have wrought all this greatness, so that your servant may know it. Therefore you are great, O Lord God; for there is no one like you, and there is no God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”
Another set of children waited for a date set by the father to turn into the fullness of time so they, too, could be redeemed from under the law and also have the promise of adoption. God fulfilled this promise when he sent his Son Jesus, and because we are “children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” making us children and heirs.
Friday, December 20 Adrienne Young School of Divinity Student 2 Samuel 7:18-22 Galatians 4:1-7
“… for God gives the Spirit without limit.”
Saturday, December 21 Stafford Turner Associate Professor of Music 2 Samuel 7:23-29 John 3:31-36
One hundred and twenty six years ago today, the final rehearsal took place for the premiere of a new opera by Engelbert Humperdinck, an opera that would become one of the most performed in history and a favorite of the Christmas season. Hansel and Gretel tells the story of a brother and sister who live on the edge of the woods with their father and mother. The family is very poor and often has to scavenge just to have food to eat. One day the children were sent into the forest by their mother to gather strawberries. Their hunt carries them deep into the woods, and as daylight begins to fade, they realize they are lost and must spend the night there. Even though they are in a strange place and frightened by the sights and sounds of the forest, they still pause before going to sleep to say, as they do each night, their evening prayers: When at night I go to sleep, Fourteen angels watch over me: Two at my head, Two at my feet, Two at my right, Two at my left, Two who cover me, Two who hover over me, Two who guide My steps to Heaven!
This prayer is a duet between the children and is some of the most beautiful music ever written for opera. But Humperdinck was not finished when the words came to a close; he followed the duet with a carefully choreographed pantomime when all fourteen angels descend from the heavens to take up their respective stations around the children. As the last angel takes its place, the true gift is realized as the forest becomes illuminated with a brilliant, protective light. The Christmas season is a time full of activity. It finds us finishing a busy and often stressful semester as well as packing our schedules with activities and gatherings with friends, families, and churches. We can invariably find ourselves in strange places, either physically or emotionally, that sometimes include challenging or even frightening sights and sounds. An easy or expedient exit from those settings might not always be an option, but we do have a promise from God to be with us wherever we are, even if our surroundings mask God’s presence. We must only breathe a prayer, and God will dispatch angels to guard us, two by two. The promise that “God gives the Spirit without limit” (John 3:34) will be evident as the last angel slips into position, and that strange place is illuminated with a brilliant and protective light. May God give you the blessing and protection of angels this Christmas season.
One Christmas several years ago, the youth to whom I am Minister to Students were practicing the Hanging of the Green service for Advent. Taylor, an eighth grade boy, had one job. All he had to do was put the tablecloth onto the communion table, making sure it was straight. It was a beautiful, purple, silky cloth trimmed in gold lace. He practiced folding and unfolding the cloth many times to get it just right. He wanted it flat on the table with no wrinkles and every corner covered, the drape of the purple cloth just so. For sure, he wanted the words on the cloth to be in full view. On the front of the cloth were the words “Immanuel, God with us.” Several weeks after the Hanging of the Green service, I received a phone call. When I heard the voice on the other end of the line, I was stunned. My jaw dropped to the floor; tears welled up in my eyes. “What? It can’t be. There is no way!” I cried. Taylor, the same, fumbling eighth grade boy, his brother, and his parents were flying home after a Christmas visit with family. Their small plane crashed, killing all four of them. Only a sister, who was not with them, survived. My heart broke for her. That night, I wrestled with whether God really was “Immanuel, God with us.” It was hard to put all of this together in my mind. Things just didn’t seem to connect. Here was this tragic news. Here was Taylor’s sister, suddenly orphaned and alone. Yet, the very moment that I heard the tragic news, I remembered my last interaction with
Taylor. There he was, fumbling around and tangled up in that purple tablecloth. It was a quirky, joyful scene. I remembered a young boy, trying to do his best for God, even with that small task. I remembered the words, “Immanuel, God with us.” Taylor, that cloth, and those words changed my life that Christmas season. I realized that God was with him, that God was with his sister, and that God was with all of us as we worked through the hows and whys of this tragedy. Matthew’s Gospel begins with the birth of a baby who is “God with us,” and it ends with that child as a grown man. There, Jesus tells his disciples and all of us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). “Immanuel, God with us.” We may be struggling still with the hows and whys of life that hit us daily, but in those times, let’s remember the promise that was made years ago, that we are not alone. Find comfort and strength knowing Jesus’ continuing presence is with us. “Immanuel, God with us.” Lord, help us to remember you are with us. Give us the peace in knowing you are walking with us daily, on the good days and on the hard days. May we share your presence with those searching and struggling today. Amen.
Sunday, December 22 Carol Ann Hoard Minister to Students at First Baptist Church Shelby, NC Isaiah 7:10-16 Romans 1:1-7 Matthew 1:18-25
As we draw attention to this time of Advent celebration, let us reflect on the series of announcements that directs us to the coming messiah. The prophetic words of God’s promises touch my heart. These promises are both directed to a nation and kingdoms by Yahweh, as well as a promise centered on a person and her family, from the Old Testament to the New Testament.
Monday, December 23 LaLeita Small School of Divinity Student Luke 1:46b-55 2 Samuel 7:18, 23-29 Galatians 3:6-14
In 2 Samuel 7:18-29 and Luke 1:46b-55, the word “promise” echoes in both narratives. In 2 Samuel 7, King David receives a promise from God through the prophet, Nathan. In return, David asks God to keep his promise to David’s house. The word “promise” is repeated in Luke 1:46-55 after Mary is visited by another messenger of the Lord, the angel Gabriel. Now the promise will soon be seen through the birth of a child named Jesus, the Messiah. In retrospect, let us consider the many promises that were spoken either to us or by us. Ask yourself, was the promise kept or broken? Ask yourself again, how far did this promise go? Did this promise include a blessing for you and/or your family? If the promise was broken or never manifested in real form, how did you feel? Better yet, how did this affect your household? In these narratives, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, a promise was made and kept. What was spoken to David affected Mary because of God’s heart
for humanity. This promise traveled through the mouth of God, the prayers of David, to the womb of Mary, and resulted in hope for a dark world. In this time of reflection, celebration, and adoration, a promise was kept. The promise kept has provided biblical, philosophical, chronological, historical, spiritual, and structural truths for the Christian faith and believers. Let us go deeper about this kept promise. A kept promise traveled through your family tree from the heart of God, through the prayers of a king, and to the womb of a simple, sixteen- year-old Jewish virgin. A kept promise was wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger, later seen growing out of the manger and clothing. Finally, how interesting it is that this kept promise would soon be seen wrapped in burial clothes after fulfilling the ultimate promise for humanity’s salvation, leading to a resurrection. Of what am I trying to remind us all? God keeps promises. The God that kept a promise over King David’s house is the same promise keeper over your life and household. The promise keeping God heard a praying grandparent, mother, father, sister, brother, or whoever; the same God will fulfill the promise. God kept his promise and honored David’s prayer and is the same God who will keep a promise and hear your prayers. During Advent let us reflect on this promise and how to keep our promise to him. Amen.
Many people, even religious people, had trouble spotting King Jesus in his day because they were looking for the fanfare of royalty instead of an infant in a lowly manger. The birth of any baby is cause for joy. But the birth of this child was not only a cause to rejoice; it was an announcement of victory. It was not uncommon in Ancient Near Eastern culture for a new heir to the throne to be given names upon the announcement of his or her birth and coronation. The names reflected in Isaiah’s prophecy reflect the deepest hopes of the people of God. “He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Jesus was and is all this and more, yet so many people still miss his coming, even at Christmas. Charles Lowery tells the story about a young boy years ago who learned that the circus was coming to town. He had never seen a circus and eagerly asked his dad if he could go. Reluctantly, his father informed him that he didn’t think they could afford the one dollar admission. However, he told his son that since the circus was still a few weeks away, if the boy worked hard and earned fifty cents, he would provide the remaining funds. When the day arrived, the boy had enough money to buy a ticket. With great excitement, he arrived on Main Street to see the lions, tigers, performers, and clowns march down the street. He had never seen anything so thrilling and was mesmerized by all the wonderful
things. As the last clown danced by, the boy handed him his ticket, then headed back home. Later, when his dad arrived home from work, he remarked, “Son, you’re home from the circus a lot earlier than I expected. How was it?” His son described all of the clowns, lions, tigers, and performers that danced by him. He then told his dad about giving his ticket to a clown. All of a sudden, a look of sadness fell across the dad’s face and, with a tear in his eye, he told his son to come to him. He picked him up, put him on his lap, and said, “Son, I have some bad news for you. Today, you missed the circus. You only saw the parade” (SBC Life, December 2008). Unfortunately, some people this Christmas will deck the halls, sing the carols, and maybe even go to a parade or a candlelight service, but they will miss the most important part of Christmas. In Lowery’s words, “Christmas is not a parade or a place—Christmas is a Person.” The Apostle Paul describes Christmas in this way: “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all …” (Titus 2:11). In the prophet Isaiah’s words, Christmas is “… a child has been born for us, a son given to us …” (Isaiah 9:6). And in response to the birth of Jesus, we join with the angels and “declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3).
Tuesday, December 24 Tracy Jessup Vice President for Christian Life and Service and Senior Minister to the University Isaiah 9:2-7 Psalm 96 Titus 2:11-14
Wednesday, December 25 William M. Downs President of Gardner-Webb University Isaiah 62:6-12 Psalm 97 Titus 3:4-7 Luke 2:1-7, 8-20
The morning has arrived! The day of our Lord’s birth is upon us. Rejoice! Everyone, Rejoice!
unifying force in a divided world that, for us, was a powerful lifeline of hope and inspiration.
Like so many of you, Christmas Day brings with it a cascade of memories. Personally, most of those memories remind me of the glorious noise of gleeful celebrations with family around a beautifully decorated Fraser fir. Yet, of all those many cherished memories perhaps it is the quietest Christmas morning that resonates most powerfully with me. December 25, 1995, Kim and I were living in Denmark. Kim was in her ninth month of pregnancy with our first child, unable to travel. We awoke that morning to a magnificent sunrise over the white blanket that surrounded us. Everything outside was perfectly still and quiet.
Now, Kim and I find ourselves in Boiling Springs and immersed in a new life with new friends in a newfound community of faith. Since arriving at Gardner-Webb I have often said that we are a private university with a very public mission. We can be inspired by the Nativity to proclaim the good news far and wide, to remember on this quiet morning that our mission extends to every small corner of this vast world. Isaiah reminds us to “Raise a banner for the nations.” Pro Deo et Humanitate, for God and Humanity. This is our charge and our calling.
We read again those familiar words from Luke: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” Together but alone in a foreign land, Kim and I were free from the normal Christmas morning mayhem to really think about the true cause for our celebration and joy. An ocean away from our family and friends, we still felt how global (indeed, how universal) this moment was for all peoples and all nations. As the psalmist wrote, “The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice … . The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory.” A
In our contemporary and often chaotic world, Christmas Day often all too quickly segues to a focus on the annual ritual of New Year’s resolutions and other earthly pursuits. This year, let us resolve to focus instead on something greater. Let us resolve to celebrate “the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3: 5-7). Merry Christmas, Gardner-Webb community. May God continue to bless you and to bless us, not just this day but all the days ahead.
Gardner-Webb University At-a-Glance Located in Boiling Springs, N.C., Gardner-Webb University’s purpose is to advance the Kingdom of God through Christian higher education by preparing graduates for professional and personal success, instilling in them a deep commitment to service and leadership, and equipping them for well-rounded lives of lasting impact, Pro Deo et Humanitate (For God and Humanity). • We serve nearly 3,600 students, 67% female, 33% male, from 39 states and 19 countries. • A total of six professional schools, two academic schools, and 14 academic departments offer over 80 undergraduate and graduate major fields of study. • Our more than 160 full-time faculty (17:1 student-to-faculty ratio) help to foster meaningful dialogue, critical analysis, and spiritual challenge within a diverse community of learning. • `The U.S.News and World Report has ranked Gardner-Webb as one of the Best Universities in the nation positioning it in the top 20% of all universities. • Recognized as a Doctoral University by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, GWU is one of only six National Universities in the country that reported no classes with more than 50 students in 2015-2016.
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• The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll recognized Gardner-Webb University for the ninth consecutive year for outstanding community service. This national recognition honors our 2,499 students who participated in service-learning or community service opportunities outside of the classroom (for 71,402 hours). • Gardner-Webb is one of only 25 institutions nationwide to receive an “A” rating for commitment to liberal arts core curriculum standards. 1,100 colleges and universities were studied, and Gardner- Webb placed at the head of the class for the fifth consecutive year in the ACTA study. • Gardner-Webb was ranked number four in North Carolina for academic quality, affordability, and student experience in online learning by the national Best Colleges organization. • Gardner-Webb competes in 11 men’s and 11 women’s sports within NCAA Division I competition as members of the Big South, Southern, and Coastal Collegiate Conferences.