Advent DEVOTIONAL S A collection of devotionals for the season of Advent, written by members and friends of PICKENS PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH 311 West Main Street Pickens, SC 29671
- by Ethan Briley
- by Jessie Cole
WHAT IS ADVENT? Advent is a season of the church year beginning four Sundays before Christmas Day. The word advent means “coming,” and the season of Advent is a time of waiting and preparation for the coming of Christ. It is a time of reflection, repentance, anticipation, and celebration. During Advent, we remember that the Israelites were waiting for the Messiah. During Advent, we rejoice that the Messiah was born in Bethlehem centuries ago. We remember the story of Christ’s first coming as we look forward to and pray for Christ’s second coming. We read in Scriptures that when Jesus returns to earth all his promises will be fulfilled. The earth will once again be as God created it to be − without sin, evil, injustice, war, sickness, grief, or suffering. In the meantime, we wait, and we prepare for Jesus to come again. We work to live the way he taught us, and we work to share with other people the good news of Jesus. This devotional guide is designed to help as you wait and prepare this Advent season. Each week you may light another candle on your Advent wreath, and each day you may read the devotional provided. There is no right or wrong way to use this booklet, but we pray that it draws you closer to Christ during this special season.
May the peace of Christ and the joy of Christmas be with you as you wait and prepare this Advent season!
THE ADVENT WREATH One of the beautiful traditions of Advent is the lighting of the Advent wreath. The wreath is a circle of evergreens with three purple candles and one pink candle around its edge and a white candle in the center. From the first Sunday in Advent to Christmas Eve, the wreath grows in beauty and light as it helps us recall God’s gracious gift of Jesus Christ. Each part of the wreath has a special meaning:
The round shape symbolizes the eternity of God. It is a reminder that God lived before there was a world; God lived in Jesus; God lives now and always will live.
Evergreens are used for the wreath because they live all year and never lose their needles. They testify to the continuation of life.
The candles represent the One who said, “I am the light of the world.”
First Sunday –
The Candle of Hope reminds us of the hope found in Christ’s birth and in the promise of his return.
Second Sunday – The Candle of Peace reminds us of the peace found in Christ through acts of repentance and service. Third Sunday –
The Candle of Joy reminds us of the joyful news that God is with us and encourages us to have joy in working with God to restore all creation.
Fourth Sunday –
The Candle of Love reminds us of the amazing and unending love of God.
Light the candle(s) each week at the beginning of your devotional time. We pray its light will be a blessing to you this Advent season.
Happiness Optimistic Perseverance Everlasting -The Junior High Youth
WEEK OF ADVENT The Hope Candle Light the first candle and say:
We light this Advent candle today as a reminder of the coming of Christ, the light of the world. We light the Candle of Hope as we continue to wait for Christ’s return. We remember the anticipation which each of us have felt when we wished something would happen. The Israelites had a long wait for the Messiah. Hundreds of years before Christ was born, Isaiah gave them a promise of the Messiah’s birth and the people waited in hope. Christ has promised that he will return to the earth to restore the world to the way God created it to be. As Christians, we have hope as we wait for this time. Where in our world do you see a need for Christ to restore the world? What is not as God created it to be? Almighty God, in Your great mercy, forgive all the things we have done; and all things we failed to do that we should have done. Teach us to live as children of God. Keep us awake and alert, watching for Your Kingdom. Make us strong in faith, so we may glorify Christ as we wait for His return. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
- by Will Varney
Sunday, December 1, 2013 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5, 14
By the time John wrote his gospel, the other disciples had already been martyred by Christ’s enemies. John’s hope was not based on this earthly life, but on a heavenly vision. The birth of Jesus (called the Word) was before the before and after the after. His birth in Bethlehem was the center point of time – backward to eternity and forward to eternity. Critics of Jesus were saying that Jesus was a man, not God. John wanted his readers to understand that Jesus (the Word) was both God and man. In the beginning the Word spoke and all created things in heaven and earth were made by the Word. In Genesis, we learn that the first created thing was light and that light made possible life. In grade school we learned that the earth which we live on is a planet of the sun, spelled s-u-n. The earth is the only planet of the sun that is so situated that life can exist. It is not too hot and not too cold. From the North Pole to the South Pole, and even in the deepest oceans, scientists have discovered life. John teaches us that God’s Son (the Word) put the sun and its planets in orbit. God’s Son, is spelled S-o-n. God’s Son made the earth’s sun. John expresses his delight that the Word was made flesh and lived among us. John rejoices in the fact that he and others have seen the One and Only (note the capital letters, indicating the divinity of Christ), and it has been a glorious experience. We as humans can experience the glorious reality of Christ living in our hearts in this day and age. Have you experienced the glorious reality of Christ living in your heart? Come into our hearts, Lord Jesus! Come in today! Come into stay! Come into my heart, Lord Jesus! Zig Boroughs
Monday, December 2, 2013 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. John 1:6-13
In our Scripture, we see John the Baptist-a witness, a messenger. His assignment was to be a witness to the coming of Jesus. The Old Testament has many prophecies that tell us that God will send a Messiah. Malachi 3:1 also tells us about John’s coming to be a messenger for that Messiah. John was the forerunner and the witness that Jesus is the Messiah sent by God. What a great responsibility was given to John! He was to give testimony to the Light, Jesus, so all would believe in Him, the Messiah that God had sent. John was to show that this One who had come was the True Light for all people. But all did not accept this truth or believe that Jesus is the Messiah. Even today, all people do not accept this Advent news. However, verse 12 makes an outstanding statement, great news! “But as many as received him to them gave the power to become children of God, even to them that believed on his name…”—to be children of God, to be born of God! What a special message John was given. And what a great gift is ours as we look to Advent, the coming of Jesus, and know that we can have Him with us, in our hearts, every day of the year. What impressive news to share with others, bearing witness to the coming of Jesus to our world, and to our lives. As John was the witness for Jesus at his first Advent, you and I can be Jesus’ witnesses today, telling of his coming to earth, his death and resurrection, his second coming, and of his love for all. News reporters may use answers to a few simple questions to get their basic information to the reader in a concise manner. See if you can pick out the who, what, when, where, and why in this scripture. In what ways do you think Christians today should witness to others about Jesus? Dear Lord, thank You for loving us so much that You came to earth to die for us. Help us share this good news with others and share Your love with them through our words and actions. In Jesus’ name, Amen. Gaye Mouritzen
Tuesday, December 3, 2013 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:2-7
The best way to describe Isaiah’s vision from this passage is Divine Revelation. He is telling what God has revealed to him, and it is directed primarily to God’s people in Judah and Jerusalem. The prophet directs his attention to the results from King Ahaz’s plan, to ignore what God directed him in his worry about an attack on his kingdom of Judah. God told him not to worry, take heed and do not fear. “It shall not stand.” But Ahaz took matters into his own hands and hired the Assyrians to handle his enemies for him. Well, after the Assyrians were finished with the king’s enemies, they march south to invade Judah and Jerusalem. God punishes Ahaz’s unbelief. The people despair at what has happened to them. But Isaiah tells them at the beginning of the chapter that the gloom will not last forever, and a great light will shine on them. 700 years before Christ’s birth, Isaiah spoke these words with such certainty as if they had already happened. The great light that he spoke of in verse 2 can be no other than Jesus. Matthew refers to Isaiah’s prophecy in chapter 4 of his Gospel. Isaiah tells of a time when weapons of warfare will be thrown away, rolled up and burned. He calls Jesus the “Prince of Peace.” Jesus is known as the great peace-maker; one who can bring real peace, true peace with God. So, the next time you hear the words of the prophet in the beautiful song from The Messiah by Handel: “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” from Isaiah 9:6, remember how Isaiah told of His coming so many years ago, first to the suffering people of Judah, and then to us. What makes us believe that Isaiah is speaking of Jesus in this passage rather than another of Judah’s kings? Why would Isaiah have called Jesus a “Wonderful Counselor?” Blessings to you this wonderful Advent season, and every season! Cyndi Banks
Wednesday, December 4, 2013 See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the Lord of hosts. Remember the teaching of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse. Malachi 4:1-6
It’s December! Let’s sing a Christmas song. Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King, Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!" Joyful, all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies; With th' angelic host proclaim, "Christ is born in Bethlehem!" Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"
Christ, by highest heaven adored; Christ, the everlasting Lord; Late in time behold him come, Offspring of a virgin's womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; Hail th' incarnate Deity, Pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"
Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Light and life to all he brings, Risen with healing in his wings. Mild he lays his glory by, Born that we no more may die, Born to raise us from the earth, Born to give us second birth. Hark! the herald angels sing, "Glory to the new born King!"
Text: Charles Wesley, 1707-1788; alt. by George Whitefield and others Music: Felix Mendelssohn; arr. by William H. Cummings
Who would have thought that some of the words of this favorite Christmas hymn come from the prophet Malachi in the last book and chapter of the Hebrew Scriptures? Right there in the hymn’s third verse is Malachi 4:2 “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.” It is interesting to think about how we use the words ‘sun’ and ‘son.’ When I read ‘sun of righteousness,’ I immediately think of the Son of God. And, as the scripture says, the sun/Son shall rise “with healing in its wings.” Thanks be to God for giving us the sun and the Son to heal us. How are the sun and the Son related? What is your relationship with the sun? What is your relationship with the Son? How can you use God’s help to be a healing presence in God’s world? Lord, help me to respond to the sun of righteousness by helping to bring light and life into the world. All to your glory and in your Son’s holy name. Amen. Isn’t Scripture great? Jo Anne Gessell
Thursday, December 5, 2013 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38
I am sure that Mary was very perplexed when the angel Gabriel came to her and said that she would be having the Lord’s baby. Her mind must have been spinning with a million thoughts. She was thinking, “How can this be? I am an ordinary and plain girl. I don’t have any idea how to raise a king!” Gabriel then offers her comfort by telling her that God was with her and that his word would never fail. Although we aren’t often visited by angels with messages, we are often perplexed by life’s choices and decisions. Our minds swirl with emotions and thoughts of what we should do or if we in fact are able to handle what God has placed before us. We have to remember that God holds us in the palm of his hand, and he is in control of it all. He will take care of us no matter what, and we must have faith that God will never fail. How can we as humans practice not worrying in times of trouble? What types of things have you had weighing on your mind in recent times where you felt God was there for you? Do we have trouble believing God’s word sometimes? Dear God, remind us now and always that nothing is impossible with you, so that when you come into our lives and ask us to dare great things, we know that you are on our side and for us, that indeed, all things are possible. In Jesus name, Amen. Tina LaFoy
Friday, December 6, 2013 But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:36-44
Advent is a time of waiting. We wait for Christmas to arrive when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh, and we also watch with expectant hope for the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to come again. This second aspect of Advent seems to be overshadowed by the anticipation of Christmas Day, but it is a very important part of the season. We are waiting for the Lord. In the Olivet discourse, Jesus is addressing his disciples in what has been dubbed the “Little Apocalypse.” The disciples are curious about when “the end” will come and what signs will foreshadow the event, not unlike many in our own time. How many predictions have you heard regarding the “end of the world as we know it?” But this is missing the point. Keep awake. Be ready. This is what Jesus tells his disciples to do while they are waiting. We are not expected to busy ourselves with determining when he will return. Neither are we to stand gazing into the sky as the disciples do when they witness Jesus’ ascension. Rather we are to actively await his return, living faithfully. We are to put our hands to work and our feet into action as we obey the Great Commission to go. Go, and remember, Jesus is with us always, to the end of the age. How are you going to obey the commands to “keep awake” and “be ready” this Advent season? God of the Ages, we are in awe of your great love for us, your creation. As we await the great day when Christ returns, strengthen us so we may be vigilant and guide us by your Spirit to live in ways that glorify you. Amen. Jessica Varney
Saturday, December 7, 2013 John to the seven churches that are in Asia: Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood, and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. Revelation 1:4-8
Each of us who have accepted Christ as our savior have a duty to the people that God allows us to cross paths with each day to spread the good news that “He is coming!” I am thankful that God has allowed me to be part of the ministry of Pickens Presbyterian Church Child Development Center and to be able to impact the lives of the families we serve at the Center each day. We not only serve around 115 children from this community but we also serve their families as well. When parents or children come to us with heartaches or worries, the staff and I have the opportunity to listen, pray and share God’s love for them with them. We can share the promise in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world he gave his only son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And we can also share Revelation 1:7: “Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him!” We all have worries on this earth but when we have the assurance of salvation and God’s return, our worries here seem small and not very important. I am thankful that we can share this good news with the families of PPC Child Development Center!
eople are not peaceful.
veryone has flaws.
A C E
ccepting this is key.
hrist helps you find peace.
njoy the peaceful presence of Christ.
-The Senior High Youth
THE SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT The Peace Candle Re-light the first candle. Light the second candle and say: We light this Advent candle as a reminder of the coming of Christ, the light of the world. We light the Candle of Peace as we pray for the peace of Christ in our hearts and in our world. The light of peace must brave great darkness, just as Jesus did when He came to earth. In an age when people struggle to find peace within them, we worship the Prince of Peace. Christ has promised to return and restore the earth to the way God created it to be, a place of peace. Where are the places and situations in your life and in the world where you see peace? What makes that place or situation peaceful? How can you help bring peace to places where there is anger, conflict, or violence? Dear God, we thank You for Your gift of Jesus to the whole world. We pray that You will bring peace in our lives and in our world. Please show us ways to act as Your disciples and show others the way of peace. In the name of Christ, the Prince of Peace, Amen.
- by Merritt Townsend
Sunday, December 8, 2013
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Isaiah 11:1-9
I love plants and flowers, but I am a terrible gardener. I absolutely do not have a green thumb. In fact, whenever I bring home a new plant, my husband Bill likes to tease me that I’m planning to “torture and kill another one.” Unfortunately, that is sometimes the case, but the withering of this year’s Easter lily was not my fault. We were out of town and it didn’t rain, and by the time we came home again it was nothing but a skinny brown stalk. Done for. But I never quite got around to pulling it from its pot of dry and cracked soil, and one day it rained. God intervened and there was a small miracle on our deck. One morning I spied a small bit of green peeking out at the bottom of that dead and dried up stump – a tiny shoot beginning its journey back to life and hope. I determined to be diligent about caring for that plant, honoring its courage and the lesson it teaches about the great power of God’s love for us. Even when we are at our worst, when God seems far away, when peace and hope are in short supply, and we feel pretty much “done for” like my lily, we have this wonderful promise given by Isaiah so many years ago. We need only to stop and remember the beginning of the fulfillment of that promise which sprang from the stump of Jesse on that first Christmas Day. Jesus was born into a seemingly dead and dying world, and He grew. He grew in wisdom and stature; He went about His Father’s business. Then one day, to our dismay, but within God’s plan, He too seemed done for. But then there was Easter. My little lily is only about six inches of leafy stem right now, no blooms in its near future. But I have hope. It is a sturdy, healthy-looking little thing. I will bring it inside at the first threat of frost and take care of it. And I have peace, knowing that it will bloom again, maybe just in time for Easter. In the midst of troubling times, what is it about God that gives you peace? What is your part in tending and caring for the sprout of His Spirit which lives within you? What is God’s part? Dear Father, we thank You for Your life-giving and sustaining Spirit, and for the peace of Your presence. We thank You that because You told us so, we can know that even though in this world we will have trouble, we can take heart, knowing that You have overcome the world. Amen. Barbara Caruthers
Monday, December 9, 2013
Now you are walled around with a wall; siege is laid against us; with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel upon the cheek. But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace. Micah 5:1-5a About 700 years before the birth of Jesus there was a prophet named Micah. He and most all other Jews had been taken into Babylon as captives. Their home land had been destroyed, as well as their capitol, Jerusalem. The Temple was completely torn down. The king and princes had been carried off in chains or killed. Micah told the captive Jews that all of this was because the Jews did not obey God, inspite of being warned by other prophets. Micah also had some good news. He told the Jews that a Jewish king would be born in the village of Bethlehem. This king would destroy all of the enemies of the Jews. About 700 years later, a king was born in Bethlehem. But this king was very different from what Micah and all the Jews expected. He did not lead great armies and destroy the enemies. He was even executed. But what he did do and is still doing is so much more. His kingdom has lasted over 2000 years and we at Pickens Presbyterian Church are part of this kingdom. Of course, this king is Jesus. Roger Gettys
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
“With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:6-8 You will recognize verse 8 as one of the Congregational Introits we sing at the beginning of our worship service on Sunday mornings. It is accompanied by beautiful music that often plays in your head later. But what is the message Micah wanted people to understand? Micah was a prophet, and he foresaw the invasion and destruction of Jerusalem. Although he wrote this passage over 2500 years ago, it is as appropriate today as it was then. God was angry with the Israelites because he protected and provided for them but still they reverted to their sinful ways as they had many times before. Earlier God entered into a Covenant with them. He said, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” Unfortunately they did not keep their part of the agreement and were not living as God had commanded. They built idols to worship and offered sacrifices to these idols and engaged in other activities that did not exemplify God’s teachings. Micah condemned the break in the covenant relationship between God and the Israelites. He asks the question, “What does require of you?”-burnt offerings with year old calves, thousands of rams or a firstborn child to save oneself from sin? Micah’s answer is simple. The Lord wants us to act justly, love kindly and walk humbly with God. Are you fair in dealings with classmates, business partners and others? Do you show mercy (kindness) to those who do wrong to you? Do you act humbly towards others? Lord, let us show justice and kindness to family, friends and strangers and learn to walk humbly with you. We ask this in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen. Mary Sue Day
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. […]A voice cries out: “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. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All people are grass, their constancy is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever. […]. He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep. Isaiah 40:1-11
Prophets were not very popular. They had to speak God’s word of truth which pointed out the way people were turning away from God, and there would be consequences for their behavior: bad news. In Isaiah 39, the prophet tells King Hezekiah everything he and his ancestors had stored up would be taken by the Babylonians, even their children would be taken away. On hearing this really bad news, Hezekiah responds in the most unusual way, he says, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good. For he thought, ‘there will be peace and security in my days.’” (v.8) Hezekiah knows that no matter what, God will keep God’s promise. Isaiah confirms the kings’ attitude with one of the most beautiful hymns, “Comfort, O comfort my people…” It reminds us that whatever happens in our common life, we are carried in the arms of a shepherd, that God will make a way out of a ‘no way.’ Isaiah makes use of an image from an annual Babylonian rite: they decorated highways for sacred processions of their deities. The appearance of the deity along the highway for them meant continued blessing and salvation. In the days of Isaiah, the desert was a potent symbol of chaos. Israel is to make such a way for God through the desert wilderness. Israel is not called to remake the wilderness into a place of habitation and shalom. Within the desert, the community is to witness to the divine sovereignty. God will refashion the wilderness by lifting the valleys, reducing the mountains and smoothing the rough ground. “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.” (v.5a) This should be good news. Our world is a desert wilderness: natural disasters, drugs, broken homes, corruption in political office, the idolatries of the marketplace, the decline of the long-established churches, among other things. In this wilderness, the church is called to witness to the divine presence and the divine promise that justice will come in all relationships and all life situations. God will restore the world to its intended purposes. In the midst of chaos, the church speaks this word, and testifies to it by carrying out actions that demonstrate God's purpose. When we clothe people who need warmth, or when we feed people who are hungry, when we assist with fuel funds, care for the little ones, we do those things and others in part because they need it, and in part because we are called to witness to God’s desire and promise for all to be clothed, fed, warmed, cared for, and sheltered. “Have you not known? Have you not heard?” says the Lord. People are like grass that will wither and fade, but the word of our God will stand forever. Have you ever told someone something you thought was good news only to find they thought it to be bad news or vice versa? How did you respond? Comfort, O comfort your people, God, that we might be witnesses to your good news today and always. Amen. Rev. Beverly Kelly
Thursday, December 12, 2013
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more; but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. For all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever. Micah 4:1-5 Standing in the garden of the United Nations headquarters in Manhattan is a bronze statute titled, “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares,” by artist Evgeniy Vuchetich. The sculpture was presented as a gift to the United Nations from the Soviet Union in 1959, and depicts a man holding a hammer in one hand and a sword in the other, which he is beating into a plowshare. According to the United Nations Visitor Center, the sculpture symbolizes “man’s desire to put an end to war and convert the means of destruction into creative tools for the benefit of all mankind.” The Presbyterian Church USA has long supported the work of the United Nations, and in 2012, our 220th General Assembly voted to "affirm the church’s historic support for the United Nations as an instrument of peacemaking and peace building and a guarantor of the human and legal rights of people and nations." As diverse nations living together on this planet, we are often tempted to seek peace and security through domination over and destruction of our enemies. However, the scripture above calls us to seek peace and security not through demonstration of our nation’s supremacy, but rather through our obedience to God’s laws. God calls us to seek peace through justice, peace through forgiveness of our enemies, peace through reconciliation, and peace through grace. No amount of armed conflict or amassing of weapons can bring about true peace. Adapted from PCUSA’s “Swords Into Plowshares” blog: Question for discernment: How can the church do a more effective job of teaching nonviolence to its members? What characteristics would mark a “peace church” stance in today’s world? Prayer: Christ, you are our peace. You break down the walls that divide us. You remove the hostility between us. You make us one. May we build up the church to be a community of peace and reconciliation, reflective of your nonviolent witness. Amen. Karen & Ken Roper
Friday, December 13, 2013
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh— my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident. One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock. Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord. […] I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27
I remember hearing once that God responds to our prayer requests in one of three ways: yes, no, and I have something better for you. And although the last one sounds great, something tells us that it probably involves waiting, which is not our favorite thing, especially today—only 12 days to Christmas morning! Well, the psalmist had urgent concerns too, but while waiting he remembered with gratitude: (in verses 1-6) God’s faithfulness in the past; “you are my light, my salvation and my stronghold (great word!) - why should I be afraid?” God had cared for him in the past when he was in trouble, and he was sure God would be there for him now. So sure, in fact, that he planned to go to the Temple, where he would sing God’s praises with joy, even when things weren’t so good just as we can seek God’s word and find tons of stories about God’s faithfulness to save others from their scary enemies. Very reassuring - He’s that kind of a loving God! So many different kinds of enemies! There are, to be sure, troublemakers out there who just don’t like us. But there are other kinds of trouble - a friend who has drifted away, a badly broken bone, the loss of someone special - and we may need to be in God’s waiting room for longer than we’d like for things to get better. But broken bones will mend, relationships can be restored, and a broken heart made whole. Things do get better! There’s a wonderful little song that says it well: “Give ‘em all, give ‘em all, give ‘em all to Jesus, shattered dreams, wounded hurts and broken toys - give ‘em all, give ‘em all, give ‘em all to Jesus, and he will turn your sorrows into joys!” So maybe waiting isn’t too bad after all, is it? In God’s good time the answer will come, and we can say with the Psalmist, “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord - be strong and let your heart take courage, Yes, wait for the Lord!” Are you good at waiting? Do you want to be? Want to talk about it? Why is this time of waiting for Christmas a good thing? God’s gift to us at Christmas was His Son, Jesus, who came to save us from our sins. What does that mean to you? Dear God, help us to accept the waiting times we need. We praise and thank you for your many gifts to us! Amen. Peg Jenkins
Saturday, December 14, 2013
A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birthpangs, in the agony of giving birth. Then another portent appeared in heaven: a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman who was about to bear a child, so that he might devour her child as soon as it was born. And she gave birth to a son, a male child, who is to rule all the nations with a rod of iron. But her child was snatched away and taken to God and to his throne; and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days. Revelation 12:1-6 This passage is one that calls us to “listen” with our hearts to the whole story of the gospel. John the Divine uses cosmic imagery to teach that the birth of Jesus is for all humanity and beyond anything we can imagine. In Matthew and Luke, the birth is in a humble manger, surrounded by farm animals. Here in Revelation, John puts the birth of a son “who will shepherd all nations” in a more cosmic, outer space setting. The baby is to be born into cosmic war where evil menaces in the form of a dragon, awaiting the helpless infant. The dragon makes us think of a slimy creature from Star Wars, bent on destruction. The beast, Satan, stands ready to devour the child, yet at the moment of birth, evil is beaten and the child is swept away to the throne of God to reign, and the mother is taken to safety. The dragon slinks away to create more trouble. Revelation teaches that no matter how hard life becomes or how severe the trials we face, God is with His people, holding us in a place of safety and comfort. The final victory is God’s in Jesus Christ. Dear God, Thank you for holding us in the palm of your hand, a place of safety and comfort in times of storms and dragons. Thank you for the assurance of your blessing and love. Amen. Rev. Kathy Chamlee
THIRD WEEK OF ADVENT The Joy Candle
Overwhelming Youthful -The Junior High Youth
Re-light the first two candles. Light the third candle on the outer circle and say: Today we light the Candle of Joy. Today we remember the joy of the first Christmas. We are thankful for Christ’s coming to earth, for God’s great love for us, for Christ’s promise to return again. We are joyful as we realize the amazing good news of Christ’s birth. As the light shines brightly, we rejoice that Jesus came and Jesus will come again.
How can we show the joy of Christ to those around us? How can we share joy when there is so much sadness in the world? Come, Lord Jesus, into the darkness of the world! May Your light shine brightly, and may we be faithful as we await Your return. Renew us, so that we may welcome You with joy! Amen.
- by June Simms
Sunday, December 15, 2013 Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35:3-10
With this news, bring cheer to all discouraged ones. Encourage those who are afraid. Tell them, “Be strong, fear not, for your God is coming to destroy your enemies. He is coming to save you.” And when He comes, He will open the eyes of the blind, and unstop the ears of the deaf. The lame man will leap up like a deer, and those who could not speak will shout and sing! How often we feel discouraged, fearful, weary, weak, and worn out. Some days we wonder if we can carry our own weight. As we age, many of us have knees replaced, hand, wrist, or foot surgery. We do this in an effort to relieve pain, and gain back our strength and mobility. One version of this passage says: Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted: “Be strong, do not fear!” We use our hands to lift others up, hold them with a firm grip to keep them from falling, and we fold our hands in prayer. Our knees allow us to walk, bend, and kneel to pray. When John the Baptist was in prison, he became discouraged, and wondered if Jesus was really the Messiah he had proclaimed Him to be. When John’s disciples brought this question to Jesus, He replied: “Go back to John and tell him about the miracles you’ve seen me do – the blind people I’ve healed, and the lame people now walking without help, and the cured lepers, and the deaf who hear, and the dead raised to life; and tell him about my preaching the Good News to the poor” Matt. 11, 4 – 5. Name some of the ways you can use your hands and your knees to help others. Have each family member discuss stories from the New Testament that describe Jesus healing. Dear Lord, Please give us a new grip with our tired hands, allow us to firmly stand on our shaky legs, and provide a straight, smooth path for your feet so that those who follow you, though weak and lame, will not fall and hurt themselves, but become strong. Please help us to cheer those who are discouraged and encourage those who are afraid. Amen.
Monday, December 16, 2013 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you. Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms. Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you. A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you; they shall be acceptable on my altar, and I will glorify my glorious house. Isaiah 60:1-7
“Arise, shine for your light has come, And the glory of the Lord arises upon you. See, darkness is over the peoples, But the Lord rises upon you And his glory appears over you. -Isaiah 60:1-2 You in Babylon! Arise! Shine! You who are poor, Brokenhearted, Captive, Full of sorrow and woe! Arise! Shine! Your Light has come! The Glory of the Lord arises upon you! “Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world; He who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” -John 8:12 You in Pickens! Arise! Shine! You who are poor, Captive, Blind, Oppressed! Arise! Shine! Your Light has come! The Glory of the Lord arises upon you! What is your darkness? Will you lift your eyes to the Light? Arise? Shine? What in your life might be darkness that needs the light of Jesus? How might you be light to those who need the light of Jesus? Dear Lord, we gratefully accept your promise that no darkness can overcome your light. Help us to be filled with your light and to shine that light on others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen. Bert Allison
Tuesday, December 17, 2013 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:1-4
“GOD, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they” (New American Standard Bible). This passage speaks to me in this way. GOD gave us HIS SON Jesus to show us all, without any doubt, that Jesus is the one through whom we can understand GOD’s glory, majesty, power and nature. Jesus also represents the nature of GOD’s love for all of us. He is like a mirror of what GOD is all about, in human form, and there is no one else on earth as majestic. Not even the angels. What does GOD’s gift of Jesus mean to you? Can you see GOD through Jesus? Dear GOD, we thank you for your gift of Jesus. We can see your love for us through him. All this we pray, in Jesus’s holy name. Amen. John Blackwood
Wednesday, December 18, 2013 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-11
Growing up in a small town in rural Upstate New York, I seemed to be a big fish in a little pond. I was a leader in my youth group, graduated in the top percent among my forty-three high school classmates, and had countless opportunities to grow as a musician in various ensembles. When I moved to SC to attend college as a music major, I found a different world waiting for me. I was confronted with heavy competition and challenging courses that shook my confidence. I was no longer Ashley “who gets the best grades in the class” or Ashley “who gets to play first chair in the band.” I had to learn how to play second “fiddle,” or third, or even fourth. The pond was bigger, and I felt a whole lot smaller. In my junior year of college, I encountered a book entitled “Be Last: Descending to Greatness.” A royal throne positioned upside-down on the cover of the book caught my attention. As I began reading, the book captured me, as it shed light on Jesus’ revolutionary ministry. More than ever, I realized that being a Christian is a radical commitment for each of us. It calls us to go against everything in our sinful, narcissistic nature. It calls us to put Jesus first, others second, and ourselves last. God’s Word calls us to be servants. The truths I read started to influence how I saw myself and how I saw others. Eventually, I was filled with joy to serve in any way I could and I also gladly accepted getting to play any fiddle at all. The conclusion of the book written by Jeremy Kingsley ends with this quote, “Being last isn’t easy. It can be messy. It caused Jesus to get “down and dirty” to wash the disciples’ feet. It caused him to touch and spend time with those whom society shunned. Indeed, it cost Jesus everything he had to give. But if our desire is to follow him and be truly “great” in his Kingdom, he will take delight in helping us to live as he did, and our lives will bring him great joy.” Is there any task in my life that I feel is “below” me? Would Jesus find that task to be “below” him? How can I be like Jesus and serve those around me? Dear God, Thank you for sending your Son to be the picture of humility for us. Help us to have the same mindset as Jesus did in our relationship with you and with others. We are your servants, called to love. May your Spirit guide our thoughts, words, and actions. Keep us humble, Amen. Ashley McGrath
Thursday, December 19, 2013 The word of God to my Lord: “Sit alongside me here on my throne until I make your enemies a stool for your feet.” You were forged a strong scepter by God of Zion; now rule, though surrounded by enemies! Your people will freely join you, resplendent in holy armor on the great day of your conquest, Join you at the fresh break of day, join you with all the vigor of youth. God gave his word and he won’t take it back: you’re the permanent priest, the Melchizedek priest. The Lord stands true at your side, crushing kings in his terrible wrath, bringing judgment on the nations, handing out convictions wholesale, crushing opposition across the wide earth. The King-Maker put his King on the throne; the True King rules with head held high! Psalm 110:1-7 (The Message)
This psalm is classified as a “royal psalm,” a psalm that centers on the king. Although this psalm originally dealt with the rights and traditions given to a king at his enthronement in Jerusalem, I can’t help but joyfully think of Jesus, our righteous, eternal ruler, when reading this scripture! There are several references that might cause one to bring Jesus to mind. Let’s explore two of those references together. “Sit alongside me…” or “Sit at my right hand…” (as it is stated in the NRSV) is echoed throughout the New Testament in reference to Jesus and his rightful place of power and honor (Acts 2:34-36, I Cor. 15:24-28, Heb 1:3, 13). In Acts, Peter quotes Psalm 110 to testify that it was Jesus, not David, that ascended into heaven to sit at God’s right hand and that our Heavenly Father made Jesus “both Lord and Messiah.” “You’re the permanent priest, the Melchizedek priest.” Melchizedek is a king in the Old Testament (Gen 14:17-20). He was referred to as a “priest of God Most High.” The New Testament (Heb 5:6, 10; 6:20-7:10, 15-17) compares Jesus and Melchizedek, stating that Jesus is the Great High Priest. What other parts of this passage bring Jesus to mind? How does this Psalm bring you joy? Oh King-Maker, Fill us with joy as we await our permanent Priest and True King! In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen. Jessica Haines
Friday, December 20, 2013 Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion! Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city; for the uncircumcised and the unclean shall enter you no more. Shake yourself from the dust, rise up, O captive Jerusalem; loose the bonds from your neck, O captive daughter Zion! For thus says the Lord: You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money. For thus says the Lord God: Long ago, my people went down into Egypt to reside there as aliens; the Assyrian, too, has oppressed them without cause. Now therefore what am I doing here, says the Lord, seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers howl, says the Lord, and continually, all day long, my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name; therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here am I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices, together they sing for joy; for in plain sight they see the return of the Lord to Zion. Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem; for the Lord has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. Isaiah 52:1-10
These verses tell us about the deliverance of the Jews out of Babylon. In Isaiah 52:1-3 the Lord is telling His people to wake up and prepare for deliverance from Babylon. The time of judgment is over for turning their backs on the Lord and worshipping other gods. In Isaiah 52:4-6 the LORD vindicates His name before those who blaspheme Him. He tells us that His people will know His name and know that it is He who is speaking. In Isaiah 52:7-10 the Lord is telling His people that their God reigns. He is telling His people to rejoice and to sing with joy for He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has bared His holy arm (one commentary suggested it is symbolic of rolling up one’s sleeves before working) and all nations will see the salvation of our God. In our lives, we might think about captivity in Babylon as not being right with God. To enjoy the fullness of Christ as our savior, we need ask for forgiveness and rejoice in His promise of salvation. God sent His Son to die on the cross, to shed His blood to wash away our sins and to give us everlasting life. How can we focus on this joy and find time to rejoice with all the demands of everyday life? How can we share this joy and rejoice with our family and our friends? How often do we pray for our unsaved family members and friends? How can we be a better light to show them God’s glory in our lives? Our dear Heavenly Father, we rejoice in your grace and your promise of salvation. We rejoice in celebrating Christ’s birth. Help us to be a better witness and to show the wonderful joy you have put in our lives. Be with us and lead us as we try to serve you. We ask these thing is Christ’s name. Amen. Ralph Perkins
Saturday, December 21, 2013 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. Revelation 21:1-7
All of us are looking forward to Christmas, always a time of excitement with lights, music, decorations and gifts. What gifts are you hoping for? Perhaps a new bicycle? Or maybe you hope your favorite friend or relative will visit? That would be a happy gift. Perhaps you are excited about a special gift you will give your mother or father. Like everyone, you can hardly wait to see your hopes come true. That’s how John felt when he wrote this passage in the book of Revelation. He could hardly wait for the second coming of Jesus. That would fulfill all his hopes. How grand it would be for every Christian! He could hardly find words to express this wonderful hope. John’s fellow Christians were often discouraged. The Roman Empire around them was not a happy place for believers. John is saying, “Hold onto your hope for the wonderful world to come.” Today when we are discouraged we can remember these words of John written almost 2000 years ago: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” This hope can sustain us. What is the greatest gift that we celebrate at Christmas? Tell about a wonderful hope you had that really came true. In your own words how would you describe the new world that John hopes for? Dear Lord and Father, please help us to hold onto the hope that John describes, especially when we are discouraged by the world around us. With grateful hearts, we remember all that Jesus’ first coming meant to the world. We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth. Amen. Jay and Dot Pence
pen your eyes to the Lord.
THE FOURTH WEEK OF
ift up your heart.
isit with God every day.
veryone needs to love and be loved.
-The Senior High Youth
ADVENT The Candle of Love
Re-light the first three candles. Light the fourth candle and say: We light this Advent candle today as a reminder of the coming of Christ, the light of the world. Today we light the Candle of Love. We see reflected in the glowing of the candle the message of a wondrous love â€“ the kind of love which . . . . . . God showed by sending His Son to earth for us; . . . Christ had when He died on the cross for us; . . . Is eternal and promises that Christ will come to earth a second time; . . . God gives to us to share with one another. Dear God, help us to have room in our hearts and in our homes for other persons who need us. We thank You for friends and strangers who have received us when we were lonely or afraid, tired or depressed. May we be ready to receive the love God offers us in Jesus. We pray in the name of Christ our Lord, Amen.
- by Caleb Briley
Sunday, December 22, 2013 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:16-17
When I was small, I could see very plainly all the ways that I knew my mother loved me: the way she smiled, the way she said my name, or the way she would kiss my cheek or forehead. I could tell my father loved me by the way he would blow on my tummy and make me laugh, lift me over his head, or let me hold onto his neck when we were swimming in deep water. But I never really understood how much God loved me until I learned the story of Jesus. Learning about how Jesus was born, how he healed the sick and fed the hungry, helped me to see that Jesus wanted to be a good son, so that everyone who looked at him would know that he was loved by his heavenly Father. As I grew older, I learned that the only way that people would ever be able to see God’s love was that it must be shown to them in human form, and so this was why Jesus was born, so that God’s love could be made real to the world. In all his words and in all his actions, Jesus told the story of God’s love. How can you tell that someone loves you? How do you show your love to others? How can you show God’s love? Dear God: Thank you so much for loving us. Thank you for sending your Son to us so we can see your love. Help us to love one another as you love us. Amen. Liz Stokes
Monday, December 23, 2013 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25
The scriptures model for us how to lead our lives, especially the examples of prayer we see demonstrated by the life of Jesus. We see quiet listening, where Jesus goes off alone with his Abba, faithful discernment, such as the desert experience prior to his public ministry, and faithful response or answering the call to become compassionately engaged in society. In this story about the impending birth of Jesus, we see Joseph being told in a dream to take Mary as his wife and name the child Jesus. Joseph, loving Mary, had decided that he would dismiss her quietly hoping to avoid public disgrace or potential stoning. This certainly seems like a logical and kind thing to do. God sends him a message through the angel Gabriel in a dream. Dreams are a wonderful way for God's messages to be conveyed. Both in the Hebrew Scriptures and four times in our New Testament we see the impact of dreams in providing direction when logical thinking and prayer had not revealed God's will for the situation. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary to let her know about her impending pregnancy, to Zachariah about the impending birth of his son, who is to be named John (the Baptist). Also Joseph is warned in a dream and told to immigrate to Egypt with the holy family. We are called to be open to spiritual direction in many forms. This along with prayer over scripture (Lectio Divina) are two possible ways to hear God's word for us. Also trusted Christian friends may be a vehicle for God's message to us. Dreams come with the intent of healing and wholeness. Occasionally they are directive or prophetic; both of which we see in scripture. Often they come as parable, not to be taken literally but to be discerned with their meaning through the images they portray. Have you ever had a dream announcing something to you? How do you respond when a dream comes true? Share a dream experience with your family.
CHRISTMAS EVE The Christ Candle Re-light the first four candles. Light the Christ Candle and say: We light the Christ Candle today, knowing the Christ, the light of the world, has come to bring hope, peace, joy, and love to the earth. We remember the salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and pray that we may be faithful in serving the Christ child throughout the Christmas season and always. How will you celebrate the birth of Christ today and tomorrow? What can you do to keep your celebration focused on the Christ child? May the blessings of Christ be with you this Christmas Eve! Thank You, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth! Help us to spread the hope, peace, joy, and love of Your birth to the world. In Christâ€™s name, Amen.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. Luke 2:1-7
â€œAnd she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn,â€? Luke 1:7. Those of us who have children know the miracle of birth but also the anxiety associated with childbirth and the responsibility of caring for a new baby. Now think of Mary: very young, engaged but not married, pregnant, in a strange place without even a room in which to have her baby, the pain of childbirth, and an uncertain future. Think also of Joseph: engaged to a young woman who was about to give birth to a child that is not his, unable to even provide a decent place for the birth, and an uncertain future. What great faith she and Joseph must have had to be able to cope with all that uncertainty, fear, and hardship! On the journey of life we too face uncertainty, fear, and hardship, but like Mary and Joseph we have the promise of the baby Jesus. A baby who would grow to be a man and who would save his people who believed in Him! On this holy night, let us aspire to have the faith of Mary and Joseph and believe that Jesus is Lord of all and that he will be with us in all situations! Can you think of times of uncertainty, fear, or hardship when you felt the love and comfort of Jesus? What can you remember about the birth of your first child? If you are a child, ask your parents to share their memories with you. Dear Lord, help us to have the faith of Mary and Joseph in the face of uncertainty, fear, and hardship. We thank you for the gift of your Son and his example of steadfast love and faithfulness. In Jesusâ€™ name we pray. Amen. Bill and Allison Ranson
Wednesday, December 25, 2013
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:8-20
Every year we read this wonderful story on this Holy Day. The shepherds were camping out, minding their own business, enjoying the night, watching over the sheep. In the stillness of the night, God chose to go to these men, of all people. Shepherds were seen as outsiders, the ‘hired help’ as Jesus would later describe them in the Gospel of John (10:11). They were not the privileged people, but God gave them the ultimate privilege of going to them and telling them about the Christ child. The shepherds were fearful, but notice, they stayed, looked and listened. They were willing to approach the unknown with reverence and respect. Not everyone would have that kind of courage to stay. Not everyone would be this receptive in allowing God to open his or her eyes. Not everyone would be so agreeable to hear God’s Word. “The Messiah is born,” the angel said. God is here! Christ is alive! Are we able to let go of all that keeps us from experiencing God? Are we able to truly believe Christ is born? Once we hear the news and believe the news, do we share it with others or does fear talk us out of it? The lowly shepherds courageously listened to the messengers of God and went to the city and found the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. They told the new parents, who were strangers, that God had come to them and they shared what they had seen. I wonder if God went to other people that night with the news, but somehow those people would not believe or they allowed their fear to paralyze them. Are we able to share the good news with others? Are we able to get over our own sense of insecurities of something new and unknown and tell our neighbors and the stranger that the Messiah is born and alive? How wonderful this is! Let us worship him! Go tell it to all, even those who may look at us in a disapproving way, that Jesus Christ is born! Then love them and invite them to worship! Loving God, You gave us the ultimate gift in Jesus Christ. We thank you! You gave us a wonderful example in the shepherds on how they pushed their fears and anxieties away, listened and shared your Word. Allow our hearts and lives to receive the new born baby and share the grace-filled news with others! In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen. Rev. Nath Briley
- by Kathryn Haines
- by Isaac Haines