WEEK 1: CANDLE OF HOPE
2021 Union Church Advent Devotional
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT
1st Sunday of Advent
November 28, 2021
The Incarnation & Hope
READ Luke 1: 5-25
18 Zechariah asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” 19 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time.” Luke 1:18-19
I always feel a little bad for Zechariah when I read Luke 1. He was struck mute simply because he doubted the angel Gabriel’s words. Now I’m pretty sure that if I was in his situation I would have tried to keep my doubts to myself. But on the other hand, I can understand what Zechariah might be thinking. “Gabriel are you sure you got the right family? My wife and I are pretty old. We’ve been childless for a long time. I’m just a run-of-the-mill priest. Elizabeth and I aren’t anything special. A miracle… really… for us?”
Today is the first Sunday of Advent. The day where we traditionally think about how Christ brings hope to the world. And I’ve found in my own experience that disappointment is one of the biggest killers to hope that there is. The poet, Emily Dickinson, once wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul.” If that’s true, then it might be equally true that disappointment is the thing that does a real good job at pulling those feathers out of hope so it no longer can fly.
Most of my kids love stuffed animals. They all have large bins filled with them. They’ve given them all names, they play with them, they often hold them tight at night to soothe themselves as they prepare to sleep. But two summers ago, when Covid was shutting everything down and vacations, visits to and from our extended family, and life as we know it was all getting canceled, those stuffed animals didn’t cut it. I saw first hand in my family how disappointment could eat away at hope.
So what did we do? We got a pandemic puppy. A new addition to our household that changed everything. There is something about a real pet that a stuffed animal can never compete with. A real dog and stuffed dog are both soft, they are both cuddly, they are both cute, but the real dog is interesting in a way that a stuffed dog can never be. The real dog does the unexpected and when it cuddles up next to you or comes up to be near you, the love you feel is hard to put into words.
I think that it’s easy for us to be like Zechariah. The weight of disappointments in life can sometimes feel very oppressive. But I believe the incarnation of Jesus, God coming to earth, is a gift that has the ability to rekindle even the greatest feelings of hopelessness. In 1 Peter 1:3-4 we read that Christ brings a special kind of hope. Not just a run of the mill ho-hum kind of hope. No, Jesus brings a living hope. He brings new life. He brings an inheritance that cannot fade. He brings the unexpected and a kind of love that is sometimes hard to put into words...much more than even a pandemic puppy can bring!
Advent Prayer/ Candle of Hope
We invite you today and in the devotions this week to light the Advent Candle of Hope.
Heavenly Father, we thank you this day for the gift of Jesus, who brings hope into even the most hopeless situations. Help us remember the hope that is always present in and through Christ. Hear us now Lord, as we offer up to you our own disappointments and concerns, (all the things we allow to get in the way of the hope that can be found in you). Thank you God for caring so deeply about each and every one of these
In Christ’s name we pray. Amen
By Pastor James Holeman
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT
November 29, 2021
An Advent Meditation
Our dog can sense a visitor a long way off.
He begins to growl and mutter in low tones.
During this Advent season I wait and look and long.
Do I sense a rumble in the distance?
I suppose I growl and mutter in my own way...
He, for whom the poets sang,
He, to whom the psalmists prayed,
He, about whom the wise pondered,
He, for whom the Exiles longed—
Draws near with a weight of glory.
He, for whom and by whom all things were made—is coming!
I sense the coming of him who defies description
Whose coming is so weighty it almost makes the earth tremble.
Creation seems to utter a subliminal groan,
Longing for all the prophets foretold.
Will heaven and earth lose their moorings
And flee away when he comes?
Or will the trees of the field clap their hands?
I get a sense in Advent of an approaching Immensity
Something so huge and hard to comprehend-
And then, I hear the soft cries of a baby in the manger…
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, pg 1
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT
November 30, 2021
And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
1 Corinthians 13 v 2
Read 1 Corinthians 13
The popular press allows you to consult your horoscope, but Bible prophecy is firmly out of fashion. Except, that is, at Christmas time. Even if a Service of Lessons and Carols combines readings from Charles Dickens and the like with the book of Genesis, the prophet Isaiah is still there. You can’t have a real Christmas service without prophecy. It’s an essential part of the story. In fact, Matthew’s account of the birth of Jesus is held together by a whole series of prophecies about his coming (Matthew 1 v 22; 2 v 6, 15, 18).
One of the remarkable things about these prophecies is that the baby Jesus could not have engineered their fulfilment. The point is that, through the prophets, God had foretold what would happen.
True, most Old Testament prophecy isn’t like that. It’s not so much fore-telling the future as forth-telling God’s word for the present. Perhaps that is why Paul links it here with understanding what he calls “mysteries” (by which he doesn’t mean spooky things, but things we can’t understand unless God explains them to us). But in either sense, being able to prophesy was also a big deal in Corinth. It was a prominent spiritual gift. Paul seems to have valued it above all the other gifts, even speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14 v 1). But a love-less prophet is “nothing”.
As if that were not enough, Paul adds something else: mountain-moving-faith without love is also nothing. He probably knew Jesus had spoken about this kind of faith (Matthew 17 v 20; Mark 11 v 23). We still use the expression “faith that moves mountains”. It is picture language. None of the apostles moved mountains to make their journeys easier; they went the long way around, or even by sea. Moving mountains means doing what seems impossible.
Likewise, the word “faith” here doesn’t mean simply “trusting Jesus.” You can’t be a Christian without that kind of faith. But Paul is speaking about a special gift that not everyone had (he had explained this earlier in 1 Corinthians 12 v 8-10, 29-30). Mountain-moving faith—like making a lame beggar walk or the blind see—is extra-ordinary.
Our instinct is to be in awe of a person who can prophesy or who has mountain-moving faith. We tend to assume that anyone who can do those things must be deeply spiritual, and marked out for a position of leadership and for a “ministry” that we should support, perhaps even financially.
But there is a problem. Apparently, you can have mountain-moving faith and not have love. And if that’s true, instead of being someone to be respected, followed and supported—you’re nothing. That’s no thing; nobody; zero.
You should keep a careful watch on people who claim to have special gifts. In particular, you need to watch their lifestyle. You can’t afford to be naïve. And most of all you need to avoid the biggest mistake—confusing gifts with grace. They are not the same. Having special gifts, even extraordinary ones, is not a mark of grace.
Does that sound like sour grapes on the part of somebody who doesn’t have mountain-moving faith? It could be. But the fact is, it is what Jesus himself said:
On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matthew 7 v 22-23)
These words are from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, a passage that has something in common with 1 Corinthians 13: everybody loves it, but not everybody hears what it’s saying.
So, what is the point? This: when Christ gives you a gift, it will be a blessing to you; but the gift isn’t primarily for you. It is to enable you to express your love for him by serving others. Paul had these gifts in abundance. But whenever he used them he would say, We are your servants (bond-slaves) for Jesus’ sake (for example, see 2 Corinthians 4 v 5).
You may have met people who complain, “The church isn’t recognizing my gifting.” But you probably have never met anyone complain, “The church isn’t recognizing my loving!” The truth is that if we are focused on looking for opportunities to love, we’ll usually find opportunities to use our gifts along the way.
The Holy Spirit accompanied Jesus throughout the whole course of his life, from the moment of his conception until his resurrection (Luke 1 v 35; Romans 1 v 4). Throughout his life he had the Holy Spirit “without measure” (John 3 v 34). In the face of all the pride and failure of his little disciple band, he never said, “You’re not recognizing my gifting.” Instead…
Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God … rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it round his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13 v 3-5)
Jesus had all prophetic powers; he understood all mysteries and all knowledge. He had mountain-moving faith. But because he loved us, he kept coming down. See him in the upper room, kneeling at the feet of his sinful disciples. Since Judas didn’t leave the room until later on (v 30), we know that Jesus knelt down and washed the feet of his betrayer.
We see this humble love in its perfect form at the first Christmas. The incarnation means that “though he was in the form of God … [Christ] made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2 v 5-8). That is what love looks like. That is what love is. And that Love came down at Christmas.
I ask thee for a thoughtful love,
Through constant watching wise,
To meet the glad with joyful smiles,
And to wipe the weeping eyes;
And a heart at leisure from itself,
To soothe and sympathize …
Wherever in the world I am,
In whatsoe’er estate,
I have a fellowship with hearts
To keep and cultivate;
And a work of lowly love to do
For the Lord on whom I wait.
So I ask thee for the daily strength,
To none that ask denied,
And a mind to blend with outward life
While keeping at thy side;
Content to fill a little space,
If thou be glorified …
In a service which thy will appoints
There are no bonds for me,
For my inmost heart is taught “the truth”
That makes thy children “free”;
And a life of self-renouncing love
Is a life of liberty.
Anna Laetitia Waring (1820-1910)
Ferguson, Sinclair B. . Love Came Down at Christmas: Daily Readings for Advent (pp. 24-25).
Song: "Wash my Feet," David Brackenbury
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT
December 1, 2021
Meditation on a Theme from Wesley and St. Paul
From the great halls of splendor
He stepped into the night,
To make himself our mender
In our pain and in our plight.
He descended from the highest height
Of joy to know our woes;
He relinquished all his power to fight
With weakness all our foes.
The King of kings became a slave
To know us in our need,
Quit filling all creation save
The space within a seed.
His scepter and his staff and rod
Were laid aside with grace,
Yet still the glory of our God
Shone in his human face:
His person, essence, who he is
(The Hand within the Glove)
God found in fashion as a Man,
Emptied of all but Love.
The Incarnation: Twenty Five Poems for Advent on the Word Made Flesh by Thomas Ryder Worth, pg 15
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT
December 2, 2021
Word Become Flesh
READ John 1:1-14
AS THE CALENDAR YEAR DRAWS TO A CLOSE, THE CHURCH calendar is just beginning. The annual cycle of readings, special days, and celebrations that mark the liturgical year begins with the first Sunday in Advent. I suspect this was an intentional strategy to help believers reorient themselves in terms of time, to ask us as we worship not to be conformed to the world’s time but to know, beyond our daily grind, another kind of time at work—sacred time, time that connects to our current reality but is not bound by it.
The book of John begins with this kind of reorientation. John shows us the story of Jesus in a way that connects to what has gone before but also calls for a radical shift in perspective. This begins with the book’s very first words. John knows that readers of the Hebrew scriptures are familiar with the idea of the word as a means by which God expresses God’s intentions. God speaks the world into creation in the beginning of Genesis, making the word light become actual light. And continuing through the Hebrew scriptures, when prophets are given a message, the prophet is said to receive “the word of the Lord.” God’s word is understood to be a series of messages in words, but also, in a deeper sense, this word is a force, a kind of deep wisdom that reveals what God intends to form and reform, establish and perfect in the created order.
In proclaiming the Word, John both connects to the Hebrew scriptures and does something profoundly new. Here, Word becomes flesh and enters into the world to transform it. John proclaims that Jesus is more than a prophet; he is an embodiment of the God who made the world and called the prophets. The message becomes the messenger.
Think about that for a moment. If we look over the course of history, we might come up with a few dozen names of individuals who so profoundly represented an ideal that they came to be the embodiment of that ideal: Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa. Many of us also find it helpful to look to a hero or a kind of patron saint who embodies an ideal or teaches a way of being. We might think of Jackie Robinson, whose character was as big as his talent, or Dian Fossey, the naturalist whose deep study of gorillas helped open our eyes to environmental issues.
For Christians, Jesus is not only the symbolic life that illustrates an idea, he is the idea itself turned into a living human being. To be Christian is to take up the way of Christ, even the name of Christ, and to commit ourselves to that ongoing message. In the language of spiritual formation, we talk about having the mind of Christ, of Christ being born into our hearts. I appreciate the way Robert Mulholland puts it when he says in his book “Shaped by the Word” that each of us is a word of God spoken forth for the sake of the world. God has chosen each of us to express some aspect of the incarnation through our lives.
As Advent draws us again to consider the birth of the incarnate Word, it is a good time to think about what the living word says to us, spoken forth over creation, spoken forth through scripture, clothed in flesh in the person of Jesus and what it says through us, spoken forth in our living witness.
What are some of your favorite passages from the Bible? If you had to sum up their message in one sentence, what would that be? Consider writing that sentence down and carrying it with you this week as a reminder of the way the word has taken root in you.
Light of the world, who made all things, speak me afresh that I might not only hear your word and receive your essence, but also embody the word you have spoken in me.
Tidwell, Melissa. Embodied Light: Advent Reflections on the Incarnation (pp. 24-26).
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT
December 3, 2021
WHY WOULD HE COME?
Christ himself was like God in everything. . . But he
gave up his place with God and made himself nothing.
He was born as a man and became like a servant.
Philippians 2:6-7 NCV
Why? Why did Jesus travel so far?
I was asking myself that question
when I spotted the squirrels outside my window. A family of black-tailed squirrels had made its home amid the roots of the tree north of my office. They watch me peck the keyboard. I watch them store their nuts and climb the trunk. We're mutually amused.
But I've never considered becoming one of them. The squirrel world holds no appeal to me. Give up the Rocky Mountains, bass fishing, weddings, and laughter for a hole in the ground and dirty nuts? Count me out.
But count Jesus in. What a world he left. Our classiest mansion would be a tree trunk to him. Earth's finest cuisine would be walnuts on heaven's table. And the idea of becoming a squirrel with claws and a furry tail? It's nothing compared to God becoming a one-celled embryo and entering the womb of Mary.
But he did. The God of the universe was born into the poverty of a peasant and spent his first night in the cow's feed trough. The God of the universe left the glory of heaven and moved into our neighborhood. Who could have imagined he would do such a thing?
Why? He loves to be with the ones he loves.
Dr. Maxwell Maltz tells a remarkable story of a love like this. A man had been burned and disfigured in a fire while attempting to save his parents from a burning house, but he couldn't get to them. They perished. He mistakenly interpreted his pain as God's punishment. The man would not let anyone see him—not even his wife.
She went to Dr. Maltz, a plastic surgeon, for help. He told her not to worry. "I can restore his face."
The wife was unenthused. Her husband had repeat-edly refused any help. She knew he would again.
Then why her visit? "I want you to disfigure my face so I can be like him! If I can share his pain, maybe he'll let me back in his life."
Dr. Maltz was shocked. He denied her request but was so moved by her love that he went to speak with her husband. Knocking on the man's bedroom door, he called loudly. "I'm a plastic surgeon, and I can restore your face." No response. "Please come out." Again there was no answer.
Still speaking through the door, Dr. Maltz told the man of his wife's proposal. "She wants me to disfigure her face, to make her face like yours in the hope that you let her back into your life. That's how much she loves you."
There was a brief moment of silence, and then, ever so slowly, the doorknob began to turn.
The way the woman felt for her husband is the way God feels about us. But he did more than make the offer. He took on our face, our disfigurement. He became like us. Just look at the places he was willing to go: feed troughs, carpentry shops, badlands, and cemeteries. The places he went to reach us show how far he will go to touch us.
He loves to be with the ones he loves.
Great God of the universe, I am amazed that you would leave the glory of heaven and become like me. I come to you with my disfigurement and ask you to touch me with your love. I want to be with you as well. In Jesus' name, amen.
Max Lucado/Next Door Savior (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2003: chapter 2
FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT
December 4, 2021