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Preface

Many of us at Second didn’t grow up observing a Season of Advent. But surprise! Most of us have come to relish its focus in our church calendar. Just as the holidays are full of surprise, so too we have found, are the Holy Days — the Holy Scriptures — of Advent. This year we will have 28 days of Advent to prepare for celebrating the birth of our Savior on Christmas Day. Twenty-eight days to appreciate anew and with an even greater sense of wonder, how God could grant us such a perfect gift as Jesus Christ. A gift promised; a gift delivered! I want to thank our twenty-nine writers for sharing the stories, study, and wisdom of their devotionals. Thank you, Nicole Swanson, my fellow editor, for your beautiful graphics, and thank you, Neita Geilker, for proofreading. Thank you, Connie McNeill, for choosing from the various lectionaries the Bible verses we will read these next few weeks. A thank you to everyone who has had a part in our booklet. Of course, that includes our pastor, Jason Edwards. Once again, I’m offering as my part in our booklet, a fictional piece, this one dedicated to reminding you and me how necessary — how even fun and illuminating it can be — practicing our faith in tangible ways. Making faith real in all its surprising — even tactile — detail!

Sue Wright

TABLE OF CONTENTS Preface and Story (A Manger Event!) Week One: A Surprising Moment Sunday, November 27 Monday, November 28 Tuesday, November 29 Wednesday, November 30 Thursday, December 1 Friday, December 2 Saturday, December 3

Matthew 24:36-44 Genesis 8:1-19 Psalm 124 Isaiah 54:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 Isaiah 30:19-26 John 1:19-28

Sue Wright

Jason Edwards Luke Campbell Sanford Beckett Kristin Wooldridge Abby Bland Tana Clement David Fulk


Week Two: A Surprising Leader Sunday, December 4 Monday, December 5 Tuesday, December 6 Wednesday, December 7 Thursday, December 8 Friday, December 9 Saturday, December 10

Matthew 3:1-12 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 Romans 15:14-21 Psalm 21 Psalm 146:5-10 Ruth 4:13-17 Luke 3:1-18

Week Three: A Surprising Question Sunday, December 11 Monday, December 12 Tuesday, December 13 Wednesday, December 14 Thursday, December 15 Friday, December 16 Saturday, December 17

Matthew 11:2-11 Psalm 42 Ezekiel 47:1-12 Zechariah 8:1-17 Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 2 Samuel 7:18-22 John 3:31-36

Week Four: A Surprising Pregnancy Sunday, December 18 Monday, December 19 Tuesday, December 20 Wednesday, December 21 Thursday, December 22 Friday, December 23

Matthew 1:18-25 Genesis 17:15-22 1 Samuel 2:1-10 Matthew 1:1-17 Isaiah 33:17-22 Luke 1:46b-55

Christmas Eve: A Surprise Delivery Saturday, December 24

Luke 2:1-20

Christmas Day: The Element of Surprise Sunday, December 25

Hebrews 1:1-12

Heather Lewis Andy Pratt Drew Kingery Connie McNeill Michelle Cook Carrie Bartlow Megan Yohe

Laura Rodgers Gary Smith Milton Horne Gwen Phillips Steve Hemphill Christy Edwards Dick Wright

Eun Dobbins Kim Halfhill Carroll Makemson Eric Zahnd Larry Jones Angie Fuller

Elizabeth Gillespie

Jen Huffman


A MANGER EVENT by Sue Wright

Laurie stepped out of the house and into the yard, her boots crunching the pebbly path beneath her feet. An empty pail jangled from one of her arms, a load of fresh towels rode the other. She hummed a hymn from Sunday’s service and soon was back in church. That is, until she heard a small voice calling out to her. “Aunt Laurie, I hear you coming. Hurry up and find me! I’m in the stable, laying in a manger!” Laurie knew the voice but was surprised her little visitor was up and about already. She assumed her niece was still asleep. Putting the pail and towels aside as soon as she entered the stable, Laurie listened for the child to speak again. There were many stalls in her horse barn and many mangers. The girl could be anywhere. Then she heard her calling once more. “I’m over here, Aunt Laurie! Laying in a manger!”

The English teacher in Laurie winced at the six year old’s grammar, but her face was all adoring by the time she found her niece. “You mean, LYING in a manger, missy!” “No lie, Aunt Laurie! I AM in a manger! Just like Baby Jesus.” Tiny as she was for her age, Laurie could see Ellie had managed somehow or another to climb into one of the mangers in the first empty stall she’d found. The girl actually fit the space except for her two sock feet which hung limply over the side. “So how’s it feel ‘lying in a manger?’” asked Laurie. She swallowed a giggle but was seriously curious for her niece’s answer. “Only so-so, Aunt Laurie. I thought it would be soft, but it isn’t! The straw sticks my skin clear through my nighties. This doesn’t feel like a bed at all.” “Which is why it says in the Bible, Mary swaddled her baby. And perhaps for exactly that reason.”


“To keep Baby Jesus from getting all itchy like me?” “No doubt that was part of it. Plus Mary wanted to keep the Baby feeling warm and cuddled even when he wasn’t in her loving arms. Let me show you.” Laurie turned from the manger long enough to retrieve the pile of clean towels she had carried from the house, all the while, listening to Ellie chatter on about Sunday School and learning the REAL story of Christmas and not just the Santa and Reindeer one. Seems in retrospect, the moment Ellie learned the carol, “Away in a manger, No crib for a bed,” she knew in her heart she would have to try out a manger for herself next time she came to Aunt Laurie’s. And here she was! “So, do you understand how to swaddle a baby?” asked Laurie. “Not really.” “Well, in today’s world, we use receiving blankets to bind our newborns until they can’t move their arms and legs. Wrapping a baby tight like that—swaddling them — seems to keep a baby calmer and not crying so much. Probably the baby feels still inside the safety of his mother and not quite born yet. Of course, back in Jesus’ day, you couldn’t go to the store and buy a pretty pink or blue blanket anytime you wanted, so mothers used long, narrow strips of whatever cloth they might have at hand to swaddle their babies.” “Is that what Mary did?” “That’s my guess. She may have been carrying some extra cloth just in case her baby came while she was in Bethlehem, or the Innkeeper if he was kindly, may have

provided some of what she needed. It’s even possible, she and Joseph tore some pieces of their own clothing into strips to provide swaddle for the baby. Now, let’s get you down and see if we can’t make a bed more worthy of the Baby Jesus.” Together, Laurie and Ellie—Ellie perched on a stool— plumped the straw already in the manger with some they added from another stall. Then Aunt Laurie suggested they spread two of her clean towels over the hay mattress and pat them smooth. That done to each of their satisfaction, Laurie reached for a last towel, an old beach towel, and asked Ellie if she was ready. “For what?” answered Ellie. “To be swaddled, of course! Now, arms to your side . . .” Next thing Ellie knew she was wrapped, round and round, shoulder to knees, in the beach towel, and with her aunt’s help, back in the manger. “So how does it feel?” asked Aunt Laurie. “Well, a lot softer than before but I don’t like being swaddled very much.” “Can’t blame you for that! Quick! Let’s get you un-swaddled. Then I need to feed the horses. Want to help?” “Sure, Aunt Laurie. Then will you play Five Buns and Two Fish Sticks with me?” “Say what?” “The Feeding of the Five Thousand!” “Wow!” exclaimed Aunt Laurie, scratching her head. “That’s some kind of Sunday School class you belong to!” “You should know, Aunt Laurie. You’re the teacher!!!!”


Matthew 24 36-44

Week 1: A Surprising Moment

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 27

“But…no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matthew 24:36) My mother worked hard that year to lower my expectations. It didn’t matter if other friends had one. It was just too expensive. I understood that, but I had also come to understand my mother’s tells. If the Atari gaming system really was too much, I knew she would have conveyed the news with an air of somberness, not with that sly grin she couldn’t seem to keep off her lips when I asked. So I knew that year my big gift wish might actually come true, and as my 9th birthday approached my excitement grew until finally the morning came and with it the emergence of that wonderful game-system-size wrapped box. The emotional sequence that followed is something I’ll never forget. As I tore off the wrapping paper, the vision I beheld pressed the pause button on my rising joy. This is not an Atari! What is this? Mom, what’s a Nintendo? It took a while for me to realize what she’d done. What I thought she’d done was taken a short cut, finding some knock off Atari to save a few bucks on fulfilling her son’s birthday wish. What she’d actually done was surprised me with the next thing, which was a better thing — something I’d never even considered that turned out to be better than what I’d imagined. In so many ways, the Gospel story tells us similar things about God’s work in our lives. We ask, we anticipate; we hope, and we have our own ideas about how God ought to come through on all of that in the end. But what if God knows something we don’t know? What if God’s ways are higher than our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts? What if the next thing God has in store for you is surprisingly different than what you’ve come to expect? What if it’s better? As we begin to unwrap this Advent season, may we do so knowing that the God who loves us might just be planning to surprise us with a gift that’s better than what we’ve asked or imagined.

Jason Edwards Senior Pastor


Genesis 8 1-19

Week 1: A Surprising Moment

MONDAY, NOVEMBER 28 But God remembered Noah . . . (Genesis 8:1-12 for focus)

The story of the ark is, by most accounts, one of ultimate promise; the promise of deliverance from a literal or metaphorical flood. What I’ve missed in past readings of this story, however, is the incredible length of time it takes for the promise of deliverance to be fulfilled! With this firmly in mind, it is striking to re-consider this passage from the perspective of Noah: the waiting game, the continual sending of messenger birds to seek dry land only to see them return, the achingly-gradual receding of waters so that the tops of mountains are again visible! This is an almost other-worldly level of patience and trust. And yet, what other choice did he have? Adrift in a literal sea of uncertainty, robbed of any control over an outcome that was already promised is almost liberating when you think about it. In this season of expectancy, we are all waiting; some are waiting patiently, others not so. Each of us is seeking something: answers, direction, a clear path forward through uncertain waters. But our deliverance has been promised! And the promise has been fulfilled! May we cling to our Deliverer with all the faith we can muster, assured of the outcome. Because ultimately, what other choice do we have?

Luke campbell


Psalm 124

Week 1: A Surprising Moment

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 29 Our help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8, Good News Bible) Several times our mission team from Second Baptist prayed for the Lord’s help and protection during our week in Bogota, Colombia last June. Especially was this true the morning we visited a government operated home for forty unwed mothers, ages eleven to twenty. A group like ours had not been to the facility before. We didn’t know how we would be received. We prayed for the Lord to help us. We were surprised when the mothers asked if they could bring their babies in with them. All of a sudden each of us was multitasking. Loulla knitted with a baby asleep in her nap. Kenny entertained a lad with his sun glasses and paper airplanes. Kent held a baby in each arm. I sang every song I have ever sung for my grandson to a beautiful little girl who had probably never heard English before. Suddenly, we were bonding. Later in the morning I assisted some mothers who were laminating their projects and couldn’t help notice they seemed to be talking about me. Not understanding Español, I figured they were saying either, “How old can he be?” or “He has no hair.” I was surprised when the interpreter told me, “They say you have blue eyes. They have never seen blue eyes before!” It was then I saw, all of them had brown eyes. I realized these beautiful creations of God were more observant than I. “Our help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth . . .” and people with brown and blue eyes.

sanford beckett


Week 1: A Surprising Moment

WednesDAY, NOVEMBER 30

Isaiah 54 1-10

My love won’t walk away from you, my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart. The God who has compassion on you says so. (Isaiah 54:10) Can I be completely honest with you? Good. Here goes. The moment of truth. I can be a realistic, over-rational, ENFJ (Extrovert Intuitive Feeling Judging) kind of person. Not that it is good or bad. It is just my natural wiring. Being raised MO Synod Lutheran was comfortable and natural for my black and white mindset. I lived by a two-fold approach: process information and make an informed decision. If this is how I functioned, then I felt that God was just like me. Especially with being omniscient (all knowing nature of God), omnipotent (all powerful nature of God), and omni-present (unlimited nature of God to be everywhere at all times). Talk about processing information and making informed decisions 24/7. For me, all this power that God had, made me fear God. But every once in a while, I had a surprising interaction with those who saw God as love. That even in omniscient, omnipotent, and omni-presence, there was space for God to be a loving God. Talk about surprised! From times worshipping at friends’ churches after a Saturday night sleepover in middle school, to attending church camp with girlfriends in what had to be the hottest place in Kansas in the summer, or to attending my Religion 110 class with Dr. Milton Horne as a first year student at William Jewell — God’s love seemed to be what I was missing. After seven years at Second, I am so relieved that the fear I had of God is gone. I rely on the endless compassion of God and the call for me to extend love. Not judgment. Not being black and white in who deserves grace, love, and care. All means all. I have learned that the allknowing, all powerful, and always present God is love. I may have my moments of doubt about my faithfulness, but I don’t doubt God’s faithfulness for each of us and all people.

Kristin Wooldridge


Psalm 72 1-7, 18-19

Week 1: A Surprising Moment

THURsDAY, DECEMBER 1

May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. (Psalm 72:6, NRSV) When I moved out of my parents’ house, I did not consider the fact that I do not own a lawn mower. I never had to mow my parents’ lawn; it was just always something Dad did. Now, as you can imagine, the lack of a lawn mower suddenly became problematic because I do, in fact, live in a house with a lawn. Blessing of blessings, a neighbor of mine mows my lawn regularly without payment, because he is a nice person who, supposedly, enjoys mowing lawns. As a volunteer living on a small stipend, I’m very thankful for this service. However, one week I noticed that the lawn hadn’t been mowed and so found myself in a very awkward situation. My neighbor is under no obligation to mow my lawn, so I couldn’t really be upset, and also, I was concerned that maybe he was hurt or otherwise negatively inhibited. I, analytic introvert that I am, spent three or four days fretting over how to best address the situation, but caught up in the business of living, ultimately didn’t do anything about it. One night, I traveled to Lawrence with a friend of mine’s band to see their show. We left in the afternoon and didn’t get back until almost 3 in the morning. Tired, walking into my house, I almost didn’t notice the lawn had been mowed! But I jumped for joy when I saw. My neighbor had not forgotten me. Jesus blesses us daily, in little ways. Often more noticeable are the times when we feel we’ve been forgotten. Yet Jesus, under no obligation to take care of us, does so because he loves us. Further, Jesus does not forget us, even if we think he has. May this Advent season be a time for you to remember the ways Jesus blesses you every day.

Abby Bland


Week 1: A Surprising Moment

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 2

Isaiah 30 19-26

This is the way; walk in it…There will be brooks running with water — on a day of the great slaughter when the towers fall. (Isaiah 30:21b, 25) Not all surprises are happy. Sometimes the shock of the unexpected is anything but pleasant. A shocking experience can leave us forever changed. Upheaval like that demands a leveling agent so that we can find our footing and move forward into the new normal. When the towers fall, we cry out for assurance, hope, comfort and direction. On September 11, 2001, the towers fell in New Your City. We were shocked. Our lives were forever changed. We lost our balance. Ironically, on September 11, 2015, the towers fell again, this time in my personal life. The voice said, “The test results are in. I am sorry to tell you…” Those were not the words I wanted to hear. I cried out for assurance, hope, comfort and direction. One day at a time, I heard the voice of God whispering, “This is the way. Keep walking.” I heard the strong, confident, clear voices of medical professionals saying, “This is the next step. Follow where we are leading. We know the way.” I heard the voices of faithful friends praying for me and saying, “We are walking with you. We are in it for the long haul.” All of these voices became one voice — God’s voice. In the Isaiah passage we read today, the people have known, and will know, difficult times — tower falling times. The prophet speaks to them with certainty. God will not be silent or hidden. God will speak and God will provide. God will be gracious. During this Advent Season may we seek to join our voices with the voice of God, offering assurance, hope, comfort and direction to those in the shadow of the towers. After all, God’s great and wonderful Surprise is coming!

TANA CLEMENT


John 1 19-28

Week 1: A Surprising Moment

SaturDAY, DECEMBER 3

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. 20He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.” (John 1:19-20) I wonder who was more surprised: John finding that religious leaders thought he was Messiah; or those same leaders who didn’t get the response they expected…or hoped for? There are two perspectives at work here. The Establishment’s way of life and power was threatened by a coming Messiah. John was ready for the change Messiah would bring…to the point of helping people get ready by baptizing, as well as his own proclamation of Jesus’s coming. More and more these days it seems we face the choice either to keep things the way they are or to accept change in order to move forward. As our faith matures, we face this choice each Advent. Preparing for Messiah is a choice we must make, and following Him after Christmas has its own difficult set of choices. No matter our choices, the “priests and Levites” and “Johns” of this world will ask us to explain ourselves. However their questions are asked, they boil down to deciding and articulating who we’re following and why. We are given time in Advent to make a choice about the Messiah and to create our response of explanation. Like John’s, may our response surprise those who ask (and, perhaps, feel threatened). May our words and actions become a testimony for the one “whose sandal we are not worthy to untie.” And remember, that sandal belongs not only to Jesus, but all He was born to save.

David Fulk


Week 2: A Surprising Leader

SunDAY, DECEMBER 4

Matthew 3 1-12

But God sent John to tell his people something important: John said, “I have good news — the Rescuer is coming! Make your hearts ready for him. Yes! Get ready, because your King is coming back for you.” (Matthew 3:3, The Jesus Storybook Bible) This fall our youngest, Henry, started kindergarten. With both boys at school, I had time on my hands — time I hadn’t had since I became a stay-at-home mom. I needed a project to keep me busy as I walked through this major transition. So, I’ve been painting. First the family room and then the kitchen. Next was the long upstairs hallway and then the dining room. The thing about painting is this: if you want it to look good, you have to take the time to prepare the walls before you paint. You have to take the pictures and curtains down, patch the nail holes, wait for them to dry, sand them, vacuum the dust and wipe down the walls. Next is taping the trim. All this and you haven’t even dipped a brush in the paint yet. I don’t like this part of the painting process. Yet each time I pull the tape off and stand in the middle of another freshly painted room, I am glad I took the time to prepare. In this passage, John tells the crowds that Jesus is coming. The Jesus Storybook Bible says, “Make your hearts ready for him.” During Advent, I need to prepare. I think the thing about Advent for me is this: if I want my heart to be ready for Jesus, I have to put in the time preparing before Christmas Day. For me this means time spent in prayer and Scripture. Yet, I know myself and I won’t necessarily do it. And so, as I type this in October, I ask my December self (the one that’s busy and overwhelmed): “Are you taking the time to prepare your heart for Jesus? Get ready, because your King is coming back for you.”

Heather Lewis


1 Thessalonians

4:1-12

Week 2: A Surprising Leader

MONDAY, DECEMBER 5 … work with your hands … (1 Thessalonians 4:11) A Surprising Artist

Included in my boyhood memories are the Christmas yard signs my Dad constructed. First, he would create the design on paper. Then, working in the basement or garage, he would paint the design on 4’x8’ plywood. Dad was not an artist, so the scenes were not elaborate but very neat. A Christmas message was stenciled and painted on the board, “Peace On Earth” or “Unto Us A Child Is Born” or “Joy to the World.” I would usually help to stake the sign securely in the front yard. The last task was to place a single floodlight to illumine the sign. I don’t remember strings of outdoor lights, wreaths or yard decorations. Only a homemade sign and a solitary floodlight. With Dad, the sign was never finished. He continually repainted, added glitter, and touched up. And the floodlight required vigilant attention. The message of the sign was dark without the floodlight. Looking back, I think the signs were Dad’s Christmas cards to be shared with all who drove or walked past. Even more, the signs were metaphors of his life. Dad lived to proclaim the Gospel message. His humble, earnest efforts were illumined by a light — the light.

ANDREW PRATT


Week 2: A Surprising Leader

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6

Romans 15 14-21

“Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.” (Romans 15:21) In these verses, Paul is writing about preaching and converting the gentiles. I am sure it was a surprise to his peers that he was doing this. He said that he was led to do it by the grace of God. He would do it until every gentile had heard about Jesus and believed. I recently have been going thru some of my dad’s papers and I have been surprised at what I’ve found. He was involved in many civic projects over the years with the Clay County Historical Society. Some of these projects I was aware of, others I was not. One project was a class reunion of students and teachers who attended Mt. Gilead School. This was a one room school that he and his siblings attended. I began to count the number of thank you cards and letters Dad received for leading and organizing the reunion. They were too numerous to count. During his career with the Department of Defense and into his retirement, he was always a leader. As I stated earlier I was amazed and surprised by the number of accolades and thanks he received from people for his leadership. In his retirement years he wanted to tell about the history of the area. He just had a passion and a calling for it. During this Advent season how will each of us be surprised by someone else? And who will WE surprise with how we show and share the grace and salvation that is given to us through the birth of Jesus Christ?

DREW KINGERY


Psalm 21

Week 2: A Surprising Leader

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 7 “… He wanted a good life; you gave it to him …” (Psalm 21:4) A King’s Life What would it take to make your life a good life? Of course each of us would have a different answer or list of things it might involve. Would you need to add something to make it good? Would you need something removed for it to be good? Would it be something tangible or intangible? The king in this Psalm surely enjoyed a good life. Everything mentioned that touched his life was a good thing. He credits all of the “good” as a gift from God. We know there are many Psalms that are laments where the writer will pour his heart out about all the things that are not good. Not this time. Here is something we shouldn’t miss, “… Show your strength, GOD, so no one can miss it.” For the writer, whatever is good is good for this reason, so that God’s strength is evident. He realizes it isn’t really for him. He realizes it is to accomplish God’s purposes. Grateful, yes. Confused, no. Surely if a king can recognize that blessings and saving-help come from God, we can too. Maybe in this season of Advent, a time that is sometimes difficult for all of us, we should take a “king’s inventory.” What good things are in our lives? How do we see God saving us? Just as the king trusts in God, how many things could we list as ways and places we simply entrust to God? Recognizing the good in our lives will be a blessing to us and hopefully, make God smile.

CONNIE mCNEILL


Week 2: A Surprising Leader

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 8

Psalm 146 5-10

Yihla Moja. In Afrikaans, these two words translate as “Come Spirit”; a chorus and prayer in one. In 1981, Peter Gabriel was poised on the precipice of a musical era that was about to give way to a new use of electronica. He had carefully packed his suitcase, both literally and figuratively, and was ready to take on a leadership role that would drive pop and rock music for the decade to come. Security heralded Gabriel’s emergence as a leader in the creative application of studio technology, experimental music structures, innovative use of electronica, and music as activist. Five years prior to the release of Security, South African anti-Apartheid leader Steve Biko was arrested in Port Elizabeth. Interrogated for 22 hours, he endured savage beatings and torture that resulted in a brain hemorrhage. Biko died from his injuries weeks later, naked and shackled to a jail cell, never having received treatment. It was a costly price for leadership. When Gabriel began recording the album that included his homage to Biko, he literally “unpacked” a suitcase that contained various soundscapes recorded on hand held players; mix tape technology. One of these was a chant from the funeral procession of the slain leader. Fitted with the words from that chant and using a driving rhythm from a drumming clip recorded by a friend, Gabriel sat down to create. Believing that rhythm was not only the spine of musical structure, he used non-European pulse-like patterns to drive the composition. He viewed his task as putting together pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, with each unique piece as integral as the backbone itself. The construct was powerful, mesmerizing, and honestly humble; forgetting neither the sacredness of process, the subject matter, nor the listener. I cried the first time I heard this piece. I was scarcely out of grade school, yet I felt the power of its message in my marrow. In Jesus CEO, Laurie Beth Jones keenly points out that Christ had an Alpha and Omega style of leadership; one that harnessed both the creative and the innovative. She unabashedly writes that the best and most effective leaders not only have a deep commitment to the calling while giving people a vision of something larger than self, but that they have a deep commitment to the value and nurture of the seeds. With God, love is always at the heart of the plan. Steve Biko believed that every human was a valuable seed, regardless of the false tape loop of society’s “mediocrity of consciousness.” I am grateful for a Creator who provides us with ceaseless opportunity to pack the correct equipment and the courage to open the lid. Come Spirit. Yihla Moja.

Michelle Cook


Ruth 4 13-17

Week 2: A Surprising Leader

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9 Blessed be the lord who has not left you this day… (Ruth 4:13)

How often have you let one of life’s disappointments consume you? It can be so easy to let disappointment trickle down and affect us mentally, physically — emotionally. I can name several times during which I felt God had forgotten about me. The loss of a job and the uncertainty that presented for our family. The pressures of selling homes in a down market and the financial implications associated with it. The unexpected medical diagnosis of a child and the crippling fear that never quite goes away. Where was God during those times? Why had God left me? What lessons was I supposed to learn during these moments? What has kept me going in each of these scenarios is HOPE. The hope of something better to come. The hope of happy memories yet to be made. The hope of healing and of helping others overcome similar struggles. In this passage, we read about Naomi’s bitterness, misfortune, even emptiness, she felt God had caused in her life. Life was desolate and disappointing, but hope settled in when her daughterin-law, Ruth, insisted on staying with her until the end. I’ve overcome many of life’s disappointments with the help of others. Encouraging words from family and friends. Help in the forms of extra hands and meals appearing at my doorsteps. Love expressed in handwritten notes. Faith in knowing that happiness will re-appear, even if it’s a different sort of ‘happy.’ And, of course, hope in the form of a God who has never left my side. As with Ruth and Naomi, where there is friendship and love there can also be happy endings. Let us work to find opportunities this Advent season to share our gifts of friendship and love with those who need it most so that they, too, can experience a God who has never, will never, leave their side.

Carrie baRTLOW


Week 2: A Surprising Leader

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 10

Luke 3 1-18

A voice of one calling in the desert, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.” (Luke 3:4-5) Outside of my day-to-day title as “Miss Yohe,” I occasionally have the joy of having the title of “Hostess.” I love to host people for birthday celebrations, game nights, and my personal favorite, holidays. I lived with two other girls in a 750-square-foot apartment my first year of teaching in Colombia. We invited four Colombian families into our home for Thanksgiving, three of which would be celebrating Thanksgiving for the first time. For their first Thanksgiving we tried to prepare all our favorites: pumpkin pie, pumpkin ice cream, stuffing, and of course, plenty of turkey. We were excited to share this day with people who were so special to us. Without a car we purchased the two turkeys and placed them in our bike baskets. Then biked down the highway home. Cooking the turkeys was quite comical! One was cooked in our oven and the other in my aunt’s oven, which was five flights down from our apartment, across the street, and up four flights of stairs. All morning long we went back and forth, setting up, carrying, washing, running, laughing, and basting the turkey. Have you ever seen someone carry a Thanksgiving turkey across the street and up five flights of stairs? These preparations would have meant nothing without the guests. They were important to us and they were the reason behind it all. In the midst of all our plans and preparations we can easily lose sight of our purpose. During Advent, our purpose is to prepare for the Lord. It’s less about us, and more about Christ. It’s less about the menus we plan and more about the One we are preparing for. We are about to celebrate Christ’s birth. Let us prepare our hearts for this holiday season and the birth of Christ. How will you prepare?

MEGAN YOHE


Matthew 11 2-11

Week 3: A Surprising Question

SunDAY, DECEMBER 11

As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet?”(Matthew 11:7-9) As we spend this season focusing on the Surprise of Advent, in the question above from Matthew, the people seemed surprised that John the Baptist would be the one to foretell Jesus’ coming. Maybe they were surprised that this rough, wilderness man would be the one. He didn’t wear soft robes, wasn’t soft spoken, and didn’t live in a palace. Jesus responds that they shouldn’t be surprised at what they found since they went to the wilderness to seek him. In a similar way, I am often surprised by the wisdom shared by the youngest voices around me. It’s amazing the personal stories and questions I hear from my 8 and 6-year-old daughters, from the back seat of the car, the dinner table, or the bed side. I smile quietly or take a deep breath to keep from getting teary, to respond to comments and questions like: “Some friends on the bus don’t talk to me.” “There’s this boy I really like. He’s my boyfriend. He doesn’t know that.” “I need to add a 27th item to my Christmas list. You don’t need to go buy it – Santa will.” “I want to be a Christian. How do I do that?” I love talking it through with the girls, hearing their solutions – or learning they don’t seek answers; they just want to say it out loud to someone. I love the sweet surprise of their unguarded conversations and the ideas to continue pondering. What a gift they are to take me out of my busy, grown-up worries for a moment, and allow me to relish the Surprise.

Laura Rodgers


Week 3: A Surprising Question

Psalm 42

MonDAY, DECEMBER 12 Why, my soul, are you downcast? (Psalm 42:11) The scripture selected for today is Psalm 42. I have decided to focus on the eleventh verse, specifically the first half of it: “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” I don’t know about you but for me, after a long, eventful year, sometimes, it can be hard to find the holiday spirit. The time of year does not erase the weariness one can feel in their soul. There is also a follow up question “Why so disturbed within me?” While the questions hang in the air, the author delivers the punch line, “Put your hope in God…” The verse begins with probing the soul with two questions and then provides the answer. Interestingly, the relationship between the soul and hope is expressed in undeniable terms. You are downcast because your hope is not in God. There is a very if/then feel to this passage. It is almost axiomatic. If your soul is downcast, put your hope in God. The Psalmist understands that the soul can become inexplicably troubled and not only commiserates but gives us the answer. I find the question surprising in its depth and subtlety. The listener is asked to consider their soul’s condition and then given the explanation for it. Hope is the drink the soul thirsts for (“As the deer pants for streams of water,”—first verse) and God is the source. Generations of Jews sang this prayer, asking the question and hearing the answer. Then one day God put the living answer into the world. The hope of generations, of the world, brought to fruition and unimaginable joy is the result. This Advent Season please allow hope to renew your soul and connect you to the joy the birth of our Savior brought into our world.

Gary Smith


Ezekiel 47 1-12

Week 3: A Surprising Question

TuesDAY, DECEMBER 13

“Every living creature that swarms will be able to live wherever this stream goes…” (Ezekiel 47:9) Advent Dreaming Surprise doesn’t quite describe it. Shock comes closer. Had we been around, we probably would have thought Ezekiel a madman. Anyone who has been to Israel’s Dead Sea can imagine the insanity of the prophet’s words. The culmination of Ezekiel’s grand vision of restoration is the Temple with God’s presence returned to it (Ezekiel 40-47) and a river that flows eastward from beneath its gates. The water, deepening every 1,000 cubits, flows eastward down into the desert, transforming the salty Dead Sea into fresh water. What once was a barren wasteland becomes a rich, verdant paradise. Life replaces death; color replaces monochrome; swarms of living creatures surround all; the joyful hum of life overpowers the hot, dry stillness. With the glory of God having now returned to his house, precious and sweet, life-restoring water gushes into the wasteland. Literally, though, visions are meaningless; we know better than to take them so seriously. We can only guess how Ezekiel himself was received. Dreams are at their most suggestive, though, when we pay attention to them as symbols, as figures that infuse imagination and possibility into our own dull, confined lives. These flowing waters are the harbinger of God’s advent into this world. The transformation of a desert into a playground calls forth hopes of resurrection and renewal. The change of the Dead Sea into fresh water incites possibility where only impossibility reigns. Such is the vision of the Advent of Christ. When we sing the Advent songs we are celebrating new possibility: renewal of life at every death-dealing corner, hope when all rationality fails. Happy Advent Dreaming! Happy Advent living!

Milton Horne


Week 3: A Surprising Question

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 14

Zechariah 8 1-17

“I will return to Jerusalem and live there on Mount Zion. Then Jerusalem will be known as my faithful city, and Zion will be known as my holy mountain.” (Zechariah 8:3) The hustle and bustle of the Christmas season often brings us all sorts of surprises. Some are welcomed; others, not so much! For example, I dearly love to be with family. We are small in number and scattered across the United States so we don’t get to be together very often. When I find out that all of us can be in the same place together for a holiday meal, that’s a great surprise! However, when it snows so much that many of our travel plans have to be canceled, I’m crushed. Last year, when our church was able to include a ham for each family at the Christmas Store, that surprise brought great tears of joy for all of us. When I think of a surprise, it often includes the unexpected. Our Christmas Story is full of surprise: Did Mary expect to be riding on a donkey while nine months pregnant? Did the innkeeper expect to have someone birth a child in his barn? Did the shepherds expect to see something different in the sky that night? Looking at Zechariah 8, we see a real contrast. As the people of Israel looked to the past, they saw judgment; as they looked to the future, they saw blessing. Previous times had been hard, but the future held fruitfulness and comfort. A blessed surprise! Perhaps there are elements from this past year that have been difficult or unexpected for you. As you see 2016 come to a close, it can be great comfort to realize that there can be hope in the future days ahead. The promise of God’s faithfulness can surprise you with tidings of great joy.

Gwen PHillips


Psalm 80 1-7; 17-19

Week 3: A Surprising Question

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 15 Restore us, O God . . . (Psalm 80:3a)

Maybe it is because I am writing this in late September and we are still suffering through the election season, but I can’t help but notice the people of Israel in this passage keep demanding that God should, “Make Israel great again.” Repeatedly, the Psalmist tells us that God has made life miserable for them and He should simply, “Restore us, O God,” or “Make His face to shine upon us, then we will be saved.” The surprise for the people of Israel was that God came, and Jesus didn’t meet their expectation. The surprise for the people of Israel was that God wasn’t interested in making the nation of Israel great again. He was interested solely in their souls. My Chief of Staff at the Embassy in Baghdad was a retired Marine General — surprisingly, the sweetest person I’ve ever met. He sang a hymn at my “going home” ceremony and I told him he had done more to change my opinion about the Marines than anybody since Gomer Pyle. “Surprise, surprise, surprise!” as Gomer always said on TV. Life is full of surprises; some good, some bad. The best surprise for us is the same surprise that Mary had when she was blessed by the coming of a Savior. She didn’t ask for or expect the Savior, but she did have to be receptive. As we await the surprise of Christmas, let’s not follow the example of Israel in this passage. Let’s not demand that God “make us great again.” Instead, let’s be humble enough to recognize the star in the East and make the trek to Jesus, then be receptive to whatever surprises are ahead.

Steve Hemphill


Week 3: A Surprising Question

FriDAY, DECEMBER 16

2 Samuel 7 18-22

“Who am I Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?” (2 Samuel 7:18) Several years ago my family loaded up on Christmas Day and began the trek from Missouri to Texas. We breezed through the first four hours of the trip, scoffing at reports that ominous weather might be encroaching on our drive. Thirty minutes later, snowflakes began hitting the windshield. I shrugged it off. Channeling my Alaska days, I gripped the wheel as the path before me went white. Hours later we reached a roadblock and were told only AWD vehicles could pass. I would not give up hope of reaching Texas before day’s end. Finding an alternate route through even more remote Arkansas back roads, I guided the Camry in a new direction. Snow drifts were rising and we ended up in a ditch. It was a day when the best of humanity shone through. Strangers helping strangers was the norm. People pushed and pulled our car and we pushed and pulled theirs. After 13 hours, we reached the second path that would lead us to Texas. We had made it! I was going to get my family to Texas on Christmas night. Imagine my disappointment when, again, we were turned away because the road was too treacherous to pass. How could this be? We had traveled so far. We had worked so hard. I had hoped so deeply. The day did not go as I planned. But, don’t worry. We didn’t spend Christmas night in our Camry on the side of a snow bank. God was with us, as God always is, in the ditch and in the disappointment and in the hope that someone would help us. Hotels aren’t an option in remote Arkansas, but thanks be to God for our dear friends Bryan and Sabra Boyd. Hearing we were stuck in yet another snowbank, they rescued us. They provided us with steaks and offered us the love and warmth all should experience on Christmas. It was a surprising ending to that day, but a reminder that God is always with me, even if the direction my life or the circumstances that arise are not what I had hoped or planned. I was and continue to be filled with gratitude that God brought us that far. When you examine your life and where God has brought you, what are you grateful for this Advent season?

Christy Edwards


John 3 31-36

Week 3: A Surprising Question

SaturDAY, DECEMBER 17 . . . for God gives the Spirit without limit. (John 3:34b)

My first pastor, Reverend Earl Sturgess, was a great preacher who loved prodding his flock in new directions. For instance, inspiring them to build a sanctuary-in-the-round— John Knox Kirk Presbyterian Church in South Kansas City. It would be a place where Earl Sturgess enjoyed imparting his own personal wisdom along with what he received daily from the Scriptures. In particular, I remember him speaking from the pulpit one December Sunday morning, and me smiling then, as I smile now when I think back on it. The gist of Earl’s sermon? Don’t give your pastor a Bible for Christmas. Give him—her-- a Partridge in a Pear Tree. Something he or she wouldn’t expect in a million Christmases. Something to make him or her feel surprised; profoundly amused. Something that might cause your pastor a laugh out loud-- renewed in spirit. A flashlight, maybe. Something to brighten the dark night even pastors experience! Jesus was exactly that kind of gift to humankind — a surprise package far exceeding the centuries-old, expectations folks had heard prophesized, but scarcely understood; could never have imagined. A gift designed by our Creator to give us pause. A present divinely inside the box and outside the box. A Baby in a Manger. All He was supposed to be, but even more. A Bible AND a Partridge in a Pear Tree.

Dick Wright


Week 4: A Surprising Pregnancy

SunDAY, DECEMBER 18

Matthew 1 18-25

Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23) I am thinking that maybe I am not experienced enough to join our church’s Advent-writing crew, but I have done so with encouragement. This noble cause makes me study more about how to write better. My Christmas always begins by viewing the Christmas lighting ceremony and singing on the Plaza on Thanksgiving evening. I love listening to people sing and love singing myself—all year round. Sometimes I sing and practice my voice while I do dishes, even though I’m considered noisy by my husband, Tim. I sing country, folk, children’s songs, and hymns. In December, I especially love singing Christmas carols. I have sung as a solo, “Oh Holy Night,” at several Korean Churches, and once, my mother and I sang it together at Second’s Senior Christmas Luncheon. When I was between 8 and 13 years old, I remember playing Mary in a Christmas play called “Baby Jesus and Three Wise Men.” It is an unforgettable memory for me and was also for my Mom who is now in Heaven. These Matthew Bible verses explain how Mary conceived baby Jesus. They are key to the whole Bible, which is “good news” for all who believe. “Behold” means to see or observe an especially remarkable or impressive event. A surprising one! There is plenty of reason Matthew used the word, “Behold.” He is strongly asking us to surmise — to take in — this remarkable event. Immanuel, “God with us,” is possibly the best way to refer to Jesus and to summarize His coming to Earth, according to Kendall Easley, author of “The Illustrated Guide to Biblical History.” The name Immanuel had been prophesized in Isaiah 7:14. Then in Matthew 1:23, the fulfillment of God’s promise through the birth of Christ is proclaimed. After this amazing event — we ARE with God.

Eun Dobbins Editor’s note: Thanks, Eun. Your writing couldn’t be better!


Genesis 17 15-22

Week 4: A Surprising Pregnancy

MonDAY, DECEMBER 19 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed. (Genesis 17:17)

“I am not moving to Missouri.” These words were heard more than once when my husband suggested he apply for a job in Excelsior Springs. I was, and still am, a mama’s girl. Although I hadn’t lived close to my mom since I had moved away for college, I’d never been more than a few hours away from her. The idea of living halfway across the country from her was just ridiculous. When he received an invitation to interview for the position, I echoed my protest again. “I’m still not moving to Missouri.” And again, all the way from our home in Florida to Missouri for the interview. In fact, this was my mantra right up until the day we packed the first box to move . . . to Missouri. And then, I laughed. At first, it was a nervous laughter which eventually gave way to a full-on incredulous cackle. It was a laughter which I suppose was not unlike that of Abraham when God told him that Sarah would bear a son — a laughter of surprise, disbelief, and perhaps even a spark of hope. Just when we think we have experienced all of the surprises God has to offer, another delightful marvel is already in the works. For our family, it is the joys of vocation and community that came as a result of our move to Missouri. For Abraham and Sarah, it was a long-awaited child for which they had given up hope. God still surprises us, often when we least expect it. During this season of Advent, may we be open to the glorious curiosities in store for us and ready for a burst of joyous laughter.

Kim Halfhill  


Week 4: A Surprising Pregnancy

TuesDAY, DECEMBER 20

1 Samuel 2 1-10

“Hannah prayed: I’m bursting with God-news! I’m walking on air.” (1 Samuel 2:1, The Message) Francene, a well-loved doll, lay in her battered red trunk waiting for the next invitation to play. Or, so the young girl thought. The doll’s hair was matted and ragged, her arm hung limply at her side, and her eyes no longer opened or closed together. The early hours of Christmas morning found the girl anxiously waiting for her parents to dress so she could hurry downstairs to the tree. As young as she was, she knew the year had been difficult financially and health wise for her family, yet she believed there would be gifts. Finally, her dad was ready, and the magic of Christmas could begin. By the tree, the girl immediately spied a doll with beautiful golden hair her mother called Shirley Temple curls. Beside the doll sat a black patent leather valise filled with clothes lovingly sewn by her mother just for this doll, just for this moment. With a cry of delight the girl cried, “I must find Francene. These clothes will fit her, too, and the dolls can be friends.” “Wait a minute,” said her mother. “Remember how Francene needed some “tender loving care” to fix her hair, her eyes, and her arm? Well, this is Francene, the doll you love, the doll you have carried around as your friend since you learned to walk. She is home from the doll hospital just in time for Christmas.” Puzzled, the girl carefully studied the transformed doll. Soon her surprise gave way to recognition as she held the doll close remembering their good times together. The mother smiled realizing all was well. The girl and her doll would have many play days ahead. My mother’s love, planning and sacrifice brought great Christmas joy that morning, enough for not only that day, but the next 60 years of my life. Today’s scripture in The Message refers to Hannah’s joy at Samuel’s birth and consecration as “Godnews!” This Christmas and throughout the new year, may we remember and celebrate the “God-news”

in our lives as we strive to be the joy in others’ lives. Amen.

Carroll Makemson


Matthew 1 1-17

Week 4: A Surprising Pregnancy

WednesDAY, DECEMBER 21

“There were fourteen generations from Abraham to David. There were also fourteen from David to the exile in Babylonia and fourteen more to the birth of the Messiah.” (Matthew 1:17) “Where are you from?” asked the British border control agent. Maybe it was because I hadn’t slept on the flight across the ocean to London, but since I had already handed him my American passport, I thought it was a dumb question. “The U.S.A.,” I answered. “No,” he replied, “where are you from?” The fact that he had emphasized “from” really didn’t help me much, so I responded in kind, but this time a bit slower. “The U . . . S . . . A.” He scowled at me and asked a third time, “Where are you from?” Fortunately, another student traveling with me from William Jewell College intervened, saying, “He wants to know what airport we flew in from.” “Oh,” I said, “We’re coming in from Kennedy in New York.” With that, and a few other perfunctory questions, his arrival stamp thudded on my passport, and I was admitted to England for a year of study at Cambridge University. That memory has stuck with me for nearly 30 years. That’s because the experience was not really about the ministerial task of passing through an immigration checkpoint. It represents the supreme importance of knowing where we’re from before we can get to where we are going. The writer of the Gospel of Matthew understands this phenomenon. Of course, the Gospel chronicles Jesus’ life: His birth, His ministry, His miracles, His sacrifice, and His resurrection. But it begins with 17 verses exhaustively recounting 42 generations of Jesus’ ancestry. Those first 17 verses are an unmistakable reminder that we can’t really understand Jesus without understanding from where — and from whom — He came. That’s an important lesson for our lives, too. We need to remember that we are all children of the almighty God, formed in God’s own image. We are God’s great creation, and our lives will only reach their intended destination if we remember that we come from a loving and righteous God.

Eric Zahnd


Week 4: A Surprising Pregnancy

ThursDAY, DECEMBER 22

Isaiah 33 17-22

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar. (Isaiah 33:17) God’s Natural Surprise Pregnancies Well it’s winter, just three days until Christmas. Our attention is centered on keeping warm, getting those last minute Christmas gifts bought, and being sure we have everything for Christmas dinner. We should be thinking about the true meaning of Christmas but let’s face it, we have three more days until we celebrate the end of Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of our Savior. As I read the Isaiah passage I kept thinking how to tie this into the week’s emphasis of “Surprise Pregnancy.” I kept reading the passage “Your eyes will see the king in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar.” The King in his beauty. Many of you know that I grew up on the farm and as I think about the beauty of God I think about all the wonders of nature and especially the wonders of farming. You can’t farm and not know that there is a God. A God who not only cares about us but cares for all of his creation. As you farm you are dependent on God and you are dependent on new life. During winter you prepare for spring and the expectations of things to come. The best memories are those of going out to the barn early in the morning and being surprised by the birth of the first lamb of the season and knowing that God is good. Or going to the back pasture to check on the cattle and being surprised to find that first baby calf. Even though you expect new life, each time you find a new calf or a new lamb it is a pleasant surprise. An example that God’s doing his work. So it is today, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas, we know that God is doing his work. Are we being expectant? Are we looking to see God’s work? Do our eyes see the King in his beauty and view a land that stretches afar? Mary was surprised by her pregnancy, yet she accepted it with anticipation. May this Christmas bring us much anticipation for doing God’s work.

Larry Jones


Luke 1 46b-55

Week 4: A Surprising Pregnancy

FriDAY, DECEMBER 23 “My soul glorifies the Lord . . . “ (Luke 1:46b)

When David and I learned we were expecting twins, we wrestled with this change in our plans. We wondered what would it mean for our family, future, and even day-to-day logistics. But time and experience quickly wove this surprise into the fabric of our thoughts and identity as parents. While our circumstances can’t compare with the magnitude of the news that changed Mary’s life, she seemed to experience similar stages of acceptance during Gabriel’s visit. She wrestled with the news — worried by Gabriel’s presence and likely about how her pregnancy would affect her family and future. Luke tells us she wondered about her physical condition by asking, “How can this be?” I have to believe that among other things, she also wondered why she was chosen and how she would parent the Savior! As Gabriel left, however, she was already humbly weaving the news into her identity, which is demonstrated in today’s passage. Wrestle, wonder, weave. Ironically, I experienced these stages merely in studying Mary’s song! First I wrestled with it. It’s beautiful, but (dare I say?) “boring” in these opening chapters full of surprises and memorable stories. Besides, I’ve always thought Mary’s words portray her as unrealistic and preachy. She sounds more like a prophet than an excited young mom. Reading her words repeatedly, I began to wonder. How had God quietly prepared her for this moment and her unique mission? How could she see “the big picture” so clearly — knowing and trusting the prophecies given to past generations and claiming that God’s promise to turn the world upside down had already occurred? Could she sing “my SOUL glorifies the Lord” because her innermost being was still in awe of God’s plan even though her head was consumed with questions and fears? Mary’s example prompted me to ask difficult questions. Can I truly rejoice in God’s plan when it doesn’t match my own? Do I know scripture well enough to claim its hope and peace during uncertain times? How often do I step back to see beyond myself? Beyond today? Beyond this year? Perhaps her song could be life-changing if I would allow it to weave new habits into the fabric of my life. God, teach me to trust only You and not my own hopes and fears. Fill me with a passion to absorb Your Word even more. Open my eyes to what You want me to see and do in Your kingdom. And always . . . keep me singing.

Angie Fuller


Christmas Eve: A surprise Delivery

SaturDAY, DECEMBER 24 CHRISTMAS EVE

Luke 2 1-20

When the shepherds saw him, they told them what the angel had said about the child. All who heard were amazed at what the shepherds said. Mary remembered all these things and thought deeply about them. The shepherds went back, singing praises to God for they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them. (Luke 2:17-20) I have had to anticipate a lot this past year. I know that may sound bizarre, especially for a fourteen-year-old girl, but it’s true. I’ve anticipated the final season of “Downton Abbey,” the “Gilmore Girls” remake, test results, playing at a concert, and of course, Christmas Eve. To me, Christmas is the best holiday of all because it’s socially acceptable to wear tacky sweaters, decorate our homes with creepy elves, listen to sappy music, and eat food with faces on it. Christmas Eve traditions at the Gillespie household include following the NORAD Santa tracker (yes, it is a real thing), celebrating with family friends, and me doing a final present shake while my parents are asleep. All of this anticipation reminds me of Jesus’ birth, and the prophesized, though still surprising miracle He was — a Messiah — a star who came to save us from our sins. Often it takes supporting roles to create a star. For instance, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in “Harry Potter;” Dr. Watson in “Sherlock Holmes”; Gandalf in “Lord of the Rings.” Many played important parts in our Messiah’s story, too — Mary and Joseph, wise men, shepherds, the innkeeper, citizens of Bethlehem — an event created by God through a young pregnant woman, a nation’s census, a stable, and the manger where our Savior lay. All of these lives, their stories, AND Jesus, are why we rejoice this same day every year in honor of Him. It was Mary’s destiny to give birth to Jesus and allow her son, not her, to shine. We can’t all bask in the spotlight, but we can spark others’ flames. It was Mary’s responsibility to do so for our Savior. Our star.

Elizabeth Gillespie


Hebrews 1 1-12

Christmas Day: The Element of Surprise

SunDAY, DECEMBER 25 CHRISTMAS Day “Let all God’s angels worship him.” (Hebrews 1:6b)

Surprise is a master of disguise, a method actor who used to run the local theater in town before she retired last year. Now, she wrap gifts at Dillard’s customer service counter. She’s a tiny thing with a loud voice, which is why you can’t always see her coming, but Lord knows, you can tell when she’s arrived. Surprise loves rainbows and snowstorms and a good crowd, especially when recounting her best stories. She still gives herself goosebumps every time she tells the one about that Virgin birth she attended, all those years ago. While she keeps a full calendar throughout the year, Surprise is especially busy during the holidays. She and her sister, Joy, attend every elementary school Christmas concert and family dinner they possibly can, though sometimes Joy is a no-show. On those nights, her neighbors Loneliness, Anxiety, and Judgement invite themselves along. Knowing they will stay well past their welcome, long after the last Christmas decoration is put away, she sneaks out early to avoid all the drama they cause. God is especially fond of Surprise, and regularly asks her to visit those who have forgotten why we are here. A few years ago, God gave her wings, though she rarely wears them. She prefers to walk along the streets and sidewalks with the rest of us. That way, she says, her chances are better for bumping into those who rarely seek her out anymore.

Jennifer Huffman


Reflections and Notes


Advent 2016 Worship Services November 27 (First Sunday of Advent) : 8:30a & 11a

A Surprising Moment

December 4 (Second Sunday of Advent) : 8:30a & 11a A Surprising Leader

December 11 (Third Sunday of Advent) : 8:30a & 11a A Surprising Question

December 18 (Fourth Sunday of Advent) : 8:30a & 11a A Surprising Pregnancy

December 24 (Christmas Eve) : 5p & 9p A Surprise Delivery

December 25 (Christmas Day) : 11a only The Element of Surprise

January 1 (First Sunday after Christmas): 11a only A Surprising Move

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2bcliberty.org/advent

2BC 2016 Advent Devotional  

Our talented team of writers and editors have poured prayer, thought and creativity into this year's Advent booklet with the theme "Surprise...

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